Monday, April 30, 2012

Learning the Tools for Success Through Group Work

This course gave you an opportunity to practice a range of leadership strategies when making decisions. It required you to think politically, orchestrate collaboration among all stakeholders, and remain steadfast in your original vision. 

What do you envision to be the pitfalls you might face as a first year principal, and how will you implement the strategies learned to overcome the pitfalls? How has this course prepared you to use twenty-first century leadership skills as you model a new culture for collaborating, analyzing student performance, and continually reflecting on instructional practices, school climate, and quality decision-making?

As I walk toward a path for leadership, I envision that the first year will be challenging because I know that I will want to aim high and accomplish much, probably too much. Throughout the course of this program, I’ve accumulated a variety of excellent strategies and important concepts that I see missing in the school where I’m working. I need to remember that change doesn’t happen overnight and having a plan to correct the mistakes I see takes time and collaboration with others so that the ideals I envision are shared amongst all stakeholders.

Since I worked for many years in a high intensity career through work at the Academy of Achievement ( that demanded me to think politically and work productively in a large team while accomplishing the task at hand, I know that personally I am capable of handling leadership tasks. I also know that I have developed distinct ideas about where I want to go professionally. For one, I have no interest in being a principal. What I want is to be a leader in technology. Knowing that is important. Throughout this program, observing teachers and students while doing my work, and through a significant effort in looking at the research I’ve begun to develop my own ideas about how to use technology effectively and plan for successful integration. I think it’s very important to identify that for me, my goal is to be the best at leadership in technology because that allows me to concentrate my talents in this area.

In this course, I relished the intense concentration on finding excellent academic research relating to the topics of vision, management, student learning, technology and ethics. The time allowed to pursue knowledge and ground my ideas in research was thrilling and important. I especially enjoyed discovering three books that I referred to often on my paper including: Richard Elmore's Instructional Rounds in Education, John Hattie's Visible Learning, and Linda Darling-Hammond's The Flat World and Education. I believe I will use the data and ideas contained in these books over and over again.

 Recently I did a project with my 5th/6th grade students on the topic of recycling. While they learned about the subject, the most important lesson that every single student took away was their experience working in groups. Some groups performed at a very high level and some were quite dysfunctional, yet everyone noted that this experience is what they remembered and would use again. While I felt that teaching them built on group work I’d done professionally before entering education, the emphasis on group work in this program has had a huge impact on me as a leader and something I will remember and use in the future.

My group in this course functioned at a very high level. Each of us – Brooke, Barb, Shannon, and myself – brought different angles to the conversation, and used that to build on ideas, support one another, and create a working environment that was extremely productive and satisfying. Since group work is such an important component of being a leader in education, the experience I’ve shared with my treasured colleagues will be most memorable and important as I work to emulate the experience as an education technology leader.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Co-Teaching Success

Entry #1: Co-Teaching- Share your thoughts about the co-teaching model? What impact does the upgrade of curriculum for the 21st century have on co-teaching? As a curriculum supervisor or leader, what challenges would you have supervising and evaluating a co-teaching team, and how might supervisors address these challenges?

The co-teaching model to help students with disabilities in the classroom is a potentially positive step in allowing students to learn. I don’t have a lot of experience with co-teaching, but I’ve seen it used successfully both in the school I work at and in a 5th grade classroom when my son shared a classroom with an autistic student. In both cases, the co-teacher was involved with the curriculum planning, but then worked on specific plans to adapt the lessons for the student. In the case of the autistic boy, occasionally that meant taking the student out of the class for physical movement or to do specialized activities. When the boy was in 3rd and 4th grade, the co-teacher spent most of her time with the student, but in 5th grade, there was a planned movement to teach the child to become more independent in preparation for entry into middle school. This strategy worked well and the student has done well in middle school. Another strategy that worked well with this student included identifying a few students in the class to serve as mentors. These mentors looked out for the boy and they all formed a close bond.

As a leader, I would look at how the teachers separated the duties in the class and then also how they collaborated together on where the class curriculum would be the same for all students and where it would be different. This is a case where watching them work in the classroom after they’ve shown me a lesson that they collaborated on would provide adequate knowledge that the model was working for the teachers, and more importantly, for the students.

