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Official blog of the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

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    Guest post by Brad W. Staley

    With so many things competing for their time, students often struggle to fit everything into a single school day. As administrators, we want to give them enough freedom to explore a variety of school offerings while still maintaining order.

    At Northside High School in Jacksonville, NC, we decided to try something new to afford students more autonomy to make the most of their day. We call it Power Hour: A one-hour lunch period in which students can use the time as they wish.

    Power Hour Benefits

    We have seen many benefits to this flexible lunch program:

    • Students have more time to participate in clubs and activities
    • Students without after-school transportation can participate in more offerings
    • At-risk students have additional tutoring opportunities
    • Campus-wide visibility is increased as administrators do not hold meetings, parent conferences, or other business during this time
    • Special education teachers can provide more IEP services

    We also developed a new program availablelunch at school during Power Hour, which includes character education lessons, guest speakers, student productions, music events, movies, and class meetings. The character education sessions can be made mandatory as a behavior intervention, which can coordinate with a school’s PBIS plan.

    Why the Students Love It

    The reviews are in, and Northside students are loving Power Hour:

    • Personal electronics can be used for personal purposes
    • Students benefit from increased physical activity
    • Students can take care of business in the main or guidance office
    • Students have freedom to make choices, leading to more individualized opportunities

    Power Hour Challenges

    As with every new program, we have encountered some challenges along the way:

    • With increased student freedom, new procedures must be taught and reinforced
    • Overhauled procedures take significant time to become ingrained in the school culture
    • Tutoring programs must be structured so students can attend tutoring for all classes
    • With increased student traffic, a detailed teacher duty schedule is critical—see a sample here
    • Feeding all students in 60 minutes poses challenges for seating, wait times, and student supervision
    • Allowing students to eat outside the cafeteria means custodians must have a plan in place to manage trash and students must be held accountable for disposing of their trash properly

    In order to maintain instructional time, the school day was extended by a few minutes and class transitions were reduced by one minute. To accomplish this, we worked hard with district-level leadership to coordinate bus times and school begin/end times.

    Lessons Learned

    During our first year with Power Hour, we came up with several ideas and innovations to make things run more smoothly:

    • We changed to a more specific tutoring structure with a homeroom on Fridays to take care of fee-collection, character education, administrative tasks, and to watch our school news program.
    • We now ring a bell at the halfway point of Power Hour, only allowing students to transition during this time, limiting free movement.
    • We implemented a lunch detention program concurrent with Power Hour—allowing minor behavioral issues and tardy students to stay in class more, which keeps in-school suspension numbers low.
    • Students now wear barcoded ID tags. Scanners were purchased for all high-volume areas (gym, track, weight room, media center) and students must scan into these areas for tracking and accountability.
    • Students with early-release from school now have a second ID card that they must show to the teacher on duty in order to leave campus.
    • Teacher duty stations were changed to add coverage in the most high-traffic areas.

    Considerations for Bringing Power Hour to Your School

    Here are a few things to keep in mind when thinking about implementing Power Hour for your students:

    • As with all changes, stakeholder buy-in takes time. The school administration must be willing to persevere to make it successful.
    • Communication is key. Establish a system of regular teacher and student feedback to create a needs-assessment. Take a look at these sample surveys to help solicit feedback:
    • Collect data and use it to drive adjustments. Use these documents as a guide:
    • Identify the key staff who will drive the change and make the logistics possible. These include the cafeteria manager, custodians, district-level leadership, bus coordinators, etc.
    • Visit some schools where there is a similar program happening. The information gathered during our visits was critical to our success.

    Some additional resources that we used include an informational slideshow, handbook, and our kickoff meeting/FAQ slideshow. I hope you find these helpful should you considering bringing an initiative like Power Hour to your school.

    Now tell me, how are you maximizing instructional time at your school? How can you modify your daily schedule to create additional opportunities for student access to programs? Please share in the comments!

    Brad W. Staley is the assistant principal of Northside High School in Jacksonville, NC, and the 2016 North Carolina Assistant Principal of the Year.

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    Guest post by Felix Yerace

    Over the last 11 years of my career in education, I have seen my students do amazing things and show leadership that I am not sure I possessed at 16 or 17, or 26 or 27, for that matter. They have improved their schools, advocated for their peers, given back to their communities, and made their world a better place. In doing so, they have learned powerful lessons that I could never have taught in the classroom. I am continually impressed with their efforts and abilities, and their work inspired me to go back to school to earn my PhD in Leadership Studies, focusing on youth leadership development to learn how to help other educators better support their own student leaders.

    I strongly believe that the most important task that we as educators have is to help foster leadership development and civic engagement among our students and help them grow into the leaders our society needs. Too often we discuss the “leaders of tomorrow,” but my experience has shown me that students want to be leaders today. We owe it to them, as the caretakers of their schools, to provide them with the support they deserve to make that happen.


    The NASSP Student Leadership Advisory Committee.

    A critical part of this is providing students meaningful opportunities for engagement at school. NASSP does this by sponsoring the National Association of Student Councils, as well as National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, and National Elementary Honor Society. These vital programs help give students a vehicle to channel their leadership skills, and we are fortunate these organizations exist.

    I was very excited when I heard that NASSP was creating a Student Leadership Advisory Committee. I applied, and I was honored to be selected as one of the three adviser committee members of its inaugural group.

    Our committee met for the first time in April, and we spent three very productive days networking, team-building, and envisioning a new national initiative for student leadership and engagement that could be utilized by students and their advisers across the nation. The project has the potential to positively impact millions of students and their schools, which is very exciting to me.

    NASSP also demonstrated its commitment to student voice in April by organizing a Student Leadership Advisory Committee briefing on Capitol Hill, the committee’s first public event, which discussed technology use in schools. Panelists included a student from Howard University Middle School in Washington, D.C., and another student from North High School in Sioux City, Iowa. Howard University Middle School Head of School Kathryn Procope and I served as the two adult panelists. Committee members who were not able to sit on the panel helped to promote the event on social media.

    During this special event, we spoke directly on the effects of education technology in our schools and its importance in students’ higher education and professional development. I was so happy that the students were featured prominently on the panel. It was a unique experience I know none of us will forget. NASSP worked hard to showcase student leadership and ensure that the most critical voice in educational reform—the student voice—is not overlooked.

    Felix Yerace currently teaches history, AP government, sociology, and leadership classes at South Fayette High School in McDonald, PA, where he also serves as student council adviser. Follow him on Twitter @FelixYerace.

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    Guest post by Heberto Hinojosa

    From small rural to large urban schools across the country, school administrators make hundreds of daily decisions that impact their school communities. We know that these decisions must be led by the overarching question of what is best for our students. However, an equally important component of decision making is the consideration of the legal implications of our actions.

    Being an active principal as well as teaching school law to over 100 aspiring principals in the last few years has given me a broad perspective on which education laws are stressed, overlooked, or unclear to different school districts. Throughout course discussions, students in the program share their experiences with the topic, which range from student discipline and special education (which are the most litigated areas of school law), to religion in school, student and educator privacy issues, and more.

    school legal issuesWhether decisions are made quickly or with time to process, understanding how school law should guide your decision making will protect you and your campus from any legal issues.

    Referring to a local resource is always an important step in helping you respond to legal scenarios. A fellow administrator, human resources support, or your school’s legal counsel are good points of contact. It’s also helpful to be proficient with your school board policy, and as you gain experience with it, making decisions according to code will become much easier. Remember to document along the way, as well as to collect statements from all parties involved.

    In addition to tapping into your local resources, Findlaw.com is an excellent public domain site that has been very beneficial to me over the years. It offers easy search tools and sections for the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Constitution, and U.S. Statutes. Findlaw also offers a legal dictionary, which is a great way to figure out what legal terms mean. Any state-specific legal resources are likely available through your state association.

    Now let’s get in legal mode and put your skills to the test: Respond to the following scenarios shared by current educators and post your decisions in the comments below.


