Friday, December 27, 2013

9 Things to Tell Your Teachers About Social Media

This article was originally published in February, 2012 - before my blog had any readers.   I thought this post deserved another shot - enjoy.

9 Things to Tell Your Teachers About Social Media

Teachers are always looking for guidance about how to interact with students online.  Social Media provides valuable two-way communication between teachers and their students but district policies are often non-existent or vaguely written.  Many teachers guess at what to do or ignore social media all together.

Don’t let your teachers ignore the benefits of social media, start the conversation and help get them started.

1. Separate your Personal and Your Professional
You would never tell your class about the kegger you went to on Friday so why let them see the pictures on your Facebook page?  Consider creating separate pages for school use.  

2. Write - Edit - Write Again
Check your work.  Remember that everything you put online is there forever.  Readers will give your writing a voice - make sure it’s a pleasant one.  Actively moderate your page.

3. Relevance
Keep your posts relevant to your class.  Avoiding using your professional pages to air political or personal opinions.

4. Be Wary of Friending Students
I know sometimes this is avoidable but keep in mind that everything a friend posts has the potential to show up in your stream.  Immediately delete or block any questionable material that shows up on your wall, stream, or channel.

5. Limit Interactions to Your Public Page
Don’t send private emails to your students.  Keep all communications public; on those rare occasions when you send private emails, cc an administrator or parent.  

6. Don’t Speak for Your School or Division
They pay people for that … stick to your class.

7. Don’t Reveal Confidential Information
‘Nough said.

8. Do Expand Your Classroom
Provide links, extra information, podcasts, materials, anything that will expand and add to what you do in the classroom.

9. Remember All Division Policies Apply
Despite what many believe, teachers can and do get fired for inappropriate online conduct.  Always, always, always err on the side of caution.

This article was originally published in February, 2012 - before my blog had any readers.  As I prepare to present on the importance of developing a PLN at VSTE 2012 in December, I am going back through and reviewing older posts on social media.  

Monday, December 23, 2013

Another Teacher Bites the [SM] Dust

The Washington Post reported in 2012 about a South Paris Maine football coach and teacher, Paul Withee resigned after a parent viewed an explicit photo posted on his Facebook page. According to Withee the photo was up for a grand total of 10 seconds … or just long enough to be viewed by the parent.

Another teacher bites the social media dust which begs the question - When will we learn?

Teachers, coaches, and principals should think twice before not friend students, school age former students, or parents on their personal social media pages. Ever. Never. Not even for their favorite student. Not to help with homework. Not to post reminders for about the test. Never means never. And if they do have a personal page, and really who doesn’t these days, the privacy settings should be set to the maximum. The public sees nothing.

Withee got some of this right. He was no students were linked to his page and no students saw him in all his glory. But he missed something and that something cost him his career.

If you’re a school-based administrator, think about sending a link to this article to your staff letting them know that their online conduct will get them in trouble. Here’s an exert from a document I wrote “Social Media Guidelines for School Employees” if you want to sound official.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Principal as Instructional Coach - No Competition

It's the last day before winter break and, like you, I'm swamped.  So today I'm rerunning a piece from 2012 about the important role principals play as instructional coach.  

Enjoy your holiday!


Short post today.

Dag-gone work is getting in the way of my writing.   So I'm writing this on my Lapdock while sitting at McDonalds after just having sucked down a $.99 McDouble - I think I'm addicted to that sandwich.

But I digress, and the office is expecting me back.

I ripped this conversation from Twitter earlier in the week (from @PrincipalSharp) and thought it would make a good post.  The conversation had to do with principals as instructional coaches and whether their role as boss and evaluator interfered with that role.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

20 #Twitter Tips for Teachers #edtech

Twitter escultura de arena

Twenty down and dirty Twitter tips.

Use your profile to say what you are as well as who you are

Teacher, Principal, Superintendent, Football coach ... People often search people similar to themselves to follow and will use similar these terms when searching for who to follow.

