Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Working with Michael Rettig!

Both today and tomorrow I have the pleasure of working with Michael Rettig - the block scheduling master.  I thought reading his material was phenomenal, but working with him in a room is even better.  As we get ready to be one of the pilots for block scheduling, we couldn't be in better hands.  Want to know more about him and his work?  Check out him out here.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Vocabulary Instruction!

Did you know that kids who "read a lot" learn about 8 words per day.  Kids who "do not read a lot" learn about 2.  While 2 and 8 don't seem like huge numbers, take that over the course of a month and now you have 60 words vs 240 words.  While it is not a new concept or idea, direct vocabulary instruction has gained a lot of attention over the recent years by education researchers and practitioners.  So the question becomes - how do we take what we know and translate that into learning for ALL students?  In this book, Beck and McKeown provide some very easy vocabulary instruction activities that can be done across all content areas.  We know that the adolescent mind is in high gear most of the time, but one of its struggles is to make meaning and connections in its world.  Therefore, teaching vocabulary across all content areas can help our students make those connections.  Who says that only the Math teacher can teach about tessellations?  My money is usually with the Art teacher.  But thing about what a powerful combination it would be if both were teaching the same concept and vocabulary!  Powerful!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Busy Start

So I realized this weekend that it has been a long time since my last entry.  That is directly correlated to the business in the new job!  Williamsburg Middle School has kept me very busy.  We have already had 1 parent outreach off campus, a PTA meeting, Back to School Night, and right on our heels are student led conferences.  Needless to say, things are busy.  This past week I have been engaging in wonderful conversations with the teachers about their Professional Development Plan goals.  It is always great to sit down and talk about researching aspects of pedagogy to improve student achievement.  I am looking forward to seeing all of our plans come alive.  Perhaps we can take a breath at Thanksgiving.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Thank You

Thank you to all of the WMS teachers that came in this week to chat.  It was great getting to know people.  Time to gear up for our social at Harrison Park to meet parents.  I hope many families are able to make it on Saturday August 13.  It will be a great event with lots to do for the kids at the park!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Building Relationships

This week I am meeting with various teachers at Williamsburg to begin building relationships and gaining their insight to the school. I challenged them to answer these questions: What do we keep doing? What do we stop doing? What do we start doing? My experience has taught me that the teacher perspective is so very important and vital to effectively running the school - their job is not very thankful, not very glorified, and extremely difficult. Therefore, the knowledge they posses and can share is invaluable to school administration. While holing informal meetings with the teachers, I get to know their personality and passions just a bit more. What a great way to get to know the school. I am looking forward to the rest of my open meetings!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


I know I have blogged about this before, but I feel compelled to do so again. I am a big fan of technology, but sometimes I wonder if it really helps us. Since I have started my new position, I have been plagued with technology issues which seem to be making me less efficient than I would want. Logging in, printing, and emailing have seemed to be an adventure every day. Does this mean I need to not rely less on technology to communicate? But doesn't that make me antiquated or less efficient? I guess this has taught me to always have several plans in place in the event that something doesn't work, or Plan B fails. The good news is that my satellite office works perfectly :)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Starting my new adventure!

Today marked the first day of my employment with Arlington County Public Schools as the Principal of Williamsburg Middle School. I am looking forward to getting to know the WMS learning community and building relationships with a new cohort of professionals.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Recognizing our Jazz Band

Over the past two weeks I have not only had the pleasure of playing with our Jazz Band, I have had the opportunity to listen to them on several different occasions - and I must tell you, their sound is hot! Congrats to the Jazz Band on such a great year of great sounding gigs - the chops on these 7th graders is impressive. Thanks to their very wonderful teacher Mrs. Jenkins, they have blossomed as aspiring young jazz musicians!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Rewarding Afternoon

Wednesday, MEHMS Students with perfect attendance at tutorials had the opportunity to take the afternoon off and attend the Nationals afternoon game vs. Phillies. This was a popular game among other middle schools as our seats were in the sea of middle school students. Everyone who went had a great time - despite the heat!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Student Count Down Begins

Huskies are busy counting down their last days for the 2010-2011 school year. Just 13 days left. Within those days, there will be several field trips, field day, awards assembly, exams, end of year projects, and of course, one final bus loop farewell.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Almost Finished

MEHMS Huskies have just 2 days lefts of SOL testing. With only some minor technology glitches, testing has gone pretty smoothly! Congrats on all of your hard work.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Responsive Instruction

When we think about responsive instruction, what do we mean? We we think about intervention, where and how does that happen? Who is responsible? My answer: meeting the needs of our students by whatever means necessary and who ever is teaching or helping. So pretty much, everyone all the time.

