Friday, January 5, 2018

Connecting the Pieces

Some of us might see our professional developments as a time for others to add one more tool to our already stocked junk drawer. It is so stocked with tools we forget which are more productive than others. It just becomes overwhelming.

Our district has been trained and asked to get in the habit of thinking as architects while planning using Understanding by Design (Wiggins and McTighe), to think as assessors to assess for learning (Stiggins), to differentiate our instruction addressing learner variance (Tomlinson), to increase rigor utilizing Depth of Knowledge (Webb) and to be assessed by a multi-domain framework of effectiveness (Danielson). In the end, these are essential ingredients for a successful experience for all learners. Think about the end result of your favorite recipe. It will not be the best if only some of the ingredients are used.

As we move to professional development on increasing our awareness and usage of differentiated instruction, I had the time to reflect and make some connections. All of the puzzle pieces perfectly fit together. I have realized that what we are doing is making a whole lot of sense.

As effective teachers we should be addressing a number of questions in our classrooms, four of which are: What should we be teaching? Where is the appropriate place, environment and time? To whom are we teaching? and using the answers to those to help discover How should we teach? and How will we know the learning has been achieved?

UbD answers the questions of what and how. Assessing for learning ensures we have answered the question of how we will know the students achieved what we intended. DI is a crucial partner in the UbD planning as it addresses the who, where and how. DoK is a tool to help with DI in the process of learning. We will know that we are effective because what we have just done has met much of the components of Danielson's framework.

I have developed the chart below to put my thoughts together and show how these tools are essential partners for teacher effectiveness. These pieces do fit into a perfect picture.

Please comment to help edit or make improvements. I am unaware of a comparison chart that may already exist. If there is such a chart, please share so I can assess what I have learned.

UbD of Wiggins and McTighe
DI of Tomlinson
Danielson's Framework
Stage 1
Knowledge and skills

The Content can be different for students based on what they already know or level of learning.
1a: knowledge of content and pedagogy
Stage 2
Assessment for evidence of learning
The Product should have choice or have a path for students to show what they know and can do. 
1c: Setting instructional outcomes
Outcomes are differentiated to encourage individual students to take educational risks

1f: Designing Student Assessment
• Assessments provide opportunities for student choice. 
• Students participate in designing assessments for their own work. 
• Teacher designed assessments are authentic with real-world application, as appropriate. 
Stage 3
Learning Plan
The Process should have varied techniques and strategies in a thoughtful and purposeful Environment to meet varied needs for students. We need to discover where their point A is and set goals to achieve a unique point B to show growth. It doesn’t have to be the same end point. 
1a: Knowledge of Content and Pedagogy

1b: Demonstrating knowledge of students
• The teacher uses ongoing methods to assess students’ skill levels and designs instruction accordingly. 
1d: Knowledge of Resources
 • Texts and resources are matched to student skill level. 

1e: Coherent Instruction
• Activities permit student choice 
• Teacher provides a variety of appropriately challenging resources that are differentiated for students in the class. 
• Lesson plans differentiate for individual student needs

All of Domain 2: Classroom Environment

2e: Organizing Physical Space
-Modifications are made to the physical environment to accommodate students with special needs. 

-There is perfect alignment between the goals of the lesson and the physical environment. 

-Teacher makes extensive and imaginative use of available resources and technology (2e.D.3)

3a: Communication with Students
The teacher points out possible areas of misunderstanding.

3b: Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques (DoK)
(Forming questions in a differentiated way allowing all students to respond or initiate questions.)

3c: Engaging Students in Learning
-Students have choice in how they complete tasks. 

-Students modify a learning task to make it more meaningful or relevant to their needs. 

3d: Using Assessment in Instruction
-Teacher monitoring of student understanding is sophisticated and continuous: the teacher is constantly “taking the pulse” of the class. 

-The teacher makes frequent use of strategies to elicit information about individual student understanding. 

-Feedback to students is obtained from many sources, including other students.

