Showing posts from 2018

Call To Action: Is Your School Best Preparing Kids For the Future?

As we embark on a new calendar year, I ask my fellow school principals whether or not your school is best preparing kids for the future. This will be my single focus as we start 2019. Earlier this year at our graduation ceremony, I reminded graduates that they entered the PK-12 education system at just about the same time that the first iPhone was introduced to the market. I noted how much our world and our society has changed as a result of personal smartphone devices, and drew a parallel to how much our school’s definition of “college and career readiness” has had to evolve over that same timeframe. This example reminds all of us as educators that our world is changing rapidly, and it is getting more and more difficult to predict what our future will look like. Given this, how are our teachers preparing students for this brave new world? Have their instructional approached changed? Have our school priorities changed? Do they need to change?

Our American PK-12 education system is at …

How to Fire Kids Up to be Excited for Their Core Subjects

I spent years as a high school math teacher unsuccessfully trying to find an answer to this question: Why didn’t my students have as much passion and enthusiasm for math as they did for their extra curricular activities, and what could I do as a teacher to change that? The closest I had ever come to reaching an answer actually came two years after I left the classroom to become a school administrator. That year (over a decade ago), my school tried an experiment. We paired a math teacher with a woodshop teacher to offer a class entitled “Geometry in the Woodshop.” The class was offered as an interdisciplinary project-based experience where students would work through a series of woodshop projects that would apply various geometry topics. The two-credit class was co-taught by both teachers each day. As a whole, the experiment was a success as kids generally found success and increased their engagement and excitement for math. Of course, it helped that we started with a group of students…

Understanding the Impact of Chronic Absenteeism For Students

Chronic absenteeism data for schools is about to become much more public. By the end of this month, the Every Student Succeeds Act has required that schools list chronic absenteeism rates on their state report cards. Many schools across the country have already started to do this, and the work started with states defining at what point absences would be considered a chronic issue. Some states have identified a fixed cap for the number of days of school that a student can miss. Other states have adopted a percentage-based definition, such as a rule that student cannot miss more than 10% of school days each year. By whichever standard you use, there is no debate that chronic absenteeism among students is a growing problem that plagues all schools.
According to this recent Education Week report, 1 in 7 students were identified as chronically absent in the 2015-2016 school year, meaning that they missed fifteen or more days of school, according to a report released by the Attendance Works…

How Can Micro Credentials be Used to Support Teacher Training?

Earlier this year, the organization iNACOL released its latest map, charting the rise of policies that support K-12 competency-based education systems in states from coast to coast. By last count, 17 states have earned the status of “advanced,” another 13 have reached the “developing” status. Another 18 have entered the “emerging” status. This leaves just 2 states (Wyoming and California) that have not yet begun their journeys. Competency education operates under the notion that curriculum, instruction, assessment, grading, and reporting are focused on the transfer of skills in and across content areas. Competencies are identified by content area, grade level, and course, and students have many pathways to demonstrate mastery. Grades are no longer a hodge-podge of academics and academic behaviors that are averaged together as a percentage-based score. In competency-based systems, grades are about what students learn, not what they earn.
As competency-based education sweeps the nation, …

Does Your School Facility Need a Makeover?

Does your school facility need a makeover? According to this 2012 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, 53% of American schools are due for such an upgrade. Upgrades can be done in ways to fit almost any school budget. The key for school principals is to stretch the financial resources they have to provide the biggest rate of return possible to enhance student learning and overall school culture.
At a recent visit to my child’s middle school, the principal took me on a tour of recent upgrades made to their front entrance lobby. The building, built quickly and cheaply in the 1970’s has long since reached the status of obsolete in our community, yet we as a voting community just aren’t ready to support a project to build a new middle school. Like so many other principals from coast to coast in this situation, the principal had to look for small ways to make facility upgrades that would have a big impact. The lobby project was this kind of a project. Much to everyone’s s…

Helping Your School to Go Green

Last month for this Education Week blog, Fulbright Distinguished Award in teaching program participant Michael Cruse, a special educator from Arlington, VA, talked about his travels to Israel to study different models for green schools. The highlights of his visit included these four stops: The Bat Yam Farm for Agriculture and Environmental Education in urban Tel Aviv, a working farm run by students, teachers, volunteers, and young adults. The Afek School—a school that teaches elementary students to become citizen scientists by recording and tracking climate data for professional scientists. The Ecological Greenhouse in Kibbutz Ein-Shemer, a research center with a focus on addressing Israel’s needs as a result of population growth. The Environmental High School, a residential school located on the Negev desert plateau with a mission of providing students direct contact with nature, and the resources to learn to care for it. Cruse’s biggest takeaway from his middle east experience that…