Sound interesting in your profile

Yes, this is a challenge in such a small space, but because you have so little to work with it's even more important. You have to sound interesting enough that people will think your tweets will be worth reading.

Add a photo

If you don't, you will be left with Twitter's strange egg image. This is off-putting for many people, not least because it can be the mark of a spammer.

Add a link (or two)

When your profile has to be super short, anyone in doubt will click on your link(s) to decide whether you're worth following. Put a link to your blog, class website or at least somewhere else online that you have a more detailed profile (such as Linked In, or a site you regularly write for).

Monday, December 16, 2013

3 Ways to Handle Teachers Taking Extra Personal Days

Teacher's Party
So who's ready to teach 1st Period Tomorrow?

Q: @SchoolHR: Any policies dealing with teachers taking extra personal days?

A: This can be a tough one to handle.  Many teachers feel that leave is given to them to use, which I guess technically it is, so they use all of their allotted days plus some.  There are, however, a couple of things you can do to curb the practice.

1) The nice approach - let the teacher know how it affects her students when she is out.  Assuming she's using all of her sick leave, all of her personal days, and taking additional days that adds up to a lot of time out.  Do the math for her.  The conversation could go like this, "You missed a total of 18 days this year, that seems like a lot to me.  Do you realize that you missed over 10% of the school year by being out so much?  Think how you students could have benefited from your increased attendance."  Then trust the teacher to act professionally see if attendance improves.

2) Next step would be to check your district's policies.  Most of the districts I've worked for had a policy that read something like, "attendance patterns that hinder the normal operation of the school will be treated as a discipline issue." This allows you to note the attendance problem on the evaluation - low mark in professionalism and a comment like, "you have missed X days this year which is over the number allotted to you; in the future you will maintain regular attendance."  You can also document the behavior through letters and written reprimands.  If your district allows, require doctor's notes for each instance of sick leave.

3) Don't bend the rules.  If the teacher is taking personal leave and is out of personal leave don't allow her to record sick leave in order to be paid.  When you can effect someone's pay check you can usually get results.  Record the hours over the allotted as leave without pay.

Finally, I have to ask who is approving the leave?  Generally, personal reasons leave has to be approved by someone, a supervisor, an assistant principal, or the principal and it is okay for those with sign-off authority to say "no."  The teacher will bitch and moan but if they're abusing the policy then it's up to those in charge to put a stop to it.

Good luck!

Recommended Reading:

iTunes Link:

Dealing With Difficult Teachers - Todd Whitaker

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Great App for Conducting Teacher Observations

I know you love your iPad.

I also know that you have trouble finding ways to make work productively.  Let's face it, the call of Angry Birds is often hard to resist.  That's why we need to share when we find an app that can make our lives easier.

Though not designed for this purpose, inClass is an app that can make it easier for administrators to conduct classroom observations.  inClass is a management tool for students that enables students to take notes, record classes, take pictures, create tasks lists and calendars for the iPad.  The app also allows the user to set up course notebooks so all data is stored in one place.   I told my middle-schoolers to add the app to their iPod touches.

Here's how I use the app to conduct classroom obeservations.

1) Open a notebook and create a new note page (I don't organize the data into notebooks because I generally don't store it on the iPad.)   Type a header with the teachers name and date.

2) Begin recording the class using the buitl in recorder.  The app will save this as an MP3 file.

3) Use a bluetooth keyboard to script the class. I use the built in camera to take pictures of activities, presentations, or documents used during the lesson.

4) Using Apple File Share, I move the script (which is saved as a PDF) and the MP3 file to my desktop.  The neat thing is that the app creates a file and keeps the notes and the recording in one place.  From there I can cut and paste onto district approved forms.

Two drawbacks that I've discovered so far ... 1) If you're recording you can't go back and read notes on other pages without stopping the recording.  2) The in-app calendar does not sync with the general calendar.

