Sunday, December 11, 2016

Do You Believe?

It was great to see everyone last week at Eaton.  I hope you enjoyed the format and the discussion with each other.  I also hope you will carry forward the “I BELIEVE” message to your staff….especially when you meet back after Christmas.  We have to constantly remind ourselves that our teachers and students are capable of much more than we sometimes expect.  If we don’t believe, we can’t expect that they will.


The secondary campuses all have semester exams this week and there are also several elementary CBAs as we close out the first semester.  How will you and your staff use this information to plan for the Spring semester?  January is a great time to assess the progress you have made as well as examine the evidence you have collected in an effort to address your campus Problem of Practice.  In whatever leadership role you may be in, the evidence you have collected to this point should allow you to focus in on a specific area that needs to be addressed….as a New Year’s Resolution, what are your goals for the year?


Remember when I sent a link from TEA looking for exciting or great teaching stories?  Well, I didn’t either.  However Cara Carter took the time to nominate a couple of teachers from Wilson Middle School and they made the TEA Facebook page last week. 

It’s a great story and the teachers should be commended for taking the time to design a great lesson.   How many other great lessons and communication opportunities happen on our campuses every day that no one sees or hears?  One of the most important things you can do for your campus is to provide a positive message about your school (The Happiness Advantage?) in a variety of formats.  Where is the evidence to prove what a great school you have and how would someone know?


I lost count of how many people forwarded the YouTube video created by Forney ISD regarding their proposed calendar for next year.  I have included the link below in case you missed it.  The Districts of Innovation (DOI) is a program created last year by TEA as a way for school districts to apply to for certain things that fall outside the parameters of normal guidelines.  Quite frankly, it has many similarities to the High Performing School Consortium we applied for in 2012.  In the end, the Legislature overruled the idea of a District creating its own form of local control and while many districts are using DOI to make a case to adjust their calendars, there are a lot of people around the state that believe the Legislature ultimately may not allow the early start calendars. However, the fall break sure sound nice!!   There is still much to be learned by what they have shared as we challenge ourselves for new ways to solve the challenges facing our District.  Not only with calendars, but in all facets of the way we do business.  Here is the link:  Forney ISD

Sunday, November 13, 2016

What are you Thankful For?

Instructional Leaders,

I hope you have time to count the many things you are thankful for this week as we head into the Thanksgiving holiday.  One of my biggest blessings is know that our campuses and students are in your capable hands. I am looking forward to seeing you at the Principal PLCs this week.  As always, if you have agenda items send them to Michael and Logan.  It has been a fast and furious Fall semester and I am sure the break is coming a great time for all of us.  If you are traveling, please be safe and take care.


You all received the Supt. goals for the year last week at DLT.  I was asked more than once, how can I align the work my campus is doing with the data goals?  I think it is a fair question and one that may be simpler than it first appears.  There are four main goals that deal with student performance:  1. Early literacy, 2. Advanced academics, 3. PBMAS, and 4. Quartile 1 Distinctions.  If you really reflect on your campus Problem of Practice and your Theories of Action, my guess is you will find strategies and goals that address each of the four goals above.  Yes they may be worded differently, but when you aspire to meet the needs of ALL students, you immediately address the student groups associated with PBMAS.  When you plan things such as differentiated and small group instruction, you have also laid out plans to make sure students are both challenged at their own level and asked to do more. 
I am hopeful that the goals set forth by the Supt. do not change the plans and vision for your campus.  They may force you to tweak some of the questions you ask of yourself and your teachers and focus in on a certain population group, but in the end, if our teaching and learning is where we aspire it to be, and we focus on the right things, the numbers will take care of themselves.   I guarantee it.


During this Thanksgiving season, I heard an excellent tip I am going to try all this week.  The challenge is simple.  Every time you open your email up, the first thing you should do is send a quick note of gratitude to one person.  It could be a teacher, a student, and parent…it doesn’t matter, but spread a little Thanksgiving cheer.


Great video to use with staff:  I Will Not Let An Exam Decide My Fate

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Everything is Impossible Until Someone Does It!

