Sunday, February 23, 2014

Leading the Charge, Being the Change

Attending the CISC 2014 symposium last week was INSPIRING. The message that was heard loud and clear from each speaker was most definitely not about standardized testing. It was not about one size fits all strategies that each teacher needs to use. What it was about......

"Our cumulative efforts make a world of difference."
"CCSS: Our kids can if WE do: learn together, implement together, fail together, reflect together, grow together."
"The worst thing we can do right now is standardize practice."
"Embrace the technology today. Students need access to the world guided by a professional."
"Groups of children can learn most things on their own. Search engines never say no, they always give something back."
"Give students a hint/suggestion and then let them discover."
"Are we preparing our students for today's world? Or are we holding our students to traditions that are obsolete?"
"As leaders, model a growth mindset by continually learning and continually growing. Lead outside of the box thinking, take risks."
"Effective teachers do similar things but in their own 'voice' they have to have their personality."
"Don't play 'the game' of school."
"We can't keep preparing our students for multiple choice questions."
"Don't ask what your students 'are going to do today' instead ask what are my students 'going to learn today.'"
"We need to create a culture on campus that allows failure so that our staff and students can grow from mistakes and find success."
"Use your intelligence to amplify the intelligence around you."
"What is it we can learn from Tupac Shakur? He has made an impact that transcends all barriers."
"If a rose can grow in concrete, think of what would be possible if it had a fertile ground. Tenacity. Affirmation."
"Until the lives of every child in this country matters the same, we are playing games."
"The single most protective factor for a child experiencing toxic stress is a CARING ADULT."
"The 'common core' standard to academic success is ensuring our students have their basic needs met. Pathway to academic success."
"We might not change the world...but we can spark the mind that does."
"Create the conditions where students can see themselves for the potential they are." 

Those are just a few of the "ideas" that impacted me. To see my Twitter notes and those of others that attended the symposium, visit Twitter and check out #cisc14. You will see a thread of Tweets from symposium attendees.You can also visit the CISC symposium website at The link will take you to the CISC Symposium presenters page. You can click on the presenters and see their resources.  I am also working on a Google folder of resources that will encapsulate the CISC symposium presentations that I attended. As soon as the Google folder is complete I will share it with you. In the meantime here are some videos and pictures.

As I emailed over the weekend, we are now an official No Excuses University network school!!! We are Committed: We believe that every student deserve the opportunity to be educated in a way that prepares them for college if they so choose to attend. We are Courageous: To display courage is to show strength in the face of fear. We do this by ignoring those who try to tell us our dreams for our students' futures are unrealistic and impossible. We are Collaborative: Our collaborative spirit is grounded on the idea that we each have unique strengths as well as different weaknesses. We are Creative: We are innovative and love to explore new ways to get results for our students. We are Character Centered: Character is doing the right thing when no one watching... this goes double for adults. We are College Crazy: College readiness is a tie that binds us as students, parents, and staff.  Because of this, we reveal the benefits of a college degree to all students in practical and achievable ways that offer hope for a better future.

INTEGRATE: When two or more things combine or work together in a way that makes something more effective. 

Many more great things are in store for Crystal!

Continue to be innovative, creative, and a model of excellence! 


Monday, February 17, 2014

February 17, 2014

Now that we have two mobile Chromebook labs, we can sign up two classrooms per day. Check out the calendar at the bottom of this blog to see what days are still available. If you see only one name on a day, there is still another lab available!! If you want to use the Chromebooks in your class, remember to sign up using the Google Form. I have included the link here.

In talking with several of you in passing or observing conversations between you and your students I have heard some great things worth sharing.

Teacher said, "There were a few students that each day would never get their warm ups done. The other day I saw one of these students with his cellphone out. I walked over and was going to tell him to put it away. When I looked at his phone, I saw that he had just completed  his warm up on his phone. Since that day, all of my students that had not completed their warm ups before are now completing them every day on their own devices."

Teacher said to class, "This year we are doing our project differently. You can email me your primary documents or bring them in hard copy." Student takes her phone out, "I sent mine to you did you get them?" Teacher responded,"You only sent me a biography, not the primary documents." Student, "Oh, I get it. I will send the documents to you."

