Francis Howell Middle School

Francis Howell Middle School
Francis Howell Middle School

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Empowering Today's Learners through Student Voice

NOTE: This Blog Post was originally written for LeadupNow. It appeared as this week's featured Blog Post. To learn more about this forward thinking educational consortium go to:

Within our educational system today, and at the heart of all that we do, rests the proverbial “student desk”. In that seat rests the most powerful, engaging, and often untapped school resource. By taking and making time to include student perspective and voice within the academic, social, and behavioral facets of the school day, you will witness increased student engagement, increased student buy-in, and decreased behavior concerns and issues.

Building relationships with your student it a non-negotiable foundation to create authentic student voice opportunities. Based out of Washington, D.C. Character.Org ( ) is a national organization that promotes, supports and fosters the Character Education Initiative. Their 11 Principles, resources, and local/state agencies can provide additional support in moving forward in fostering teacher-student relationships via the character education initiative. By establishing a positive school climate and fostering positive relationships with our students, we will see an increase in how our students react, respond, and refer to school activities.

So how do you begin? Why should you empower student voice? Well, we know that our students arrive to school each day with two questions. 1. Will I be accepted? 2. Can I do the work? In addressing these two important questions, we can help our students feel both welcome and accepted at school. We can also help them become better connected with their academic work.

How can you empower students by increasing student voice? Here are a few ways that we have been able to begin this process:

·         Principal Sound-Off: Each quarter provide students with the opportunity to share their thoughts, concerns and ideas with your Administrative leadership team. Counselors and administrators meet with the student these topics. Many times our students will be able to help problem-solve different areas of concern within the school community. They are also able to generate “new ideas” and initiatives to incorporate into daily activities. Provide feedback to students explaining which suggestions can be implemented. Also provide information to explain why specific practices and procedures need to remain in place. By giving the students this important feedback, you are honoring their voice (even when you cannot implement some of their suggestions and ideas).
·         Student-Led Organizations: Allow students to take the lead in facilitating, planning, and leading out your student organizations (e.g. Honor Society, Student Council, W.E.B./Leader Link). This provides them with authentic leadership responsibilities and opportunities. Our three key student leader organizations each have a specific focus (National Junior Honor Society: service to others, Character Council: promoting student voice and character education, and W.E.B.: student mentoring).
·         Student-Led Committees: Serving as facilitators, school administrators, teachers, and counselors can work alongside students with these committees. For example, two years ago we transformed how we approached our annual Veterans Day Celebration. Allowing students to share their voice and vision for this annual event, we were able to give this celebration a very personal and authentic voice. Moving the celebration to a school day assembly, adding a breakfast and including student speakers, our school community witnessed a revitalized celebration. Three years ago two student leaders approached our Administrative team with this vision in mind.
·         Classroom Leadership: Using the Leader in Me( ) initiative or other research-based practices will provide students with real opportunities to lead out class activities, responsibilities, and lessons. Making time to offer different types and kinds of leadership roles in the classroom helps to provide students with authentic responsibilities (outside of academic work). At the same time you will be building confidence and self-esteem for your students.
·         BYOD School: In becoming a Bring Your Own Device school demonstrates your desire to further engage students on a level that they are accustomed to performing. Please note that technology for technology sake is not the reason to introduce BYOD to your school. Instead BYOD can be used to enhance and further embed learning practices with your students.
·         Content Curriculum: Student voice and choice is another key to increasing student “connectedness” in the classroom setting. Start by offering occasions where they have a choice within assignments. At times you can offer different Project-Based or Problem-Based Lear

With all ideas, initiatives, and programs, it is important to begin slowly. Assess your current reality and then begin with a Backwards Design (based on your school’s Vision and Mission). From here empower teacher and student voice in designing, planning, and then implementing your student voice initiative.

