This week’s Leadership Column is courtesy of Cathleen Russell

One of the challenging aspects of our profession is keeping our content and instruction fresh and engaging. For me, I learn a lot from my colleagues. We have a lot of amazing teachers in this building! I also love going to conferences, taking relative and engaging PD, and reading books.

Here are some of the resources I turn to regularly to keep me going …

  • Cult of Pedagogy Podcast

This Podcast is done by a former middle school language arts teacher. She has a lot of really great guests on the show and tackles the current issues teachers are facing in the classroom today. She tries to reach out to all levels and issues so I recommend searching by topic to find content that is relevant to your classroom.

  • Check out some college or university syllabi for your content or course

In music I’m always wondering what the colleges our students are going to really want them to know and what they should be prepared for. For the past few years I’ve been lucky enough to work on the Music Technology curriculum and that field is constantly changing. By keeping an eye on the changing trends I can keep my content infused with fresh and relevant info.

  • Go to a conference!
  • I always feel refreshed and ready to tackle my classes after attending a conference, or just a good solid PD. Find something out there that is very specific to what you teach. I’ve formed some great relationships during the downtime at conferences and have teachers I can bounce ideas off of. Even though some of us are in big departments we might be the only teacher who teaches a specific class or area of our content. It can get lonely – don’t let it!
  • Get online!
  • Binge watch some TED Talks (there are new ones all the time!), join an online group and find teachers you can connect with. There are lots of Twitter chats and other online groups you can find to suit your needs. Look for some teachers online who are getting active and jump on board with their initiatives! It’s always refreshing to find other teachers who feel the same way you do! (Not an online type of person? Read some books! Become a Barnes and Noble member – the discounts and the coupons are great!)
  • Get your National Board Certification
  • I am a huge supporter of this. This was one endeavor that greatly shaped a lot about the teacher I am today. Seriously, look into it. It forced me to look at and critique my instructional strategies on a deeper level than I ever thought possible and changed a lot about how I plan for, and deliver my lessons. I can’t recommend this highly enough.
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The Change I See

This week’s Leadership Column is courtesy of Kathleen Pelletier

When I came to interview for my current position last year- roughly around this very time of year- I sat for a few minutes in the front office, anxiously waiting my interview and observing the activity occurring around me. I took it all in. I watched how the staff interacted with students and each other, what the hallways looked like as the classes changed from second to third period, the general feel of the building.

I had been at my previous school for twenty one years as a teacher in every special education program and as the department chair for the last thirteen years, I was comfortable there. I wanted a change, I needed a change. I could feel my professional self slowly sliding from feeling comfortable to complacent. I decided to counter that by changing things up professionally- a new school, a newish position and a new level.

This is scary stuff for someone who likes routine and structure. So it was important to me that wherever I landed, I had to feel something good on a visceral level. It had to be the right change and the right place to support my growth- because let’s face it, most changes come with some growing pains.

Every organization today, schools in particular, face the challenge to change and adapt, either as a response to what is happening in our world outside of our organization, or simply to review and reevaluate what we are doing within our organization. Change can be a scary idea to most adults and generally, people are inclined to defend the status quo and resist change for a multitude of reasons. Resistance can range from a straightforward intellectual disagreement to deep seated personal factors- as my case in point- a moderate level of discomfort.

How do we cope, as an organization, with the significant changes impacting us?

Good leaders and leadership among staff are pivotal in creating effective change, which is no surprise. And the united vision and leadership role of all staff is needed to create effective and sustainable changes.

But I see something else here at Owings Mills, something that caught my attention almost a year ago, waiting for my interview. The intangible things, that are special and inherent of this school community.

I see a staff that cares about student learning and achievement

I see a staff that cares about the safety of everyone in this community

I see a front office staff that has a smile, kind word, or wise crack just when you need it.

I see an administrative team that keeps their cool in the face of all sorts of adversity

I see teachers and staff, working late with students

I see a community that cares about the well-being of their students and each other.

These are just a few of the many facets that contribute to the support that is needed as we approach changes, we are a team, a community, a support system.

As it turns out, Owings Mills has been the right change and place for me, and that is due to the strong support you, as a staff and community, have provided me and continue to provide each other.

We will continue to see more changes in the world around us and within our community, it’s inevitable. From what I see, our OM staff is ready!

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The Spring Holiday Is Upon Us

This week’s Leadership Column is courtesy of John Novicki

The Spring holiday is upon us. A common cultural belief is the renewal of spring.   A time to reflect upon the past, recharge and renew.

