Why MYP? The Path to Authorization

I am pleased to share that our middle and high school recently received authorization to become an IB MYP school after a three year process that included a great deal of curriculum design, in-house professional development, and outside MYP training. Though our school has had the IB Diploma Program since 1998, the  shift in instruction and planning was both noticeable and immediate as teachers quickly transitioned to planning units and lessons using the MYP curriculum planner. In addition, all teachers now identify and communicate via an “opening slide” the following information for each lesson: Area of Inquiry (Essential Question), ATLs, Key Concept, Related Concept, and Global Context. In this respect, the MYP has provided further consistency across the disciplines while allowing students to better understand the connections between the different subject areas.

I wrote two posts last year that aimed to answer the “Why IB?” question by looking specifically at the IB learning standards, key skills that are emphasized, and of course the importance of providing a curriculum that is rooted in international mindedness and global awareness. In an effort to better align to the DP while aiming to best prepare students for an ever-changing global society, the IB recently introduced a number of changes to the MYP. In many ways, the changes to the MYP are a representation of what all schools should be doing, regardless of philosophy, both locally and abroad. There are countless reasons why a school should support (or at least explore) a shift to the MYP. Here’s the top five…

It’s Fully Inclusive: Perhaps the most validating and comforting aspect of the MYP is that it is driven by a philosophy as opposed to a set of content standards. Given that, the fully inclusive MYP is designed to provide all students with rich inquiry-based experiences regardless of the level of the courses (honors vs. non-honors) that they opt to take. All students in the MYP complete the personal project, assessments are authentic and varied, and support is provided both inside and outside of the classroom to ensure that all students are fully successful. This ongoing commitment to equity and access distinguishes the IB from other “college-level” programs.

The MYP “Core”: Similar to the Diploma Program, the MYP is driven by a set of “core” principles that are embedded into all aspects of the program. This includes the IB Learner Profile, key concepts, approaches to teaching, global contexts, and of course the all important community and personal projects. Whereas the community project is designed to engage students in community service that allows them to “think globally while acting locally,” the personal project is a culminating MYP experience that allows students to research and apply their learning to a specific area of study. This year, ALL sophomores at DFHS will complete an MYP Personal Project and they will be the first class to receive an MYP School-Based Diploma. In addition to providing students with “real world” opportunities that “round out” the educational experience, both the community project and the personal project mimic the DP CAS and EE requirements and will ultimately help to prepare more students for the Diploma Program in grade 11.

Coordination & Continuity: Too often, there is a lack of coordination and articulation among individual schools that make up a school district. Teachers typically have limited time to coordinate with colleagues in other buildings and, in some instances, different philosophies drive the respective schools based on the belief systems of the principals who lead them. In this regard, the MYP makes perfect sense. In Dobbs Ferry, it is our belief that the MYP will not only further align our middle and high school, but will also ensure that all students are regularly engaged with rich inquiry-based experiences that promote critical thinking, real world application, and deep understanding. Furthermore, it provides a specific framework in terms of content and skills so that all coursework is properly aligned in grades 6-12.

Focus on Instruction: When I started at DFHS six years ago, our first professional development session was guided by the following question: “What are the qualities of an effective lesson?” This simple yet loaded question prompted a good deal of debate at the time and ultimately served as the jumping off point for all future professional development at our school. As I’ve noted in past posts, there is nothing more important than what is happening inside of the classroom. For school leaders, this has shifted the paradigm of leadership from managerial to instructional and has prompted teachers to rethink how they approach all aspects of teaching and learning. While content acquisition is certainly important, the emphasis has shifted to include learning experiences that allow for self-direction, application, and problem solving. This concept is at the “core” of the CCSS and it’s what IB Schools have been doing since the program was founded in 1968.

