10 tips for facilitating discussions with grieving students

Posted on Wed, Jul 24, 2013 @ 14:07 PM

grieving studentsIt’s an unfortunate truth, but many principals will be faced with the death of a student, teacher or staff member during their tenure. In many cases, the death is unforeseen—and rarely is there the “luxury” of having a weekend to sort out our thoughts and measure our response before delivering the message to staff and students. While we will not be discussing the entire process of designing an effective response plan (Scott and Donna Poland do a fine job of that here), we do want to talk about how principals can prepare and support their teachers and staff.

One of the most important things a principal can do is provide appropriate details and guidelines on how to conduct classroom discussions. Teachers and staff should receive a script that contains information not only about the deceased, but also strategies for conducting in-class discussions.  

10 tips for facilitating discussions with grieving students

In their book, Death in the Classroom: A Teacher’s Guide to Assisting Grieving Students, Kathleen Cassini and Jacqueline Rogers advise principals to communicate the following with their teachers:

  1. Although it may seem that you are unqualified to comfort your students, you are one of the best people for the job. Students know you; they have developed a relationship with you and may resent the “intrusion” of an outside professional who is meeting them at one of their most vulnerable moments. Because you are a part of the school community, students will see you as someone who realizes what they are experiencing.

  2. Be prepared to acknowledge that the death has occurred and use class time to discuss if needed. It would be a mistake to ignore the death and move directly into a lesson or a test. Each teacher must decide the amount of time needed to field questions and listen. Only after these needs have been met should class work resume.

  3. You should not feel it necessary to hide your emotions. If you are sad, tell your students. Don’t be afraid of your tears or theirs.

  4. Many of your students will display anger and confusion at the incident. Help the students explore creative and constructive ways to vent that anger. Students may benefit from making sympathy cards, sharing memories, listening to music, or simply writing in their journals.

  5. Avoid saying things like, “I once lost a friend; I know what you are going through,” or, “At least s/he had a happy life and now s/he is in a better place.” Statements like this are not only cliché, but may feel patronizing to students.

  6. Do not lecture, make judgments, or place blame on parents, students or the school.

  7. Medical questions are best answered by medical professionals. It’s okay to admit if you do not know the answer to a question.

  8. You may hear questions like, “Why did it happen?”, and the statement, “It isn’t fair.” Your students will appreciate honest answers like, “I don’t know why it happened” and, “You’re right, it isn’t fair.”

  9. Relate only the known facts. Do not draw your own conclusions or make judgment calls. If you are unsure how to respond to a question, don’t guess. If appropriate, tell them you will find out for them or refer them to the crisis intervention team.

  10. Your students may be frustrated by the fact that other students are laughing, talking loudly in the hallways or going about their day as though it were any other. Should this be the case, explain that perhaps these students did not know the deceased student, or maybe they are remembering good times they had with him, or maybe they are not comfortable showing their grief in public.

As we said above, the most important thing principals can do is develop an effective response to a death before it happens. To learn more about developing an effective response plan, check out Scott and Donna Polland’s article, “Dealing With Death at School.”


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Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, educational leaders, Becoming an effective principal, aspiring school administrator, Developing Teachers, grieving students

Education Reform? How about Relationship Reform?

Posted on Thu, Feb 07, 2013 @ 15:02 PM

education reformKen Chenault, CEO for American Express, once said, “Most companies maintain their office copiers better than they build the capabilities of their people, especially the ones who are supposed to be future leaders.” This is something all educational leaders aspiring to greatness should take to heart.

We hear an awful lot about education reform. We’re no stranger to the discourses about high-stakes testing and reaching every student. We’ve heard the “3 R’s” (“Rigor, Relevance and Relationships”) and probably bandied them around ourselves. But do we have it all backwards? Shouldn’t it be more like, “Relationships, Relevance and Rigor?”

In the political hubbub, it seems that we may have forgotten about nurturing the capabilities of our students and teachers by taking the time to establish real and meaningful relationships with them. There are an infinite number of ways to make this happen, but here are five to get you started.   

