Thursday, March 26, 2015

Positive Post-It Day

How many of you have heard about Positive-Post It Day (#PositivePostItDay)? It is such a positive reframing to dealing with a bullying situation and one worth learning about and celebrating! We are going to try this at #Cantiague on Tuesday, March 31st and we want to welcome our PLN to join us on so we can celebrate all the positivity in our collective spaces across the world. Interested? Then check out this 2 minute video explaining the idea...

We welcome everyone who joins us on Tuesday, March 31st to make it look however you want in your schools, districts, classrooms or programs but we are going to have the children generate at least four post-its. Here are those ideas...

1) One positive post-it to themselves - something they are proud of themselves for that they can display on their desks... I think recognizing our own strengths is an important celebration!

2) One positive post-it for a classmate where they celebrate something specific about a classmate;

3) One positive post-it for another child in the school... maybe from the same grade level or a buddy from a different grade... whatever... they should celebrate something specific they value in someone else;

4) One positive post-it for an adult in the building - someone on the staff they want to recognize and celebrate!

Being that this aligns with the idea of "Random Acts of Kindness" these post-its should be specific to the receiver but also anonymous from the giver... it doesn't matter who the post-it comes from... it is about celebrating someone else. So, label the name of the person getting the post-it but there is no need to sign your name. 

I am so excited about this day because it reinforces EVERYTHING we talk about here at #Cantiague in regards to being Bucket Fillers and we hope that our whole PLN will join us on Tuesday, March 31st (or a different day if that doesn't work for you) to celebrate #PositivePostItDay. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Student Led PTA Meeting

Our most recent PTA Meeting at #Cantiague was an EPIC one because it featured some of the best learning opportunities we've had all year. The presenters at this meeting helped our families understand the whole idea of persuasive/opinion based writing in addition to how one might develop an argument and successfully prepare for a debate. The presentations were concise, informative, thorough and accessible for all family members. It was a great morning that sparked a lot reflection and conversation as our families in attendance left the building. 

Overall, I would say it was the best PTA Meeting of the year because it was filled with great content and important information. The most awesome part of the experience, at least through my lens, was that the presenters at this PTA Meeting were our kids. That's right... For the first time ever at #Cantiague our PTA Meeting (and the learning that unfolded there) was led by our students... nine students in all - from grades 3, 4 & 5 - prepared, reflected and presented everything anyone would need to know about developing an argument, supporting an opinion with evidence, persuading a reader with research to back up claims and sway voters during a debate - our kids (under the guidance and instruction of our amazing teachers) hit a GRAND SLAM today!

The idea of amplifying student voice has been high on my list of priorities this year and we have tried a bunch of different things to make that happen. We have incorporated Genius Hour, we have given them choice in their academic pursuits and we have empowered them to lead some of the learning in the community. Last month I wrote this post about our students successfully lead a professional development session for our staff and today they impressed again by leading and facilitating our monthly PTA Meeting. With the support of their classroom teachers, they came prepared to share their journey as it related to developing opinions in writing to persuade a reader or building their argument to win a debate. Their presentations were really awesome and the truth is, I did not preview anything nor did I have a say in what the kids shared... the meeting was all theirs from start to finish and they were AWESOME! Actually, you can check out a ten minute excerpt from the meeting right here... you don't have to take my word for it - you can see them in action sharing their awesomeness...

Words cannot accurately capture how proud I am of our kids and how impressed I am with their knowledge, maturity and composure - I never could have done this at 9 years old. In the end, I guess amplifying student voice can look different in different places but the bottom line is we must create spaces where children feel respected, valued, heard and empowered so they can successfully teach and learn. So, I challenge my fellow educators to turn up the volume and amplify their students' voices! 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

41 Things I Know About Education

This month I turn 41... that's right I have moved beyond 40 and am heading towards middle age, or at least that's what my son recently told me. Although getting older comes with some drawbacks (aches are common, sitting on the floor with a kid to read is great until you have to get up and eating something spicy after 7pm can lead to some problems, etc), the last couple of years have also been pretty amazing. Being in my 40s has been quite empowering and has amplified my voice in ways that I never knew possible. I have learned a lot about myself, a lot about the people around me, a lot about what matters in life and a lot about the world of education, especially the current landscape of education, which is a rocky one. 

I have been an educator for almost 20 years and I have learned more in the last year or two than I did during the first decade of my career and that is an awesome feeling! Last year, right before I turned 40, I wrote this post in honor of my birthday, and I have decided that I might make this a little tradition so now I am sharing 41 things I know about education...

