Sustaining Change: Continuing the Excellent Journey

There is none who cannot teach somebody something, and there is none so excellent but he is excelled. ~Baltasar Gracian

Week 22 in Review

Last week we started the conversation about planning our school improvement for the 2012-2013 year.  This is a conversation that will provide the underpinning for the entire planning sequence in the next months.  This is a conversation about how we want and need to sustain change in order to improve our practices not only as the St. Joseph School District or as Benton High School, but more importantly how you are changing the microcosm that is your classroom.  Reading works by Michael Fullan, an author of educational change theory, reminded me that for change to be authentic, it can’t be superficially occurring only at the leadership or planning levels.  For change to be real and sustained, Fullan states that, “our theory of action informs us that any strategy of change must simultaneously focus on changing individuals and the culture or system within which they work” (November 2006).  Consider what you have changed in your instructional practice this year.  What is different?  Where have you improved your pedagogy?  How did you improve your content knowledge? Did technology integration change how you interacted with students, your subject matter, and the world?  These are critically important questions that must be answered for “where are we?” and “where do we want to go?” in order to plan for improvement and sustain the change we have already realized.

Also last week we celebrated our students in their academic achievements.  We need to keep improving this process. What can your department do to celebrate the academic achievements of students taking your courses?  I challenge you to create a celebration process and make it public.  Make the expectations public.  Make them achievable, and most of all celebrate loudly. What will you award?  Will you give something for your award? Remember — do not give prizes that are not supportive of our school mission or district policy.  It makes no sense to award perfect attendance with a day away from school.  Oh, the irony.  Let’s make the goal for your department to openly celebrate be no later than the end of the third quarter.  I can’t wait to see your ideas.

Week 23 – A Look Ahead

Low and behold, this is a quiet week.  What a great time to step up our game on things that are important to us as an instructional staff and to our school operationally.  How are your classroom expectations being met?  I feel it’s appropriate to think back to the beginning of the year when we are all excited and solidarity was strong.  We must support each other by taking care of the small things that in amalgamation make big differences.  Stay strong on classroom management.  Plan lessons and implement using your full instructional time.  Build play into your lessons and enjoy learning with your students.   Analyze your data and make intentional instructional decisions that impact student understanding.  Perhaps these are not actually small things…but we must be vigilant in paying attention to them to allow our students and our school to be successful.

Thursday is ACT Academy #3. That’s really our only big academic event this week.   Other than that, be thinking of whether or not you will be a part of the upcoming SIP team or if you are unable to commit, who in your department you feel needs to be included in the planning.  It’s a great time to also start having the conversations around your 2012-2013 Power Standards for the courses you teach.  I urge you to think ahead.  You will be happy you did.


Images available through Creative Commons on Flikr:  “Burning Match” by John C. Shaw; “Unbelievable” by FUNKYAH; “An apple a day will light your way” by Ahd Photography. 

Awarding Excellence

Don’t waste your time striving for perfection; instead strive for excellence – doing your best.             ~Sir Lawrence Oliver

Week 21 in Review

This past Saturday, when I was sitting in the ceremony where Coach Musser was inducted into the MHSBCA Hall of Fame, I listened as many other awards were given to outstanding coaches across the state of Missouri for their notable records, prowess in the game, or dedicated and successful service to student athletes.

I began to ponder how and when this extremely popular and highly successful organization established the criteria to award such excellence.  It made me realize that these coaches, although certainly not coaching each day to receive accolades for their work, step up to the plate day after day, inning after inning in hopes of helping each player to hit a homerun in his life.

And as you know me to do, I thought about the academic awards given to students by our school for their dedication and hard work.  It seemed appropriate since this coming week we have our Academic Pep Assembly to celebrate our students.  Wandering in my reverie, it brought me to consider…what awards could we create and give to Benton staff that encapsulates our journey of excellence?

I think if I were creating awards for our staff, I would want them to be for individuals who are going above and beyond what’s provided in-house to grow both pedagogically and/or professionally.  It is that sort of dedication from teachers that will be required by our state in the very near future.  You probably already know that I would want every teacher in our school to get an award, and I began to worry that perhaps I had not proposed or encouraged that sort of excellence from each of you.  Are you working to excel in your pedagogical life outside of our job-embedded professional development or district/school collaboration?  If you are ONLY relying on those models to increase your excellence, then you are holding status quo with many if not most.  For excellence to occur, you need to do more. What professional works are you reading?  What classes are you taking?  What is your next degree goal?  Are you a leader in our building?  What innovations are you leading?  What have you created to grow excellence in our school or in our peers? I want to encourage each of you to reflect, consider and create a plan for your own growth.  You will feel vibrant, and soon you will realize the change you can make in your life and others.

