Friday, November 30, 2018

The Importance of Planning

The Greek philosopher Epictetus once said, "No great thing is created suddenly." I believe that this is especially true of great lessons. All teachers experience those moments when a great lesson idea pops into their heads. Sitting down to transform that idea into a meaningful, engaging lesson takes careful planning and preparation. Collaborating with colleagues and getting their ideas and feedback can make the experience for students even more powerful.

In his book, Qualities of Effective Teachers, Dr. James Stronge lists Instructional Planning as the second piece of the puzzle to teacher success. He says, "Planning is a deliberate process that results in teachers being prepared before walking through the classroom door for the day." Dr. Stronge suggests that teachers consider three questions in order to plan effectively:

1. What should be taught?
2. How should it be taught?
3. How do we know if students learn what we taught?

Stronge also emphasizes the use of the lesson cycle,  and the fact that research shows that the first ten minutes and the last ten minutes of a class period are the most critical, as it is during those times that students' attention is the most focused. He suggests that during the first ten minutes teachers employ some type of hook to get students thinking, like a powerful question, an intriguing video, or an interesting picture. During the last ten minutes closure is used to 1) reinforce what has been learned and to 2) assess student learning. An early study of lesson closure found that active review at the end of the lesson is more effective at helping students remember information is more effective than having teachers simply restate key points about the lesson. An effective hook and closure helps teachers to revisit previous learning and gives students a look at what is to come in the future.

Finally, Dr. Stronge emphasizes collaborative planning. According to research, when teachers plan collaboratively, students show better achievement gains (Ronfeldt, Farmer, McQueen, and Grissom, 2015). Studies also show that teachers who plan collaboratively feel more effective in the classroom, and have more positive perceptions about their work than those who plan alone (Rimpola, 2012). Teachers who plan together report having a better understanding of student needs, developing better learning objectives, selecting better activities, and having higher morale (Cook and Faulkner, 2010).

Upcoming Events
6 - Basketball vs. Kennedale, boys away, girls home, 5:30
6 - Band Christmas Concert, @ MHS, 6:30
7 - Boys BB @ Kennedale Tournament
10 - All-City Choir Concert, 6:00, MHS
12 - The Scoop w/ Dr. Ledbetter, 3:45 and 4:15
13 - Basketball vs. Corsicana, boys home, girls away
14 - Girls BB @ Kennedale Tournament
17 - Staff Christmas Party, Fuzzy's Taco, 7:00
20 - Exams periods 1,3,5,7
21 - Exams periods 2,4,6 w/ early release @ 1:55
24 - Jan. 4 - Christmas Break
7 and 8 - Staff Development days
9 - 4th Six Weeks begins

Friday, November 9, 2018

WGMS Makes A Difference for Veterans

Each year, our school honors veterans by holding the best assembly that I have ever seen. To even call it an assembly is an understatement. It thing is an event like no other.

The video done by Cat News gave us a up close and personal view of veterans from various eras and backgrounds. The music performed by our band and choir was absolutely beautiful. Taya Kyle presented a powerful and challenging message to us about the sacrifice that all who serve make for us. Our entire student body honored the most special people in the country. Mr. Fontenot - Today you orchestrated a masterpiece.

My favorite moment of the day actually occurred well after the assembly. Two Vietnam veterans approached me after they had eaten lunch. I thanked them for their service, thanked them for being at our school today, and wished them both a happy Veterans Day. One of them replied, "No. Thank you. I have been honored for my service twice and only twice since I returned from Vietnam in 1970. Both times were here at Walnut Grove." Enough said.

Upcoming Events
12 - 7th No Zeroes Party, 3:15
13 - Parent U with Scott Poland, 5:30, L.A. Mills
15 - Parent Volunteer coffee bar for all staff, conference room
15 - Basketball scrimmage vs. FSMS, 5:30, Girla away, boys home
19 - 23 - Thanksgiving!
28 - The Scoop Zoom conference with Dr. Ledbetter, 3:45 and 4:15