1. Kids come first and doing what is best for them is the most important part of our work as educators, even when it's not easy!

2. As educators it is our responsibility to always be learners FIRST!

3. The conversations in schools must shift from the teaching and instead be focused on the learning... how do our kids learn best?

4. Successful schools are built on relationships that are rooted in trust, empathy and respect! 

5. Yes, we can be sympathetic towards others but more important is showing empathy... it's more about "I can understand where you are coming from..." and less about "I feel sorry for you!"

6. Have fun in your classroom... in your school... and in your district! People thrive in environments where smiles and laughter are the norm and not the exception.

7. Tell the story of your school... because if you don't someone else will and they won't do as good of a job!

8. Listen more than you talk... and most important is giving kids a chance to be heard. 

9. Schools MUST be a safe haven for kids because that is critical to addressing the gaps in the quality of education that exist in our country!

10. Racism is a system issue that continues to plague our schools and impact our kids!

11. We need to shift the focus from trying to close the achievement gap to trying to address the opportunity gap!

12. Branding your school or district is not about making money or slapping a logo on the building... it is about creating an identity that the community is proud of and embraces!

13. Any successful change in schools comes as a result of relationships rooted in trust and respect.

14. Our kids are much more than a number so instead of creating data walls that focus solely on test scores, create student profile walls that give us the hard and soft data points... the test scores from the classroom and the fact that the child was a selective mute three years ago; reading levels and the knowledge that a child lost a parent; etc. Our kids are complex and rich... don't devalue them by reducing them to a number.  

15. Empower the educators around you to have a say in their professional development... give them voice and choice!

16. Professional development must also resonate on a personal level if it is going to be sustainable. 

17. We cannot let professional development happen to us... we must take control of our own professional development and personalize it to best meet our needs and the needs of our students!

18. Educational leaders must try and learn something every single day! If we want our schools and classrooms to be hotbeds for learning, then we must model those expectations and be true life long learners!

19. Our children need time to be creative in school... whether it is centers, art or genius hour, our kids need time to create! 

20. Our children need to have a voice in their learning - we must give them a space to pursue their passions and interests! 

21. All staff members have an area of expertise so let's tap into it and share it - we have so much to learn from each other!

22. Educators need to create a PLN... a school or district based PLC is a great thing too but we need ideas beyond our context and our PLN can provide those to help us broaden our lens and point of view!

23. The most important people in a school are the secretaries, custodians and nurses... never forget it!

24. The principal can set the tone of a school... they can build and nurture a positive culture or breed a destructive one! The Principal's impact is far reaching... be thoughtful if you are a principal!

25. Go out during recess and play with your kids... even if it isn't your day to be on recess duty. Recess = unstructured joy! 

26. As educators it is our responsibility to model appropriate digital citizenship and how to create a positive digital footprint!

27. Technology does not equal innovation!

28. Be kinder than necessary... even when you're having a bad day. 

29. Don't embarrass your students in front of each other. Public humiliation breeds contempt not obedience. 

30. Use a morning meeting or a peace talk or some sort of classroom meeting time to nurture a sense of community and family in your classroom!

31. Let your students lead some of the professional development for the staff!

32. Invite your families to be ENGAGED... not just involved!

33. Once you take a behavior problem to the principal, which depending on the level of severity may be necessary, you have lost all authority with that child.

34. EdCamps are rooted in sharing effective practices and discussing good pedagogy... not just spotlighting the coolest new tech tools!

35. Don't be afraid of BYOD... be prepared but also let your kids have some freedom!

36. Explaining the real life connections to everything we teach may help students see the importance.

37. Take risks with your teaching and learning!

38. Create a staff blog where people can share all the awesome things happening in your space.

39. School should be about a balance between uncovering the answers and asking the right questions.

40. Take the work of educating children really seriously but don't take yourself too seriously... in fact, get over yourself. 
41. Kids should always be at the center and come FIRST!

Clearly the list could go on and on but in the end, I think these 41 points are critical to the success of any educator, student and learning organization. 