    1. Your ELA teacher is trying project-based learning after setting up her flexible learning environments. Two students who were in an open space area begin fighting. Other students notify the teacher, she calls you, and you handle it. Two days later,the parents of one of the students send you and the teacher an email stating that they will be suing you for not monitoring the classroom  What do you do?

    2. Even after calling home, moving seats, and speaking with a disruptive student, he continued to be disrespectful and was written up for throwing a notebook across the room. Once in the office, you assign him in-school suspension for the remainder of the day and inform him he will not be able to play in tonight’s basketball game. When you call and inform his parents, they rush to the office demanding that you change your decision or they will go to the school board and superintendent as well as sue you if he does not play. What do you do?

    Teacher Contracts

    3. A coach with 26 years of experience and on a term contract has missed morning duty multiple times and stayed in his office while other coaches go out with the athletes. When he does go out, he uses profanity and is very negative. Two coaches come to you with concerns. What do you do?

    4. A parent comes to your office and shows you Facebook messages between their 16-year-old son and an art teacher with a term contract on your campus. The messages are highly inappropriate and of an intimate nature. What do you do?

    Religion in School

    5. Your school’s volleyball coach is also a Christian athlete’s sponsor. While doing a walk through in her classroom, you see that she has a poster promoting an upcoming meeting as well as a section of her classroom wall covered with bible verses. What do you do?

    6. A world history teacher recently gave an assignment for students to research a religion of any culture that has been studied in class. A group of students chose to study Islam.  When a boy’s parents found out they became angry and called to meet with you. They claimed that the teacher has no right promoting other religions in school and would like you to investigate. They state that they will go to the media as well as the school board. What do you do?

    Student Searches

    7. You receive a report that there is a strong odor coming out of the boy’s restroom. As you approach to investigate, two students are leaving. You ask them to stop, determine that the strong odor is marijuana, and walk the students to the office. Once in the office you search their bags and find a small bag of marijuana and a lighter. You call one boy’s parents and they immediately become defensive, stating that you had no right or permission to search his bag without their consent. What do you do?

    Special Education

    8. Two students stole money from the school’s snack bar. One is a regular education student and the other receives special education services. What process do you take to determine consequences for each student?

    How do you think you would handle these scenarios? Please share your decisions in the comments. What are the legal resources you would use to guide your decision making?

    Dr. Heberto Hinojosa is the principal of Fabra Elementary School in Boerne, TX, and the 2016 Texas Assistant Principal of the Year. He also teaches school law at Schreiner University.

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    Guest post by Kendrick Myers

    For years, character education has played a large role in schools. In 39 states, character education is mandated or encouraged. It is mentioned in the legislation of every state except for one, and in Alabama it has been a mandated part of the curriculum since 1995. However, character education is more than a mandate or legislative injunction. According to the National Forum on Character Education, it helps solve behavioral problems and improve academic achievement.

    My Experience with Character Education

    In 2012, I began my stint as an administrator at Opelika High School in Opelika, AL, and became part of a citywide character education initiative, One Book One City. This initiative involved schools, churches, and community centers embracing the concept of being Uncommon, the title of the book written by former football coach and Super Bowl winner Tony Dungy. The book became part of our book study for that school year. The city gave away 100 copies at one of our first home football games. We even had Uncommon shirts.

    myers teachingFor the next year, we reiterated monthly character traits throughout the city and went over concepts of the book such as honesty, integrity, respect, and friendship. Ultimately, as the book states, small actions of responsibility grew in our staff, students, and community members. Everyone was bolstering their effort to build our program and more effectively implement character education. This excitement carried into faculty meetings and our district and became the driving force for what we now call Academic Opportunity (or AO) at the high school.

    The Impact on Opelika High

    Academic Opportunity is a 30-minute class that focuses on character education and academic growth. Each teacher, principal, counselor, and administrator is responsible for the same group of 12–15 students throughout their high school careers, adding freshmen as seniors transition out. The curriculum focuses around building character and responsibility. This year, almost like 2012, we’ve initiated a schoolwide book study using Ron Clark’s The Essential 55.

    Our program, now in its second year, has gained admiration from our community and other schools. Small culture changes such as practicing the alma mater has brought our students together, arm in arm at football games and pep rallies, singing a song they once did not know. We have noticed a 16 percent decrease in failures and a 27.7 percent decrease in discipline referrals. Our teachers and students have a closer bond to one another, and I personally have developed a relationship with my 12 students that I may not have had without Academic Opportunity.

    In the End, It’s All About the People

    However, as Todd Whitaker would say, “It is never about programs; it is always about people.” It was not the shirts, the books, or even the character words posted throughout the city every month that bolstered our culture and character education program—it was the people and the follow through. Effective, comprehensive character education has a ubiquitous influence. Our school is much like many other schools that take advantage of character building opportunities.

    In Hoover, AL, Bumpus Middle School implements strong character education programs. Building on their “Respect the Bumpus Way” model and Bystander Button, the faculty and administration at Bumpus have helped curtail bullying and encourage responsibility. In St. Louis, MO, Bayless Elementary School created the Practical Parenting Partnership and embedded Character.org’s 11 Principles of Effective Character Education. As a result, they have more parent involvement and “over 94 percent of Bayless students read at or above grade level.”

    So, what’s the point? What do all these places have in common? These places have built comprehensive programs that have not just included the students, but the community. As educators it is our job to teach the whole child, and that includes tapping into resources outside of the school walls. It means building relationships and partnerships with stakeholders, modeling your expectations, evaluating your needs, and making every decision based on your goal as a learning community. More importantly, remember that character is not just about what we do, but how we do it.

    What do you or what will you do to build character in your school community? How have you been or how do you plan to be instrumental in this process? Please share in the comments below.

    Kendrick Myers is the assistant principal of Opelika High School in Opelika, AL, which serves 1,243 students in grades 9–12. He is the 2016 Alabama Assistant Principal of the Year and an avid #ALedchat participant on Twitter. Follow him @MyersMr.

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    Guest post by Clint Ross

    It’s something you can’t imagine happening at your school. But being properly prepared for a crisis situation—both during the emergency and afterward—is critical in this day and age.

    In nearly every state, mandates involving school safety reforms have been attached to school funding. The current state of society makes this a very worthy endeavor, but this undertaking comes with some serious consternation for school districts of all shapes and sizes. Since the 1990s, school safety programs have included canned platforms that were slightly adapted to particular communities, districts, and buildings—at best. Very little thought was given to coordinated efforts that would be necessary in true emergency situations. Unfortunately, as tragic situation after tragic situation has unfolded in communities of all sizes with pupils of all ages, school crisis/active shooter plans have become a key responsibility and focus of many assistant principals.

    school safetyIn many urban and suburban settings, the focus of a school crisis/active shooter plan can be centered around law enforcement and emergency responders that are present on campus (or who can be counted upon for immediate response). While this is a great service, planning, coordination, and effective/realistic drill scenarios also need to be conducted.

    In such circumstances, the immediate response has usually been well thought out. The situation is certainly chaotic, but it is something that has been drilled. However, the logistics of handling the post-emergency situation are infrequently discussed—and never drilled. These details can become the difference in handling a crisis—either perceived or real—in an efficient manner, especially regarding public perception.

    My Experience

    As the assistant principal of Lawson High School in Lawson, MO, for the past nine years, one of my duties has been to coordinate and document our school crisis management plan as well as its drills. Two years ago, we completely revised our plan and continue to revamp the plan each year.

    As we prepared to redesign our crisis plan in our semi-rural, semi-suburban setting, we had several obstacles to overcome. The biggest hurdle was public perception. When we were to the point of making some of our new plans and security measures public, some stakeholders didn’t like the changes. They were used to coming and going at the school (it’s our community’s most accessible public building) as they saw fit. The new policy took some serious education and adjustment time.

    Another important facet of our new plan was the inclusion of local law enforcement and first responders. This seems like such a no brainer, but in the past, the very people who were the most responsible for helping us in crisis situations were kept in the dark. This was an area of focus we set out to change.