3e: Demonstrating Flexibility and Responsiveness
-The teacher conveys to students that s/he won’t consider a lesson “finished” until every student understands, and that s/he has a broad range of approaches to use.  

Monday, June 12, 2017

Climate Control

We all share in the belief that we want our school to be a place we enjoy going to each day. We want this belief to be true for everyone including students, faculty, staff, parents, and community members.  This happy place ensures we have happy students. Happy students are more likely to be successful in maximizing their potential.

All schools believe in quality continuous improvement.  Think about what area we spend more time improving. It is most likely programs or research based strategies for academic success, but do we give the same attention to climate control?

We all believe we are already doing our best, because that is all we know. We all believe that we can do better, but how do we learn new ways to improve climate in our building?

We have a moral duty to share globally what we do that can make a difference in climate, especially if it is effective. I have discovered amazing people sharing their great ideas on Twitter and the purpose of this blog is to put those discoveries in one place. My goal is to update this blog with each new idea shared that can benefit climate control in a building.

I will not take the credit for these ideas. They all have come from my Twitter PLN which is another reason to convince everyone in the district to get on board.



Courtesy of Tweet by @gerrybrooksprin used in a great way by Principal @gerrybrooksprin in Lexington, KY. He brings a smile to out faces with his humorous videos on topics we can all relate to. Some topics include how principals use their time at school on snow days. How educators need to take in different perspectives to improve the way they exercise. How we can successfully get rid of those bears.

He also posts a joke on a board once a week that we look forward to seeing.

#CelebrateMonday and #TrendthePositive

Courtesy of Tweet by @Buncee
...founded by Sean Gaillard (@smgaillard), has done wonders at getting educators to stop dreading Sundays, but rather look forward to Mondays instead. Throughout Sunday and Monday you will find @Buncee "posters" on Twitter with positive quotes and joyful comments and events happening at school.


...can be used with all stakeholders. It was developed by Renee White @RaRaPenguin as a way to celebrate each other. Catch someone doing something  awesome and let them know. Share this awesomeness with others to inspire more positive outcomes.
Courtesy of Tweet by @RaRaPenguin


...written by @BethHouf  and @ShelleyBurgess. This book offers many ideas on this topic of how we can control the climate in our buildings. One of my favorites is to Drop an Anchor of Appreciation Notes.


Greet Them Daily. 

@JimmyCasas is one of many passionate educators that will remind us that we need to greet students every day as they enter your classroom or the building. You will find Jimmy greeting his audience as they enter any of his keynote talks, which makes a big difference how attentive they are when he starts to talk.

High Five Fridays.

@BethHouf 's staff forms a tunnel of fists as students enter the building on Fridays or special days. They turned the high fives to fist bumps after the flu season arrived at their school. There are other schools that have surprise guests greet the students at the door that can be someone from the community, not just someone in the building.

Boogie Box.

Michael Bostwick (@M_Bostwick) has a moving Boogie Box in his building that also changes themes throughout the year. When a student sees this box they step inside to do their favorite sports hero pose, the dab, a dance move, a high five, or any theme you choose.


TurnKey Thursday 

...introduced by the district of @TonySinanis. The idea is found in this article.  Students prepare a lesson to take home on Thursday to include the parents on what they learned.  Not only are they communicating with parents what their child is learning, but the student is enhancing their understanding by teaching.

Positive Phone Calls

... are done by educators today. We need to be consistent and purposeful. Superintendent @Joesanfelippofc from Wisconsin introduced 100 calls on the 100th day. He, as the superintendent, makes those phone calls. What a great way to model positivity.

Spark Curiosity

... using social media to spark a conversation at home on an upcoming unit or event at school. This idea came to me during a chat one day as I try to find ways to connect parents to their child's learning. Students record or hold up a sign with a question that will be discussed at home to get them engaged or excited to learn about the next topic.

Open Your Door

...and let parents take a look at what happens in your classroom. We need to use social media to let the parents see what happens in the classroom. If we don't tell our story, they will. @Joesanfelippofc states the importance of sharing our story. Many parents that call in with complaints discover that they are not informed in the whole story.