Week 22 – A Look Ahead

CAMP will be busy this week.  Don’t forget to review the ARROW Forms with seniors and juniors.  Remember to be diligent about guiding and encouraging students.  It’s imperative that our students are aware and asking for interventions if they are testing. On Monday, students who signed up to learn about the Upward Bound Math and Science program at Northwest this summer should be passed to the auditorium.  Look for the list on email.  Tuesday we will have CAMP Congress.  Please have your CAMPers prepared to talk about 1) our upcoming course registration process, and 2)  the student handbook. Remind them to bring their computers to the meeting. 

Also this week we are selling our Cardinal Crazies Tshirts in the school store, which we will advertise Monday during announcements.  If students purchase these shirts, they will be given free entrance to at least one game for each of the winter sports.  The first free game is this Tuesday night for Wrestling.  Remind the kids.  This is going to be a great night!

Wednesday, we have a Benton Leadership Team (BLT) meeting at 7:00 a.m. in Room 106.  We have many major decisions to make about Project Connect, registration, and the new SIP.  Also Wednesday is the sophomore visit to Hillyard for our students to see if they are interested to start in the programs at Hillyard as a junior.  This list has been emailed and will be finalized prior to Wednesday.  Thursday is our second session for the ACT Academy as well as our Academic Pep Assembly.  Awards will be given for Principal’s Honor Roll, High Honor Roll, perfect attendance and more.  I know for sure two prizes are a movie style popcorn popper and a television.  This is going to be a fun week! Go Cardinals!

~Excellence is a journey, not a destination.~

Photos available in Creative Commons on Flikr:  Sunlight by rishibando; Coach Musser’s Award by me; first place by EvelynGiggles; Staircase Bookshelf by ooh_food.

Building on Excellence

The road to excellence is always under construction.                  ~Author Unknown

Week 20 in Review

With exception of the weather, last week felt like Christmas. First of all, our students were able to take home their own laptops.  What a great day for Benton High School. What a great week, actually. Attendance was solid. Student engagement was up.  Disciplinary referrals all but came to a standstill. I went from knocking on wood to wondering when the honeymoon was going to end.  I pray this week is no different. And get this, after eight days of school, we have managed something I don’t think has ever happened at our school, but I know for sure has not happened in this century – we managed to have 94.3% face to face meets with our parents and guardians through the Project Connect presentation and we have the signatures to prove it!  And this week, we only get to build on that.

And speaking of building, this past Wednesday, Benton was given a second gift with the news that our School Board had given the final approval to build our new field house up near Sparks Stadium.  In case you did not know this already, this fell into place with the final collection of required monies that Benton had to match to the district to help build the facility.

I want to send a super high five to Coach Tabor for realizing this dream. Coach Tabor has spent the better part of two years getting to this day. To understand his efforts is to have attended hundreds of meetings, fretted countless hours over plans to make sure everyone’s needs were met, and landed over $375,000 dollars in donations to Benton’s “Soaring on to Glory” Campaign. And many of you helped him get there, which I know he and I appreciate greatly.  This is a amazing achievement for our school. It’s been a long- standing vision that has finally been realized. With hope, we will finalize bids and get contractors in place to break ground before the end of this fiscal year. How great is that news?!?

Finally, this week we also found out that one of our own, Coach Mike Musser, was named to be inducted into the Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame on Friday, February 17th. Since the beginning of this Hall of Fame, only 52 coaches have been included on this very prestigious roster. Please be sure to congratulate Coach Musser on receiving this accolade. This is definitely a legacy we want to be building upon.