Friday, October 26, 2018

Guest Blogger - Megan Gordon

It’s that time of year. That time when the breeze starts to blow a little cooler. That time when the sun starts setting a little sooner. That time when students, teachers, administrators, and parents all seem to be feeling a little more exhausted. These early days of fall are often the busiest and most difficult time for educators. My name is Megan Gordon, and I have spent the last 11 years teaching 7th grade English as a public educator in the state of Texas. Of those 11 years, the last 7 have been right here at the wonderful Walnut Grove Middle School. And although my days here are filled to the brim with positivity and fun, it’s natural to feel a little burned out around this time of year. So when the days seem long and a break looms in the distant future, I believe it’s important to reflect on my purpose as an educator and what it was that led me to this profession in the first place. These memories help reignite my fire and remind me why all the lesson-planning, grading, projects, costumes, and classroom-management tweaks are worth it.
Let’s travel back to the 90’s for a minute. As an unsure 11th grader, sitting on the second to last row in my choir class, I heard my teacher say something so alarming that it caused my stomach to drop. I loved singing, but I was also surrounded by many talented peers. I wanted a chance to be heard, but I wasn’t quite willing to take the risk to put myself out there. Sweat nervously dripped down my brow as I heard my choir teacher say something like, “I want Megan to try this solo. She has some soul.” All heads turned toward me. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Butterflies flitted in my stomach, but I took a deep breath and sang some of the lyrics to Peggy Lee’s version of “I’m a Woman” in front of my entire class.
Now, to some, this may seem like a forgettable little blip on the radar of teenage years, but to me, that one little decision my teacher made became a quintessential, life-changing moment. My teacher had taken a chance on me. Out of 100 something kids, she knew about the talent I possessed even when others didn’t. She believed in me. Even when I wasn’t sure of myself, she was. She was a great teacher because she was discerning enough to know that if I was given a chance, I would flourish. She gave me that chance. And I did flourish. That ONE little decision set the stage for my early adult life. That one seemingly insignificant decision changed me. That one decision has also, as you can see, affected my career choice.

It is a wonderfully heavy load that we teachers carry. What daily decisions are we making that might empower and affect students for the rest of their lives? I am a teacher today because I want to give those same kinds of empowering moments to the students whom I have the privilege of serving. I have the honor of helping young people discover their hidden gifts and talents. I have the honor of showing them that they are smart and capable even if they don’t quite believe it yet. I have the honor of helping them step outside their comfort zone and take risks so that they can start to acknowledge their potential. I have the honor of making a lasting imprint on someone’s life just like my choir teacher did for me those many years ago.

So when I start to feel bogged down by the grueling schedule and seemingly insurmountable pile of grading, I reflect on that important day of my junior year of high school and what it means for me today as a teacher myself. I think back to that teacher who believed I could be better. Then I ask myself, am I being that kind of teacher? Am I looking at the big picture, or am I letting myself feel pressured by the minutia of the job? Am I focusing on that lasting imprint I could make, or am I just pushing through the humdrum routine?

Whether you’re a teacher, a student, a parent, or an administrator, it’s always important to take some time to reflect. Reflect on who you are, where you’ve been, and where you’re going. In doing so, you will hopefully discover some motivation to keep your light burning even when those cooler breezes start to blow.

Upcoming Events
29 - Pep Rally Schedule, pep rally at 3:30
29 - 7th FB vs. FSMS, @MISD Stadium, 5:30
30 - 8th FB vs. FSMS, @ MISD Stadium, 5:30
1 - 7th Grade Science Health Fair
1 - VB vs. FSMS, away, 5:30
2 - 2nd Six Weeks ends
5 - 3rd Six Weeks begins
5 - Tennis vs. FSMS, @ Heritage, 4:30
5 - Theater production, "An Evening of Mystery," cafe, 7:00
7 - No Zeroes Party, 6th grade, 3:15
7 - Faculty meeting, 4:05, library
9 - Veterans Day Assembly, 10:30, Main Gym
9 - Report cards go home

Friday, October 12, 2018

Faces of Innovation

Many of you are familiar with the book, The Ten Faces of innovation, by Tom Kelly. Mr. Kelly works for IDEO Partner, one of the firms in the field of workplace innovation. His book has been enormously popular in both the business world and in the education world.

According to Kelly, there ten roles people can play to foster innovation and new ideas within their organization. These are:

1. The Anthropologist - A person who observes others in order to use what they learn in their classroom.

2. The Experimenter - Takes risks in order to efficiently find a solution to a problem, whole inviting others to collaborate.

