Thursday, September 30, 2010

Waiting for Sanity

Shining a bright light on a subject at the federal level is usually a good thing for folks that do the work on the local level. This week, education was the theme de jour for the folks at NBC. Though nothing big will come from this week of talking, I hope that a community member or another parent will get interested in what we are doing for kids each day at MRH Middle School. I continue to say and believe that we have some of the best middle school programming in the area, and I hope that this week of television points a few people into partnership with our work for kids. Waiting for Superman, the movie that is moving all the mouths, will be a great opportunity to think, discuss, and push for real solutions for difficult problems. There are no movies that are bad. There are just bad discussions after movies.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Getting this Message to Middle School

I do believe that we as middle school educators face a daily battle with the whys. Why is this important? Why are we doing this? How will this lead to my happiness. I have been working on some ideas to get students to look further ahead. Using infographics like this seem to be a way forward for our visual learners that are always demanding more answers about purpose.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Things that Bug Me

After a long weekend of catching up on my Google Reader, this is the best that I could share out. It is part freakonomics, part insanity, but it sort of thing that seems to fit into my solutionist philosophy. Enjoy.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Five for Friday- Links and Ideas

Want to connect and partner with another school that has the same philosophy as MRH; try King Middle School in Portland, ME. They are an expeditionary learning school and 1:1. Be bold, e-mail a teacher there and start a partnership today.

Another article that promotes our technology integration policy of teach how to use what is available responsibility, not restrict

This may be one of those articles that sparks a whole new way of gathering and sharing feedback in your classroom.

Great daily bit of professional development from other great teachers throughout the state. --

With the much hyped Oprah episode about schools this week, I thought this essay did a much more fair review of the current state of public education.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Focus and Finding a Rhythm

It takes a long time for a staff to really feel like they are in sync, whether it is co-teaching, common language or team decision-making. I am really excited about how my staff works together. It would be fantastic to keep this group of folks together for five or more years just to see the power of this oneness. One day I hope that my staff can find this level of being in rhythm, enjoy the video.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Poverty and Education

Recently, I read an incredible critique of Ruby Payne's work on poverty that poked at the language of the culture of poverty that Payne describes throughout her work. I began to buy the argument that the language that Payne uses is too generalized to truly help educators and society meet the needs of kids. This doesn't mean though that I don't see the huge ties between poverty and education. If anything, we are the providers of opportunities to help kids escape poverty or insulate other students from slipping back into poverty. This concept along with the recent information about poverty in the United States has me truly grounded in my role in helping kids. See below for the recent poverty stats....

43.6 Million: Census Declares More Americans are in Poverty than Ever Before
by Claire Lorentzen 09-20-2010

It is the highest number America has ever seen: 43.6 million people are living in poverty in the United States, the wealthiest country in the world. According to new data released yesterday by the Census Bureau, the 2009 U.S. poverty rate was at 14.3 percent, up from 13.2 percent in 2008. Considering that our nation is facing a 10 percent unemployment rate –- a 2.6 percentage increase from 2008 — “The news could have been a lot worse than it actually was,” claimed Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs Rebecca Blank at a Brookings Institution panel on the Census data last Thursday afternoon. Others at the panel agreed with Blank, while making it clear that regardless of the higher predictions, these statistics yell out for a renewed “war on poverty.”

Here are some statistical highlights from the 2009 Census data:
One in five children live below the poverty line. The poverty rate increased most steeply for children under the age of 19, jumping from a rate of 19.0 percent in 2008 to one of 20.7 percent in 2009.
29.9 percent of female-headed families live below the poverty line. The rate is up 1.2 percent from 2008.
25.3 percent of Hispanics (up from 23.2 percent in 2008) live below the poverty line.
25.8 percent of blacks (up from 24.7 percent in 2008) live below the poverty line.
One in seven (14.3 percent) Americans are in severe economic deprivation.

Just to put the 2009 American poverty rates in some sort of historical perspective: Poverty declined between the years 1993 and
2000, but then increased between 2001 and 2004. While economic deprivation declined slightly again in both 2005 and 2006, it then increased again in 2007 and 2008. Now in 2009, it has once again increased, but by one of the third highest rates since that data was first collected in the 1960s: 1.1 percent.