Week 21 – A Look Ahead

Building on the excellent week we had last week won’t be easy nor will it be simple. Without looking a gift horse in the mouth, it’s time to look at our student’s increased engagement in the classroom. I challenge you this week to make sure your students are using their new instructional tool to further the learning of your lesson.  Are they working on projects, activities or research after you finish your mini-lesson that enhances your instructional objective that day?  Are they collaborating in their work?  Are they using their new one to one tools to read more and write more?  They should be, and they need to be.  With the date of the implementation of the Common Core Standards looming, why not take this opportunity to increase that focus?  It will take a new look from you.  You will have to examine your lessons to see where you can fit in different types of activities that further your instructional objectives and build on that. Have students read different articles – perhaps opposing – and then ask them to summarize and argue what they’ve learned from the reading whether they agree with what they read or not.  You would have to model this for them, of course, but what a great opportunity to extend your lesson in a very rigorous fashion. (if you want more information and inspiration, check our Sean Nash’s comments at the end of last week’s post)

This Thursday starts our next in-house ACT Academy. Look for the list to come out tomorrow. I will be talking to those students during CAMP to remind them of the expectations for the academy. I’m not sure how many of you know this, but as of this last test, our ACT average is strong. The February and April tests are always big for seniors, so please support them if they need any help or tutoring for this very important exam. The test is February 11th if you didn’t remember.  Let’s make sure we keep building on that solid average.

Finally, Friday, January 20, is the next faculty lunch. Below are the assignments for that day:

SpEd, IT & FACS:  Veggies/Fruit
Sci, Bus & Libr:  Appetizers
CA, FA & FL:  Salads/Breads
SS, PE & Counseling:  Desserts
Math, Admin & Secr/support: Entree/Main Course (Taco/Potato Bar – we will bring taco meat and baked potatoes)

It’s going to be a great week to continue to build excellence in our school.  Data teams – remember to keep updating your information on your google.doc. Our data walkthrough with the district office is March 15th.  We need to have no less than two more cycles totally completed by the walkthrough date.  With only 8 weeks of school left by the time we finish the district’s visit, you may only have one cycle left to complete before school year ends. Focus for the walkthrough will sit with our data teams and will also be centered on the common assessments used by the data teams, analysis of the data from the assessments, and interventions created and used as a result of the data. It’s nothing new, but we will spend most of next month getting that information shored up for the visit. Please begin getting that ready now.

Building on excellence. Remember, excellence is a journey not a destination. The journey was never going to be easy or simple, but we all know it will be worth it.  Go Cardinals!

~Excellence is a journey not a destination.~

Sustaining Excellence

Badness you can get easily, in quantity: the road is smooth, and it lies close by. But in front of excellence the immortal gods have put sweat, and long and steep is the way to it, and rough at first. But when you come to the top, then it is easy, even though it is hard. ~ Hesiod

Week 19 in Review
The Project Connect roll out was excellent!  I could not have asked for a better week, and walked around all day each day telling everyone so then knocking on wood hoping not to jinx it.  Turns out, I didn’t need to knock on wood at all.  What I needed to do was to pound fists with all of you!  As I thought back on each day, I realized how many of you stepped up or came through in moments when it really mattered.  That made all the difference between a successful roll out and a disastrous front page story.  It wasn’t just one big “save” that got us through (although Melissa Corey is certainly qualified there), but it was all the small but significant efforts from each of you that made our roll out work so well.  From helping each other register machines to helping reset the gym after each parent presentation, our staff continues to pull together in a way that chokes me up even now.  I am so proud and so appreciative of who we are and the team we have become.

Last week we hosted the opening night of our school store. A huge thanks goes out to Ronnie Knight and Jenny Moore for bring it from an interesting idea to an amazing actuality. I hope you have had a chance to see it .  It’s crazy cool.  One particular item  for sale is close to my heart – it’s the Benton High School challenge coin (based from the military tradition) that you see represented in the photos on this page.  I want to encourage everyone to purchase a coin for $5 and in the next few months consider giving it a student who is excellent for you.  Send it with a note.  Give it to that child to show you care and you want to reward the excellence.  It’s a great way to challenge others to be excellent too. I hope it is our new tradition.

Week 20 – A Look Ahead

This upcoming week presents several challenges – the largest being how to sustain the greatness we achieved from our roll out week.  This week is the real test when the students get to take the computers home…and bring them back because they need them to learn in your classroom.  We must also monitor which computers can go home and which need to stay in the office.  Look for that email to come out by CAMP Monday. I will be offering parent meetings as soon as Tuesday for our families who were not able to make a meeting last week.  Remember, there is no substitute for a parent meeting, so make sure you work through expectations for your class work with students who may not be able to take a computer home.  Tuesday in CAMP we will have our student ACT meeting.  That list will also be emailed to you.