    From the early planning stages to all subsequent drills (both fire and state-mandated active shooter drills), we sought buy-in, support, and advice from our local authorities. In our case, this was an undertaking. We sit at the junction of three counties, and many times we all look to each other to take action. Other times we all act at once, which is a problem. So we, as the stakeholders in this situation, needed to coordinate the response.

    Questions to Ponder

    Ask yourself the following questions as a jumping-off point to prepare a detailed crisis situation plan.

    1. What does your internal and external chain of command look like for crisis situations?
    2. Who are the crisis situation team members within your staff, and what are their roles and responsibilities?
    3. What equipment do you have at your disposal?
    4. What facilities do you have nearby that could be used for evacuation points?
    5. Who is in charge when you aren’t (or can no longer be)?
    6. What is your philosophy going to be in active shooter situations? ALICE training? Run-Hide-Fight? Total lock down?

    Attached is a table of contents from our school crisis management plan in our first attempt to simplify and map out our changes. (Our final plan has many more details included—this is intended to be food for thought only.)

    Now tell me, what plans does your school have in place for crisis management? Please share in the comments below.

    Clint Ross is the assistant principal of Lawson High School in Lawson, MO, and the 2016 Missouri Assistant Principal of the Year.

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    Guest post by Lesley Corner

    The transition from middle school to high school is a momentous occasion in a student’s life. Research shows the single most predictive indicator of high school performance is a student’s academic standing during the ninth grade, so it is my professional goal to help each student be successful from the start.

    Like most high schools, our data showed a need for intensive ninth-grade support. In conjunction with a team of teacher leaders and community members, I redesigned our ninth-grade experience. After we developed a vision statement, mission statement, and motto reflecting our overall beliefs, we developed a three-tier Freshmen Transition Program.

    Tier 1: All Freshmen

    Tier 1 includes the experience of all ninth graders. This experience begins for our rising ninth graders in the spring of their eighth-grade year. Our principal, ninth-grade school counselors, JROTC instructors, band director, and I meet with all rising ninth graders at our feeder middle school to talk about moving on to Camden High School (CHS). We follow up with our April Parent University on the ABC’s of ninth grade. These workshops lead into the full-day freshmen orientation provided by our student council on their first day of high school.

    high school transitionAdditionally, we developed a Leadership CHS course required for all incoming freshmen. This course includes four domains: Being a Bulldog: Introduction to the Bulldog Family; Strategies for Success: Academic and Social; Career and College Exploration: Incorporating School Counselors; and Leadership: Laws and Qualities. Leadership CHS prepares freshmen to become successful students and productive citizens. Students embark upon a comprehensive study of the academic, life, and leadership skills necessary both in and out of the classroom. In addition, students explore career and college options. Through book studies, service learning projects, and guest speakers, this course lays the foundation for success over the next four years and beyond.

    Tier 2: Rising Freshmen Not Meeting Standards

    Tier 2 includes students who did not meet standards in eighth-grade reading and/or math courses or who did not meet standards on eighth-grade standardized testing. In addition to our Tier 1 experience, these students are enrolled in a secondary literacy and/or algebra 1 mastery class in the fall of their ninth-grade year. These courses explicitly teach reading, writing, numeracy, and study strategies using Mathematics Design Collaborative (MDC) and Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC), so our students can meet and exceed grade-level standards.

    Tier 3: Freshmen Not Meeting Standards

    Tier 3 includes our most extensive interventions. For approximately 50 selected students, we developed a learning community led by a strong team of enthusiastic, expert teachers to provide data-driven, student-centered instruction. We meet the academic needs of Tier 3 students by offering additional academic support using research-based practices including flexible grouping, community mentoring, individualized instruction, and interdisciplinary curriculum. Using the concepts of High Schools That Work and other extensive educational research, we give all students clearly defined standards for quality work, adequate support to achieve these standards, and an understanding of the relevance of curricular content and skills for their future. A key feature of Tier 3 is the offering of “Lunch and Learn” to those students who are in need of additional academic support during the school day.


    This three-tier Freshmen Transition Program resulted in a 41 percent drop in ninth-grade retention, a 64 percent drop in ninth-grade discipline, and the highest standardized scores in the history of our school, with all subgroups showing significant gains. Furthermore, our freshmen became proud, productive members of our Camden Bulldog Family quickly because they were acclimated to our “Commitment to Excellence” before and throughout their ninth-grade year.

    Improving the ninth-grade experience leads to higher graduation rates and improved readiness for college and careers. What are some other benefits of providing a smooth transition from eighth grade to ninth grade? Do you know any other methods of creating a more effective ninth-grade experience?

    Lesley Corner is an assistant principal at Camden High School in Camden, SC. She is the 2016 South Carolina Assistant Principal of the Year and an NASSP National Assistant Principal of the Year finalist. Follow her on Twitter @lesley_corner.

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    Guest post by Tim Carver

    Increases in our socioeconomic diversity and bullying data caused us to rethink how we do business at Urbandale High School (UHS) in Urbandale, IA. We decided to develop a new approach centered around three key areas that define our culture: advisory through connections, student management through relationships and responsibility, and a focus on learning through quality and continual improvement.

    The Transformation

    Recognizing that students were not feeling safe and demographics were changing, we built our student-teacher advisory focused around connecting students to students and students to teachers, thus creating our unique advisory structure, Connections.

    Teacher Helping StudentConnections gives students a safe place where they can build a relationship with one teacher that they will connect with during their entire time at UHS. Connections groups are randomly selected, but each group is comprised of students from different grade levels, genders, and backgrounds. Each week Connections groups have activities focused on team building, school traditions and values, holiday celebrations, volunteerism, and academic planning.

    While focusing on relationship building across the school through Connections, we also shifted our approach to management of student behavior. We went from a purely punitive approach to one focusing on building mutually respectful relationships with students and staff, along with students taking responsibility for behaviors and planning to do the right thing. Now, when referrals come to the office, we work with the student to take responsibility for the behavior and develop a plan of responsibility to avoid the issue in the future. We also get students and staff together with an administrator to have a dialogue.

    Another key piece in our culture began five years ago when we shifted to focus on learning through Quality and Continual Improvement. We began learning at the district level around the work of W. Edwards Deming. In all parts of our system, we use cycles of learning through use of the Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) approach to improve processes and outcomes.

    The Outcome

    Since changing our approach, UHS has seen improvement in those areas that were of concern. We have seen very little bullying at all, and specifically a reduction in incidences of upperclassmen-to-underclassmen bullying.

    As UHS has experienced the shift to becoming a much more culturally, racially, and socioeconomically diverse school, students have reported feeling safer and more connected than they did when we were more homogeneous. When a student knows someone else cares about them, it is much harder for them to feel like hurting someone else or themselves.

    As you consider approaches to improving school climate and culture, how might you include a systematic approach to developing and maintaining healthy teacher-student relationships? Please share in the comments.

    Tim Carver is the 2016 Iowa Assistant Principal of the Year. He is in his 13th year as an administrator at Urbandale High School and his third year as associate principal, where he oversees special education and other student management.

    Author photo by Scott Pederson

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    Guest post by Kendrick Myers

    Have you heard the story of Telemachus? Or maybe the story of Odysseus? Either way, if you research mentoring, you will find that many authors make references to Greek mythology that paint the picture of a mentor as a wise teacher, advisor, counselor, advocate, and defender.

    Yet some educators and scholars would argue differently, referencing Bandura’s social learning theory as the framework for mentoring; a theory that suggests that individuals learn through observing the actions and behaviors of influential role models.

    My First Experience with Mentoring

    My initial experience with mentoring was an utter failure—the end. Okay, not quite the end. After my first year of teaching, one of my graduating seniors contacted me. He was a great kid and he wanted to talk about his future, the military, school—and me becoming his mentor. A pause loomed over our conversation, and he continued to explain that he just needed someone to come to for advice and encouragement.

    Student being mentoredI apprehensively agreed, but not because of the advice and encouragement. It was the word mentor that I could not get over. Mentor? What did that really mean? What if I did not have all of the answers? What were the guidelines? I wasn’t sure and sort of afraid to ask. Over the years, we emailed and conversed. I am sure, at moments, that I gave some astounding advice. However, we did not meet as much as I thought we should, we never gave the relationship a formal ending, and I didn’t know then what I know now.