It is a good time to reflect upon the positives we have experienced this year. For most, it has been a challenging year with new professional expectations, methods and goals. Too often we find ourselves dwelling upon things which disturb our own sense of peace. Try gathering together those artifacts of your success – that really great lesson, the card you received from someone, the kudo a colleague bestowed upon you, a copy of some exemplary student work that you helped foster, a picture of a special moment, etc. etc.   Put them in a folder, binder or scrapbook. Don’t let it become a dustbin of trivia but a renewable source of affirmation and strength.

Relax. You have worked very hard for months. Try and forget about school for a week. It will still be here when you return. Make the spring holiday a vacation. Dr. Susan Whitbourne commented upon the harmful effects of stress and the part vacations play in breaking the stress cycle and renew us to better shoulder our responsibilities.

“Chronic stress takes its toll in part on our body’s ability to resist infection, maintain vital functions, and even ability to avoid injury. When you’re stressed out and tired, you are more likely to become ill, your arteries take a beating, and you’re more likely to have an accident. Your sleep will suffer, you won’t digest your food as well, and even the genetic material in the cells of your body may start to become altered in a bad way. Mentally, not only do you become more irritable, depressed, and anxious, but your memory will become worse and you’ll make poorer decisions. You’ll also be less fun to be with, causing you to become more isolated, lonely, and depressed. . . Vacations have the potential to break the stress cycle. We emerge from a successful vacation feeling ready to take on the world again. We gain perspective on our problems, get to relax with our families and friends, and get a break from our usual routines.” 1

Because of their specific responsibilities, some of us might need to come into work during the holiday. If you do, try to limit it to a single occasion. Spend time with family and friends. Your children or grandchildren will only be young once. . .

Some other spring holiday suggestions include: (some thanks to the folks at Creative Education)

Turn off the email. Configure your email to let people know you are “out of the office and not available until ____ . “ If you “have to” monitor your email (to avoid surprises or major issues here at school) set aside a time when you know you will not be engaged with your family and friends – at a time when something from school is not going to mar or spoil your peace at home (or abroad).

Schedule the time you have. Too often that “hour working on grades” becomes an all-day affair taking you away from those family and friends times. Schedule *you* time.

Eat and rest as much as you can. During stressful times we have a tendency to eat poorly as we rush from class to coverage to class to duty and so on. Pay attention to the quality of what you are eating now that you have the time. Sleep. Few of us sleep enough during the school year. As mentioned before, schedule the extra time you need to recharge *you*

Do something different. Get out. Go outside. You have been arriving in the dark, spending your whole day inside and leaving in the dark. Take a hike. And whilst we are thinking about doing something different – do something really different.   Try doing something you have never done. Go somewhere you have never been. Be creative. Go play.

To some of you this might sound like some sappy holiday wish for you. It is and it isn’t.

You have a responsibility to take care of your mental and spiritual health, your family, those that depend upon you and, somewhere down the list, your professional ability. The staff of this school is its most important resource. Please take care of yourself



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This week’s Leadership Column is courtesy of Lisa Meyer

When you hear the term “team,” our thoughts generally go to sports and athletics although “team” can refer to any group of individuals working together with one common goal. The team or group with the most cohesion and skill usually ends up in the win column. The skill part is easy to assess . . . best players, MVPs, all-stars, etc. but beyond the physical skill, the questions arise of how to be the best, most skilled player and what does it take to be that player? And what about the intangibles? Leadership, dependability, loyalty, hard work, motivation, etc. The Ray Lewis types don’t come around very often. The book, You Win In The Locker Room First by Jon Gordon and Mike Smith, discuss their beliefs from a motivational/business perspective as well as a professional coaching perspective, of how to create a winning attitude/atmosphere behind the scenes that allows for success on the field. Their seven “C’s” of building a winning team are the foundation of how to be successful in every walk of life.

Whether it is in the school house, military, fire or police departments or in the business world, the best in the business starts with the leadership and their fundamental beliefs and ability to see the big picture and focus on the process and not necessarily the outcome. You “win” by cultivating the right culture, mindset, leadership, expectations, relationships and habits before it is time to step on the field and play the game. It is first started with establishing the ­Culture­ of the organization. “Culture drives expectations and beliefs; expectations and beliefs drive behavior; behavior drives habits and habits create the future. It all starts with culture.” The first C is culture. It is established from the top down but is brought to life from the bottom up. Total buy in from the entire organization. One team=one culture and everyone who talks the talk has to walk the walk. Winning and losing are the end results but focusing on the process allows for sustained high expectations and accountability. Build your culture of your classroom, of your school, fight for it, value it, live it and reinforce it. I truly believe the culture of the building/team by far is the most important aspect of success. Without culture, everyone is in life boats trying to stay alive instead of on the big cruise ship headed toward the same destination.