3. The Cross-Pollinator - Brings in ideas from outside the organization for implementation inside it.

4. The Hurdler - A natural problem-solver, who gets excited about taking on something that's never ben done before. They delight in turning setbacks into successes.

5. The Collaborator - Values the team over the individual;

6. The Director - Sees the big picture and has a keen sense of the pulse of the school. They are great at getting things done.

7.  The Experience Architect - Has the unique ability to turn something ordinary into something amazing (like a class lesson).

8. The Set Designer - Looks at every day as a chance to liven up their work space (or classroom). They create work environments for kids that stimulate creativity.

9. The Storyteller - Can captivate people with multiple types of messages: narrative, video, animation, etc.

10. The Caregiver - Through empathy, this person works to understand each individual customer (parents or students) and creates a meaningful relationship.

As I read through The Ten Faces of Innovation, I thought of many of our teachers and staff members, and where they fall. Many folks fell into multiple categories. It was awesome to see and realize the gifts that the people of Walnut Grove possess, and how those individual talents add to our school. Like a great soup, each family member is like a critical ingredient that makes the soup even better!

Upcoming Events

15 - World's Finest Chocolate sales begin - ends Oct 31
15 - Pep Rally Schedule, pep rally at 3:30
15 - 7th FB vs. Howard, away, 5:30
16 - 8th FB vs. Howard, here, 5:30
18 - Site Based Meeting, 4:15, library
18 - VB vs. Life School, here, 5:30
22 - 26 - Red Ribbon Week
22 - 7th FB vs. Kennedale, here, 5:30
23 - 8th FB vs. Kennedale, away, 5:30
25 - Parent Volunteers provide popcorn bar, conference room
25 - VB vs. Alvarado, away, 5:30
26 - Ag Awareness Day, during 4th period, back parking lot
27 - 7th Volleyball tourney at MHS

Friday, September 28, 2018

Growth Leads to Opportunity

As you know, our district and our school are currently seeing unprecedented growth. WGMS grew by almost 100 kids this year, pushing us over the 1,100 student mark for the first time ever. People are coming to Midlothian in droves. The reason? It's our schools. I've heard this directly from new parents for years.

I love to talk to new students and ask them about our school. Most tell me how much better WGMS is compared to their old school. They compliment the teachers, commenting on how kind and helpful they are. They report that the kids here are nicer and friendlier than at their old school. New students also relay that their are many more opportunities to get involved.

I specifically visited with three new students to inquire about how WGMS has already impacted them in the short time that they've been here. Mitchell Nicholas (8th grade) came here from Grand Prairie. In regards to Walnut Grove he says, "I like this school better. Here, we get a lot more freedom than at my old school. The people here are very nice, and we have more sports. Everyone is just so positive. I love the school spirit and the pep rallies. The food here is also a lot better." Seventh grader Keara Moore stated, "I love it here. It's really cool. Everything is better than at my old school. I like the food here. I also like the people and there are hardly any bullies. At my old school, we got in trouble for little things. I liked my old school, but the only reason I wanted to go there was to see friends. I went to my old school for seven years, and in the short time I've been here, I already love it here more. This school educates you faster and I feel that it's a better education." Sixth grader Shayla Blinks echoed many of the same sentiments. She said, "This school is fun. All of the teachers are really nice. I like that we get many choices for electives here. I haven't really noticed that we don't have recess like we did in elementary because the school is so much fun."

If I had spoken with 50 new students, I'm sure I would have heard the very same things that Mitchell, Keara, and Shayla told me. What we do here makes an incredible difference in the lives of our kids. I  know that the growth of our school means larger class sizes, crowded hallways, and sometimes, more problems. However, it also means that we have an opportunity to love and educate even more students. Sometimes, it all depends on perspective, doesn't it?