    A Successful Mentoring Experience

    Four years later I was blessed with a second opportunity with the Building Individual Capacity for Success (BICS) program at Opelika High School. This mentoring program was designed to reach at-risk youth, helping to mold them and develop their potential for leadership and success. The school was two years into the program and I started my first year as a member of the advisory committee. I met the students, learned about the program, and built relationships with some of the partners. The next year, I became the adviser. This time, the mentoring experience was quite different.

    With the support of faculty members, Opelika administrators, and community members, we were able to build a wall of support and encouragement for the students. We used grant funds to create new experiences for our students—exposing them to colleges, conferences, and other cities. Auburn University helped facilitate tutoring sessions and each student was assigned a personal mentor from the advisory team. We even engaged our faculty in reaching at-risk students by participating in a summer book study of Eric Jensen’s Teaching with Poverty in Mind. The results: Of the more than 30 student participants in the few years that I served as adviser, 93 percent of them graduated on time, and 100 percent of them are employed. But the question still is, what made it a successful program?

    How to Build Successful Mentoring Programs

    The key is the people. You build successful programs with very well-developed, relationship-oriented, purpose-driven people. However, the source of developing a successful mentoring program starts with knowing the purpose of building the program:

    • Ask: Who are you trying to help? What are you trying to accomplish? Why?
    • Identify potential solutions.
    • Ask: What can be done and when?
    • Identify which people can help with those solutions.
    • Identify your resources (local businesses, business owners, universities, or colleges).

    Then, plan, plan, and plan some more.

    What are some needs at your school or in your community? How can mentoring play a part in fulfilling that need?

    Kendrick Myers is the assistant principal of Opelika High School in Opelika, AL, which serves 1,243 students in grades 9–12. He is the 2016 Alabama Assistant Principal of the Year and an avid #ALedchat participant on Twitter. Follow him @MyersMr.

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    Guest post by Rhonda Calvo

    As educators, we are dedicated to the education of every student, but how do you educate every student when some require discipline consequences that are out of school? According to the U.S. Department of Education, “of the 49 million students enrolled in public schools in 2011–2012, 3.5 million students were suspended in-school; 3.45 million students were suspended out-of-school; and 130,000 students were expelled.”

    I believe most people would say that out-of-school suspensions are not effective. For most students, the suspension is a vacation. Research also supports this thought, showing that suspensions are associated with negative student outcomes such as lower academic performance, higher rates of dropout, failures to graduate on time, decreased academic engagement, and future disciplinary exclusion.

    In light of this reality, school administrators must decide how to educate all students, everyday, in a manner that fits their school culture and community.

    Our On-Campus Behavior Program
    Since its implementation two years ago, our on-campus behavior placement has been very successful. We can attribute the success of this program to the following components:Behavior programs

    • One licensed teacher is in the behavior program classroom. The students need the consistency and boundaries given by this one teacher. This person must be a teacher who has a passion for these students and who has the ability to build a positive rapport.
    • Students are able to easily access their education. For schools with technology, Google Classroom eliminates excuses. Students will always be able to complete their work provided by their classroom teachers.
    • Students are required to follow campus policies, such as standard student attire and cell phone policies. Operating on an alternate bell schedule rather than the comprehensive campus also has its benefits.
    • There are established criteria for students to “earn” their way out of the behavior placement. In our program, students must attend school daily or provide an excused absence note, fulfill their daily goals, complete their classroom assignments, and have no further behavior incidents to earn credit for each day.
    • Activity time and character education are included in the daily schedule.
    • Once students have earned their release from this placement, they must complete a reflection project based on their infraction. Through this project, they must report what they have learned and what strategies they can now use to make better choices in the future.
    • When it’s time to return to the comprehensive campus, students complete a “re-entry” conference. Students share their reflection project with the dean of students or a counselor. This allows the student to have a fresh start and to know that there are adults that believe they can find success.

    This program has produced measurable success:

    • Zero students have been sent to the district’s behavior programs.
    • Our expulsion recommendations have been reduced by 50 percent.
    • Students suspended out of school have been reduced by 217 percent.
    • Academically, we have seen an increase in students’ grade point averages and credits earned toward promotion.
    • Our recidivism rate remains below 10 percent.

    We have seen that with the proper support, the majority of students want to find success and want to be recognized for this success. Parents are also appreciative because an on-campus placement shows the family that educators value their child and want their child to grow and move forward. With the data collected, interventions can be tailored to the needs of each specific student to prevent discipline incidents.

    Things to Consider
    Here are some questions to consider when planning an on-campus behavior program:

    • Can you justify the funding to dedicate one teacher to an on-campus behavior program?
    • What data will you use to create the placement or levels of placement needed for your students?
    • How do you help these students transition back to the comprehensive campus and peers?
    • How could you involve the counselor or other adults on campus in a mentoring role?

    Have you implemented a similar program at your school? Please share what success you have had with alternatives to out-of-school suspension, how you went about this shift, and the results you’ve seen.

    Rhonda Calvo is the assistant principal of Jerome Mack Middle School in Las Vegas, NV, which serves 1,300 students in grades 6–8. She is the 2016 Nevada Assistant Principal of the Year.

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    Guest post by Drake Shelton

    When I drive, my GPS helps me navigate to where I am going. It shows me multiple routes, an estimated arrival time, and the distance to my destination. My GPS has saved me countless hours of frustration by alerting me to traffic and helping me get back on track when I get lost.

    But as Connie M. Moss, Susan M. Brookhart, and Beverly A. Long state, “a GPS can’t do any of that without a precise description of where you want to go.” They ask educators to think of Learning Targets as a GPS to student learning. Instead of flying blind in the classroom, Learning Targets help “convey to students the destination for the lesson.”

    This GPS analogy has been very helpful in showing the importance of Learning Targets to teachers and students at Alliance High School. Unlike content standards—which define the broader knowledge, skills, and concepts that students should master at grade level—Learning Targets describe what students should know or be able to do as a result of a particular lesson, and are written in student-friendly language.

    GPS for student learning

    It is much easier for a student to understand a Learning Target such as “I can explain the three levels of government and which one most affects my local community” rather than the content standard that reads, “explain how the U.S. Constitution establishes a system of government that has powers, responsibilities, and limits that have changed over time and that are still contested.”

    Viewing Learning Targets like a GPS helps students understand how to navigate their learning. During a lesson, it is beneficial for students to:

    • Know their destination for learning
    • Choose from multiple learning routes
    • See the estimated times for each route
    • Recognize obstacles or traffic that may stand in their way
    • Access help if they get lost
    • Learn the assessments they will encounter along the way

    We encourage teachers to design their lessons using this helpful information. Just like a GPS works backward from the destination, creating the Learning Target is the first step. To do this, teachers must develop a scope and sequence for the lesson that shows growth, critical thinking, and a variety of learning styles to engage every student. Once the Learning Target destination is set, teachers should offer choices so that students can select the “route” that works best for each of them.

    In addition, we want teachers to assess students formatively throughout a lesson. Formative assessments, such as exit tickets and discussions, allow teachers to measure their effectiveness and provide assistance by knowing which students are keeping pace, which are stuck in traffic, and which are completely lost. Students who are stuck or lost will then be able to get peer assistance, one-on-one help from the teacher, or whatever support is needed to get back on track.

    To have a successful journey, the Learning Targets, which help navigate the students’ learning, are critical. Some students may choose the quickest, most direct path to learning, while others may take the longer, more scenic route. Whichever way they go, students will arrive at their destination so long as they know their Learning Target.

    How do Learning Targets relate to outcomes in your classrooms? How do you use assessments to drive instruction in your school? Share your experiences in the comments.

    Drake Shelton is the vice principal of Alliance High School in Portland, OR, the district’s only alternative school, serving students 15–21 years of age. Shelton is the 2016 Oregon Assistant Principal of the Year.





