Monday, May 4, 2015

Hitting the Snooze Button on Sleepy Teens

Ask any parent who undertakes the daily battle of rousing a “sound asleep” teenager from bed at 6AM to catch a school bus, or get on the road to school, and I’ll show you an exhausted parent. In response to starting the school day at the crack of dawn and needing a jolt into “full academic mode,” younger and younger students are turning to caffeine and other forms of energy boosts to jar their adolescent brains awake. Just stop by any Starbucks in the morning.

The Dobbs Ferry Board of Education is currently considering the serious implications of adolescent sleep deprivation on student health and learning. Currently, Dobbs Ferry Middle School and High School have the earliest start times in Westchester County, as well as one of the longest school days. Although research is clear that changing circadian rhythms drive the delayed sleep-wake patterns of adolescents (sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty), school start times remain at the mercy of adult convenience, transportation, athletics and politics rather than the educational and health needs of kids. 

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a report calling for later school start times for adolescents, stating that “a too-early start to the school day is a critical contributor to chronic sleep deprivation among American adolescents.” The report also states that “studies show that adolescents who don’t get enough sleep often suffer physical and mental health problems…and a decline in academic performance.”

But is sleep deprivation really an epidemic and is it a problem for schools to own? What responsibility do teens have in taking charge of their own health and how do parents play a role?

Concerns have been raised that teens will simply stay up even later if they think that they have a later start time for school. In the January 2015 edition of School Administrator dedicated to the topic of “Flexing School Start Times,” these concerns have not come to bear in districts that have tackled the school start time challenge.

There is no doubt that helping teens understand and accept responsibility for their health and wellness is a goal. We allocate resources and professional services in our efforts to keep adolescents healthy, both physically and emotionally. Sleep deprivation and sleep disorders have emerged as a serious health issue for not only teens, but adults as well.

Today’s teenagers are busier than ever with extracurricular activities, homework, after-school jobs and the proliferation of technology and 24/7 use of social media. I’m yawning just thinking about the lack of sleep that our students get during the weekday. Maybe we can’t control all of these factors, but even an extra 30 minutes of sleep in the morning might make all the difference.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Please Opt In

There. I have said it. And although it goes against every fiber of my deep-seated, rebellious, rabble-rousing nature, it needs to be said.

Last week, our Board of Education, parents, teachers and administrators, participated in a well-attended book chat to discuss National Public Radio’s Digital Education Reporter Anya Kamenetz’s The Test – Why Our Schools Are Obsessed With Standardized Testing But You Don’t Have To Be.

We’ve heard over and over again from teachers who are working tirelessly to preserve their practice while they continue to create classrooms where children still love learning. The new requirements of the Common Core are hard, for teachers and kids. But they are doing it.

Is the bar high? You bet! Are the kids reaching for it? Like champs!

Dobbs Ferry is a unique, diverse village, and we value our small schools. Every kid counts. Every teacher counts. Our community is only as strong as the reputation of our schools. Rightly or wrongly, families moving from places near and far look at standardized testing scores and draw conclusions about our schools.

Students who are “opted out” of testing by their parents diminish the excellent work being done each and every day. It unfairly penalizes teachers whose end-of-year evaluations are weighted by the performance of their students. Students coming to school and “drawing pictures” with the bubble dots in a show of defiance only hurts them and their teachers. This past year, we have scrambled to provide support services to students who need them, but were deemed ineligible because we did not have standardized test scores due to their “opting out.”

Parents and educators must continue to put pressure on their legislators in Albany to abandon the current standardized testing “road to nowhere” and support the letter writing campaigns being promulgated by groups such as the New York Suburban Consortium for Public Education. Teacher evaluations tied to the performance of students on standardized tests, in their current form, must be halted by Governor Cuomo now.

In our discussion last week, our Board of Education and community made it clear that the results of student performance on standardized tests must be but one piece of information used by teachers for formative assessment purposes.

In Dobbs Ferry, it is important to remember that student success is ultimately measured by the number of pupils who successfully access the International Baccalaureate (IB) program in High School and exemplify the Learner Profile skills. These figures have increased dramatically in recent years and our IB Middle Years Program (MYP) will further impact this important measure. Our students successfully gain admission to the finest colleges and universities in the nation. Our graduates are among the most successful anywhere.