You can pick up inClass for free in the App Store.

What apps are you using to be more productive?  I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Juvenile Detective Shares Which #SM Kids Are Using #edtech

Horse Thief Detective Association

My oldest and dearest friend is a Juvenile Detective in a small town outside Philadelphia.  We often share resources related to helping at-risk kids, preventing youth violence, and lately, cyber-bullying.  The other day he sent me a list of the most active social media sites being used by kids and teens in his area.  Some on the list are familiar to me ... some are not.  

A couple I recognize from my kids' phones and ipods.  

The list is in rough form, I'm sharing it as he presented it, but I think it is useful.   He included apps and links to help parents monitor their children's digital foot-print.  

I'm sure we missed some, an exhaustive list would be pretty near impossible, so please comment with any of the big ones.  


Social Networks

Instagram (anon)
Vine (looping 6-second videos)
4chan (image-based bulletin board/chat, no registration needed, anon)
Pheed (can comment on anything any user posts, share video, photos, text, recordings, use of
hashtags to easily spread comments)

Reddit (social news/entertainment site that once comments get going can get pretty rough if

Messenger Apps

Wickr (messaging app that “leaves no trace”)
SnapChat (photos/videos/art/text)
Kik (anon)
Voxer (push-to-talk live messaging/walkie talkie app)
HeyTell (push-to-talk, walkie-talkie messaging w/ record option) (formerly FormSpring) - App to ask/answer questions, smile at people and meet up
(They at least have a decent safety section)
Skype (calls and instant messaging)
Viber (calls, texts and photo sharing) - Social discovery (meaning find people nearby) and gaming

Sites/Apps to Watch--not sure if kids are using yet

GroupMe (group chat)

Related Stories

4chan suicide attempt, raises questions as to whether we should provide guidance for kids
being bullied/harassed by people they don’t know in these chat rooms, etc.

Police in New South Wales call Kik the #1 social media problem involving teens

This one talks about Voxer and mentions that it’s been used for cyberbullying.

This article suggests kids are moving on from Kik and Viber is one of the networks they chose:

Social media bullying stats

Accountability by networks

Tools for Parents

Screen Retriever (plans to monitor mobile as well)

Review of Mobile Monitoring Software

Parents Magazine Best Apps for Preventing Cyberbullying

GoGoStat's Parental Guidance (Mobile App)
This app lets you see posts from your kids containing drug references and vulgarities, know
when they post photos and profile details that should not be public, and check when they add
new friends that are out of a predetermined age or geographic range. Parents can also print
social media Emergency Reports, developed with the help of law enforcement. (Free;
iPhone, iPad)

TEENBeing website: For adults who are helping teens make great life decisions:
ViberSpy - An app to see what your kid is doing on VIber

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Day Einstein Feared Most Has Arrived

This came through on an email; my first thought was how true!

A day at the beach ...

Cheering on your team ...

Having dinner out with your friends ...

Out on a date ...

A visit to the museum ...

Einstein's fear realized ...

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Sample Social Media Policy for Schools #K12SM

Social Media Overlap
One issue that comes up frequently in schools is teacher's use of Social Media.  Should we allow it?  How much should we allow?  Should we block? Should we open?  Can teachers friend students?  Can teachers follow students?  What about cyber-bullying?  What about inappropriate pictures?

Questions abound.

Solutions lay in grey areas.

I know I've wrestle with whether or not a policy is necessary.  Most of the time I think a specific social medial policy is an unnecessary burden on teachers.  Teachers should be trusted to do the right thing and when they don't existing policies can be applied to social media interactions.  But then every year a teacher does something inappropriate - and the wrestling match starts anew.

For the past couple of years I've been working on the policy below - so far it remains in draft form - but I thought I'd share it here to see what insights my PLN has to offer.  Feel free to discuss in the comments section or on Twitter #K12SM.