“C” number two, Contagious. As a leader and team member, your attitude is contagious. Are you a germ or a shot of vitamin B12? Energy vampire or a dose of vitamin C? Develop an attitude, mission and vision that has meaning, not just word speak, and live it each day . . . verbally and non-verbally. Be an over-believer. In a school building, there is only one principal and a few APs but you are a leader in your classroom. Be an over-believer in your students and inspire them to work hard and be positive. Your students take cues from you. Don’t be an energy vampire and suck the life out of your class, your team, your school. One person won’t make a team but one person can break a team. Life isn’t perfect with a contagious positive attitude can go a long way to help smooth over the rough spots.

Number three is Consistency. If you aren’t consistent, you lose the trust others have built up in you and in turn when you lose trust, you lose the team. One philosophy, one attitude, one vision as a leader or team member. We are responsible to each other and once you buy in to a consistently, contagious positive culture, it becomes difficult to feel you are letting a team member down. Bring your A game each day, be consistent in your planning and desire to be great, don’t become complacent, stay hungry and humble and enjoy the process. Working hard and being consistent does not require a high level of skill. Expect it of yourself and others will follow.

Communication. Number four. The foundation of all relationships and we all know that one of the biggest keys for teachers is relationship building. You need to know your “players” and how they are feeling, how they respond and what they need from you in order to get better. Even marriages dissolve quickly when there is a lack of communication. A lack of communication leads to a void in which the possibility of negative thoughts and anything negative can spread like a wildfire. Open and honest communication whether it is one on one or whole group can set the tone in order to move forward. Communication doesn’t just mean speaking, effective listening is critical in communication, as are messages sent non-verbally. Engage with your “teammates.” Take the temperature of the building, walk around and interact and by doing that you get to know what is going on and how to head off any small issues before they become bigger issues. And even more meaningful than simple communication is the collaboration that follows.

One of the best lines of the book is “Team beats talent when talent isn’t a team.” Connecting, the fifth “C.” “We” beats “me” every time. The outside sources of individual team members reinforce focusing on their own personal goals and feeding the egos. That undermines the team and builds a disconnect. A bonded and committed team can accomplish much more when everyone is in it together. Tough moments test a person’s resiliency which test the connectivity of the group and can lead to underperformance and dysfunction on the job. Connectedness leads to synergy and everyone working together for the good of the group. It is also helpful to stay connected outside of the work environment. Tighter bonds are built through social engagement if for no other reason than to relieve the environmental pressures. Co-workers treat each other differently and support each other more.

The sixth “C” is Commitment . . . it’s not about you, it’s about committing yourself to a team. All in or all out. As a leader, it is important to make sure you show your group that you are 24/7 committed to the greater good, a “whatever it takes” mentality. It is a top down approach that builds from the bottom up. When leaders demonstrate that they are committed to helping everyone be their best, then everyone will return the commitment and give it their all. It is a serve “we,” not a serve “me” attitude. Check the ego at the door, it’s not about the leader, it’s about the leader putting the team on his/her shoulders and sacrificing yourself for the team’s gain.

Through commitment, comes Caring, the seventh “C.” When relationships are the foundation of the team, program, business or school, it is impossible not to care. When each team member is valued as a person, he/she cares more about the job they have to do and how it contributes to the team. A leader that cares inspires others to care and go beyond the expected. Caring people create a caring environment which in turn creates the culture you expect to see in successful programs.

This book mostly deals with leadership through a coaching aspect as well as a leader of a business or company. That said, as teachers, we are all leaders at least three times a day in our classrooms. We lead, mentor, develop, encourage and guide our students. We hope to create more leaders through our teaching. Through the seven “Cs” of leadership as defined by Jon Gordon and Mike Smith, “By coaching them up and down you create your culture. By coaching with optimism and positivity you become contagious. By coaching your team and mentoring them individually you earn their trust and connect with them. By helping them get better through adversity and challenges you show you are committed to their growth and progress. By caring about them, you give everything you have to help your team become all they were meant to be.”

I highly recommend this book. A short, easy read that is impacting and stresses the importance of leading before you ever step foot in the classroom. GO TEAM! GO OM!

