Fab 5 on Friday

Building relationships has always been an important part of being a teacher and coach.  Now, as the principal of Central Intermediate, it continues to be a top priority.  I started the year, greeting families as they came to register their child for school.  I introduced myself, shook their hand, and told them if there is anything we can do to make sure that your child has a successful year, do not hesitate to ask.  The mother, responded with, as long as we don’t receive any phone calls from you, the principal, it should be a successful year.  I responded with, well, I hope to make my interaction with students and families a positive one.  After saying this, I knew I had to keep my word.  Although I knew I would be making phone calls to families regarding situations that might not be positive, I wanted to make sure that these were not the only calls I made.  

 Ironically, that week, I came across a blog from @rggillespie, Reed Gillespie on Twitter, called “Friday Five”.  In his blog, he states how he calls five random families to seek their input on how their school is doing and what they can do to improve.  I decided to take his idea and implement it at Central.  To keep my word to that particular family that associated a principal’s call home as negative, I made some changes to Reed’s Friday Five.  Every Friday, I find 5 students who do something positive whether it is from a simple greeting, helping another student or staff, following PBIS expectations, or doing something that impacts others in a positive way.  During my first Fab 5 on Friday calls, I had one parent go silent when I said, Hi, this is the principal from Central Intermediate…and then when I said, calling to let you know how proud I am of your child for representing Central in a positive way.  Usually, a big sigh of relief, laughter, or even tears of joy follow my statement. After sharing the great news about their child, I ask them if there are any concerns or areas we could improve on so their child has a great year.  Most of the time, the parents are very complimentary of the staff and school.  If they provide suggestions, it is usually related to the needs of their child or some even ask for volunteer opportunities.  

When I first started this, I was concerned with the commitment I made to calling five families every Friday. I wonder if I would find the time to do this every Friday.   However, after observing the students on Monday after I recognized them in front of the student body and hearing some of them talk about how happy their families were, I knew I had to keep this commitment.  What transpired after the first few weeks of Fab 5 on Friday was incredible!  Students became much more eager to visit with me.  I had students even volunteer to pick up trash. Although this was not my intent for Fab 5, I believe anytime we can encourage students to choose positive behavior, it is time well spent and worth it!   No matter what kind of week I have, ending my week with positive phone calls is a great reminder why I became an educator.  Through these phone calls I have recognized how building relationships with families can truly help create a strong partnership with home and school.  I have had to call some of the same families for poor choices their child made and their reaction is much more understanding and supportive.  The positive phone call let the family know I care about their child whether they are making good choices or poor choices.  We are a team and we all have a role in helping create great character in our students!  

I strongly encourage any administrator or teacher to find ways to make positive phone calls home or some type of positive interaction with families because it has created something that has become contagious in my building.  Positive attitudes are contagious!  

So far, I have kept my word, that phone calls from the principal will not just be ones that are considered negative.  Phone calls on Friday will continue to highlight all the great actions our students are doing in our building!   60 students have been recognized this year as Fab 5 students!  



Does Homework Encourage Cheating? #SAVMP

‘The pathway to educational excellence lies within each school.’ Terrance Deal

 For the second time this year, a teacher was certain two students had cheated on their homework.  After viewing the worksheets, it was obvious the teacher was right, students at our school had copied the same letters down for the matching exercise and had written identical short response answers.  I agree with the teacher that we need to turn this into a teachable moment for our students and have a conversation for all our students about academic dishonesty.  My fear is that could this be a lifelong habit our students are developing?  Please understand as you read this post,  I am in no means excusing the students in this circumstance.  What they did was dishonest and I will using this situation as a valuable learning experience. Yet, due to all the twitter chats I have participated in pertaining to Homework my philosophy has changed.  When I looked at these two worksheets,   it made me question, could this situation have been avoided? Are there some assignments that are more cheat-proof than others?   Does the homework we assign, encourage cheating?  To help me answer this question here are few facts to know about our school. 

 In my building homework is graded.  Like many of us we can relate to homework that is graded. Traditionally, this is what took place. And if you were like me completing homework assignments  became more important than learning because if we did not complete the assignment, we were punished somehow.  In my building that is what happens.  Students either stay in for recess to complete the assignment or receive a 0 in the gradebook. I agree with the teacher that we need our students to understand the severity of academic dishonesty, but I also believe we as educators must evaluate and even change our homework practices. Through my #sbgchats, here are some aspects I believe need to occur: 

  • Move toward Mastery: With the implementation of CCSS, we must help our students see that the goal is not completion, but mastery.  We want students to understand that cheating prevents our teachers from supporting them as they try to accomplish the standards. With a standards based movement, it is perfect opportunity to make the shift from grades to learning.  Each time they cheat, the students  rob themselves from an opportunity to demonstrate their true understanding.  Without the content and skills from the previous year, the students will greatly struggle the following year and into their future. We must make our students see this.  We must make our students see the value in our assignments by making them self-assess, and charting their progress.  Using formative assessments will be critical as we move our students toward mastery.  
  • Provide Feedback not Points to Homework:  At a staff meeting, I asked my teachers to define homework.  Most of them stated that homework was used for practice. However, they still grade homework using points and many students grades are impacted due to homework.  I believe we must provide feedback for students so that they understand what they know and do not know. Homework or classwork is an opportunity for us to check for understanding. As teachers our role is to make sure students are learning and should “practice” be the time we are holding our students accountable for mastery or should we be using homework to see where our students are in their understanding? Similar to basketball practice when an athlete is shooting 62% at practice, a coach will provide feedback to the athlete, and even other drills to do,  but the athlete is not responsible for the 62% until game time.  Students that struggle on homework or pratice are demonstrating they might need interventions to learn the material.  Assessments like “game-time” will be the moment when our students demonstrate what they have learned through core instruction, guided and independent practice, and any other interventions that were implemented.   
  • Make the Homework Meaningful: If we can provide homework that is meaningful for students, cheating is less likely.  The more I read about #geniushour, the more I think this is what we have to provide for our students.  Giving them a chance to explore their passions.  Through these assignments they are still learning content and skills.  Unless they have similar passions, these type of assignments do not encourage cheating.  We need to find ways to make learning challenging and fun, and help the students see the relevance behind the assignment.   
  • Be a part of the Homework Process: Teachers need to monitor students often and provide instant feedback so that incompletion doesn’t snowball into an opportunity to cheat. Many of my PLN stated that homework is now called practice, which encourages the teacher to be involved in the process. Although I believe homework does not need to occur for students to be successful, I believe that if we do assign homework we still MUST be a part of the process.  Students should not come the next day and turn that assignment in without getting immediate feedback.  
  • Provide Rigor for All: Regardless of abilities, socioeconomic status, or cultural background, all students can be equally involved in the assignment and the class discussion that follows. As the fear of “one right answer” dissipates, all students will begin to contribute and may become respected in new ways by their peers. (Alleman 2010) A math teacher in my building used a socratic seminar in her classroom.  She was amazed to see how her struggling students shined in this type of environment.  It made her see how we can’t have a fixed mindset because this will influence us not to provide rigorous opportunities for all. All our students deserve a high quality curriculum and instruction! Image

 As a school we need to carefully and purposefully consider the role of homework in our students’ lives.  The  implementation of the Common Core State Standards provides a great opportunity for us to reexamine our homework practices. It is time for us to shift our thinking on how we can discourage cheating through our homework assignments!