Instructional Leaders,

This is another one of those busy weeks that unfortunately pulls you away from your campus.  Principals and Coordinators are involved in Learning Teams and then on Thursday we have DLT and Leading and Learning.  It is very important that all of us work together to make the time valuable and improve our craft.  The challenge in front of us….to meet the needs of all teachers and students is daunting, but not impossible.  More often than not, it is about belief combined with hard work.  When challenged to do the impossible what makes some people believe and some people not?  A couple of weeks ago, I shared JFK’s “We will go to the Moon speech”. In that case he was challenging a group of talented people to do something no one thought was possible.  At a conference last week, I was reminded of John Hattie’s research on ‘collective efficacy’ which in layman’s terms equates to teachers working together to improve their craft and student achievement AND their BELIEF that their works makes a difference (hello effective PLCs).  Collective efficacy, according to Hattie has a 1.74 effect size on student achievement.  Considering .4 generally represents a years’ growth, collective efficacy has the potential to have four times that effect on students! So I wonder, what if our most effective PLCs focus on the students that need us most? Think of the possible impact they can have.  Keep in mind, collective efficacy is not just going through the motions of working together, but includes a belief that the work really makes a direct impact on students. 
So the “Moon” speech challenged a group, but what about an individual?  I have also been wondering about that age old “the teacher matters” belief that we all agree has a huge impact.  Then I remembered the story of Roger Bannister.  Some of you may recognize the name, Banister was the first person to run a sub-four minute mile.  It was a mark many deemed impossible.  Not just hard, but scientist and others believed it was physically impossible.  In 1952, he was expected to win the Olympic gold in the mile, but he faltered and finished fourth.  He basically quite running for several months before he decided with a renewed passion that by changing a few things (eating habits, training schedule, etc) he could be even better. 
Roger Bannister finishes the first ever sub-4:00 minute mile!
Experts all agreed that to run a 4:00 minute mile, the conditions and track would have to be perfect (no wind, the right temperature, hard surface), but in May of 1954, Bannister ran on a cold, wet, windy day and posted a time of 3:59!  He broke a mark that almost everyone believed could not be done and it did it in less than ideal conditions, but he used unconventional strategies (including pace setters for the first time) and had a strong belief in his own abilities.  John Hattie, talks about “teacher self-efficacy”  as another high determining factor for student achievement (.94).  A teacher MUST believe they can make a difference and an impact on all students despite other factors, including their students backgrounds, the campus, even the PLC in which they belong.  When you look at the roster of teachers you work with on a daily basis, how many of them have that sort of belief?  Not a belief that they love kids, that is assumed, but a true belief that their students can and will be successful specifically because they have them in their class.  That is “teacher self-efficacy”.  One of the most telling points of the Bannister story is this:  Runners had been chasing the elusive 4:00 minute mile for years and even been offered large prize money, but no one could do it until Bannister changed a few things and believed in himself.  Between 1954 and 1956 (just two years), 28 runners broke the 4:00 minute mile.  Once they knew it could be done, it somehow became possible! You have teachers on your campus that have that Bannister type self-efficacy, the question is how can you put them in position to have more impact on “collective efficacy”?


Learning Teams-  This cycle, the focus in on mathematics. I hope that what you have seen the last few weeks will help you dive into deep discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of our mathematics teaching and learning.  If you will keep the Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment (CIA) process in mind, you will hopefully be able to begin to identify your next level of work.  Good luck!

Leading and Learning- You should have received the schedule for this Thursday.  In addition to the Learning Cycle previews, the PBMAS overview given my Melissa may be of particular interest to you. I know you have looked at your data, but if you have questions, etc. she will be there to discuss how it impacts your campus.  Finally, the ICLE debrief at the end of the day on Thursday was asked for based on some perceived inconsistencies among the ICLE trainers and we want to get your input and ideas before they return in Jan. for another round of PLCs.


This is an excellent, short video by Dylan Wiliam.  It points out that every teacher "fails" every day, but puts it into a great perspective.  Do we target improvement in all teachers or just the ones that have bad scores? Click here: Every Teacher Can Improve

Here is a short blog by Margaret Wheatley that I thought made some excellent points:  Hey So-Called Leaders, Want Feedback or Measurement?