We will be swapping our JEPD and Dept PD days this month due to early opportunities and needs. Wednesday we are offering instruction on EduBlogs Campus – a newly acquired opportunity from the district.  This is a full day PD, and we will provide the sub for you.  If you are interested in working with Sean Nash on Wednesday, email me immediately.  The spots for this professional development are limited.  This would be highly recommended for any departments focusing on writing in their data teams work. Thursday is job embedded professional development on Limelight – a district purchased tool that helps you facilitate assignments and assessments as well as track the data from both.  Bob Nash will deliver this instruction. Finally, Friday we are going to have to reschedule the Academic Pep Assembly.  Look for the date to be in the next few weeks.  And it’s going to be a great few weeks (and months) and before you know it we will be graduating our 2012 Seniors.  I’m glad we’re doing it together.

~ Excellence is a journey not a destination. ~

An Excellent New Year – Going 1:1

ENJOY 2012! – Excellent New Journey Of the Year!

It’s enough for you to do it once for a few men to remember you. But if you do it year after year, then many people remember you and they tell it to their children, and their children and grandchildren remember and, if it concerns books, they can read them. And if it’s good enough, it will last as long as there are human beings.  ~Ernest Hemingway

Week 19 – Let’s Get this Party Started!


In my mind, this is the week of fireworks, balloons, confetti and noisemakers!  We’ve waited a long time for this week to come to Benton High School.  This is the week our staff and students have been talking about for years – we are going ONE to ONE.  One laptop for each student changes learning.  It changes what we learn, how we learn, and why we learn.  We have had to deal with so many changes that I don’t know where to start to remind you of how far we’ve come.

We know preparing to go one to one has changed us…think back to where we were five years ago.  Wireless Internet throughout our building?  And now you are frustrated when you can’t get access wherever and whenever you want it!  Who would have guessed?  Using blogs and twitter to communicate to your students?  Did you ever think you would expect to use social media to reach your classes?   I know you have all been battling for years now as our laptop usage increased.  Giving each student a device will make that so much better. But it will also introduce a myriad of other issues we must not be ready to tackle.

We have a few MAJOR considerations and decisions to make in this first semester.  I realize that one of them has been made for us by default – printers.  Students will no longer print to our printers.  How does this change your teaching?  How does this change what you have turned in to you?  How does this change what and how you grade?  Have you thought through the glory and dark side of Air Drop? How about Google Collections?  If you haven’t thought much about that since our JEPD a few weeks ago, check out Ryan J’s screencast showing benefits and tips to getting that going in your classes (it’s one amazing tool if you didn’t know that already).

Another consideration is going to have to be class accountability.  If a student has a laptop and can do all the work you do at home, why does he need to come to see you in class?  That will be the great debate of the semester.  We must seriously consider the implications of this situation.  Attendance is not only required by our district but also by DESE.  We must make it not only necessary for a grade, but when it come to face to face learning, we must make that experience invaluable – one that can not be “made up” on a worksheet.  The thinking and conversation that comes from being together with other learners must be rich and rewarding.  How will this new challenge change what you do pedagogically?

One final consideration is classroom management.  With every student now having access to a computer all day, every minute – it will change what you do in your class as well as what you AND the student think you can do.  Are you ready for that?  Do you have a plan in mind when you want students to put away their laptops?  How about when you want to pause and have them pay strict attention to what you share?  How about when the kids are just working on a project?  How do you monitor where they are on-line?  Are they safe?  Are YOU safe?  Hopefully, you have already worked through all these issues.  It’s not like we haven’t been working with laptops in classrooms for five years already – we have!  But more than ever, we must be vigilant to what students are accessing.  We must teach them to be safe.  Don’t skip this part in every lesson you give in your classroom.  Remind students of the implications of a digital footprint.  Show them your footprint so they can follow a good role model.  And make it a joyful step into 2012!

~ Excellence is a journey not a destination. ~

Photos available under Creative Commons on Flikr: Parade Balloons Salt Lake City, Utah by Pink Sherbet Photography; Fireworks in Taipei…by Fishtail@Taipei’s photostream; Confetti by smcgee; 1/365 Happy 2009! by foreverdigital.  Project Connect by Melissa Corey for SJSD.