Updated for 2016: What’s Most Important on Opening Meeting Days?

It’s hard to believe that the start of another school year is quickly approaching. As school leaders are putting the finishing touches on a summer that was filled with scheduling, staffing, professional development, and a multitude of other tasks that go along with ensuring the successful start of a new school year, teachers and staff are starting to return from a much needed summer break with renewed optimism and a high degree of positive energy as they prepare to meet their new students in only a few short weeks. For school leaders, the first official meeting days for teachers (prior to when students return) are viewed as a critical time to review important school procedures and for professional development that is in-line with the instructional agenda. But what do teachers need? This question is asked far too infrequently and, if unaddressed, can literally sap all of that positive energy in only a few short days. I’ve seen it happen. Last year I wrote a similar post on this topic and am now coming back to it as we prepare to welcome our staff back for another year.

Here’s a short list of some of the things to consider as we prepare to welcome our teachers back. Once again, the narrative has been updated based on the new initiatives and work that we are doing at our school…

1) Collaborate and Plan: Prior to the opening days, it is important to collaborate with leaders in the building to design a practical plan that is both in-line with the vision and mission of the school while giving teachers what they “need” for a smooth opening. This year, I am meeting with our school’s department leaders to not only create a plan for the opening, but also to create departmental and school-wide instructional plans for the upcoming year. In doing so, we will look back to the work of @JohnCMaxwell since our department leaders’ ability to lead “from the middle” will continue to play a pivotal role in the overall success of our entire organization.

2) Fulfill Basic Needs: School leaders too often get lost in all that “needs to be covered” and lose sight of the basic needs that teachers have in order to get the year started in a smooth and positive fashion. Think Maslow on this one. “Basic needs” include: supplies, enough desks, working computers and technology, working copiers, paper, textbooks, class rosters, working email, internet access, and of course a clean classroom.

3) Be Available: While this one might seem obvious, there are often a variety of issues and questions that staff members may have as they prepare for the first days of school. Therefore, it is critical that all school leaders (including teacher leaders) are “out and about” and highly visible to both welcome staff and address small concerns before they turn into big ones. While this a fundamental component of effective leadership all year long, it is especially critical on the first days of school.

4) Share the Vision: An opening faculty meeting to reconnect is essential for building a strong community and sense of togetherness among the staff. In doing so, it is important to lead the group in a discussion of past accomplishments while providing a renewed sense of excitement, direction, and purpose. A discussion of the “vision” of the district is also a good way to “connect the dots” for teachers so that they can make better sense of what may at first seem like competing instructional initiatives. At our school, for example, we are doing a great deal of work with the CCSS, are expanding our 1:1 Chromebook program, and are now prepared for authorization to the IB Middle Years Program (MYP). In order to avoid what can easily be perceived as a “flavor of the week” situation within the school, it’s important to connect all of the smaller parts to the larger vision of the school (and district) so that they can be viewed interdependent as opposed to exclusive of one another.

5) Allow for Teacher Collaboration: The first days are a critical time for colleagues to collaborate as they prepare to meet their students for the first time. This one falls under the “basic needs” umbrella but goes beyond supplies to what is most important of all: students. During the opening days, teachers need to meet with co-teachers, counselors, and department members to review student IEPs, analyze student data, plan upcoming lessons, design pre-assessments, and a variety of other tasks. All of this “upfront” work is essential and will make a tangible difference for each student if it is done thoughtfully and carefully.

6) Time, Time, and More Time: The idea that teachers need (and want!) as much time as possible was the single most popular response to last year’s Twitter poll. This should not come as a surprise as there is such a high degree of preparation that goes into getting ready for the first days of classes (see above). Given that, it is surprising that school leaders often “miss the boat” on this and instead inundate teachers and staff with meetings that run too long and professional development that would be much better received a week or two into the school year. Think quality over quantity and plan accordingly.

Staying Connected with Twitter

The following piece will appear in the next issue of Principal Communicator. 

Twitter is a significant and critical professional tool that, as a principal, I use daily, though not as I had originally envisioned. Admittedly, at first, I wasn’t impressed with Twitter as a platform for communication and didn’t see why anyone would feel compelled to visit a website in order to read 140 character messages. But in 2007 Twitter was “the future” for how educators could (and would) connect parents to their schools, so I followed the “trend,” opened an account, and pretty much forgot about it until 2011 when the conversation resurfaced during my first year as the principal of Dobbs Ferry High School. Once again, Twitter was presented as a vehicle for connecting parents and community members to our school and I was open and excited about the possibility given the explosion of social media at that time.

In Dobbs Ferry, we are guided by the belief that communication must be differentiated so that we can best reach parents, students, and community members. We thought at the time that Twitter was “taking off” and that this would be an easy way to share school-wide information in a quick and ongoing way. We were actually wrong. As it turned out, most parents were not on Twitter and in the end I found that our high school Facebook page was a much better tool for communicating information about our school. In fact, of the over 3,000 Twitter followers that I currently have, I’d say that only around 75 are parents and/or community members.

