Staff Book Club: The Hardest Questions Aren’t on the Test


I was thinking it would be nice to start some discussions for faculty via a summer reading opportunity. As we move forward, it is important to have collegial discussions about pertinent topics related to our ongoing school improvement efforts for all students.

Here is our next book…The Hardest Questions Aren’t on the Test by Linda Nathan.

Prompts to consider (see the chapter titles in the book, such as):

  • How are discussions of race and achievement taken on by a healthy professional learning community?
  • What makes great teachers possible, and how much can school leaders really ask of them?

Please add your replies to our blog.

Thanks.

Ed.

Book Description (via Amazon): The Boston Arts Academy comprises an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse student body, yet 94 percent of its graduates are accepted to college. This remarkable success rate, writes Principal Linda Nathan, is in large part due to asking the right questions and being open to seeking solutions collaboratively with faculty, parents, and the students themselves. Nathan doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but seeks to share her insights on schools that matter, teachers who inspire, and students who achieve.

Staff Book Club: Whatever It Takes


I was thinking it would be nice to start some discussions for faculty via a summer reading opportunity. As we move forward, it is important to have collegial discussions about pertinent topics related to our ongoing school improvement efforts for all students.

Here is our next book…Whatever It Takes by Paul Tough.

Prompts to consider:

  • How much knowledge and cultural literacy must a person have to serve diverse communities?  Do our schools teach students and staff to not only appreciate diversity but work in diverse locales? (from the discussion questions of the YNPN Book Club)
  • What can be done within the San Marcos community to bring some of the ideas and practices described in the book to SMHS?

Please add your replies to our blog.

Thanks.

Ed.

Book Description (via Amazon): What would it take? That was the question that Geoffrey Canada found himself asking. What would it take to change the lives of poor children—not one by one, through heroic interventions and occasional miracles, but in big numbers, and in a way that could be replicated nationwide? The question led him to create the Harlem Children’s Zone, a ninety-seven-block laboratory in central Harlem where he is testing new and sometimes controversial ideas about poverty in America. His conclusion: if you want poor kids to be able to compete with their middle-class peers, you need to change everything in their lives—their schools, their neighborhoods, even the child-rearing practices of their parents.

Whatever It Takes is a tour de force of reporting, an inspired portrait not only of Geoffrey Canada but of the parents and children in Harlem who are struggling to better their lives, often against great odds. Carefully researched and deeply affecting, this is a dispatch from inside the most daring and potentially transformative social experiment of our time.

Staff Book Club: Closing the Achievement Gap


I was thinking it would be nice to start some discussions for faculty via a summer reading opportunity. As we move forward, it is important to have collegial discussions about pertinent topics related to our ongoing school improvement efforts for all students.

Here is our first book…Closing the Achievement Gap: Reaching and Teaching High Poverty Learner: 101 Top Strategies to Help High Poverty Learners Succeed by Tiffany Anderson.

Prompts to consider:

  • What strategies might be useful to try with our SMHS students and why do you think so?
  • What support would SMHS staff need to incorporate any of the suggested strategies?

Please add your replies to our blog.

Thanks.

Ed.

Book Description (via Amazon): Tiffany Anderson provides practical strategies that will empower any educator in addressing the black white achievement gap in schools. Anderson recognizes the racial and economic disparities in education and highlights current statistical trends that illustrate the effects of the achievement gap. Anderson emphasizes powerful practical strategies and tips in educating high poverty learners that educators can implement immediately in the classroom. Anderson’s book on closing the achievement gap is a must read for educators who face the daily challenge of reaching and teaching high poverty students who are often left behind

Rebecca Frank’s Success Story


Teresa Lewis has helped me with several conferences and the students have begun to improve.  This is the most recent story.  It also involves Abe Jajadhmy in an important role.   

Rory (pseudonym) is in my II class.  He does not have a very good discipline record. He was expelled from his last school.   In the beginning of this semester, Rory appeared angry and unmotivated.  He was disrespectful, refused to do his work, and failing his English and math class.  At first, I tried simple behavior interventions, such as verbal praise, greeting him at the door and telling him I was happy to see him (even if he was a little late). I printed out his edline and praised him for the assignments he did turn in. As opposed to immediately pointing out all the missing assignments, I tried to build a bridge and a good rapport.  I provided a structured classroom setting with clear expectations. I called his mother twice. These in-class interventions were effective some of the time.