Use the gradual release of responsibility model with your teachers
You spent time in the classroom. You didn’t simply stand before your students, tell them how to do something, and then watch them blossom before your eyes, did you? Very likely, you practiced some variation on what Frey and Fisher have described as the “gradual release of responsibility model.”

You modeled the activity; then you offered guided instruction by posing questions, facilitating discussion and collaborating with your students.  When they were ready, you had them work in pairs and when they finally mastered the activity, they put it into practice and flew on their own.

Your faculty and staff are no different. You can tell them how to respond to student work. You can talk about classroom organization and describe mentorship, but have you gone through the gradual release process that you’d use with your students?

Stop by a different classroom every morning
We’ve talked about 5-minute walkthoughs as an alternative to traditional teacher evaluations. But when was the last time you stopped by a random classroom just to reconnect with teachers and students? Before you do this, you may want to arrange it with teachers to make sure that you’re not interrupting a test or presentation. You’ll also want to let them know your intentions: You’re not evaluating; your visit isn’t a guise for something punitive. You simply want to reconnect for five measly minutes.

Substantiate your philosophies
If you’re passionate about your school’s vision of success, you should shout it from the rooftops. But don’t expect everyone to get on board until you’ve substantiated your initiatives with scholarship. Generally speaking, people are resistant to change; they don’t like disruptions and they are skeptical of new ways of doing things.

If you want to win their hearts, prove to them that your way is not simply “best practice” because you happen to like it. No, it’s best practice because scholarly research and data say so.

Get out of the office
It’s easy to find yourself cloistered up in your office for hours (maybe even days) at a time, but you’ll find that parent, student and teacher concerns become much more tangible when you see them for yourself. Setting up shop in a “satellite office” is one of the best ways to get out of the office, but without having to compromise the work you do in your home base.

Chances are that you spend a significant amount of time on your computer. Why not head over to the computer lab or grab your laptop and work at one of the tables in the library. This is a great way to engage with students and other faculty that you don’t get to see as often as you should. It’s also the best way for you to get an in-the-trenches perspective on the school culture.

Greet your students every morning in person
You probably arrive well before the students, but where are you when they start to trickle in every morning? You have your hands full, but being a visible and approachable leader is as important as the duties that call from your office.

When it’s cold outside, stand in the lobby of the front entrance to the school and greet each student with a hello or a handshake. When it’s warm, stand outside and do the same. You’ll be surprised when students start approaching you on their own accord simply to say hello or chat.


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Topics: student engagement, Becoming an effective principal, Developing Teachers, education reform

5 Tips to Make Your Collaborative Learning Plans Effective

Posted on Tue, Jan 08, 2013 @ 15:01 PM

Collaborative learningAs psychologists and behavioral experts discover more about the various learning modalities and "how students learn," more and more schools are starting to use collaborative learning platforms as a part of their day-to-day classroom routine.

A well-organized collaborative learning process allows students to work together, using each other’s' strengths to overcome collective weaknesses. Ideally, students are then able to take ownership of their learning experience and being teaching one another. But there’s a fine line between successful learning groups and classroom-wide chaos. We believe that creating an effective, collaborative learning environment takes planning, so here are 5 tips to help you keep the chaos at bay!

5 Tips to Make Your Collaborative Learning Plans Effective

    1. Classroom Setup. Students learn best when their environment is comfortable, but still structured and organized. If you have a traditional classroom set up with rows of desks, any attempt at group work will end up in a mess of student clusters on the floor, on top of desks, and excessive wandering.

      Ideally, desks should be set up in clusters so students have a "real" place to sit, are facing each other, and can easily communicate. You will also be able to tell which groups are on track and which aren't. If you can get your hand on round or oval tables, those work too.

        2. Process-oriented learning. Try to create assignments where the group learning process is the primary focus and the “right” answers are either secondary or possibly even irrelevant.Students are less apt to contribute or share if they feel at risk for looking incompetent.

