How Players Act on the Basketball Court Matters…A Lot

Most of you know that I’ve spent the last 20 years on the basketball sidelines as a coach.  That has been at the youth level, 18 seasons at the varsity level, and helping out at the college level.  Over that 20 years, I’ve noticed a lot of trends.  One of the worst trends is the behavior and actions of players on the court.  Not how they play, but how they act while they play.

During the last couple of weeks, I have attended around 20 basketball games at all levels.  I’ve been to 5th-grade boys basketball, freshmen girls basketball, varsity boys and girls state tournament games, MSU clinching the B1G regular season title, and Ferris State winning the GLIAC tournament championship.  When it comes to on-court behavior, at all levels, I’ve seen a little bit of everything.

But it was a game I attended on Thursday night that compelled me to write something.  The Hudsonville girls basketball team lost to Muskegon in overtime of the regional finals.  It was that electric environment you come to expect in March.  I was talking to my family on the way home and I told them that in my 30 years around the game I’ve never seen a team maintain their composure like the Hudsonville girls did.  It really is the entire team and modeled by head coach Casey Glass, but it really shows in Kasey DeSmit, Arinn King, and Sydney Irish.  In this game, those three were tested physically and emotionally by a strong, physical, and athletic Big Red team.  Not once did I see one of them hang their heads – never disrespected an opponent or an official – not even when their high school careers were coming to a close.  Time and time again this year I looked over to my 14 and 11-year-old children and told them to watch how they act on the court.  Watch how they represent their family, the basketball program, their school, and the community.  I can be a little bit of a maniac on the sidelines.  What I’ve seen over the past couple of weeks has helped me better understand how my players acted when they played and what things I modeled or didn’t model very well.  Those are things you can learn when you sit back and watch a game and aren’t engulfed in it.

I’ve been away from the high school game for a few years but I’m sure it won’t be much longer before I’m back on the sideline in some capacity.  These couple of weeks have helped me to develop a checklist, almost a report card, of how I will want my players to act.  During all of those games, I’ve seen players like Tum Tum Nairn or the Hudsonville girls team showing me just what those characteristics should be.  Here’s my list.
1) Body language

2) Respect for opponents

3) Respect for officials

4) Positive towards teammates

5) Composure and poise during adversity

It’s ironic how things change as you get older.  I used to always tell my kids to watch the best player on the court.  Now I find myself telling them to watch the players on the court who act the best. 

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5 Things All Educators Need to Stop Saying

I probably don’t need the disclaimer that obviously ALL educators don’t say these things, but I will lead with that anyway.  Clearly, not ALL.  However, each of these things I believe cripples our amazing profession a little bit and we would be much better without them.  Here they are and some brief thoughts on how they hinder our work.

1. “That student is low” – Stop labeling kids based on an arbitrary timeline of learning and expectations that have significantly changed over time.  First, is this professional and kind?  If that was your child, is that how you would want others talking about them?  A more accurate phrase might be, “the learning acquisition levels of this student, which are individual and developmentally unique to them, have not yet matched the random timeline and skills we have decided they should have mastered at this time.”

2. “They need to learn that for (or by) the M-STEP” – This one makes me shudder to my core.  Students need to learn for the love of learning.  They need to learn because learning builds on learning and what comes next may depend on what is being learned now. They need to learn it because education is the key to unlock so many doors in their life.  But not because of a standardized test.  Students need to learn your guaranteed and viable curriculum.  I also don’t care if the M-STEP is in April and they learn it in May.  Making sure they learn it for a standardized assessment isn’t my job.  Making sure they learn it, is.  Those two are not the same.

3. “That idea won’t work” – Not all ideas are good ideas.  Not all ideas can come to fruition.  I’m not saying that.  But too often in our profession, I’ve seen close-mindedness shut down a potentially really good idea.  Listen, ask questions, dig deeper, mine out any possible issues and help the person to move the idea forward.  Don’t shut down thinking, explore possibilities.

4. “If we just collaborate we will all do it the same” – Collaboration means to work with someone to produce and create something.  It doesn’t mean we will all agree and it doesn’t mean we will all do everything the same.  Share ideas, discuss, look at all perspectives, and make agreements.  But also allow a district, building, or classroom to have their different takes on it.  Let’s not turn collaboration into compliance.

