Teacher Talk

Do we get more than spirit out of Spirit Week?

posted Sep 10, 2017, 3:08 AM by HSD Principal

Spirit Week takes a lot of students' - and teachers' - focus off academic matters and takes time away from learning, but we continue to value it and schedule it every year. It turns out there are some good reasons for that, even though we may not have been able to articulate them.

Several studies, including this one by Harris Poll, have found a positive correlation between students having an affinity for their school ("school spirit") and academic success.

Just how Google is known for its culture in the business world, achievement is linked to spirit in the educational realm.

Full disclosure since we want to model proper evaluation of sources: this study was conducted by an independent polling company, but was commissioned by a conglomerate that sells athletic wear, class rings, yearbooks, and sporting equipment to schools.

And this study (conducted in New Zealand!) also found positive correlations between school spirit and academic success, but in this instance the results were connected with how these types of activities make students feel:

[School spirit activities are] a vehicle for conveying the values and the ethos of the school... In addition to the collective values which are part of the school identity, school spirit played a role in reinforcing individual worth. “School spirit says this school is a place where I am valued and wanted”.

More Thoughts on Collaboration

posted Sep 2, 2017, 12:10 AM by HSD Principal

Let's not wait for a situation like a double block week to be intentional at helping each other to get better at teaching - and helping our students become better learners. Here are some more resources on making the most of collaborating, and some simple ideas about making it more a part of our regular practice.

Matching Complementary Strengths: This article gives the process two teachers went through when they were required to collaborate. But it also includes some ideas for teachers on how to get started working with others, including asking questions as you being your planning:

It's OK to come in and say, 'What are you doing on journal prompts? I need to know right now and take it.' Or, 'What are you doing in the afternoon for math? I know that we're working in fractions, but do you have anything that you're going to do besides what's being asked inside the curriculum?' Or, 'Hey, I know we're reading this novel. Are you starting to introduce the characters? Are you having them look at it before we read, or are you looking at it when you're reading?'

Here is a cute PDF poster giving six Benefits of Teacher Collaboration based on a study done in Pennsylvania schools. One of their primary findings:

100 % of the study participants said their teaching improved.

This article on The Power of Teacher Collaboration is one among many that stresses the importance of finding intentional time to work at collaborating.

And for those of you who like more data: here are the results of a wide survey conducted by the Teachers Network. They also address the second hurdle I mentioned in our staff meeting last week:

Collaboration – sharing knowledge and ideas – implies risk. Both survey and interview data gathered by CTQ in various urban districts drives home the point that collaboration is difficult to execute without a sense of trust among teachers... “If you…don’t mesh well, then it becomes very difficult to feel successful in a model where you must rely on someone else and their judgment.” Teachers who work in trusting environments have a basis for inquiry and reflection into their own practice, allowing them to take risks, challenge and critique each other, and collectively solve tough problems.

Getting Ready for Double Doubles

posted Aug 10, 2017, 5:17 PM by HSD Principal

As we try having more extended class times during the week, I want to make sure you all have some resources to plan for and use the time well, as well as giving you some time to actually prepare for the week. We will spend intentional time doing both those things during our 29 August divisional meeting, but below is a collection of sources to help you get started:

Designing Long Classes: a resource developed for RIT college professors who are stepping into teaching for longer class periods that has some good tips on planning and running a longer class session. One quick tip from them:

Review the agenda with class at the beginning of class so students know what to expect and know that your lecture won’t be going on “forever.”

Here is one social studies teacher's advice on using extended class time, along with a few unexpected surprises that came with making the change. Here's an example of his advice:

The planning process for extended classes should be approached in the spirit of a fresh beginning rather than with the intention of adjusting old lesson plans. The critical thinking goals of the extended classes are attainable only if they are the primary objective.

Math has been one of the subjects for which the concept of more double blocks can seem especially daunting. To help alleviate some of that, here is one math teacher's experience at moving to extended class time, with some specific ideas on using the time well. One of his insights:

Long periods do not work well if they are just like short periods, except longer. You cannot lecture at teenagers for 70 minutes and expect them to be able to maintain an appearance of engagement, something they can barely manage in a 50-minute period. Thus, a teacher who believes that giving whole-period lectures is the only way to teach their subject legitimately would consider the long period a threat. However, for a teacher who has been eager to broaden their pedagogical repertoire, the long period is wonderful. (And it certainly does not exclude the use of lectures, which remain a very important tool under any schedule.)