Additional resources:
National Junior Honor Society:
W.E.B. (Where Everyone Belongs) Leaders:
Student Council:

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

We still have time to make this the #BestYearEver

During this time of the school year there are times and tendencies to let our guard down and not focus with the intensity and intentional fervor that we once employed.  Now more than ever we need to remain focused on assuring that our teachers have the resources and support and that our students remain focused on academic endeavors. As the school year begins to draw to a close for schools across the nation, we still have time to make this the #BestYearEver.
In thinking of how to maintain the momentum that each of our schools has developed and maintained throughout the school year, here are a few ways to keep that sustained focus:

In the classroom
·         Bell to Bell Instruction: Remind staff of the importance of taking advantage of every teachable moment.
·         Best Practices: Continue to implement those proven research-based best practices in the classroom.
·         Voice and Choice: This still remains a very positive and engaging practice. Allow students to have voice in the classroom. Watch them soar with voice and choice.
·         Parent Volunteers: Parents can provide support, assistance, and expert advice (based on their background, class content, and nature of the unit of study).
·         Share What works: Teachers can share their exciting end of the year units of study with each other. BreakoutEDU is an educational experience that can be embedded into the classroom all throughout the year. Why not start now?

As Administrators
·         Visibility: Remain visible before school, during passing periods, lunch time, and after school. Both students and staff want and need to see us as “present educators”. Besides, you can have incredible, short casual conversations both several students and teachers during this time.
·         Get into classroom: You may have completed your classroom evaluations, but we still need to be in the classrooms learning alongside our students and celebrating the work of our teachers. This is a great time to take what you’ve learned in the classroom and share with parents and the community.
·         Celebrate: Let your students, teachers, and parents know about the great things taking place in the classroom via your electronic mail notifications and Social Media.
·         Communicate with parents: Keep the channels of communication open during this time of the year. Parents enjoy learning about events, activities and hearing from us.
·         Teach alongside your staff: When getting in the classrooms, your staff may welcome you serving as a classroom leader and take the lead in facilitate learning for a class period or two.

We are so fortunate to be today’s educators. Yes we have increased responsibility, pressure, and accountability, but we also have at our fingertips incredible resources, social media venues, and students willing to take those academic risks to take their learning to the next level.

I am looking forward to hearing how your school year ended, so please share your success stories as the year begins to draw to a close.

Join with me in seizing each day to make this the #BestYearEver.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Share, Showcase, Celebrate: "This is ME" Project

Academics, belonging, and social awareness are all components of our daily work with students. As educators it’s our hope and desire that once students leave our school (elementary, middle, or high), they will be firmly grounded with our core values. IF students leave our schools with a positive self-esteem, great relationships with peers and staff, and a solid understanding of academics, then we’ve prepared them for whatever the future holds for them.

In mid-January two of our alumni (Marissa and Ally) contacted me. They wanted to “pitch” an idea for the middle school. We checked our calendars and a meeting was set. Marissa and Ally explained that they wanted to allow the middle school students to express themselves, to assert their self-esteem by sharing how they feel about themselves. To let others know the real “ME”. They explained that the “This is ME project would allow the middle school students to bring this idea to fruition. This project also worked in conjunction with their Girl Scouts Action Project. More importantly, they wanted to celebrate middle school self-esteem!

So they created a Prezi to let our teachers know about the project and how it would be implemented here at Francis Howell Middle School. Our teachers presented this information to their students during a Character Connection Class. Each student was given three 3x5 cards. On those cards they wrote one word descriptions of themselves. These cards eventually made it to the “This is ME” display in our gymnasium lobby.

What a great idea….allow the students to share, showcase, and celebrate who they are. We talk about this, we consider doing this, and then two former students approach you about this idea and then it becomes a reality. It was exciting being able to sit back and watch this project unfold.  These two alumni worked with our Character Education Committee and did all the work to bring the project to our school. Thinking not of themselves, but instead of the self-esteem of each of our 840 students at Francis Howell Middle School, Marissa and Ally took their vision from “just an idea” to “reality”.

So the next time current or former students approach you with an idea for your school, make sure you clear your calendar and set aside time to hear how they can help make a positive and life-long impact on your school community!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Today's Parent Communication

There are a multitude of communication channels that we can access each and every day. For our parents, we need to make sure to keep them in the loop.  Day to day activities and events are an integral part of the learning experience for our students and staff. From traditional forms of communication to contemporary Social Media venues, parents appreciate being “kept in the loop”.  Today it is important to let parents know what it happening at school. Selecting the appropriate communication is very important. Depending on what you need to share with parents, will determine which tool to use. Here are several different tools that I use to increase communication with parents.