Yet, all of the above were not sufficient with Rory.   He continued to roll his eyes at me when I talked with him.  He would say things under his breath, disrupt other students’ learning, seek negative attention, refuse to do his assignments, and refuse help with his own assignments.  His other teachers were reporting similar behavior. He continued to fail both English and math.

Fortunately, Rory is on the baseball team and loves to play baseball. I knew I had support from our athletic department, so I called Abe.  He and I discussed Rory’s issues.  Abe organized a conference with Rory’s baseball coach and his mother.  I communicated the time and purpose of the conference to his case manager and teachers.   We met with Rory for about twenty minutes.  We let Rory know we all cared about him and wanted him to be successful.  I informed the mother about the weekly progress report and edline.  The mother and I decided Rory would receive “good calls” home from me at the end of the week if he did well.  The mother agreed to check his weekly progress reports every Thursday night.

Rory has greatly improved. He is doing his work.  He is asking for help and being cooperative.  I asked Abe to tell his coach.  I spoke to his mother Friday evening, and she was pleased. She shared with me that she took some disciplinary actions at home too. She took away Rory’s skateboard and his video games.  He will earn back his things one afternoon each weekend until he has several weeks of improvement.

I think the success of this student is based on team effort.  I know that we often feel that we do not have time to conference with a parent, or communicate with all of the student’s other teachers.  However, we only met for twenty (powerful) minutes.  My e-mails to other teachers took maybe five minutes.  Calling a parent with good news is pleasurable and time well spent, especially considering Rory’s history and special education issues.  The team will need to be consistent and remain in communication about his progress.  I hope other teachers will see the positive effects of collaborating and working together for the success of all students.  I cannot stress enough how important and powerful a team effort can be.  I think it is awesome that an athletic director would take the time to be involved with an individual student. 🙂

-Rebecca Frank, SMHS Special Education Teacher

Christy Lozano’s Success Story


I am in the middle of a success story that I don’t mind sharing.  It’s been successful so far.  

Tommy Grant (pseudonym) started in my PE class at the beginning of Term 3.  Tommy is a smart, talented kid and I see that he has a lot of potential to be successful.  If you saw him in the talent show, you know some of what I’m talking about.  Some of what I see with a kid like Tommy is that he is very smart, but he uses his smarts to work the system here at San Marcos and get out of doing stuff rather than using it to be successful in his learning environment.  I am learning that if I can encourage Tommy in his abilities and help steer him onto the right path with it, it is helping him in the areas he struggles with such as simply following rules and being responsible for himself.  I think those are two of the biggest challenges facing Tommy.  And if Tommy learns that he DOES have the ability to follow rules and be responsible it is a win/win situation because it builds Tommy’s confidence in himself and it provides the opportunity for him to learn and for teachers to be able to teach and not have to constantly deal with behavior issues with him.  As a teacher I have to have very clear expectations and boundaries with Tommy, and when he makes mistakes I have to be consistent with consequences.  I also have to have the support of his parents, counselor, and administration.  Lisa Hoffman, Dan Garske, and Tommy’s parents have been supportive, and Tommy is in the process of making changes in a positive direction.  It is a slow process at times and sometimes painful because Tommy’s tendency is to do what he wants, and then he has to face some consequences. At other times, it is very rewarding for both Tommy and for myself because I get to encourage him and praise him for his efforts; and Tommy feels very good about himself.  I have seen much forward progression with him over the past 15 weeks.  I think the other adults involved would agree, and it would be awesome to know if his other teachers have noticed a difference too.  Tommy knows I care about him; and when I do have to give him a consequence, he usually understands that he made a mistake and doesn’t argue with me too much, and we still have a good relationship.