Tree Pic


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Be Proud, Be Persistent

As I pause to reflect on the work we have all put into transforming teaching and learning this year, I am truly appreciative of the efforts of all teachers.  I am inspired by the risks teachers are taking in classrooms and proud of the rewards they, and especially our students, are reaping.  In yesterday’s faculty meeting, we heard from a few teachers some ways teachers are incorporating formative assessment and targeted, small-group instruction, or integration of technology.  In addition to the three teachers who shared their practices yesterday, there are numerous examples from around the building we can share.  Here is just a sampling of some of the practices your colleagues are employing:

  • Cards with clear student-expectations for small-group instruction
  • Targeted small groups based on student responses from previous lesson:  one independent group writing a speech; one group revising responses using feedback from teacher; third group working directly with teacher to further explore effectiveness of rhetorical devices
  • Use of Vokaroo (online voice recorder) to provide students with individual feedback; link to vokaroo comments delivered to individuals via lesson tile
  • Students’ use of One Note to organize materials and share research findings with classmates
  • Student choice in researching types of government and evaluating their effectiveness
  • Use of Nearpod to upload demonstration videos; students can access demonstration and project steps throughout lesson as necessary
  • Kahoot, Quizziz, and Plickers to collect formative assessment data
  • BCPS One Turns-ins, Tests and Quizzes for major and minor assessments
  • Students engaging in like-role discussions to share findings and perspectives before re-engaging with groups for literature circles
  • Instead of asking the teacher, students utilize teacher suggested resources -AND- identify their own resources to share with teacher and classmates
  • Students coaching and explaining percussion concepts to one another; preparing to play as an ensemble
  • Chemistry students in three groups:  one creating equations; one group collaborating to balance equations; one group working with the teacher using manipulatives to balance equations

Be proud of your work so far, but be persistent too.  If you’ve been frustrated by an attempt at small-group instruction or integrating technology, don’t give up.  Do seek the insight of a colleague, Manny, or Tara Corona, resource teacher.  Do revisit your SPP Teacher Actions and consider what you can enhance or work on next:

  1.  Word walls and visuals – Is this an integral part of your classroom and instruction? Do you do it everyday?  Are students empowered to participate in their creation?
  2. Classroom expectations to facilitate small-group instruction – Do your students know what to do/what is expected when you work with individuals or small groups?
  3. Utilize formative assessment to inform instruction – Are you anticipating students’ misconceptions?  Are you prepared to meet students’ needs at varying levels?
  4. Targeted small-group instruction – Do students know why they’re in a specific group and what they need to do to meet with success?
  5. Read/Write/Discuss #OM_HS – Are you reinforcing students’ use of annotation in opportunities to read, write, and discuss?  Is there a clear purpose?
  6. Utilize success criteria for peer and self-assessment – Do students know what mastery or success should look like?

To perpetuate your work, it’s important we work together and not get stuck in a silo.  I encourage you to find a colleague who is working on the same teacher action and find a strategy and plan together; then go see the other teach with strategy/tech and debrief together.  Everyone is making progress, but we can’t rest now.  Be proud!  Be persistent!

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The “Bear” Necessities

This week’s Leadership Column is courtesy of Mark Marinucci

It’s often hard for me to not discuss politics, as it consumes the subjects that I teach and half of the discourse that I engage in with my friends and family. In our current political climate it would appear that our country is indeed in need of quality leadership, on both sides of the aisle. In the world of education we have a new leader at the federal level. The following is an excerpt from an interview that Secretary Betsy DeVos did with

I visited a school on Friday and met with some wonderful, genuine, sincere teachers who pour their heart and soul into their classrooms and their students and our conversation was not long enough to draw out of them what is limiting them from being even more successful from what they are currently. But I can tell the attitude is more of a ‘receive mode.’ They’re waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child. You have to have teachers who are empowered to facilitate great teaching.

The part that is in bold has received a lot of attention from educators as it can certainly be taken as a “teachers don’t know what they are doing”, or “teachers themselves are incapable of fixing our schools and helping our children.” Betsy DeVos is one of the most controversial appointments of our current administration. I have thought about this quote a lot and not as to her meaning or intention of it, but to the actual point – are teachers waiting to be told what to do? There is certainly a great deal of change that is taking place with regard to education in our county, and within our schools and classrooms. Many teachers have often felt that there are educational hoops that are created by various bureaucracies for them to jump through. As I thought about this quote and where education is headed I also thought back to the book Focus, by Mike Schmoker, which Mrs. Campbell asked the department chairs to read when I first came to OMHS. The book had you look at what was most important to the teaching and learning process. To look at basic concepts like how can we get kids to read, respond to a text, and then go into greater dialogue with a class discussion. The book even said that there can be noise in the educational world that can try and disrupt our focus.