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    Guest post by Allison Staffin

    A professional learning community (PLC) is more than just a time to prepare lessons, grade papers, and create learning materials—it is an opportunity to impact student learning. Based on the DuFour model for PLCs, it is essential to consider the differences between teaching and learning. PLCs lose credibility unless the educators who are part of them keep the fundamental concepts of Professional Learning Communities at the forefront of their thinking when it comes to educational reform.

    PLCs have to participate in the hard conversations. This includes discussions on what learning looks like in your classroom, how to evaluate data to inform instruction, and determining the critical questions that guide PLC work, including those related directly to learning. These are the beacons that guide professional learning communities.PLCs

    The Essentials
    To make the most of PLCs, these five components are essential:

    • Shared beliefs, value, and vision—where all members of the learning community are focused on their own continued growth and that of their students.
    • Shared and supportive leadership where the principal is seen as the gatekeeper. The principal must support the work of the PLCs and provide ample opportunities for teachers to share their practice through talk and observation.
    • Collective learning and its application, allowing participants to work together to share what is learned about student learning and teaching.
    • Supportive conditions where members of the school community must support a culture of collaboration. There must be a mutual trust and respect between the participants in order to create a caring culture where personal connections are needed to overcome relational obstacles.
    • Opportunities for participants to share personal practice: examining each other’s pedagogical practice, assessment, and classroom management are regular aspects of PLC work. These components are not meant to be evaluative, but essential components to enable staff to grow professionally.

    At High School West, our staff has found PLCs to be very powerful. We began small with eight cross-content groups and have grown to 30 content-driven PLCs that run weekly as a duty period. Staff members use this time to share data and identify what their students are doing well and where they need more support. These opportunities have enabled staff to examine their own practices as well as share their best strategies.

    In our cross-content PLCs, for instance, we identified what we all do in common, developed a set of common expectations for all students, and made a commitment to institute these expectations from course to course. Our PLCs have also provided insight into our honors and AP programs. By working together in vertical teams that represent grades 9–12, staff members utilized backward design to anticipate what their students will need to be able to do in order to maintain honors and AP status.

    Roadblocks and Solutions

    In a comprehensive high school setting that is not set up based on student learning communities or houses, it is sometimes difficult to sustain professional learning communities. Often teachers find themselves in need of additional planning time, work, and grading sessions, where they often lose sight of the real strength of meeting in a PLC. Time to really collaborate, focus, and learn from one another continues our own professional growth, as well as the growth of our students.

    The one thing that teachers ask for most is time. Time to collaborate, time to create, time to focus, and time to simply get things done. As we continue to carve out time, it is essential that we remember the purpose and strength of strong professional learning communities: student learning and teacher pedagogy. The beauty of education is the opportunity to reflect on our craft. And as we work to give the best that we can to ourselves and our students, it is essential that we consider the foundational elements of the work that we do.

    Continual reflection of what is working well and what is not working is the basis for this reflection, and ultimately PLC conversations. Having organized time to work with colleagues to analyze data, evaluate materials, and examine practices can only benefit us. The use of peer observation, collaboration, and focused attention to specifics within our disciplines can only make us better and our students stronger.

    Professional learning communities, if developed thoughtfully and thoroughly, will have a tremendous impact as we reflect on teaching versus learning.

    How have PLCs worked in your building? What have been the strengths? What have been the obstacles? Tell us in the comments.

    Allison Staffin is the assistant principal at Cherry Hill High School West in Cherry Hill, NJ, and is the 2016 New Jersey Assistant Principal of the Year.





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    Guest post by Ashanti Foster

    In my school, I have had great success with integrating the arts into classroom learning experiences. This integration can raise student achievement by improving motivation and increasing cognitive development.

    Arts integration has proven to be a partnership that increases engagement, deepens understanding, and raises success for students. In President Barack Obama’s 2008 Arts Policy Campaign, he argued for reestablishing the investment in arts education and reigniting the creativity and innovation in America.

    The President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities (PCAH) found that the value of arts includes “helping kids find their voice, rounding out their education, and tapping into their undiscovered talents.” The research concluded that, “on average, arts-engaged low-income students tend to perform more like higher-income students.”

    The Case for Arts Integration

    Young violinist womanSo what makes arts-integrated classrooms work? The Arts Integration and Learning study in 2002 reported that arts-integrated experiences appear to increase student willingness to learn and overcome barriers to understanding. During a non-arts classroom activity, students described significant barriers to understanding, saying:

    • “When it is something I don’t know or have to read in a book by myself, it is not very easy. Some stuff is hard if I don’t know it.”
    • “It’s just the way some teachers teach. They just tell us to read the stuff and don’t really explain it to us. We just have to read it and try to figure it out and just because you can read it doesn’t mean you understand it. It makes it really hard.”

    But after an arts-integrated unit, students remarked that though there were barriers to understanding, they were able to overcome the challenges:

    • “The hard part was trying to make it into a play. I thought that was hard because we had a really long time period of researching. It took a long time and work. It was hard to get the group to agree sometimes. We had to negotiate.”

    PCAH also reports that brain research supports the integration of arts in learning experiences and finds that arts-integration techniques improve cognitive development. Music training, for example, plays an important role in phonological awareness. In addition, the practice of art helps to train students’ attention and ability to focus, which improves overall general intelligence. Arts-integrated techniques also enhance long-term memory by utilizing multiple senses to repeat information.

    How We Made the Arts Work

    To ensure arts integration, our school pairs our teachers of the arts with non-arts departments to find ways to utilize the arts in learning activities. For example, our theater teacher worked with our history department and incorporated dramatic techniques to promote engagement and deepen student understanding of the Civil War.

    Local artists also participate in professional development on a regular basis with interdisciplinary teams of non-arts educators. These collaborations have brought a number of local and national musicians, artists, and performers to our school. Our students have played the steel drums, performed on the stage, and painted large murals. Watch this video to see our Arts Integration Partnership Program in action.

    What does your school do to integrate the arts into student learning experiences? What do you think administrators can do to support arts integration?

    Dr. Ashanti Foster is the newly appointed principal of Thomas S. Stone Elementary School in Mt. Rainier, MD. As the 2016 Maryland Assistant Principal of the Year, Foster served as the Academic Dean of Oxon Hill Middle School in Ft. Washington, MD.







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    Guest post by Marianna Valdez and Tisha White

    New Leaders has been training and supporting principals of high-need schools for more than 15 years. From this experience, we have learned that principals who achieve dramatic gains at their schools virtually never lead alone. Our most successful principals unfailingly encourage and cultivate leadership among their teachers so that the burdens and rewards of conceptualizing and carrying out instructional improvement efforts are shared.

    There is growing recognition that fostering teacher leadership is key to accelerating school improvement. However, if we want to achieve that potential, principals cannot simply appoint strong teachers to leadership roles.

    As we describe in our recent report, Untapped, great teaching doesn’t automatically translate into great leadership. Even teacher leaders with a record of achievement in the classroom need support, guidance, and, ideally, high-quality training that includes real-world learning opportunities to develop the skills required to lead significant improvement in instructional practice among their colleagues.

    Teacher Leader Training in Action

    Heather DeFlorio Asciolla, a teacher leader at a Queens, NY, high school exemplifies this reality. Because of her skill in the classroom, DeFlorio Asciolla was appointed as head of the English department. But she was unclear on what the role’s responsibilities should be and did not understand how to draw on her own success as a teacher to elevate instruction across multiple classrooms.

    During the 2014–15 school-year, the New York City Department of Education provided DeFlorio Asciolla with the opportunity to participate in New Leaders’ Emerging Leaders program, a year-long training experience that included job-embedded leadership practice and expert coaching as she led a team of teachers at her school.

    DeFlorio Asciolla worked with a team of three ninth-grade English teachers during her training year, a decision informed by the school’s priority to significantly raise the writing skills of incoming students. She received ongoing coaching from her Emerging Leaders program director that clarified her role and responsibilities, as well as helped her cultivate key leadership skills needed to boost student achievement. This included using data to set goals and better support individual student needs, delivering actionable feedback, and holding difficult conversations to change adult mindset and practice.