Interdisciplinary Teaming: While interdisciplinary grade level teams can be seen as a “given” in most middle schools, the challenge is to find high schools that provide a structure that allows teachers to collaborate in this manner on a consistent basis. By moving to MYP, the high school schedule is designed with the understanding that students must be prepared for an “interdisciplinary” world that continues to change with each passing day. In doing so, MYP teachers connect their disciplines by identifying both key concepts and related concepts while having students examine the global context (“the why?”) of what they are studying. Transitioning high school teachers to this mindset does not occur overnight and requires a different degree of understanding from teachers who may have difficulty thinking outside of their discipline. At DFHS, we introduced interdisciplinary teams four years ago and have reached the point where we will have comprehensive interdisciplinary units in place for next year. See “Embracing Process in a Product Driven World” (Post on 11/11/13) for more on the importance of focusing on process when introducing teachers to the idea of interdisciplinary teaming.

Please feel free to comment! Your thoughts and experiences with the regard to the MYP are both valued and help

A School Leader’s Post-Election Mindset: Togetherness, Unity, and Acceptance

The results (and aftermath) of the presidential election have certainly prompted a good deal of discussion in schools across the nation. Students have led protests, walkouts, and peaceful gatherings in an effort to promote peace, understanding, and tolerance. At DFHS, emotions have been running high regardless of the candidate that students supported respectively.

Despite the differing political views that our students might possess, we continue to focus on building togetherness and unity within our school community. As an IB World School, our focus is always on the IB mission of creating a “better and more peaceful world” and we see recent events as an ideal opportunity to further promote that message. In doing so, the IB Learner Profile is embedded into all aspects of our school, including our curriculum, behavioral intervention strategies, school events, co-curricular clubs, and the course offerings that we have for our students.

A point of pride for us at DFHS is the increasing diversity that we continue to see in our community. This trend is one that we welcome as it adds to the richness of our student body while allowing us to further promote international mindedness within our school. In terms of instructional programs, our ELL program is led by our our IB DP coordinator. This helps to further promote unity and inclusion of all students into all aspects of our school. Furthermore, we have a vibrant International Club, a Friends of Rachel Club (anti-bullying), Model UN, GSA, Political Debate, Fundraising, Habitat for Humanity, and many other student co-curricular clubs that promote togetherness, a safe environment, and the importance of embracing multiple perspectives and points of view. We are also proud to have been named a “No Place for Hate” school by the Anti-Defamation League for the past three years.

The Role of the School Leader

Perhaps the most important role of school leaders during these highly emotional times is to create a school environment that is fully inclusive, respectful of all points of view, and most importantly safe and comfortable for all students. While this clearly needs to be the mindset for school leaders each day of each year, the events of the last week have certainly placed some school leaders in uncharted waters given the complexity and nature of what has been happening. Here are a few tips on how to create a balanced and safe environment that is respectful of all:

  • Provide Leadership and Direction: While I will always trust the the professional judgement of the faculty and their ability to remain neutral and balanced despite their political views, it is important to provide a message to the staff that promotes unity and understanding. As the IB Head of School, I framed my message within the vision and mission of the IBO. A similar approach would work for any leader of a non-IB school as well. In addition, school leaders need to provide mentoring and guidance to teachers (particularly new teachers) about how to lead what can become volatile and emotional discussions so that no students feel ostracized or intimidated. This might also be a worthwhile professional development for the staff either immediately or at any time during the school year.
  • Avoid Politically Charged Narratives: While it’s important to spread a message that promotes peace, unity, and togetherness, it’s equally important to be mindful of politically charged statements that can be construed as coming from the “left” or the “right.” At our school, we have student- generated signs and quotes that are posted throughout the building that reinforce community and tolerance without identifying with particular political issues, groups of people, and/or causes. This non-divisive approach helps to unify all students around the core beliefs that we all hold as caring human beings as opposed to creating an “us vs. them” feeling throughout the school.
  • Capitalize on the Teachable Moment: Our students discussed the election results and their perspectives in their classes the very next day. Some teachers are still engaging their classes in these discussions. I had the opportunity to sit in on several of these classes and was proud of how respectful our students were toward one another. The most important reminder (and challenge) for teachers is to lead balanced and curriculum-based discussions around a topic that continues to generate a great deal of passion and emotion. This election is one of the best “teachable moments” that we have had in many years. Schools need to embrace the moment and not shy away.
  • Organize Events that Build Community: Earlier today, I had a conversation with several of our sophomores who are interested in finding ways to further promote unity and togetherness so that all students, regardless of political perspective, feel connected and welcome in our school community. We identified a number of potential ideas, including an assembly, a dignity board, school-based events, and positive messages to display in our hallways. Our International Club is also encouraging all students to wear safety pins as a symbol of solidarity and unity. One thing that we know is that students always rise above and find positive ways to channel their energy and passion. Schools not only need to encourage this, but must also provide positive and tangible outlets for students to rally around.  
  • Address Negative Behavior: As always, any type of negative behavior by students needs to be addressed immediately so that it doesn’t fester and/or grow into something bigger. This is a basic tenet of behavioral intervention and student discipline. In the event that students do promote divisive rhetoric (whether it’s hate fueled or not), school leaders need to tackle these incidents right away and capitalize on them as teachable moments. The counseling department certainly needs to be included in these discussions as well as classroom teachers where applicable. What’s most important in this regard is that a safe environment is created with zero tolerance for hurtful words or behavior that is designed to instill a divided culture.