What do you think should be the next thing on this list? Please leave a comment below!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Dear Governor Cuomo

Dear Governor Cuomo,

My name is Tony Sinanis and I am a Lead Learner at Cantiague Elementary School in Jericho, New York, which is a suburb of New York City. Over 400 students attend our school each day (our highest enrollment in the last seven years) and the one common trait most of our children share during their days at Cantiague is a smile. That's right sir, our children, for the most part, are happy to be at school because they are in a space where they feel safe, respected and valued (their words). Not valued like a test score because that would be completely demoralizing and dehumanizing; no, we value our students for the WHOLE child who attends our school each day. The mathematician, the musician, the only child, the author, the tech enthusiast, the Minecraft expert, the soccer star, the child who splits her time between two homes, the nurse helper, the professional developer (yes, our students have led a PD session for our staff), the reader, the child of immigrants, the student leader, and the list can go on and on. You see, we devote much of our time at Cantiague to getting to know our children and learning about their passions, interests and readiness levels. Do we address the Common Core State Standards? Yes. Do we prepare them for the high stakes testing each year? Yes. But we do not define our children by standards or test scores.... we define our children by what makes them an individual; by what excites and interests them; and by what inspires them. You see, we have made a collective decision as a staff to focus on these priorities because that is what we believe will make a child college, career and most importantly, LIFE ready! 

I have been an educator in public schools for almost twenty years - I spent eight years as a classroom teacher in the NYC public school system and in Hewlett; then I spent one year as an assistant principal in Valley Stream; and finally I have been an elementary principal for almost nine years in Valley Stream and now in Jericho. During my time in each one of those schools along my journey I have come to realize that we can train almost every child to pass a multiple choice test - trust me, I have seen it happen. We can turn around almost any school and address the achievement gap if we integrate scripted curriculum, "research based" programs and rely primarily on test preparation and benchmark testing - trust me, I have seen it happen. We can even push staff members with threats of accountability and consequences - trust me, I have seen it happen. In all of these instances though, what I haven't seen is sustainable change; I haven't seen a staff that stays in tact for years to see change "stick" for the long term; and I haven't seen children who are happy to come to school. In every one of these situations I have seen people (students, staff and administration) come to feel like widgets; interchangeable pieces in a "game" controlled by people outside of the schools. 

For the life of me, I cannot understand how we could let this happen - why do we want our children to be subjected to these types of situations? Is that what you want for your daughters? I highly doubt it because I know for sure that is not what I want for my son. Unfortunately, with your recent proposal to see state test scores account for 50 percent of an educator's evaluation I think more and more schools will look like the above. It will not be about what is best for children - in no way, shape or form! It will not be about what is best for a community - it might actually be the opposite! And it will not be about encouraging our educators to take risks with their own teaching and learning. Nope... the opposite will happen governor. We will stifle schools. We will stifle creativity. We will stifle passion. We will stifle risk taking. We will stifle innovation. We will stifle our children. And for what? Higher test scores? For more teachers being rated ineffective? Or are you just trying to annihilate public schools? Please, explain to me your rationale because I do not understand how your plan will help us promote college, career and LIFE ready kids.

With that in mind, please share with us how much time you have spent in public schools across the state of NY? Months? Weeks? Days? Or is it just hours? And based on these experiences do you know there is a "crisis" in our schools? Have you spoken to students about this crisis? Have you spoken to educators about this crisis? Have you spoken to families about this crisis? Or are you basing your call for action on recent test scores? If that is your sole data point for suggesting that high stakes tests carry even more weight then I think we are in big trouble. How about if we used a similar system to rate you? Let's say your popularity numbers dipped one month? Could we rate you as developing? Let's say that drop in score continued over the course of a year? Should you be removed from office because you were clearly ineffective based on that one data point? Does that seem fair or logical to you? Hmmmm... that doesn't sound like the best way to judge you on your performance and thus the suggestion that educators be judged in a similar fashion makes no sense to me. What research do you have that shows evaluating teachers based on how children perform on high stakes testing is an effective way to improve schools? Have we seen this work elsewhere? What research speaks to the positive impact of high stakes testing on children, their learning and their academic performance? Please share this with me because I have done some research and I don't see anything that says this model will be effective at improving schools and weeding out the "bad" teachers that you think are plaguing all our schools. 

From my perspective, as someone who only has twenty years experience as an educator, I have to believe there is a better way to assess us and to hold us accountable. Trust me, I am all for accountability because I can stand behind everything I do in our school because I believe it is in the best interest of children. Can you say the same? Can you stand behind 50 percent of an educator's evaluation coming from a single test taken by a child (in some cases children who are only 7 years old and have yet to master tying their own shoelaces)? Do you think placing more value on high stakes testing is in the best interest of our children? If so, please explain how because I don't see it. I watch our kids, staff members and families become increasingly anxious as we get closer to the state tests... and why? Because they are nervous about how they are going to perform and no matter how much I try and keep the temperature down in the building, the pressure mounts and becomes almost stifling. Is that what you want for your daughters? I can tell you that it is definitely not what I want for my son. 

