The challenge of meeting the needs of twice-exceptional students


Interesting and accurate article from The Atlantic. As a school administrator in Iowa, I saw far too often twice-exceptional students (gifted students who also have learning needs qualifying them for an IEP or 504 plan) falling between the cracks and unproductive meetings that produced nothing but ire or resignation for all involved.


New Professional Standards for Educational Leaders Finally Here


New Professional Standards for Educational Leaders

After a few years in the making and two rounds of public comment, the new professional standards for educational leaders at the school level (principals, associate principals and other district leaders) are finally here. They look to be comprehensive, forward-looking and responsive to prior criticisms that they did not focus enough on ethics, social justice,  equity, and instructional leadership.

They ten standards encompass what school leaders should be able to do and should know: 1. Mission, Vision, and Core Values 2. Ethics and Professional Norms 3. Equity and Cultural Responsiveness 4. Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment 5. Community of Care and Support for Students 6. Professional Capacity of School Personnel 7. Professional Community for Teachers and Staff 8. Meaningful Engagement of Families and Community 9. Operations and Management 10. School Improvement.

These areas are interdependent elements and represent the qualities and values that leaders must possess to support excellent teaching and student learning. An emphasis on principals being masterful at managing first and second order change is a needed addition and was lacking in prior standards.

It is my hope that administrator preparation programs will take note of these new standards as they adjust their programs and focus to meet the increasingly complex and ever-changing landscape of school administration.




Chester E. Finn, Jr., Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Hoover Institution education policy guru, and his co-author, Brandon L. Wright, have a new book out next month titled Failing Our Brightest Kids: The Global Challenge of Educating High-Ability Students. 

Among several challenges faced in educating our high-ability students, Finn and Wright bring up the issue of undermatching, a term which when used in education, refers to the opportunity gap that arises when very competent and bright students, frequently from low income backgrounds, do not attend equally competitive colleges. In many cases, high ability students from less affluent homes may be attending K-12 schools with many students who are struggling academically. If resources are tight, and teachers are occupied with those students who are struggling greatly to merely reach proficiency, high ability students may get even less of the attention and the advocacy they need to excel. This, coupled with the fact that many of these students may come from less affluent homes, where parents and guardians may rely even more on the schools to push their children to excel academically, translates into these students getting less than what they should be getting.

Adding to this is counselors who may have, on average, 300 kids to counsel; families who may think an elite, selective college is not attainable; navigating the sometimes Kafkaesque financial aid system; and students with potential who are not identified or encouraged to take Honors or Advanced Placement courses.

We cannot afford, as a nation, for our best and brightest not to be identified early, exposed to a college- going culture, nurtured and encouraged to excel academically, and invested in enough to make sure that they apply to the schools that are a match for their abilities.




Professional Learning Networks using social media


It is no secret that what affects learning the most is excellent teaching. Student achievement is directly linked to quality teachers and quality teaching. With precious little time during the school day to take part in action research, meet as a professional learning community, or observe each other’s lessons and provide formative feedback, teachers have turned to asynchronous professional learning networks to collaborate, reflect, coach and move themselves ahead as professionals. The benefits are tremendous: One can expand one’s network globally, gain instantaneous feedback, and be selective about the topic/time/place place in collaboration with others. Learning moves from being information that is static to user-generated and user-curated, and from synchronous to asynchronous. Peer learning networks allow for resource sharing, global sourcing, and choice and opportunity. The norms here are community, collaboration and contribution; experimentation and action research are encouraged. These learning communities can pull everyone to common purpose and build trusting, strong relationships that move teachers ahead professionally and keep their learning current.

Social media is one of the best tools that can be used to connect teacher learners to themselves, each other, and the world around them. Blogging, tweeting, Facebook, Diigo and project based learning, Ning, webinars,  and social bookmarking such as Delicious, all allow multiple entry points for teachers. 




Why integrating the arts makes sense


It bothers me when folks refer to art classes as ‘specials’ or ‘electives’, because arts credits are not yet required for a high school diploma in all states. The arts are recognized under NCLB as core, academic subjects, and their value in developing students and citizens who possess 21st century skills should not be underestimated. There is more than ample evidence out there of the benefits to students who are exposed to a robust arts program. Students who participate in the arts, and arts learning experiences, tend to be successful in academic and other areas of life.

The arts are inclusive, responsive to multiple intelligences, encouraging of collaboration, creativity, communication, problem-solving, and developing social skills. Furthermore, the arts support academic skills in math and literacy. In fact, studying the arts, and an arts-integrated approach to teaching, encourages all of the 21st century skills that we are called upon to support the development of in our students’ toolbox. This doesn’t even begin to cover the effect of a large scale, whole school, arts-integration approach in terms of attitudes, school climate and motivation to learn.  The arts reaches every single student. Based on my own experiences as a teacher and administrator, many of my most at-risk students stayed in school because of the arts.

Arts integration, done well, is elegant. It is responsive to, and aligned with, the way we think and learn. It allows for those Gardner’s multiple intelligences to find an entry point and a way to approach the content and master it, be it kinesthetic, auditory, visual, spacial. It is constructivist in nature, that is, a student’s understanding comes through engagement, experience and activity, reflection, and is highly personal. This process is ongoing and always evolving.