A student was seated in the front office because he was injured and couldn't participate in PE. I saw him with one headphone in and using his Ipod. I walked over to see what he was doing. The student was editing his video that he was working on for the After High School Comes College project.

A student was having a difficult time with his handwriting and work completion. A parent conference was held and it was decided the school would provide the student an Ipad to work on. After a few days, the mom decided to purchase her son a Surface and she returned the Ipad. The student is now using his Surface to take notes and complete assignments and is emailing his docs to his teachers.

Teacher asks the class, "Does anyone have the notes they can share with the student that was absent yesterday." Student pulls out phone and "Kicks" them to the other student.

Our students and teachers are seeing the benefits of incorporating technology into the classroom. Cynthia Merrick said it very eloquently the day of the State Superintendent visit, "They'll need to know how to do this in the real world.  They're building technical skills and collaborative skills that they'll need to be successful."

Here is a good video to watch on the SAMR model. Many of you have seen this already, but it is a good one to watch again.The SAMR model stands for Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition. It walks you through the process of introducing technology in your classroom. We have teachers on our campus that are at the Redefinition level. Think about where you are at and what that means for your students.

This week I am going to go the 2014 CISC Leadership Symposium on 2/19-2/21. The focus of the CISC Symposium will go beyond exploration of educational shifts into deep implementation that challenges old paradigms and models innovative action. I am ready to Tweet what I am learning, share docs with all of you via Google docs, and come back packed full of new ideas to share with all of you. If you aren't on Twitter yet, create an account and follow me at @KristenWitt13 and @CrystalMiddleCA. If you are a little uneasy about Twitter, take it slowly. Start by following a few people and read their posts. If you follow me you will be able to read some very relevant articles and follow what is trending in education and technology.

INFER: To form an opinion that something is probably true because of information that you have. 

Many more great things are in store for Crystal!

Continue to be innovative, creative, and a model of excellence! 


Monday, February 10, 2014

February 10, 2014

Last Monday was a very special day on our campus. We have been working very hard to make the daily educational experience for each of our students exceptional. We had the opportunity last Monday to show our very own State Superintendent of Education the many great things happening on our campus. Even though he was only here for an hour, he was able to see first hand student collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, rigorous expectations, and technology integration. Below are a few snapshots of the visit.

Welcoming State Superintendent Torlakson to Crystal!!
State Superintendent Torlakson saw students using historical evidence to develop their arguments in Walpole's US History class. 

State Superintendent Torlakson witnessed a whole class "fishbowl" discussion in Shannon Balthazor's Pre Algebra class.

State Superintendent Torlakson, FSUSD Superintendent Corey, and Director of Technology Tim Goree 

State Superintendent Torlakson watching collaboration with math in Baptista's 6th grade math class.

State Superintendent Torlakson seeing Google doc collaboration in Merrick's Honors 8 English class. 

Leslie Marley, Kris Corey, Dave Gaut, Tom Torlakson, Kristen Witt, Judy Honeychurch

We submitted our application on Thursday, February 6th to become an official No Excuses University school. We should know the results in a month or so. Here is the video that we submitted as part of our application. It was created by our very own 8th grade student, Erina McSweeney.

Our Drumline and Guard competed this Saturday at the winter review at Rodriguez High School. Last year we competed in the Novice division, this year we competed in the Advanced division.

We brought home a First Place Trophy for Drumlime in the Advanced Division and brought home a Second Place Trophy for Guard in the Advanced Division. CONGRATS!

ILLUSTRATE: To make the meaning of something clearer by giving examples. 

Many more great things are in store for Crystal!

Continue to be innovative, creative, and a model of excellence! 


Sunday, February 2, 2014

February 2, 2014

As the rain is coming out of the sky this morning it is a reminder that life is an eb and flow. Just yesterday, the media was reporting on our drought condition and the much needed rain. Today, we have that rain and we can't determine with 100% accuracy how much rain or how long it will last. However, the water that is provided will allow plants to regenerate, crops to grow, animals to drink, and help the environment heal. When we don't have the water that is needed, we make adjustments in our water usage and figure out creative ways of using the water resources we do have in the most efficient way possible.

