Archive for the ‘School Reform’ Category

MiddleWeb Smartbriefs – Tips for the New School Year and More

August 10, 2013

Do you know about If not you should!
MiddleWeb is all about the middle grades with a sharp focus on teaching and learning in grades 4-8. Here’s a description from their website.

• Resource Roundups: short, link-laden essays built around a theme. Browse here or search for keywords.

• Guest Posts: Just what you might expect…first-person articles.  The voices of middle grades education stars and many lesser known teachers and school leaders up on the front lines who have stories to tell and good practice to share.

• Book Reviews: Reviews of professional books of interest to educators working in the middle. If you’re interested in becoming a MiddleWeb reviewer, let us know. We’ll share a list of what’s available and some basic guidelines for review writing. You pick what you’d like to read, write the review, keep the book. We publish your reviews, make you famous.

• Interviews: We’re talking with interesting people who have expertise around middle grades education — or just do great things for middle grades kids and schools. Peruse our Five Q Interviews for ideas, insights, and plain good chat.

Middleweb SmartBrief

As part of the new MiddleWeb experience, we’ve formed a partnership with the SmartBrief Education news team to produce the twice-weekly MiddleWeb SmartBrief e-newsletter. You may be familiar with the nation’s premier professional newsletter organization, which also publishes ASCD SmartBrief, Accomplished Teacher SmartBrief, SmartBrief on Ed Tech and other education reports.

MiddleWeb SmartBrief specializes in Grades 4-8 news and resources. We work with SmartBrief editors to shape the content and also contribute our own news and resources to every issue. Subscriptions are free, your address is kept confidential, and you can unsubscribe anytime with a single click.

Here’s some of the latest items from the MiddleWeb Smartbriefs.

Tips on preparing for a good school year
Educator and author Julia Thompson in this blog post offers a laundry list of ideas to prepare for the first day of school and set the tone for the rest of the school year such as planning lessons to engage students’ readiness and planning an icebreaker to help students get to know each other. “Teach your first lesson as if it is the most important one you will teach all year. In many ways, it is,” she writes. Education Week Teacher/Classroom Q&A blog

How teachers can avoid decision-making fatigue and remain productive
Teachers can make as many as 5,000 decisions in a school day, leading to what award-winning educator Brian Page calls “decision fatigue.” In this blog post, Page offers five tips to help connected teachers and administrators remain productive, including doing creative work first, setting an automated e-mail response that lists a later time when a response can be expected, along with scheduling time for social media. He also suggests making the most of downtime and completing one task at a time. SmartBrief/SmartBlog on Education

“A gift to preservice and practicing teachers that will be hard to keep on the shelf” (Teachers College Record). 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know is a comprehensive guide to teaching any genre or form in grades 3-9. You’ll get a rich collection of mentor texts, tips, and launching points. Preview Chapter 1: Getting and Keeping Writers Motivated.

So check out

June 15th Deadline For MLEI

May 31, 2013

NOW is the time to register for the Middle Level Education Institute at Bowdoin College on July 29-August 1. The June 15th deadline is fast approaching and we don’t want you to miss out! No matter what challenges or opportunities your school, team, or classrooms are facing, MLEI is the perfect venue to bring a team together and work intensively and extensively over a period of three days on one or more key projects for September. In addition to large blocks of team time, and the company of enthusiastic MLEI participants, you’ll have access to internationally recognized middle level experts Nancy Doda, Mark Springer, Jill Spencer, and Chris Toy throughout the institute. We are also in touch with the folks providing training and resources for MLTI who will be on campus to support you with preparing for the fall. Teachers and principals who have attended past institutes consistently report that time together at MLEI has paid huge dividends throughout the school year and beyond. So head on over to the Middle Level Institute website and register NOW! We look forward to seeing you in July. Oh, and be sure to spread the word by sharing this information with your middle level colleagues. Thanks!

Ready to Stretch Your Thinking?

May 17, 2013

Summer is made for days at the beach, hiking spectacular trails, and reading a good book in a hammock.  It is also the one time during the year when educators have the leisure to pause, reflect, and review their beliefs about teaching and learning. New learning in courses and institutes help stretch, clarify, and reshape the way we think about our classrooms.  For over 25 years the Middle Level Education Institute (MLEI) has provided Maine educators and those from away with ideas that are innovative and effective.  This year will be no different.

