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✓ Alaska RTI Conference 2015 Reflections

Conference Overview

I was fortunate to attend the RTI Conference in Anchorage this year. As with every other RTI conference I have been to, this was very useful and helped me find ways to improve in my professional practice. I really love that about conferences.

Some conferences can be really limiting, in that we can't go deep enough. I love being able to take the time to go deep into a topic. This conference featured a two-day strand called Simplifying RTI, by Austin Buffum, someone that I didn't know. There were some other great presenters here, like Doug Fisher, Anita Archer, and Tricia Skyles. Part of me really wanted to attend sessions that I knew would be beneficial, But another part of me really liked the idea of doing some actual work in addition to just learning. A two-day session at a two-day conference lends itself to getting things done. Austin was a great presenter and really made himself available for the participants.

What made this session exceptionally well-timed is that we just sent out surveys seeking feedback on what needs we have as we create our master schedule next year. We looked at options and made some tentative plans for what could be next year. It was pretty awesome.

One of the best activities of the weekend was having Austin lead us through a process to examine our Pyramid of Interventions. It was a thought-provoking exercise that took about all day on Sunday. We had to look at what integral pieces we had in place and what pieces we needed to establish. He said it was a 3-5 year process. I hope we can do it faster, because that is how I roll, but I would be happy if we got it done in 3 years.

According to Austin, we need to start with culture because "culture eats structure for breakfast." We are not going to be successful if we don't have a belief in two core principles:

  1. We, as educators, must accept responsibility to ensure high levels of learning for every child.
  2. All students can learn at high levels (i.e., "high school plus, meaning every child will graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge needed to continue to learn")

When we recognize that we are committed to those two ideals, we will be ready for some really remarkable student learning.

I've published my notes from the conference so you can see them.

Change the Way You Communicate!

A couple years ago I wrote a book called Paperless Principal. A year ago, I wrote about a strategy I learned that completely changed how I communicate. Over the last year, I have been creating a simple process to make my communication better. Last week, I released a new product that will help you change how you communicate for the better.

These communication cards will change the way you interact with people. They are amazing! What they allow is open communication where people are used to making assumptions and not telling the whole story. They've helped me a ton, and I am sure they will help you as well. All you do is print them out, hang them where people can see them, and voila! Instant communication! It takes a little more work than that, but it sure helps a lot.

Instructional Leaders

Bill Ferriter:

But the truth is that despite working for some remarkable principals over the past 22 years, I’ve never turned to them for help with my instruction — and they never volunteered any instructional strategies that challenged my practice in a positive way.  Instead, I have always turned to my peers for that kind of professional challenge because I know that my peers are wrestling with instruction on a daily basis.  The expertise that I need to change my teaching rests in the hearts and minds of other practitioners — not my principals.

At my school, teachers requested more time working with each other and we were able to make that happen. I think they will be better for it.

School on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Junior Madison Johnson wrote a letter to the superintendent asking that the Grand County School District change its policy in the future. Instead of attending class Monday, she and her classmates read Dr. King's speeches and letters outside the school and on the streets of Moab and circulated a petition in support of changing the school calendar starting next year and beyond.

"I think we should give him respect on this day," Johnson told KSL. "I think it's disrespectful to go about school."

I didn't know going to school was so disrespectful.

Be Who You Are.

Bethany Hill:

Almost everyone has their own opinion about religion and the role it plays in schools. Often opinions are strong and on the extreme edges of the subject. I happen to live in the Bible Belt, where many people complain about God not being allowed in our schools. I wish we had the freedom to pray with students and remind them to seek God when they are troubled. It would be incredible to have the opportunity to lead a student to Christ. Those are things that simply cannot happen in our public schools. I disagree with people who say that God has been taken out of the public school setting, because I believe God is present. He can be present through YOU.

No Worksheet Challenge Week

Tony Sinanis:

As some of you may know, two of my favorite topics to discuss and reflect on are test prep and homework... well, throw the two of them together and it goes to a whole other level! Being that this time of year always seems to bring up questions about test prep, homework and the perfect storm of the two, I just wanted to share my position on both.

Here's my favorite part:

Our second annual NO WORKSHEET WEEK CHALLENGE will take place during the week of January 26th! That's right... we did it last year at our school and we want to spread the joy with our PLN and the rest of the world this year! A week without any worksheets... no worksheets in class... no worksheets for homework... NO WORKSHEETS!! Now, let's take a deep breath... I am not saying NO PAPER... just NO POINTLESS, THOUGHTLESS or MEANINGLESS WORKSHEETS! You know the ones!

What I like about this approach is that it gives teachers an opportunity to try and change how they do things. I mean, really, will a week make that much of a difference? Probably not, but it will make a teacher think, "If I can do this for a week, for how much longer can I do it?" And maybe they will see that they really need to give homework.