Getting Students Ready to Do College Reading

posted Aug 17, 2016, 1:20 AM by HSD Principal

In this article in Education Update, Laura Varlas says all too many students do well on the ACT and SAT, but when they get to college, they can’t do the work. Why? The main problem is reading. A recent NAEP assessment found that only 37 percent of high-school seniors scored at the college-ready level in reading and math. “Having to complete remedial work [in college] is discouraging, expensive, and puts students off track for the careers they hope to have,” says Elizabeth Gonsalves, an English department head in Massachusetts. In her school, what galvanized teachers was seeing a college syllabus and tasks and prompts from a typical professor. “When my department saw what those were, we knew we had to make changes…” Here’s what students need to learn:

            • Reading for understanding – In literature classes, students must be able to analyze why characters did something and the reasoning behind it, not just do a summary and identify characters and details. In history classes, they need to get the big picture, not just memorize facts.

            • Working with multiple texts – In college, students will be asked to compare texts and use multiple sources to support a claim. The texts might be as different as a novel, podcast, and infographic.

            • Mastering broader, Tier 3 vocabulary – For example, students need to know terms like the political left and the political right, and that can come only from reading a variety of contemporary texts such as New York Times articles and commentaries.

            • Going beyond narrative – Many high-school students are comfortable with texts where the narrative takes control and reading is logical and sequential. They need to do more analytical reading and be exposed to narratives that are not straightforward – for example, William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. Teaching students how to take Cornell notes helps them get into a back-and-forth conversation with a text, and marking up a text with colored pens and sticky notes is also helpful.

            • Using close reading – College students are sometimes overwhelmed by the amount of reading they’re being assigned, but skimming is not the solution. They need to slow down, re-read, and focus on beginnings, endings, and key passages, asking themselves questions like, “Why did this person take this position?” and “What do you think is going to happen next?”

            Of course, preparing students for college-level reading is not just the job of high-school English teachers. “We need to get all grade levels scaffolded toward a college reading level,” says Donna Pasternak of the University of Wisconsin. “If we’re all invested in what college reading is, we have a better opportunity to support and scaffold it.” High-school students should be reading journal articles in science and working with source documents in history. This Modern Language Association website https://k16alliances.commons.mla.org is designed to get K-12 educators sharing writing prompts, syllabi, and strategies for working with complex texts.

“Syllabus-ted: Preparing Students for the Rigors of College Reading” by Laura Varlas in Education Update, July 2016 (Vol. 58, #7, p. 1, 4-5), available for purchase at


With a grateful heart

posted May 28, 2016, 8:10 PM by HSD Principal

Dear friends,

The past three years have passed by in a blur it seems. But one thing remains very clear to me as my time at Faith Academy comes to an end: journeying with you all has been a privilege. 

Thank you for three very memorable years. I have been enriched, inspired and challenged (in good ways;-) by you all and by life in HSD. Yes, there were ups and downs, but that is what has made the experience rich and real. For all this, I am very grateful. Thank you for being a part of that.


Because of who we serve

posted May 20, 2016, 5:32 PM by HSD Principal

In these very busy and potentially stressful last days (of school), please remember to be kind to  yourself and to one another. The Lord has been good to us all!

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thes 5:16-18)

8 Mistakes You May Be Making When Writing Tests

posted May 13, 2016, 5:32 PM by HSD Principal

If you ever write your own tests, you know this task is not always as easy as it sounds. Trying to come up with good questions that accurately gauge the students’ understanding can be challenging.

Now we know that most students don’t necessarily enjoy taking tests, but the question we need to ask ourselves is……Is the way our tests are written contributing to their frustration?

8 mistakes you may be making when writing assessments

As teachers, we want to make the test-taking process as simple and painless as possible. We don’t want our students to be frustrated with poorly written questions or confusing directions.

So check out our list of common mistakes and see if any of these need to be corrected on your next test.

Common Mistakes Teachers Make When Writing Tests

  1. Writing confusing questions. Nothing frustrates a test-taking student more than a question that is just downright confusing. So when you write your tests, ask yourself if there’s even a slight possibility that student could be confused by a question. If there is, rewrite it. And if you get this complaint a lot from students, don’t just blow it off. Instead to have a colleague look over your tests to help you identify unclear questions before you give it to your students. 
  2. Including trick true-false questions. Be especially careful of true/false questions like this one: “The Pythagorean Theory is c2 = a2 + b.” For you non-math people out there, the formula is correct, but it’s technically called the Pythagorean Theorem not the PythagoreanTheory. Unless you made a big deal out of the word Theorem during your lectures, a question like this will really frustrate your students. They’ll be sitting there debating “Did he put theoryto see if we knew the name so it’s false or did he just put the wrong word and it’s actually true since the formula is correct?” 