At the beginning of Term 3, Tommy was struggling in his attendance, his behavior, and his personal responsibility.  He had issues with coming to class, dressing for PE, following and participating in the lesson, and following simple rules.  He was argumentative at times and distracting at other times.  Sometimes he lacked motivation.  We had issue after issue at first and he would get upset with me.  Tommy wanted out of my class.  He didn’t want to work inside my class structure. He asked if he could be moved out.  Dan, Lisa, and I talked about what was going on, and we all agreed that he needed to stay in the class and learn to go along with the program.  I talked a lot with Tommy about communicating with me if he was having a hard day, and through a lot of communication and some meetings with Dan and Lisa we established some goals.  Changing behaviors is a slow process for most of us; it is no different for a student.  Over the last 15 weeks, I have seen a great deal of change in Tommy.  He comes to class more consistently; he is almost always the first one done running.  He participates more consistently.  He isn’t argumentative with me even when he makes mistakes and receives consequences.  I get to see a very polite and engaging side of Tommy.  He feels very good about himself and very strong. He has lost over 12lbs.  He is improving in his athletic ability and motivation levels.  Last week he was very tired and didn’t feel like he could run the mile very well, but through some encouragement and his own intrinsic motivation he beat his previous mile time of 7:40 with a time of about 7:15.  Then told me on Monday he ran a 7:04 mile over the weekend.  I have told Tommy many times how proud I am of him and what a great job he is doing.  I have heard him say out of his own mouth “nobody has ever told me great job before!”  Tommy still makes mistakes, bad choices at times, and cuts class occasionally.  He’s not arrived yet to a place of full success, but he’s on the road to getting there.  He is not just on that road because of one person.  It is because many of us have pulled together as a team to support and encourage Tommy on his journey.  It is also because Tommy sees a real positive and beneficial opportunity and realizes that he is capable of working inside the class structure (instead of it being difficult, he enjoys some of it), and he is able to make the choice to get help and encouragement along the way.  He is learning that rules and consequences are a guide to helping him make better choices and to help keep him on a good path.  I am very proud of Tommy; he’s a very capable kid who just needs some guidance and support.  As he is receiving that from many of the adults in his life, he is making positive changes in many areas.

Thanks for the opportunity to share.

-Christy Lozano, SMHS PE Teacher

SMHS Teacher Success Stories


As you may recall, some time ago I sent out an all-staff email requesting success stories from any of you that would be willing to share. I had said that there is so much talent right here on campus that we could all profit from hearing from colleagues about what has been working for us. It could be a simple strategy or activity that produced nice results (such as Dovas Z’s “Weekend Stories”), or something more involved.

In the past couple of weeks, I have received two great examples of teachers finding a way to help a struggling student. One is from Christy Lozano and the other is from Rebecca Frank. In each case, collaboration and persistence seem to be the key. I will start off by posting Christy’s response, as it was the first I received. I will follow with Rebecca’s in another post before too long. I give my thanks to both colleagues for stepping up.

I would love to hear from anyone else who has an account of an experience that might add to the conversation, whether it is your experience or something you have heard about a colleague. Thanks in advance for taking the time to read this and the success stories to follow.

-Phil Levien, SMHS English Teacher

Book Review: Teach Like a Champion


Cover of "Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techn...

Cover via Amazon

Teach Like a Champion, by Doug Lemov is an excellent resource for teachers. As the Introduction points out, it is a book that is full of ‘specific, concrete, actionable techniques’. It is not a book that focuses on theory or lofty ideas for what education should be. It is a book of techniques to help teachers make their classroom more efficient, engage their students more, and help make learning more visible to students and teacher. As the author himself admits, these techniques are not necessarily groundbreaking or innovative, which is part of the beauty of the book.

The techniques are placed into chapters based on whether they are; related to setting high expectations, planning that ensures academic achievement, structuring and delivering lessons, engaging students, creating a strong classroom culture, setting and maintaining high behavioral expectations, building character and trust, improving pacing, and challenging students to think critically. The structure of the book allows for teachers to pick and choose techniques to improve specific aspects of their teaching. The publishers also include a DVD of the 49 techniques in action that is handy for visual learners.

I have successfully implemented several of these techniques in my own classroom. “No Opt Out” is an example. The technique involves a situation where a student answers ‘I don’t know’, an altogether too familiar refrain heard by many teachers. The technique involves soliciting the correct answer from another student, then returning to the original student for the answer. This simple step requires that the original student is still responsible for the information. They may not simply ‘opt out’. Another technique that our school has embraced is the ‘Do Now’ activity. The idea is that there is an activity on the board for the students to begin immediately upon entering the classroom. This is an easy and effective way to help utilize the entire instruction period.

There are many other activities within the book that any teacher could benefit from implementing. I recommend this book to any teacher, whether they are just beginning their career or are a seasoned professional.”

-Dare Holdren, SMHS Social Studies Teacher