Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The best advice Baker ever gave me

Baker kicks it old school
Today is Roy Baker's birthday.  Dr. Baker was a great school leader who shepherded the Norris District through unprecedented growth and helped us come roaring back when a tornado decimated our campus.  More importantly to me, Roy is a friend and a mentor.

The best advice Baker ever gave me?  I'll share it with you:

"I don't care what somebody else says the message is.  The only thing that matters is what the message is based upon your actions."

Stay focused on results!

Baker's always done that.  He's wired that way.  I spoke with him this afternoon to wish him a happy b-day, asked what he was up to.  I had heard he'd been doing well in a local golf league paired up with Gary DeBoer.  Baker growled, "We actually lost today so we're going to get second."

No prizes for second and "Good is the enemy of great."  Keep striving and stay focused on results.

Happy Birthday, Doc.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Really simple advice from the Sup for our new teachers

When I say it's really simple, what I mean by that is that it's very easy for me to dispense advice.  Adhering to it could prove challenging!  But here are a few basic lessons to contemplate as you embark upon your teaching career at Norris:

  • Gratitude is the right attitude.  We are privileged to be in education and to have the opportunity to work with young people.  It is a wonderfully inspiring life to be an educator.  Be thankful you get to live this challenging and rewarding adventure!  We all have moments where the gratitude slips and the cynicism spikes, but let's not let those fleeting moments define us. 
  • The compassionate response is usually the correct one.  Students will frustrate you.  Their behaviors will perplex and annoy you.  And some of them, well, you'll find their limit-testing behaviors downright annoying.  The punitive reaction, though, will seldom bring about the results you really want.  If you're really about promoting positive relationships and building a collaborative learning environment, you'll ask yourself first, "What can I do differently to bring this kid around?" before you resort to punting students out of class, office referrals, or hollow verbal admonitions that just turn students away or against you.  Yes, the discipline code and all the rules and regs have their place.  But students conduct themselves admirably mostly due to a classroom climate and school culture of mutual respect and caring - not because the language in the student handbook is ironclad.
  • Don't say "We can't," "I won't," or "That'll never happen" (or any variant thereof) when students initiate  ideas with you related to their learning.  It is not your job to place obstacles in front of students which deter their innate curiosity or convince them that adults don't listen, don't care, or don't value them as people.  Find a way.
  • Don't allow your instruction to be characterized by a pale, bland uniformity in the name of "consistency." Yes, you have a curriculum - you have essential questions and major objectives and you must dutifully promote student attainment of mastery related to these.  There are many paths and myriad road maps to proficiency. Is your classroom going to be a pale monolith of grayish monotony or a multi-colored monument to the innate creativity and intellectual curiosity of your students?
  • When students initiate ideas with you related to their learning, and your impulse is to say, "That doesn't fit with my lesson plan," your immediate response overriding that impulse should be, "Let's think that over."  When it comes to differentiating instruction, you'd better get there - and fast, if you want to keep students engaged and really foster high levels of achievement.
  • "Let's work together, c'mon, c'mon, let's work together."  Remember that old song by Canned Heat? You probably don't.  They played at Woodstock.  The '69 version.  Nevertheless, the song I'm referencing emphasizes the partnership you need to establish with parents.  Reach out. Too many young teachers are anxious and insecure about interacting with parents.  Get over it.  Make the calls.  Build the relationships.  Connect.  Share.  Ask for input, and don't be afraid to share your expertise.  They're counting on it.
  • Build an expansive Professional Learning Network and use it.  It's never been easier to do so and that means it's never been more unforgivable to live a life of painfully myopic isolation as a teacher.  You shouldn't just be reaching across the hallway and down the next wing. You should be reaching across states and nations and around the world to connect with other educators, share your insights, and steal their best ideas to bring them home here.  Blog.  Tweet.  Reach out and greet and meet other educators.  Use professional affiliations from PDK to ASCD, but don't for a second limit yourself to the institutionalized 
  • Have fun.  At Norris, we don't check our own spirit of intellectual curiosity at the door.  A sense of wonderment is appropriate! Go ahead and revel in the awesomeness of the ability of individual learners and classrooms to inspire and amaze you.  Share that with your colleagues.  You are hereby ordered to inspire others and be inspired by them.  
  • Have a great year.  See you in your classrooms and out in the halls, and I look forward to connecting with you out in cyberspace.  I post on this blog, my webpage is on the district site, and I tweet @jskretta.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Fitnessgram: A great tech tool for assessing student health & fitness in schools

