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Stressed at School: The Rise in Anxiety Among Teens

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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

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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…

Moving From Teacher-Centered to Learner-Centered Classrooms

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I hit a wall of frustration last week when I was doing some walk-through classroom observations in my school. Fellow principals can probably relate with what I am about to say. I spent a little under an hour in one classroom hallway, and in that time I made it into six different classrooms. In five out of the six classroom visits, I saw the exact same thing: The teacher was lecturing from the front of the room, and students were seated at their desks taking notes.
My frustration stems from the fact that in my school, we have spent quite a great deal of time trying to develop a foster student-centered classrooms that can better engage students by empowering them to take ownership for their own learning. Through these efforts we have not outlawed lecture, but we have tried very hard to minimize its role and use in the classroom. Perhaps what I saw was an anomaly, but I am not convinced. Clearly we still have a ways to go if we are to truly leave the teacher-centered classroom model where…

Grading on What Students LEARN, Not What They EARN

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Ask most traditional high school teachers how they handle a student who doesn’t submit an assignment and their answer most likely will be this: The student receives a grade of a zero for that assignment. Ask that same teacher to explain to you what their justification for that practice is, and I’ll bet you will get an answer like this: The zero will lower the student’s overall grade, thus motivating them to try harder the next time. The zeros serves as a punishment for not doing the work in the first place. School leaders, I’m going to be blunt with you. If these answers seem acceptable to you, I am here to tell you as a fellow school leader that you need to rethink what the purpose of grading is. Grading does not exist to punish students. Low grades such as zeros will not motivate students. The true purpose of grading is this: Grading is about what students LEARN, not what they EARN.
On this topic, last month Deborah Yaffe of District Administrationwrote a compelling article to school…

Competency-Based Education: Lessons Learned After a Decade of Transformation

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It has been nearly a decade since Sanborn Regional School District in New Hampshire made the decision to shift to a competency-based system of learning. Having served as the high school principal during this transformation, I learned a great deal about what worked for us and what we would avoid if we had it to do over again. Competency-based learning is sometimes referred to as mastery learning, proficiency-based learning, and even, to a lesser degree, standards-based learning. To be clear, we need a common understanding of what this model means for schools. Chris Sturgis (2015), provides context for this by identifying five tenets for competency based learning in schools today. Students advance upon demonstrated mastery.Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.Learning…

What Are You Thankful For as an Educator?

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Later this week, most of us will gather with friends and family to celebrate the tradition known as Thanksgiving. Whether you plan to celebrate in a traditional manner with turkey and all the trimmings or whether you plan to take the road less traveled, let’s take some time to celebrate some reasons why it is great to be an educator in this day and age. To help you develop your own list, I share with you the seven things that I am thankful for this season as an educator.
7. I am thankful for the educators that I learn from each day. There are thousands of educators from coast to coast who regularly share resources, tips, and strategies that you can use to become a better educator. Not sure who to follow? The website TeachThought has compiled a list of over 50 educational blogs worth following. Do you learn better from Twitter? The website Getting Smart maintains a list of 125+ educators worth following on Twitter. I’m on that list, you can follow me on Twitter here!  
6. I’m thankful th…