Top tools?

I feel like in the past year I’ve been surveyed to death, but each time I sit down to complete one, I trust that whomever is compiling the results of said survey will use the data for good. Not evil. In an attempt to “make sense” of the plethora of online resources/networks/communities/tools that are available to educators, I will be surveying district elementary staff to determine their:

a) current comfort level with the technologies/tools within our district

b) desired uses of these tools to impact student learning

c) professional development needs with these tools

d) experience in using online tools for learning

e) participation in PLNs – both online and face-to-face organizations

We are working to compile a resource site where the best 5-10 resources are easily made available to teachers for use with students, complete with tutorials and professional development opportunities/support to help the technologies be successfully integrated into the classroom.

I’d love to hear from my PLN about their “go-to” resources and tools. If you could only use 5 online resources with elementary students, what would they be? If you could master the use of any 5 technologies, which ones would you choose? Why?

I consider myself lucky to be surrounded and supported by experts in education and educational technology through my PLN. Not a day goes by when I don’t learn something new, and I wish the same for my teachers and students. Hopefully this resource will be a step in the right direction.


Inspired by #edchat’s Tuesday night discussion about the meaningful use of interactive whiteboards in classrooms, I began to ponder: Should I purchase more of these tools for use in my building next year, when I have 5-6 mobile SMARTboards already that aren’t being used consistently (and frankly, may not be used meaningfully when they are checked out for classrooms?) I have two Promethean boards that are installed in a third and sixth grade classroom. These teachers received training from Promethean personnel and use the board throughout most of their day with students. They are quite comfortable with the resources available to them, and both have created their own resources as well as utilized those found through Promethean Planet. But are they using resources that engage learners? Could they use similar displays on an overhead projector? Or with a document camera? Or their laptop used with an LCD projector? Are the students truly engaging in curricular content through the use of the boards?

I posed this question to someone who I feel has a keen handle on the vision of educational technology, Aaron Eyler @aaron_eyler, in response to one of his latest blog posts, Interactive Whiteboards and the Future of Educational Technology. He was gracious enough to address my concerns in the post The Battle of Educational Technology: Software, Hardware & Funding and What to Do About It. I think all administrators should read and understand the points addressed in this point. I guarantee you my technology department, comprised of hardworking people who are not from the field of education, will not stumble upon this post, or anything like it, as they begin to plan for next year. I was approached by my tech director with the following scenario: The tech budget is thinning. The other two elementary buildings plan to utilize some of their available funds to buy IWBs (of a third platform, Polyvision- do I want to bring three different platforms into my building?), so could you also buy some Polyvision boards for your building? Initially, I thought, I can see what I can do, but just like your tech budget is thinning, so is my building budget. I thought, How can I not purchase IWBs if the other two buildings are perhaps bringing more boards to their buildings? Will our teachers be disappointed if their principal, the newly named Elem. Tech Integrator, chooses not to purchase more boards for their classrooms? Some would (although they may not understand the reasons why the decision was made). Others may not notice if there were five new boards rolled into the media center tomorrow.

Read insights about this topic from other educators here: Interactive Whiteboards: Engagement is not Interaction from Christopher Rogers @MrRog3rs. His stance is that IWB are a great, traditional tool, but not interactive. This post from Steven Anderson @web20classroomentitled Interactive Whiteboards: Sage on the Stage? summarizes the points made in #edchat about this tool being an instructional tool, not a tool with which students can engage while learning content.

My job as elem. tech integrator is to work to integrate technology and 21st century skills into the curriculum. Sound familiar? Cliche, I know, but I will be working with our academic curriculum, finding points of essential learning that lend themselves nicely to tech. integration opportunities, and helping teachers infuse the technology and the skills of student collaboration and creation into the curricular units in a seamless fashion. It is a daunting task, but we have a great teacher and admin team who will able to rise to the challenge. Since technologies are changing every second, my hope is that we’re not writing technology-specific goals into the curriculum (“All students will know how to format a word processing document with 1-inch margins using Microsoft Word” – reallly, we need to put that in writing?!!!), but rather opening teachers’ eyes to the learning opportunities that technology tools and the crucial 21st century skills framework can offer their students.