Courtesy of a Tweet by @Joesanfelippofc

District Spirit explained by @Joesanfelippofc,  makes the community proud to be part of the schools in their district. He sells #gocrickets. He will tweet out a challenge to the community to receive free spirit wear.  The challenge could be to find the superintendent at a school event. It could also be earned be answering a trivia question correctly. He reminds us that we no longer post things on our refrigerator, but on Facebook and what better way to spread the positive things at our school.

In the end, the one those who benefit the most in any and all of these climate control tools are the students.

Please post any tools you may be able to add in the comments below or add ideas to this collaborative google doc.

If you are doing most of the work; then you are doing most of the learning.

Is it your classroom or OUR classroom? If we think about it as OUR classroom it is easier to see when we are taking too much control and doing too much of the decision making.

Picture from Disruptive Behavior:
"Breaking Up With Status Quo" 
Traditional teaching leads to traditional learning. It is time to reflect and think about how we can let go of micromanaging or how to leave the status quo.

How many of you get mad because the students didn't buy in to one of your micromanaging procedures? Think about that procedure. The procedure where they can only leave to the bathroom so many times per quarter. The procedure where they can only use a black pen. The procedure for taking notes the one way you taught them. Do they have to write a paper with 1,050 words? Do the students have to sit in rows in alphabetical order? Which of these procedures are you willing to let go?

Think about the restaurant you would like to frequent. Would you rather frequent the restaurant that only has one item for the appetizer, main dish and dessert, the restaurant that offers a few items for each category on the menu, or even the restaurant that has many pages as part of their menu?

We must allow choice for our students if we want them to want more. Buy-in becomes greater when students are part of the discussion, the problem-solving and decision making. If students have a voice and choice they start seeing the classroom as "our" classroom and we will find that motivation for learning and buy-in will be easier to achieve.

How can we let go of micromanaging?

1.  Allow for learning as a collaborative effort sitting in stations; not being told by one expert as they sit in rows. Research backs this up. This could include experiences such as problem based learning or scenario based learning.

2. Allow for "21st century" (I prefer to use the term "essential") skill development, especially the 4 Cs: Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, Creativity. How can we add more opportunities for these essential skills in the experiences we provide students?

3.  Allow the students to choose class mantra to be reminded how we want to be. Choose student quote of the week. Who lived by it the most that week gets to take it home.

4. Allow students to create the criteria for the rubric in which they will be assessed.

5. We must allow students to set their own goals, reflect often, and assess themselves. The goal should be to create life long learners continually growing. This is an improvement focus, not once and done approach. Have they grown in what they know and are able to do? We need more than providing them with a number or letter grade.

6. They should not be allowed to say "I'm done" but rather "How can I make this better?" or "What else can I add?" Assessments should expect students to show that they challenged themselves to try something new. How can you prove to me that you learned and did something new? How are you going to prove to me that you got uncomfortable and pushed yourself beyond what you already know and can do? Students that are off task should reflect and answer "What actions or resources do I need in order to learn today?"

7. Allow students to design the classroom layout and create the rules and procedures. What do they think about how often then can leave the classroom?

8. Allow them to have an audience besides the teacher or each other for their work. They are all using social media and want an audience. How can they share their work and people "like" their work to boost their confidence? They can lead us on this journey of unfamiliar territory.

9. If we want them to be leaders and active contributing members in society then offer them opportunities to connect content to the real world. Allow them an opportunity for "Genius Hour" and have a "Leadership Fair" showcasing their work to the community at the end of the year. Is there someone willing to help a student take their work to the next level?

10. Allow students to discuss how they can prove to me that they know and can do the current standard?  How can we communicate with your parents through a grade that you are growing in what you know and are able to do? How do we ensure that our grades are reflecting the intended learning outcomes/standards? Did your effort and work deserve this grade? How do we show growth; not failure? Ken O'Connor states that students, in the end, become more self-directive and reflective learners not grade grubbers.