Principals and Teachers Working Together: Find Your Finland

Sunday, October 23, 2016

We Choose To Go To The Moon!!

Instructional Leaders,

In an appearance at Rice University in September of 1962, President John F. Kennedy gave one of his most famous speeches.  It became known simply as the “We choose to go to the Moon” speech and in it, contains a phrase that resonated with me last week. President Kennedy, as he talked about some of the world’s greatest accomplishments used the phrase, “We choose to do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”  Basically he was publicly challenging the greatest minds in the world to place a man on the moon by the end of the decade.  The rest is history. He backed his challenge with financial support through the NASA program and the smartest people in the world not only had more than a dream, they had a timeline.  And it worked.  Here is a short clip of his delivery:

Last week we were challenged as a group to dramatically improve our results on both the PBMAS and the Academic Distinction reports issued by the state.  Some of you may have been thinking it would be easier to put a man on the moon, but the reality is we are more than equipped, both talent and resource wise, to accomplish this vision. If you think back to the last two years, we first studied Growth Mindset, which talked about continuous improvement through grit, determination, and belief.  If we truly adopted that learning philosophy, then the idea of setting lofty goals and working to achieve them will simply be modeling for our students what we hope they will do as well.  Last year we read The Beautiful Constraint, and the concept of “we can, if…” took hold as we worked to find creative solutions to both simple and complex problems.  I challenge you to pull from these experiences as you seek new and more efficient/effective ways to meet our students’ needs.

I have reviewed all of your campus Problem of Practices and the great thing about them is that the PBMAS and Academic Distinction goal can easily be layered on top of them.  For example many of you mention increasing the levels of rigor in your lessons and quite a few others use the word differentiation so that all students will make growth.  I assure you that if you accomplish those things, the ratings will take care of themselves.  We started the year talking about the C.I.A. and how they use evidence to solve problems and prove their case.  Sometimes cases go “cold”….generally because of lack of evidence or because those working the case have run out of scenarios that seem to make sense.  Sometimes a cold case is picked up by a new detective with a fresh set of eyes or perspective and it is solved.  Let’s put that theory to the test with a Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment cycle. 

  • Curriculum- Are your PLC and lesson designs stuck in a rut? If you consider our goals, how are teachers planning differentiation to help SPED students? What about planning for advanced level of performance goals?  If your planning has gone “cold” it may be time to look at it through a different lens. What needs to change to get different results?
  • Instruction- What do your teachers need to know to address the various needs of all the learners in their classroom? What is missing?  We are far enough into the year that as a leader you know who is doing well and who is struggling. This should be driving our Professional Development.
  • Assessment- Ultimately, the rubber meets the road with results. Not just test results, but student work on a daily basis.  Are you using the data available to formatively change practice and results? Jim Collins, in Good to Great, claims one of the first thing any great organization does is “confront the brutal facts”.  What is the current reality of your student progress?

The answer to any and all of our problems related to student achievement can be found in the CIA process. All we have to do is take a consistent, focused look at the information and determine what to do with it.


  • If you would like to subscribe to receive updates on PBMAS from TEA, follow this link: PBMAS Updates
  • How do you get your own staff to follow you? A U.S. Navy Admiral describes how he learned to make his staff think with intent.  Great video: What is Leadership?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Keep Up the Pace!!

 Instructional Leaders,

It’s a short week, but somehow those often seem to feel longer than normal.  We invariably try to cram 5 days of work into 4 and it often doesn’t work.  I hope you have created a steady, but not unreasonable pace for yourself and your campus this year.  The school year is a marathon, not a sprint and now is the time to keep a steady pace of action…don’t fall behind, but don’t burn yourself out either.  I am looking forward to seeing you at the Principal PLC’s this week and hearing more about all you have accomplished so far this year.   