          Use these opportunities for students to work on discussion, analysis, process, and/or correlation skills—activities where they learn to develop deeper thinking/learning skills without attachment to the outcome.

            3. Everybody is accountable. One reason students learn to loathe group learning assignments is because one student always feels like s/he does all the work. And then there’s the classic case of the one student who didn't do anything at all but still gets credit. Effective collaborative learning happens when everyone is accountable somehow. You can create group tests which are harder than traditional tests so students are forced to work together to achieve a collective finished product. Circulating around the room will allow you to pay attention to who isn't participating and then encourage him/her to begin contributing.  Allowing the group to grade each otheris another way to suss out who is working and who isn't.
              4. Peer teaching. We all know that teaching is the best way to thoroughly learn something, so create opportunities which allow students to teach each other. Pair higher-level students with lower-level students, create harder problems or discussions that require group engagement to work through the solutions, or assign chapters to groups of twos or threes and make them teach their lesson on a scheduled date. This allows everyone to be a part of the give-and-take process involved in teaching and learning.
                5. Group selection. You should control the groups and pairs that work together at all times. They don't have to be the same all the time, but in order for students to work well together, there needs to be the right balance of varying skill levels and personalitytypes. By assigning the groups, and potentially assigning particular jobs to each member, you will see a marked improvement in the overall collaborative learning process. It can be a good idea to check in with students before class to assess their mood, allow them to vent a little, and get the class into a more settled mindset before beginning the group work. You may want to come up with general rules and guidelines for how groups should communicate/behave.

                  Once you get your collaborative learning groups off and running, they will become a regularly requested element of your classroom design.


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                  Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, student engagement, Online Master's in Educational Leadership, Developing Teachers, collaborative learning

                  5 Myths about Motivating Teachers and Teacher Retention

                  Posted on Wed, Dec 12, 2012 @ 11:12 AM

                  teacher retentionTeacher turnover is a problem and the statistics that prove it are rather alarming: According to a 2011 article posted on, 46% of teachers leave the profession within their first year. In addition, the national teacher turnover rate has also increased 16.8% over the past 15 years. So what’s going wrong? There are many myths about what motivates and keeps teachers in the classroom and we’d like to discuss five of them.

                  5 Myths about Motivating Teachers and Teacher Retention

                  1. If you pay them, they will come. While it's true that a big salary can be a motivator, teaching is a different kind of "job." One might even argue that it's more of a calling than a profession. A competitive salary is important, but equally important is some kind of emotional or psychological payback for their efforts. In 2007, the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality and Public Agenda conducted a study which included questions about what motivates teachers. Their findings: 81% of primary teachers and 76% of secondary teachers said if they were given a choice between identical school settings, they would choose the one that offered more administrative support and encouragement than one which paid higher salaries.

                  2. Merit pay just might change everything. Along the lines of money, much of the argument around teacher salaries has to do with whether or not merit-based pay is an effective means of motivating teachers. The verdict is still out, but we need to consider that merit-based pay is only as good as its evaluation system. To date, it's hard to say that the standard "Principal Review" system is working. Thomas Toch, a writer at the Washington Post cites Chicago as an example of how teacher reviews aren't working. In his article, he refers to a study conducted by New Teacher Project, a nonprofit organization who found that from 2003 to 2006 - 88% of the 600 included in the study hadn't given a single unsatisfactory review.

                  3. Motivate by fear. Fear-based "motivation" doesn't work—at least not in the long haul. In her book, One Hundred Plus Ways to Recognize and Reward Your School Staff, Emily E. Houck comments that a fear-based environment is not conducive to motivating teachers. While it might work in the short term, ultimately it creates a negative work environment that will only increase teacher turnover rate.

                  4. Praise teachers publically. It's not praise or accolades which cause jealousy amongst the staff, it's the delivery of the praise that is important. If praise is always given publicly and to a few people, it can cause hurt feelings among those who never receive it. But heartfelt praise can be handed out for the simplest of reasons, privately, often, and without other teachers ever being the wiser.