Where do these numbers come from? How is the poverty rate measured?
Well, the official poverty rate in the U.S. has been defined and measured in the same way for the last 37 years. The measurement sets the poverty threshold equal to three times the subsistence food budget, which was set by the United States Food and Drug Administration and its Economy Food Plan in 1961. Since its introduction in 1963, the measurement has only been updated yearly for inflation, according to the Consumer Price Index. The base poverty threshold was set at three times the subsistence food budget for an individual. This multiplier of three was first chosen because the 1955 census found that, on average, one-third of a family’s budget was spent on food. Whether or not this estimate holds is largely up for debate (and will be discussed in future God’s Politics blogs). The poverty threshold was then adjusted for family size and age. For example in 2008, the threshold for a single individual was $10,991 dollars and for a family of three it was $22,025 dollars.
Then, in order to determine whether or not an individual or a family falls below this threshold, their pre-tax income is accounted for. Pre-tax income includes all pre-tax earnings, Social Security payments (since they are paid in cash — which may help explain why the poverty rate of elderly has not increased). The income measure also does not include any sort of in-kind benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps, as well as out of pocket medical expenses. Pre-tax incomes are also not adjusted for according to geographic location.

If a family’s total pre-tax income is less than the threshold for their family size and respected ages, they are below the poverty line. This is the case for 43.6 million Americans.

Claire Lorentzen is the online editorial assistant at Sojourners.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Defining Our Success

This was my open letter to the Comm. Arts 6-12 team today following our first group meeting.

Since we ran out of time to have a discussion on this topic today, I thought that I would formulate my ideas a bit further using the new ning. I hope that this forum proves to be a fruitful way to discuss our road forward as a learning group.

It is clear from our conversations today that there are many instructional pieces on the table in varied shapes and sizes for each of you which makes it difficult to coalesce our learning around a singular topic or area, but I thought that I would generate some initial ideas to see if they spark an interest.

If the Communication Arts CAT team had a successful year, what would that look like? I really like the potential that this question poses to bring a group of individuals who are seeking high levels of learning for their individual kids to a place where they can embrace the potential and power of the team working together on a goal.

The book Teach Like a Champion names a number of best practices, but the power of the book comes from measuring the use of the techniques in the classroom. Should we choose to measure our use of these techniques?

A lot of time was put into the G.U.M.s curriculum. Does it make sense to measure its implementation success?

Do our grades indicate learning? If so, can we measure the growth of the department based on the grades that students receive? Can we average percentages eight times a year and reflect on what this means?

Again, someone will define your success this year. I don't want it to be someone other than you, but it makes sense for us to get out in front of the train.

Monday, September 13, 2010

New Education Poll

Too often, I forget that the audience and opinion about public education lies well beyond the small cocoon of my PLN and close friends. It is important not to lose sight of the overall opinion of things in education.

Based on a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults conducted August 17 thru 19, here are some of the results of a TIME poll on the state of public education in America. Highlights include respondents' feelings about parental involvement, ambivalence about teachers unions and overwhelming optimism about the current potential for reform.

1. Do you think that public schools in this country are in a 'crisis,' or not?
In a crisis: 67%
Not in a crisis: 29%
No answer/don't know: 3%

2. Do you think it is possible to make changes that would dramatically improve student performance in our public schools — or do you think this is a problem that is impossible to solve?
Possible to make changes to improve student performance: 90%
Problem is impossible to solve: 9%
No answer/don't know: 2%

3. Would you be willing to pay higher taxes to improve the public schools, or not?
Willing to pay higher taxes: 56%
Not willing: 42%
No answer/don't know: 2%

4. What do you think would improve student achievement the most?
More involved parents: 52%
More effective teachers: 24%
Student rewards: 6%
A longer school day: 6%
More time on test prep: 6%
No answer/don't know: 6%

5. In general, do you think teachers are overpaid, paid about right or underpaid given their level of training and importance to society?
Underpaid: 61%
Paid about right: 26%
Overpaid: 7%
No answer/don't know: 5%

6. Should teachers' evaluations be based in part on their students' progress on standardized tests?
Yes: 64%
No: 31%
No answer/don't know: 4%

7. Do you support or oppose tenure for teachers, the practice of guaranteeing teachers lifetime job security after they have worked for a certain amount of time?
Support tenure: 28%
Oppose tenure: 66%
No answer/don't know: 6%

8. Do you support or oppose "merit pay," the concept of paying teachers according to their effectiveness?
Support merit pay: 71%
Oppose merit pay: 23%
No answer/don't know: 6%

9. Which view comes closer to your own: "Teachers unions help make schools better" or "Teachers unions are an obstacle that keeps schools from getting better"?
Teachers unions help make schools better: 35%
Teachers unions are an obstacle that keeps schools from getting better: 50%
No answer/don't know: 15%

