Sunday, April 12, 2015

Last year we began a process of identifying and targeting at-risk students. We asked each grade level to discuss as a team which students they had the most concerns for moving forward. We did not specify a reason why a student may be deemed "at-risk". Some students were chosen for attendance issues, others for academic concerns and some for behavioral or family situations. Throughout the year we circled back to these students, monitoring their progress and of course asking if more could be done to support them.

This year we are taking the practice a step further. As we approach the end of the year, we are collecting data on all of our students and filling the information into an Excel spreadsheet. We will use this information and spreadsheet in the placement process later.  For now, Excel allows us to use this data to target specific data points. Working with our grade level Data Managers, we determined important data points for each grade. Each point is aligned with a rubric. When a student meets the rubric threshold of 3, they are deemed some level of at-risk. Every time they meet this level of concern, the color around their name darkens from a yellow to orange to red determining the level of "at-risk". It's our hope that using this system will allow us to closely monitor our students and ensure that none slip through the cracks.

Take a look at the document attached and feel free use or adjust as you like.

Monday, January 19, 2015

My Educational Philosophy

My foundational beliefs about education are twofold: I believe that all children can learn - it is up to us to figure out how best to teach them; I also believe that positive reinforcement is the greatest way to shape progress. 

All students can learn. Every student comes to us at a different place and from a different background. Our job, as educators, is to meet them where they are and make sure they progress forward. Though expectations should be high for all students, they are differentiated based on these variables. Teaching is part science and equally part art. Neither is more important than the other. Science can guide our methodology, research-based practices should guide lesson plans and intervention, and science tells us how people learn. One great example of the science of learning is that appropriate Response to Intervention (RTI) falls in line with scientific methodology. The team finds an area of concern, uses some type of measure to quantify current level of performance, and determine the variable to be changed. This variable is frequently the type of instruction or the amount of support. The team then revisits the student after a set amount of time to determine the variable’s impact on the learning goal. The RTI team can then determine if the intervention is working, or if another intervention is required, so that the student can learn at an appropriate level. The art of teaching is in the implementation, the relationship building, the understanding of what engages specific students, and in motivating students to take academic risks. The art of teaching is exemplified by the work our teachers do every day. I love to find a time to meet with teachers and ask them about their classes. Once we discuss the classes learning, we go through student by student and I hear about the whole student. Without fail, teachers tell me about what interests students, what outside variables are affecting their class performance, who is a good friend, and who has emerging confidence? This is the art of teaching.

Positive reinforcement is the greatest shaper in life. My time working with Behavior Analysis has led me to the belief that habits, behaviors, and learning can all be shaped through positive reinforcement. One clear example of this is the use of Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports (PBIS) in my school. We provide clear instruction on expected behaviors and then reward students for exhibiting these behaviors. We celebrate student behavior with PAWS stickers, Golden PAWS, Positively Awesome Wonderful Students awards, and countless other celebrations. Students are acknowledged for positive behavior, such as having a positive attitude, acting responsibly, working and playing safely, and showing respect towards peers and staff. In turn, students exhibit relatively few negative, attention-seeking behaviors. When I do have to call home for student misbehavior, I am sure to begin the conversation by pointing out a positive quality of the student’s. This could be the truthfulness of our exchange or the desire to be a good friend. I share this with the parent, and they understand that I see the good in their child that they know is there. We become a team. This positive approach extends into the classroom, as I encourage teachers to find ways for students to succeed through differentiation. All students want to be successful and can be successful. When completing teacher evaluations, I often focus on a few positive points of the lesson and spend time discussing how to build upon this success. Not only do the teachers realize that they are supported, they work on going from good to great and great to exceptional. Finding the good, allows for a foundation to grow upon. Positive growth should always be the goal of a school or institution.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Celebrating the Great!

As I've mentioned before on this blog, my school has a strong PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports) committee. We use data to track student behavior and use positive reinforcement to celebrate the great things our kids do. Part of our system is the monthly class award - The Golden Paw. Each month, every classroom is given a blank Paws board to hang outside their classroom. Over the course of the month, as the class follows PAWS rules, the class is awarded a sticker for their board. Stickers are awarded when whole classes come prepared for PE, are particularly quiet in the hallway, and a myriad of other reasons. At the end of the month, the class in each grade level with the most stickers on their board receives the Golden Paw! The winners are announced during morning announcements and the class receives a foam paw with gold paper and golden paw stickers for everyone in the class. Additionally, this class earns a special privilege the following month. Often this privilege can be an extended recess, a special kickball game, ice cream party, etc. This past month the PBIS team noted students were struggling. Cold temperatures had led to many indoor recesses. The lack of snowfall this year in our area was also noted. The team decided the best way to reinforce the great behaviors we'd been seeing was to arrange an indoor snowball fight. Snowballs were fashioned out of yarn and the cafeteria was the snow grounds. The students loved spending time throwing these Pom Pom snowballs around the cafe and especially at the Principal and me! I was able to catch some slow motion video and I think it highlights just how much this was reinforcing.