                  5. How about a simple “thank you?” Similar to praise, administrators who give a heartfelt thank you to teachers who do a little extra, who are known to reach difficult students, or who show up day after day, are helping to motivate their staff. Even if it is our job, we all enjoy being appreciated.

                  Motivating teachers and staff can be as simple as honoring jobs well done and providing an inspiring atmosphere. Once your staff is motivated, retaining your teachers is a given.


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                  Topics: Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, Role of Principal in School, Developing Teachers, teacher retention

                  Creating Assignments that Matter

                  Posted on Thu, Sep 27, 2012 @ 14:09 PM

                  assignments matterAlthough veteran teachers may relish the freedom that comes with being able to single-handedly take charge of their curriculum development, those who are new to the profession are often overwhelmed by the task.

                  It makes sense: Veteran teachers have a robust arsenal of lesson ideas; they’ve gone through the trial and error period of keeping great assignments, tweaking mediocre ones and scrapping others that didn’t work at all. New teachers, however, are only beginning to build their repertoire and in many cases, they’re spending 10 to 12 hours a day juggling lesson planning, grading and attending to all of the other administrative responsibilities that come with the territory.

                  Curriculum development is of great concern for administrators, especially when they find research suggesting that 15 percent of teachers leave the profession and another 14 percent change schools after their first year, often as the result of feeling overwhelmed, ineffective, and unsupported.

                  Now that principals are expected to, amongst other things, design, implement and assess effective curriculum, we thought Eleanor Dougherty’s new book, Assignments Matter, might be of interest. In it, she draws on over a decade of experience coaching and working with “reform-minded educators,” to focus on using effective teaching assignments to enhance literacy in late-elementary through secondary education.

                  Both administrators and teachers should find this helpful since it not only streamlines the assignment-making process, but elucidates the impact effective assignments have on teaching and learning. Below you can watch a 15-minute interview with her about the book.

                  Topics: Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, Role of Principal in School, Developing Teachers

                  Download our free guide: 50 Apps for Teachers

                  Posted on Tue, Sep 18, 2012 @ 11:09 AM

                  Surfing-for-substance-apps-for-teachersIf you are like most educators, you’re on an incessant prowl for new ways to engage your students. As someone who doesn’t have a lot of time—and is determined to make good use of what time you do have—it is likely that you’re also looking for ways to streamline your curriculum and stay organized.

                  You may be a “tech-head” already, but you don’t have to be to make any of these 50 user-friendly websites and apps a part of your everyday life.

                  If you do a quick Google search for  “Top Apps for Teachers," you’ll find plenty of compilations out there. Too often, though, these “greatest hits” err on the side of quantity over quality. As a result, you end up wading through a laundry list of clunkers and dead links.

                  Instead of striving for quantity, we’ve boiled down our favorites list to what we consider to be the best, no-filler-added websites and apps for teachers out there.

                  Our descriptions of each resource are brief and lighthearted—and hopefully,
                  substantive enough to give you a sense for whether or not they will fit your students’
                  and your needs.

                  We've broken down our compilation like this:

                  • Apps for the Unorganized
                  • Keeping Connected (Social Networking)
                  • Apps for Enhancing Your Curriculum
                  • Media & Miscellaneous


                  Download our FREE guide:  50 No-Nonsense, No Fluff Apps for Teachers


                  Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, Educational Technology, Educational Technology Master's Degree, Educational Technology Programs, Instructional Technology Graduate Programs, Best Apps for Educators, Master's in Educational Technology Online, Developing Teachers, Free Downloadable Resources

                  Rethinking Teacher Evaluation with 5-Minute Walk-throughs

                  Posted on Tue, Sep 11, 2012 @ 12:09 PM

                  Stopwatch5-minute (yes, 5-minute) Walk-throughs are being lauded by many administrators and teachers as an informal and perhaps surprising way to get an in-depth look at what works—and what doesn't—inside the classroom. 