Individualizing the Curriculum with Electives

Entry #2: Individualizing the Curriculum- Select one model or individualized program from Chapter 15 of the Glatthorn text that you think would work best. Explain your choice and reasons supporting it. What, if anything, would need to change in your school or district to adapt it, and how as a curricular leader would you make those changes?

This is actually a really hard blog post to write because in my town, many of the ideas identified as individualizing the curriculum are already embedded somewhere or were tried (such as open classrooms) and failed.

Encouraging students to explore their particular passions is a challenge in most schools with a large diverse population and shrinking school budgets. While large swaths of the country have eliminated elective courses, Greenwich has a rich tradition of offering amazing opportunities that engage a wide variety of students. The Greenwich High School catalog resembles a small college and includes eclectic (and popular) offerings across the subjects, especially in the arts. Being the only high school with a population of 2700 students provides a broad base of support for the extensive offerings. The courses are not a mish-mash of items, but a guided discovery for advancement by students that include four levels of electronic music (including honors), 19 different musical performing groups, three levels of cooking including a honors in Culinary Skills, transportation and energy technology in Engineering and more.

I believe that part of the support comes from the international nature of the residents who want their children to have exposure to a wide range of subjects and encourage this. I went to Greenwich High Schools and my favorite class, was on East Asian history. I guess the course China Today that my son took last semester would be its replacement. While I know that large areas of the country don’t have the type of elective offerings that Greenwich does, my experience with it is absolutely lacking. But I support elective offerings in schools as long as its supported by the community and there should be some sort of procedure in place to allow the expansion of courses, but the process should vet ideas and test their appropriateness. As a curricular leader, I’d support a rich load of elective courses, especially at the middle school where students want to begin to explore new options. But adding new courses takes collaboration and consideration as to the unintended consequences (what gets cut out if a student take the elective etc.). Before adding a course, would the topic be best served as an after-school club? These and other questions about staffing, space, and budget need to be discussed.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Curriculum Through the Ages

Image: Edudemic, 2011

What are some of the societal forces that influence school curricula today?
How do curriculum definitions, curricular history, and theoretical approaches and policy progress relate to major societal forces such as technology and the world at large?
How might a school leader be proactive in the advent of these types of influences in terms of curricular offerings?

With little knowledge of curriculum prior to the beginning of this class, the readings have been an enlightening experience in the development of the role of curriculum in education. By and large, this development has been influenced by the forces in history such as war, unrest, depression, space exploration, and important figures such as Dewey, Piaget, Bloom, Banks, Eisner and Darling-Hammond to name a few. These historical influences have had a large influence on the schools through publications that helped define what happens in the curriculum in schools. For instance, the space race in the 1960s influenced the emphasis on science curriculum, which was developed by scholars and the inclusion of physics as an important science in school. The counterculture of the late 1960s and early 1970s influenced an experimentation of alternative schools and open classroom environments, which likely then led to a trend toward conservatism that reflected a yearning for stability that is still evident today (Glatthorn, Boschee, Whitehead & Boschee, 2011).

Growing up, I experienced school during the period called Privatistic Conservatism (1975 to 1989) that looked to increase rigor and back to basics in schools, and started the trend of accountability that is highly prevalent today. However, in 1982, when I graduated from high school, the goals of this period were not evident to me as a student. State exams or the ideas of multiculturalism by Banks were non-existent to me as a student. Teachers were the most important element when it came to curriculum and courses by teachers who were known to be “great,” were popular and influential. Has this really changed? Today, students at Greenwich High School (also my high school in 1982) flock to course taught by teachers who are dynamic whether or not they hold a strong interest in the course initially. Teachers remain the greatest determinant for students, especially at the high school level, of the impact of curriculum on a student. As such, the major challenge today for school leaders is to train their staff to teach at a very high level. Finland focused on this aspect in the development of their educational system, which today is considered one of the best in the world in part because of the high quality of their teaching staff. One axiom identifies “curriculum change depends on people to implement the changes,” (Oliva, n.d.) implying that teachers must be at the heart of the process and actively involved with working collaboratively to plan the best way to help students discover and be excited by the content.