Let’s find our own way to “swim against the tide.” Support our schools, our teachers, and our students by “opting in” to the NY State tests this year.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bitter or Sweet? First Fruits of Teacher Evaluation in NY

Among many good things that took place for the Dobbs Ferry School District over this past year, the District was accepted as a member of the prestigious Tri-States Consortium. Founded in 1992, the Tri-States Consortium has developed an alternative assessment model designed to enhance student performance in high performing districts. In addition to providing extremely high quality professional development for teachers and administrators, the Tri-States Consortium offers site visit services to member districts as an alternative to Middle States Accreditation and other types of “monitoring.”

 This past spring, I had the pleasure of participating on a site visit team to the Bronxville Schools where our team was charged with looking for evidence of critical thinking skills across the curriculum. This was a new and unusual “take” on these types of school visits since the team was charged with corroborating evidence of 21st Century skills.

It was an enlightening experience. I know that I speak for all of us on the visiting team when I say that the learning goes in both directions whenever we have the opportunity to engage with a school system in such an intimate way. Bronxville allowed a “fearless look” at what is happening in their classrooms in an effort to support and sustain meaningful change.

During the 2013-2014 school year, Dobbs Ferry will begin to think about a Tri-States Consortium site visit for the 2014-2015 school year.  We will be sure to keep everyone informed as we move forward in this process.

Another advantage of our membership with Tri-States is our access to the consortium white papers and research documents. In the late spring, the group issued an extremely well articulated position on Teacher Evaluation.

As the new school year quickly approaches and the “first fruits” of the new teacher evaluation system in New York come to bear, gaining perspective and insight is critical.

And so I am hoping that you will find this Position Paper from the Tri-States Consortium helpful as we endeavor to make sense and meaning of this new “window” on teaching and learning.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Conversations That Change The Course

This morning I discovered a great new resource or @BAMRadioNetwork on Twitter when I was invited to do an Internet radio show with my long time colleague Will Richardson, author of the best selling book Why School? and Pam Moran, Superintendent of the Albemarle County Schools in Charlottesville, VA. Pam is a nationally recognized educational leader who is paving the way by modeling empowered leadership and innovative ideas about teaching and learning.

Here are some of the questions we discussed and my thoughts as I was preparing for the conversation.

How do we have to reframe the idea of a school in a world where school can be everywhere?

I think that it is critical that we engage in face to face conversations with teachers, STUDENTS, parents, Board members and others in our community. School leaders on every level need to share a new vision for teaching and learning that is dynamic, collaborative and where everyone who contributes is an equal participant in the process. People need time to think about this and school leadership needs to be able to “paint the picture” and create some learning spaces within existing structures where this kind of learning can be “seen in action.” Schools can start with a few classrooms and teachers who are early adopters but we have to support them with resources and encouragement for taking risks in their classrooms.

Another way to stimulate exciting and productive conversations is through sharing reading and information that evokes the kinds of necessary provocative discussions which need to take place. Books such as:

                     Why School? – Will Richardson
                     The Global Achievement Gap – Tony Wagner
                     Creating Innovators – Tony Wagner
                     Switch – Chip and Dan Heath
                     Change or Die – Alan Deutschman
                     One Size Does Not Fit All – Nikhil Goyal

What are the new roles of educators, and how do we prepare for them?

Educators must begin to reimagine their work and embrace their role as facilitators and “meaning makers.” We need to prepare by helping everyone associated with our schools to understand that they are part of “thinking and learning organizations.” We have to model that “no one person owns the learning.” This is hard for some superintendents and administrators who still feel that their job is to somehow know everything and have all the answers. I think that teachers are relieved and empowered when they hear superintendents and other administrators say that we all own the responsibility to figure things out and that we cannot do this without their help. We should also be modeling this inquiring, curiosity and persistence to uncover new ideas and innovations for our kids. The more that kids see us being willing to manage rapid change; the more adept they will be at doing the same thing. 

What steps are you taking to initiate and stimulate conversations around change?

I am using a lot of book chats/coffees with parents in their homes where they seem more comfortable having these conversations with their friends and people whom they trust. Parents realize that other parents are trying to figure things out too. Inviting Board members, parents, teachers, students and community members and others to explore new and emerging technologies like Twitter and social networks where they can get a sense of just how many other people are discussing and trying to figure out these same things is important. Also what some of the solutions can be. There has to be expanded conversations and professional learning that engages everyone. 
In public schools, a lot of this professional learning time is contractual so it is REALLY important that we are taking time as school leaders to create understanding among Board members, parents and the community about why professional learning time is necessary for teachers and why it is so critical at this particular moment in time. Inviting as many people as possible to be part of these conversations and even part of the professional development is key. Time is money ….taxpayer money in public schools ….so this is critical if we are going to create a climate that supports change.

