Category Archives: Productivity

Productivity

Using Technology to Build Community Involvement

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Come Back Kids logo and Twitter handleI confess.  As a parent, I was one who signed up for school site council and then didn’t participate.  I would find parent surveys at the bottom of my children’s backpacks long after they were due or I would just forget to send them back.  I had the best intentions and I was certainly pleased to be asked, but when it came down to it, I couldn’t afford to take the time off work.  I had class on the night meetings were scheduled, or it would just slip my mind.  Years later, as an administrator, I struggle to find the right mix of stakeholder involvement activities so all parents and community members have the opportunity to be involved and contribute to the discussion.  Fortunately, I have many more tools at my disposal than school leaders in the 1980′s and 90′s.

Twitter

Telephone calls and mail just don’t produce the turnout I need to meet mandated parent involvement.  I do use them and email also, but my Twitter feed is quickly becoming the go-to tool that lets my school community know what is happening on our campuses.  I use my tweets to remind parents and partners about meetings and I post links to current information. I tweet pictures and links to short videos to keep my feed fun and engaging. My tweets remind my school community that we are hard at work teaching and learning; and having fun too. Using Twitter engages reluctant technology users, makes students think you’re cool, and provides anytime-anywhere communication.

Google Forms

Remember the ten page survey sent to all parents, the cost of mailing it, and then getting only a handful back?  I still have my paper survey, and I hand it out to anyone who prefers it, but I also create the survey in Google Forms and  send out the link by email, Twitter, and on note cards.  Staff and students promote it too.  Google Form responses populate to a Google spreadsheet. and a summary of responses with charts is available underneath the form tab.  I began using Google Forms this year to prepare for an upcoming WASC visit and to gather community input for our LCAP.  My response rate has increased from 32 responses last year to 237 so far this year.  I also saved a small fortune on mailing and paying someone to tabulate the results—enough to pay for several teachers to attend the CUE conference this spring.

Google Hangouts

The last new tech tool in my community involvement tool belt is Google Hangouts.   With Google Hangouts, I can have a meeting at a physical location, but other participants can join us remotely.   Our school has classrooms at 14 different geographical locations and  using Google Hangouts means that staff, students, and parents from separate sites can meet in a virtual space, share documents and work together.  One EL student shared with me that she liked the Hangout because normally she would be too shy to speak in a meeting,  but in this format she felt comfortable contributing.  Busy parents and community members can join from work.  It has taken some practice to learn how to use Hangouts for these meetings, and we are still getting better at developing the procedures that make our collaboration smoother.  Lessons learned include being patient as everyone learns to sign on, having someone on the phone to assist those having technical difficulties,  keeping our mics muted  except for the person who is speaking, having a moderator recognizing the next speaker, using the chat section to record comments and questions, and developing procedures for taking and recording votes.  Despite this learning curve, we still have more participation from a diverse set of participants and we are not paying staff for time and mileage to travel to a meeting.

Accomplishing multiple goals

As a site leader these tools serve more than one purpose.  First, I use these tools to facilitate and document meaningful engagement of parents, students, and other stakeholders, including those representing the subgroups for developing our LCAP.  Second, it gives me an opportunity to lead and promote the use of technology in our school.  Third, it’s always fun to try new things!

 

Packrati: My road to super-productivity!

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PackratMy motto is,  “It’s not what you know, but what you share!” People who know me know that I make no secret that almost all of my shared resources come from Twitter. Twitter is all about finding the right people to follow that will allow you find the resources that will help you do your job better. That’s the key to me as to why Twitter is such a valuable social media tool.

In order to make Twitter successful and productive for me, I needed a way to get what I had tweeted to my bookmarks. I use Delicious as my bookmarking tool.  My old school way was once a week or month, I would copy and paste each tweet over to my delicious account as a bookmark with tags.  This was a horribly inefficient process.  Then I discovered Packrati.  Packrati works with my Twitter and Delicious accounts to automatically bookmark and tag anything I tweet.

