February 6, 2018


Student Use of Personal Technology
Some districts and schools allow students to use their own devices in school and some do not. Many districts now have 1:1 technology paid for and serviced by the school districts. Most Illinois school districts have robust Internet connectivity but Illinois still has many rural communities without high speed Internet access.
The reason I am writing about this topic is because many educators believe that student use of technology is interfering with the daily business of school. Students become distracted easily, students visit sites not related to the content that is being taught in the classroom, and student-to-student digital communication is often negative, with bullying and other issues causing trouble for students in school.
Others believe that student technology use is important for students to be engaged in their own learning. Students, like adults, quickly can Google for information related to the content being taught in school. Almost everybody would agree that returning to a world without technology would be impossible.
The use of student personal technology is problematic. In schools that do not provide technology for students, this is the sole method of digital connectivity. Schools that provide 1:1 devices also find issues with student personal technology use.
As I have visited hundreds of classrooms over the past several years, I have discovered that the role of the teacher in the classroom is critical to the proper use of technology. The school can draw up all kinds of rules and regulations concerning the personal use of technology but students always find a work around. In classrooms taught by respected, caring and engaging teachers, I never observe problems with student misuse of technology. It seems to be the solution for student proper use of technology is the same solution for almost all of our education problems. If we have respected, caring and engaging educators, our students will behave appropriately.
What Does Student Engagement Look Like?
As I work with building level administrators and department chairs to improve their observation and evaluation skills, I realize more and more that we need to work on "engaging students" in their own learning. I recently ran across a short video of Phil Schlechty describing student engagement. According to Schlechty, students are engaged when they are 1) attentive, 2) persistent, and 3) committed.
Schlechty describes "attentive" as students paying attention to the learning in the classroom. Students who are compliant are not necessarily attentive. Students have to demonstrate via some action that they are attentive. "Persistent" is described as students caring about their own learning. Students not accepting that they have not mastered the lesson concept. When students have difficulty learning the concept they insist that the teacher reteach the learning concept. Students being "committed" means that students are willing to allocate their own time outside of normal classroom time to work on the learning goal. Students would do this voluntarily.
Students learn that which is important for them to learn. It is the teacher's role to attach meaning and value to the information being learned. The student has to demonstrate mastery of the learning through some observational process such as speaking, writing, debating, performing, acting, etc....
Schlechty stated that he has little value for "classroom walkthroughs" as they are too short to determine if students are truly engaged. I am sure Schlechty would say that one informal and one formal observation are too short for an evaluator to determine if students are engaged.
What do the classrooms in your school district look like? Are students attentive, persistent, committed and placing meaning and value on what they are learning? If they are not, what are you as the leader in your school district doing about it?
Part III - Fit to Lead
This is the third of a three-part series on the topic of "Taking Care of You." School administrators have been encouraged to exercise, eat better, spend time with family and friends and, generally, to think of themselves first from time to time.
This week's topic involves eating for fitness. The authors of Fit to Lead stress a healthy diet. I like that the recommendations allow occasional eating out and enjoying some of your favorite foods, as well as rewarding yourself with a favorite meal when a goal has been achieved.
We all know people (or maybe ourselves) who tried a fad diet, lost a lot of weight and, when returning to a normal routine, gained back all or more of the weight they lost. A few years ago, three superintendents I know chose to have a weight loss contest, sort of like the TV program, The Biggest Loser. All three lost more than 50 pounds and one lost close to 100 pounds. They looked great, felt great and were very proud of their accomplishments. One of these men took up running and ran a six-mile course with me at the Triple I Conference.
But, one year later each had gained back most of the lost weight. Fad diets do not work. It takes a change in lifestyle, both in diet and in exercise, to form a good health habit that will last.  As we age, our metabolism slows and fewer calories are utilized through the day. So to maintain the same weight, we must eat less, exercise more or both.
The major recommendations in Fit to Lead fitness may be summarized simplistically, "When it comes down to the basics, you need to eat fewer calories to lose weight, and simply switching to a lower-fat diet doesn't always translate to fewer calories." As you may know, not all fat is bad for your health. "Some types of fat, such as the monounsaturated fats in nuts and olive oil, and the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and flaxseed, help to boost mood and energy, as well as quell hunger.
"About 50 to 70 percent of daily calories should come from complex carbohydrates (such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole-grain products), not from candies, desserts, or simple sugars, which are classified as simple carbohydrates." A friend of mine has lost a considerable amount of weight by staying away from all desserts (no exceptions) and eating breakfast regularly. You would be surprised how well simple solutions such as this work.