As I reflect on what leadership means to me I am reminded that as teachers we are all leaders in our classrooms. We all as teachers should focus on what is best for the teaching and learning process that will affect our students. Thinking back to what DeVos said about teachers waiting to be told what they have to do certainly has had a place in what many of us experienced/are experiencing this year with lighthouse. There were some pretty big changes with technology and small group instruction to the point where it was easy to feel like you didn’t know how to start, or if you tried something new and it didn’t work you would want someone to show you how it should look. I recently went to observe another lighthouse school and their S.T.A.T. teacher said that they just aren’t comfortable with small group instruction based off of formative data yet, so they are just building in splitting the class in half (parallel instruction) to establish one component of it at this point. Being a leader in your classroom doesn’t mean that you have to know all of the answers or master all of the new changes all at once. It does mean that you can objectively look at what is best for our students and make strides to obtain that becoming a reality in your classroom. For those teachers that are still struggling with these changes it is important to keep in mind that lighthouse was not supposed to be a one year fix and that while there can and will be educational noise at the federal, state, and county levels we should all maintain focus on how to take what is being asked of us and how that best serves the teaching and learning process within our classrooms. Being a leader in your classroom means that you are willing to at times take risks and fail, at times know what is best for your students, and at times to be humble enough to know that none of us have all of the answers which means we have to be open to change.


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Discomfort Zone

This week’s Leadership Column is courtesy of Laura Koehler

Five o’clock in the morning, total darkness except for the mist that was visible above the swampy waters as we drove onto Parris Island, South Carolina to begin our Marine Educator’s Workshop. The bus was quiet as our tour guides explained that we would be treated as recruits from the moment we stepped off the bus. We stopped. Yellow footprints painted on the road; those were for us we inferred. The most terrifying woman I’ve ever met boards the bus and screams at us to run off the bus and line up in formation. “Four by four recruits! Mooooooove! Fix up my formation! Faster! I said MOVE!”


(On his knees a very unsure and confused Frank Roth, OMHS PPW!)

That was our introduction to the week-long (January 2017) Marine Educator’s Workshop hosted by Brigadier General Sparky Renforth at Marine Base Parris Island, SC. The purpose of the workshop was for participants to experience Parris Island as a Marine Recruit as much as possible to gain a better sense of a recruit’s experience at boot camp. To that end we marched in formation, ate “chow” with the recruits, visited the air field, and got to tour notable base sites such as the Parris Island museum and the pre-graduation celebratory motivational run.

We also got to do more intense marine activities like “Incentive Training” in the sand pit – that’s just a elaborate way to say you’re about to do countless jumping jacks and push-ups with about a million “up downs” thrown in for fun – all while standing in perfect formation and not wiping the sand off your butt or wiping away the sand fleas in your eyes. The “Confidence Course” (obstacle course) which did not build my confidence but did bust two of my toes! The gas chamber – I’ll leave it at that. And finally the Rappel Tower, self-explanatory and thrilling, but check out the picture of Lisa Drylie looking tough! The Marines even trained us how to shoot M16’s both in the practice space and on the live range.

marine-pic-2 “Incentive Training” (Koehler is far right, Frank is in the maroon sweatshirt!)

marine-pic-3 Drylie looking tough!

marine-pic-4 Getting lots of help here!

All of the fun aside, we also learned things that were not explicitly taught. It is alarming to be standing with a screaming drill instructor (drill sergeants are in the Army) in front of you and all of your similarly educated peers and not have any idea what you are supposed to do. This was truly unfamiliar territory; and it was not ours. Our professional rules and mores did not apply on Parris Island; opting out such as excusing yourself from a meeting when you don’t like what is being said wasn’t an option. As an assistant principal I’m accustomed to knowing what is supposed to happen next, what the procedure or rule is, or can predict what the outcome should be in a given situation and none of these skills were transferrable to this experience.

I don’t typically do New Year’s resolutions, but this year one of the things I’m focusing on is stepping out of my comfort zone. It took a lot of energy at Parris Island to be comfortable being uncomfortable. In this building we are trying new things every day. All of you have tackled Lighthouse and are working to be more responsive in your daily instruction. Additionally, some of you also have worked at SGI, digital learning tools, and the multitude of features on BCPS One. You have invited strangers into your rooms and met with Discovery Ed coaches and participated in Fame. You have spent the year learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Thank you for being my inspiration to step out of my comfort zone.






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