    DeFlorio Asciolla reports that this training was particularly effective because she had to capture herself on video carrying out real-world leadership assignments at her school. This allowed her to watch herself in action at weekly in-person meetings with her director and peers in the program and receive feedback so she learned exactly where she was succeeding and where she needed to improve.

    When teacher leaders are given opportunities for job-embedded practice and feedback, significant growth in student learning follows: DeFlorio Asciolla and her team led dramatic gains among their students. Similarly, 70 percent of all Emerging Leaders participants have increased student achievement in the classrooms they supervised during their training year.

    How to Improve Teacher Leadership in Your School

    While not all principals have access to this kind of external training for their teacher leaders, there are steps they can take to cultivate high-quality teacher leadership at their schools:

    1. When selecting candidates for leadership roles, seek out those with a strong record in the classroom and the right disposition to lead other adults to similar success. This includes evidence that individual staff members can lead academic gains, set and exemplify high expectations for all, earn respect and trust among colleagues, and navigate difficult conversations.
    2. Build a leadership team that capitalizes on diverse backgrounds and expertise areas. Once that team is in place, assign responsibilities in accordance with individual strengths and school leadership priorities.
    3. Clearly communicate expectations to teacher leaders, setting specific impact goals and providing regular feedback to ensure those goals are met.
    4. Account for future leadership needs by providing opportunities for teachers to develop key leadership skills incrementally, building learning and opportunities for feedback into their daily responsibilities.

    How have you cultivated leadership among your teachers? Share your experiences in the comments below.

    Marianna ValdezTisha White
    Marianna Valdez is the national director of program evaluation at New Leaders and Tisha White is the executive director of emerging leaders at New Leaders.




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    Guest post by Veronica “Voni” Perrine

    It was the fall of my first year as an assistant principal at Middletown High School in Middletown, DE. My principal handed me the Advanced Placement coordinator’s manual and informed me that I was the new coordinator. The thought of being the AP coordinator was, to be honest, a little daunting. I was now in charge of ensuring that students had rigorous courses taught by skilled teachers who would lead these students to take the AP exam—an exam with scores that could influence their future educational opportunities.

    Thankfully, my journey with the AP program has been incredible, and I’ve learned many lessons along the way about how to make Advanced Placement a meaningful student learning experience.

    Student Recruitment

    Study groupHow do you know if your kids have AP potential? And how do you get them interested in taking AP courses? If students are motivated and not afraid to work, they have potential. To find out “officially” if they have potential, you can use their scores from the PSAT test as a predictor. In addition, you can recruit students by having the AP teachers visit the honors classes, give a course overview, and answer any questions about the program. Our teachers encourage students to register for specific AP courses and make recommendations to our guidance counselors. We do not, however, require a teacher recommendation or a specific GPA for enrollment.

    Another idea is to invite students and parents to an information session. At our annual AP information night, teachers are on hand to provide course overviews, discuss syllabi, and share textbooks and class artifacts. Guests also have the opportunity to meet current AP students and ask them questions about the program. All of these recruitment tools have proven to be successful and, I believe, have helped boost our AP enrollment.


    The master schedule likely has you considering various options for how and when to offer AP classes. Should you offer them every day all year long, every other day all year, or as a semester block? While the research says semester versus yearlong has little effect on test results, I am a firm believer that AP courses should run yearlong. Students need time to digest all the material and develop the skills necessary to be successful on the exam.

    Our AP courses run yearlong. Some meet every day; others every other day. This gives students the entire school year to read, analyze, practice, draw, and experiment. We run a 90-minute four-by-four block master schedule; but, as lead scheduler, I take the extra effort to run two blocks of A/B days for our AP classes that don’t meet every day. Students need and deserve that time. (Learn more about scheduling in a related blog post, “Mastering the Master Schedule,” by fellow assistant principal Ashanti Bryant Foster.)

    Gaining Course Approval and Teacher Training

    Another piece of the AP puzzle is gaining course approval. Course syllabi need to be submitted on the College Board’s AP Central website and then approved by your school’s AP coordinator. Once approved at the local level, it is automatically submitted to College Board, whose trained professionals will carefully review it and make suggestions, if needed. If College Board rejects a syllabus for the second time, they will assign your teacher a mentor to help align the syllabus to their standards.

    But I don’t sweat this approval process. Our AP teachers know the course expectations because of the superb training they receive at AP Institutes, a professional development opportunity that occurs on various college campuses. I strongly recommend my teachers attend this training, even though it’s not mandatory to teach an AP class. Led by College Board-endorsed consultants, AP Institutes provide participants access to the content and resources to enhance their teaching of subject specific AP courses. Attending the institute also gives teachers the opportunity to network with peers throughout the world.

    I’ve included a copy of my personal “AP to-do list,” which I update each year. It helps me organize by AP responsibilities and plan my professional calendar.

    To-do list for AP

    • Review the AP coordinator’s planning calendar.
    • Reserve rooms at the beginning of the year.
    • Get an accommodation list.
    • Review courses for audit in October.
    • Mail the AP participation form and survey by November. 15.
    • Give out bulletins, order forms, and driving permission slips in January. Up the ordering deadlines for forms and preadministration by at least two weeks.
    • On the exam order spreadsheet, place exams in the same order as the online AP order form.
    • Check the deadline for ordering and downloading studio art submissions.
      • Check conflicts before ordering tests (don’t order if you know it’s going to conflict—wait for late testing).
    • Schedule and train proctors, and account for special accommodations.
    • Complete preregistration per period the last week in April.
    • Collect student packs, put them in alpha order, and distribute them for each test.
    • Check in all testing materials when they arrive and sort in bins per test.
    • Prepare Rooms:
      • Signs
      • Clock
      • Pencil sharpener
      • Pencils and pens
    • Block out the day after the last day of testing for packing up and shipping back all exam materials.
    • Order late exams—if needed—on the final day of testing.
    • Send in payment by June 15 to avoid late fees.

    What tips do you have for implementing an AP program? How do you get your staff and student body excited about the challenges of AP classes? What successes have you had with AP and what challenges have you encountered? I welcome your questions and comments below.

    Veronica “Voni” Perrine is the assistant principal of Middletown High School in Middletown, DE, which serves 1,455 students in grades 9–12. She is the 2016 Delaware Assistant Principal of the Year.




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    Guest post by John Carder

    “Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood? In your neighborhood? In your neighborhood? Say, who are the people in your neighborhood? The people that you meet each day.”

    We can all learn a lesson or two from Sesame Street. It reminds us about the importance of getting to know the people and community around us. Establishing relationships with community partners and businesses has become an integral component of the educational experience for students at Marion Harding High School in Marion, OH.

    Community Partnerships

    student workingOver the past three years at Harding High School, the administrative team has worked to grow and foster community partnerships with local business leaders. Before 2013, the school had zero formal relationships with any business in Marion County. During the summer of 2013, our team began reaching out to local organizations and asking them to work with the school system. We provided businesses with a simple form they could fill out, indicating their desired commitment level. They chose from several options, such as being a guest speaker, allowing a student to shadow a worker in their business, or even offering students to intern at their facility.

    Our message was simple: “We want you to be a partner with the school system to develop your potential employees.” In Marion, OH, about 60 percent of graduates do not go to a two or four-year college and the majority of those students stay, live, and work in Marion for the remainder of their lives. Harding High School is truly developing the workforce for the city.

    Diploma Plus

    Diploma Plus is a foundational pillar for the Marion City School District. The idea behind Diploma Plus is that students need more than just a high school diploma to be successful. They need something else to go with it. We’ve defined the “plus” as acceptance; acceptance to a two or four-year university, acceptance to the military, acceptance to a high-demand job, or acceptance to an apprenticeship. Our discussions with local businesses have been focused on identifying specific skills, mindsets, and traits that are necessary for successful employees and how the school system can help foster those in graduates.

    To help define these traits, we created a “design team” at Harding High School. The design team members consisted of multiple business leaders; deans from Marion Technical Institute and The Ohio State University; and middle school and high school teachers and administrators. One product of the design team was the creation of a “Portrait of a Graduate.” This visual model outlined the key traits that graduates should leave the high school setting with so they are prepared for success.

