• Re-Posting Some Thoughts of my Favorite Innovation Thinker

    Posted by James Walsh on 2/22/2019 8:00:00 AM

    (With this reflection, I am borrowing heavily from George Couros’ work on the subject.  His thoughts are completely worth repeating.)

    In Scott McLeod and Dean Shareski’s book, Different Schools for a Different World, they discuss four shifts upon which we should place our focus in order to stay relevant in this 21st Century world. 

    The first necessary shift is from an emphasis on lower-level-thinking tasks, such as factual recall and procedural tasks, to tasks of greater cognitive complexity, such as creativity, critical thinking, problem solving.  This also requires and effective communication and collaboration skills.  Evidence suggests a shift away from lower-level thinking helps foster graduates’ citizenship skills, as well as economic and college success. 

    McLeod and Shareski  note that these higher-order skills are not only beneficial to our students but necessary.  Today, higher-order-thinking skills are necessary not just for college but for nearly all citizenship and career demands (Wagner, 2008). Or, as Lauren B. Resnick (1987) of the U.S. National Research Council puts it: Although it is not new to include thinking, problem solving, and reasoning in someone’s school curriculum, it is new to include it in everyone’s curriculum. It is new to take seriously the aspiration of making thinking and problem solving a regular part of a school program for all of the population…. It is a new challenge to develop educational programs that assume that all individuals, not just an elite, can become competent thinkers (p. 7).

    Next is a shift in control.  We want to move from classrooms in which teachers overwhelmingly control the time and conversation to classroom that empowers student agency (control) over what, how, when, where, who with, and why they learn.  Student agency builds ownership and enables differentiation of the learning process.  As a result, student disengagement diminishes, because students are more connected and invested.

    The third shift is a shift from isolated academic work (packets?!) to environments that provide students opportunities to engage with and contribute to a learning community.  This could be their classroom, or more broad interdisciplinary learning communities.  This shift supports students’ motivation by helping them see direct connections between their learning and the world around them.  It also connects students’ learning activities to the innovation that surrounds them.  This is more “real world,” or I’ll call it “right now world.”

    The fourth shift is a transformation in local classrooms from pens and pencils, notebooks and textbooks to connected learning spaces that are deeply and richly technology driven.  Mobile computing devices and online environments allow the first three shifts mentioned here to move into high gear. Robust technology integration efforts also combat equity concerns.

    Most would agree on the importance of these skills, but we struggle in how these skills should be assessed.  We ask for students to think “critically and creatively,” yet move our learners to all think the same on the test.  This is where we need to go next: rethinking assessment or measurement of learning in general.

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  • A Break from Mother Nature?

    Posted by James Walsh on 2/21/2019 12:00:00 PM

    Slid riding clip art

    Mother Nature has had her way with us lately, hasn’t she?  We are looking at a long way to the end of the year.  We can only hope spring is, in fact, right around the corner. 

    The last day of school is now June 13th

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  • Thought for the Day

    Posted by James Walsh on 2/7/2019 11:00:00 AM

    Thought for the day:

    Some change will come your way, and you need to see solutions where most will see obstacles. You can “go” through it or “grow” through it.  

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  • Mid-Year Examination

    Posted by James Walsh on 1/25/2019 1:00:00 PM

    We have reached the mid-point in our school year.  You might say we have a semester yet to go on the academic journey.  Or, you might look at it as surviving a semester and are now on the downhill side of the mountain.  However you see it, it is time for some reflection.

    First, we know that reflection is a necessary process for learning.  Our brains work best when we have time to process and "file" things we have learned and experienced.  With that in mind, allow yourself some time to reflect on your successes and struggles from the first half of the year.  What are you proud of?  Where can you improve?  Who is there for you?  How are you feeling about yesterday, today and tomorrow?

    Next, set some goals for yourself.  The goals will come from your aforementioned reflection time.  Knowing what you did well and what you struggled with will be your source of direction for the second half of this year's academic journey.  Break your goals down into little action steps.  That is, how will you start?  What else has to happen? etc...  Make everything achieveable and realistic.  Decide a reasonable timeframe, too.

    Finally, share what you are thinking and feeling.  If you keep your goals and plans to yourself, you will not experience the value of a support network - the people around you who want to help you succeed.  Plus, when others know what you are working on, you are more apt to commit to it.  Sadly, if nobody knows what you are working on, know one will know when you gave up.  Less stigmatizing, but also no achievement.  Open up!  Welcome the challenge and the encouragement from others.