The more I think about it, the more I have to believe you are being misguided in your attempts to reform schools. Someone, or some group of people, is giving you misinformation and leading you to believe that educators are the enemy. We are NOT the enemies! In fact, most of the educators I know try and help children develop and amplify their own voices; we try and be the advocates for our children; and we try and create a space where children feel safe, respected and valued. I think maybe you need to spend more time in schools before you try reforming them. Come to Cantiague - our doors will always be open for you because I want you to see the smiles for yourself. I want you to see the children who love coming to school because of outdoor recess; I want you to talk to the children who love coming to school because of our library and the independent reading time they get during the day; I want you to watch the children who get to explore their passions and interests during Genius Hour; I want you to interact with the children who see themselves as authors and have recently mastered Google Docs as a way to publish their work digitally and thus gain access to an audience that goes beyond the walls of the school; I want you to come to a school where we put kids first and we know that kids are much more than a number and test score. If you can't make it all the way down to Long Island then I am guessing you will pass dozens of schools along the way that have created similar environments for their children where it is understood that being able to answer a multiple choice question is not an indicator of college, career and LIFE readiness; no way! Go visit a school where children are given voice; where staff members take risks with their teaching and learning! Go visit a school where critical thinking, collaboration and questioning are at the center - not test prep or benchmark assessments. Go visit a school where children are smiling and use that as the model for reforming schools - not the value added model that has not been proven to work! Please Governor Cuomo, make our kids and their well-being the priority - don't let them fall victim to the business of high stakes testing!


Tony Sinanis
Dad to an AWESOME 5th Grader
2014 New York State Elementary Principal of the Year 
Lead Learner at Cantiague Elementary School (2012 Blue Ribbon School) 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Learning In The Digital Age


The principalship is like a fire.  People are drawn to it, look to it for light, and it can get a little hot!  Principals lead buildings, initiatives, create more leaders, and help to provide environments where everyone can be successful.  The heat and light given off tend to wane if that fire is not fed.  But where?  Principals are often the lone wolf in their building - they are isolated and often work within a silo.  There may be assistants, dean of students, or directors, but often only one principal.  Being the leader of a learning organization means modeling the learning.  The opportunity to connect virtually with others in the principal position has the potential to be invaluable to the growth of leaders, and subsequently, schools.  Becoming connected as a principal is a great way to model that learning.

When considering the role of the school principal it becomes clear that the position is no longer singular in focus - the school principal is expected to go way beyond the administrator who sits in the office all day pushing papers around. Among the many challenges facing principals today is maintaining the balance between addressing the administrative mandates while also meeting the demands of being transformative instructional leaders. The school principal went from being a program manager/administrator in the 1960s and 70s to today when principals are expected to be transformational leaders who bring about change within the entire school community by successfully addressing both instructional needs (instructional leader) and administrative expectations (administrator) (Hallinger, 1992). An effective transformational leader, according to Hallinger (2003), is one who possesses strong instructional leadership abilities and skills that can be shared with the entire community.

The expectation of being an effective transformational instructional leader, along with the need to seek out current and relevant professional development opportunities, have led me in a new direction: to Twitter and the thousands of other educators using that platform to connect, share, learn and grow. A socially networked online community, Twitter is one of the most popular social networking sites and is considered a form of micro blogging that encourages educators to tweet and share their thoughts, opinions and resources in 140 characters or less (Perez, 2012). As educators, we have experienced the power of Twitter firsthand over the last several years and this has led us to find out how principals may address their professional development needs by participating in this socially networked community. Twitter, like other social networking sites, functions as a social learning resource and space where educators can be exposed to a whole other type of discourse and literacy practice (Greenhow 2009). Jane Hart, a social media and learning consultant, has classified Twitter as a tool for personal and informal learning that goes beyond the confines of any building (Galgan, 2009). Learners can use Twitter to ask and answer each other’s questions and Twitter can in turn help support collaboration and deeper understanding (Galagan, 2009). Since information on educators using Twitter for learning and professional development is limited because it is relatively unchartered territory, we will be offering a guide about what systems need to be put in place to begin supporting the professional development of principals using platforms such as Twitter.