I have learned many important aspects of instructional strategies.  Of most importance is the fact that it is not about the teacher, but rather it is about the student learning that takes place.

2012 MLEI Attendee

Join us July 29-August 1 on Bowdoin College’s beautiful campus in Brunswick, Maine to continue the journey toward more powerful learning for our students. We invite you to join the quest to re-envision schooling in a bold way that systematically models as well as promotes the essential capacities students need to successfully confront the challenges of their futures and the future of our world.

In many ways it is indeed a hero or heroine’s journey to pursue powerful teaching in today’s social, political, and economic climate. We believe, however, that spirited middle level educators want to explore…

  • Empowerment and engagement
  • Community and collaboration
  • Content with meaningful context
  • Assessment for reflection and growth


Are you ready to pursue this bold vision that…

  • Cultivates learning that is engaging, challenging and meaningful?
  • Shifts the classroom environment from teacher-centered to learner-centered?
  • Incorporates student voice and choice in a substantive way?
  • May rock your vision of teaching and learning?

This Institute has given me hope and the courage to take the full journey.

2012 MLEI Attendee

The journey continues July 29 – August 1 at MLEI on the Bowdoin campus.  All of the details and registration information can be found at

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THERE’S STILL TIME . . . to attend the NELMS Annual Conference

March 25, 2013

It’s a sure sign that Spring is right around the corner.  “Meeting the Multi-Faceted Needs of the Middle Level Learner” convenes next week, April 4 & 5, in Providence, Rhode Island, where there will be green grass and blooming flowers(I hope!).  Don’t miss two days of inspiring, invigorating, relevant professional development.  If you need help or ideas on how to fund this incredible opportunity, contact the NELMS office, and check out the full Annual Conference program.

Inspiring Keynote speakers:

Tom Burton on “Magic, Motivation & Our ‘Sparkling’ Middle Level Students”

Carol Ann Tomlinson on “The Demographics, Research & Ethics Of Differentiation”.

Engaging ticketed luncheons and targeted full and half day sessions (a sampling includes):

“It’s More Than A Name” – Tom Burton

“Listen To What The Students Say: Student Profiles That Invite Differentiation”  – Carol Ann Tomlinson

Student Success Plans + “Cutting Edge, New” Advisory = Student Success – Earle Bidwell

Digital Tools for Project Based Learning – Jill Spencer

How Can We Use Strategies and Assessments to Prepare for the Transition to Common Core State Standards? – Deb Scarpelli

Exploring and Applying Web 2.0 Tools and Resources in the Middle – Chris Toy

Courageous and Collaborative Leadership in the Middle – Lyn Ward Healy

Differentiation and the Brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner Friendly Classroom – Carol Ann Tomlinson

Timely and relevant concurrent workshop sessions based on the concepts contained in Turning Points 2000 and This We Believe

Cross-Curricular Teaching

January 19, 2013


Screen shot 2013-01-18 at 8.23.18 PMIn this weeks edition, January 16 of Edutopia the focus is on “deeper learning”. Those of us who have been around for some time as middle level educators are saying HOORAY! At some point (Ed Brazee I am sure can name the time period) there was a shift to a more intentional focus on the curriculum. The developmental needs intersecting with the learning needs.

Much of what I read in the Edutopia article called Deeper Learning: Why Cross-Curricular Teaching is Essential” the author, education consultant, and blogger Ben Johnson says: “Deep learning implies that students will follow a particular stream of inquiry to the headwaters, rather than simply sampling all the possible streams.” Ben didn’t mention any one particular grade level or age of student. He points out that it is time to create possibilities for students to reach their potential.

Ben claims that teachers and administrators need to “understand and accept” the following:

  1. Deep learning engages the whole student (and teacher) — heart, mind and body
  2. It requires enthusiastic partners
  3. It requires intensive preparation
  4.  Assessment must mirror learning
  5.  Collaboration is necessary

This doesn’t sound like anything new but I do sense in the articles that I have read recently an urgency that I haven’t in the past. An urgency for educators to get it right.