What do you think are the most uncertain aspects of the future when it comes to your students? How do we prepare them in the face of that uncertainty?

There is no question that everything is uncertain -  except that we have a pretty good idea of the skills that kids will need to successfully navigate most any future. These are the skills that we have to share will ALL students. If we look at something like the IB (International Baccalaureate) Learner Profile, we can embrace curriculum that empowers and enlightens students. We can mold students into confident young adults who are prepared to tackle the complex problems in their world. Our goal is to create good citizens and good thinkers and learners. Lovers of learning who are curious about life and the world. Students who embrace differences and understand that they are part of a global solution to the challenges in their world. These are the people who will successfully hold the future - theirs and ours - in their capable hands.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Education They Need

I am really excited that the Dobbs Ferry Board of Education decided last week to support the exploration of an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program for our students in Grades 6 through 10. In 1998, Dobbs Ferry High School became the first International Baccalaureate (IB) World School in Westchester County, New York. So extending the IB philosophy back through the grades leading into the 11th and 12th grade Diploma Program makes sense from many perspectives.
The IB Middle Years Program begins to emphasize and incorporate the all-important skills of the IB Learner Profile. The IB Learner Profile essentially identifies the outcomes that we want for ALL of our students. Through the IB focus on international mindedness, global perspectives, multiple languages and collaborative process, we aim to foster learners who strive to be inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced and reflective.
Right now - today - we have a chance to make meaningful change in our schools. Perhaps now, more than ever before - we can make this happen. But we have to want it. We have to want our kids to have the education they need in order to become successful learners prepared to change their lives and their world.
We are at an exciting precipice in education with the implementation of the Common Core and the resulting necessary curriculum work that accompanies this intensive change. In Dobbs Ferry we have decided that although the Common Core poses many excellent opportunities for learning experiences that incorporate cross-disciplinary connections, performance-based assessments and clear learning targets; it is also a chance to explore a deeper dive into a much larger pool of ideas about teaching and learning.
The IB Middle Years Program insists upon the thorough study of various disciplines and encourages students to:
  • see the interrelatedness of disciplines
  • appreciate other cultures, as well as understand one's own history and traditions
  • develop admiration for the elegance and richness of human expression
  • learn to communicate effectively in one's own language as well as in a second language
  • become competent in the use of information technology
  • acquire a genuine love of learning  and disciplined habits of mind and body that will guide their young adulthood
Seizing opportunities and being willing to be flexible with our thinking and our ideas about the quality of education in our schools - that’s what the Dobbs Ferry Board of Education, our teachers, parents, schools and community are all about. 
We are boldly embracing the changes in the education landscape uncovering new horizons ahead. We are committed and determined to give EVERY student the education they need.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Why We Should Be Listening to Students

If you have not yet heard of 17-year-old Nikhil Goyal from Woodbury, New York it is only a matter of time. Nikhil is the author of the recently published One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School and has been featured on just about every news and media outlet available. The Washington Post calls him “ most likely to be the future Secretary of Education” and Dell has named him one of the Top 100 World Changers in 2012.

I am thinking that by any standard, this is pretty amazing for a high school senior.

Nikhil and I follow each other on Twitter. He actually contacted me first by email when he realized that I was engaged in book chats with parents. He was wondering if I might be interested in reading his book and discussing it with students.

Nikhil Goyal is still in high school and is already creating his own future. A quick check of his website and you cannot help but be impressed with the multiple resources that he has amassed to share his views on the education being received by the majority of students in America.

When using any 21st Century Skills rubric he has done the following:
  • Thinks critically and analyzes an issue of interest to him and others
  • Explores available research
  •  Identifies experts by using technology to help him communicate and collaborate
  • Uses technology to expand his personal learning network
  • Writes a book
  • Manages to get his book published
  • Markets his book
  • Draws significant attention to his work by maximizing resources available to him

Today he tweeted:

There has never been a better time to be an innovator and dreamer in America

What an exciting perspective amid all the talk of hopeless prospects for the future! Carpe Diem!