5. “His learning will increase if he just does his homework” – I think we can all agree on what research says about homework and it’s correlation to student learning.  At parent-teacher conference time of year, we sometimes make a mistake of guaranteeing to parents that increase homework will increase student learning.   Yes, for some students additional independent practice without teacher support can be an asset.  However, let’s not rely on that to have a major impact on student learning. 

We are part of the greatest profession in the world.  I think if we can keep some of these words and phrases out of our vernacular, it can be even better.

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Educators, How Does the Phrase”M-STEP Prep” Make You Feel?

My parents were educators for 30 years and now I’m in my 20th year in the profession. That means I have spent my entire life around educators. Educators of all different positions, in various districts, who carry countless philosophies. Throughout the year, I find myself in conversations with them and I there is one question I like to fire off to see what their stance is. It’s a question that we start to hear more and more around schools this time of year. 

download.pngHow does the phrase “M-STEP prep?” make you feel?

I’m partially asking how they feel about teaching to the big standardized test students in our state take each spring. I’m also asking if they put a higher priority on learning or test performance, as those aren’t always the same thing. I’m kind of asking how much time is spent varying from the curriculum to spend on components in the test that are not in the curriculum. I’m curious as to how much time their school or district spends on M-STEP preparation and what range I find in the responses. I’m also hinting a little bit at what direction they get from those above them and how they feel about it.

More than anything else, I’m asking if the educator is locked in an internal battle regarding the importance of standardized tests in today’s educational world.

The M-STEP matters. Let’s not be foolish. I know that student success on a standardized test shows a snapshot of what a student knows at that moment and that is important. The way the state broadcasts the scores of a district is a large part of how a district is measured. That matters. As a student gets older, their ability to perform on a standardized test means thousands of dollars and acceptance into universities. 

I’m convinced that learning matters more. Students can demonstrate learning in so many more ways than a standardized test can measure. The time spent preparing students to take the test can never be regained. I always wonder what type of new discoveries, questions that could be explored, or important content could have been covered instead of the M-STEP prep. When do we get to a point where what is covered in the curriculum aligns with what is on the test? Are we moving closer or further away from this? 

No right answer. No wrong answer. Just a lot of educators developing, thinking, reflecting, and wrestling with an internal belief system regarding what is best for their students.

So, educators, how does the phrase “M-STEP prep” make you feel?

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My Process for Providing Feedback Using 5D+

images-1.pngThis is my 4th year using the 5D+ teacher evaluation model with staff. I went to all of the training sessions when our district adopted the model. I spent one summer being trained at MASSP so I could go into other districts to train teachers and administrators on the model. Even with that experience, I am learning new things each year as I work to improve the process of supporting teacher growth.

One of the challenging pieces for me has been to come up with a system, a specific process, for giving teachers written feedback. Here are the steps that I am currently using. Step #5 below is what I’m going to expand upon in this post.

1. Approximately 20-minute observation with a running script.

2. Stay in the classroom to code, notice, and wonder.

3. Stay in the classroom to send the teacher an email about next steps in the observation cycle (The first 3 steps usually take me about 45 minutes).

4. The teacher responds to me electronically within 24 hours to my wonderings. I stress to them that their response should take no more than 10-15 minutes to complete.

5. I provide written feedback to the staff member.

6. We meet in person to discuss the observation.

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While all steps hold value in supporting teacher growth, steps #5 and #6 are where the action taken by the administrator can have a significant impact.  I am usually in my office as I complete step #5. Here is what I’m currently doing to provide the teacher with feedback that is most likely to impact their instructional practice.

* Close my office door and block out any interruptions

* Make sure I have the 5D+ instructional framework open and next to me. The vision statements and guiding questions really support my thinking

* I have 4 tabs open on my computer within PIVOT. One is the teacher responses to my wonderings. A second shows the feedback I gave in the previous observation. The third is the teacher’s growth plan and the last is the new feedback I’m about to provide.  I am constantly switching back and forth between those tabs as I decide on what feedback might be in the zone of proximal development for the teacher.

* As far as what I write, here is the format that has worked best for me.

– I thank the teacher for their thinking, reflection, and response

– I share my big takeaways regarding patterns in their overall practice or from this specific lesson. This usually is not tied to their 3-5 areas of focus.