One Way Communication Tools
·         Electronic News: This daily communication tool is a positive way to send out daily announcements updates.
·         Remind: This one-way texting took has become very popular with parents. They like receiving quick information via a text from teachers, counselors, and the administrators.  It’s a great way to set up different groups (or classes).  For our parents I have a class that allows me to send information for this stakeholder group.  This tool has increased parent awareness of different activities and functions taking place at school. Updated Remind features allow you to send pictures and add links to the Remind text messages.
·         School Management Systems: SISK12 or Infinite Campus are two communication tools that helps keep parent up to date regarding academics. Other venues like Edmodo, Class Dojpo, Schoology, and Google classroom allow parents to received more information regarding academics  and the individual classes.
·         Web-based Newsletters: This is a tool that I find to be extremely helpful. We started using for our monthly newsletters. It is a user friendly website that allows you to create family friendly newsletters.  You can send the smore newsletter to your parents via electronic news, Remind, or an email blast.
·         Website: Parents rely on our website. It is very important to make sure that the information is correct and current.

Two-Way Communication Tools
·         Instagram: This Social Media tool empowers the parents to get a glimpse into the school day.  Posting pictures that capture day to day activities lets parents see what’s going on without being at school.
·         Blog Posts: This provides periodic information for parents that relate to education and the learning process. Parents enjoy reading posts from teachers and administrators. It can serve as a professional development avenue for parents.
·         Email: This is an essential tool today to provide quick access information for your parents.
·         Email Blasts: A quick and easy way to send information to parents is to use the “group email” feature of your School Management System.
·         Facebook: A very popular Social Media tool, facebook empowers the school to connect and share a variety of things with your community. Upcoming events, celebrations, updates, or special notices.
·         Phone calls: Nothing can replace the old-fashioned, traditional telephone call to parents. They often appreciate calls just to let them know about something positive about their child’s day.
·         Twitter: Another Social Media tool that gives parents another venue to participate in two-way communication.  Parents can reply to tweets, ask questions, and access school resources that have been tweeted out from the school, a teacher, or administrator.
·         Twitter Chats: These chats provide parents with a chance to use their Social Media skills in a collaborative way to share ideas and thoughts. Chats can be a way to continue integrating Social Media into the school setting.

Although it is very easy to slide into the habit of using Social Media, parents also like the tradition forms of communication. By finding a balance between the two formats, you are able to reach all of your parents. I find that by using both one-way and two-way communication tools, parents appreciate knowing that there are times when they simply need information and there are times when they appreciate the opportunity to reply or communicate back to the school.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Connect… My #OneWord for 2016

Interestingly enough I have been absent from the world of blogging since this past June (2015) and so today I am writing to introduce my #OneWord for 2016 which is CONNECT. Today I am re-connecting with the blogging world. I have taken some time in focusing on other facets of my career and family. So as 2016 begins I am once again establishing communication via my blog.

In lieu of establishing a New Year’s Resolution (or resolutions) I am continuing with the practice of selecting One Word that will define my focus for the year.  Like I mentioned, CONNECT is my word for 2016. As a school administrator it is so very important to connect (personally and professionally) with my staff, students, parents, and greater community.

In our fast paced society, we often fail to see the many things that truly require our attention. At work we can get caught up on the “job” and fail to see the many important things that are around us and need our attention. By continuing my focus to CONNECT it is my desire to make sure I do not lose that focus by staying CONNECTed with each stakeholder community.
So I challenge you to move away from the resolutions and select that One Word that will define your focus, purpose, and destination for 2016. For more information, check out Jon Gordon’s website

I look forward to hearing about your One Word for 2016 and how is shapes your work, life, and leisure time this year. Best wishes. Make it the #BestYearEver !

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Significance of the Family Reunion

Our families come to us in different shapes, sizes, color, and quantity, and temperament. We have our immediate, extended, adopted, school, and professional families. Each member and group helps us to “share”, “celebrate”, “give thanks”, and “grow” This week I was fortunate enough to be part of a unique and very special family reunion. I attended the 50th Family and Community Engagement Conference (sponsored by the Institute for Educational Leadership) to present, learn, and to meet my #PTCamp PLN family.