So… I think I have a plan. Or at least a vague idea of what might be some sort of a plan in my head.

1. Approach my admin. team and tech. director about the fact that I do not want to purchase additional IWB for my building until I know a) my teachers will use them b) my teachers will be trained adequately c) teachers can prove to me through the use of the IWB, students are learning essential content in new and meaningful ways.

2. Tell my teachers about this. Express my concerns that the technology we have is not being used. Last year was my first year as their principal. I noticed the SMARTboards lined up in the media center every day, gathering dust. I brought in SMARTboard training for one of the first in-services. They showed a greater comfort level with the technology following that training, but use still isn’t at the level where it should be.

2. Start to research interactive tablet options. I would rather have a tablet in the hands of every student than an IWB in the front of the room where only one teacher and one student can interact simultaneously. Invest in more sets of student-response “clickers.” We have one set each with our Promethean systems, and teachers and students use them productively. We have one older, fully functional Senteo system that was not used once last year. It was used two-three times this year. By a student teacher. 🙂

3. Invest in: mounted ceiling projectors in every classroom and encourage my tech director to beef up our bandwidth (it’s horrid) and get the infrastructure ready to go for file sharing and flawless use of the internet throughout the school day, in all classrooms. If my teachers are guaranteed to have an LCD projector in their classrooms every day, they can plan to integrate the use of Web 2.0 tools through the use of their laptops. Every single one of them has a laptop. How lucky are we?! By nature, many Web 2.0 tools are collaborative. Hopefully through their use teachers will begin to see the power of allowing students to engage in this type of learning. Invest in more digital cameras and video cameras for creation opportunities. Invest in more netbooks and/or laptops for students. One cart per grade level would be ideal.

I don’t know if this plan is worth beans, but it’s where my thoughts are right now. I would appreciate feedback from anyone who has walked in my shoes in attempting to plan for technology purchases for a building, or from teachers who can offer insight into preferred technologies to use in their classrooms. I am also very interested in learning more about the tablet options that are out there. Thanks again to #edchat for inspiring this discussion and helping me to ponder what my students really need.


I have a new title.

Last week at our board meeting I was approved as the Elementary Technology Integrator and Coach. I assume the responsibilities that accompany this role with much excitement and absolute dizziness. Where… to…. begin?!

For one thing, I am still the principal of a K-6 elementary building of 475 students and 40+ staff. That’s not going away. Lots to do there.

I was approached by my assistant superintendent to take on the task of integrating technology into the curriculum and to seamlessly infuse its use into our classrooms and work with students. This summer I worked on using ISTE’s standards to develop a similar framework for use in our district K-6 and shared my ideas with her. Recognizing the need for someone who can guide teachers through this

Aaron Eyler just blogged about the Appropriate Use of Technology in K-12 Classrooms, and I agree with his views wholeheartedly. I want to work to ensure that our “technology” plan is not dependent on particular pieces of technology. I want to help our teachers realize that my role is to help them transform their learning environments so students are able to learn, create, evaluate, present, and collaborate in innovative ways. Technology will certainly help us, but it is not the be-all-end-all, and if teachers aren’t supported in its use, it won’t be technology use FOR learning at all.

Maybe I can request my “title” be changed to K-6 Elementary Learning Integrator and Coach.


Wednesday I introduced the concept of professional learning communities with my staff. They were a gracious audience, but when it came time for feedback, one thing rang loud and clear: We don’t have time to meet collaboratively. We need the only 30-40 minutes of prep time that is scheduled each day for our own use. I have mixed reactions about that- I believe that collaboration with colleagues will only strengthen students’ learning experiences, but “prep time” has become such a coveted luxury in many schools that the thought of being asked or directed to work with colleagues during that time sometimes leaves a sour taste in the mouths of teachers.

Last year we made major changes our master schedule. My goal was to provide time for teachers to collaborate during specials, so we designed the schedule to accommodate this. For the first time ever, teachers had their prep time at the same time slot as their other two grade level colleagues. Joy! How nice it would be for them to choose a classroom, bring their materials/laptops, and sit down for 30 minutes of productive collaboration.


