A full day of learning and sharing at #VAIS2016

I spent the day today attending and presenting at the Virginia Association of Independent Schools Leading Learning Conference (#VAIS2016) and had a blast! The day started with a thought-provoking keynote presentation from Jessica Lahey (@jesslahey), the author of the book The Gift of Failure. If you have not read her book, I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy and share it with every parent and teacher that you know. I have given copies of the book to the parents of my advisees and will be facilitating a book club discussion on the book with our parents’ association this winter. My presentation on the neuroscience of learning followed Jessica and was well received by the crowd of approximately 350 Virginia educators who had assembled. After a couple of concurrent sessions that included a wide range of interesting and engaging topics, the day was over and I was exhausted. Exhausted but energized at the same time by the plethora of ideas that I came away with after engaging with fellow educators for an entire day of professional development. Kudos to the VAIS staff who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to put together and pull off a fantastic day of sharing and learning!

Now on to the Friday 4 items for the week.

  • Should School Be More Confusing? is a piece written by John Spencer (@spencerideas) that I serendipitously ran across this week that dovetails nicely with one of the themes of my talk, namely, desirable difficulties.
  • Are We Afraid to Let Students Make Mistakes? appeared on the Faculty Focus website this week. I bet Jessica Lahey would have a few things to say about the ideas in the piece! 😉
  • I found a new blog that I truly love this week after reading a piece shared by a member of my PLN. Here is one of my favorite posts from the site, Farnam Street, that really resonated with me. How To Think.
  • Here is a nice short piece from the teachthought website that is pretty self-explanatory: 20 Observable Characteristics Of Effective Teaching. How many of these characteristics are observable in your classroom?

We made it!

4fingers Phew! As I sit down at 9:20 PM to craft this week’s Friday 4, I can finally put my feet up and breathe a heavy sigh of relief…I made it through the “gauntlet” that is known as the post Thanksgiving/pre winter break stretch of the academic calendar. The students have all scattered to the corners of the state and globe for vacation and the faculty holiday party is in the books. A perfect time to share some of this week’s finds with colleagues!

This time of year is replete with “Top 10” lists and “Best of 2014” posts and articles that afford me a chance to “find” some reads that I might have missed during the year. I actually look forward to these recap articles since during these next few weeks I actually have some time to get lost in reading without feeling that I am avoiding more pressing work. This week’s Friday 4 includes two such lists.

  • The Faculty Focus website recently published their 14 most popular articles from 2014 which can be found here and here. Regular readers of the Friday 4 will certainly recognize a few pieces that I have linked to in the past year.
  • The Ten Best Classroom Q & A Posts Of 2014 is from Larry Ferlazzo (@Larryferlazzo) on the Education Week website.

  • How ‘Deprogramming’ Kids From How to ‘Do School’ Could Improve Learning appeared recently on the KQED Mind/Shift website and has the added bonus of being in both print form and available as an audio file for those of you who would prefer to listen to the article being read.
  • The last item for this week is a plug for an upcoming CAIS (CT Association of Independent Schools) Commission on Professional Development event on January 29 “What Works is Worth Sharing: Teachers Helping Teachers – Plugged, Unplugged…Whatever!” The event is one our most popular and boasts a great lineup of sessions that can be seen here. Why not make a commitment to your own professional learning for 2015 and join me on January 29?

Enjoy the break!


End of term time tidbits

4fingers For students and teachers, the month of November is a time of transition. The fall term is winding down which, for many of us, means that our students are preparing for exams and we are all eagerly looking forward to a well-deserved break that comes with the Thanksgiving holiday. To celebrate the end of fall, this week’s edition of the Friday Four features 2 items that all teachers can use with their students to help them be more reflective about the past term and to best prepare for any upcoming exams. With the prospect of a bit of down time on the horizon, I have also included 2 items for you to ponder over the mini break; one is a podcast interview with Elizabeth Green, the author of “Building a Better Teacher”, and the other is a call for proposals for an upcoming CAIS event.

  • Prompts to Help Students Reflect on How They Approach Learning is a piece that comes from the Faculty Focus website. The article provides many good prompts that can be used with students as they finish up the fall term to encourage them to be more metacognitive about their own learning.
  • Making it stick is a podcast of an interview with one of the authors of the book “Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning”. Students would be well served to employ several of the techniques mentioned in the podcast as they prepare for their upcoming final exams, and we should be sharing these tips with them.
  • What teachers need is another podcast from American RadioWorks that features Elizabeth Green. You will recognize Green from the New Yorker article that I included in last week’s Friday Four.
  • The CAIS (Connecticut Association of Independent Schools) is holding the annual “Teachers Helping Teachers” workshop on January 29 and is now accepting proposals. This workshop is a popular event every year and is a wonderful opportunity to learn something new or to share something with fellow colleagues. I encourage you to take a look at the sessions that were offered in January 2014 and submit a proposal for a session for this year.


