Category Archives: School Site Issues

Data use is world wide

It’s great to see practices you believe in being used in far off areas. Case in point: Wales, England. Sandfield Comprehensive School in southern Wales serves students in a high poverty area and was under threat of being closed because of it’s performance. While many practices were implemented to address the needs of the students, one of the key strategies was the use of data. Large swaths of  data was generated and viewable by relevant staff in real time. Attendance, assessment, disciplinary action, all in real time and meaningful to front line and relevant support staff. Over time, as teachers and staff entered more data about each students, the data became richer and deeper providing a comprehensive view of each student. Accordingly over time, this provided for more informed decision making when it came time to address the needs of students from an individual or system wide basis. Because this database is locally constructed and maintained it can also be adjusted to meet the needs of the entire system. For more information about how this school made the turn around go to


Public Online Charter School Students

I’m a fan for the use of technology. For those of you who know me and/or follow my twitter feed, @DrVicGonzalez, this comes as no surprise. However, I don’t consider myself a “technovangalist” because I do not believe that technology in the classroom is the salvation of public education. I firmly believe in the use of technology where it can be leveraged increase student learning. In, Public Online Charter School Students, the authors provide some additional insights regarding the effectiveness of online classes for students. Also, not surprisingly, students who do not do well in a “traditional” setting are not necessarily more likely to fare any better in an online environment.  Students who struggle tend to struggle in class and online. Students still require additional supports for success in either environment. One area that an online course may have an advantage is supporting the monitoring of students by parents. Automated updates to parents were seen as a key factor in why parents selected an online school for their respective child. I am currently working on an online pilot which emphasizes those “other supports” to be provided by a “case manager”. We hope to see increased student success with those additional support provided. Stay tuned!

Are you smarter than a 5th grader? It may be a cultural issue…

Have you ever thought or said, “that kid is smart!”. What is smart? Is it intelligence? Is it innate? Is it something you’re born with or something you develop? Is it universal? Beth Hat from Illinois State University argues that it is neither biological not universal. In fact, she argues that it’s cultural. Moreover, it’s something that is used to control students along class and racial lines.

Imagine you are learning a new language. You, naturally, have a limited vocabulary but your thinking in your native language is not slowed nor diminished. In fact, over time, your thinking is expanded as you have a host of new concepts/vocabulary from which to draw from and make connections. However, in your new language you may appear inarticulate and perhaps even dim-witted.

“School” is a new language for many students; especially kindergarten. It in kinder that students may first experience the sorting that takes place in regards to “smartness”. How “smart” a student is may be based upon how well the parents reflect the culture of the teacher; the facility with which a student aligns themselves with authority figures, “…students are more likely to be framed as smart if parental expectations closely align with those of the teacher. Hence, smartness becomes largely about possessing the cultural capital most valued by the teacher.” Students are typically adaptable but the case of dissonance may remain unresolved in conflicting models are provided between acceptable/expected behaviors are exhibited between home and school. Overtime, this lack of coherence may lead to alienation from the home “culture”, inability to develop social capital at school, or both.

Smartness as a Cultural Practice in School by Beth Hatt.

10 Strategies for struggling students

There are many people and companies that have an opinion about the best way to support struggling students. Over time, however, research and anecdotal evidence shows that there is no “magic bullet”. The work of educators is instruction and instruction is complicated work. Some vendors may repackage common practices and try to resell them to school but make no mistake, quality instruction is done by quality teachers. Here are some of the strategies that those quality teachers use:

  • Visuals. All sorts, from graphic organizers to pictures; illustrations to movies.
  • Think-Pair-Share. Socializing intelligence is a key practice to improving thinking and learning. Speaking out loud, sharing your thinking, is a simple yet effective way to clarify your thinking and help remember information.
  • Cues. Students are expected to learn a lot and make connections to prior learning. Cues help students with those tasks. Cues supports students that are wary and help re-direct students who are lost.
  • Want to rest of the tips? Check out September/October 2012 Leadership.

A Case Study of School-Linked, Collective Parent Engagement

In A Case Study of School-Linked, Collective Parent Engagement authors Michael Lawson and Tania Alameda-Lawson examines issues surrounding Latino parent engagement in schools. In it they find a successful structure for parent engagement (Community Action Network) working with parents, university, and school district. The authors describe a program that is tailored to the needs of parents because parents are expected  to design, implement, and operate the activities. Support is provided to parents by individuals (typically a parent and a community resident) who are trained as paraprofessional social workers by the university.