How can we let go of micromanaging? How can we leave what is status quo? How can we not look like this Peanuts scene from 1969?

Please add more ideas for allowing student voice and choice in the comments below.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Personalized Toolbox of Learning from PD to the Classroom

Personalized Toolbox of Learning from PD to the Classroom
Thoughts by LaLonnie King (Texas) and Valerie Zemaitis (Indiana)

Katie Martin states in #IMMOOC Season 2, Live Session 4 that in order to be innovative the first step is to decide what you want your students to know, understand and be able to do. Once there is a shared vision of the needs and wants, you find the tools to achieve those goals. Then we need to look for evidence of those tools making an impact. She said this evidence can be found if we use George Couros’s 8 Characteristics of an Innovative Classroom. We, as teachers and administrators, need to have these characteristics modeled for us, if innovation is expected of us.

The challenge of this blog is to focus on how these characteristics are being used in our professional development.

We can agree that we have had a lot of professional learning as educators. What turns out is we have been given a lot of tools to use. George confirms this belief when he stated in IMMOOC Live Session 4 Season 2 that it is called the “Teacher Platter”, rather than the “Teacher Plate”. Every teacher has that kitchen drawer or tool kit with so many tools we forget what it buried in there. Do you remember the excitement when you first gained that new tool and how to utilize it with the students?  We use it for awhile and put it down when the next “tool” is shared with us. We now have so many tools that our tool boxes are unorganized and overflowing. Teachers are forgetting some of the best tools that were just shared with them because of another new tool. Educators have so many tools and resources,  but they  always want the one “tool” that will have the greatest impact; an impact on our students, in our kitchen, or when we make a repair. It is time to go on an “innovation diet” and clean out our drawers so we can be effective at using the few that have the biggest impact.

Wouldn’t it be ideal if professional learning and development involved one or more of these characteristics from the 8 Characteristics of an Innovative Classroom? Training sessions that are innovative by nature will have the greatest impact on us, and in the end positive outcomes for our students! How would professional learning look if these characteristics are used? What we need is a shared document that we can continually add to and take ideas from as we choose tools for our district, campus, or classroom.

The chart below has a few ideas that are being used in our schools in Texas and Indiana, or include ideas that we would like to see being used in school. Each item is a starting point that can be developed and created to fit your specific needs.

The key to learning, whether adults or children, is that the tools we use need to be chosen carefully so the impact matches the expectation set for those specific tools. We do not necessarily have to use the same tool to get the job done. Learners of all ages should be motivated through investigation and have the chance to create questions while being challenged. The environment should be a place where the learners can take risks and try new things. Teachers and students who are able to embrace this culture will be more positive and more empowered to make the learning their own which is the true intent of every teacher when they bring a tool to the classroom.

If your school district practices innovative professional learning, we would appreciate it if you would please share below.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Stay focused and move forward with a Pilot's Mindset

There are many mindsets in education: fixed mindset, growth mindset, pirate mindset and innovator's mindset. How about a pilot's mindset?

I will assume someone has already jumped on this type of mindset and there is probably already a book about it. This post is writing blindly not having come across any of these writings at this point.

The inspiration for this blog occurred when I noticed a familiar phrase to pilots of Aviate, Navigate and Communicate. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) uses this phrase of priorities for pilots in command to use in time of emergencies.

A.N.C. is used to stay focused and remember to navigate the plane.

Sometimes we get caught up in something and forget to fly the plane which has devastating results. Aviate means to maintain control. Navigate is to be clear on where you are and where you want to go. Communicate refers to all stakeholders needing to be aware of the plans and needs. All stakeholders are needed to ensure the success of the journey.

ANC is something we all could use to help stay focused on our journey for doing what is best for all students to reach a desired destination.

Schools and airplanes have similarities as a vehicle to take people on a journey to a desired destination.

The need for a highly qualified and caring team.