                  How can anyone perform a classroom or teacher evaluation in only 5 minutes? Unlike traditional observations, 5-minute walk-throughs don’t bite off more than they can chew. Quick evaluations target specific and therefore digestible goals and keep both the observer and observed from being overwhelmed.

                  In order for 5 minute walk-throughs to work, administrators should

                  • Have a specific observation goal
                  • Conduct walkthroughs routinely and across all classrooms
                  • Have clear documentation summarizing the goals, observations, and conclusions

                  Begin with a staff meeting that includes teachers
                  Before the observation, administration should call a staff-wide meeting to clearly explain what a 5-minute walk-through is and encourage staff involvement. Teachers should be told exactly what will be observed during the process.

                  Set up observation teams
                  While walk-throughs can be done by one person, it is best for two or more people to routinely participate so each person can have a specific task and more meaningful data can be accumulated. Rotating some of the observers each time is even more beneficial.

                  Before each walk-through, the team should set one specific goal. For example:

                  • Let's see what student writing samples are displayed in the classroom.
                  • Name the teaching strategies used by the teacher.
                  • Are the learning goals for the lesson clear?
                  • Let's evaluate the level of student engagement with the lesson.
                  • What do we see that the teacher might not?
                  • Is technology being used consistently throughout the classrooms?

                  By focusing on one objective and applying it to every classroom, the team will get a clear sense of whether the school/district goals are being met.  Strengths and weaknesses will become obvious.  If walk-throughs are routine, a bad or good day will matter less and less because a consistent theme—whether positive, negative, or neutral—will emerge.

                  Produce Clear Documented Reflections
                  When the day's walk-throughs are complete, the team should take the time to clearly pinpoint the observations and communicate them to the observed teachers.  This valuable feedback will create goals for subsequent walk-throughs.

                  The hope is that administrators, teachers, and even students, will begin to feel like part of a more collective whole.  Learning goals become shared, regardless of grade level or subject expertise. The result is that developing teachers continue to become more effective and engaged in the classroom. 


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                  Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, Role of Principal in School, Developing Teachers

                  5 Effective Reading Instruction Strategies For Any Grade

                  Posted on Tue, Sep 04, 2012 @ 12:09 PM

                  Teacher Reading to StudentsWithin the last few decades, the role of the principal has changed dramatically. Now in addition to all of the administrative and managerial duties s/he organizes behind the scenes, principals are often expected to:

                  • Design, implement and refine curricula
                  • Offer instructional support and improve
                    teaching and student learning

                  That being the case, we thought it might be useful to talk a bit about designing—or reimagining—your school’s reading program.

                  Like any skill, reading “muscles” become stronger when exercised regularly. And just like any sport or exercise, a competent coach (you/the teacher) and rigorous training program (designed, at least in part, by you) is vital to the trainee’s progress.

                  5 Effective Reading Instruction Strategies For Any Grade

                  • Let students choose…sometimes
                    Imagine being assigned complicated texts about subjects you dislike or know nothing about. Now imagine having to read them every day. Sound inspiring? Of course not. Granted, students don’t always have their own best interests in mind—so no doubt, a great majority of the texts they read will be chosen for them.

                    Here’s something to consider though: Research from Guthrie and Humenick suggests  that children who get to choose at least one thing to read per day are not only more engaged, but see an increase in reading comprehension skills. By allowing students to choose their reading material, they can select something at a comfortable reading level, something that interests them, and something they can relate to. Which brings us to Number 2.

                  • Offer interrelated materials that they understand
                    Skip the skill-oriented drills and use engaging, interrelated materials they understand. Texts should connect—and you should discuss those connections with students. The more they relate to characters, setting, and plot, the more likely they are to continue reading.

                  • Meaningful composition
                    Let children compose their own writing. No response to prompts, no fill-in-the-blank “dittos,” and forget question/answer formats. Why make writing a rote exercise? Let their writing transcend the classroom.