As Edutopia authors do so well there are great examples including a blog by a Language Arts teacher who has a TED talk unit. In the blog post she discusses the changes to her TED talk unit aligning it with ELA Common Core – specifically on “argument”.

The teacher makes a connection to the “21st Century four Cs”. She aims for each lesson to correlate to at least one of the four important skills: Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, and Creativity. You can read the details of the work by clicking here. I suggest you go to the article and read the other examples provided as well.

Mr. Johnson stresses the importance of breaking down the walls between content and the value of collaboration. Working with students to help them go deeper in their learning. In many cases they have not been challenged in their thinking for their elementary years so getting them to go deeper is a challenge for teachers. Mr. Johnson ended the article with this statement:

“Students and teacher teams focusing on learning deeply have the force to achieve learning beyond the traditional education dam and shoot out over the spillway to not only understand the torrent of available knowledge, but to also add to it in phenomenal ways.”

I know middle level educators are up to the task of educating students in a 21st century classroom. With ongoing communications with students, parents, and colleagues we can create the opportunity for deeper learning for all students.

Personal Learning Networks for Middle Level Leaders and Middle Level Students

August 25, 2012

Personal Learning Networks for Middle Level Leaders and Middle Level Students

I have one, we all have one and we may not have thought about it in just this way.  We need to and here’s why.  It is already a part and will be increasingly a part of our students’ learning lives…not to mention our own professional lives.

PLE= Personal Learning Environments

VLE =Virtual Learning Environments

PLE + VLE = PLN = Personal Learning Network

Here is what Wikipedia says:

One aspect is that the learner contributes and derives knowledge in a PLE through various nodes.[3] In this way, the learner chooses which PLEs, VLEs, and social mediums to build a PLN. Specifically, the learner chooses who to interact with in these mediums and how much to participate. The learner enters the PLE with certain goals, needs, interests, motivations and problems that are often presented to the people they include in their PLN.[5] Moreover, the learner will collaborate and connect differently with various members. The learner will establish stronger relationships with some members and have a low level of connection with others. Not all nodes will be equal.[3] Some of the member roles include searcher, assemblator, designer of data, innovator of subject matter, and researcher.[5]

PLNs are becoming an important part of professional development in several fields with some businesses creating their own e-learning content and PLEs for their employees. In addition, PLNs have become prevalent in the field of education and are rapidly becoming adopted as centers for the diaspora of field related information (in this regard, they are also often referred to as PROFESSIONAL Learning Networks).[6][7][8][9]

Here is a slideshow about PLNs

So what does this mean to us as middle level leaders?

It means we need to be consciously developing our own PLNs. It means we need to consciously be identifying how, where, and from whom we are learning…and this goes way beyond college courses and conferences for us and way beyond classrooms and classroom teachers for our students. It means staying actively connected with smart and capable people inside and outside of education who have knowledge we need and possible solutions to our current challenges.

It means staying actively connected virtually and “on the grid” continuing to develop our own virtual learning environments.

And, lest we forget, we may be part of the PLN of someone else.  What have we got to offer and are we willing to share it?

What about our students?  They’re watching.  How can we best assist them to develop safe, productive, rich, and flourishing PLNs?  By modeling it, for a start.

For me personally?  This can’t be an add-on to my professional life. I have no extra time.  None of us do.  It needs to be entwined, enmeshed, embedded and a natural part of my work life.  This means I need to replace some old and less efficient practices with some new more efficient practices.

This is a LOT to think about.

The Bright Futures Report and DOE’s Education Evolving

July 21, 2012

Have you noticed the many parallels between Maine’s middle level report, Bright Futures, and Commissioner Bowen’s newly released Education Evolving?  It is really quite extraordinary. Here are just couple of items that stand out:

From Education Evolving, ” … learners have a meaningful role in planning learning activities and are allowed to choose the manner by which they demonstrate proficiency.

From Bright Futures, “Significant student voice is reflected in planning the curriculum, setting and achieving personal goals, & assessing learning.”

From Education Evolving, “New assessment tools must assess higher-thinking and problem-solving skills.”

From Bright Futures, “Learning experiences are designed so that students learn to pose complex essential questions, search out potential answers, evaluate the quality of resources, and present findings in a variety of ways…” and ” ” A multi-faceted comprehensive assessment system is embedded within the curriculum…”

The chart below demonstrates the many connections between theses two documents.