Social Media Guidelines


These guidelines are intended to provide employees with guidelines for appropriate online activity.  Although these guidelines cannot address all instances of possible inappropriate social media use, it is intended to offer guidelines to employees, thereby helping employees avoid costly missteps online.  The nature of the Internet is such that what you “say” online will be captured forever and can be transmitted endlessly without your consent or knowledge.  Employees should keep in mind that any information that is shared online instantly becomes permanent and public.


These guidelines apply to all employees’ use of the Internet, including participation in and use of social media; regardless of whether such use occurs in the workplace and regardless of whether such use involves the Division’s electronic equipment or other property.

Social Media Defined

The rapid speed at which technology continuously evolves makes it difficult to identify all types of social media.  By way of example, social media includes: (1) social-networking sites (i.e. Facebook, LinkedIn); (2) blogs and micro-blogs (i.e. Twitter, Blogger); (3) content-sharing sites (i.e. Scribd, SlideShare); and (4) image-sharing sites (i.e. Flickr, YouTube).  This list is for illustrative purposes only, however, and all online activity is governed by these guidelines.

Application of Other Policies

All of the Division’s employment and conduct policies apply to online conduct in the same way that they apply to conduct that occurs in and out of the workplace. 

Association with the Division

If you disclose your employment with the Division, for example in your online profile, you must use an appropriate disclaimer to make clear that you are speaking only on behalf of yourself and not on behalf of or as an agent of the Division.  An example of an appropriate disclaimer follows:

The opinions and viewpoints expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and viewpoints of [Division]Public Schools.

To ensure continuity of the Division’s message, employees may not represent themselves to be speaking on the Division’s behalf unless expressly authorized to do so.  If asked by the media to comment on a school related issues refer them to the Department of Media and Communications. 

Student/Staff Interactions

As with in-person communications, Division employees should avoid the appearance of impropriety and refrain from inappropriate electronic communications with students.  As a matter of practice, employees should refrain from connecting with current and school-age former students on social media sites.  Factors that may be considered in determining whether an electronic communication is inappropriate include, but are not limited to:

1.    The subject, content, purpose, authorization, timing and frequency of the communication;
2.    Whether there was an attempt to conceal the communication for supervisors and/or parents;
3.    Whether the communication could be reasonably interpreted as soliciting sexual contact or a romantic relationship; and
4.    Whether the communication was sexually explicit.

School Logos

Do not use school or Division logos on personal internet sites.

Prohibited Conduct

Employees are prohibited from engaging in any of the following in their online activities and posts:

-       Disparaging the Division’s services, students, leadership, employees, or strategy;
-       Making any false or misleading statements;
-       Promoting or endorsing violence;
-       Promoting illegal activity, including the use of illegal drugs;
-       Directing any negative comment towards or about any individual or group based on race, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, citizenship, or other characteristic protected by law;
-       Disclosing any confidential information.
-       Posting, uploading, or sharing any recording or images (including audio, pictures, and videos), taken in the workplace or at any non-public school event.

Nothing in these guidelines is intended to or will be applied in a manner that limits employees’ rights to engage in protected concerted activity as prescribed by the National Labor Relations Act.

Duty to Report

Employees have an ongoing duty to report any violations of these guidelines or related policies by any other employees. The Division considers the duty to report to be a critical component of its efforts to ensure the safety of its employees and to preserve the Division’s reputation and goodwill in the community. Therefore, any employee who fails to report any conduct that reasonably appears to be in violation of these guidelines or related policies may be subject to discipline for such failure.

Questions About This Policy

Social media changes rapidly and there will likely be events or issues that are not addressed in these guidelines. If, at any time, you are uncertain about the application of these guidelines or if a question relating to the appropriate use of social media arises that is not fully addressed by these guidelines, you should seek the guidance of your principal or immediate supervisor before posting or otherwise engaging online. When in doubt, employees always should ask for guidance first because, once the information is online, it can never be deleted.