A school leader’s genuine attempt to unify, or to solidify, the culture within his or her school community during a challenging time will undoubtedly have a positive, long-lasting, impact on the organization as a whole.  Times like these require reassurance and acknowledgment of what makes a school great; the faculty, the staff, and most importantly our students.

What are some to the things that have been happening at your school to promote understanding and unity? Please share!

Mindset and Attitude

The following is a recent email that was sent to the faculty and staff of DFHS…

Dear colleagues,

I came across a great article in The New York Times over the weekend on the positive impact that instilling a growth mindset can have on students of all backgrounds in all disciplines. In some ways, the article resonated with me on a personal level since I had a “can’t” mindset in high school when it came to higher level math courses. When my daughter Evelyn was in first grade, I started seeing a similar mindset in her when it came to math. This wasn’t surprising since she comes from a language rich “arts based” home where reading, writing, and the arts always win out over numbers. Math homework that year (common core!) was always a struggle and she scored in the bottom percentile on the STAR assessment (we use these at Springhurst as well).   

Before the mindset of “not being good at math” could creep further, we shifted our language around math and her experiences with math whenever we sat down for homework and/or whenever we talked about the subject in general. In second grade, Evelyn had a teacher who was also super positive when it came to all things math. Not surprisingly, we started to see a noticeable shift in her confidence and attitude and with that a continued increase in her performance.  

Fast forward to her 3rd grade parent-teacher conference that I attended yesterday. Her teacher became wide-eyed when I said that she “disliked” math in past years and had struggled a bit as a result. She had just recently taken the STAR assessment in math and scored in the top percentile nationally. If you have seen the 80s movie Stand and Deliver, you may remember Jaime Escalante’s claim that “students will rise to the level of expectations that we set for them.” It all comes down to belief and mindset. I’m certainly not sharing this story because I’m a proud dad, but instead to emphasize the importance of the words that we use with our students and the positive impact that mindset and attitude can have with anything and everything in life.

The article can be accessed by clicking on the link below. Enjoy.




Approaching the Future by Reflecting on the Past

The following post was contributed by DFHS IB Coordinator Marion Halberg (@MegHalberg) following her recent attendance at the IB GIBS conference in Rochester, NY. 

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.–Frederick Douglass

WWIBSD? That’s how outgoing Guild of IB Schools president Art Arpin opened the GIBS Northeast (@GIBSIB) annual conference last week. He spoke in terms of our country’s media frenzy on the eve of an historic election and in terms of negotiating the world at large: What Would an IB Student Do? When I took my seat a few minutes prior to Art’s opening words, I thought I was here for the information I would gather to bring back to my administrators about the regional organization in which we participate and to engage in the Approaches to Teaching and Learning workshop to turnkey what I learned with my colleagues back at the Dobbs Ferry MYP and DP programmes. But that simple expression, WWIBSD, really got me thinking on a different level. It made me reflect on the vast responsibility I hold, that all of us educators hold, to engage and help form young people who will aspire to be all those things that we hope the IB Learner Profile inspires us to be. But, I thought, how does that happen? How do we engage students to be caring, thinking, mindful, principled? How?

