Friday, August 2, 2019

We Own it!

When we discussed the theme for the 2019-2020 school year we recognized the importance of our Personalized Learning Vision for the District:

We will partner with our students to own their learning, pursue their ambitions and achieve their goals.  

The words "Own Their Learning" stood out.  When students take responsibility and own their own learning, we have achieved what we set out to do.  That is, we have created life long learners who become bold to achieve and succeed in life.

There is something about ownership that sets our behaviors and attitudes apart from situations, conditions and choices contrasted from where and when we have little to no investment in ownership and possession.  When we own something, we are much more likely to take pride in its substance, show much more respect and appreciation for what we own.  We are much more willing to maintain, improve and provide solutions to problems, and we become much more willing to take initiative in involving energy and time in making sure what we own is quality, appealing, and effective in its purpose and design.

We see ownership in our district as a means of describing a mindset and an approach where we as a team are willing to take the risk of ownership on multiple levels.  We decide and commit to owning our students - their successes, challenges, idiosyncrasies and most importantly, our relationships with each and every child.

We see ownership that takes responsibility for the good, the bad and the indifferent and refuses to blame others.  We take ownership and refuse to put down and/or denigrate another peer, employee, parent or student.  We own the failures and reject excuses and fault finding.  Problems are owned to be solved, and solutions are owned by all and shared to implement, succeed and celebrate!

If we own the story, then we can write the ending.  
Brene Brown

This year is a year when we emphasize and promote our ability to "own our story" and thereby create the road and destiny built on our mission, vision, values and lofty goals.  When we own it, we call the shots and help everyone finish strong!  Have a great school year.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Year of the Climber

This is the year of the climber because it fits so well with our mission and earnest desire to see if every student and adult involved in their learning continue to "climb" improve, grow, achieve and fulfill our goals and dreams!

Our District Mission:

We are improvement driven - Mind, Character, and Body

We focus on the characteristics of the climber who is fearless, committed, focused, determined, constant, confident, ascending, brave, goal oriented, driven, striving, moving, confident, dedicated, etc.  (See word cloud created by our admin team below).

This metaphor makes so much sense to all of us when it comes to achieving BHAG's (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) as described by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great.  What people see as impossible to achieve, climbers see reaching a goal as one step at a time.  When students enter our preschool or kindergarten, the top of the mountain in 12th grade to be college and career ready may look impossible especially if those students are not school ready.

How do prepare every student to be skillful readers, writers, thinkers and citizens who can lead and achieve in an ever changing and challenging world?  We do this by setting and tracking goals one day at a time, one week at a time, one month at at time, one quiz at a time, one test at a time, one report at a time, one year at a time!

The definition of a Climber put together from Dictionary.Com (2010) is someone who to ascends or rises; someone who rises slowly by or as if by continued effort.

This is how we ascend and rise as professionals and motivators and encouragers who ascend and rise on a constant, consistent, determined and focused basis.  We succeed if we stay focused and determined if we do not quit!

“Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.” 
Barry Finlay

Climb. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

17-18 CUSD Year in Review

We have had another successful school year with a great deal to be thankful for in many ways. We are graduating the most graduates (close to 170) we have had at the high school in years, and we are promoting the most students at John Muir (194) we have had in decades!

The high school continues to lead the way in Central California with high percentages of students taking and passing college courses that are offered in the regular high school day. The onsite college offerings have increased from 8 to 15!  Seventy one of our college seniors took college classes with a 98% pass rate.  These classes included English 251, English 1, English 2, American Sign Language 1, American Sign Language 2, Counseling 100, Human Development, Spanish 1, and Communications.

This does not include courses students chose to take in an online only setting. Most of these academics took more than one college course. These seniors were responsible for taking 171 college courses. Many did this while also being involved in clubs, sports and community service. Some did this while working part time jobs or caring for siblings.

Due to the positive environment and the relationships our staff has with our students, student behavior continues to improve dramatically with decreases student suspensions by 36% and expulsions are reduced by 25% from last year. We have had the most number of students place in the County Spelling Bee that we can remember, and Fremont and Mark Twain Schools have won a prestigious National Beacon School Award from Imagine Learning (only 150 schools receive this award nationwide).