As I made campus visits recently, I have been excited to see and hear about how much focus our campuses seem to have….especially in intentionally working to make the curriculum and instruction better for our students.  You have been swamped with CBA data the last couple of weeks and it is important to review it with your teachers, but of just as much value is taking the time to make your instructional impact walks really matter.  By taking time to review on your PLC and planning time, as well as giving REAL feedback on instruction, the results will follow.  Take the “It mattered that we met” philosophy into the classroom by saying, “It mattered that I visited the classroom or PLC because…”


Report cards came out last week and this may sound like a trick question, but what did they communicate to our parents?  Do we feel comfortable that they reflect the learning that went on in our classrooms?   I have often said that we communicate a lot about what we think is important by the types of assignments we align with our gradebooks.  You want your PLC to look at student work?  Try having them bring a copy of each assignment they put in the grade book last six weeks and see if they are the types of assignments that lead to the elusive rigor and relevance we are hoping to achieve.  We let our students down when we have great learning and discussion going on in class, and then culminate with a low-level individual assignments just because we “need a grade”.  When we assign a grade to a piece of student work, we immediately communicate that that assignment has a certain value over other types of learning.  Why do you think kids ask so often, “Is this for a grade?”  as if they will suddenly put forth more effort.  This is not a vent about grading. We need to assess our students and their level of understanding.  It is just a challenge to make sure what we are grading are the types of assignments we truly hope our students are experiencing. 

Do you ever get asked where certain programs are located in our District?  Here is a quick reference guide to specialized programs in NISD.

This is not real!!
One of our principals was recently recognized by another thought leader, George Couros, as a major influence on his thinking and educational philosophy. Congrats Dr. Romer!!!


As the stress level of October hits, this may be a good article to share with your staff:  An Open Letter to the Spouse of a School Teacher

A nice, short article on the needed skills of a 21st century teacher: Teaching Skills of a Modern Educator

I tweeted this one out and Joel is passing in on to our coaches, but it is good for everyone: The Coach That Killed My Passion

Sunday, October 2, 2016


Instructional Leaders,

The “newness” of the school year has more than likely officially worn off on your campus and in your classrooms as we head into October.  For many reasons, that is a very good thing, but it can also pose some challenges.  The great part is that your teachers should have a pretty good ideas of the students’ strengths and weaknesses.  The dreaded summer slide of getting a back into a routine should be over and it is a prime time to start raising the expectations for student work. The middle part of the school year should be where the rubber meets the road and majority of the active, authentic learning takes place.  We are entering that time coming of a very solid start.  It is time to capitalize on that foundation by building upon it. The challenges that may arise now, include busier schedules, student and parent struggles, and the inevitable inconsistencies that arise from class to class.  This is exactly why last week’s Learning Teams were so important, both to you and your campus, but also as a District.  Dr. Griffin and Dr. Faris will share summaries below, but most importantly, I hope you used the time to formatively assess the teaching and learning on your campus. It last week was summative, meaning we are done and move on, we will have wasted everyone’s time.  If however, the learning caused you to improve or change even the slightest bit to help your teachers and your students, then it will have been worth it.


I really hope you will take the time to read this article on teacher expectations.  Don’t get bogged down is some of the “nerdy” research dialog, but rather ask yourself, “Do we have an expectations problem on our campus?”  Chances are you do and don’t even realize it.  The article focuses on the differences in black and white students, but we could just as easily fill in the blanks with Poor vs. Wealthy students or on-level classes vs pre-AP/AP classes, boys vs. girls, or any number of other comparison groups.  Our results show that we have an achievement gap within NISD.  I beg you to stop looking at “High, Medium, Low” when you look at student work in PLCs.  Have your teachers compare their expectations by group to get a true sense of where you are as a campus.  Have them bring in a GATES student, and ELL student, a SPED student, etc and get a look at how ALL students are doing.  Give it a shot!  It can’t hurt to try. Here is the link:

LEARNING TEAMS: Dr. Griffin, and Dr. Faris, worked to facilitate the Learning Cycle, starting with Leading and Learning that Dr. Espinosa and the Curriculum Cooridnators facilitated and continuing through the Learning Teams Walks. Below are their summaries/pictures. They may be sending more detailed examples later this week.