– Finally, I give them 3 pieces of feedback, each tied to an area of focus. Sometimes it’s simply encouraging them to do something that is new to them or they are trying in a new way. It doesn’t always have to be a brand new suggestion or change. Other times it’s a directive and very clear. It could be a question for them to consider or ponder. When I read them back to myself, I always want to be sure they are manageable for the teacher and that I’m able to provide necessary support.

I wanted to take the time to share out some of that thinking and process because it did not come to me naturally. Feel free to call (616-340-9254) or email me (andygsecor@gmail.com) if I can ever be of assistance as you provide feedback to teachers. I’ve sat next to administrators as they’ve gone through the process of deciding what feedback to write and how to write it. Administrators have also asked me to sit in or film their post-observation meetings. If you have questions, a wonder, or advice on how you think I could improve my practice, feel free to contact me!

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“Where Does Average Exist in Your School?”

I am currently reading the book, Culturize, by Jimmy Casas. In the book, Casas asks the question, “Where does average exist in your organization?”  I immediately turned that into, “Where does average exist in our school?”

download-1.jpgWhen I read that question, it stopped me for a moment. I put the book down and thought about it. However, that isn’t a “think for ten seconds and respond type of question.” So, I picked the book up and started reading again. A few hours later, I took to Twitter and posted that question as it was still on my mind and I wanted to hear other opinions. Then, I asked it to our staff in a feedback section of my weekly update. Their responses furthered my curiosity. Now, 6 days later, here I am, and it was the first thing I thought about when I woke up this morning.

My thought process traveled two directions as I tackled this question. First, who wants to be average at anything? Is anyone signing up for the “Average Husband Club?” Do we gush with pride when our daughter tells us how average we’ve been as a father? School is no different. We do our best to share our positive stories and then work on the things we know that need to be improved. But in my 20 years in this profession, I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone say, “We are really average at that.” Should we be saying that?  Would it help for the average in a school to be labeled and understood?  Clearly, the thought of being average is not appealing to most schools or people in general.download-1.jpg

The other thought was, can a school really be great at everything? Is that realistic? Is having things that are average, normal? Isn’t there always going to be some average everywhere? Even if you get 20 things going in the right direction and they all seem great, will they stay great? Will any regress to average? I think that accepting something may be average and naming it as average are NOT the same thing.  

Back to the question, “Where does average exist in our school?”  I feel compelled to do something further to investigate this question as it relates to our school, my work, and even our profession. I’m confident in the way our structure is set up to improve average, but more interested to hear what various stakeholder groups feel like average is. In this case, I’m more interested in naming it and that process, than fixing it. 

1. I feel like there is great value in parents, teachers, and students being posed that question and listening to their responses. I am going to do that formally and informally. There is an honesty, transparency, and vulnerability in asking the question which I believe is an important message to convey. In addition, it’s not just about MY perspective. It’s about OUR perspective. I have already started my list, but it may look very different from someone else’s.

2. In the self-evaluation type of process, I’m hoping to come up with a list or patterns where different stakeholder groups believe our school to be average.

3. Share the list openly and honestly. 

I haven’t been in any organization where average wasn’t alive, somewhere, somehow, and for some amount of time. Thank you Mr. Casas, for asking a question that I think holds great depth and power. It’s not one that had been posed to me before but is one that has really made me reflect, think, plan, and act.  I wonder how other teachers would respond to the question or even the thought of the question, “Where does average exist in our school?”

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Educators: What defines success for your school?

Welcome to what may be the shortest blog post ever.  Those who read my posts know that I’m not the type of guy who thinks he knows everything.  At times, I just pose questions to see what type of thinking is out there or to get people to reflect.  Holiday break seemed like a pretty good time to do that.

About 5 months from now, we will be looking back on the 2017-2018 school year.  When looking back in June, how will you know it has been a successful year.  Let me go a step further and ask you to quantify it.  I’ll just pose my questions and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  • How will you define whether or not your school has had a successful year?
  • How many measures will you use?
  • Do staff members agree to all of those factors?
  • How many of the measures are external and how many are internal?
  • How do you report out the level(s) of success that you have attained?