In June of 2014 I joined a Voxer Book Study with Joe Mazza (@Joe_Mazza) and 100 professional colleagues. We read, discussed and dissected Mapp and Henderson’s Beyond the Bake Sale.  During the past 12 months I have remained “connected” with 21 of my book study PLN Pals. This journey started out as a typical 6 week book study. However, very unexpectedly it transformed into a family of educators that spanned 10 time zones and multiple countries.

During this conference I met in person, or the first time, twelve of those colleagues.  Although it was our first time meeting each other in person, we had grown professionally and personally during the past 12months via Voxer, Twitter, and other Social Media tools and venues.

My reflective thoughts…
Share the good the bad and the ugly with your family. It is important to be transparent and to be open and honest with your family. This is how we build relationships and continue on our learning journey.
Celebrate the great things that are happening NOW. Create memories from what happens today. It will help tell your “story” and to prepare you for your future.
Give Thanks for the family that surrounds you each day. These special individuals are here to help, support, cheer, and encourage you. Take time to give thanks to those special individuals in your life.
Grow by learning from your family. You may not always share the same opinions, beliefs, and philosophies, but you can always learn from those family members who deeply care about you.
So you my #PTCamp PLN family, thank you for this incredible Family Reunion.

My #PTCamp PLN:

                          Sharicca Boldon                                  Lea Ann Johnson
                          Chad Caddell                                       Joe Mazza
                          Peggy Cormeny                                   Ivonne Padilla
                          Vicki Day                                              Julie Pile
                          Geniene Delahunty                            Debbie Olsen
                          Jim Detwiler                                        Jay Posick                             
                          Ben Gilpin                                            Becky Raabe
                          Shari Hardinger                                  Jeff See
                          Anthony Hockey                                 Mary Ann Stewart
                          Sheilah Jefferson-Isaac                     Brenda Vatthauer
                                                                    Joy Wright

I learned so much about Family and Community engagement-involvement-leadership during this conference. It stretched and expanded my “knowledge band”. It enhanced my awareness of how we can take our family and community to greater levels of connectedness within our schools and districts.

So when you get the opportunity to attend a Family Reunion, do not pass on this incredible opportunity. No matter the obstacle or obstacles that are in your way, do what you need to do in order to be part of the Family Reunion experience – It will transform your life. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Change is hard at first...

Change for change sake is meaningless, wasteful, frustrating, and non-productive. Now change that impacts students, staff, and your school community in a positive manner is exhilarating, celebratory, refreshing, and renewing, and healthy.

So as the school year draws to a close it it’s important to reflect on what worked, what did not work, and what could be tweaked to be even better.

Change… Sometimes we need a new perspective to reflect on our own practices. Then we can determine what facets of our practices need refining. Here are three key areas that are important to consider:

Relationships – Do your students believe that they are important, significant, and able to do the work? Do your students know that you care? They their work is viable and relevant? By first building relationships with your students, you set the foundation for a positive and richly rewarding academic journey. Your students will readily take on more challenging tasks because they know you believe in them and in return, they will believe in themselves.

Rigor- Do you believe that all students can achieve at high levels? If so, what is the barometer reading on the rigor? Are we doing what is best for students? This work receives quite a bit of grief. However, if we do not take time to really consider what is rigorous and what is not rigorous, we may miss the boat completely on helping our students move beyond where they “are” to get to where they “should be”.

Relevance – The work our students are completing in class. How relevant is it to their learning? Have we moved beyond worksheets and coloring? At different junctures in lesson work a worksheet or color element can supplement learning. However these two elements should never take center-stage in the learning process. In looking at the big picture and planning for next year. It is important to determine the true relevance of each facet of the learning process model.

Change does not come easy at first. As a culture and society we are creatures of habit and change does not always sit well with us. So I challenge you to earnestly look at the three Rs (noted above) and determine “Where you are right now”, “Where you want to be (when school starts)”, and “How you plan to get there”.

I plan on taking time this summer to reflect on my school year and to determine what facets, areas, and strategies that need “change” in my own practices.

Resources: (formerly Character Education Partnership) is the leading national organization that supports character education in our schools and communities. Their philosophy is based on the 11 Principles of Character Education.

The International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) is a great resource. The breadth and depth of information relating to Rigor and Relevance will help you in your journey.

McREL International, which supports their Nine Instructional Strategies research and best practices, is an excellent source for you. McREL work in educational research and practical application will greatly benefit any school or classroom.