Despite the limited impact that Twitter has had on parental communication, however, Twitter did take on a much different role than I had originally expected. Instead, Twitter has served as a tool that has truly transformed the way I think about professional development and professional networking. Specifically, I use Twitter in the following two ways:

  • As a Professional Learning Network (PLN): Twitter has provided me with the opportunity to connect and interact with thousands of teachers, researchers, advocates, and administrators in the field through “tweetchats,” “mentions,” and by reading others’ posts. The information comes from all directions and it is easy to get happily lost in articles and educational research for hours each night. Furthermore, Twitter provides an easy way for professionals to share resources with other members of their PLN and has quickly replaced the “hard-copy” journals from professional organizations that come in the mail each month. It is also an invaluable resource for sharing information and examples of best practice with the teachers and leaders in my school. As a principal, supporting this level of differentiated, far-reaching, “up to the minute” communication is an absolute must for any educator who is serious about ongoing professional growth and improvement.
  • Engaging and Connecting Teachers: I encourage the teachers in my school to open a Twitter account and to “follow” some of the relevant educators and publications in the field. For most, this has worked beautifully and has allowed me to share links to resources and articles on a regular basis. For others, Twitter is viewed as an “extra thing to do” that is not part of the daily routine. I never fault anyone who feels this way and instead continue to model best practice by referring staff members to my Twitter page and by engaging teachers in “back-channel” discussions during both faculty meetings and professional development workshops. At this point, the majority of the staff members at my school are active on Twitter and it is not uncommon to overhear teachers saying that they will “tweet” a link to a professional article to one of their colleagues. In this sense, Twitter is the “norm” and is not far different from teachers’ communicating via email or text message.

Twitter is truly transforming the educational landscape in ways that were probably never intended when it was first created. In addition, teachers at our school are using Twitter inside of the classroom in much the same way and it has truly enhanced instruction and overall student engagement. While there is plenty of room for debate on the future of Twitter, it is clear that its ability to connect principals, school leaders, and teachers will ensure that it continues to “trend” for years to come.

Please feel free to contact me on Twitter @johnfalino1 if you have questions and/or would like to share your experiences about how Twitter has (or hasn’t) worked for you.

Gearing Up for #IBTO2016: Finding New Ways to Learn Together

It’s that time of year again! The IB Conference of the Americas (#IBTO2016) is fast approaching as IB educators from North and South America are heading to the beautiful city of Toronto, Canada for what is sure to be another exceptional conference. As the Head of an IB World School in Westchester County, NY (USA), there is no better conference to attend and I’m both thrilled and honored to present for a second year in a row with @careim2, @MegHalberg, and @ErinVred. Our session, “Promoting Equity and Access in the IB DP,” runs on Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. and is an extension of our 2015 presentation in Chicago on how our 1:1 Chromebook program promotes the development of 21st century skills for all students in our middle and high school.

The conference theme of “Learning Together” certainly resonates for the members of the team from Dobbs Ferry that is joining me at this year’s conference. We put a group together each summer to attend this event and “learning together” is something that we are committed to and, perhaps more importantly, enjoy doing with one another. We are fortunate to have a team that is comprised of forward thinking educators and this conference always seems to bring out the best in us. Over the past five years we have not only doubled the size of our DP program, but are also prepared for authorization to the MYP this fall. A great deal of these changes occurred as a result of our team “learning together” at this annual conference.

The notion of “learning together” is certainly not new and part of what makes the IBO so special is that it provides like-minded educators with many opportunities to do just that on a local, national, and international level. Whether through local roundtables, regional meetings (GIBS), or international conferences like this one, the IB is comprised of a community of a learners who are united through a common vision of creating “a better and more peaceful world.” But while the idea of coming to a conference to learn with one another may seem like a somewhat obvious concept, the last few years have brought forth a tremendous shift in how we learn with one another. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is the explosion of social media on the education scene and the role that tools such as Twitter continue to have on both professional development and professional networking. In fact, social media has singularly eliminated all of the walls as it relates to connecting with others and educators from around the world are now connecting and “learning together” daily as a result.

Given this radical shift, it makes sense that the IBO would take on the theme of “Learning Together” for this year’s conference since the IB is constantly challenging us examine how we learn, ways of knowing, and of course how we receive and interpret information (think TOK). So the challenge for all of us at this year’s conference is to find new “out of the box” ways to “learn together” apart from the obvious approach of attending different sessions and passively taking notes. Not sure how? Here’s a few ideas…

  • #IBTO2016: If nothing else, you need to stay connected to the conference hashtag and you need a Twitter account in order to best do that. If you still do not have a professional Twitter account, stop reading and create one right now. This year’s conference hashtag will connect all of the conference attendees as well as vendors and other members of the IB community who are not in attendance. The hashtag is a superb vehicle for promoting dialogue as well as sharing information, infographics, blog posts, and of course links to articles and other conference notes. 
  • Session Hashtags: To the presenters, it’s imperative that you create a session hashtag for your attendees. Our session, “Promoting Equity and Access in the IB DP,” will have the following session hashtag: #DFIBforAll. As noted above, a session hashtag will allow all of the members in the room to connect with one another, follow each other, and stay engaged long after the session has ended. A session hashtag is also a perfect way to keep a backchannel discussion going so that attendees can pose questions, comment, and interact with one another.
  • Conference EdCamps: The EdCamp movement has taken off as teachers get together, brainstorm topics, and engage in mini-discussions based on common interest and need. While EdCamps are typically events unto themselves, an annual conference is a perfect opportunity to gather a group of attendees to engage in an EdCamp experience using a “conference within a conference” approach. The conference hashtag is the perfect way to solicit interest to organize this type of impromptu form of professional learning. For more on EdCamps, check out this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7DwCI7j0Bg

  • Collaborative Note-Taking: Whenever I attend any meeting or workshop with @careim2 or another member of my team, we instantly “share” a Google Doc so that we can take collaborative notes, interact within the document, and essentially engage in a backchannel discussion for the duration of the time. This approach allows us to crystallize ideas as they are coming our way while providing us with an opportunity to “learn together” in a way that is natural and free flowing. This simple yet highly effective approach is ideal if you are attending either the same session as someone from your group or if you are in different sessions and want to “learn together” across sessions that are running at the same time. It’s also a great way to learn with colleagues from back home by allowing them to engage with the respective workshop remotely and in real time.
  • You Had Me At Hello: Sometimes it’s best to just go “old school,” put the phone and computer away, turn to the person next to you, put out your hand and say “hello.” Meet someone new, have a conversation, make a contact, and perhaps find an opportunity to learn with that person during the session. It’s how people have been doing it since the beginning of time and is something that sadly feels foreign to so many of us these days. So don’t be shy and go for it…

Have other ideas for how we can “learn together” at #IBTO2016…? Please share below! I wish you all the best for a great conference. 