The role of technology has always had an important part in history for students though I use this term in a broad sense. Technology includes: the development of the chalkboard (1890), pencil (1900) and ballpoint pen (1940), radio (1925) of which was used to broadcast lesson in New York City, slide rule (1950), photocopier (1959), or calculator (1970) (Dunne, 2011); each of these had a unique impact on education in the way that we might consider the computer in another 40 or 50 years. While I am a fan of the use of technology (in the current sense) and global learning, I’ve seen both applied poorly without context. Ultimately, the ability of the teacher to use the current technology with knowledge of the goals for learning and an understanding of the student’s needs, will best teach the curriculum. How the curriculum is defined and categorized in theoretical terms has expanded and become more complicated over time, but this doesn’t change the impact of teachers have on student learning. I found the extensive descriptions of the variety of curricular theories to be the type of learning that a student might experience in an AP class and one that is forgotten immediately after the exam. While I understand the need to organize the wide variety of theories identified, I think each idea could be used when needed. If properly trained, the teacher, knowing all of the ways to present curriculum and the content that needs to be taught, should be able to individualize the classroom experience so that each student learns to the best of their ability

Dunne, J. (2011, April 18). The evolution of classroom technology. Edudemic. Retrieved from:

Glatthorn, A., Boschee, F., Whitehead, B., Boschee, B. (2011). Curriculum leadership: Strategies for development and implementation, 3rd edition. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Oliva, P. (n.d.) 10 Axiom's for Curriculum Development. [Slides]. United States: Johns Hopkins University. Retrieved from:

Monday, November 14, 2011

Clinical Cycle: Post Observation Commentary

Post-Observation: Environment & Tone
The post-observation took place in a sound proof room used for music lessons. It was a small room, but it was one of the few rooms available as there were after-school classes, conferences and meetings occurring in all of the other rooms. While small, the room had the advantage of being completely quiet and no one would distract us while we talked. And while the supervisor was preparing the camera, the teacher enjoyed playing music on the piano. The most significant impact of the size of the room is that the camera, which was an extremely wide-angle HD camera, could not be placed to include both participants fully. Overall, the tone of the conference was collegial and productive. Both participants were relaxed; spoke freely, rarely used transition words such as “umm,” or “ahhh,” and had extensive eye-to-eye contact. The supervisor and teacher were actively engaged in the discussion and excited to discuss the details, especially considering the technical challenges encountered. There are no improvements that I would recommend. While the room size would be considered a deficiency, the opportunity to learn that the teacher plays the piano beautifully and be in a place where we could focus on our conversation without being interrupted was actually an advantage as it helped create an intimate setting and relaxed atmosphere, rather than a deficit.

Post-Observation: Strategies to Improve Instruction
The focus of the conference centered on the success of the teacher’s use of technology as identified in the pre-observation conference. Since the teacher felt unable to handle the introduction of VoiceThread on the first day despite watching the tutorials several times, I was most interested to find out what could have been different to allow the teacher to manage this task. Donna was very honest in her assessment that she was hesitant to use it in front of the classroom since she still was learning the program. I felt that her feelings honestly portrayed the challenge of an experienced teacher faced with presenting something to a class that they are not completely confident in using (they are accustomed to having mastery in a topic when presenting at this point in their careers). This subject holds great interest for me and was the focus of my action research project when I completed a master in Education Media Design and Technology at Full Sail University. I find myself returning to this area of study naturally and consider that I would be interested in pursuing additional studies in the area over time. The strategy to improve instruction focused on how to improve the competency level of the teacher learning the new technology at the same time as the students. Donna revealed that without the generous support from me, it is unlikely she would have attempted to integrate this technology, despite her excitement with the tool. Hearing this from her, the strategy for the supervisor then is to create graduated steps of learning for the teacher, just as we created for the students.
Additionally, we both discussed the “unsuccessful” part of the lesson, as the students were unable to access the VoiceThread site to comment. Continuing the collegial atmosphere set, both of us discarded the notion that the lesson was unsuccessful because in facing the challenge, the students showed great patience and problem-solving behavior, and this part of the lesson was just a small piece in an otherwise well-prepared and appropriate lesson plan.