The authors recommend that when eating out, order fish as often as possible. Also, eat 20 to 35 grams of fiber daily. Great sources include oats, oat bran, oatmeal, apples, citrus fruits, beans, lentils, barley, peas, potatoes, raw cabbage, and strawberries. Some additional tips are to consume fresh fruit rather than fruit juice, snack on nuts, and eat whole-grain bread over processed bread.
Both men and women need 1,500 milligrams of calcium daily. A good way to achieve this intake is to eat a bowl of healthy cereal with skim milk every day. It is recommended that we eat five to nine fruits and vegetables per day, so put some fruit on that cereal. The authors even recommended that you can get calcium soy latte. When eating out, opt for grilled chicken or fish. You can have a burger, just hold the cheese. Take advantage of salads and salad bars, but avoid high calorie dressings.
If all else fails, do what I do - exercise enough so you can work off any extra calories you have eaten. The more you exercise, the more you can eat. Of course, eat healthy foods.
In summary, observe and evaluate yourself to determine your present fitness and health level. Set goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time specific. Remove negative temptation, such as the candy dish on the coffee table. Increase positive cues, such as scheduling a specific time to work out with a friend. Find natural rewards that you will enjoy. I like to run and get a lot of enjoyment from it. Find something you like to do and you will be more likely to continue the exercise. Use mental imagery to help keep you motivated. You might envision yourself in that new swimsuit or with a new outfit that reveals the "new you." Good luck and be sure to tell me about your successes in "taking care of you."
Reflecting with Teachers
I am spending more and more time training teacher and principal evaluators to allow the people they are evaluating to reflect on their own practice, rather than the evaluator "telling" the teacher or principal what to do.
Teacher and principal evaluation consists of collecting data in both informal and formal observations and sharing that data with the employee. I recommend that evaluators be focused on one particular Domain/Component when observing teachers. For example, when observing a teacher the evaluator may want to concentrate on 3b. Questioning and Discussion. In the process of collecting the data the evaluator may have recorded 25 questions asked during the observation. The evaluator should keep track of who is asking the questions (teacher or student), who is answering the questions (teacher - student, student - student, student - teacher, teacher - teacher, nobody), what is the level of higher order thinking (analyzing the verbs and adverbs used in the question by Bloom's Taxonomy), amount of wait time the teacher and/or student give the respondent to answer, etc....
When collecting this data an example of a summary of the data might be the following: The teacher asked 25 questions; students asked two questions; the teacher answered 10 of her own questions, five questions were not answered by anybody, and 10 questions were answered by seven different students with two of the students answering two questions each. Of the 25 questions asked by the teacher, 23 were basic knowledge level, one was application and one was evaluation. The two student questions were both knowledge level. The teacher would receive this summary from the evaluator as soon as possible following the observation. I use an electronic device and program and email the teacher the observation data before leaving the class and in this email I suggest a time and date for the evaluator (me) and the teacher to meet and discuss the observation.
In this reflective meeting I do not have to again summarize the data from the observation. The teacher has read it and if the data does not support excellent rating via the Danielson Framework both the teacher and I know that. Instead of asking questions such as "How could you involve more students in the questioning and discussion?" a more appropriate reflective question might be one or more of the following:
  • How did you feel about the level of student engagement in this observation?
  • What strategies have you used in the past to engage students in the questioning and discussion?
  • What would an observation of questioning and discussion look like if 100% of the students were engaged?
  • How could you make this happen in your class?
Following this reflective conversation during which the teacher does the vast majority of the talking, the observer can ask the teacher if there is anything they have talked about concerning questioning and discussion that the teacher would feel comfortable with writing into a SMART goal? Once the teacher commits to a strategy that they are incorporating into the SMART goal, the teacher writes the SMART goal into the observational evidence, and the administrator commits to returning to the classroom in the near future to see these strategies put into practice.
Sometimes teacher evaluators ask me what they should do if the teacher does not come up with strategies or suggestions. If the teacher is a first or second year teacher, I consider this to be mentoring the teacher and the observer should give detailed specific recommendations. If the teacher is a veteran teacher, then the observer can enter into a discussion concerning various strategies, but it should be made clear to the veteran teacher that this is his/her responsibility to improve their own instruction.
In either case sited in the paragraph above, if the observer has to direct the learning then the rating according to the Danielson Frameworks would be a Level 2 or Needs Improvement. If the teacher can determine their own improvement then the observer should delay scoring the observation until the teacher has time to demonstrate the new skills.
Tip of the Week
When you leave your present position for retirement or another education position, what will people say about you? Manage today like you will want to be remembered tomorrow.

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Richard Voltz
Associate Director
Professional Development/Induction-Mentoring
2648 Beechler Court
Springfield, IL 62703
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