DFHS 2016 Commencement Address: Find Your Bench

To the Board of Education, Superintendent Brady, Mr. Berry, Administration, Faculty members, Parents, Family members, Friends, Students, and Graduates: Good evening once again, and welcome to the Dobbs Ferry High School Commencement of 2016.

Before we begin, there are a few other groups who deserve thanks that I didn’t mention in my initial welcome. First, I would like to thank the administration and faculty of Dobbs Ferry High School. The commitment and dedication of our staff is second to none, and we all take great pride in the accomplishments of each graduate who is sitting here today.

Each year, we also welcome new staff members to our school and say goodbye to others who will move on to new challenges and experiences. This year, we will say farewell to two wonderful educators, Ms. Susan Friedman and Ms. Barbara Kirsch, who will retire after many years of dedicated service to our district. Both are passionate educators in our special education department, and they have both touched the lives of so many of our students during their time at Dobbs Ferry High School. Please join me in recognizing and thanking Susan Friedman and Barbara Kirsch for all of their contributions. We wish them very best for a happy and healthy retirement.

And last, but certainly not least, a special thank you goes to the parents and families of our graduating class. Their success is your success. Their achievements are your achievements. For it has been through your guidance, your love and support, and your cheerleading that your children have met and exceeded the requirements to graduate from Dobbs Ferry High School. So this day, and this milestone, is as much about you as it is the students who are sitting before us. So congratulations to all of you…and at this time, it is only appropriate that our graduates rise, face your parents, and give them a big round of applause. They are certainly deserving of it!

Today we are saying congratulations and goodbye to the second graduating class that I had the privilege of watching grow, mature, and succeed for all four years at Dobbs Ferry School. This also marks the 115th commencement of Dobbs Ferry High School. Our school building, built in 1934 in the midst of the Great Depression, has now had 82 years of graduates. Over the past 82 years, students walked the hallways of our high school during some of the most pivotal times in our nation’s history. From wars like World War II that united us, to wars like the Vietnam War that divided us…from the rise of American icons such as Elvis Presley, Mickey Mantle, and Michael Jackson, to the tragic assassinations of great leaders such as John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King…from putting the first man on the moon in 1969 to the tragic crash of the space shuttle Challenger 17 years later…from Y2K to the first African American President in our nation’s history….during all of this, the students of Dobbs Ferry High School walked the same hallways as you. And each group of students had hopes, dreams, and plans for a better tomorrow just as you do right now. Each graduating class of Dobbs Ferry High School also cemented a legacy in our school’s history, some of which can be seen through the murals that still adorn the walls of our high school. So what will the legacy be for the Class of 2016…?

Without question, this is a senior class that has already accomplished a tremendous amount. In addition to having 23 students who will receive a full IB Diploma, with each graduate taking an average of 3 IB classes, our graduates have already found great success in so many areas, including science research, theater, film, the visual arts, athletics, community service, Destination Imagination, Model UN, and much more. In terms of legacy, the Class of 2016 is certainly well on its way to leaving one that can be the very best in our school’s storied history. But graduates…what’s most important for you to realize is that your legacy, both individually and that of this entire class, will be defined by what you do from here. It will be defined by how you choose to apply your Dobbs Ferry High School education to greater accomplishments beyond the walls of our high school. At this point, you are just starting out. You are at the beginning. The future is boundless and wide open. Like hundreds of thousands of others, you have graduated from high school in 2016, and that’s awesome. So what’s next? How will you distinguish yourself from here? As kids, we were always asked the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

Come September, you will be asked these same types of questions once again, but the biggest difference is that you will now be the one asking them of yourself. It seems like yesterday that I was a first year student at Boston University who was grappling my own questions. I was missing home, missing familiar faces, and college was definitely much harder than I had expected. Keep in mind that this is before cell phones, a phone call home was a long distance call, and even email was a new and seemingly ridiculous concept. So what did I do? I did what most do when they have a lot on their mind…I went for a walk–Boston is a great city for that– and I found a bench along the Charles River that over the years quickly became a bench that I always went back to. And during my time as a student at BU, whenever I needed space to think or had questions that troubled me, I found that bench. It was there that I thought about my future, my career goals, the family that I one day wanted to have, and it was on that bench on that fall day that I asked myself the most important question of all: “Where am I going and how will I get there?”

This past spring break, with an iPhone in my pocket, family in tow, in the job I had dreamed of, and just weeks away from my doctoral graduation, I found myself once again back on that old bench by the Charles River. Sitting there, watching a new group of young students walking up and down the esplanade, I realized that while I’ve achieved much of what I set out to, I’m still asking myself questions, finding the space to rest and reflect on them, and still doing the hard work necessary to forge a path to personal achievement. And now here you are…at the very starting line of your lives. As you leave the comfort of home and venture off, what I hope is that you will be able to find your own bench, or chair, rock or even a patch of grass, any space just for you to rest and reflect. And when you are reflecting I urge you to remember the following:

First, when you ask yourself “Where am I going?”…take the time to set both short and long term goals. Whether you write these goals down or hold them quietly in your heart, whether they stay steady, or evolve and change over time, set goals. Motivational speaker Tony Robbins reminds us that “Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” And when setting goals, dream big…the bigger the better…and then set smaller, attainable, incremental goals to help you get to where you want to be. Always remember that success, however you choose to define it, does not come by accident, and it will never be something that you just stumble upon. It requires planning, reflection, thoughtfulness, discipline, focus, and of course hard work.