Professional Development Salad Bar

4fingers Not surprisingly given my role at Loomis Chaffee, I see and read a large number of articles, blog posts and books on the subject of professional development. I have a somewhat random mix of items this week that all have the theme of professional development running through them. I encourage you to read the pieces and then take the more important next step, namely, to take charge of your own professional development and commit to doing something that will foster your own grow as an educator.

  • A few weeks back in the Friday 4 I included a piece on Grant Wiggins’ (@grantwiggins) blog that described a colleague’s shadowing of 2 high school students. Grant posted a follow-up to that first post which is quite interesting and will certainly get you thinking about ways to improve and grow as an educator.
  • Connected Professional Development Is Now An Imperative is a recently published piece on the te@chthought website that makes the case for: “If Collaboration and Communication are two important 21st Century Skills, then educators should be the model for the way it works.”

  • The following New Yorker piece came to me from several colleagues that explores “How the ‘performance revolution’ came to athletics—and beyond.” One of the “beyonds” is education in general and teacher training in particular.
  • Practice what you preach is a thought provoking piece that contains several good reminders for how to constructively and productively receive feedback. Giving feedback is something that we are all quite familiar with as teachers, but we need to also be ready to receive feedback.

Enjoy. As always, I welcome and appreciate your feedback…good and bad!

Ready, set, go! Time for another fantastic year.

4fingersAs we make our final preparations to welcome a new crop of students into our classrooms, I would like to begin the year by sharing a few of the items that I curated over the summer. 

  • Making It Stick. A new book rethinks the hard distinction many teachers make between ‘memorizing’ and ‘thinking’ is an article that was actually published in April on the Chronicle of Higher Education website. I ran across the article after having already found and read the book Make it Stick that is the subject of the article. If you are intrigued by the article, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of the book.
  • Four Key Questions about Grading is a piece that appeared on the Faculty Focus website that offers a summary of a longer article that appeared in the summer edition of the Cell Biology Education – Life Sciences Education journal. Given the centrality of grading in education, the article is certainly relevant for most all teachers and their work with students.
  • Giving Student Feedback: 20 Tips To Do It Right is a piece that was actually posted in the summer of 2013 that came across my Twitter stream this August. Good reminders about the purpose and value of giving feedback as we begin the school year.
  • The Five Habits of Creative Teachers is an article that appeared on Education Week website in August that caught my eye. I was particularly intrigued by the link at the end of the article to join in on a free canvas course on the topic starting in October. I signed up and hope that a few of you might join me.

Enjoy the beginning of your school year!

End of Year Potpourri

The end of the school year routine always includes a laundry list of items that never seems to get shorter no matter how many  items I cross off the list. On my list this week was the crafting of a Friday 4 since I have skipped the last couple of Fridays and felt that I “owed” it to my colleagues who have shared items with me over the past few weeks. So, here is a VERY random collection of items to ponder if you are looking for ways to procrastinate when you should be correcting that last set of papers or writing teacher comments.

  • Who Gets to Graduate?” is a thought provoking piece that appeared in the NYT Magazine recently that addresses the issues of equity and access to education.
  • 14 things that are obsolete in 21st century schools is a blog post that I ran across that challenges some of the long-standing entities that exist in secondary schools. How does your school match up using this lens?
  • The Art of Asking Questions is a piece that recently appeared on the Faculty Focus website that includes several good suggestions for classroom teachers. While the school year is nearly over, it is always a good time to reflect on the practices we employ and how we might be able to add some new tolls to our arsenal.
  • Not a news flash to most I imagine but… Poll: Prestigious Colleges Won’t Make You Happier In Life Or Work
  • Need some more convincing that “clickers” are a powerful tool to use in the classroom? Do students learn by talking to each other? is a recent post from Stephanie Chasteen (@sciencegeekgirl) that reviews some of the recent research on the use of clickers and peer instruction in the classroom.
  • Looking for some more FREE summer PD? Why not join the newly formed #TABSchat summer book club for an online discussion of several education related books this summer. Here is a link to the flyer introducing the first book of the summer.

I guess I should stop at 6 items in this edition of the Friday 4…enjoy!