Turns out, you can’t simply invite teachers to collaborate and expect miracles to happen. Despite the conditions, teachers stil used that time to themselves. As a former teacher, I know what I did during my prep time. I checked email. I graded papers (simple work, not scoring essays with a writing rubric, which required thought and time, so I did it at home). I walked to the faculty room and got a snack. Or a drink. I popped in to the office to check my mail. I walked up and down the hall a few times. I called my husband on my cell phone. I popped my head into my colleague’s room next door to compare notes on a certain student’s behavior. Why does he always forget to bring his binder to science class? And that was pretty much the end of my prep period.

Time to myself that was a bit relaxing? Sure. Productive? Not usually.

I wonder how productive we are during our prep periods, and if time spent collaborating would be more productive for the sake of STUDENT LEARNING?

Turns out there are 6 key types of time which we need. This blog post by Ali Hale was shared via Twitter and caught the attention of many: 6 Types of Time. Her post describes the six types:

  • Creative and productive
  • Physically energetic and active
  • Playful and entertaining
  • Learning and developing
  • Reflective and spiritual
  • Restful and relaxing

and then goes on to explain that we need to identify which types of time to which we are devoting the most waking minutes of our life and to find the right balance to ensure our happiness and utmost productivity.

During collaborative team time, I want my teachers to be “learning and developing,” not “restful and relaxing.” It is work, after all. Our team decided to dive head first into creative and productive time to develop some other viable options.

In a K-6 schedule, this is tricky. My two support specialists and I have offered to take over a grade level of students (three classes each) for 45 minutes at the end of the day, every 4-5 weeks, to allow for grade level team collaboration. We will either present lessons that the teachers have prepared or bring the group together for an enrichment/hands-on activity that meets a student learning objective. I am thrilled at the idea of spending time teaching in the classroom! Scheduling is going to be a bear. Also my wise husband pointed out, “But won’t you want to be present at their team meetings?” So we still have a few kinks to work out there. I have instructional coaches at each grade level who are willing to “lead the charge” with collaboratively planning. They seem open to the idea that there are meeting norms and agendas to be followed, and they will be reporting meeting minutes in a log format. Last year I brought in subs for 1/2 day slots so each grade level could meet to work out some math grouping plans. That worked well, but as is everywhere, funds are tight this year, and I am not sure my prof. development budget would last me through a half-year of subs on a more regular basis.

I am reaching out to you for other ideas about how to build collaborative team time into a K-6 schedule.

When I hear people say, “We don’t have enough time,” I think of this quote:

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”

– H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

It’s not how much time we have that determines our productivity, it’s what we DO with the minutes we’re given. And last time I checked, we were all given 1,440 of those per day. Choose wisely!


Our school is good. It’s always been good. Kudos to my students, parents, and teachers for their success thus far.

Soon, good is not going to be good enough.  I know, I know, test scores aren’t everything- but we are accountable.  As the stakes rise, our reading performance may indeed not be “good” enough.

I want to embark on the PLC adventure with my staff. We’re starting slowly. Reeeally slowly. At the end of my first year, I made some changes in staffing, trying to put together the strongest teams of people possible in each grade level. My support specialists/data team staff are phenomenal. I couldn’t ask for more. They “get it.” They realize how to use student data to drive instruction. They are starting to help teachers better realize how formative assessments can shape instruction to best meet the needs of all learners. My counselor is top-notch. My support staff works hard. Parents are supportive and involved. Students are on board and do their best.

We are ready to take this journey.

The team mentality in my building is hit or miss in certain grade levels. There has historically been a lot of competition among individuals in the grade levels as well as those who are comfortable just “being.” Being alone in their classrooms and in their work. Being content with what has “always been.” This is no longer acceptable. I am a fan of competition – I was a collegiate athlete and know the positive effects competition can bring.

For those of you that participate in true PLCs and have experienced the power of PLCs in your school, I’d love to hear from you: what steps were taken to begin this process? What were the most meaningful aspects of the professional development provided to you to learn more about PLCs and their impact on student achievement? What resources did/do you find most valuable to use with your teaching team? What obstacles did you encounter? What did you most need/want from your administrators to help you with the process? Any other information you feel would be beneficial for a principal to know would be much appreciated.