Second, be prepared to put in the work. Some of you will go on to be doctors, teachers, police officers, contractors, and probably a list of other jobs that don’t even exist at this point. But whatever the job and however different they may be among you, the one thing that is certain is that you will never fully reach that goal and maximize your true potential if you do not put in the work. And for all of you, that starts right now.

Third, be prepared to fail. In order to achieve greatness, again however you define it, you will need to take some risks, be thick-skinned, and understand that failure is an opportunity and is not a roadblock to success. NBA legend Michael Jordan famously said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Everybody fails…but in the end it’s the very best that take the hits, get up, and come back for more. As Rocky said, “that how winning is done.”

And finally, no matter how hard the work, how lofty the goal, how impossible the journey feels, find your bench. Take the time necessary to rest, reflect, and live a life –a good long healthy and happy life–that encourages pride in yourself, your community, and your family. In the words of the great Ferris Bueller, “Life goes by pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you might miss it.” Today is exactly one of those moments to stop, look around, be proud and celebrate. I know I speak for all of us here at the high school when I say that the class of 2016 has been a truly remarkable class. Your future is bright, your path is unpaved, and your potential is limitless. Congratulations graduates on the truly exceptional work you have done yesterday, and the great achievement we celebrate today. We can’t wait to see what you will do with your tomorrow.

21st Century Learning: The Year in Review

It’s hard to believe that another school year is quickly coming to a close. As an IB World School, our continued focus for the 2015-16 school year was on the development and application of 21st century “survival” skills based on the work of Tony Wagner (@DrTonyWagner). Aligned with our district vision to develop “independent thinkers who are prepared to change the world,” a focus on 21st century skills allowed our teachers to better focus on application as students were continually challenged to make real world connections across the disciplines while developing the skills and habits of mind that underpin both the IB Learner Profile and the IB Learning Standards.

Each Monday, I send a “High School Updates” email to the faculty that includes a list of administrative items, important dates, and general information that teachers need to know based on the time of year. I never call a faculty meeting for the sake of discussing “administrivia” and instead reserve our faculty time exclusively for professional development, department work, curriculum design, and teacher professional time. In each of my weekly updates, I also include a “21st Century Focus” and provide a link (and context) to an article that supports our school’s focus on 21st century learning. My goal here is to simply keep our teachers current on what is “out there” in the field and to provide them with some quick informal professional development as they start their Monday morning each week. Topics within the 21st century umbrella this year ranged from the 21st century job market to makerspaces, computer science, science research, and one-to-one technology.

This post includes one of the 21st century updates that was sent to the faculty each month during the 2015-16 school year. I’ve varied the topics to provide a full range and have included the context as it appeared in my original email along with a link to the article itself. If nothing else, the links will provide you with some good reading to kick off your summer. Enjoy.

October 5, 2015

21st Century Focus–Teaching and Learning: Candace (@careim2) and I have already visited many of you for our first informal observation and we expect to have this first round completed for everyone within a few weeks. As you know, the instructional focus of the feedback that you are receiving centers around one or more of Wagner’s 21st century “survival” skills. These skills are at the heart of the IB Learning Standards and have been something that we have been discussing both directly and indirectly for several years. A few of you recently shared an article from Edutopia with me via Twitter called “15 Characteristics of a 21st Century Teacher.” It’s a quick read and is worth taking a look at. You will also quickly notice that we hit on many of the 15 characteristics on a daily basis here at DFHS. A few that I think are worth thinking more about are #1 (“Learner Centered Classrooms”), #4 (“Go Global”), #11 (“Project Based Learning”), and #13 (“Code”). The article can be accessed by clicking on the following link:

http://www.edutopia.org/discussion/15-characteristics-21st-century-teacher?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=socialflow

November 23, 2015

21st Century Focus–The Job Market: In last week’s update I mentioned some of the informal research that I have been conducting on 21st century jobs and the importance of knowing what we might be preparing our students for in addition to the skills that we would like them to have. As a 21st century IB School, we have to remain current on the changing global market and how our work inside of the classroom connects to that bigger picture. Each week I am going to share a “21st century profession” that either currently exists or might exist so that you can think about how, if at all, the work that you are doing inside of your classroom might prepare students for that type of job. This week’s 21st century profession is a “Nanotechnologist.” The following site and video provides more information on this field. The video is about two minutes long and is worth watching. Please click on the link below:

http://ideastations.org/science-matters/steam-rising/hot-jobs-nanotechnology

December 7, 2015

21st Century Focus–The Job Market: I came upon an interesting infographic on Twitter this weekend on the 21st century workplace and the differences between”old” and “new” workstyles. The piece is called “Out With the Old: The Future of Work is Here Today.” It’s in-line with what we have been discussing. Take a look and think about how, if at all, the work that you are doing inside of your classroom might prepare students with the types of skills that are discussed in the piece. Please click on the link below:

http://www.youtern.com/thesavvyintern/index.php/2015/11/27/out-with-the-old-the-future-of-work-is-here-today-infographic/

January 18, 2016

21st Century Skills & The Job Market: Unlike any other time in history, schools are now faced with the challenge of preparing students for both everything and nothing at the same time. While it will always be necessary that individuals possess core foundational academic knowledge in order to succeed beyond high school, the challenge we simultaneously face is how to best prepare students with the skills necessary for success in careers and jobs that are not yet in existence. In a sense, we don’t necessarily know the end game because we don’t know exactly what we are preparing students for. Over break, Jenn Hickey (@MsHM211) tweeted out an interesting piece about the types of skills that employers are looking for in new hires. Interestingly, less emphasis is being placed on the degree (and grades) that prospective employees have and is instead placed on how these individuals learn and what they can do. This is directly in-line not only with our mission as an IB World School, but also with our ongoing focus on 21st century “survival” skills. Check out the article by clicking on the following link:

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/02/what-skills-do-graduates-need-to-get-a-job/?utm_content=bufferbf1c0&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

February 29, 2016

The IB Connection–DFHS Science Research: Erica Curran (@dfsciresearch) wrote an excellent piece last week on our science research program and how it connects to the IB Diploma Program. As an IB World School with a strong program in science research, our students are able to further develop the types of 21st century “survival” skills that will be necessary for success beyond the walls of our school. Our sophomores will have a similar experience next year through our new IB MYP Research course. Erica’s article can be accessed by clicking on the following link:

https://johnfalino.com/2016/02/21/the-ib-connection-dfhs-science-research/

March 21, 2016

21st Century Focus–Computer Science: As we continue to discuss 21st century skills and career paths that students might one day pursue, the field that continues to gain the most attention and momentum is computer science. Given this overwhelming finding, schools are now in dire need of computer science instructors who can lead this important work on a K-12 level. At DFMS and DFHS, we are now offering Computer Science electives for the first time and will run a section of AP Computer Science Principles for students in grades 9-12 starting next year. Our long term goal is to eventually get to a place where we have enough students with the necessary skills to populate a section of IB Computer Science. For more on this important focus on computer science, please click on the link below for a recent article from Education Week:

http://mobile.edweek.org/c.jsp?cid=25919781&bcid=25919781&rssid=25919771&item=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.edweek.org%2Fv1%2Few%2F%3Fuuid%3DD7C987CE-9B37-11E3-8BCF-03A9B3743667

April 4, 2016

21st Century Focus–Makerspaces: The “Maker Movement” has been getting a great deal of attention over the past year as more schools are providing students with hands on opportunities to explore and create based on intellectual interest and curiosity. This is precisely what I discussed at last week’s faculty meeting (“curiosity and imagination”) and it is critical that we continue to identify more opportunities for our students to engage with these types of experiences. In many ways, the IB MYP Personal Project is a great example of a “maker” experience and all of our current freshmen will complete a personal project by the end of grade 10. For more on makerspaces, please click on the following link:

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/makerspaces-school-and-community-successes-chris-obrien

May 31, 2016

21st Century Focus–Computer Science: As you know, we currently offer an elective in computer science and next year we will run a section of AP Computer Science Principles for the first time. We are definitely moving in the right direction as a school in terms of computer science though we still have a long way to go. This summer, we will have a team of teachers who will begin to work on a K-12 curriculum in computer science that will ultimately lead to deeper and more aligned experiences for students across the district. The following piece talks about the distinction between “coding tutorials” and deep instruction in “computer science.” Our goal is to provide students with the latter. We’ll talk a lot more about the difference and our program at DFHS when we return in September:

http://qz.com/691614/american-schools-are-teaching-our-kids-how-to-code-all-wrong/

June 6, 2016

21st Century Focus–Future Ready Schools: I came upon an interesting piece on Twitter this weekend about the national push to move school’s into the “21st century” by having them sign a #FutureReady pledge to change the way that we think about and approach teaching and learning. The piece, “Let’s Not Use 21st Century Technology with 19th Century Pedagogy,” suggests that #FutureReady schools value and support hands-on learning, higher-level reasoning, critical thinking, and digital literacy/citizenship. As DFHS, we are certainly heading in this direction and become more #FutureReady with each passing day. Please click on the following link to check out the piece:

http://www.connectsafely.org/lets-not-use-21st-century-technology-with-19th-century-pedagogy/

I wish you all the best for a successful close to the school year! Please feel free to share any links via Twitter or through the comment box below to any 21st century articles or texts that are worth reading this summer! .

The National Honor Society: A New Beginning

The following is an excerpt from the speech delivered at the 80th National Honor Society Convocation at Dobbs Ferry High School on June 2, 2016…

…What does it mean to be a member of an Honor Society? Of course, the first things that come to mind when we hear the words “honor society” are good grades and strong academics. Simply put, students who are inducted into an honor society are smart. And smart you are. But the world is filled with smart people, and being smart isn’t an accomplishment in as much as it’s a gift…a gift that can be used for good or bad, for selfless acts or individual gains. As members of the honor society, you are called upon to use your intellect for a greater good. As an IB World School, we are guided by the mission of producing graduates who seek to make a “better and more peaceful world.” As members of the honor society, the IB mission is a perfect place for you to start. As Honor Society members, you are the leaders of your class, and represent the very best of our school. The Honor Society is built on four pillars: Scholarship, Service, Leadership, and Character. You are already hitting the mark in each of these areas, so the challenge is for you to continue to do so for the remainder of high school and beyond.

So as you leave here, the challenge that I present to you is not one that you will necessarily face today or tomorrow, but rather at many points throughout your life. As future graduates of Dobbs Ferry High School, you will join a long list of accomplished alumni from our school’s storied history. Each of the past 115 classes that have graduated from our high school has left behind a legacy that was defined, in many instances, by what those graduates accomplished long after they left the hallways of our high school. Some of you have older siblings, and even parents, who graduated from our school who are either on that path, or have already cemented a lasting legacy. So the question for you is what will your legacy be…both as an individual and as a class? How will you give back and use your intelligence in a way that leads to a better and more peaceful world? These are questions for you to consider both today and in the future…as induction to the Honor Society is a beginning, not an end. You are all well on your way to making wonderful contributions to our world, and are well on your way to leaving a legacy that will carry on for future generations of Dobbs Ferry students.

Congratulations to all of you on all that you accomplished and for the positive difference that you are already making on those around you. You are an exceptional group of students with the promise and talent to accomplish all that you set your mind to. Please continue to make your school proud, your teachers proud, your parents proud, and most importantly yourself proud. Thank you.

