Fostering Self Advocacy Skills for All Students

What does it mean for a student to successfully self-advocate? Simply put, self-advocacy happens when a student, at any age, knows what they need to be successful and feels empowered to ask for help if and when they need it. The rise of innovative student-centered learning environments in K-12 education has increased the need for self-advocacy skills, particularly for students with disabilities. Educators are left to grapple with questions such as these: What are the best practices to teach these skills? What are the opportunities to practice these skills? What is the impact on student success?
This past week, I had the honor of joining a team of panelists invited by the National Center for Learning Disabilities for Austin’s annual SXSW EDU conference to discuss this very issue. Our session was titled Why I Won’t Ask for Help: Self-Advocacy for All. It was facilitated by NCLD’s Vice President and Chief Policy and Advocacy Officer Lindsay Jones. In addition to myself, I was joined by pa…

How Do We Bring Back Imagination in the Schools?

My wife Erica and I made a startling revelation one recent Saturday afternoon about our five children and a decline in their ability to engage in imaginary play. We often have what we refer to in our house as “no technology Saturdays” in our attempt to get our children away from the screens that seem to dominate their weekdays, particularly as a result of their school work. As we sat in the kitchen, we watched our three year old Zoey playing on the living room floor with her dolls and dollhouse, deeply engaged in imaginative play. The next oldest, five year old Owen, would play with Zoey off and on, but was always looking for us to prompt him to re-engage in play with his sister. Our older boys Liam, Cameron, and Brady, ages 8, 10, and 12 were struggling to reach consensus on what activity to do. Once they agreed upon something, they were having a difficult time engaging in it without several prompts from my wife and I what they should do (they were trying to make a skit that they cou…

A Grading Debate: The Pros and Cons of Reassessments Brian M. Stack

It is a typical day at my New Hampshire High School and I am observing a biology class. The teacher is returning a recent assessment to her students that they completed on ecosystems. Students are reviewing the teacher’s feedback and their grades on the assessment, as noted on the rubric that they had been given in advance. The rubric breaks the assignment into several transferable skills and objectives (we call these competencies) and explains, in student-friendly language, what it means for a student to perform on that skill/objective at a limited proficient, basic proficient, proficient, or exemplary level. Students were asked to complete a self-reflection, comparing their work to the rubric and identifying ways that they could improve it that could potentially bring their grade to the next level. Students were given the option to complete a reassessment plan with the teacher, a plan which detailed what they would do to improve their learning, and by what date. The teacher met one …

What Do Top Performing School Districts Do Well?

Last month, Education Week released the first of what will be three reports entitled, Quality Counts 2018: A Report Card for States and the Nation on K-12 Education. Now in its 22nd publication, the publication “aims to illuminate what the high-performing states did well, how low-performers are approaching improvement, and lessons for boosting the quality of K-12 education overall.”

For the report, states were graded based on these two indicators, which are spelled out in more detail here:

CHANCE FOR SUCCESS: The report looked at factors from early foundations to school years to adult outcomes. These included things like  family income, parent education, parental employment, and linguistic integration, preschool and kindergarten enrollment, elementary reading achievement (4th grade NAEP test), middle school math achievement (8th grade NAEP test), high school graduation rate, post-secondary enrollment and completion statistics for adults ages 18-24, adult education attainment, adult ann…

Stressed at School: The Rise in Anxiety Among Teens

As a school principal, one of the most difficult and often frustrating tasks I have to perform is that of working with students who have high rates of absenteeism. Students miss school for all sorts of reasons, with many of those are beyond their control to overcome without some sort of intervention or assistance from someone, either the school or another adult. In my New Hampshire community, the single biggest reason that keeps students with high rates of absenteeism from attending school can be attributed to anxiety and depression. Over the last decade, I have noticed a sharp rise in cases of anxiety of depression. I have a feeling I am not the only school principal who feels this way.
In a recent New York Times Magazine article, writer Benoit Denizet-Lewis asks the question, Why are more American teenagers than ever suffering from severe anxiety? Throughout the article, Denizet-Lewis profiled the story of Jake, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student who in 2015 at 17 …

When School Is a Game, Nobody Wins

Author's Note: This article was written for the National Association for Secondary School Principals. The link to the original article can be found here. As school principals, most of us are measured by how many of our students “meet the standard” for getting to the next level, and therefore, we often focus first on making sure that failing students don’t fall too far behind. But what if this is the wrong metric and the wrong mentality? The fact is, the way we measure educational achievement today puts too much emphasis on staying above the bare minimum, rather than aiming as high as possible. And I’m not just talking about helping the most gifted students do even better. Too many of our students at all levels have figured out how to be “successful” without mastering all of the skills they actually need. If we are to truly advance learning in our schools, something needs to change, and it needs to change fast. Consider Kasey, a typical 11th grade student. Kasey has a stable family…

Starting 2018 Right: My New Year’s Resolutions

Today I start my seventeenth year as a public school educator, my twelfth as a high school administrator. For many, the new year signals a rebirth. It is an opportunity to start fresh with a new idea, a new habit, or a renewed commitment to something designed to promote improvement. As I sit at my desk this morning, I feel inspired to share my new year’s resolutions in hopes that they may inspire you to start 2018 off right too!
I vow to promote opportunities for my staff and me to spend more time visiting classrooms. Classrooms visits, both formal or informal, are beneficial to both the host as well as the guest. I know as a principal it is important for me to get into classrooms as much as possible to help me understand the current reality of my school, but it is equally as important for teachers to go through the process.
There are formal ways to do this, such as the instructional round model promoted by ASCD. Bob Marzano explains that what the goal of instructional rounds is and w…