                    As we said, students don’t always have their own best interests in mind, so count on hearing some gripes early on. You'll hear lots of, "but I don't know what to write about..." Let them know that you are more interested in their ideas than you are in missing commas. I promise you, this will liberate them. Over time, students' free-form writing will begin to flow, allowing them to unconsciously put into practice what their effective reading instruction has been cultivating.

                  • Read Out Loud
                    Whether you have 18-year-olds or 8-year-olds, find some time to a) have them read out loud and b) have them listen to your read. Modeling fluent reading skills is one of the most useful, but also the most underused pedagogical practices. Modeling isn’t fancy and certainly doesn’t require special training, but research from Wu and Samuels proves that it helps the brain orient to rhythms, cadence, tone, expression, context; an added bonus, of course, is that it also piques students’ interest in the world of literature.

                  • Reading Clubs
                    The more children engage with each other about what they are reading (or have read), the more excited they get about the process. Set up book groups for a few minutes each week, allowing students to chat freely about their ideas, suggestions, and opinions. It boosts reading comprehension skills without them even knowing it.

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                  Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, student engagement, Role of Principal in School, Successful Schools, Developing Teachers

                  The First Week of School--and 10 Tips for Transitioning Into It

                  Posted on Wed, Aug 29, 2012 @ 09:08 AM

                  BackToSchoolThe first week of school is a killer for administrators and staff.  Mentally, you may still be weeding your vegetable garden or sipping Folgers at 10 am on your front porch. Back in the real world though, class enrollments are shifting and both you and your students are reorienting to the new class year.

                  Of course, many teachers will arrive refreshed and energized for a new year, but for others—especially new teachers—beginning a new year can be overwhelming and filled with anxiety.

                  These 10 Tips for Transitioning into the first week of school can help you organize your time and discover a fresh approach this year.

                  Your Fellow Administrators

                  1. Collaborate Within: Whether you're a tried-and-true veteran team, or you have some new administrators on board, this first week of school is a crucial time for collaborating on the year's goals, where the responsibilities lie, and unifying your front for teachers, students, and parents.
                  2. Reach Out: Administrators often come with decades of experience—which is great. But keep in mind that there’s always room for growth.  Reaching out to administrators in your district, and/or nearby districts can foster new ideas and an inspirational support network.

                  Your Teachers

                  1. Honest Communication: As unpleasant as it might seem, you are a leader and leaders need to have open communication with all of their colleagues.  Reach out to teachers with whom you butted heads last year and openly express your desire to make peace and to work together this year. Even if they aren't receptive it is always best to take the high road.  Or, you could be surprised to find them open and willing to wave the white flag.
                  2. Motivation: This is a new year. It's a fresh start and the students will be best served if the administration and teachers are genuinely motivated and inspired. Don't have ideas of your own? Use the internet to find ideas for motivating teachers.
                  3. Effective Meetings. Few people enjoy meetings, but they are necessary. The key to an effective meeting is, well, running an effective meeting. Get there early, be organized, keep it moving, set time limits for comments/questions, mitigate non-essential chit chat, and have good follow through.

                  Your Students

                  1. Names. While it may feel impossible to know every student's name, start working early. Knowing students' names shows you value them. Make a special effort to learn the names of students who struggle, who look sad or alone, or who pick you out of the crowd to talk to.
                  2. Host Lunches. For the first month, try to schedule at least 1-2 days a week during lunch in a different classroom.  These should be well publicized and should start the first week of school. Try to get colleagues and/or various clubs to participate as well.

                  The Parents

                  1. Reach out. Use social networking, phone calls to the parents of previously troubled students, all the new students, or the involved students can help to set the tone and make parents feel more connected. Do it before "Back to School Night" and make an effort to really boost parent/guardian attendance.
                  2. Back-to-School Night. Speaking of BTSN - make it desirable. How inspiring would it be to get a record turnout? What about getting any adult in a child's life involved? Hosting a BBQ using donated foods? Shake off the BTSN dread and find ways to make it fun for everyone.