A Shameless Guide to Acquiring Twitter Followers


A few years back I wrote the post “Is Twitter Trending or Just Trendy.” At the time, Twitter was relatively new on the scene and all of the talk was about how teachers (and schools) were using Twitter for professional development, communication, and building a Professional Learning Network (PLN). Many felt that Twitter was just another fad that was here today and would be gone tomorrow. While the idea of using Twitter for the purposes noted above is somewhat “old” news at this point, the final conclusion that can be drawn with regard to the “trending or trendy” question is that Twitter is now a “given” for all educators (much like Facebook is for casual adults) and that it is definitely here to stay.

Over the weekend, I was contacted by a colleague who is new to Twitter and was asking questions about how to build a professional presence on social media. I took a look at her account and noticed that she was following about 250 people (mostly celebrities and publications) and was stuck on around 33 followers. She was certainly tweeting good stuff in terms of education, but she essentially had no audience and wasn’t connecting with other like-minded educators either locally, nationally, or internationally.  After explaining the “ins and outs” of Twitter and how to build a following, I asked her to give me access to her account for 24 hours. The challenge: to see how many “education followers” I could acquire. The result: I ended up getting around 175 additional followers all of whom were principals, school leaders, technology specialists, and of course teachers.

Here’s how to go about it if you are interested in doing the same…

  • Create a Short Professional Bio: This “obvious” suggestion is too often overlooked. In order for other educators and professionals to even want to follow you, it’s important that they first know who you are. If you are an English teacher, for example, it’s critical to share this information so that other English teachers will want to connect with you. There’s no way that anyone will know who you are or what your professional interests are if you don’t tell them. My bio reads as follows: “Principal, Dobbs Ferry High School: IB World School (DP); Boston Univ. Alum; Ed.D.” When creating a bio, you should avoid statements like “the views expressed here are my own.” First, that’s a given if your name is at the top of the page. Second, are you really going to be tweeting such controversial information that you feel it’s necessary to put this disclaimer? If so, you would probably be a person who people wouldn’t want to follow anyway.
  • Follow Others: The quickest way to gain followers is to follow others. From my experience, about 50-60% of people will follow you back if you follow them. Wondering how to find educators to follow? Simple. Find an individual who has a good number of followers (@E_Sheninger, for example) and scan the list of the people who most recently followed that person. Assuming that they are education-based people with interests that are similar to yours, follow those people and you will start getting notifications within minutes that they are following you back. A drawback to this approach, of course, is that the more people you follow, the more cluttered your Twitter feed will become. Given that, you may need to “clean up” your “following list” from time to time to make things more manageable. I do this about once a month.
  • Join Tweetchats: Tweetchats are not only a great form of informal professional development, but they are also an awesome way to connect with educators. The key to “tweet chatting” is to respond directly to tweets that specific individuals post, respond to individuals that tweet at (@) you, retweet whatever you think is worth retweeting, and “like” whatever you think is worth liking. Also, it’s important to follow anyone in a tweetchat that you are currently not following. The likelihood is that these individuals will follow you back. Finally, it’s important to find tweetchats that are specific to your area of interest. The article below has more information on Tweetchats along with a list of education tweetchats and the the days and times that they meet:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brad-spirrison/why-teachers-participate-_b_9684270.html

  • Tweet at (@) People: Whenever you send out an education-based tweet, it’s important to attach as many individuals as you can who might also be interested in the same tweet. If you’re not sure, just do it anyway. Chances are they will at least “like” your tweet and will in some cases “retweet” your original tweet. This will then get your name on their Twitter feed which will in turn prompt more people to follow you.
  • Use Tweetchat Hashtags (#): Similar to the suggestion above, it’s important to always put hashtags on your tweet that connect to Tweetchats that are active and seen by many individuals at different times. This will keep your name out there in an ongoing way and will result in accumulating more followers. Some of my favorite hashtags are: #satchat, #sunchat, #edchat, #ukedchat, #edtech, #nyedchat, #cpchat, and #edchatma. Again, check the list in suggestion 3 for more tweetchats that you might use as hashtags.
  • Use Your Characters: You get a maximum of 140 characters for a tweet. Use them all. The best way to fill out a tweet is by tweeting at (@) people (suggestion #4) or by using hashtags (suggestion #5).
  • Recognize That It Takes Work: Gaining followers on Twitter and building a presence on social media will not just happen. It takes time, effort and work. For high profile individuals who are “big names” in the field (ex: @DianeRavitch), it’s not necessary to do anything that I noted above. The followers will just come. For the rest of you, it’s necessary to put in the work.

Have other suggestions for how to gain followers on Twitter? Please comment below!

(Re)Inventing in Chrome: Year 3 of the DFHS 1:1 Chromebook Program

As we approach the conclusion of the third year of our one-to-one Chromebook program DFHS, it’s important that we not only continue to evaluate the success of the program, but that we also continue to grow and evolve as technology changes (and improves) with each passing day. Our 9th grade teachers piloted this program three years ago and many of them were the subjects for my doctoral research last year. Over the past three years, I have written a number of pieces on our one-to-one program and have focused specifically on both implementation and how the program itself has allowed for differentiation and the acquisition of 21st century “survival” skills. I also presented on this topic with @careim2 and @MegHalberg at the IB Conference of the Americas in Chicago over the summer and wrote the following piece based on the work that was done at DFHS in 2014-15:

https://johnfalino.com/2015/07/16/gearing-up-for-ibchi2015-the-11-chromebook-program-at-dfhs/

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with our 9th grade teachers, many of whom were part of the original one-to-one pilot three years ago, to “check in” and to find out what’s new with regard to how Chromebooks are (or aren’t) being used inside of the classroom. The following question guided our discussion:  

“How are Chromebooks now being used to enhance instruction? What’s new?” The big ideas that came out of this informal check-in meeting were as follows:

Google Earth and Virtual Tours: This feature allows students to take virtual “tours” of ancient civilizations, other countries, and landmarks throughout the world. This simple yet powerful tool can complement any subject area and makes it possible for students to further explore based on both interest and readiness. It also directly hits upon “curiosity and imagination,” which is perhaps Wagner’s toughest to reach 21st century “survival” skill.