Although one of our focal points will be Twitter, the bottom line is that we want to show that people, in this case specifically principals, can learn through social interactions and in the digital age, these are interactions no longer have to be inhibited by physical boundaries. So, check out our latest book, Principal Professional Development: Leading Learning in the Digital Age so you can take control of your own professional development and ensure that it is personalized to best meet your needs in your efforts to stay current and relevant in the 21st century!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Tech Amplifies Student Voice

Recently I was honored to be asked to participate in Digital Learning Day , this year's theme is directly connected to the important #FutureReady effort being spearheaded by both the Alliance for Excellent Education and  the U.S. Department of Education. The emphasis at this event was to consider and share instructional practices that effectively used technology to strengthen a student's learning experiences. Although we have used technology in many ways to help strengthen a student's learning experiences at #Cantiague, the first thing that came to my mind was how we have used technology to amplify student voice and show the world what we stand for and what we believe in at our school. The idea of student voice is one that is important to us because we see our children as the center of all the teaching and learning... they are who we plan for, they are who we scaffold for independent success and they are who we advocate for each and every day. Thus, we know we must listen to  them to best understand their needs, passions and feelings about school. And so our journey began to use technology to give voice to our students - both directly and indirectly - with a rebirth of our vision statement and the integration of weekly video updates featuring our children as the school storytellers! 

Our vision statement, reborn... As educators, especially those of us in leadership positions, one of the first things we are asked to consider is the Vision Statement for our school. You know what I am talking about... that bulleted list of generic phrases and words trying to capture what the schooling experience will be like for children. Here is an example in case it's been a while since you looked at your own vision statement...

Our vision is that children leave school with: 

A set of values -- being honesty, being determined and being considerate of others. 

A set of basic skills -- literacy, mathematical, scientific, artistic and social. 

Strong self-esteem and developed self-confidence. 
Tolerance and respect for others.

We value the partnership which exists between school, families and our community in realizing this vision. 

WOW... those all sound like some pretty wonderful and important aspects in the development of a child. But, I have a bunch of questions and concerns...

  • Is there anything in that vision statement that makes identifiable to a specific school? (Sounds pretty generic)
  • What exactly does all the stuff described in the vision statement look like? 
  • Does the vision statement speak to a school being #FutureReady or the students being fluent in 21st Century skills needed to be successful in life? 
  • What does being determined look like? 
  • How do we teach children about their levels of self-confidence? 
  • What role do the students play in this vision aside from being on the receiving end? 
  • Is this vision happening to kids and the community or are all constituent groups actively part of the process? 

The list of questions could go on and on but you get the idea - what is the point of this vision statement and what does it really mean for a school community? This is something I had been struggling with for years at our school because I wasn't quite sure about the best way to capture and represent our vision statement, especially in thinking about the fact that we have dedicated ourselves to focusing on 21st Century skills both in our teaching and learning. Although 21st Century skills emphasize concepts such as critical thinking and collaboration, we also wanted to find a way to celebrate and recognize our dedicated efforts to meaningfully integrate technology into the teaching and learning experiences each day at #Cantiague. This had all proven to be a challenging task and the trajectory was rather unclear but eventually we decided to tackle the dreaded vision statement because we had finally achieved a group understanding of our vision and the direction we wanted to go with our vision!

from likeateam

So, at the start of last year, our Shared Decision Making Team was charged with this important task... re-write and re-create the Cantiague Elementary School Vision Statement. Our Shared Decision Making Team is comprised of six staff members, four parents, two students and me. We started by listing words that we felt best described Cantiague and the Cantiague experience. Generating that list (ended up being about 100 words and phrases) and then narrowing it down was quite a process that involved surveys, discussions, more surveys and follow-up discussion. It literally took us months to decide which words and phrases best captured the Cantiague experience for kids. After deciding on the words that best fit Cantiague (the students on the team really helped refine the list from their vantage point) we then shifted the conversation to what our vision statement should actually look like... will we generate that bulleted list? Maybe write it in a different way? Or go in a completely different direction and create a Wordle that would permanently be visible on our website. Although it was a great discussion, we had a tough time coming to a conclusion!

After a month of discussion on this topic, the team kept coming back to the idea of a video and how it might best capture the Cantiague experience and would allow us to actually show, with images, what the vision statement looks like in school. Well, thanks to the hard work of three team members - KatieCaseyLisa and the rest of the Shared Decision Making Team - the Cantiague Vision Statement went from an idea to a video reality. Check it out and please leave a comment below letting us know what you think about our vision and ask yourself, What does your vision statement say about your school and what role do your students play in that vision statement?    

