ExtraCredit, the official blog of the Ohio Department of Education, offers commentary and insight on a wide range of education issues from department experts and guest bloggers from throughout Ohio’s schools and support organizations. We encourage your ideas, feedback and comments to promote a two-way dialogue. See our Comment Policy for more information.

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6/29/2016

GUEST BLOG: Leaders Ring for Freedom - Dr. Neil Gupta, Worthington City Schools

By: Guest Blogger

bell.jpgIn August of 1752, the bell arrived in Philadelphia.  Cast from London’s Whitechapel Bell Foundry, it weighed 2,080 pounds and measured 12 feet in circumference around the lip and 3 feet from lip to crown.  The original bell cracked, so it was recast twice with more copper to get a better sound and durability.  What a great history and symbol of freedom that is contained in the Liberty Bell!

The bell tolled at the passing of notable heroes, such as Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams.  Contrary to belief, it did not ring when the Declaration of Independence was first presented.  There were many speculations, stories, and rumors on the various cracks to the bell: its first ring, during a visit from a Revolutionary War hero, while tolling to signal a fire, and during the funeral of Chief Justice John Marshall.

As educational leaders, it is fitting for us to take this time the next few weeks to celebrate our freedoms from a national level as well as allowing it to invoke a similar spirit in reflecting on the powerful freedoms we possess as leaders.  Just as the Liberty Bell symbolizes the ringing of freedom, look at these “Five Freedoms We Can Ring as Leaders”:

#1 Ring for Freedom to Question

As leaders, we need to invoke our rights with freedom to question.  With limited resources, leaders don’t have time to waste implementing initiatives without support.  Leadership is not about surrounding yourself with “yes” people.  Leaders need to form an environment for teams to collaborate and question the need, process, and outcomes.  If you aren’t hearing questions or getting challenged by others, see if you are creating the proper environment for feedback to be freely given.  There’s a way to question without being disrespectful in a healthy way.  Questioning makes the team better; it reminds us that it isn’t about us.  And, it allows for the best idea to come from the collective ideas from the team.

#2 Ring for Freedom to Explore

Leaders need the freedom to explore.  Exploration provide leaders with opportunities to innovate, seek out others, and try new things.  Conferences and EdCamps are a wonderful way to learn from others.  Not just students, but adults need passion projects also as a chance to learn and grow.  Leaders should always be ready to name new initiatives or ideas they are pursuing as well as creating an environment for others to explore themselves.  Exploration provides leaders and their team with an opportunity to innovate, rejuvenate, and reflect.

#3 Ring for Freedom to Choose

I’ve been most impressed with the leaders and vision at Worthington City School District in their ability to foster choice for students to learn in many different environments and forum.  While choice brings about challenges of their own, it is refreshing to allow students and adults opportunities to reach goals in different ways that foster a one-size-doesn’t-fit-all world.  Are you really locked in to one method?  Should there be just one “right” path?  The inception of personalized professional development only fosters the notion that people have unique needs and wants, and leaders need to foster their choice.

#4 Ring for Freedom to Have Fun

At times, I have felt guilty for laughing while a work.  It seems taboo and actually strange at times.  I have worked in many places with people I only associated with at work.  Yet, this past year, I began working in a district with people I actually like! While the work is definitely hard to provide leadership and support in growing all students in a safe manner, this has been a first to be part of a team that fosters trust and true relationships.  I severely underestimated the amount of work that can be done with positive relationships, trust, and team-building to have fun.  Does you build your team by celebrating successes for individuals and the team.  Leaders freely build in opportunities for the team to celebrate and have fun!

#5 Ring for Freedom to Unfriend

For many leaders, it’s in their nature to lead with the desire to make everyone like them.  Yet, real leaders may have to make decisions that aren’t well liked by everyone.  While some people may be happy, they may understand the other perspective and reasons for the decision.  Yet, there are people that continue to disrupt, create hurdles, or are even downright nasty.  Yet, still some leaders feel the need to continue trying to reach out and maintain a relationship.  To a certain point, all leaders need to try to mend relationships; but, it may not always be the case.  Leaders need to ensure they are able to stay positive and lead for a marathon race, so it may be necessary to “unfriend” negative people.  There’s much freedom in this, and it isn’t a sign of poor leadership or responsibility – there comes a time when leaders need to focus on the willing and keep moving forward.

Your Calling

There’s an inscription on the Liberty Bell that reads, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10).  This is a calling to all of us, including leaders, to not only be free but foster it within others.  So, as you reflect on the five rings above, I ask you to proclaim your “freedom ring” in the comments below – what is it you want to “Ring for Freedom” as you prepare for the next school year?