Read, Write, Google: This new Google add-on was provided to all of our teachers and students at DFHS and it is quickly transforming the way reading and writing is taught across the disciplines. This add-on allows students to hear words, passages, or whole documents in English or other languages, it turns spoken words into text, it simplifies and summarizes text on web pages, it highlights text in documents for use in other documents, and much more!

Writing and Productivity: Our 9th grade teachers have the benefit of having students who are now in their third year of the one-to-one program since we only gave devices to our 7th and 9th grade students during the initial pilot in 2013-14. As we now approach the conclusion of year three the program, we are finding that the quality of student writing has improved do to the ongoing and consistent feedback that is provided via Google Docs. In addition, nearly all students now have above average typing skills which is a sharp contrast to three years ago. As a result, overall production in terms of writing is at an all time high and has by far surpassed the peak level of production that we had seen during the “pen to paper” period.

Paperless Classrooms: Google Drive has become the new “normal” for most of our students. Our students are proficient in turning in work via Drive or Google Classroom and the need for extensive copying is reduced and/or is fully eliminated. Students also store their work in Google folders, have less to carry back and forth to class, and rarely (if ever) lose an assignment.

Math & Science: The biggest challenge that was shared by the science and math teachers over the first two years of the program was the limitation that Chromebooks posed with regard to the “pen to paper” skills that students need for success on NYS Regents examinations. This was particularly the case in subjects such as Earth Science and Algebra 1. Despite this limitation, however, our science and math teachers have found other ways to use Chromebooks in a way that enhances teaching and learning within their classrooms. For example, our teachers use Google Classroom to post the following day’s lessons while providing access to notes, assignments, and announcements (upcoming assessments, due dates, etc.). Parents also have access to this information through Google Calendar. This approach is directly in-line with our goal of creating “paperless classrooms.” Furthermore, GMath allows our students and teachers to type equations and formulas (ex. writing x2 as opposed to typing  “x^2”), access to interacitve science models further enhances learning in Earth Science, and Code.org provides our computer science (math elective) students with ongoing access to tools and resources for computer programming and coding.

Senior Economics: 2016-17 will be the fourth year of our one-to-one program and will be the first year that all of our seniors will have access to a device. In Economics, our teachers are already planning for students to spend less time researching in the library since the majority of that work can now be done in class. Furthermore, student progress will be tracked using Google Forms and Sheets, all senior classes will officially move to Google Classroom, and students will now have ongoing access to moneypower.org in preparation for the Blue Star Financial Literacy Exam.

Digital Textbooks & Resources: In addition to the various resources that can be obtained online, Chromebooks also provide teachers and students with an opportunity to utilize web-based textbooks and resources that can potentially replace the traditional overweight paper textbook. In Italian, for example, students make use of the various levels of Progetto Italiano Junior, a program that combines the textbook and workbook to provide students with activities that can be used both in the classroom and at home. Our teachers also create Google Slides, as well as Documents per chapter, and share them with the students as they progress through the units so that they have access to the information at all times.

Efficiency: In addition to the changes that we have seen in terms of teaching and learning, our one-to-one program has also helped with our overall efficiency from an operational perspective. In Guidance, for example, the counselors conducted course selection with their students via the Chromebooks and also used the devices as part of classroom lessons on college and career using Naviance. Our counselors also have a Chromebook in their office to use with the students for organization and structuring assignments. For our IB Program, Chromebooks have allowed for an expanded use of Google Classroom which has made it easier to manage and monitor Extended Essay and CAS. Chromebooks will be even more useful next year when all teachers in grades 6-12 will have ongoing access to the IB ManageBac system.

Have some new and innovative ways that you are using Chromebooks at your school to enhance teaching and learning? Please comment and share!

 

Transforming Urban Middle Schools With Chromebooks and Google Drive

Guest Blogger: Ron Gamma (@RonGamma) is an Assistant Principal at New Design Middle School in New York City.

As a middle school assistant principal I have spent much of my time working with both our school leadership team and department leaders designing new initiatives with the goal of fostering 21st century skills amongst our students. I am a firm believer in what Tony Wagner views as “survival” skills for careers, college, and citizenship. In Wagner’s book The Global Achievement Gap, a great deal of his research centered on conversations with CEOs, managers, and business leaders in the United States and around the world. The question he posed to these leaders was simple: what qualities do you look for in potential employees? What skills really matter in today’s job market and do our schools truly address these skills? As a school leader I am constantly assessing how well our school is equipping our students with the types of skills that Wagner views as essential for survival. During the past two years, our school has focused on increasing student access to technology inside of the classrooms with the hopes of better preparing our students for high school, college, and beyond. Our most vital tool has been the Chromebook and the easy access that it provides to Google Drive. Below is a short analysis of how we have used the Chromebook at our middle school through the lens of a few of Wagner’s survival skills: 

Critical thinking and Problem Solving: The challenges of the 21st century will continue to grow more complex with each passing year. Preparing students to tackle these problems will require the ability to ask difficult questions, analyze various viewpoints, and create solutions using evidence as support. Our students use Chromebooks and Google Drive while working on day-long projects that our school uses three times a year as assessments. We call these assessments Foundations. During Foundations Week our students spend each day focusing on one subject area. From a student’s perspective, s/he spends a day as a mathematician, one day as a scientist, one day as a historian, etc. The assessments involve hands-on experiences while students address real world problems. In all subject areas we have seen the Chromebook used as the primary vehicle for students to conduct research and collaborate using Google Docs and Google Slides in order to prepare final presentations and essays.