To be responsive in our instruction means that we constantly evaluate the situation and change course as needed. We may have what we think is the most brilliant lesson plan; however when it happens in the classroom it is a disaster. At that point, the teacher has to let go of the control and let student needs dictate the lesson. Is that hard? Absolutely. Is it necessary? Absolutely. Teachers who are most responsive in their instruction are those who view themselves as facilitators. They use phrases that demonstrate dual ownership in the classroom: your work, your test, our learning community etc. - they refrain from using phrases like "you didn't do my homework or you didn't do well on my test." The responsive teacher helps students understand their own learning and provides them with modeling and strategies to assist them when they work independently. It is hard to clearly define responsive instruction, mostly because it is not clear cut and at times, messy. There are no check lists an no strict guidelines. Only the young minds in the classroom - which are hungry for learning and shaping. The trick then becomes how to unlock those wonderful places.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Staff Appreciation

A special thank you to everyone on our staff who makes our school special. Rather than celebrating individual days, we take the whole week to celebrate our entire staff - it really does take the village, and for that we celebrate. I also want to thank our wonderful PTA who has arranged several activities for staff as well. It has been a great week!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


A special thank you to all of the TJ parents who joined us this evening for our Rising 5 Parent Information night. Transitions can be a bit overwhelming. Your presence helps us make this process a little less scary. It is important to not only be responsive to students, it is important to be responsive to the needs of the parents and the community. Our program tonight has changed over the past couple of years based on feedback from parents. Thank you to the parents who provided us with questions and feedback. We will continue to work with TJ to complete our transition activities for both students and parents. We look forward to collaborating with you!

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Good Reread

Over this past break, I reread the book 15 Fixes for Broken Grades by Ken O'Connor, which was followed by a discussion with Ms. Johnson today. We agreed that this is a book that can lead to both and emotional and philosophical discussion. I believe it is a must read for anyone who is involved with teaching and learning: school and home!

Another thought provoking book on the same topic is Rick Wormeli's Fair Isn't Always Equal. This books gets to the heart of meeting students needs and providing essential feedback.

These two coupled together are a great combination to spark the fire in any discussion!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Rest and Relaxation

I hope everyone is taking time over this break to rest and relax. I know that past couple of days have been very relaxing as I have had some time outdoors and with family. It's nice to sit back and enjoy having some time to think. This past week, I was working on the master schedule, which makes us think about next year, and changes that have to be made, or things that need to be tweaked. As you know, from previous entries, Virginia is working on a growth model to measure student growth - the crux of making this accountability measure happen - the master schedule of course. I have always said that no single thing in schools has a greater impact than the master schedule. It truly affects everyone in the school - yes, bigger than the budget. Therefore, it is so important to constantly revisit and revise the schedule to meet your organizational needs every year. It was nice to be able to work on the schedule when I had time to think - the trouble shoot - and review as needed.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spring Break

I hope everyone enjoys the much needed spring break. Take some time over this break to read a great book or engage in a conversation about learning. Most of all, enjoy sleeping in. We will be back to the early start Huskies before you know it!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Technology and time

Last week I sent an email to the staff about the use of technology and how sometimes it makes us more efficient and sometimes it doesn't. For the past couple of weeks, I have been, for the most part, sans internet and cable TV. The good news is that I have been very productive in my spare time. So my question is, does the technology really make us more efficient? I encourage everyone to think about what technology you currently use and ask yourself if it makes you more productive. If not, is it something you can part with, or use less of? Time is such a precious resource and I think that any time we can figure out a way to capitalize on that we should. Take some time to think about where you spend your time - Do you need it? Does it make you better at what you do? If you can part with it, what will you do with your time?