Schools and airplanes require highly qualified personnel to be in control because the journey must be safe and the destination is nonnegotiable.

It takes a team of trained and caring people to reach a goal successfully for a large number of people on the journey. Some passengers need more accommodations than others.

The need for fuel.

We will not forget to mention the amount of money it takes to run these vehicles to make this journey happen successfully. We need to feed the machine so it keeps running successfully and keep up with updates and changes. Programs, equipment, furniture, technology, salaries, and benefits are very costly. Both vehicles are being forced to be innovate by thinking within the box as there is never enough fuel.

The need for an alternative route.

If a chosen route isn't working it is ok to have an alternative route. It is ok to dump something if it isn't taking you on the route intended. Don't continue a path blindly if you know it isn't working. John Hughes wrote the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles because he personally experienced a difficult time getting to Chicago from New York where a one day trip supposedly lasted five. We need to continually reflect on if what we are doing is indeed the best route toward the intended destination.

The destination is non-negotiable.

Passengers choose where they want to go. Pilots do not get to choose anything different. We want students to be productive contributing members of society. Changing what we do or adding programs is not good if it does not take us to the intended purpose or destination. If and when we take off and pursue something new it needs to be with purpose. It needs to take us to the desired outcome for the students.We need to remember that take off is not mandatory. Do not leave if it doesn't take us where we want to go.

The need to take risks. 

Journeys will have some disturbances along the way. We need to stay focused and proceed cautiously deciding what is best for the passengers, not just about what is best for us. Clouds and storms can be risky to enter, but make sure the probability of success for students is on the other side when we take that risk.

Stay ahead of the game.

As we move along in our journey, we must always have the destination in mind. We do not reach an end point in education as we are to always grow, but it is imperative that we stay focused. We need to be aware of the world around our vehicle. We need to know the needs along the way. We need to be ready to adapt to the changes of "weather". The best flights are not ones that are run on autopilot.

We need to stay focused.


Schools must continually move forward and not accept status quo.


We must continually reflect on our direction for students and ensure it will take us to a desired goal for students.


We need to remember that it takes a team working together to do what is best. It doesn't happen working alone on an island. All stakeholders need to be working toward the same goal so it needs to be clearly seen, heard, and visible at all times. What is the destination if everyone is working toward a different direction?
Created by @vrzemaitis using @Canva

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Litmus Test, The Golden Rule and Buy In

The Golden Rule. Can this be used as our Litmus Test to determine if what we are doing is right for all students? We need to take a step beyond this commonly accepted test. We need to look at the experiences we provide for students and question if it matches what we find successful for ourselves.

Let's use this Litmus Test of the Golden Rule to check if the experiences we offer students lead to their eagerness to come to school everyday? How do we change the mindset of having to go to school to looking forward to it?

What makes me look forward to joining a chat on many Saturday mornings? It isn't just one chat on Saturdays that I enjoy. It is #satchat, #satchatwc and #leadupchat. During the week it is #Learnlap, #tlap, #sldunktank, #LoyfulLeaders, #WGEDD and eager for #IMMOOC. Using the Golden Rule, what makes me excited about these chats and how can I provide the same things for my students? (Please note that there are no grades involved with this learning and growing.)

  • We seek out those that inspire.
  • We are encouraged to inspire in return.
  • We want to find a tribe that shares our passions.
  • We join chats because the topics are authentic and have meanings to our lives.
  • We grow the best when we are able to hear or see examples from others.
  • We grow when we have an authentic audience that provides some type of feedback.
  • We have to admit we love when we are welcomed into a chat.
  • We feel great when we are acknowledged. Some of us Tweet and never gain a response. We are present, but no-one notices we are there. Doesn't it make a difference when someone welcomes us by name or just takes the time to acknowledge a tweet with the heart.
  • We join the chats because it gives us a purpose to reflect and refine new meanings.
  • We are all welcomed, no matter the position and state because it is the belief that we all can contribute something valuable and learn.
  • We don't mind jumping into a chat late because we are eagerly welcomed because we know we are better together. 
  • We all respond because we know that there are no wrong answers.
  • We enjoy celebrating amazing statements or experiences shared by others. (Thank goodness for memes to show our excitement.)

