Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Changing Mindsets

I have had the privilege of being selected to attend the seventh cohort of the Princial's Institute led by N2 Learning.  This work is based off of the visioning document created by several Texas superintendents including our current Superintendent Dr. Warren, and our past Superintendent Dr. Rue. The document provides a vision for what we want public education to do for our students.

I enjoy being part of this cohort because we have a group of leaders that challenge each others thinking.  It's the good kind of challenge that stretches our thinking, and challenges old mindsets that have become barriers to greater success for our students.

Today, we were fortunate to hear from Alan November.  He states so many things that resonated with me and my work as a building principal. For example, he reminded us that he would take mindset over technology any day.  I think sometimes we often are quick to use the new shiney tool that we just discovered, or that was shared with us, often without a real purpose.  Our mindset must shift to how the tool allows students to demonstrate mastery of new information, or skills.

Several other things stuck with me about our conversations today:
1. Are we asking the right questions and using the right data at the right time?
2. Critical thinking and learning should be messy, if not, we are giving students too much structure and parameters to ensure they get the answer we expect, or want them to get.
3. Only quality feedback that adds value really matters in increasing student or teacher success.
4. We must release control as leaders and teachers if we want students to truly own their own learning.
5. If you aim above the mark, you will most likely hit the mark at a minimum.

I am constantly working on being a better leader for my students, teachers, and community.  In order to succeed I have to be willing to challenge my own beliefs, take risks, and give leadership to my teachers to create collective efficacy.

Until next time!

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Rating That Really Matters

If you've been on social media, or have seen the news lately, I am certain you have heard of the new A-F rating system that the 84th Legislator designed to "inform" communities and parents on the performance of their community schools. Educators across Texas have shared their discontent for a system that unfairly evaluates the performance of their school based largely on a lone assessment.  This assessment, which is also under intense scrutiny will determine if you have an "A" or an "F" school. 

Much of the arguments from educators is that it is designed in a way that will undermine the progress and performance of those in a lower socio-economic community.  This in fact is true, but it can also assign a low grade to a highly affluent school who met standard on the STAAR and was awarded a distinction for performing in the Top 25%.  How can a system designed to give a low mark to a high performing school be accurate?  It's not!

Let me share a story that the A-F rating system won't.  Beck Elementary is a remarkable school with outstanding students, parents, and teachers.  I know you are well aware of that, but just in case you are not, let me share a few things I am proud of that have happened in the past 3 years.
  • Beck Elementary has received 2 awards in the last 2 years for our efforts in building a strong character education program.
  • Our destination imagination teams place third in globals! That means they out-performed hundreds of teams from across the United States and Europe! 
  • Our campus Battle of the Books team placed first in the district competition last year. 
  • We have over 80 students participating in UIL competitions, and over half of them place in the top 5!
  • The fine arts program at Beck produces outstanding programs and opportunities for our students to share their talents.
  • In the past 3 years, our students have participated in over 30 service learning projects that have benefited our local and global communities.

I am also proud that Beck is the home of some brilliant professionals.  In the past 3 years two of our teachers have been named NISD Elementary Teacher of the Year! What an honor to be recognized amongst some of the greatest educators in Texas.  They represent a group of teachers at Beck that intentionally design learning opportunities that give students valuable experiences. Our teachers are leaders in the district in professional development and curriculum writing.  I am also extremely proud of being named the H-E-B Excellence in Education Elementary Principal.  I could not have achieved this recognition without an extraordinary staff doing incredible things with our students and in our communities.  And finally, I am most proud our students who amaze me each and every day with what they are able to accomplish.  Their effort towards setting goals for themselves and working to achieve them is commendable.  They are going to accomplish great things in life. 

We don't need a flawed grading system to define our standard of excellence.  We hold ourselves to high standards and are accountable to those who matter most...our communities, and our students.  The rating that matters is the one that comes from you.  I invite you to visit our classrooms and see for yourself how awesome YOUR school is!

S. Conklin
We Are True Blue

Friday, December 2, 2016

Relationships Matter

One of my favorite Ted Talks was by educator Rita Pierson.  She was born into an educator family, and was inspired to help students be successful.  She valued their academic growth, but more importantly she valued the relationship that she built with each of her learners.  She genuinely cared about her students and made sure that each and everyone of them knew how much she loved them.

As educators, we shoulder the immense pressure of meeting standards in a high-stakes testing era.    Regardless of those responsibilities, we can't forget that our greatest responsibility is to love our kids, and be their greatest "Champion" as Rita stated.  At Beck, our teachers care deeply about our students and will remain committed not only to the academic excellence we expect, but also to helping develop and support the social and emotional needs of our students.

Thank you for sharing your greatest gift with us, and allowing us to be an important part of their lives.  We do not take that responsibility lightly.

Monday, October 31, 2016

True Blue Learners Become Critical Thinkers Using the Depth and Complexity Icons

Providing students with opportunities to think deeply about content is crucial to developing capable learners.  In a changing world, our students must be able to think critically to solve problems. Often, this requires them to think differently based on the context of the problem.

To accomplish this, many of our teachers at Beck have begun to use the Depth and Complexity icons developed by Dr. Sandra Kaplan.  These icons are used as visual prompts to help students think more deeply about concepts.  Our teachers were introduced to these icons by our  GT teacher, Mrs. Forbes. She has a passion for challenging students' thinking using a variety of lenses.

I recently observed two teachers in 3rd grade who were using the icons to get students to think critically about text. Ms. Rocha and Mrs. Bell are committed to providing a rigorous and relevant learning experience for all students.  Check out how intentional they are in using these icons!

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Journey Begins

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.”

This quote by Martin Luther King has had a profound impact on my professional beliefs and practice over the past 3 years. It's quite clear that schools should have a strong emphasis on academic excellence perpetuated around 21st century skills.  Equally important is our responsibility to nurture infinitely capable, ethical citizens.

With this at the heart of our core beliefs, Beck Elementary set out on a journey in the spring of 2015 to intentionally build a climate that fosters academic and interpersonal excellence among our students, staff, and community.  Understanding the importance of multiple perspectives, we gathered input from our students, staff, and families.  After considering the feedback, our leadership team developed a list of key learner qualities and character traits that were essential for us.  We drafted our "True Blue" code that promoted the following "I statements:
  1. I am Creative
  2. I am Reflective
  3. I am Self-Directed
  4. I am Connected
  5. I am Self-Aware
  6. I am a Thinker
  7. I Question
We then identified performance outcomes that explained how each of these statements would contribute to our quest for learning.  In addition, we increased our emphasis on the 6 pillars of character outlined in Character Counts; Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship.  

Over the past year, we have worked to brand our school using these values, tying them to academics and instruction.  We've made this code a part of our daily practice by being intentional in our learning and actions towards others.  As a result, our classrooms are full of students who have internalized these values.  They quickly began applying the principles in academic and social situations. Through goal-setting, discussion and reflection activities, we continue to monitor our progress while searching for ways to continuously improve.  

The purpose of this blog is to provide a window into the amazing learning and responsible citizenship of our students and staff. We are excited to share with you the "True Blue" way, and encourage you to be part of our journey.  

S. Conklin