Post-Observation: Continuum of Behaviors
Throughout the process, the supervisor consistently used the Collaborative approach when considering the continuum of behaviors available. The school, with its Montessori and IB philosophy, naturally encourages this type of approach. Additionally, the teacher and supervisor shared different forms of mastery – the teacher in the classroom and the supervisor with technology literacy. This was the appropriate approach because each participant had a similar level of expertise though in different areas and both were involved in carrying out the decisions and solving the problems. The collaborative approach allowed both the teacher and supervisor to listen to each other, clarify problems seen, reflect on the perception of the problem, exchange possible solutions to the problem and negotiate an acceptable solution.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Appreciation for the Montessori Classroom

As a Montessori school, the room arrangements for all of the classrooms are designed in a manner that encourages self-discovery and are designed to appeal to different ages since the classrooms include students of different grades. At our school, the primary students encompass 3 grades levels (pre-school year 1 and 2 and kindergarten) then there are LE (1st and 2nd grade, ME (3rd and 4th grade), UE (5th and 6th grade) and MS (7th and 8th grade). Also in keeping with Montessori, our classrooms are large, warm and bright with a variety of activities for individual exploration even at the MS level. The arrangements for all grades are designed so that teachers circulate through the rooms regularly rather than teach from the front. Teaching from the front of the room for longer than 10 or 15 minutes even in the Upper School is highly discouraged and most teachers are actively moving about the classroom.

There are no individual desks anywhere in our school either in the lower or upper school so that students are always collaborating and sharing desk space. I work in the Upper School, which encompasses the UE and MS classes. The English classroom is spacious and includes a book center where students love to sit to work or find a book and where class discussions are often held. The Science room is unique because the desks are designed for lab experiments for 2 students, but often these desks are pulled together to form larger tables and the addition of a small zoo is in keeping with the Montessori environment. Students and teachers use a large conference table at the back often for conferences or group work.

Teacher’s desks are found in each upper classroom though we share space so my desk is in the Science room along with the 2 science teachers even though I don’t teach that nor do my classes meet in the Science room. In the Lower School, there are no teacher’s desks, which is traditional in a Montessori classroom. Teachers use the same tables that the children use to do any work needed. In the Upper School, this was the practice at the beginning, but then it was just too hard for teachers to be organized since we all taught in different rooms so now we all have desks.

There has been a significant investment in technology over the past few years and every ME, UE and MS classroom has a SmartBoard and then each student in ME, UE and MS has their own laptop, as do all teachers. As such, there is little need for classroom desktop computers and this year, I don’t think there is any set-up. New this year is an iPad cart, which can be used by the whole school, but is primarily designed to add technology to the Primary and LE students who have no computer access (computers have not been encouraged for the very young in Montessori).

While the classrooms are ready and could be easily adapted for anyone with special needs (there is an elevator in the building), we do not have any students with special needs at the school.

Overall, the classrooms are a joy to teach in and not the norm. As such, I thought I would reflect on a very different classroom set-up at the public high school in town where I did my Action Research project for my Master’s a few years ago.

At the time, I was heavily influenced by the ideas of Michael Wesch and his video entitled “A Portal to Media Literacy,” and wanted students to collaborate despite the very traditional room seating arrangement (typical of all the classrooms at the high school). So the students took the individual desks, which started out all aligned to the front of the room for the teacher to lecture, and had them create small groupings (see photo). It made the room all messy – I loved it! More importantly, the students worked together in groups and they loved it.

If I were observing a classroom, I’d want to see a set-up like the school I’m at now that encourages cooperative learning whether it was in a Montessori environment or not. I’d like to see a classroom that is not focused on the teacher at the front of the room and has flexibility to allow students to find what works for them such as put on headphones or sit on a rug or comfortable chair. If they are not productive, it is the teacher’s job to help them find ways to focus but the goal is that the students discover how they learn best.

University of Kansas, (2002). The Montessori method: The path.Retrieved from:

Wesch, Michael. (2008). A Portal to media literacy. Retrieved from:

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Personal Reflection: Finding My Voice

What you learned about effective leadership and how your ideas have evolved.
How these particular issues and/or ideas affect your ability to become a more effective leader. What personal and professional values you bring to your school's administration that will help you be an effective leader.
How issues in educational technology will impact your ability as an educational leader in your school and community.
Any additional information you need to continue your growth as an effective leader.

When I first learned about this course through my membership with ISTE, I immediately knew I wanted to be here and dedicated the time and energy to preparing a reflective application. I don’t think I could describe why I wanted this – the words that would accurately back up the feeling remained hidden. When we met in Philadelphia at the ISTE conference, I felt excited but extremely nervous as the definite newcomer to education surrounded by a cohort of experienced professionals. I didn’t doubt my ability, but I did wonder if my tendency to jump first and then ask if I should’ve done so was at play again. And jumping into another intensive year – was I mad? I had lost a year of my life getting my first master’s (36 credits in one year) and then worked myself to the bone trying to prove myself over the past year.