Upcoming Events

1 - Pep rally schedule, pep rally @ 3:30
1 - FB vs. Life School, 5:30, away
2 - FB vs. Corsicana 4:30, home
4 - 6th Grade No Zeroes Party, 3:15, cafeteria and small gym
4 - VB vs. Howard, home, 5:30
5 - Cupp's Kids
5 - Report cards go home
5 - 7th/8th No Zeroes Party, 3:15, cafeteria and small gym
5 - 7th Grade Poetry Cafe at Woodrow's downtown, 6:00
8 - iPlan day, no school
9 - 8th FB vs. Coleman, away, 5:30
10 - 7th FB vs. Coleman, home, home, 5:30
11 - Faculty meeting with Dr. Ledbetter, 3:15
11 - VB vs. Coleman, away, 5:30
12 - Fall Dance, 7-9pm, cafeteria
13 - Cross Country District Meet, 10:00am

Friday, September 14, 2018

Professional Knowledge is Power

Many of you have heard me talk about the book Qualities of Effective Teachers by Dr. James H. Stronge I know that some of you may be a bit tired of me talking about it, but this book is probably the best book that I've ever read professionally. It affirmed so many beliefs that I have preached to teachers over the years. It also gave me some new and great ideas to help teachers.

The first quality that Stronge believes effective teachers possess is Professional Knowledge. He defines this as, "The teacher's understanding of the curriculum, subject content, and students' developmental needs as demonstrated by providing relevant learning experiences." He also breaks Professional Knowledge down into the following three parts:

        - Content knowledge - Knowledge of one's subject matter

        - Pedagogical knowledge - Knowledge about teaching in general

        - Pedagogical content knowledge - Specific knowledge of how students learn a subject and how
          to teach a particular subject area, like math

I have met some teachers who have an undying passion for and a strong knowledge of their content, yet couldn't teach their content. Others are solid at teaching English, but could never teach science. Finally, there are those who had potential to be great teachers, but didn't take the time to master the subject that they teach. Effective teachers know their content (and are passionate about it), have an excellent grasp of pedagogy in general (and can mentor teachers from other content areas), and have mastered the teaching skills that are specific to their content.

Upcoming Events

17 - iPlan Day at MHS in am and WGMS in pm
17 - 7th FB vs. Finley, @ MISD Stadium, 5:30
18 - Faculty meeting, 4pm, library
18 - 8th FB vs. Finley, away, 5:30
20 - VB vs. Corsicana, home, 5:30
22 - Volleyball @ Crowley A Team Tournament
24 - Pep rally schedule, pep rally at 3:30
24 - 7th FB vs. Alvarado, home, 5:30
25 - 8th FB vs. Alvarado, away, 5:30
27 - PTV luncheon (Hibachio), all lunches, CBI room
27 - VB vs. Red Oak, away, 5:30
28 - End of 1st Six Weeks

Friday, August 31, 2018

Camp Youbelonghere

Planning and executing a quality August staff development can be a daunting task for any principal. Years ago, I learned to let go of the reins a bit and utilize the creative ideas of our awesome teachers to help me plan this. Since I made that decision, our staff development has been more engaging, more relevant to what our teachers want to learn, and has been way more fun! I would advise any principal to do the same.

During this year's staff development planning, our leadership team chose a camp theme. Our activities centered around summer camp, fittingly titled Camp YouBelongHere. Just like real camp, we did archery, fishing, crafts, ate barbecue, and even made s'mores. We also studied articles written by educators that focused on making school more like camp.

This week, a random student named Addison approached me after school. With no prompting from me, she told me, "This school is so fun that it feels more like a camp." I was floored. I immediately directed her attention to the cafeteria walls where the camp posters were still hung from staff development. I let Addison know that she completely made my day with her observation about our school. She affirmed what many other students have said before her: that WGMS is an engaging, fun, and exciting place, just like camp.

I'd say our staff development two weeks ago was a huge success.

Upcoming Events
3 - Labor Day - No School!
4 - Canvas Parent Training, 7pm, cafeteria
5 - Faculty meeting - T-TESS and SLO refresher
6 - Volleyball vs. Waxahachie Finley, home, 5:30
7 - Cupp's Kids
10 - Progress reports for the 1st 6 weeks go home with students
10 - 7th Football scrimmage vs. Frank Seale, away, 5:30
11 - 8th Football scrimmage vs. Frank Seale, home, 5:30
11 - Faculty meeting - Dr. Ledbetter, library, 4:00
13 - Volleyball vs. Kennedale, away, 5:30
14 - Choir Lock In