Good to great. That’s where we need to go. Long road ahead, but we are talented and dedicated enough to do it. I am looking forward to leading the charge.

Respect- give it to get it

I am relatively new in my position as principal, but I have taught for enough years to know that we will always encounter “those kids” in our classrooms and schools.

The kids that talk back. The ones that don’t hand in assignments. Students that are disrespectful. Bullies. Those that don’t give 100%. Kids that tell you they just don’t care. “This is boring and stupid.”

These students are sometimes the bane of a teacher’s existence, and on some level, I can understand why: they cause the teacher to feel a loss of control. And there’s nothing teachers thrive on more than control.

What I have come to realize, in my 10+ years in this phenomenal field of education, is that these children need us. Maybe more than the “ideal” student needs us.

When I started my job as a K-6 principal last year, I made it a priority to learn my students’ names. And I did. I greet them by name in the hall. I ask them about their weekends and about their ice hockey games. They bust on me for being a Braves fan, and I offered my sympathy when the Phils lost the World Series. I remind them I’m checking up on their progress in small reading groups because we have set goals for their success. I play all-time quarterback at recess and astound them with my ability to throw a tight spiral. I recognize their parents from school functions and tell them how much I enjoy working with their children. More than any single policy I instituted or curricular change I made in the best interest of kids last year, nothing seemed to impress the parents and staff more than the fact that I know my students’ names.

Having accomplished that, my job as disciplinarian becomes 1000 times easier. When a student is referred to my office, we discuss what the action was that caused them to do be sent to my office, why they made the choice they did, how they can remedy the situation/choose differently in the future, and lastly, we discuss how disappointed I am in their choice, because I know them to be a child capable of better decision-making. But I forgive them, because we all make mistakes, and we will work hard to do better next time.

If that same child forgets to hand in an assignment, or doesn’t work according to teachers’ standards, does the teacher always take the time to have that same discussion with the student? Or does she always just chalk up the actions to to “laziness,” or “bad parenting,” or “lack of initiative?”

I read a post written by Paul Bogush on his blog entitled Words reduce reality to something the human mind can grasp. His point that teachers tend to label students upon the first negative encounter with them causes them to place all responsibility for that child’s failures/shortcomings on the child rather than on the teacher.

This weekend is proofread-500-report-cards-weekend for me, and I am going to take extra care in pinpointing the teachers/grade levels/subject areas where it appears we are failing our students. For example, why would a 3rd grader receive a D or F in social studies? What have we done to reteach the essential content to that student who has not succeeded on the first assessment of the material? How can we be content allowing an 8-yr old to fail? What can we do to meet our children where they are, and to own their success? Yes, children’s efforts play a role in their success, but we are the adults. We are the professionals. It is our duty to help them achieve great things.

This issue means a lot to me personally and is something I will revisit with my teachers often this year. How is this being addressed in your schools?

The View

Principals and other administrators need to help their teachers, students, and parents see the “big picture”… it’s too easy to get comfortable. When I look at this footage of our recent flight above my school, it reminds me of this.

The View from Above

First post

Last year was my first year as the principal of a K-6 elementary school in rural Pennsylvania.

About this time one year ago, I decided to start a blog called “Principally Speaking,” where I was going to document each and every day, the trials and tribulations of being a first year principal.

Hardy… har… har!

To my credit, I completed about 5 or 6, lengthy, detail-oriented posts. I used that blog to allow my emotions to unravel after our first day of school, which truly went swimmingly… until after dismissal and a disgruntled parent let me hear his frustrations regarding bus transportation. All the while treating me with utmost respect by referring to me as “Sweetheart.”

I find value in blogging. I believe new principals can find relief, humor, and a sense of community knowing others are experiencing what they are experiencing.

Networking is crucial in this job, so I will attempt to keep this blog alive in Year 2.

I welcome comments, criticisms, support, and feedback – all in the name of what’s best for kids in the field of education.

That’s why we’re here.