Are we providing these experiences for our students?

This Litmus Test of using the Golden Rule can be applied to find the right Climate, Culture and Curriculum for all students.

My thoughts can only improve with feedback and input from others, but the following is a start.

The As of Climate. 

Collaboratively we need to creative a climate and foundation of CARE.
The As of climate pertains to all stakeholders of students, parents, teachers, staff, administrators, community, and global partners.

Acknowledge. Greet everyone daily.
Appreciate. Recognize those that inspire great things.
Applaud. Celebrate successes together. (Does everyone love memes to celebrate or is it just me.)

The Bs of Culture. 

The culture is a continual JOURNEY.

Build on our best. We believe we can always be and do better.
Build on learning. We can always learn more through challenges.
Build connections. We believe that we are all welcome and better together.

The Cs of Curriculum. 

Curriculum should be more about development of skills through content of themes in a global setting. No explanation is needed for these six Cs of "21st century" skills. (We need to come up with a new title for these skills before the century escapes us.)

Critical Thinker.

Created by @vrzemaitis via GoogleSlides
Challenges to these thoughts are welcome, amendments appreciated and collaboration to improve invited.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Cruise control should not be used to stay the course.

Continuous quality improvement puts you on a never ending journey.

Not only do I want to be on this journey, I want to do it with others that have the same passion and purpose. The journey is improved when others join you for the ride. Those other passengers include students, parents, teachers, administrators and community members. We are better together. However, I am discovering that with so many ideas of where to go and how to get there we become overwhelmed, overloaded, and lose our focus and even burn out. We actually are lost even though we are enjoying the ride with others. It is alright to change our course, because in the end, we do not want our journey together to end. But we must often take the time to remind ourselves why we took this journey together in the first place. The further we get from where we began (Our "Why")  the more we can get lost. We are then on a journey that is not taking us on the destination in which we originally set off.

Today I reflect on a conversation with my fellow passengers for positive improvement. They are the PLN from Twitter in today's @LeadUpNow #leadupchat conversation on saying NO. I decided to stop and pause on my journey to take in what others had to say and how it can relate to me on my journey before I continue to move blindlessly forward.

Today I decided to say no to the routine of cleaning on Saturday morning and grading papers because I was about to refocus the direction of my journey. Blogging at this moment is going to be more valuable on my journey in the long run.

Passionate educators have trouble saying no. I don't think we say yes because we want to prove we can do it more than we say yes to see if it is indeed something worth trying or testing if it is going to be awesome for our kids. We are skilled at taking risks. But there are so many things to say yes to. We need to have a mantra, a purpose, a vision, a mission, an overarching belief.

We need to have our GPS set toward a certain destination.  It needs to be reviewed often. It needs to be seen and heard. It needs to be our brand. It needs to be so apparent in all we say and do that people already know our answer before they ask their question.  It needs to be so apparent that they know that it is time to get in and join us or leave the journey altogether.

There was a point in the conversation where @LemarrTreadwell threw in a comment that really made me think. Why are we really saying no and why are people on the journey with us saying no? Is it because it isn't going to take us on our intended destination or is it because they lost sight in why we started in the first place and have learned to enjoy the cruise control; or status quo. It is easy to fall into a life of routine that has made life easier and comfortable.

Did we change the journey to be about us rather than the kids when we said no?

How do we get ourselves and others to get back on track? How do we get others to say yes when we know it is the right thing to do? How do we know that it is time to just let them out on the curb and keep on moving?

One thing I believe is that the purpose of our journey together needs to be loud and clear. We need to look back where we started often. We need to routinely make time to revise our "Why" and ensure what we are doing is indeed heading in that destination, toward the purpose we intend.

Happy to be along for the ride. Happy travels. @vrzemaitis
Created by @vrzemaitis using Canva