If you click on the chart you can make it bigger.

Middle school teams (the original professional learning communities), advocacy programs, and the allied arts are the perfect vehicles for personalizing or customizing learning in a proficiency/standards based curriculum because of  (1) the emphasis on knowing the whole child well in order to structure instruction to meet specific learning needs and (2) opportunities for students to learn in different contexts. These organizational features of effective middle schools must not be overlooked as schools implement new initiatives.

Also, there is a lot of collective knowledge hidden among more senior staff members who started teaching in the 1970’s and 80’s. They know about student choice in demonstrating knowledge, they understand how to build an integrated unit, they’ve experimented with project based learning, they have strategies for teaching students to delve deeply into text to ferret out evidence to support an argument–they just had to bury those skills during the era of NCLB.  Think about ways to liberate that vast wealth of experience and connect it with the techno-wizardry of young staff members.

The 12 Core Practices of the Bright Futures report will help you evolve as an effective middle grades school.  Evolving Education, the Common Core, and proficiency-based learning will be interesting challenges to solve together rather than insurmountable hurdles that keep you from moving forward.

Connecting The Dots to Mass Customized Learning: Part 2 (Is MCL a Passion and People Driven Movement? YES!)

June 22, 2012

Again,  you can’t connect the dots looking forward.  You can only connect them looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. 

You have to trust in something–your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever–because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.
Steve Jobs
Stanford University Commencement Speech 2005

A few months ago, I submitted a post called ‘Connecting the Dots to Customized Learning”.   I am happy to report that finally the dots ARE connecting for me.  My quest has taken me to group meetings, websites, individual meetings, trainings, and a fair amount of reading.

In all of this, it has been the people who are leading the way with customized learning and standards-based education who have taught me the most.

Here are some of those key people (listed alphabetically as they are ALL #1s on my list) who were most knowledgeable and most helpful.  You would find them helpful too if you decide to connect your own MCL dots.

Jim Hodgkin
Jim is the Supt. in RSU #44.  He is probably the first person who introduced me to MCL.  He is a true believer, an early adopter, and PASSIONATE about it.  He is unafraid, undeterred, and unabashed in his pursuit of systemic change.  He is also MOST student-centered.   All in all, Jim is one of my heroes.

Linda Laughlin and Lori Lodge
These two educators are the leaders of the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning.  I have attended 4 of their meetings now.  They welcomed me in even though my unofficial title was “cling-on”.   This MCCL group is a bit of a phenomenon in my opinion.  Jim Hodgkin said it best, “If I have a tough week and go to a MCCL meeting, I feel better immediately.  It is so good to be with like-minded people who talk about things that matter” There is a sort of magic here that comes from a new organization struggling to do powerful work.  These two women give countless hours to the cause.  Their PASSION is on display at every meeting.

The Masterful McSisters  (I am changing my name to McEnright)

•  Mary Jane McCalmon
Everyone should have an opportunity to learn from Mary Jane McCalmon.   She understands systemic change and how school systems work inside out.  She also understands customized learning and standards based education.  She is deeply involved in this work and also is PASSIONATE about it.  She is one of the leaders in the MCCL group and also does masterful consulting, coaching, and facilitating around this work

•  Cathy McCue
Cathy is my sister by another mother.  She is my GO-TO person for all things standards-based curriculum.    She is tireless in her pursuit of implementing a standards-based curriculum in her school system, RSU #44, where she is Asst. Supt.  She understands systemic change and pays close attention to it.  If there is a better  standards-based mousetrap out there that saves teachers time and is highly effective, Cathy is figuring it out, I am sure.  She too is PASSIONATE about this work.

•  Bea McGarvey
Bea has a brilliant mind and is a brilliant educator.  Recently I attended one of her training on customized learning.  It was the best 3 hours I have spent in learning all year, possibly in the last five years.   She co-authored Inevitable and is deeply committed to customized learning and to all of us here in Maine too.  She has a fabulous website where she gives away the store for free, (as my father would say).  Is she PASSIONATE about this work?  Absolutely!  It appears to have become the priority focus of her life’s work.