Collaboration: As noted above, collaboration is a key component of daily lessons as well as our Foundations Week. The Chromebook has allowed for a seamless transition between working on a project individually to working with peers. All students at our middle school have Google accounts and become accustomed to using the tools that Google offers within the first few months of 6th grade. When our students are creating a written piece such as an argumentative essay around current hot topics, it is crucial that students collaborate. This not only includes peer editing, but also the communication of ideas and viewpoints on pressing issues that leaders around the world grapple with. Google Docs and the Chromebook have helped tremendously in linking students together during the collaboration process.

Effective Oral and Written Communication: The ability to communicate ideas and discuss and solve problems requires a strong sense of communication (both oral and written). To compete in the job market of tomorrow we need to equip our students today with strong communication skills. Chromebooks and access to Google drive offer a very easy platform for students and teachers to work together on written assignments. The use of Google Docs allows students to receive teacher feedback instantly, both in and out of school. Many educators discuss the advantages that Chromebooks provide when it comes to improving written works and written communication. What we have been increasingly impressed with is the use of the Chromebook to assist in improving oral communication as well as developing students into global citizens. During the 2014-2015 school year, our 6th grade students took part in an initiative called Project Pupil (funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). Project Pupil is an online tutoring platform that our students used for math with tutors who are based in India. Our 6th grade students used Chromebooks (accompanied with headsets) to work in small groups with an individual tutor. The platform allowed for collaboration on math problems through discussion. Initially our students struggled and they found it difficult communicating with a teacher that was not standing in front of them. Over time though student math performance improved, which was in part attributed to their growth in oral communication. The use of the Chromebook undoubtedly contributed to the success of this program.

The examples above are only a small sample of how the Chromebook and Google Drive have become a fundamental tool for the middle school students at our school. My goal as an administrator is to continue to be creative in how our school prepares students for careers and a job market that cannot be predicted. One thing is certain…as technology evolves, the world evolves with it, and as educators we must create an environment that is reflective of a 21st century world.

The IB Connection: DFHS Science Research

Guest Blogger: Erica Curran (@dfsciresearch) is the Science Research Coordinator at Dobbs Ferry High School in Westchester County, NY.

As the new science research coordinator at DFHS, I have gotten many questions from parents about the how our Science Research Program supports the IB Diploma Program and whether the two can coexist. While relatively new to the IB upon entering DFHS, I was quickly struck by the way in which the skills necessary for success in the IB DP both mirror and complement the skills that students develop in science research. At DFHS, all students in science research enroll in at least several IB DP courses with many pursuing the full IB Diploma. As an IB World School with a science research program that continues to develop and grow, it was also immediately clear to me that students are not only prepared for the rigors of science research due to the IB, but are are also more able to get the most out of their science research experience due to the many “intangible” 21st century skills that they have developed along the way. Some of the specific 21st century skills that students develop through both programs are as follows:

Ownership and Problem Solving: The IB Program describes IB students and teachers as “lifelong learners who develop an intrinsic ownership of their own understanding of the world around them.” I have found that the Science Research Program is able to instill a sense of true excitement and ownership of learning in students as well. The ability of students to choose the topic that they wish to engage in from any number of areas allows them to investigate real-world issues that they find applicable and important. They are also able to delve deeply into areas that would not otherwise be addressed in their academic careers and become “experts” in their respective area by developing an understanding of their topic that rivals all but researchers specializing in their field.  

Critical Thinking and Creativity: While there is a solid structure in place to support and assist students in their skill development in science research, students are ultimately in charge of their own project. They develop their own questions and find their own resources while attempting to answer them.  No two projects are ever the same. Since students are developing their understanding of a different topic, they often become the person most suited to answer the questions that naturally arise. Again, there are mentors and instructors there to support and guide; however, the questions that arise in science research programs are not the kind that can be answered by Google. They are the types of questions that may never be fully answered, though tremendous knowledge can be gained just through the action of attempting to answer it.

Collaboration and Communication: The summer internship aspect of the Science Research Program is integral to the ultimate success of students. Giving the students the support and guidance of top researchers, scientists, and engineers in their field allows each student to have access to experiences that would not otherwise be available to them. Students are required to work closely and effectively with not only each other and their mentors, but often with graduate students and college administrators and other personnel involved with their project. The students learn that research cannot be accomplished in a vacuum or on one’s own, but that it requires significant cooperative work from large groups of individuals all looking at different aspects of the same large, global issue.

Additionally, a large focus of the course is focused on developing each student’s ability to present and communicate their ideas and findings in ways that multiple levels of audiences can access and digest. The student becomes a very real part of the global community that is investigating and researching their chosen topic. Learning how to become a true participant in the global scientific conversation that is occurring in the scientific community is an opportunity that is unique to this program.

Technology & Analysis: Science research students required to become experts in the most commonly used software in colleges and the workforce, such as Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint and Microsoft Excel. In order to compile and analyze data, generate reports, and present their findings, these tools are significantly depended on. Additionally, each student is exposed and often required to utilize cutting edge technology in their field of research. Tools such as FMRI machines probes that the students find necessary to answer the big questions they have found.

At DFHS, we are fortunate to run two exceptional programs that work in concert with one another. As a result, we find that our students develop into internationally minded individuals who not only posses strong skills in research, but also the necessary 21st century “survival” skills to excel in whatever path they pursue upon graduation. Does your school offer both the IB DP and Science Research? If so, comment below! We’d love to hear your thoughts!