#Cantiague Video Updates... our best effort to amplify student voice on a grand scale! At Cantiague, we started doing Weekly Video Updates last year where 6 or 7 students from each class do research about what’s happening on each grade level and then share those updates on camera. The children have two days to do their grade level research and then they join me for lunch on Wednesday or Thursday and we shoot the video. No class time is lost; the children decide what information is shared; and the community knows exactly what is happening in school in real time!

Let's face it, the children are the best storytellers and who better to share what’s happening in our schools than the people who are experiencing it first hand - our amazing kids! That is the power of student voice (#StuVoice). We have been shooting weekly video updates for almost two years and here 
are some helpful hints based on what we do at Cantiague…

Use whatever video platform that works best for you. We use the Touchcast app on my iPad, which is free and allows for 5 minute videos. The app also gives you the option to add in sound effects, pictures on the screen and other such video enhancing features.

After creating the video, we upload it to our YouTube channel. Although a YouTube channel is not a necessity, it does provide an online space to house your videos and allows for easy sharing with the entire community via an emailed link - again, not a must but something to consider! The great thing about YouTube is that it is linked to Google and you can set your channel so it is public or private, which is definitely important for the community to understand.

And after all that work, here is an example of the final product featuring the awesome kids of #Cantiague...

The time has come for all educators to dedicate themselves to being #FutureReady and find different ways to use technology to enhance and support student learning. We have used technology to amplify student voice... what are you doing with technology in your school?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Student Led PD

Our most recent Faculty Enhancement Opportunity (our version of Faculty Meetings known as the F.E.O.) at #Cantiague was an EPIC one because it featured some of the best professional development we've had all year. Professional development that included choice in sessions - everyone had the opportunity to choose between three different PD sessions where various apps were being featured and basic training was being offered. The choice of PD opportunities wasn't the best part, although it is pretty awesome to give educators choice and voice in their own learning and development. The most awesome part of the experience, at least through my lens, was that the providers of these professional development sessions were our kids. That's right... For the first time ever at #Cantiague our professional development was led by our students... thirteen fifth graders facilitated our staff learning by sharing various apps that they loved using and felt like experts in regards to application!

The idea of student led PD was one that I had been toying with for over a year because the idea of student voice (#StuVoice) is one that I place much value on. Our students are so bright and passionate and knowledgeable and well spoken that it seemed like a no brainer (in my eyes) to have them share their knowledge and expertise with our staff at some point. Unfortunately, it just never came together and I wasn't quite sure what they could "teach" the staff during a PD or F.E.O. session.

Then it hit me during a visit to one of our fifth grade classes. Rande Siper, the classroom teacher, had decided to launch a "Geek Squad" of sorts in her classroom where the students had an opportunity to teach others about various tech resources based on the fact that they had developed a level of expertise with those resources. GENIUS!! That was it... We had to tap into areas where our kids felt like experts and where the information was almost intuitive to them and what better way than some form of technology? Whether it is apps, websites or just different ways to use various mobile devices, our kids are digital natives and have experiences with technology that they could easily share with our staff to help us enhance our craft. Of course, it doesn't just start and end with technology - our kids have many areas of expertise that they could share with the staff to help us get better at our craft in our goal to facilitate meaningful teaching and learning. Our kids are amazing facilitators of learning when given the opportunity to teach... At least I thought so but wasn't sure until we actually provided them with a platform to spotlight their teaching skills. 

So, we finally made it happen this week. Thirteen fifth graders agreed to stay after school (thank you to their amazing families for giving them permission and supporting our staff PD) and work in small groups to spotlight the following six apps for our staff: Educreations, Sticky Notes, Bitmoji, iMovie, Haiku Deck and Near Pod. The children were given time in their classroom to prepare presentations and then had a chance to present to their classmates and refine their presentations. The groups were then paired up and assigned to a room so that each room featured two app presentations by two different groups (3 rooms in total). The staff then had a choice of which presentations they wanted to participate in and went to that room. The staff members were informed in advance about the apps that would be featured and were encouraged to download the apps of interest and bring their devices to the PD sessions so they could be more interactive. Then it finally happened... our kids facilitated their first ever PD sessions and the feedback thus far has been really good. One staff member said it was cute and informative while another said she learned a lot and was impressed by how confident and knowledgeable the children were during their presentations. Several staff members also asked if the students could visit their classrooms and help them teach their students about the resources. Even though I have not heard feedback from everyone at #Cantiague, the initial feedback has been positive and our staff was incredibly receptive and excited about our student led professional development. In fact, since I published this post earlier in the week, I received this email from a teacher truly capturing the essence of the experience...

-I thought it was awesome! I came home and told my family about it and how amazing it was to see the confidence and knowledge base that our children have to share.