Dr. Neil Gupta is director of secondary education for Worthington City Schools. This post originally appeared on his blog on June 27, 2016. You can learn more about Dr. Gupta by clicking here.

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6/23/2016

Beyond the Blend - The Age of Customization

By: Stephanie Donofe Meeks

It seems like no one really orders just coffee anymore. I was in a coffee shop recently, and the person in front of me ordered one of the most complicated drinks I've ever heard. It was something like this: iced-half-caff-ristretto-venti-four-pump-sugar-free-cinnamon-dolce-soy-skinny-latte. What does how we order our coffee have to do with how we should be treating education? A lot, actually!I was thinking how simple my coffee order was — a coffee with extra cream and Splenda — but then I realized, I also have a choice. I have the choice to make it simple, and I have the choice to customize it, if I want. Even with my simple order, I also had the choice of three different kinds of roasts and three different sizes of coffee.

We can have almost anything in our lives customized. Amazon suggests products for you; Netflix suggests entertainment for you; apps exist for your phone that allow you to customize what kinds of food, travel and even dating you would like to do. There are even apps to personalize your apps experience.

I think this begs the questions: If we have the ability to customize and personalize such trivial things as ring tones, should we not look at a bigger opportunity to use these tools to customize something as important as education?

Why should we shift to using digital experiences and tools to transform learning?

We are living in the information age and using digital technology anytime and anywhere to access information. Students in the 21st century need to be as engaged in their learning as they are engaged in their lives by using the technologies and tools of the digital age. It is not about the hardware though, it is about the headware. (Google Ian Jukes for more information. By the way, “Google,” as a verb, was added to the definitive record of the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary, in 2006!)

Being about the headware means it is not the devices or the apps. It is the thinking…it is the learning of what to do with the information that is now available 24/7. Jamie Casap, senior education evangelist at Google encourages this line of thinking for preparing students for new technologies that will be used in their future careers, “Instead of asking what students want to be when they grow up, Casap asks, ‘What problem do you want to solve?’”

Customizing learning for students is not a new concept; great teachers have always done it. The transformative piece is that by using digital tools for some parts of instruction, we now have the ability to customize for all students, giving them all educational opportunities that meet their needs as learners, as well as allowing them choices in the process. Who wouldn’t want that?

Next up in my blog series: What is personalized learning and just how do we customize education for students? One way is to adopt a blended learning approach to instruction, which you can learn more about by clicking here.

Stephanie Donofe is director of integrated technology at the Ohio Department of Education, where she supports technology integration innovations and blended learning initiatives for districts and schools across the state. You can learn more about Stephanie by clicking here.

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6/15/2016

Preparing Ohio Students for Future Success After Graduation

By: Carolyn George

How is the high school experience changing for today’s youth? With so many evolving efforts, it is difficult to keep up with everything, let alone continue to connect the dots that you have been collecting the last few years. In a series of posts, we will review the incredible efforts underway to create substantive changes to Ohio’s K-12 education system through policies around graduation options, dual enrollment and credential attainment. In this post, we will focus on the importance of graduation and preparing students for future success.

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The Office of College and Career Success and Marion Harding High School are reshaping education to ensure that students graduate with the skills needed to succeed after high school.

The opportunity we face is preparing young people to address the challenges that await them after high school graduation. Fresh in your mind is the class of 2016, with graduates who are embarking on their post-secondary ventures, or so we hope. Right? We graduated them on to the next thing, but are they really prepared, or as we have coined the term, “college and career ready”? What have we graduated them to and how will we know all of the hard work from kindergarten through senior year was the right work to help them transition to their chosen destinations (i.e., colleges, careers, apprenticeships, military)? Unless you are Marion City Schools, it is not likely that you are reflecting upon post-graduation data that really sheds light on your community’s economy and the greatest resource, which is the future workforce.

In K-12 education, we measure success based on the student earning a high school diploma. In today’s economy, it takes more than a high school diploma to prepare for a living wage occupation. Ohio is at a pivotal point in changing the educational paradigm. The growing pains you are feeling now are overdue and represent the economic shift experienced in Ohio and across the country since 2008. The tremendous need to personalize learning, expand curriculum options and broaden access are not only necessary, they are critical to sustaining economies and truly preparing the next generation for gainful employment. However, this is not just a high school initiative. It is imperative that the entire K-12 system transform.