                  Just For You

                  1. Make Time for You. You must be healthy and well rested to be an effective administrator at any time of the year. Don't make excuses not to exercise. If you are a middle or high school administrator - you have a gym right there on campus, or PE classes you can attend.  What a great way to get to know students and set an example.

                  The first week of school will be gone before you know it, but your efforts can set a positive tone for the entire school year.

                  More than ever, educational leadership is expected to successfully manage the institution and also improve teaching and learning. The highly-effective administrator or principal also needs to be a visionary! Marygrove College offers a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership, a program that will give you the tools, advanced knowledge and skills necessary to lead the modern school.

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                  Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, Role of Principal in School, Developing Teachers

                  Outdoor Schools. Kid-Tested. Walt Whitman Approved.

                  Posted on Tue, Aug 14, 2012 @ 09:08 AM

                  Walt WhitmanThis morning I opened my email and was greeted by a link to an article profiling what is commonly being referred to as an "outdoor school" or “nature preschool.” We usually blog about issues concerning Education and Leadership and Instructional Technology, but I liked it so much that I felt it deserved a tribute and a repost. Here’s the short version:

                  Welcome to Blue Heron, a New Hampshire “all-weather” preschool. Here students spend as much of the day as possible—regardless of the weather—outside at the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center.  

                  In this classroom, students set the agenda and choose the activities. Perhaps they’ll stack some sticks, run around, take a tour with a geologist, or just sit down on a blanket and get lost in a good book. If they find a log and want to turn it over, are they told they’ll get hurt or dirty? Nope. They roll it over and see what the world looks like from below; then they dutifully roll it back the way that they found it.

                  The activities may be in flux, but the central tenant of the philosophy of the outdoor school never wavers: Students, not teachers, set the agenda. If an activity goes off the rails, teachers are there to redirect, intervene and turn the situation into a teachable moment.

                  It’s true that the concept has started to catch on, but it’s not new. The idea originated in Scandinavia in the 1960s and then migrated to the United Kingdom, Germany and Southeast Asia before landing in the U.S.

                  Skeptics of the outdoor school system might be reluctant to turn their kids outdoors in the dead of winter, but surprisingly, a 1997 study of the Scandinavian schools using it found that students had 5 percent fewer absences due to sickness than those in traditional schools. The study also found that students showed an increase in concentration and motor function.

                  Student Studying in NatureReading all of this brings to mind what British Secretary of State for Education, Kenneth Clark said in the 1990s: “Having any ideas about how children learn, or develop, or feel, should be seen as a subversive activity.” Was he branding “subversive” a noble attribute? Whether or not Clark truly believed that educational theorists should approach learning “subversively,” I don’t know. If he did, I think there’s some wisdom (perhaps unintended) in his statement.

                  New ideas create tension and threaten to undermine the stability of the “tried and true.” They also lead us, as Richard Baily suggests in the preface of Loris Malaguzzi and the Reggio Emilia Experience, “to question the common sense presumptions of educational practices.” And these common sense presumptions often “hide numerous contestable concepts” that should be contested.

                  Whether or not “all-weather," outdoor schools “work,” or how exactly they impact student achievement may require more substantive research—but I certainly like the spirit of it all and can’t help but be reminded of something Walt Whitman once said:

                  “A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books.”  

                  You might be interested in becoming an educational technologist; maybe you want to become a principal and are considering a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership. Perhaps you are interested in professional development and would like to earn a Master’s in the Art of Teaching. Whatever the case may be, Marygrove College has several online Master’s programs tailored to fit your needs—and your wallet!

                  Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, Educational Technology, Educational Technology Master's Degree, Educational Technology Programs, student engagement, Role of Principal in School, Online Master's in Educational Leadership, Successful Schools, Master's in Educational Technology Online, Developing Teachers

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