I’ve worked at schools that have had parent centers with paid staff working to facilitate activities. In my role I have worked to empower parents by meeting with them to identify needs and find resources to address those needs. Many of those resources are outside the immediate school but many community based organizations worked with us. Some of those needs could be met with training that the school could offer. However, in most cases, parents simply wanted to feel needed on campus.

What do you think is a good model for parent engagement?

Trust, Data, & Leadership

The November/December 2011 Leadership offers some important insight for administrators that begin a new assignment.  Terry Welhelm points out that the development of trust is critical from the very outset. It is important for leaders, new or experienced to focus and communicate intent, integrity, capabilities and results. In most cases a school will have an established culture and creating change can often hinge on being mindful of existing school culture. Accordingly, new leaders should focus upon gathering data early on in their tenure.

The Answer to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle in teaching: Virtual Coaching

ASCD had a thought provoking article on virtual coaching. The idea is basically that the coach would use technology do “drop in” to a classroom to conduct classroom observations. It suggest the following equipment for teachers a) wide angle webcam b)bluetooth adapter c) bluetooth headset and for the coach a)external HD b)headset with microphone c) webcam and microphone. The idea being that the teacher could recieve real time feedback as the coach watches the classroom in action. I like this idea because it addresses one of the basic problems with current classroom observations i.e., that the observer can often change the behavior of the classroom by the simple fact of being in the room. With a Virtual Coach the drops in via a webcam the visit becomes truly unobtrusive. I think this would also lead to increased productivity by the coach and teachers as the coach can easily visit multiple classrooms in the same time it would take the coach to visit one classroom and then walk to the next classroom.

However, I would not advocate dropping in without the teachers prior knowledge. If this were to be used to “spy” on teachers, I think that the program would be counter-productive as any advantage would be eliminated by creating an unhealthy school environment.

Study suggests grad rates will dip with A-G completion requirements

SI&A Cabinet Report that a study suggests grad rates will dip with A-G completion requirements. However, I do not believe that has to be the case. I believe in the A-G requirement for graduation because it sets a bar that says when you graduate, you will be ready for college. Many students and parents are surprised to learn that graduating from high school has/had no such assertion. Will it be more difficult? Absolutely. It will be more difficult because there will not be a track for students that aren’t “going to college”; this track has historically been populated by the poor and children of color. Many school systems have shown themselves poorly prepared to deal with students that are outside the “mainstream”. However, simply because it is difficult does not mean we should not do it; in this case it is the right thing to do. The work becomes how do we assure that students can meet this benchmark. It will take a shift in entire education communities which includes teachers, administrators, parents, students, and politicians. Teachers will need to develop and learn new instructional strategies, administrators will need to allocate resources for interventions, parents will need to actively support student participation in interventions, students will need to participate in additional interventions, and politicians will need to prioritize resource allocation for schools. It can be done but it will take a concerted effort and imagine the pay off: every student graduating college ready! Go make a difference.

Use Social Media at Schools and Districts.

The use of social media in schools should be greatly expanded. I know there are privacy issues because students are involved but those can be addressed. For example, I would love if every school had their own twitter account that was an extension of the school districts’ twitter account. For example, @District and @District_School. Whenever one tweeted the others would retweet. The sharing of information would be exponential! Imagine an @district tweet about upcoming open house dates which all the @District_School accounts would retweet. It would instantly increase the breadth and depth of the message. And if @District_School could advocate for parents of the school to follow, then the message goes even deeper into the community which is part of what we want between schools and the community. The relationship would also work in the other direction. For example, let’s say @district_school was having a local production of a play. @district_school could tweet it and @District would retweet; increasing the spread that @district_school could have by itself. Schools could truly be the model in the use of social media but instead we’re caught up in thinking of reason to not implement new technologies.

School structures and Suspension Rates

Daquella manera

Schools, as families, can be authorative, permissive, supportive, or laisez faire. As you might be able to guess, schools that are more “authorative” have higher suspension rates. However, schools that are authoritive and laisez faire have a larger suspension gap between black and white students; with black students being suspended more often. To quote, Gregory et. al., “[s]chools in which the students experience neither a strong sense of support by teachers nor high expectations of academic achievement appear to be most vulnerable”. Like parents, schools need to hold high expectations and provide the support needed for students to reach those expectations. Simply telling someone to do something doesn’t assure success as much as showing, modeling, and guiding that person.