For Leadership Day 2011, educational leaders have been invited to  blog about whatever we like related to effective school technology leadership: successes, challenges, reflections, needs, wants, resources, ideas, etc.  What a cool idea!  It's a great invite to push and promote these resources with one another.  Info on this is available at @mccleod's "Calling all bloggers!" post at

I'd like to tell you about Fitnessgram and encourage your school to consider adoption of this tech tool.  One of the things I am most passionate about as an educator is the connection between health and academic achievement.  Ever since I read my Maslow in my early Ed Psych courses as a pre-service teacher, the correlation resonated.  I realized there is a profound simplicity and truth in prioritizing health, safety, and belonging needs and that doing so in education is essential if we want students to be able to perform complex cognitive tasks.  Simply put, healthy students learn better. 

One tech tool for helping bring student health and fitness data into your conversation around the overall quality of your instructional program is Fitnessgram, which provides very basic tests of strength, flexibility, endurance and an assessment of body composition or BMI.  The scores are inputted and through the software, reports can be formatted which provide aggregate analysis by grade, gender, and test.

The idea of fitness testing in schools is hardly new and for decades many schools have been doing the Presidential Fitness testing.  But the Fitnessgram is more of a criterion-referenced fitness test that places students by age and gender into norming groups that identify whether the individual assessed is in the HFZ or "Healthy Fit Zone." We have had Fitnessgram for a couple years now at Norris and test at all levels - elementary, middle, and high school.  The students enjoy the tests because (a) they are working for a target range, not a pass/fail like the Presidential Test (b) they get meaningful results and are provided individually tailored reports in a timely manner after completing the tests (c) they can track their own progress over time.

Historically, Physical Education curriculum has been characterized by a competitive team sports dynamic that does not allow individual students to flourish in aspiring toward and attaining meaningful individual fitness goals.  The Fitnessgram assessment helps schools make a shift to providing students with important individual health data that instills a commitment and interest in fitness for a lifetime, to attain personally meaningful health goals.

In addition to the individual reports, the Fitnessgram aggregate reports can show whether there are significant health disparities in the areas assessed across grade levels within your system.  This can help a district target its interventions and tailor instruction to best meet the needs of students.

We have a small network version for our unified campus district, and we will probably be adopting the web-based version in the future.  It was not a big investment and has helped bring our whole PE team into a data driven culture in our district.  Fitnessgram is like any tech tool - it is not perfect.  Importing rosters from our student information system hasn't been without glitches and there's no getting away from some data entry when it comes to recording scores on the rosters, but those have been pretty small sacrifices for the results.  Happy #leadershipday11 !

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

10 Web Resources to Galvanize Your School’s Commitment to Coordinated School Health

There are many ways and many resources, but here are some external resources I’ve found helpful and hope you do, too:
  • The Nebraska statewide Coordinated School Health Policy, adopted March, 2010
  • Partnership For A Healthy Lincoln offers resources including national and local trend data on the obesity epidemic.
  • Action steps from the Let’s Move! campaign to assist schools.
  • Healthy alternatives to the traditional ‘junk food as reward’ classroom celebrations offered by the CT Department of Education.
  • Information from the Partnership for a Healthier America about the Chefs Move! To Schools campaign to place visiting chefs in schools to help educate children about healthy eating.
  • Read about the impact the Alliance is having on beverages sold in schools by getting full calorie sodas out of schools.
  • 2010 Youth Risk Behavior Survey results; tables, graphs, and trends analysis.
  • Empirically validated findings demonstrating the connection between exercise and intellectual performance, displayed in a user-friendly table with source reference noted.
  • American Alliance for Health, PE, Recreation and Dance legislative and policy advocacy information.  Get connected to the key issues at state and local levels.
  • President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition: includes general nutrition information, fit facts, Shape of the Nation, and Physical Activity and Dietary Guidelines for Americans.