Additional Resources

Amazon Links

Social Media for Educators by Tanya Joosten iBook

Social Media for School Leaders by Brian Dixon iBook

Monday, December 2, 2013

App I'm Playing With This Week: Doodlecast Pro

Doodlecast Pro,, is a neat little iPad app that I started experimenting with last week.  Doodlecast is a simple screen-casting app that allows you to record, edit, and export videos.

"Perfect for teaching a lesson, sharing an idea, or expressing your creativity" the app allows you to create 'Kahn Academy' like presentations in pretty short order. Users can also import pictures, Keynote slides, or just about any PDF.

Still working on my first Doodlecast but I'll be sure to post the results here. Have you used Doodlecast?  Do you need a screen-casting app?  Post your questions or comments below.  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Black Friday: These Teacher Gifts Are Better Than A Dollar Store Mug

The holidays are upon us so I thought I'd publish the ultimate gift guide for teachers and educators.  Because let's face it ... a person can only use so many Dollar Store coffee mugs.


Visible Learning for Teachers by John Hattie

 From Amazon:

In November 2008, John Hattie’s ground-breaking book Visible Learning synthesised the results of more than fifteen years research involving millions of students and represented the biggest ever collection of evidence-based research into what actually works in schools to improve learning. 
Visible Learning for Teachers takes the next step and brings those ground breaking concepts to a completely new audience. Written for students, pre-service and in-service teachers, it explains how to apply the principles of Visible Learning to any classroom anywhere in the world. The author offers concise and user-friendly summaries of the most successful interventions and offers practical step-by-step guidance to the successful implementation of visible learning and visible teaching in the classroom.

Leader of Learning by Marzano and DuFour

 From Amazon:
For many years, the authors have been fellow travelers on the journey to help educators improve their schools. Their first coauthored book focuses on district leadership, principal leadership, and team leadership, and addresses how individual teachers can be most effective in leading students—by learning with colleagues how to implement the most promising pedagogy in their classrooms. 

Exploring Differentiated Instruction - PLC Series by Cindy Strickland

From Amazon:

Exploring Differentiated Instruction is your guide to creating a PLC to help further your understanding of how to use differentiated instruction in your school or classroom. You ll find everything you need to organize and run your PLC, including sample agendas, schedules, and the background reading for each of ten sessions. You ll get the chance to try out new techniques and to collaborate with your colleagues as you deepen your understanding of differentiated instruction. 

Change Leadership: A Practical Guide to Transforming Our Schools by Wagner 

From Amazon:

The Change Leadership Group at the Harvard School of Education has, through its work with educators, developed a thoughtful approach to the transformation of schools in the face of increasing demands for accountability. This book brings the work of the Change Leadership Group to a broader audience, providing a framework to analyze the work of school change and exercises that guide educators through the development of their practice as agents of change. It exemplifies a new and powerful approach to leadership in schools. 


Google Nexus - 7 inch Tablet 32g 

I'm an Android guy and I want one - 'nough said.

Google Chromecast HDMI Streaming Media Player

Stream your Android device to your TV all for only $35.00.  I want one of these too.

Apple Ipad Air

I know Apple fans like to have the latest and greatest so I'm sure this is on every teacher's wish list.

I'm A Teacher What's Your Superpower Mug

Just seeing if you're still paying attention.

So what's on your 'Educator' Holiday list?  Leave your ideal gift suggestion (or hint) in the comments below.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Kid President

Kid President is making his way around the edublogosphere ... but I couldn't


Monday, November 25, 2013

7 'Uniquenesses" of the Teaching Profession

Teacher at Chalkboard

Teaching - Seven Uniquenesses of the Teaching Profession

By Graysen Walles

No One Can Do What You Do.