Why is it then, that so few teachers attempt to integrate the arts into their classroom lessons?

a. Fear. Fear that they are not competent enough in one of the arts disciplines or the arts essential standards to undertake integration with the subject that they teach. This is simply not the case. Start with the visual arts or music at a fairly basic level. You can do this. Your art colleagues are more than happy to work on an arts-integrated lesson.

b. Time. To create an integrated lesson takes time, planning and precision.  A teacher’s lessons and assessments must reach both content standards and objectives. Time during PLCs, or even simply looking to find natural overlaps, or naturally aligned objectives, in your respective disciplines, is all it takes.

You can do this!






Our perception is our reality



When I was an associate principal in Iowa, friends and family would frequently ask me how I dealt with “those” parents, the ones who were emotional or violent, those parents always waiting for me to conference about their students, those parents I had to call multiple times a day……

I would begin by telling them that I would rather have a parent in my face, yelling at me, than a parent who is invisible,uninvolved, apathetic, or completely absent from the picture and not part of our school community. Truth be told, problem solving with parents and students was one of the most uplifting, affirming things that I did as a building leader.

We cannot know what each parent or guardian brings to the table when we communicate with them about their children. We cannot know whether their own experience of middle or high school is coloring their current perception, we cannot know their personal, professional, health, emotional or other struggles that may be affecting how they are interacting with us. What we can know and practice are effective communication tactics and some basic conflict resolution skills. We can also acknowledge that conflict is normal, necessary and critical to moving organizations and relationships forward. It is how we address and resolve conflict that takes some practice.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs tells us that all humans need esteem and self-actualization at the top of the pyramid. As school leaders, we can ensure that parents and guardians are having some of those top two tiers needs met in each interaction with them. When we show parents respect in our interactions with them, we are meeting the need for esteem. When we engage parents in problem-solving related to their children, we are meeting the need for self-actualization.

A person’s perception is their reality. The next time a parents yells an expletive down the phone line, is raging and crying at your desk, or tells you that your school doesn’t understand their child or is not being cooperative, try these strategies:

Affirm them: Thank them for being there, for calling, for being involved parents. State that you have a shared goal, the success of their child.

Listen to them: Listening to them is not the same as hearing them. Hearing is only the act of perceiving sound by ear. Listening is something you consciously choose to do and active listening is a skill that takes time to develop. Active listening means that you are very focused on what the other person is saying, not allowing your own biases to color the intent of their words, nor are you focusing on whether you agree or disagree with their words, or concocting a counter-argument. Lastly, don’t forget that sometimes people just want to get it all out and be listened to, just the act of expressing oneself and having another’s full attention is powerful and affirming. Don’t look at the clock, take calls, or make that person feel that they have anything less than your undivided attention.

Get all of the facts clear and then problem-solve with them: Sometimes we jump to analyzing and concluding things before we have gathered all of the needed facts. Don’t allow yourself this deviation off the path and discipline yourself to stay in the fact zone before you move to problem-solving. Use mirroring, paraphrasing, asking clarifying questions until you have gotten all of the facts out there and you have captured the issues to everyone’s satisfaction. When you are there, creatively brainstorm options within reason with the parent. Solicit their input and make sure that all solutions are explored. Build on each successful interaction with parents so that their perception of your school is the reality, that it is a place where parents are affirmed, heard, engaged in problem solving with the shared goal of student success.

Conflict is healthy and inevitable in any organization. Conflict resolution requires practice and sharpened skills. Communication must always be two-way and the more practice you have at addressing conflict and resolving it through powerful communication strategies, the more effective your school will become and the greater sense of joy in your public service as a school leader you will take home at the end of the day.

There won’t be any more “those” parents.













Don’t Mess with Texas with your Lord of the Rings’ sorcery


Looks like zero tolerance/zero intelligence is dying a slow, terrible death, with some ridiculous consequences…

Nice move by Kermit,Texas administrators.

Little Aiden, 9, was suspended for imaginary play after he told his friend he was going to make him disappear with an imaginary ring. The family had just seen ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’. The administrator decided that Aiden’s comment to another student constituted a ‘threat’ and promptly suspended the boy.

“I assure you my son lacks the magical powers necessary to threaten his friend’s existence,” the boy’s father later wrote in an email. “If he did, I’m sure he’d bring him right back.”

With all due respect to the numerous decisions that need to be made every day by principals and associate principals, some with very little time to deliberate and weigh consequences, I  implore school level administrators, use your common sense and judgment.


Neuroplasticity + individualized tutoring + mentorship = success


Wonderful article in the New York Times: Sunday Review that focuses on taking students who are significantly behind in math and addressing their needs through individualized, mentored tutoring that is not cost prohibitive. For all students, math performance is a bellwether for future success. Regardless of how skilled they may be, we cannot realistically ask teachers to differentiate for students with a ten-year deficit in math, in classrooms that are bulging at the seams and for students who have such diverse needs. The ability to make the connection with the student and target that student’s specific learning needs ….success begets success.