    Increasing Opportunities for Students

    With cooperation from local city business leaders, students at Harding High School have more opportunities than they have ever had before. Programming that is offered at Harding is aligned to what our community partners have told us are high-demand career fields in this geographical area. Students are graduating with certificates in a wide variety of areas that are all focused on this area’s need. Students are getting certified as forklift drivers, state-tested nurse’s aides, and Microsoft Office specialists.

    These certifications not only give our students an edge over others when it comes to employment opportunities, but also provide students with opportunities to earn a higher paying job right out of high school compared to their peers without a certification. Our community partners are excited about the students coming out of Harding and are ready to begin employing their next generation of skilled workers.

    Getting to know the people in our neighborhood has certainly proved mutually beneficial. The relationships that we have forged with our community and business leaders have been central to enhancing the educational experiences for our students and creating new opportunities that prepare our graduates with the skills they need for success after high school.

    What partnerships do you already have in place? How can your local area leaders help create opportunities for students in your school? What can you do for them, but more importantly, what can they do for your students? Ask and you will be surprised what you find out!

    John Carder is an Assistant Principal at Grove City High School in Grove City, OH. Previously, he was an Assistant Principal at Marion Harding High School in Marion, OH, where he was named the 2016 Ohio Assistant Principal of the Year.






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    Guest post by Greg Bozarth

    In 2012, Lava Ridge School District had a simple goal: for all students—even those who struggle with behavioral issues—to learn at high levels. That’s why we formed our PBIS “Touch Gold” program in 2013, and little did we know how important this framework would become for student interventions.

    PBIS, or Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support system, seeks to establish a more proactive and positive school culture by using a systematic framework for student interventions. According to Carol Anderson, a Utah State Office of Education Specialist, an effective Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support system (PBIS) should:

    • Establish schoolwide behavioral expectations for all areas of a school
    • Explicitly teach the expectations to everyone in the school
    • Reinforce the expectations for all students and staff
    • Correct behavioral errors in all areas of a school

    Our PBIS Journey

    To implement a schoolwide PBIS system, Lava Ridge gathered together a diverse group of teachers and administrators, including specialists in various content areas, special education, counseling, administration, and more. We researched schools with successful PBIS systems to learn the key components and establish our own behavioral expectations, reinforcement system, and a behavior matrix that classifies minor and major offenses and the consequences.

    student and teacherNext, we instituted a data tracking system to record and evaluate the success of our interventions. This tracking system, which we call our “Will/Skill website,” is modeled after PBIS World and allows us to handle behavioral interventions more systematically and hold each other accountable so that no students slip through the cracks.

    This tool contains a menu of misbehaviors frequently observed in school such as tardiness, defiance, lack of motivation, impulsiveness, etc. Teachers utilize the Will/Skill website to identify struggling students; research and identify root behavioral causes; select intervention strategies; and record and track how those interventions are working.

    Our Interdisciplinary Teams (I-Teams) meet every other week to discuss the behavioral concerns of the students they share. When they identify a student who repeatedly struggles with a behavior issue and for whom Tier 1 interventions are not enough, the team selects an intervention from the Will/Skill website and commits to using this intervention with the student in a unified, consistent manner for two weeks until the next I-Team meeting.

    We hold ourselves accountable by asking the following questions: Is it working? Is the intervention truly being utilized evenly among all team members? Is it having the desired effect? If it is not, then what is our next intervention effort going to be?

    If our I-Teams have tried and documented three different interventions and the student has not responded, the I-Team will refer that student and all of the documented interventions and results to our PBIS-Tier 3 team. Using our combined expertise, our PBIS team finds interventions that will address the root causes of a student’s behavioral concern.

    Our Tier 3 team, for example, reviewed an I-Team’s interventions for a student and decided to utilize an individualized token economy intervention called Check-In/Check-Out. Every morning, a mentor met with the student to build a rapport and help him identify a behavioral and academic goal for each day. Their daily meetings allowed the student to review how he performed and helped him learn how to monitor and track his own progress. As a result, the student passed all of his classes and was no longer referred to the office for misbehaviors for the remainder of the school year.

    Our PBIS Success

    Lava Ridge’s PBIS “Touch Gold” program has succeeded beyond our expectations. We have decreased office referrals by 30 percent and reduced the number of unexcused absences by 20 percent in the second half of our school year. When we focus on reinforcing good student behaviors, many of the negative student behaviors disappear. With the belief that every student at Lava Ridge Intermediate will succeed at high levels both behaviorally and academically, we have been able to transform our school culture and touch gold.

    Why should schools develop schoolwide reinforcement systems? What does your school do to guarantee that all students with behavioral struggles learn at high levels?

    Greg Bozarth is the assistant principal of Lava Ridge Intermediate School in Santa Clara, UT, which serves 867 students in grades 6–7. He is the 2016 Utah Assistant Principal of the Year.



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    Guest post by Clint Williams

    Every day at Skyridge Middle School ends with an hour we call FLEX. Parents and students always ask, “What is FLEX?” My answer to that question often starts with a chuckle as I think about the best way to answer it. Essentially, FLEX is flexible time built into our schedule that allows us to meet the needs of our students.

    During the last seven years, the FLEX program has morphed from a completely exploratory hour to an intervention period. Our first attempts at creating this period, while well intentioned, were not very successful. Our idea was to use a universal screener to identify students deficient in reading or math and put them into a six- to eight-week class with direct instruction curriculum. Those students who did not need the intervention remained in their regular classes and explored topics of their choice. However, this time felt more like a jail sentence than a helpful intervention. Students viewed FLEX as a punishment. They were locked in remedial classes that they struggled in for a specific time period while their friends were in the gym playing basketball or outside launching bottle rockets.

    student and teacher studyingNow in the 2015–16 school year, FLEX is an important and valuable intervention. Each year we have made adjustments to improve the program. FLEX looks slightly different at each grade level, but the bottom line is that our interventions are timely and fluid. Teachers use quick, formative assessments on a daily basis to check for understanding and determine which students need help. Those students who need support go to the teacher’s classroom during FLEX time to receive assistance. Students only work with a teacher as long as necessary to show proficiency. Once they demonstrate that and have learned the concept or skill, they are done and can move on.

    The rest of the students attend “Base Camp” to work on their homework. The best part of this time is that students now take responsibility for their own learning and ask to meet with teachers. It gives our very busy students a chance to get homework done when there is teacher support if they have questions.

    FLEX has been a journey and will continue to evolve. When we first made changes, there was talk about ending the program and adding that time back to core classes. As administrators, we fought hard to keep FLEX because we realized the importance of dedicated intervention time built into the schedule. Teaching a large group of students for longer was not the answer. We still have work to do with this model, but I am proud of the progress we have made. The time that we have built into the schedule is invaluable as we work to best meet the needs of our students.

    How do you make time, outside of classes, for students to meet with teachers to get more individualized instruction? What happens when your core instruction is not working for every student?

    Clint Williams is the newly appointed principal at Skyridge Middle School in Camas, WA. He was the 2016 Washington Assistant Principal of the Year while serving as the Associate Principal at Skyridge.






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    Innovative learning requires the alignment of the entire organization, and that comes down to leadership. We know what that leadership looks like, and we now have standards that don’t just reflect that leadership, but demand it from every school leader, regardless of their context. The 2015 Professional Standards for Educational Leaders call for principals to approach every teacher conversation, every interaction with the central office, every analysis of data, with one question always in mind: How will this empower our students as learners?

    Principals must, in the language of the standards, place children at the center of their education and promote use of technology for activities that are intellectually challenging and authentic to student experiences. And they have to do it for each student in the school.

    Meanwhile, principals have to raise test scores—often the bane of creativity and innovation—and contend with the daily reality of schools. We falsely believe that innovation is for the small charter schools and experimental programs with built-in conditions to promote student creativity. And that perception provides us a convenient backdoor to escape the conversation: “Yes, those experiments are successful, but they can never be brought to scale because my students … and my teachers …” and on, and on.