So you are asking yourself, how does kindergarten readiness and the Third Grade Reading Guarantee affect small business development? The livelihood of communities depends on high-quality K-12 education, not just for preparing students within an effective system but for attracting business and retaining talent. When companies know that K-12 education is of high quality, they will see the community as adding value to the lives of their employees, which provides leverage for attracting talent. Likewise, the students graduating from area high schools ready to excel in college and careers provide a talented future workforce and create local growth potential.

Knowing how education and business work together is part of the puzzle, but there is so much more to creating thriving career pathway options for students. In my next post, we will dive into the transformational efforts taking place through graduation options, dual enrollment and credential attainment. Until then, I will leave you with this — if students simply graduate high school without completing a college or career ready curriculum, what pathways are they truly prepared to pursue?

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6/8/2016

Teachers, Rejuvenate (Yourself and Your Practice) This Summer!

By: Virginia Ressa

Summer vacations are underway across the state. As teachers, we all look forward to summer as a time to relax and rejuvenate after the hard work of a long school year. Summer is our well-earned time to take care of ourselves. Each summer, I planned to read the books piling up on my nightstand, complete unfinished projects and set aside time to spend with my family — all things I didn’t have the energy for during the school year. Rest and rejuvenation are important for keeping ourselves physically and emotionally healthy.

This summer, in addition to taking a break to rejuvenate yourself, consider carving off time to rejuvenate your practice. During the school year, it is difficult to take time to reflect on our work and consider how we might strengthen our practice. This is the time when we can step back and reflect on what worked well and what we want to improve, without the pressure of the day-to-day responsibilities of the classroom. Here are some suggestions and resources to help you think about your practice this summer:

  • Read a book. While I know you want to read some books just for fun, I also encourage you to read something that will help rejuvenate your practice. There are so many books to choose from that it can be overwhelming. Check out this list of recommendations from EdWeek to help narrow down your choices.
  • Learn more about best practices. Visit the What Works Clearinghouse, which highlights the most effective research-based instructional practices. These guides and quick reviews are easy to read and can spur new thinking without taking too much of your time.
  • Prepare for your diverse classroom. As you reflect on the past school year, start looking ahead and consider new ways you can meet the different needs of all types of learners in your class. I’ve been learning more about Universal Design for Learning and how it can help us plan ahead for all students rather than retrofitting lessons to meet student needs. I encourage you to take a few minutes to review the guidelines from CAST and the many resources available from the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence
  • See what other teachers are doing. On the Teaching Channel, you will find classroom videos on topics we all struggle with, such as assessment, engagement, differentiation, feedback and more. You also can see Ohio teachers and students implementing Formative Instructional Practices in the FIP Video Library
  • Share ideas on Pinterest. I know a lot of us love clicking through Pinterest for decorating and craft ideas, but the site is also full of boards sharing great ideas for meeting student needs, organizing data and responding to evidence of student learning. Create your own board to collect the ideas you want to try with your students.
  • Sign up to receive updates from the Ohio Department of Education. You can sign up to receive regular updates on the topics that interest you most. This is an easy way to stay informed as new laws are implemented and opportunities become available for teachers and community members to provide input and feedback.

See how Mrs. Susie’s 4th graders are using formative instructional practices at Beechwood Elementary School

I know how hard teachers work throughout the year and how important it is to take time to rest and focus on yourself for a while. Take time to read a book just for fun! Stay up late and watch your favorite shows! Then, take some time to engage in professional learning while your head is clear and you aren’t rushed. It will help you to rejuvenate your practice for the new school year and revitalize your enthusiasm for your work.

Enjoy!

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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6/1/2016

Welcome to ExtraCredit, our new, official blog! Join in on the conversation!

By: Guest Blogger

Welcome to ExtraCredit, the official blog of the Ohio Department of Education! This is a new space where we will share weekly blog posts on a variety of education issues by department experts and guest bloggers from throughout Ohio’s schools and support organizations.

We want to start a two-way dialogue between the department and educators, parents and the public about what’s going on in education. It’s a chance to relax our style, share more anecdotal information and show the human side to education — from the state level all the way down to the student. 

We’re excited to get this underway and would love to hear your ideas. Is there an Ohio education blogger you’d like to see make a guest appearance? What topics would you like to see from department experts? We’d love your feedback. Post a comment below (see our comment policy) or email us your thoughts.

Our first post will be published early next week, so keep an eye out and jump into the conversation. Thanks for joining in!

— All of us at the Ohio Department of Education

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