Our School Board just recently approved the implementation of The California Cadet Corp at John Muir Middle School, and John Muir is one of only 30 plus schools in the whole nation to be involved in The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, (one of the few schools that involved experimentation across the whole student body!).

The high school is in its second year of conducting highly successful Senior Exit Interviews and the
athletic program once again boasts of several league championships:

  • Girls Cross Country (1st Valley Championship in school history) 
  • Boys' Cross Country
  • Wrestling
  • Boys' and Girls' Track
  • Girls' Tennis team earned Back to Back Valley Champions (Division IV and now III) 

And, our FFA Program produced two State Finalists and one State Champion for student projects.

We are also seeing positive changes and improvements throughout the District with the purchase of new property, the addition of new buildings and improvements at the Ag Farm, an award of a $3 million Career Technical Education building grant, new classroom furniture, and the District partnered with CAST (Community and Schools Together) for new RAC and baseball field score boards, and a new state of the art batting cage. New playgrounds have been installed at Fremont, Mark Twain and the new playground for Bret Harte preschool is on order.

All of our school buses have new cameras and GPS tracking is on every bus, and our parents and staff have now have access to a new Digital Menu to help track calories and types of foods students are served daily. Speaking of food, this last year was the first year in decades the high school had a closed campus for freshmen. This reduced the number of students tardy for class after lunch and the food service department was able to feed many more students with a greater variety of foods. This is not to mention our campuses were recognized as Apple Distinguished Schools and Gold PBIS Award winners!

Congratulations to every one for an outstanding 2017-18 School Year!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Poking the Universe

A group of John Muir teachers and school administrators experienced a professional development session recently as part of their involvement in the NASA Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. The meeting was conducted via Skype from astrophysicist Jeff Goldstein.

I was most impressed with the philosophical background of the program as to the “why” behind the process.  Mr. Goldstein gave the example as to how young children “poke the universe” and begin to determine the causes and effects from the time they are old enough to sense their world around.

Children are already predisposed to be inquirers and find out how the world and universe works. He mentioned that same way of thinking; that childlike sense of inquiry and investigation is what science is all about, and that is how the scientists they work with approach their work in looking at the universe.

Here was a key question: “How many of you science teachers give a set of procedures to your students to do a lab?” As a former science teacher, I did not want to raise my hand because I knew where this was going. He asked, “If you conduct your labs by giving your students a list of procedures, is that science?” I thought to myself, “Ouch!”

He noted that is not science, but it is following the recipe or doing the work of a technician and not a scientist. When we teach science (or any discipline at all for that matter) as a set of procedures or as a rigid recipe, students see the classroom and the learning as belonging solely to the teacher.
However, when we build the learning around inquiry-based, evidence-based learning, students own the learning much like they did as young children who “poke things” to see how they react.

The scientific method is not a set of procedures or rules as well, but it is simply “poking” around inquiry-based, evidence-based learning. And, he mentioned,  “Who says you have to have a hypothesis?” For example, a group of peer scientists just recently “poked the universe” by wondering what was beyond a certain part of space. After digging further, they discovered a whole new set of planets and systems.

A powerful part of the learning was this: He emphasized that the scientific method (remember his definition of the scientific method is inquiry based, evidence based learning) should be in all of our courses, across all disciplines. For example, a cook wonders what would happen if he added a little rosemary. He then experiments by adding rosemary and testing the results (aroma, taste, etc.). Or, an
artist wonders what would happen if she added texture to the painting. She uses a variety of textures, tests the aesthetics, the feel, the tone created, and adjusts.

All of this inquiry based, evidence based learning is embedded in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. John Muir students will be “poking” about the idea of how living things react, live, adjust, grow, divide, build, survive or thrive in a zero gravity environment in a space station that is in orbit. Looking forward to our kids “poking” around!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Year of the Learner

We have committed our theme for this year as the "Year of the Learner" due to our increased desire to increase the focus on the learning and success of all learners in our Corcoran School Community.