You might be asking yourself why I am talking about the rain. Well, the weather, like our children can be unpredictable. We know that our land needs water  in order to produce fertile ground for crops. Similarly, we know that our students need a solid foundation in school and a stable environment at home to be as successful as possible. We cannot however, control nor even begin to know the ins and outs of students' home lives. We can assume what some or most are experiencing, but we can't be certain. We then must be flexible and always adapting to our students' needs in order to provide them a sold educational foundation despite the drought they may have in other areas of their lives. We cannot make excuses! We must provide structure, consistency, systems, and hold rigorous high academic expectations for every student. If we hold true and strong to this belief that every student can and will reach high academic standards, then we WILL make it happen.

Take a look at your boards in your classroom and your papers you pass out to your students. Look and make sure that the language you are using is academic language. You don't want to use abbreviations when writing on your board, because it is modeling a "shortcut" for students and we want them to be able to use and understand academic language. When providing complex text, challenge your students to read the text multiple times. Don't underestimate their ability to persevere and use their critical thinking skills to pull the text apart and find meaning. We want to provide scaffolds when they are needed, but pull the scaffolds away when the students are moving closer to mastery. It is a delicate balance between providing too much help and not enough. Allowing the students to try and struggle with difficult text first before breaking it down with them, will help them ultimately in their ability to read complex text on their own. Model often for students what they should be doing. When they see you reading a text and using your own mark up strategies, highlighting, underlining etc. they will see that they are not just tasks done in isolation, but tasks used by strong readers to comprehend and demystify text.

I had the opportunity last week to meet with about fifteen or so eighth graders. The topic of discussion was the classroom environment. In particular the students were addressing a classroom that has had a substitute and what had been happening. The students were not coming to get out of any trouble, they were coming to discuss their observations and problem solve with me on how things could be improved. When I asked them about the assignments they were being asked to do with the substitute, the students' biggest concern was that they were just being given worksheets and told, "Do this." They explained that the work was very basic and not challenging. Additionally, they said there was no explanation to them of what the expectations of the assignment were. They were asking for more challenging work, more engaging work, and some "real" interaction from the substitute. You see what I gained from these conversations with these students is that our kids don't want meaningless busy work. They don't want a teacher/substitute to merely be "in the room" monitoring their behavior. They want engaging, new, meaningful work and real interactions with the adult in the room. We have talked before about relationships with the students and how important that is. Building relationships doesn't mean you are their best friend in the classroom, it means you listen to them, you have reciprocal conversations, you respect them, and you admit that you are the facilitator of their learning, not the director of their every move. Just as you in your adult life need autonomy, mastery, and purpose, our students too need autonomy, mastery, and purpose. We can learn a lot from our students if we just stop and truly listen to what they have to say. At the root of it, we are here each day for them, not for ourselves.

Tomorrow is our big visit. As I have said to all of you since I heard the news, this is truly an amazing moment in time for Crystal Middle School. To be chosen as a site for the State Superintendent of Education to come visit is an honor. Look at your students in front of you tomorrow morning and let them serve as that beacon of light that you are making a difference. We are in year two of No Excuses University which is helping us send a clear message to all of our students that each and everyone of them can reach their academic goals. You have been implementing T4S and ELLA strategies seamlessly the last few years. Those strategies are helping to engage our students, helping them to have interactions with one another, and assisting you in assessing them on and ongoing basis in order to adjust your lessons. We should be very proud of our ability to work in student BYOD. It is a normal practice now for me to walk into a classroom and have the teacher ask students to get out their devices for an assignment. We have been innovative and we will continue to be innovative in our approach to educating our students. I will continue to support each of you and your "out of the box" thinking when it allows for student growth. Congratulations, Crystal Staff on a job well done. We have only just begun to show what possibilities are out there for our school and our students. I will continue to push each of you to grow and move even further as I expect you to do the same for our students. We are a FAMILY and we will always have the support of our FAMILY members even when things get tough. "Make it a great day with no excuses, and remember...after high school comes college."

IDENTIFY: Identify is to recognize and correctly name someone or something. 

Students working collaboratively on a document using Google Docs and working on their own devices in Merrick's English class!!!

Students using and citing historical evidence to justify their arguments in Collin's English class!!!