Indoor Snowball Fight from Ace Thompson on Vimeo.

snowball fight matrix style from Ace Thompson on Vimeo.

Snowball Attack from Ace Thompson on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Humble Brag

I've been thinking about this post since the new year began. This has been an amazing year for me both personally and professionally. Personally, this past year brought me my first child. Truly a life altering event! But this is not a post about my personal life but my professional. This year, my school Matthew Thornton, was recognized by the Commissioner of Education for the state of New Hampshire for excellence in education. Matthew Thornton was named to her Circle of Excellence for bold innovation in creating educational opportunities for our students. As an administrator I am so proud of our work as a school, for my teachers and of course the students. The recognition is well deserved by all our teachers who work tirelessly for our children. 

Secondly, it was a great honor and a privilege that the Governor of New Hampshire, Maggie Hassan, came to visit our 4th graders. I had a short opportunity to talk with her and listen as she taught our students about civic responsibility. 

I am proud of many things everyday but one final recognition of note came just days before the new year. The NICHE group had completed a study of all schools nation-wide. The group used criteria such as Academics, District Experience, Teachers, and Student Culture. Matthew Thornton was ranked 15th in the state which places us in the top 5% of elementary schools in the New Hampshire. Once again, this is a great honor and recognition. It truly has been an exciting year so please forgive my humble brag. This is truly recognition for the wonderful people I have the privilege of working with everyday.

Monday, December 29, 2014


It is amazing when you consider all of the logistics that come into play when organizing and managing a school building. If not done in a thoughtful way, day to day issues can eat away at an administrator's ability to act as a lead learner for a building. With this thought in mind, I spent much of the summer thinking about simplifying these logistics.

I was finding that as new people and substitutes entered the building, our schedule was complicated and required people to go to several sources to figure out when lunch and recess was, let alone when grade level PLC meetings took place. Also, we were using over six forms to delineate duties. Not only did this make it difficult for people to know what their duties were, assigning duties in an equitable way was a nearly impossible task.

My mantra became "One Page". I worked to revamp our Master Schedule to include lunches, recesses, PLCs and specials into a document that was user friendly. I combined all of the duty sheets into one excel spreadsheet. I was able to use a formula to determine how many duties each staff member was assigned so that easy adjustments could be made. Another little perk was that I was able to (with a little IT help) place a cell outlined in the corner. All staff members needed to do was type their name into the cell and all their duties were highlighted.

The amount of time this has saved has allowed me to focus more on student learning rather than logistics. When looking for a staff member or creating a testing schedule, I'm no longer flipping through multiple pages to get the information I need. It is right there.

I've included the before and after documents if anyone wants to take a look. I am sure I will spend some time this summer updating and tweaking them. If anyone sees anything or has another system I'd love to see what other people use.

Old Schedules:
New Schedule:
Old Duty Forms:
New Duty Excel:

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Flipped and Differentiated Staff Meeting

An important topic that has been coming up in the building recently was on Differentiating Instruction. How are we reaching all students. The principal and I decided it was time that we spent some time on the subject. Using "Smore" and a series of articles and videos I found online, I created this flipped and differentiated staff meeting. I always have felt like a good staff meeting should look like a good classroom. Objectives should be clearly stated and some form of exit slip to determine understanding/effectiveness, etc., so this was a fun exercise for me. We emailed the "Smore" out the weekend before the staff meeting. The plan was to have small groups meet to discuss their links and determine a way to report out their discussion. We were differentiating how groups were provided content and giving choice in how they wanted to create a final product. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate that afternoon and we felt staff safety superseded the discussion. Instead we asked staff to look through multiple links and complete a Google Form rating the presentation and commenting on the subject area. I'm disappointed that we did not have the rich discussions that I was anticipating but am happy that people are still thinking about DI. 

Accent On Achievement

Each year the Londonderry School District prints and presents a document to tax payers explaining how tax funds are being used and what service they are providing the town. This document is called the Accent on Achievement. Over the years, the document has morphed and grown. Student test scores, graduation rates, etc. are all reported. When I took over the document last year I met with the Assistant Superintendent and we decided it was time to punch it up a little bit. I kept all of the graphs and data points that had always been reported but added articles and pictures to better illustrate what the schools do beyond the numbers. As Sir Ken Robinson tweeted, "Just because you can't count it doesn't mean it doesn't count." I included pieces on exciting use of technology and student volunteerism. I feel like it added a nice touch and really illustrated what tax payers were getting as a return on investment. If you have a lot of time take a look at our Accent On Achievement.