Here’s how it works:  If there is a URL in my tweet, it automatically gets posted on my delicious web page.  Any words within that tweet that have a hashtag (#) are added as Delicious tags of the bookmarked page.  Welcome to the world of super-productivity! To start setting up accounts for yourself, visit the following websites and create accounts:  www.twitter.com, delicious.com, and packrati.us. If you are interested in seeing all of the resources I have gathered, check out my bookmarks at delicious.com/sgilley or follow me on Twitter @uniqsuseq.

 

Classroom Walkthrough Google Style

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Cartoon person walking with Google Classroom walkthroughs (CWT) give administrators data. This data is important for providing relevant professional development to the teaching staff as well as a good way to be involved more in the classroom. Since we have implemented CWTs we have seen gains, but the data was slow and cumbersome to disaggregate. Paper forms had been the norm, but at the beginning of this year we implemented a Google Form for CWTs. The transition has been spectacular. The data is coming in faster and in real time. I am able to share it with the assistant superintendent and superintendent easily and that gives me justification on how to spend the precious professional development dollars.

 The use of a Google Form for CWTs is not for building administrators who “Cant handle the truth.” The results are live and in your face. As we developed our CWT instrument we thought that we would shine in many areas. The form does not lie. Be prepared to see the truth in the data.

For example checkout some of our data below.

When the data comes back to the spreadsheet Google will automatically create graphs. Follow the steps below to access the Summary of Responses.

  1. Open the associated spreadsheet that collects the form data
  2. Click Form
  3. Click Summary of Responses

As you can tell we need some work on technology integration. It is a slow process for my new school but we are on the right track. I am a new assistant principal that prides myself on my technology integration chops. The data does not lie. I am not having as much impact as I should.

Truth alert! Our English Language Arts teachers have the highest percentage of master’s degrees and national board certification. As administrators we tend to visit the good teachers more to reaffirm our great impact on our teachers as the instructional leader.

In the link below I have shared our CWT instrument with you. Please take some time to evaluate it and modify as necessary. I have outlined some steps so anyone with a Google Account either through a school managed domain (@yourschool.org) or a Google managed (@gmail.com) domain can access.

  1. Click the link here to open the form.
  2. Click on File, then on Make a Copy.
  3. The form is yours to modify!

To find out more about Google Forms and how to use them in the classroom, read my book, Google Apps Meets Common Core published by Corwin.  Also, check out Survey Templates Ready to Administer Using Google Forms right here on portical.org!

Wait, wait! Don’t evaluate me.

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Man holding up hands, I have been evaluating teachers for 21 years, all the way back to a time when I was required to assess a teacher’s hygiene and appearance as “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”  Thankfully, we have progressed as a profession.

Charlotte Danielson’s work that synthesized research on effective teaching and put it all together in a rubric form was published in 1996.  It took several years for her work to make its official way to San Luis Obispo, California, where I work as an elementary principal.  I know that for years, many administrators here were unofficially using her work to evaluate the work of teachers.  Eventually, the district made the leap to accept the four domains (planning, classroom environment, instruction, and professional responsibilities) and 32 components.  Just two years ago, we abandoned “satisfactory/unsatisfactory” ratings in favor of “unsatisfactory, basic, proficient and distinguished.”

Last year was our pilot year for collecting data/evidence of teachers’ work as it related to specific components and then scoring with the four level rubric.   Data collection was all done by analog scripting and note-taking.  When it came time for us administrators to write up our evaluations, we were faced with collating and reviewing piles of handwritten feedback cards and two-column legal pad notes.  Hearing the complaints from administrators on increased workload and time commitment, our district purchased a software solution called TeachScape.

Seven uninterrupted hours?

There are three components to this software.  One is a series of videos of teachers teaching with commentaries on how the video evidence relates to the rubric. All of us were required to watch the videos and then pass the assessment piece at the end.  What I didn’t know was that the assessment piece itself requires seven hours of uninterrupted time!  I arrived at this point in the training module a few days before school started.   Well, it’s a month later and somehow those seven uninterrupted hours have eluded me.  Nonetheless, having made it through all the videos, and given my previous experience with the framework, I feel qualified and calibrated at this time.