Pre- Mother’s Day Friday 4

4fingersMoms: Our First Real Teachers

It would be difficult for most of us to deny that the first “teacher” we all had was our own mom. Who was there when we learned how to tie our shoes? Who taught us to believe in ourselves? Who taught us to always say please and thank you? Mom of course…and maybe Dad if you were lucky. So while Teacher Appreciation Week is technically over today, if you are lucky enough to still have your own mom around, I encourage you to extend the sentiment and be sure to pay a special tribute to your first “teacher” this Sunday – Mother’s Day. Personally, I think it is a perfect juxtaposition of the two celebrations.

This week’s Friday 4 includes two pieces to get you thinking a tad and a couple of resources for those of you looking for some online options for ongoing professional development in the summer.

  • Bringing the Locker Room Into the Classroom is a piece from the Chronicle of Higher Education that was passed along by a colleague who happens to be both a teacher and a coach. I have always thought of coaching and teaching as one and the same and liked the collaborative project that is described in the article.
  • Response: ‘The Grading System We Need to Have’ is a blog piece from Larry Ferlazzo (@Larryferlazzo) that appeared on the Education Week Teacher site. Larry is a well-known teacher, author and presence online who is definitely one you should follow on Twitter.

  • Are you an AP teacher looking for resources, ideas or fellow AP teachers to collaborate with beyond your own school? The AP Teacher Community is a great place to start. The summer is a great time to connect with colleagues from around the country and share ideas.

  • The Teaching Channel is another rich online resource and network of educators. The site describes itself as: “Teaching Channel is a video showcase—on the Internet and TV—of inspiring and effective teaching practices in America’s schools. We have a rapidly growing community of registered members who trade ideas and share inspiration from each other.”


Planning for Summer PD – the FREE way.

4fingersMay is a time when most educators are focusing on the final push in the current school year, trying desperately to get through the last pieces of the curriculum or just trying to keep the students focused and on task as the warm weather outside calls siren-like with the sounds of spring. Early spring is also the time to begin planning for your own summer professional development (PD). Learning and growing does not stop at graduation for our students nor should it for us. Personal and professional growth and learning does not take the summer off. With this thought in mind, I offer up the following items this week to get your summer PD juices flowing.

  • Anybody who has been a regular reader of the Friday 4 knows that I am a big fan of Edcamps and the unconference model of professional development. I recently attended the EdCamp Hartford on April 26 and have already registered to attend the Edcamp CT that will be happening on August 15 at the Ethel Walker School. If you are going to be around CT in mid August, I strongly encourage  you to register for the event and join a passionate group of fellow educators who are looking to share and learn from one another. One of the best parts about Edcamps is that they are FREE.
  • There was a recent post on the edSurge website titled How Teachers Are Learning: Professional Development Remix that explores the current landscape in PD and includes several strategies and links to helpful tools for teachers looking to take charge of their own PD.
  • If you are looking for a way to get some summer PD while sitting at the pool or the beach, consider downloading and listening to one of the many podcasts from the edreach network. “EdReach provides a platform for passionate, outspoken innovators- aiming to strengthen their voices by highlighting innovation in the field of education, through reporting critical educational news, providing commentary, and offering criticism of the educational issues of the day.” There are a bunch of different edreach channels from the Flipped Learning Network to the Reading Room to the Google Educast. You can listen to single episodes or subscribe to individual channels…all for FREE.
  • The ASCD has a growing archive of FREE webinars that you can access from some of the familiar names in education like Judy Willis, Rob Marzano and Grant Wiggins. Topics include: The Essential Neuroscience of Learning, How to Support Struggling Students and Creating Authentic Assessments.

So, how are you going to continue your growth as an educator this summer? Take charge!

Snow Day Readings

Snow days are a mixed blessing for most teachers. While most enjoy the extra hour(s) of sleep and the brief respite from the craziness of the typical school day, the havoc a snow day can create in a well thought out and planned series of lessons is sometimes not worth it. In the spirit of the the glass being half full, I prefer to see snow days as a chance to catch up on my professional reading and treat it like a free day of self-directed professional development. Sounds a little better now doesn’t it?

If you do not already have a list of items on your “To Read” list, allow me to suggest a few to start you off that have crossed my radar of late and ended up in my Diigo Library. Enjoy the snow if you are experiencing a snow day or bookmark this post for the next time you find yourself with an unanticipated free PD day.