- Our children clearly have a deep understanding about the "tools" that they are using. It is easy to say you know about something, but it is a whole other thing to be able to teach it to others.

-I also think of the trust and mutual respect shared by both our children and us. They felt comfortable enough to teach us and we felt that we could open our minds and let ourselves be taught by them.

- I also felt like it totally takes a village and like a super proud mom! The children that were presenting only 5 years ago were in our kindergarten classes. They didn't know their letters. They didn't know their sounds. They weren't able to write. And here they were today teaching us!

-Our students are truly amazing! They are smart, funny, confident, kind, flexible, enthusiastic and happy! 

In the end, I am not sure what the next student led professional development session might look like but one thing is for sure in my mind... our students should not only have voice in their own learning but their voices can be quite valuable in our own learning and professional development as educators!   

Thursday, January 29, 2015

ConnectED Reading BINGO Event

February is “I Love to Read” month and we’re inviting classrooms everywhere to join us in playing ConnectED Reading BINGO. We collaborated with authors and educators across North America to create an epic reading opportunity and the most AMAZING BINGO Board EVER! The goal is to foster a genuine love of reading through social interaction and great literature.  We are striving to facilitate student-centered connections between authors, educators, and classrooms.

Step 1... Watch the following video for the story behind the event...

Step 2... Click on the following link to access and print out the BINGO Board with all the awesome activities...

Some activities should be completed with guidance from a teacher or parent. Cultivating good character through digital citizenship is a shared responsibility.  Students will be best served if the adults in their lives take an active role in modeling and discussing responsible use of social media, sharing, and online interactions.  

Remember, whenever you have successfully achieved BINGO, please tweet out a pic of the completed BINGO Board and include the hashtag... #StuConnect! 

We hope you have a BLAST reading and connecting!!!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

No Thank You

A collaborative post by Lisa Meade and Tony Sinanis...

Back at the beginning of January, we wrote a piece with Jon Harper about always remembering to say thank you. Through conversations and tweets, it occurred to us that we weren’t doing a great job at accepting positive feedback and praise. Through our collaboration we learned we needed to do a more deliberate job at listening and receiving the positive feedback offered to us from the many people in our communities.

Shortly after the post, we realized there was room for a follow up post… a reflection on a phrase that is equally as challenging for us to utter. Three words that we must access more regularly if we are going to have sustainable careers as educators and specifically as educational leaders. While part of leading with the heart required us to lead with arms and ears wide open, we felt we still had to be clear about when there may be times where thank you won’t cut it. Where “Yes!” or “No problem!” could have a more negative impact than positive. We need to admit there are times when we clearly and boldly need to say -- “No thank you!”  

We must say no thank you when we are asked to believe that something is a student’s fault and that we’ve done everything we can. Ever get caught up in faculty room talk about a student not performing and how he just needs some “real world consequences”? Next time you are within earshot of a conversation like this, be bold enough to tell the group --”No thank you. I choose to believe in kids.” Or the situation when teachers criticize the families for not being hands on or involved and thus the student’s academic performance is going in a downward spiral. Can we blame the families? Sure… except, they are not the ones technically responsible for the child’s academic performance - we are responsible! And so, it is ok to say, “No thank you. I choose to believe our families are doing the best that they can and we just have to try things a little differently with our instruction and with our academic expectations to better support this learner.”

As leaders we must also say no thank you when colleagues try to make their emergencies our problem. Our first priority are our own students, staffs and school communities. Sometimes, we work with other leaders who may wait until the last minute and expect us, over and over again, to change our schedules to help them meet their deadlines. We need to say, “No thank you. Looks like this is your emergency, not mine. I’m here to help but please don’t ask me to do it for you. I can work with you but not in place of you.” Our time is precious. Our students’ time is precious. Our teachers’ time is precious. And it is our responsibility to guard and protect that time even when it means saying NO even though we may want to say YES!

In New York State, there is a loud, growing rhetoric from the Governor’s Office about how ineffective our teachers are and that we must not be implementing APPR the correct way when most of our teachers are rated as effective and highly effective. Certain politicians and Regents are saying that more teachers should be scoring in the ineffective and developing range just based on what we know about the bell curve. They perpetuate the thought that we need to hold teachers accountable to get rid of all the “bad apples.” Well, we find this message to be offensive to administrators and teachers. It implies we are not adept at our profession. It implies that we are simply winging it in our classrooms and harm children instead of help them. It implies that we have not been held accountable for anything over the years even though on most days we play the role of parent, therapist, social worker, teacher, behavior specialist and advocate just to name a few.