Mike Muir
If you want to have a crash course in Customized Learning and all things systemic change, then spend an hour or so with Mike individually or go to one of his workshops, like I have, and you will come away a changed person (pun intended)!  I have said it before and I say it again, GO TO HIS WEBSITE and admire his Lead4Change work, among many other things. Mike is the Renaissance Man of Education in Maine, in my humble opinion.  He too is PASSIONATE about his work.

Don Siviski
Don is leading the charge from the DOE side along with our Commissioner Steve Bowen.  Customized Learning consumes him, as it is highly student centered.  He is tireless in his promotion of it.  If you have a chance to hear him talk on this subject, as I did recently, you will see, feel, and hear his PASSION for this work.  Don cares DEEPLY about it.

So that is the line-up thus far on the people who are leaders in this brave new MCL world.  I will warn you though, if you hang around them long enough, their passion is contagious!

Here is my newest dot to connect?  What role could and should the middle level play in this effort?  I am thinking that the middle level has a LOT to offer.  Anyone out there have any thoughts?

Positive Pressure and Support: Driving Your Initiative to a High Level of Implementation

June 14, 2012

Ok. It’s no secret.

Just having professional development doesn’t mean that your initiative is going to get implemented or implemented well. It doesn’t mean that your initiative will have it’s desired effect on your school.

Sure. PD is critical to getting where you’re going. But it isn’t sufficient.

Level of implementation matters.

A lot.

It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to get better at implementing your laptops, or you’re using Bright Futures to look at your middle level practice, or if you’re working on a literacy initiative, or implementing the Common Core, or on Customized Learning, if you want your initiative to have the impact you’re looking for, then you need to insure that you have a high level of implementation with a high level of fidelity.

So, how do you get to a high level of implementation with a high level of fidelity?

The answer is possitive pressure and support.

Positive pressure and support has three easy pieces: expect, supervise, & support.

Expecting includes strategies like starting simple, participating yourself in trainings and meetings, having teachers set goals, and collaboratively setting expectations.

Supervising includes checking with teachers, talking about implementation at meetings, doing walk throughs, and talking about the walk through and level of implementation data.

Finally, support includes things like celebrating successes, facilitating the sharing of ideas, providing opportunities for PD (of course!), providing resources, and removing barriers and running interference.


How could positive pressure and support help your work at your school?


It’s TIME…To register and join us at MLEI 2012!

June 11, 2012

There’s still time for you to register and join middle level colleagues from across the state, New England, and beyond at the Middle level Institute being held July 30-August 2 at Bowdoin College. If you are working on developing new forms of teaching and learning for the 2012-13 school year MLEI is the perfect opportunity to collaborate intensively with other middle level educators. Imagine being able to engage in “what if”  and “how to” conversations with local and regional colleagues as well as nationally recognized experts Nancy Doda and Mark Springer! For more about MLEI and its faculty check out the links below.

Jill Spencer is a lifelong middle level educator, best selling author of books for AMLE, graduate instructor in curriculum, and a nationally recognized expert in literacy, middle level teaming, and school improvement. Learn more about Jill at and at

Nancy Doda has been an award winning classroom teacher and team leader, a tenured professor in the Graduate School of Education at National-Louis University’s Washington, DC campus; a Board member for the National Middle School Association; and a Charter member of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform. She is an internationally recognized expert in all things middle level! You can learn more about Nancy at

Mark Springer is an internationally recognized middle level teacher, expert on project-based integrative curriculum, and bestselling author. His two books, Watershed and Soundings are considered the definitive resources for how to vision, plan, and implement democratic, student-centered classrooms. Mark has received AMLE’s Distinguished Educator Award for his work in the classroom. You can learn more about Mark at

Chris Toy has been a middle school principal here in Maine. He has been recognized by NELMS as an A+ Middle Level Administrator and received MAMLE’s Dr. Ed Brazee Award for lifetime service to middle level education. Chris wears a variety of hats these days including consulting with AppleProfessional Development around the world, teaching graduate courses at USM, Thomas College, and Antioch New ENgland Graduate School, and teaching cooking classes in several venues around midcoast and southern Maine. You can learn more at

So come join us! We know you have lots to offer, and we know you’ll come away with lots of ideas for next year. To register just click on this link

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