    The best way to help our students avoid this frustration is to use focused true/false in which students must say whether the underlined portion makes the statement true or false. That way an inadvertently trick question such as “The Pythagorean Theory is c2 = a2 + b” is no longer quite as tricky since it focuses the question on just the underlined portion. 
  3. Making multiple choice options different lengths. Sometimes the correct answer to a multiple choice problem naturally is much longer or much shorter than the other options. But that’s no good because it makes it too obvious. When this happens, you’ve got to find a way to make them all a similar length. 
  4. Creating page-flipping tests. Don’t create a situation where students have to keep flipping pages back and forth to look at options. For example, a matching section should never span more than one page
  5. Not arranging matching responses in a logical order. Whenever you create a matching section, arrange the responses in a logical order, such as alphabetically. This will help students find the answer they’re looking for more quickly. The longer your matching section is, the more important this is. 
  6. Giving away answers elsewhere on the test. A smart test-taker will notice if you give away an answer to question #6 in the directions to prompt for question #25. So unless you’re intentionally giving them a clue, be very careful! 
  7. Writing unclear directions. Make your directions as specific and clear as possible. And be sure to include as much information as is needed. Phrases such as “answers may be used once, more than once, or not at all” are great to provide necessary clarity. 
  8. Asking unimportant questions. I’ve saved the most crucial mistake for last. Please, don’t ask unimportant or too-detailed questions just so you can have “enough” questions. The point of the test is to gauge students’ understanding. If we ask a random, unimportant question that we mentioned once briefly, not only will the students be frustrated but we will fail to get an accurate assessment of their skills. So when you write a test, ask yourself what the most important things are that the students should know; then write questions about those things.

Bottom line…..If your students are complaining about your tests, don’t just blow them off right away. Take the time to find out what exactly is frustrating them. Of course their complaints could be completely unfounded. But they just might be onto something….

Retrieved from http://teach4theheart.com/2014/07/07/8-mistakes-you-may-be-making-when-writing-tests/ July, 2014

The Padagogy Wheel – It’s Not About The Apps, It’s About The Pedagogy

posted May 7, 2016, 6:16 PM by HSD Principal   [ updated May 7, 2016, 6:24 PM ]

Click here for the extended article by Allan Carrington on the Teachthought website.

Because sometimes you just need to laugh to stay sane!

posted Apr 30, 2016, 6:26 AM by HSD Principal   [ updated Apr 30, 2016, 6:27 AM ]

Image taken from http://edutech4teachers.edublogs.org/2016/01/29/edu-fun-friday-92/ [and as shared by Mark Barner.]

Teacher Teams As Powerful Engines of Change

posted Apr 22, 2016, 5:48 AM by HSD Principal

            In this article from Usable Knowledge, Leah Shafer reports on a study by Susan Moore Johnson, Stefanie Reinhorn, and Nicole Simon (Harvard Graduate School of Education) on what makes effective teacher teams. The research took place in six Massachusetts schools and involved content teams – focused on curriculum, lessons, and pedagogy – and cohort teams – focused on behavior, individual student needs, and school culture. The researchers found that five factors consistently contributed to a team’s success:

-   There was a clear, worthwhile purpose to meetings.

-   Teams met on a regular schedule, there was enough time for the business at hand, and the time was considered sacred.

-   Trained teacher leaders facilitated team meetings.

-   Administrators offered ongoing, engaged support and attention to the meetings and held teachers responsible for what they were supposed to accomplish.

-   Administrators looked for collaboration skills when hiring and gave teachers continual feedback that augmented the substance of team meetings.

Effective teacher teamwork had a positive impact in each of the schools, including:

-   Greater curriculum consistency across classes and grades;

-   Sharing the work of lesson planning;

-   Increased rigor and expectations for students – getting them to think “bigger and deeper about tough concepts”;

-   A support network for new teachers;

-   Opportunities for skill-sharing between veteran and novice teachers;

-   Frequent feedback from peers on lesson plans, behavior management, and pedagogy.

“Many factors contributed to these schools’ success,” says Johnson, “– careful hiring, frequent feedback on instruction, strong norms for both students and faculty, student supports, and skilled management – but it was teams that knit these components together for the good of students.”


“Teaching Together for Change: Five Factors That Make Teacher Teams Successful – and Make Schools Stronger” by Leah Shafer in Usable Knowledge, February 29, 2016,


Excerpt taken from Marshall Memo, March 29, 2016.

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