I have a strong belief that we too often allow external groups to evaluate and grade us as schools.  A standardized assessment turned into a color, grade, or number, certainly shouldn’t be the determining factor as that would undersell the valuable work done in schools on a daily basis.  Furthermore, what does someone in Lansing know about the strengths, challenges, and growth areas of the school I work at?  How do they know what our staff is focused on?  School improvement work is valuable and helps to focus our work, but certainly isn’t specific enough to what a school is working towards.  So, what is it?  What factors?  What formula?  What is success and how do you measure it?

I wonder how fellow educators would answer those questions.

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My 2017 MEMSPA Experience

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Each year at the “MEMSPA” state conference I go back to my room on Thursday night and take some time to really think about the first two days of the conference. The time allows me to process, ponder, reflect, and prioritize all that has been presented to me and all I’ve considered. There are a lot of thoughts to be sorted out. One of the things that stood out to me is the last few days is that I need to take more risks. I need to trust my gut and my instincts. One way to do that immediately is to be transparent and share my learning from this week that I normally keep to myself or share with selected others. I could write pages as I was influenced by so many and heard so many great things, but I wanted to hit on some big takeaways. I broke it down into 4 categories, made me think, things that inspired me, need to improve and things to implement ASAP.

Made me think – Right when I thought I was gaining ground on technology, this conference helped me realize that there are other options to think about. We need to consider increasing the use of technology in our school to include such options as Voxer, Mentimeter, Facebook Live, YouTube channel for parents to view instruction, Seesaw, and green screens. The team from Saline and their session on flexible seating made me realize it might be time to go with a big move and not just a few small moves. Conversations with Ken See, Scott Haid, and Kim VanAntwerp were so thought-provoking. We sat down to talk about one thing, but I left thinking about a dozen others. I greatly valued their perspective and time. Desk on wheels? How about a temporary office in the hallway or in a grade level wing? Something I want to think more about. Dan Butler and Allyson Apsey made me think about something I thought was a strength of mine, staff relationships. Their very specific ideas about how to improve in that area is going to be on the forefront of my mind during the drive home tomorrow.

Inspired – Regardless of content, when someone has crazy levels of passion about something in education, that inspires me. The two stories that Ben Gilpin told in his session about how went above and beyond to be there for his teachers inspired me.    Listening to Paul Liabenow talk about his passion for people inspired me. When I listened to Mike Domagalski talk about #MEMSPAChat, I got fired up. Jon Wennstrom and Allyson Apsey inspired me with how genuine they were and with their risk-taking. When I think there is something that is too out of the box for me to do, I think of the risks they take for the betterment of their teachers and students, and it inspires me to take another step. The professionalism and poise of our MEMSPA president, Jeremy Patterson, with all the hats he wears and responsibilities he has, inspires me. 

Need to Improve – Dr. Steve Constantino’s message was a bit of a slap in the face, but in a good way. My mindset surrounding engaging families needs to change. It’s not about events, it’s about process. It’s not about the percentage of families that come, it’s about who doesn’t. As he says, “we are really good at engaging families who are already engaged.” At Jamestown, we need to continue the work we’ve started with building relationships with our families that are least likely to become engaged.  By going above and beyond to build that relationship and trust, we can better find out how the partnership is best constructed. My session with Arina Bokas and a tablemate (can’t believe I missed his name) who shared some great thoughts cemented home those next steps in parent engagement. I also need to be less focused on my phone at work. Yes, there are times where communication comes to me that needs to be addressed right away, but it doesn’t need to happen at the expense of an interaction I may miss. I will get better at that.  

Implementation TimeThere are a few things that can go into effect right away. Something as specific as communication that is “Dear Families” instead of “Parents/Guardians” is a simple, yet important change to make. Continuing the work of our differentiated PD for teachers needs to happen and Marie DeGroot and I have some great ideas about how to keep improving it. Our staff needs to continue to partner with other schools and districts for lab classroom experiences that have mutual benefits. It’s a piece missing from our educational system and I just can’t figure out why. Finally, we always hear about building culture and relationships. The difference this week was the number of specific strategies that I learned to do just that. I will start two of them tomorrow and I can’t wait to see their impact.  

Make no mistake, this conference is full of learning. It’s a ton of information, processing, and collaboration.  For me, it’s not about refreshing or rejuvenating, it’s about GROWING. If I’m going to spend a couple days out of the building, I have to get better, immediately. I’m beyond excited to think, learn, and collaborate even further to see how these ideas can impact Jamestown students and staff.