  • Four Student Misconceptions about Learning” is a short piece that appeared on the Faculty Focus website that is a nice little piece in its own, but the real gem is the link at the end of the article to a free download of an awesome book Applying Science of Learning in Education: Infusing Psychological Science into the Curriculum.
  • Prefer a little video on a snowy day? Here is a thought provoking short documentary on future learning. “Students are the future, but what’s the future for students? To arm them with the relevant, timeless skills for our rapidly changing world, we need to revolutionize what it means to learn.”
  • 25 Factors Great Boarding Schools Have in Common is a blog post from Pat Bassett, former president of NAIS, and Pete Upham, the current director of TABS. An interesting read particularly after watching the video on future learning.
  • A colleague passed along a great recently published article on the link between later school starting times and adolescent mood and sleep patterns. You can find a brief article about the study including a link to the original paper here.
  • As a final item, I would encourage any and all to join #TABSchat tonight (2/5) on twitter at 8 PM EST. Tim Quinn (@TimothyQuinn6), the author of the book On Grades and Grading will be joining the conversation. A great opportunity to ask the author any questions you may have after reading the book!

If you are experiencing a snow day as I am, ENJOY!

“Unconference” kicks off 2014

thumbs-upLoomis Chaffee tries a new model for PD

We took a risk today and tried a new model for professional development with our faculty, namely, the “unconference” model. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of an unconference, you can read an earlier post I wrote here in anticipation of the day.

As I introduced the event to our faculty, I took a quick poll of the audience to gauge their previous experiences with PD outside of our traditional faculty days. Not surprisingly, most had attended a professional conference of one kind or another recently. When I asked how many had ever attended an Edcamp event or any other unconference-like event, nobody raised their hand. I was hoping that at least a few had some experience with unconferences so I was a little surprised but remained optimistic that we could pull it off. I briefly explained the concept and charged the faculty with taking control of their own PD for the rest of the morning.

Fortunately, we had a few session leaders lined up ahead of time so that we were not starting with an entirely blank schedule. With only two time slots available for the event, I was hopeful that we would be able to fill the schedule and provide a wide enough range of sessions for people to attend. I was excited when I saw the final lineup of sessions and was optimistic that the morning would go well. Below is a list of the sessions that our faculty led.

  • Inciting class participation by design: Using homework?
  • Using hands-on learning projects in class.
  • More than just a letter: Evaluation of and feedback on student work
  • Open Discussion on dealing with race and other tough topics in the classroom.
  • The heart of the matter: Best practices in advising.
  • A model for assessing class participation and providing feedback to students.
  • “Shaping the class” An insider’s view from the Admissions Office.
  • Best practices for preparing and executing a well organized lesson plan for linear learners.
  • Voice Thread – a tool for asynchronous discussions in the classroom.
  • A Call to Action: Loomis Chaffee Earth Day brainstorm session. All School action oriented activities for April 22nd in the spirit of our school theme Climate Change & Water.
  • The College Selection Process – an open discussion.
  • iPads in the Classroom.
  • Grademark and turnitin.com. Online grading, editing, and rubrics.
  • Athletic recruiting and practice planning.

During the morning, I wandered in and out of all of the sessions and witnessed some of the most engaging and interactive professional development going on. Not surprisingly, the faculty were eager to share and learn from one another in this format and took to it like a fish to water. In each session, somebody took notes to a shared document that swelled to 11 pages by the end of the morning, a nice archive of the discussions that occurred.

While I heard a number of positive comments from faculty during the morning about the format, I wanted to survey them and get some more formal feedback so I created a quick survey that I mailed out later in the day. While I have not heard from everybody just yet (~25%), the initial feedback has been quite positive. On a scale of 1-5, when asked how the day compared to previous PD programs, 77% rated the day a 4 or 5. When asked how interested they would be to have future faculty days use the unconference format, 87% rated it a 4 or 5 on a scale of 1-5. 78% of the respondents said that they would be interested in leading sessions if we used the format again. I asked people to share their major takeaways from the experience and heard the following:

  • “It’s a time when colleagues can chat and get together. We may not schedule enough time into our calendars to do this.”
  • “Terrific exchange of ideas – in both sessions I experienced today. I was impressed with the fact that EVERYONE participated, and that ideas were thought provoking – in regular faculty mtng, so many people remain silent.”
  • “Good to sit with colleagues that I do not often get to sit with and discuss the topics that affect us all.”
  • “I did take away that our faculty is creative, energetic and collaborative when given the opportunity.”
  • “empower people and you get results.”
  • “My major takeaway was that the unconference format stimulates conversation and discussion far more effectively than traditional PD sessions.”
  • “Other teachers are awesome! Groupthink is the way to go.”
  • “We (the LC Faculty) are an extraordinary resource….and sharing among ourselves allows us to get into the weeds of the pragmatic, useful, relevant, and actionable in a way that employing an “outside expert” for a day often precludes.
    This process also acts as glue for us all…great for morale and institutional confidence!”
  • “Sharing ideas with colleagues is fun!”

There were others, but I think you get the idea. All in all, I was pleased with how the day went and am even more convinced that this model for professional development is definitely worth the time and energy. As always, I appreciate any comments or feedback.