Well, we must, as educational leaders, be clear when we say, “No thank you. Your perception is not my perception. My perception is based on facts and actual classroom evidence. We are in classrooms every day and assure you the vast majority of our teachers are indeed effective and far from ineffective. Your “truth” is not my truth. No thank you.”

Give up? No thank you.

Shortchange kids? No thank you.

Cut arts and music to balance our budgets? No thank you.

Postpone buying materials and resources for teachers and students in order to balance our budgets? No thank you.

Give more tests? No thank you.

Weight state tests more? No thank you.

Tie strings to school funding in order to promote a single, misguided agenda? No, no thank you.

Believe in the attack on public school administrators and teachers? Nope. No thank you.

Stop believing in our schools and students?

Sorry, not us. No way, no how, NO THANK YOU!

Friday, January 16, 2015

HW? Test Prep? Are They Necessary?

The following is an excerpt from a recent newsletter I shared with our #Cantiague staff on two topics that are close to my heart...

As some of you may know, two of my favorite topics to discuss and reflect on are test prep and homework... well, throw the two of them together and it goes to a whole other level! Being that this time of year always seems to bring up questions about test prep, homework and the perfect storm of the two, I just wanted to share my position on both. First off, I have spent hours over the last couple of weeks pouring over articles about the impact/importance/role of homework at the elementary level and the bottom line is this... at best, homework's positive impact on children's academic achievement and performance is questionable. Check out this article or this one to read about the fact that homework at the elementary level cannot be linked to any meaningfully positive outcomes. In fact, in one study I read, the children who are struggling academically in school, for those kids, homework actually has a negative impact. If we think about it... that makes sense! If a child can barely do the work while they are at school where they may have access to extensive scaffolding and support, how can we expect that they will meet with success when doing it at home where the level of support varies tremendously? So, when thinking about homework, please be thoughtful and keep it to a meaningful minimum - less is more in this instance. Make the homework matter; place value on the homework by checking it and giving the children feedback; and finally, try giving the children voice or choice in the development of homework assignments... I think the outcomes may surprise us. 

In regards to test prep, I have three things I must share because I think consistency in practice here is imperative to our collective success. First off I really believe that good instruction rooted in rich texts and resources that teaches children the skills they need to be good readers, writers and mathematicians is the bulk of the test prep that is needed. Let's consider embed test "preppy" questions within writing or reading workshop; or maybe embed reading responses that mirror the writing expected on the test. This limits the test prep but presents it in a contextualized way. For example, I recently was in teacher's room where she explained that once a week, the actual day of the week was up to the kids, the children had to write a reading response that they would share with her so she could get a sense of their thinking as readers. What an awesome idea... and AWESOME way to embed test prep because the teacher could pose specific questions each week that mirror the language on the test and BOOM... there is embedded test prep. Worksheets with pages of passages and multiple choice questions will not accomplish the same goal because I think they access lower level thinking. In fact, in this article on test prep, especially on page two, teaching to the test actually dumbs down teaching and learning! So, secondly, I am not saying that test prep should not occur (our kids need exposure to test taking skills, certain language, etc.) but make it as meaningful as possible and keep it at a minimum. Finally, the one thing I am not comfortable with and will have difficulty supporting is sending any test prep packets or worksheets or workbooks home for children to complete for homework. This type of work, if it is occurring at all, should be happening in school under the supervision of educators - not at home for a child or family to complete for homework. From my vantage point, test prep, if it is to have any positive impact on our children, needs to be happening in school - not at home. So, please do not send any test prep home for homework because I do believe this is in the best interest of the children.

Thank you for taking the time to read my rantings from atop my little soap box and please know that my only goal and intent is to promote practices and approaches that are in the best interest of all children. On that note, I would like to share an announcement from #Cantiague and I welcome the rest of the education world to join us... 

Our second annual NO WORKSHEET WEEK CHALLENGE will take place during the week of January 26th! That's right... we did it last year at our school and we want to spread the joy with our PLN and the rest of the world this year! A week without any worksheets... no worksheets in class... no worksheets for homework... NO WORKSHEETS!! Now, let's take a deep breath... I am not saying NO PAPER... just NO POINTLESS, THOUGHTLESS or MEANINGLESS WORKSHEETS! You know the ones! 

So join us on our annual NO WORKSHEET WEEK CHALLENGE during the week of January 26th in an effort to better reflect on the following question... are homework and test prep necessary?