If there is one aspect I learned from this course is that my gut was right, yet again. I do belong here in this program at JHU, I belong in education, and, I belong in leadership. Over the past 8 weeks, I have spent time with the professionals I was in awe of at ISTE, and learned that while I don’t have their experience, I bring fresh ideas and creative energy plus a deep passion for learning and commitment to the task. In the area of effective leadership, I have real practical knowledge in the field from my 20 years working at the Academy of Achievement that helped me form original thoughts and add perspective to the discussion. I didn’t have all the answers, but I held my own in the conversation and enjoyed learning from the experience and perspectives of my classmates. Knowing that I belong, as a future leader in education is the most important impact from the course. I learned that I have a voice and that I can be an effective agent for change. I’ve been praised before for my leadership when I was a PTA President, but I don’t think I ever believed it. Now, I can define the type of leader I admire and would envision myself becoming using descriptive words that eluded me 8 weeks ago.

The variety of tasks used to develop this emerging voice allowed enough individual exploration with team and group interaction though I wish we had projects that encouraged using more creative applications. While I was able to adapt one aspect of a team project to a comic, there were few opportunities to do anything other than formal APA writing or group presentations using Google Docs or Presentations except for the introduction in the first week. Of course, this is where my strengths reside and I missed this. I remember the hard work applying Herzberg and McGregor’s theories in the comic strips and the result is that I really learned these concepts. This work, at the highest level in Bloom’s Taxonomy, is what we want our students doing and as such, I feel we need to be doing this as well in this course.

That said, I enjoyed every assignment including the ELA project, where I felt the confidence emerge most dramatically as I used the ideas from our course and paired them with a thoughts discovered independently, ideas used in schools I have experience in, and several completely unique ideas that I believe are sound (and which I might pursue as part of my internship). I loved engaging in the discussions with everyone, but I am especially fond of the strong bonds, both professional and personal, that I’ve developed with my fabulous Team Starblazers. I spent time with each team member in Philadelphia, which helped initiate our positive collaboration and this continued into a lasting bond. The support and respect we provided each other separate from the assignments created a model for an ideal PLC.

The other assignment that was deeply satisfying and important for developing my confidence was the interview reaction paper. When I was conducting the interview with Dr. Freund, I kept saying to myself “yes, I learned that,” as he described situations that reminded me of transformational leadership, importance of the vision and other major concepts. Writing this paper, the first big project, helped me “connect the dots” between actual practice and theory for the first time and it was very satisfying to feel the ideas become real. From that moment, I found it easier to use the words and ideas from the course when talking to other professionals and friends. This is an important component and critical to moving forward as a leader.

While I am new to working in education, I have a long history of very active leadership in the PTA and I know that many ask my opinions on issues or request me to speak at meetings based on this experience. I believe this unique aspect of my experience will be a great asset when I am in a leadership position. Our readings taught us to use our strengths – the experience I’ve had in the PTA helps me to see issues from multiple perspectives and this can be a useful trait to have moving forward.

My main experience in education is in technology so capable of becoming a leader in this area and with the vocabulary for describing what makes an effective leader, I feel capable of excelling in this area.

With years of experience studying and listening to words from Desmond Tutu, Colin Powell, Ellie Wiesel, Julie Andrews and many other great achievers, I could recognize what good leaders do but I didn’t have the words to define it. In my class this year, I plan to start by helping the students define the key words for my class (Media Literacy) and I feel like the past 8 weeks have been a deep exploration into learning the key words that define "effective leadership." As part of this reflection, I went through all of my notes and made a list of the words, repeating as it was written, and created a Wordle using them. Looking at the graphic created, I feel that the large words highlight the most important concepts I assimilated into my practice and plan to use moving forward. This course and the interactions and resources I’ve had in them, have helped shape an idea of myself as an emerging leader able to understand diverse viewpoints, provide creative ideas and new directions, and have confidence that I have a voice that is capable of helping to facilitate change in the world of education.

Wordle by Leslie using important words I used based on my notes from the reading assignments.