Who can do what you do? The reason a shortage exists in the field of teaching is simply because few can do what you do. The teaching profession is profoundly unique. In some areas of the country, a shortage is impacted by economics; other places are effected by geography and weather. For the most part, metropolitan cities have fewer issues in recruiting teachers than smaller, less populous locations.  Nonetheless, the field of teaching is unique and shortages prove that few have the calling and desire to do what more than 3.1 million public and private educators are already doing. Let's look at some of the reasons teaching is unique and why shortages are common across the country, specifically in specialized subject areas such as science, math, and special education.

There are seven ways in which teachers/educators are unique professionals:

First, we've already established the fact that teachers embrace the field of education as a calling not as a job. Let's face it, teaching is a very complex and demanding career that requires teachers to be managers of people, analyzers of data, and researchers of best practices and instructional methodologies-and these skills are utilized each day. In any other major profession that required the same unique qualifications, teachers would make significantly more money. Undoubtedly, the salaries for teachers must be reexamined and adjusted to reflect the uniqueness of the profession and provide balanced scales for all teachers, whether they work in a big city or a small town or country hamlet.

Second, teachers are also unique because the profession is now driven by so much data. Teachers must now be statisticians and researchers, fully accountable in some form or fashion for managing data in the areas of assessment, attendance, graduation rates, discipline percentages, and gifted and special education progress. The administrative responsibilities of the teacher have definitely increased, but the resources necessary to make the management of these duties efficient are minimal. The new demand for data is needed, and critical to enhancing results, but resources are likewise needed to help teachers be effective and efficient in collecting, examining, and utilizing the data.

Third, teachers are required to be learning and behavioral specialists and to be able to apply differentiated instruction. Differentiated instruction is a newly celebrated philosophy, and a mandate for all teachers, that requires teachers to find effective teaching strategies that will meet the needs of students with different learning styles, all in the same classroom at the same time. Teachers must, then, be competent and active in enlisting the unique resources and skills necessary to meet the needs of kinesthetic, visual, and auditory learning styles. Additionally, the special challenges of addressing emotional behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, and attention deficit problems-all in the same classroom-broaden the gap between teachers and managers. Today's teachers are practitioners, researchers, and change agents; but, none of these unique skills are recognized or rewarded.

Fourth, continuing on the same theme, teachers must work with every child, despite the challenges of that child. In nearly every other profession, management is able to pick out the bad product or the poor employee so that productivity and quality can be increased. Educators do not have that same luxury. Instead, public education demands that every child be given the resources and opportunity to succeed. This includes those students who truly want to learn and will become good "products" and those students who get energized from wreaking havoc and chaos in school by fighting, dealing drugs, taking part in gang activity, or constantly disrupting classes.

Instead of weeding out the bad students, educators are required to manage all situations, to provide alternatives to parents, and to somehow effectively guide troubled students through the educational process. And teachers realize that they must do so, regardless of social and economic situations and, in some cases, the lack of positive parental guidance that might influence the behavior of the student. What becomes most frustrating is recognizing that, if these challenging students refuse the positive alternatives, they may end up dead, in jail, or in a hospital or wallowing in a continuing cycle of poverty. No one gets into teaching to celebrate such a potential loss of lives and potential. Teachers get into the business to change and enhance lives-uniquely, and one by one, as needed.

Fifth, teachers are unique because the line of accountability in education has many levels and tangents. This accountability is not necessarily a bad thing, but it has added to the complexity of teaching. In one way or another, teachers are impacted by the federal government, a state department of education, the local school district, and administration at their school. What does this mean for teachers? It means that the results of classroom practices go far beyond the classroom, students, parents, and principals. I can't name another career field that has as many accountability variables and levels as does the field of public education. As a teacher-educator, be aware that your individual results in the classroom are data and will be analyzed as data and that those results will be evaluated in ways that are unique to the field of education. Your successes or failures in the classroom, as reflected in the data, will impact your longevity in the field of education.