The second component is a digital communication system for sharing data and observational notes with teachers. Implementation glitches abound.  First of all, it’s tough when the software is not intuitively designed.  You know what I mean?  (Apparently Apple engineers were involved elsewhere when this product was designed.) To their credit, the TeachScape folks are attentive and helpful.  They actually answer the helpline when you call and speak understandable English! But there are terminology problems.  What I call a walk-through is, to TeachScape, apparently something much more structured.  And I am just now trying to figure out why I would have to “schedule” an informal observation—wouldn’t that make it formal’?

Missing modules?

In addition, it seems our district hasn’t purchased all the right modules that allow us to input data. I don’t want to start the arduous process of entering all my handwritten notes and observations in one place and then, at the end of the year, find there are two different systems to collate. These issues may be solved by our new personnel director, who has taken over as the single point of contact for getting questions and glitches addressed.  She calls the helpline on our behalf, and she is learning the system along with us.

TeachScape’s third component?  At this point, I do not know exactly what it does.  Heck, I’m still looking high and low for those seven uninterrupted hours.

How will this all end up? Who will save us?  Will we be saved?  Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Evaluate Me!”  Coming soon!

OCR, Meet Common Core

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Smart phone scanning text for OCRAs we move into Common Core, a new emphasis is upon us in the form of text-related instruction. Thankfully, the days of teaching isolated skills are being replaced by deep examination of complex text.

You might think we would have the necessary techniques and strategies already ensconced in our teaching repertoires, but the uncomfortable truth is to the contrary. This is not surprising, considering the weighting of comprehension questions on the standardized tests that have driven all our instructional decisions during the last decade. While comprehension of what one reads would seem to be the only “standard” that counts when it comes to skills that get you through college or into the workplace, we now find many students who can score in the basic or even proficient levels in reading while missing half or more of the reading comprehension items on the test!  Ultimately, the deficiency shows up in middle school or high school, where the inability to really understand what you are decoding dooms many students to lag behind or drop out.

Are we on the same page?

In Common Core reading comprehension instruction, directing students towards examples of text in books on their individual desks isn’t satisfactory.  How can you ensure all students are looking at the same page, let alone the same paragraph you are teaching from? All a teacher really knows is the kids are looking down—and then probably at a smart phone!

The crucial need to be addressed will be finding a way for elementary and secondary schoolteachers to display rich examples of complex text on their presentation screens for all to see at once.     Where will this text come from? Some textbook publishers already allow copying and pasting of their text; Harcourt Science and Holt Social Studies are two examples. The Houghton-Mifflin Medallions eBooks do not allow that access.  And many great examples will be found in hard copy texts that are not online.

OCR to the rescue!

One solution that is, amazingly, little known in K-12 education is optical character recognition software (OCR). OCR takes a scanned picture of text and recognizes the characters as text, converting them to “regions” where the text can then be pasted into PowerPoint or other applications and manipulated, highlighted, et cetera.

To me, the best product for this task is Omni Page Pro, the industry standard since OCR was first developed. I have used Omni Page Pro extensively as both an administrator and teacher for ten years and am amazed at how few educators are even aware of this application.

There are other similar products, including Presto! OCR, which received the second highest marks in a recent review. Microsoft OneNote also has some ability to perform OCR, but in a limited fashion. When Omni Pro was virtually the only game in town it was expensive, but the price has come down by almost 75%. Now, there is not much price difference between it and competing products.

Understanding and mastering this technology will prove extremely valuable as applied to Common Core.  Yes, there are issues of copyright that are involved and one must be diligent and abide by local acceptable use policies.  But by being familiar with fair use and exercising care and good judgment, there are a lot of useful pieces of text in many hard copy books that would be great for Common Core instruction.  The chore is getting them up front and center, and OCR does the trick.

Learn more about OCR tools.