10. How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?
Many of the smartest people in society don't go into teaching because being a teacher doesn't pay enough: 76% strongly or somewhat agree
Teaching is among the most under-appreciated professions in the U.S.: 77% strongly or somewhat agree
Tenured, long-time teachers are not motivated to work hard: 56% strongly or somewhat agree

11. What do you think would improve teacher effectiveness the most?
Better training in universities: 30%
Mentoring by more experienced teachers: 30%
Merit pay: 20%
Higher salaries: 11%
No answer/don't know: 8%

Read more:,8599,2016994,00.html#ixzz0zQmh0sLc

Teaching Paperless

I have enjoyed the Teaching Paperless blog for a while, but I really loved this activity. One, it plays into middle school, high school curiosity about simple things that are really complex, and it is an incredible ways to stretch the concept that we are able to get real-time information through social media to confirm, update, and extend our understanding of things. The graphic also reminds me of a college linguistics course that I loved where we talked about the various terms for a variety of things and their local origins. Soda, pop, soda pop anyone.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Five for Friday- Links and Ideas

The Responsibility of an Open School

This is a great innovated blog, and this article really applies to our philosophy here.

Great Video about Change in Schools

Could create some opportunities for classroom discussions.

Learning New Technology with Your Students.

What a great way to share and learn from other classrooms...I would encourage you to try to set up Skype opportunities with other classrooms and experts that can share with your kids.

I've completely embraced the power of TED talks, and now there is one for kids. It would be great to have kids watch this and work toward our own TEDxMRH

Looking for ways to WOW with your agenda. All of these Web 2.0 allow you the option to embed features into D2L

We talk a lot about technology integration, but how is it quantified? How do we really know if we are on the cutting edge of technology as transformative tool. This website and matrix goes a long way to answering those questions.

Expedition Preview

Building Trust

I have had a string of great parent phone calls this week. It isn't that they were all about positive things, but the parents seem to really be responding to the culture of outreach and partnership that is being cultivated. It is true that throughout my career, I have avoided my share of parent phone call. It was probably because my skill level to have tough conversations over the phone wasn't where it needed to be or it could have been pure laziness. Recently though, I have found myself in the position of engaging more parents in a variety of ways, and it is paying dividends. The e-mails, face-to-face visits, long phone calls, and extra efforts to see and be seen on the community are working. It is exciting to experience this as an educator, and I hope that this connection can filter throughout my staff to a point where this positive energy can be felt by the community. Building trust is the hard work, and it is the work that can quickly be shattered. Hopefully, our momentum continues.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Building Middle School Confidence

What prepares a student for a successful high school career? This has been a question of reflection for our middle school staff for quite a period of time, and the lack of a quality answer created tension. This tension often blinded us to frame our discussions around the options of building skills, responsibility or some of each. Only when our mental model shifted to include the art of preparation working in lock step with the science of preparation did we have a break through for our students. Looking back to these conversations, the most consistent item to surface was CONFIDENCE. Confidence, as defined by our conversations, wasn’t the easy confidence of being your own person or resisting the temptations of life, but this confidence was a deep belief in the possibility of the future.

One teacher summed up our thinking the best. She said, “It is about real confidence. It is about having kids that can shake your hand and look you in the eye because they know that they belong. It is about kids who showcase the work ethic to succeed in this world. It is about kids knowing, from traveling on trips around the community and nation, that they belong in this world. It is about kids believing that academic success is within their grips. It is about kids dreaming that a college will want them more than they will want that college. It is about kids seeing that winning is a matter of habit and design and not luck and chance. It is about kids determined to make setbacks are a part of growth and life, and without them, success is never possible. It is about kids expressing that mediocrity hurts more than failure. It is about kids promising themselves that they have a chance to be a first, a first college graduate, a first lawyer, a first small business owner. It is about building this sense of CONFIDENCE.”

Are we working hard enough to build this confidence in our middle school students? Do we have structures that facilitate this growth? Are we prepared to unleash confident middle school students?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Moving at the Speed of Light

After working in larger school districts for the past ten years, I have found true liberation in the nimble nature of @mrhmiddleschool. We are a middle school of 150 students with teachers that are willing to try new things and take risks for kids. Just today, I signed up 13 students, via parent phone calls, for our extra math tutoring sessions for our students in the middle. Rarely can principals have the freedom to make these changes in a way that can leverage change so quickly. Our program is designed for our students just below proficiency in math based on a number of factors, and we hope that the program will build confidence before any hint of failure sets in. Ahhh, these are the good days to be a middle school principal.