This year’s conference was held in Rochester, NY most famous for being the home of two extraordinary people, Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. I reflected on the the IBO’s ultimate mission, “to create a better world through education”. Amazingly, both Douglass and Anthony, in the 19th Century, were able to work together and collaborate for the rights of Blacks and women. Although the fact that the final adaptation of the 15th Amendment did not include women created a rift between them, they later were able to overcome their differences and continue to fight for the right for women to vote which neither of them was alive to witness with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

And that’s where the IB’s Approaches to Teaching and Learning (ATL) comes in. Although I had attended an excellent ATL workshop in May with several of my Dobbs Ferry colleagues, @KateHebdon’s workshop for most of the session on Friday was an important refresher and reinforcement of the power of how we approach teaching, how our students (and ourselves) approach learning and what is it, in reality, that we are teaching and what, in reality, do we want our students to learn. As Dr. Falino (@johnfalino1) has written here so many times before, we are living in an ever-changing world. We don’t have any idea how much it may change in just a few short years nor do we have any idea what kinds of jobs our students will have or what skills they will need for those jobs. But we do know some skills that they will, without a doubt, need no matter what job they may one day have. You’ve read this before but you can read it again:  400 USA top corporate recruiters look for:

1) Oral and written communication skills

2) Critical thinking and problem solving skills

3) Professionalism and work ethic

4) Collaboration across networks

5) Ability to work in diverse teams

6) Fluency with information technology

7) Leadership and project management skills

Knowledge of mathematics came 14th on the list just ahead of science knowledge and foreign language comprehension. (Wagner, 2010; Trilling & Fadel, 2009)

How amazing, despite all the changes in our world, those seven qualities were exactly the things that Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony possessed (information technology was newspaper print, pamphlets, and stump speeches in their day). And it’s what we still value and need.

As Will Richardson (@willrich45) reminded our district faculty this year at our opening day before our students even arrived, most have all the answers they need in their pockets. Content information is readily accessible. What our jobs as teachers have evolved to, in many ways, is to be those who help facilitate how to access and discern information. And, dare I say it, to be those who spark the desire to learn that content information and to use those 21st Century skills to make sense of that infinite information. But the skills that Douglass and Anthony had, to engage with people, to think critically and beyond their own lives and experiences, those are invaluable and absolutely essential.

So, how do we do that? It seems easy, doesn’t it, helping students understand, negotiate and hone those thinking, social, communication, self-management, and research skills. Those are the ATL skills. That’s it. We can create activities and drill them and practice them and test them. And then they’re learned, right? Not so fast. No, not really. It is our job as educators to facilitate the experiences that will develop these skills and determine what is better time spent together. Do we practice and encourage talking with one another, understanding diverse perspectives,  or do we demand regurgitation of content knowledge? I think you see where I’m going. Our students have to be adaptable and reflective. I look forward to continuing these discussions and learning with my colleagues how we approach our teaching and facilitate our students’ learning. What will Dobbs Ferry students, all of whom are IB students, do when faced with all the challenges of the modern world including continuing the work begun so long ago here in New York by Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony?

IB vs. AP: Going All In With IB

IB or AP? Is one better than the other? The debate between the two programs has intensified as the paradigm in American education continues to shift due to the CCSS and the push for both international mindedness and the development of “real world” 21st-century skills. As an IB World School, it seems that we are getting more and more requests for visits as schools continue to investigate the possibility of making the switch to IB. At last year’s NYC GIBS conference, Drew Deutsch (@DrewDeutsch) noted that the IBO now has over 4000 authorized IB World Schools with an additional 1,000 in either the candidacy or authorization phase. The “Americas” is leading the way with schools in countries such as the United States, Canada, Ecuador, Argentina, and Peru.