    We have to stop thinking that the schools we have prevent us from creating the schools we want. Our NASSP Digital Principals demonstrate that progressive leadership can flourish within the system we have. I asked three recognized leaders—all principals of comprehensive neighborhood schools—to comment on how they lead innovative learning.

    Vote-FaceBookDwight Carter, New Albany High School, Ohio (@Dwight_Carter)

    Innovation has been a big push in New Albany for the past six or seven years, especially in the way we use space to empower students. Our academic coaching zones, for instance, allow students to choose the environment in which they want to learn material, whether in a Quiet Zone, a Collaborative Zone, or a Silent Zone. Teachers and administrators have also been exploring new ways to empower students to choose how they want to demonstrate their learning. Each student owns their learning as a result of these initiatives, and they become better lifelong self-aware learners as a result.

    Jason Markey, East Leyden High School, Illinois (@JasonMMarkey)

    At East Leyden High School we attempt to drive innovation by having two clear areas of focus.  First, we want to clearly identify what the issue or problem is. Second, we want to develop empathy for all stakeholders in the situation prior to developing any solutions or changes in practice. We accomplish both of these by utilizing the mindsets and the process of Design Thinking. Design Thinking not only drives creative thinking, but more importantly, ensures that we are designing schools that best meet the needs of students and teachers.

    Glenn Robbins, Northfield Community Middle School, New Jersey (@GlennR1809)

    Respect, autonomy, transparency, and relationships are key areas that build the foundation to developing a “creative culture” within your school building. Yet, many leaders focus on standardized scores, political mandates, and the fear of what their worst people will do. As leaders, we need to not only encourage student and staff voice, but embrace their ideas to create a place where they have ownership. Lastly, we must question why many of us continue to use outdated methodologies that were created well before the internet, while Elon Musk, Google founders, and many others within our country’s most advanced minds create private schools where “wonder, curiosity, and originality” are welcomed.

    This is not to say we don’t need to remodel our education system. We absolutely do. But these leaders demonstrate we don’t need to wait for ideal conditions before we pursue our ideal model. We just need the right vision, the right empowerment, and the right support.

    Help us expand this conversation. Vote for our SxSWedu panel.

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    Guest post by Cameron Soester

    Grading has always been a tricky issue for school leaders to master. How do you ensure it captures the full picture of a student’s progress and achievement?

    Thomas Guskey suggests that a well-rounded and comprehensive grading policy has three well-defined components. They include a product grade that assesses what students know and can do at the moment the assessment is given; a process grade that measures student behaviors; and a progress grade that considers a student’s improvement over time. Unfortunately, most grading practices lump all of these into one overall grade—which skews and distorts the measure of what students actually know.

    Our Approach

    At Milford Junior/Senior High School, we have invested a great deal of time and energy into separating these three strands of grading. We began by considering what others had done, in particular, Robert Marzano and Tammy Heflebower’s Teaching and Assessing 21st Century Skills, where they discuss the idea of cognitive and conative learning domains.

    report cardAt Milford, we have tackled the cognitive domain and have grading practices that restrict product grades to what students know and can do relative to our essential learnings. Over a pretty long period of time we have developed a way to measure the cognative domain (behaviors, attitudes, and dispositions) by measuring three distinct areas: personal responsibility, work ethic, and personal relations.

    To arrive at this point, we had to consider what these items mean and how we are going to measure them. Under each area we developed a series of indicators that are measured using a five-point Likert scale to gather teacher perceptions and student reflections (take a look at this example to get a better idea). One benefit of this is that we now have a meaningful way to communicate Guskey’s process grade. Having the process grade lets teachers minimize the distortion of including behavior and attitude in an overall product grade. This allows for more authentic teaching and learning experiences in our school system.

    The Challenges

    One of the main issues that our district has encountered with this process is reporting. How do you put a report together for students and parents that is useful? These types of reports have existed for decades in an elementary setting, but at the secondary level, a teacher’s student load makes this process more difficult because of the sheer number of students on their roster. We created a Google Form that utilizes Autocrat, an add-on tool that merges data from a Google Sheet into a custom Google Doc template, to generate the reports. Our school has around 330 students and it generates around 2,500 responses. Teachers fill out the form for each student, and students complete the form for self-reflection. Teachers then print and give the reports to parents at our spring conferences.

    Looking to the Future

    Moving forward, we are looking for more efficient ways to collect, retrieve, and utilize this data. We are looking at building a more sophisticated database system that will allow us to track student and teacher responses over time. This process will also enable us to utilize this data in the next step in our implementation of the Marzano instructional model. Our plan is to link concepts from The Art and Science of Teaching, Becoming a Reflective Teacher, and Causes and Cures in the Classroom by Margaret Searle, to help us understand the data we retrieve from our process report card.

    How can someone utilize this type of data to aid in student achievement? What benefits might someone see in separating knowledge and behavior in grading? Start a discussion in the comments below.

    Cameron Soester is the assistant principal of Milford Junior/Senior High in Milford, NE, as well as the 2016 Nebraska Assistant Principal of the Year.





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    Guest post by Helen Gladden

    Schools that strive to be culturally responsive believe that there is no one right “set” of experiences, beliefs, and values. They know that each student’s cultural set is his or her self identity. Most importantly, they understand that students are far more likely to fully engage in the learning process when their self identity is understood, accepted, and valued. They are committed to building trust with and among their students, and they know that trust is built through respect.

    So, how does a school go about building a culture of respect for a diversity of experiences, beliefs, and values driven by such influences as race, ethnicity, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, and family composition? How do we open our minds to narratives that are different from our own?

    Diverse group of studentsWe must listen. We must give voice to students’ lived experiences. Experiences are real and they are hard to ignore.

    Within my school district, we have held a number of fishbowl-style panels comprised of graduates from a variety of backgrounds with the adults from the district and school sites. The sharing of the graduates’ narratives helps us understand what we are doing well and where we can improve. Sometimes we find that we are doing better in some areas than we thought we were, while we have further work to do in areas in which we thought we were doing quite well. The voices of lived experiences give us a clear picture of our students’ realities.

    The panel format involves a facilitator asking questions of the panel members. The questions cover such topics as:

    • What types of expectations did teachers have in regard to student achievement?
    • Did the panelists recognize people like themselves in the curriculum?
    • Did the panelists feel they were held to the same level of expectations as other students?
    • Were the panelists encouraged to take on leadership roles and to enroll in honors/AP courses?
    • Were there adults on campus whom the panelists felt they could trust and turn to for academic and/or personal advice?
    • Who did the panelists view as role models at the schools?
    • How would the panelists describe the schools they attended in terms of cultural understanding?
    • How well did students of diverse backgrounds interact both inside and outside of the classroom?

    From one of our panels, we learned that we are doing well in the area of building supportive relationships with our students. As one panelist stated, “There were several teachers I formed bonds and relationships with who still keep up to date with me, asking me how I’m doing. They actually really care about me and my accomplishments.” From another panel, we learned the importance of being proactive in reaching out to parents and guardians, some of whom want very much to be involved with the school but are uncomfortable making the first move or are unsure what they can do within their very busy schedules.

    One panelist also offered the following suggestion: “I think something you can do on campus that I think would be really important is to implement some sort of cultural studies class. It’s important for students to understand other cultures before they leave high school because throughout life, they will interact with people from a wide variety of cultures.” We now provide a cultural studies course at the high school level.

    Certainly, creating a culturally responsive school involves more than carving out time during one week or month of the school year to celebrate the accomplishments of various groups. It involves using curriculum on a daily basis that honors each student’s cultural “set,” showing authentic respect for each student’s self-identify, and holding all students to high standards and expectations. It is about building trust with and among students. It is about creating safe places for all students to learn.

    What ideas do you have for increasing cultural responsiveness in education?

    Helen Gladden is the 2016 California Assistant Principal of the Year. Currently, she is the principal of East Avenue Middle School in Livermore, CA, where she is committed to ensuring safe places for all students to learn.


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