I use the word desire because we have a strong belief that is the key to learning; having the "want to" to learn and improve.  Our resources, our efforts, our strategies and our district direction is to do everything possible to help all learners (staff and students) flow with that passion and desire toward learning and growth.  We are purposeful in creating an atmosphere where success is a must, and is inexorably tied to learning and achieving.  Learning is our way of doing business, and powerful learning is the outcome.

The change in focus is really about moving from groups of students perceived as "needing to be taught"

to . . .

. . . individual, capable, distinct and personal young boys and girls; young men and women as “learners” who are provided learning environments,  leadership and opportunities to break all pre conceived ideas of their learning limitations!

Our efforts are focused on determining what is necessary to see to it that learners learn!

We are committed to "learn" the following:
  • We have to continually learn to know our learners as learners and what they can know and do in their learning.
  • We have to continually learn how our learners learn and what motivates them and inspires them to learn and use what they learn in powerful ways.
  • We have to continually learn what our learners need to learn to be successful in today's challenging and changing world.
  • We have to continually learn what it takes for us to make sure our students learn and grow and achieve.

The table below is a good illustration of what we have learned about the best ways our students learn and how we meet those best conditions for learning:

Best Learning Conditions for our Learners
Our Focus
High Levels of Cooperation Among Classmates
Kagan Structures in Real Time, In Class Coaching
Focused Teacher Feedback:  Frequent and Diagnostic
Challenging, Realistic Goals for Everyone, Datawise Process, Continual Feedback for all Learners (Staff & Students)
Variable Time Allowed to Reach Levels of Attainment
Personalized Learning; Every Student Must Pass Prior Year CASSPP

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Technology for School Today

Our district is celebrating its thirteenth year of committed work toward teaching and learning with every modern technology tool possible for every student.  I could write a great deal about our journey including successes, failures, progress, detours and arrivals.

John Muir Middle School 2006
We have learned a great deal, and we find we have adapted and improved our work with the availability of more advanced technology learning tools.  Approaching eight years as a K-12 one-to-one district (6-12 students take devices home with free Internet), we need to take a step back and reflect on what we see in our classrooms and campuses compared to our embarkation 13 years ago.

The subtlest yet obvious characteristic of our classrooms is the seamless and transparent use.  It has been part of our culture.  Not only has it become a key part of the culture, but it has transitioned to a more and more sophisticated strategic part of the student learning.  The advent of digital curriculum and the more rigorous projects and activities teachers have grown to introduce and use have been drivers in our uses of technology for learning.

Corcoran High School 2009
Our understanding of how technology can be used to personalize student learning has grown tremendously.  Our schools are in the process of purposely and strategically creating personalized learning environments.

In our reflection, we have considered once again the "why" behind our commitment to use technology in our schools.  The following are the key "whys" for us based on what we have experienced and what we see as potential for our kids:
Corcoran High School 2013

We use technology to: 

1) Personalize their learning:  For the first time in educational history we now have the tools to provide the flexibility and the adaptability of learning for every child in every classroom.  Teachers can create lessons and activities that are:

  • Not limited by time and place  (Virtual capacity and asynchronous communication)
  • Geared for student skill level
  • Constantly providing relevant feedback and correction
  • Paced for the individual students' abilities and progress
  • Designed for the "flipped classroom."
2) Prepare students for the real world:  Imagine any of our students walking onto a college campus or a workplace today that uses typewriters and slide rules to do their work.  Digital literacy is a real and valid skill needed for students in today's college and career environment.  Using technology tools effectively is not just something our students will get to do; using them efficiently and professionally is a must in order for them to succeed in today's world.

3) Provide immediate access to timely and relevant knowledge, content, digital textbooks, curriculum and sources:  Imagine if your medical doctor was using a 1953 medical school textbook as a source for doing your upcoming surgery.  We all know anything short of the most recent and relevant information for our learning and practice is unacceptable.  So it is with the access of information for our student learning!

4) Create active and not passive learners:  Students are more engaged in their learning using technology tools and are active in reading, writing, annotating, creating, building, commenting, exploring, researching and actively watching and listening.  In lieu of only listening to a lecture or direct lesson, students can be involved in critiquing, commenting, adding, editing and manipulating key information and content.