    Good luck!  Make yourself and the rest of us proud.


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  • Safe2Say

    Posted by James Walsh on 1/25/2019 11:00:00 AM

    The Burgettstown Area School District is committed to creating and sustaining a comprehensive effort to improve the overall safety and well-being of our students and staff members. The cornerstone of an effective safety and wellness program is the coordination and collaboration of all stakeholders including students, families, teachers, administrators, local law enforcement and mental health/wellness professionals.

    Recently, Office of Pennsylvania Attorney General launched the Safe2Say Something (S2SS) anonymous reporting system in all 500 school districts in the Commonwealth. The program, mandated under Pennsylvania state law/Act 44, teaches students in grades 5-12, teachers and administrators how to recognize warning signs and signals, especially within social media, of individuals who may be a threat to themselves or others and Say Something to a trusted adult OR use its anonymous reporting system. Specifically, the program educates participants to:

    • Recognize the signs and signals of at-risk behaviors – especially within social media
    • Take every sign and signal seriously; act quickly to get help by talking to a trusted adult
    • Report it anonymously through the S2SS program:
      • Call the tip line:  1-844-SAF2SAY (1-844-723-2729)
      • Use the website:  safe2saypa.org
      • Use the mobile appavailable for Apple and Android devices
    • Utilize teams of trained staff members respond to/manage the submitted tips at each school

    Our students often are aware of the problems their peers are facing, so we must empower them to know the danger signs and give them the tools to help each other with the assistance of trained and caring adults. As you know, an abundance of information is shared via social media; therefore, it is critical that we teach our students to look out for one another as these digital conversations are taking place. S2SS teaches them what to look for in text, video and photos while empowering them to act quickly to help a friend and/or fellow student.

    We are confident that the implementation of the Safe2Say Something reporting system will help keep all Pennsylvania’s students safe by reducing safety incidents and providing support for students who may be struggling with sensitive issues. 

    Please be aware, the law and the Safe2Say system also provides guidance for our administrators to follow when a tip is found to be a hoax or illegitimate, which includes using a subpoena for the name of the tipster.  Those misusing this system will be subject to disciplinary and/or legal action.  If we want the system to be useful and taken seriously, then the tips submitted must be the same.

    Thank you for your ongoing support of our safety efforts.

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  • New Year's Resolutions

    Posted by James Walsh on 12/21/2018 8:00:00 AM

    School is out for the winter break.  The next time students are back, it will be a new calendar year.  Welcome 2019!

    Happy New Year

    Here are a few resolutions from George Couros we educators can make for a productive and fulfilling new year:

    1. Do what you can to support the growth and success of your students.
    2. Grow and learn in a way that you would expect from the students in your classroom.
    3. Push your colleagues to grow along with you, but support, collaborate, and empower them on their path.
    4. Over-communication is better than under-communication.
    5. Take care of yourself so that you can better support others.
    6. Find joy in your work.
    7. Take the work seriously but never take yourself too seriously.
    8. Share your passion with others so we can help students find their passion.
    9. Find and develop strengths and talents first of your students and colleagues. Always start in the positive.
    10. Don’t just value people but also ensure people know they are valued.

    Happy New Year!

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  • Vo-Tech has it going on!

    Posted by James Walsh on 12/13/2018 3:00:00 PM

    I had the great privildge of visiting the Western Area Career and Technical Center recently.  We have close to 50 students from Burgettstown attend vocational education programs there.  It is always an amazing experience to see the sophisticated technologies our students are mastering.  It was also intersting to hear from the teachers, many of whom worked for a long time in their field before becoming a teacher.  They all clearly love teaching and the daily interaction with our students.  It was so striking to hear the teachers desribe their differentiated classroom as if it were typical of any classroom.  To be sure, they didnt't use the word 'differentiation,' but the activities and instructional mrthods in use were absolutely textbook examples of differentiation.  

    To be clear, differentiation is not easy to do and do well.  It take a ton of preparation and planning, but it makes a huge impact on student success. When the teacher respects the individual strengths and needs of each student, and plans accordingly, everyone achieves more.  I am so impressed by the vo-tech experience in Burgettstown.  I would love for our students to experience more and more individualized, differentiated learning experiences: a customized education.