Saturday, March 26, 2011


When we think about where we live, we strive for a nice and safe. When we think about where we work, we strive for collegiality. When we think about where we play, we want everyone to demonstrate sportsmanship. This list goes on, but one common thread in all of these is community. A word that can have multiple meanings and purposes. Last night I participated in the FCCPS March Mayhem event, which demonstrated a strong sense of community. We filled the gym, raised money for the PTA's, played a fun game of basketball, and demonstrated our school spirit. An event that can bring together over 1000 people for the purpose of the betterment of our schools - that's community! Faces of all ages sporting their school colors, signs for their favorite staff player, and overall excitement for the game. A fun, yet spirited, way to show love and pride for community and school. I want to personally thank the parents who organize this event every year as well as the staff members who agree to play. What a way to start a weekend!

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Over the past weeks, I have read several articles about classroom management, school discipline programs, reading workshop, and music education. While that is an array of topics, they all come down to one thing: modeling! Oftentimes, I believe that those who teach in secondary rely too heavily on our elementary counterparts to model everything and fall victim to the saying "they should know how to do this by now." I feel we disservice students when we assume they know how things should be, how routines play out, or teachers' expectations, unless otherwise modeled for them. This applies not only to discipline but other aspects of teaching as well. For example, would a science teacher not show the students how to use the burners? Or better, a chemistry teacher not explain and demonstrate what happens when various chemicals are mixed? I truly believe that there is never too much modeling. Students benefit from the structure it provides and are set up for success. Think about the next time you ask a student to do something. Do they know what you want and how you want it done? If not, take the time to model for them.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

My Observation on Teaching and Remakes

Last weekend I had the pleasure of seeing Broadway entertainer Sutton Foster at the Kennedy Center. As did the other many people in the theater, I thoroughly enjoyed the show. She is a talented singer and entertainer. Perhaps what impressed me the most was her rendition of John Denver's Sunshine On My Shoulders. As a person with a music background, I have always been choosy about what label, what orchestra, what performers, what venue when it comes to music. However, my biggest hang up has been when people choose to remake a song. I believe that beating the original is very hard - the standard so to speak. Unless the artist really takes the song and makes it their own, without changing its original intent, a remake can be a disaster. So how does this apply to teaching? The standard. If we as educators, can take the standards and make them our own, without changing their purpose or intent, we won't lose the art of teaching. I hear people say that the standards have ruined teaching. I disagree. I feel that we lose creativity and the art of teaching when we focus purely on skill and drill. We all need to take a lesson from the arts - you can achieve a standard in multiple ways. You can do it by putting your own spin on it and making it your own. AND you can please your audience when you do it. Sutton Foster didn't sing the song like John Denver, but everyone knew exactly what the song was, got the same message, but was able to hear it from her perspective and interpretation. She made it her own with her own style. Creativity can't get lost in our society of accountability. Rather, it should be the glasses through which we see education. I know kids appreciate it too!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Seems silly, but it works

Middle School students, and teachers, love to use individual white boards for formative assessment and/or games in the classroom. Often times though, I see students scrambling for a tissue or paper towel. Check out this great idea! One of the teachers had students bring in their own sock, which can be personalized, for students to use to wipe off their white boards. They store very neatly in the sweet bin, probably from the Dollar Store or Target, and come at minimal cost. Stop looking for the tissues and paper towels and try out this great idea.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Check out this sound!

Members of the MEHMS Jazz Band (6th and 7th grade students) performed in tonight's concert. This is a clip from their performance of Chattanooga Choo Choo. I was impressed with their performance and skills required to play this difficult jazz classic!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What is growth?

I had a conversation with Mr. Sparrgrove today about growth and metrics used to determine growth. But what happens when we narrow that focus too much? There is so much more to a child than a standardized test score. So then I ask, what do we use to measure this highly influential word of growth? I do not object to accountability for learning, but what else would we consider to measure growth throughout the school year. In Yardsticks, Chip Wood talks about Physical, Social Emotional, and Curriculum as it pertains to students. Maybe we should look her to begin a wider look at growth. As you know, my passion lies with understanding the ever evolving young adolescent. Perhaps their greatest growth could be social emotional. We have just 3 short years with our students in middle school; however, I believe these are some of the most powerful years of development. How can we as educators shape their growth to become thinkers, doers, and actors? Then of course the tough question, how do we measure that? To me, growth is a very person thing - one number or metric does not make growth. It is complicated and messy - but what isn't? I think as we progress in "growth models" we need to think about the whole child - this is who presents to us every day in the classroom. Adolescents are not defined by one moment in time, rather a successions of trials, learning opportunities, mistakes, and triumphs. So think about how you would measure growth!