Over the past few years I’ve spoken to leaders from many schools who are caught between IB and AP and, as a result, offer both options to students. While this certainly makes some sense for schools that are transitioning, a long-term plan that includes both options for students is ultimately a bad one and only serves to muddy the vision and direction of a school. While the thinking might be that offering both provides more options for students, the likely result is that one of the programs will become “cheapened” since students will typically gravitate to one over another while never fully getting the most out of either. The result is an academic program that is more piecemeal than anything else with no true cohesion occurring due to the differing philosophies that guide each program.

Having worked closely with both programs as a teacher, an assistant principal, and now as a principal, I’ve been able to see and experience some of the differences between IB and AP first hand. A few months back I identified several of those differences. In this post, I have included and expanded upon those points while adding a few others. They are as follows…

IB Philosophy: Regardless of the grade level or course, the IB philosophy and approach should be evident in any class in an IB World School. For example, the English 9 class that is taught in an IB School should look very different from the same course that is being taught up the road at a non-IB school. The thinking here is that all students are IB students who will ultimately choose to access the Diploma Programme at various degrees. This will range from students who enroll in one or two IB courses to those who choose to pursue the full diploma. With AP, there is no “AP philosophy” per se and the thinking is that a specific pre-determined population of students will ultimately enroll in AP courses. That population is typically identified early on and tracked in honors and/or “pre-AP” courses.

Access: To expand on the point above, the IB makes it much easier for all students to access DP courses in grades 11-12. They do this by offering both Standard Level (SL) and Higher Level (HL) course options that are, in most cases, spread out over two years to allow for greater inquiry and exploration. In addition, the IB requires that all schools have a clear special needs policy to ensure greater access for all students. While the AP program certainly accommodates the needs of all students, the greatest difference is with the difficult entry point and seemingly high level of exclusivity that exists for students who choose to enroll in AP courses. Simply stated, far more students will access IB courses in a full IB World School as opposed to the number that will access AP courses in a more traditional situation.

“The Test”: When I attended AP training years ago, I was told flat out by the instructor that “the test” drives every aspect of the course and that students who enroll should do so with the expectation that they will score at least a 3 if not a 4 or 5. Assessments, assignments, and other tasks must be “AP-based” and inquiry, analysis, and creativity should be limited to what is necessary for success on the AP exam. Conversely, IB courses are driven less by the pressure of one test and instead contain a blend of internal and external assessments over the course of two years. This not only provides a more well-rounded picture of what students know and are able to do, but also allows for a deep understanding of the subject since more time is provided for inquiry-based authentic tasks.

Community and Support: While there is certainly plenty of opportunity for AP training by the College Board, the level of community and support that teachers and students receive with IB reaches far beyond. In addition to receiving formal IB training before teaching an IB course, all teachers meet with colleagues from their respective regions via “roundtables” and can share resources via the Online Curriculum Centre (OCC). Furthermore, teachers receive ongoing formal training (online or in-person) when changes are made to the IB subject guides every seven years and also have an opportunity to attend local, regional, national, and international conferences. All of this helps to ensure that IB teachers remain current, connected, and on the cutting edge. Similar opportunities exist for students, including IB World Student Conferences in locations around the world.

College Recognition: At last year’s GIBS Conference, @DrewDeutsch reiterated that the mission of the IB is to promote the development of an international education while providing an opportunity for students to earn a diploma that is recognized around the world. Though the IB recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, it is not until more recently that the IB has become commonly recognized by United States universities as a benchmark for academic excellence. In fact, more and more colleges are coming right out and saying that they prefer IB over AP and the college “Common App” now has a separate check-box for students who are pursuing an IB Diploma. More universities are also awarding credit for IB courses and colleges such as Sarah Lawrence are now indicating that they will award a full year of credit to full IB Diploma students. From an IB perspective, the focus has never been on helping students to earn college credits in high school and is instead on preparing all students for success in college and beyond. Fiscally minded parents and students, however, are more than happy about this shift.

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:


  • 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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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! .