    .technology in use

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  • Affirming our Priorities

    Posted by James Walsh on 12/12/2018 8:00:00 AM

    Elementary Chorus

    We thoroughly enjoyed the performance by our 4th grade students of a holiday classic during the reorganization meeting of the Board of School Directors.  Congratulations to Mrs. Heidi Adomshick, the music teacher and her 30+.  The students lit-up the night and reminded all of us why we do what we do, especially the nine elected members of the Board of School Directors seated at the table.  At Burgettstown, our Mission is "building ambitious students daily with an education for a lifetime of achievement."  These talented and enegetic kids were loud and proud proof of our success with that Mission. 

    It is a difficult job being a Board member, and completely voluntary, making tough decisions in tough times. I am most grateful for our nine members.  As we wrestles with the budget and capital project needs, there are real kids - laughing, dancing and singing kids - who come to school every day with dreams and ambitions only we can fulfill.  We need the entire leadership of the educational system in Pennsylvania, from the tax payer to the Board of School Directors to the PA Legislature to meet the obligation to these students, to fulfill the promise we make as educators: education for a lifetime of achievement.

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  • Outcomes Report

    Posted by James Walsh on 12/11/2018 8:00:00 AM

    After a long delay, the District has finally received from the Pennsylvania Department of Education the scores from last year’s student assessments.  Seven months is a long time wait.  We’ve already begun preparing for this year’s tests without fully knowing how we did on last year’s.  It’s a real challenge.  Nevertheless, there is a lot of good news to share.  PSSA results are at a four year high.  The Middle / High School increased the number of students taking AP tests and earning college credit in the process. And SAT scores are up.  Indeed there is a lot to be proud of from our students.

    Click here to see a full report of our 2017-18 outcomes: Link to Outcomes Report

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  • Doubling-down on our educational improvement efforts

    Posted by James Walsh on 10/23/2018 9:00:00 AM

    Here are some of our big ideas for this school year:

    1. We will finish writing our curriculum maps. This has already been a three-year effort to capture our taught curriculum into the Atlas system.  Once we have that finished, we can finally run the analytic features of the Atlas system to identify our gaps and overlaps.  I have a strong suspicion there are some glaring issues waiting to be uncovered.  Curriculum is our lifeblood: it guides our daily planning and keeps us on the road to achievement.  Without a map, a journey would be fraught with wrong turns and wasted time.  At best, the journey without a good map would be random.  We must be very intentional with our instructional time, and a good map will make that possible.  This will be the year to ensure our curriculum maps are great maps.  It is also a perfect opportunity to think carefully about what we are teaching, finding ways to improve our instructional practices and infuse our curriculum with 21st Century skills, such as critical thinking, problem-solving, creative thinking, and effective communication.  The key here is to be very intentional.
    2. We will refine our elementary reading instruction through a partnership with the United2Read program. This is a large grant-funded program to support teachers with intense professional development and useful data to target reading instruction and intervention tied directly to our core reading program.  In this first year of a three-year program, we will have as many as 7 professional development sessions.  The focus will be on Kindergarten and first grade.  We will add a second grade next year and third grade the year after that.  Over the three years, United2Read intends to measure the impact of these practices, and we intend to celebrate all students reading on level.
    3. We will continue to provide impactful professional development. We recognize the power of a great teacher on student engagement and achievement, and so we will plan (and support) professional development experiences to help all of our teachers reach their next best.  When teachers recognize and employ innovative, creative and/or engaging practices, then all students benefit.  President Theodore Roosevelt said, “We must dare to be great, and we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage.”  In Burgettstown, we dare our teachers to be great – to be masterful.  We also recognize and accept with our teachers the hard work and sacrifices needed to achieve greatness.  We stand ready to support them in this mission.
    4. We will continue to demonstrate the power of a growth mindset, and we will help our students make the same discovery. After a year of self-study, I am confident the teachers and administrators are keenly aware of the effect positive thinking and applying positive thinking to your efforts will achieve new heights.  I truly believe this connection is the key to our success.
    5. We are set for Pennsylvania’s Future Ready Index to roll-out this fall. This replaces the School Performance Profile.  It is intended to be a more robust system of measurements which describe a school’s performance in this 21st  The usual aspects of a school report card are there: PSSA and Keystone scores, attendance and graduation rates, all disaggregated by sub-groups.  Added to the Future Ready PA Index will be measures of college and career readiness, ways to measure the numbers of students on-track with math and reading, as well as indicators of a rigorous course of study available to all students.  I suppose there has to be some kind of system to report on a school’s outcomes.  I just hope this Future Ready PA Index is not overly complicated and/or contrived, nor should it suggest these measures are the only things that matter in a student’s educational journey.

    This is just the beginning; there is so much we want to do.  There is so much potential here.

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