Elementary-This past week, all four Elementary Learning Teams engaged in discussions and classroom walk-throughs focused on

teaching and learning in our ELA classrooms. The Learning Teams focused primarily on the following components of Reader’s Workshop:
·        Student Reading Response journals
·        Teacher modeling journals
·        Frequency in which students are provided opportunities to write about what the read at each grade level
·        Alignment of student and teacher journals across each grade level
·        Alignment between the depth of modeling by teachers and the depth of thinking in student journals·        Each day, Learning Teams visited approximately 35 ELA classrooms resulting in us collectively visiting almost every elementary ELA classroom in the district. That is an impressive feat! As a result of these focused discussions and classroom walk-throughs, we gained a clearer picture of the level of teaching and learning occurring in Language Arts classrooms, which many celebrations, along with some learning opportunities. Each campus leadership team and our C & I department left with a clear focus on the net level of work on which to focus our attention to positively impact teaching and improve student learning.

  • The focus for these walk-throughs was on observing the levels of student thinking as evidenced through writing or writing across the curriculum. We specifically targeted the level of thinking in the form of writing in the classroom, levels of rigor of writing prompts and questions and specific support structures such as learning targets, anchor charts, thinking maps and rubrics.
  • Next teams reviewed the Learning Team Writing Across the Curriculum look-fors we identified after Leading & Learning and the specific look-fors that each campus felt supported their work with their IF/PoP. (see Walkthrough Form)
  • We then broke into teams and spent 90 minutes visiting 15-18 classrooms on each campus using the walk-through form and collecting evidence of student thinking through writing.

SECONDARY JOURNALS- Detailed examples to be sent directly to principals
EXAMPLES OF HIGH SCHOOL JOURNALS- Full report will be sent via Google Link


This one may have more to do with secondary teachers than with elementary, but a helpful reminder to all.  We had to send a reminder this week to secondary principals about the use of text messaging with students.  I realize that 99% of them are meant to be helpful and share information, but with other tools available, it is not worth the risk to for your teachers.  It is also against Board policy with very few exceptions.  Many of our teachers are using helpful communication tools, such as Remind 101 to share information with parents.  This is safe, has a transcript that can be printed, and is easy to use.  I ask this not just as an administrator, but as a parent.  The Remind 101 texts I get from two teachers are helpful and allow me to be an updated partner in the kids learning.  It is very pro-active and I wish all my kids teachers used it.  Please continually remind your staff of the importance of positive, proactive communication, but also the hazards of texting with students.


The Fine Arts programs at the Secondary level have over 10,000 NISD student participating!!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Instructional Leaders,

Why is it that a short week always seems like a longer one?  We packed a lot in last week including the first DLT and Leading & Learning of the year as well as a ton of Chromebooks off and running.  I hope you will be able to put some of the information discussed into good use as you get back into the groove of a full week. 


Secondary Journal With Teacher Feedback!!
As we started our District first learning cycle of the year, one question I was asked on Thursday was “How does this fit into our campus problem of practice?”  That is a fair question.  The curriculum sessions you attended on Thursday (Elementary- ELA; secondary- Writing Across the Curriculum) were designed to give all of you “look-fors” in you classrooms over the next few weeks and should fit in with whatever your campus focus may be. The learning and growth will come through the collaborative discussions you will have with your Learning Teams and at your campus about the teaching and learning you observe.
The intent is that you are now equipped to enter a PLC or classroom and know what is coming up in the curriculum, what to look-for in the classroom, and an idea of what an exemplar might look like to guide your assessment of where your teachers and students are in relation to the standards. Please take time to complete the survey regarding Leading & Learning if you haven’t already:  L & L Survey LInk


Do you ever wonder where to start when trying to motivate students to do something that seems out of their reach?  This short video gives a touching lesson about how a teacher can learn lessons from the whale trainers at Sea World:  The Whale Story

Also, this one ranks up there on the scale of what do we encourage vs. what we allow.  Please encourage your students to think about entering the PTA Reflections competition this year.  There are so many avenues and ways in which students express themselves and the theme this year, “What is Your Story?” aligns perfectly with our Profile of a Graduate.  If it matters to you, it will matter to them.


The days of summer school being just for students that fall behind is truly a thing of the past in NISD.  While there will always be opportunities for students that need extra help, there are also many sources of enrichment and extension. Dr. McNeese will give a report over Summer Learning Opportunities to the School Board tonight and here are a few of the highlights:


Curriculum Updates:  Elementary  and Secondary