5) Provide a learning environment that is consistent with the digital world to which they have grown accustomed:  Writer and speak Marc Prensky commented that many students "power down" when they come to school because they are so accustomed to the digital environment that exists in their lives outside of the school day -- in contrast to paper, pencil, overheads, etc.  These "Digital Natives" have marked differences in our day and age that require a different approach to teaching and learning than that which most of us have been used to.

6) Provide tools for collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking:  There are several skills and activities students perform with technology tools that are impossible to complete in the traditional classroom.  Students have a tremendous capacity to demonstrate their mastery of the "4 C's" in many cases only through the use of modern technology tools.

7) Provide learning experiences that go beyond the four walls of the classroom:  Students publishing their work online for the world to see, creating digital art to be displayed and shared with other students in schools across the world, posting projects presentations and videos via YouTube for their peers to view,  collecting, sorting and interpreting information from a local environmental biome to be shared with a partner class via video conference in another country are just a few of the many examples of how technology provides, real, hands-on and relevant learning experiences.

8) Provide access to rigorous coursework and college learning opportunities virtually anywhere in the world:  Access to free (I emphasize "free") online college courses and opportunities to take courses online from anywhere in the world have grown exponentially.  Any student at any age can take just about any rigorous, high school and college course for limited or no cost from any where in the world!

9) Provide tools that are relevant to a student’s career pathway and interest:  Every career and every professional uses some form of technology on a daily basis.  Student access to technology tools provides opportunities for students to do highly relevant pathway career work and preparation.  Technology dominates the workplace of most professionals and managers in business, and our students need to have the foundational technology related skills in order to begin to associate with and grow into career related experiences.

Friday, December 9, 2016

What Really Motivates Us; What Really Motivates our Kids?

A few years ago I wrote a summary about Daniel Pink's findings on motivation. I highly recommend spending a few minutes taking a look at the RSA Animate YouTube video:

I see this as even more relevant in our discussions and direction today about this whole concept of personalized learning and student achievement. The video challenges the "why" behind what schools do today, how we organize and approach our classrooms, how we attempt to implement teaching and learning, and what we have students do within and outside the school day to set them up for learning and success. Daniel Pink's findings create an opportunity to filter everything we do in light of the three key areas that motivate people: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

Autonomy: Our desire to be self directed in our lives. That tells us that if we want true engagement in our work and in our learning,we have to be doing more complicated and more sophisticated "stuff."  We measure our curriculum and our approach to both the types of things we have kids know and do, and our expectation to such at higher levels. Does our curriculum, our planning, our expectations and our results match up to this? The big question here is are we afraid to let go, allow our students to try things, take risks and even fail? Our Einstein Hour approaches this concept.

Mastery: He defines this as the urge to get better at "stuff." He gives great examples of how people will go out of their way even without pay to get good at playing an instrument and even work for free to do highly technical things like create open source software material (free software that is now available world wide that is operating millions of servers). We can liken this to how students can get into hobbies, music, technology and video games - everyone is rewarded as they get better and better at something!

We can compare this to the types of opportunities we provide our kids to learn based on their own interests, pace and mastery. Do we develop lessons that provide choice, that provide relevant and timely feedback to determine their learning and mastery? Is what we are offering our students challenging, interesting and provides opportunities for them to contribute to getting better?

Purpose: All of us are more motivated especially when we recognize what we are doing has a more transcendent purpose. He posits and infers things are not always good if we disconnect learning from the purpose motive. This is when people are not inclined to do great things and the environment are not inspiring places to learn and work. He mentions that people are "purpose maximizers."

The challenge for all of us is, do we connect what we have students know and do to purpose, the big idea and to what Jim Collins calls BHAGS? (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). Is student learning about their personal lives, their desire to break limits and does it play into their desire to achieve? Do we challenge our kids to be the first high school graduates, college graduates, doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. in their families. Do we succeed in connecting their learning to their dreams, goals and pursuits to make the world a better place for others and the world around them?
As you can see these are great guideposts associated with questions that will evoke high standards and the right types of results for each and every CUSD student.