Sixth, educators are unique in that no other professional group manages so many people and is so responsible for individual progress. Teachers work with up to one hundred and eighty students or more each day and are required to ensure that each of those students succeeds academically. Young people, from the ages of four to twenty, are instructed, counseled, directed, nurtured, motivated, inspired, and coached by teachers-a cycle that continues until high school graduation, in best-case scenarios.

You may be surprised to know that children spend more time at school than they do awake at home and that children are influenced by more adults in school than in any other social circle. That makes the public school system the single most influential force on children-more so even than church. Teaching, then, is a unique career that is faced with high liability and tremendous responsibility-because real lives are dependent on competent and professional adults. These demands are tremendous, and very few people can meet them successfully.

Lastly, teaching is unique because it is the only profession where the federal government has mandated absolute perfection. Specifically, the No Child Left Behind Act requires that all children-that's 100 percent-reach proficiency on state level assessments. Between the lines, this legislation essentially requires teachers to provide effective and rigorous instruction, which will hopefully translate into providing the necessary skills and information sets so that students can be literate and competent.   However, the mandate that all students be made to pass assessments is largely unrealistic because of unforeseen and calculable variables that prohibit the attainment of such a goal. Yes, the goal is lofty, but it is worthy. The expectation that teachers teach is warranted. At the end of the day, we all know that students must be able to think and apply their knowledge in real life. After all, primary and secondary schooling is a training ground with the ultimate goal of preparing young people to successfully navigate college, a profession, and the world of adults. But the attainment of such an idealistic goal as what is outlined in No Child Left Behind creates an all-consuming stress that has hurt and will continue to hurt the teaching profession if not taken in stride.

As this federal policy stands, I expect it to cause numerous educators to leave the profession-not one scientist or researcher would ever purport to achieve 100 percent accuracy on any research or experiment due to variables. Even 99.9 percent acknowledges the influence of some variables, even if it is only 0.1 percent. Yet, in the world of education, teachers must live with and comply to that unrealistic federal mandate or find a new line of business, which could be extremely detrimental to hundreds of districts across the country.

So, yes, teaching is unique, and it requires educators to be multi-faceted and multi-talented. It is my strong belief that very few professions demand what is required of teachers in the public sector. The demands are not necessarily bad, but they are indications of the complex nature of the teaching profession. Those who are cut out for this unique profession are called, often naturally skilled or highly and thoroughly trained, and committed to success. And, no, not everyone is cut out for a career in the most challenging occupation on the planet. It also requires an awareness of self. And, it is not for the weary. No, not everyone can do what teachers do. Join the movement - The Teachers Movement and make a difference.

Dr. Graysen Walles
Author, Reasons to Keep Teaching: The Greatest Career on the Planet

Article Source: Teaching - Seven Uniquenesses of the Teaching Profession

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

HR for Principals: FMLA

WWII: Infirmary, Franklin Square House

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law designed to protect an employee’s job while they are out under certain covered circumstances.  The act entitles employees up to 12 weeks (26 weeks in some cases) of unpaid protected leave.  To be covered the employee must have worked for the employer for the 12 months (does not have to be consecutive) and worked at least 1250 hours during those 12 months. The leave can be consecutive or intermittent.

Employees can take FMLA leave for a variety of reasons including: birth or adoption of a child, care for an immediate family member who has a serious illness, for the employee’s own serious health condition, or for a qualifying exigency regarding military call-up.  If they leave is to care for an injured service member the authorized time of leave is 26 weeks.  

In most school districts the employee will apply for leave through the department of human resources, though you may be required to sign a form acknowledging that the leave will be taken. Once approved HR will typically notify the building principal via memo.  

I get a lot of questions from principals regarding teachers on FMLA leave.  One of the most frequent is, “Can I make the teacher submit lesson plans or grade papers while they are out?”  The answer is always “no!”  On leave means on leave.  