The Learning Power of Breakfast

Many mornings as a school principal, I feel like I am fighting a losing battle with my students with regards to breakfast. They say it is the “most important meal of the day,” yet it is obvious to me that many of my students don’t see it that way. Last Spring I survey the 700 students in my New Hampshire High School and found that 25% of my students report rarely or never eating breakfast before school. Another 30% report that they skip breakfast 2-3 days per week. Sadly, only 33% of my students report eating breakfast every day. This statistic is at the higher end of the national trend. According to experts at, 8 to 12 percent of all students in grade school (Kindergarten through 8th grade) in the United States do not eat breakfast. By the time students are in high school (grades 9 – 12), this number rises to 20 to 30 percent.
In an effort to turn the tide on this problem, our school cafeteria stepped up their breakfast offerings. Students surveyed reported that th…

Lessons Learned From a Decade of Competency-Based Learning Implementation

This blog post was written originally for the NASSP School of Thought Blog and published in October, 2018.
Any principal who has engaged in the process of change will tell you that the ultimate goal is when the change becomes ingrained in school culture and is no longer considered “new” but rather just thought of as “what we do.”

Over the last couple of years, I have started to notice that our work to implement a competency-based learning (CBL) system in our New Hampshire school district has started to reach that point in the change process. The last decade has been quite the journey, filled with many ups and downs. The transition to CBL has questioned my thinking about instructional practices and overall philosophy about education. It has tested my resolve as a school leader as I have been questioned about – and in some cases asked to defend – parts of the model to various stakeholders. Most importantly, the work has given me a great sense of satisfaction as a principal that I am posi…

Maximizing Learning Time While Riding the Big Yellow Bus

My seventh grade son Brady informed me the other day that with the change to bus routes this year, he is now on the bus for nearly 45 minutes each way to school. At first, I was surprised. We live in a small town of about 10 square miles, and it would take less than 10 minutes to drive from our house to the school. Yet, he was right. He is one of the first students picked up in the morning, and one of the last to be dropped off in the afternoon. Each day, Brady, like millions of other children from coast to coast, deal with one of the great inefficiencies of our education system - bus transportation routes.
Inefficiencies develop as communities try to plan out how to weave buses through neighborhoods and winding roads to pick-up and drop off children at strategic locations for school. This costs money. According to this report, Americans spend more than $17.5 billion dollars to bus more than 25 million children to school. That equates to an average cost of almost $700 annually per chil…

Teaching to the Z Generation

In any profession, you have to know the audience of the people you work with, or serve. As educators, what do we really know about our current students who are members of Generation Z? How can we use that as school leaders to promote effective instructional strategies to meet their learning needs?
To explore this topic more, we first need a common understanding of what the generations are. According to this ThoughtCo article, they are defined as follows:
●Generation Z: Born in the Late 80’s to about 2010 ●Millennials (aka Generation Y): Born between 1980-Late 90’s ●Generation X: Born between 1965-1979 ●Baby Boomers: Born between 1946-1964 ●Silent or Greatest Generation: Born in 1945 or earlier
To know how to educate them, we have to understand how a Generation Z’er is different from a Millennial. They represent about 25% of our population. They are a group that was born in the era of smartphones, and those devices have become more robust with the passage of each year. According to this sourc…

The Evolution of the School Lunch Menu

For anyone in their 30s or older, it comes as no surprise that over the past two decades, America’s palate has evolved and diversified. Tuna casserole and meatloaf dinners have been replaced with meals that have much bolder flavors influenced by many ethnic backgrounds. This CNBC article from 2017 that discussed this trend came to this conclusion about how and why this evolution has occurred: “The changing culinary landscape is the result of increased social media and television coverage that expand consumer awareness, and millennial eaters who are more adventurous and experimental with their food choices.” As you might expect, the changing palate for adults also means a new palate for kids, and that has had a big impact on school lunch programs from coast to coast.
Recently, I brought an old friend from high school who hasn’t stepped foot in a school since we graduated twenty years ago through the school lunch line in the New Hampshire high school where I am the principal. She was ast…