Another frequent question has to do with the teacher returning to work and goes like this, “Ms. Smith has missed a lot of work, can I mark them down on their evaluation this year?” Again the answer is “no.”  The leave is protected for a reason, if you take any action against an employee simply because they took FMLA leave you could be guilty of retaliation and lose big time in court.  It is possible to discipline and employee on FMLA leave but it is a confusing process and you should consult with your HR department before doing so.

I know it can be difficult to deal with employees, especially teachers, who are on FMLA leave but it’s a good practice to just wish those employees a speedy recovery and welcome them back when they return.  I advise principals to never ask about an employee’s medical condition.  That’s what we’re in HR for.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Combating "You Can't Make Us" in 3 Steps

"You can't make me!"
My e-friend and PLN colleague Scott Osborn (@PrimaryPride139) posted this question on his Twitter feed a while ago, “#Principals How do we combat, “You can’t make us …” in our buildings?”

Not sure I have the definitive answer but I thought I’d offer a couple of suggestions.

Step 1 - Have a causal talk with the teacher 1 on 1.  Let her know your position and state in clear terms the ramifications of her actions.  I don’t know the whole story in Scott’s school but in a later tweet he shared with me the dispute was over field day.  So the conversation could go something like this, “Ms. Jones I know you don’t want to participate in field day with your students.  As you know this is a school tradition and the kids really enjoy it.  By refusing to participate you bring down student / staff morale and damage your own reputation with parents who think only a mean teacher would 
refuse to participate - can I count on you to do the right thing?”

Notice in step one you’re not asking Ms. Jones to clarify her position or speak her mind.  You’re simply stating in very clear terms your position and the effect of her behavior on the students and community.  This is not a debate on the merits of field day; this is a supervisor talking to a subordinate.  Be polite but firm.  

Follow up this conversation with an email that restates what you said.  

Hopefully this conversation has brought Ms. Jones on board and you can stop there.  But let’s say that Ms. Jones continues to refuse to participate in field day and raises her “you can’t make us” argument by complaining loudly to anyone within ear-shot, well then it's time to go on to …

Step 2 - Call Ms. Jones into your office for a formal conference.  State your position again and allow her to present her side (just on the off chance that she has valid reasons for her field day protest).  Follow up this conference with a letter.  In my district we call these letters ‘documenting letters’ or ‘conference summary letters.’  They are considered corrective rather than disciplinary in nature.  There are a couple of key points to put in this letter:

- be clear in the purpose, “The purpose of this letter is to document your recent conduct regarding field day.”  

- Restate your position and expectations.

- Include a synopsis of the teacher’s position on the matter.

- Include what those of us in HR call the magic paragraph, “I trust you will take this opportunity to correct your behavior and avoid adverse effects on your employment.  However, should you 1) fail to comply with my directives as outlined herein or 2) further violate school policy you may be subject to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.”

- Have the teacher sign a copy of the letter indicating receipt (not agreement).

I would also either complete an interim evaluation of the teacher or make a note to myself to ‘mark down’ the teacher in the appropriate area, i.e. professionalism.

Ok, you’ve talked  to the teacher … you’ve had a conference and written a letter.  At this point you’re cursing, pulling out your hair, and vowing to retire / quit at the earliest opportunity.  Ms. Jones is still refusing to cooperate with your field day.

Step 3 - Fire her a$$!

It would be difficult to move for dismissal or probation over a field day disagreement though these things may be warranted depending on the teacher’s history and performance.  My guess is that a teacher raising a stink over field day has other, more pressing issues.  My intuition tells me that this teacher likely resists new initiatives and techniques, skips meetings, doesn’t write learning plans, doesn’t contribute to her PLC or grade level, and has a myriad of other problems.  

At the very least, I would place the teacher on an action plan for performance improvement and increase my monitoring of her performance.  

So now you have to decide how far you want to push the issue - and whether or not field day will become a battlefield.

  Photo credit:  Floyd Brown - Creative Commons License 


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