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Cathy Beck @cathypetreebeck

Cathy Beck @cathypetreebeck

Dr. Cathy Beck @cathypetreebeck has been in education for the past 27 years. She currently works as the assistant superintendent in Summit County, CO. Cathy is the co-author of Easy and Effective Professional Development. She has a new book about working with ELLs to be available in early 2017. Cathy is also an adjunct professor for Concordia University and the American College of Education.

Posted by on in School Culture

door knocker

As the principal at a rural high school several years ago I often wrestled with the notion of partnering with parents at this level. How could I engage families? So many freshmen entered without a clue as to how to be successful. Most of my parents did not have an understanding of how involved to be at this level. I embarked on a radical adventure to try and bridge this gap. I decided to do a home visit to every one of their homes the summer before they began high school. This out of the box idea became one of the most powerful acts I have ever done as an educator.

My bilingual secretary and I visited 88 homes that summer. We mapped out the visits in neighborhoods and armed with information about credits, Powerschool, dual credit options, graduation requirements and extra-curricular opportunities we hit the road. Some families were suspicious as to why I would feel the need to visit their homes but the majority of them were so appreciative. More often than not the entire family would be present, all dressed in their finest with delicious food to serve my secretary and me.

 The visits would begin with me asking the question,"What are your dreams for your child's education? " The answer to this question would set the course for the rest of the conversation. We showed the parents how to check their children’s grades online, and we discussed ways that they could support their children’s education. We talked about educational goals and developed a plan for each child as to how to achieve them. All parents now had an educational partner in which to call with any questions. This initial meeting with each family was so positive that it made any subsequent calls that required a disciplinary tone so much easier to make. The incoming freshmen began  a step ahead of any former group of students. Attendance levels went up, discipline issue went down.

I changed jobs after that year but I kept tabs on this group of freshmen. They graduated in 2015. Guess who they invited to be their keynote speaker? Yes, I was honored to deliver the graduation speech for a group that became so very special to me as a result of a summer spent in their homes. Reaching out to make the initial connection paid off in a big way for this group of students. Home visits are not just for preschool, they are highly impactful at the secondary level as well.

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Posted by on in Literacy

Girl reading

I have returned from an incredibly inspiring reading conference. Some of the most notable literacy experts in the country presented. I attended many break-out sessions to increase my knowledge of great literacy practices. I even presented one myself entitled, ”Creating a School-Wide Culture of Literacy.”

One of the controversial topics that was addressed often was whether or not it was a good idea to “bribe” students to read. My school has reading challenges over the breaks that reward children for reading while not in school. For every break we have a challenge and the ante continues to go up. I will do anything to get children to read. Anything.

We bring in authors to do assemblies with children. We have Minute-to-Win-It games for children who read over breaks. There are experience incentives such as “Principal for a Day” and soccer lessons with the high school coach. I beg anyone who can offer time with a child to donate an experience to reward children for reading.

We have an annual Vocabulary Parade where children dress up to represent their favorite word. Families decorate pumpkins to be the favorite book character. We bring the local library in to sign families up for library cards during parent teacher conferences and all adults in the building, everyone, has to keep current a sign that displays what is currently being read. This includes the custodian, cafeteria workers, and the office staff.

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Posted by on in Professional Development

Are you sick of “professional development experts” that are flown into your district at an exorbitant price tag to deliver long sit and get trainings that are often over before the expert gets back home? Who has the money or the patience for this antiquated practice? Not me! Who are the professionals/experts in your building? You are! Who knows your students and school wide needs better than you do? No one!

Leverage the talent within your building through a formalized peer observation process that puts you, the teachers, in charge of your own professional development. Questions you should ask yourselves are:

Are we getting the results that we want? If so, what are we doing to provide sustainability for these practices as teachers come and go?

If we are not getting the results that we want, what are we doing to change the tide?

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Posted by on in School Culture

When I was principal of a rural high school we did an exercise to determine which students had connections with adults in our building. We had every student’s name on a list hanging on the wall in the library. Armed with colored dot stickers teachers were to go through the entire list and place a sticker next to every student in which  they felt they had established a solid relationship. The stickers began to overlap for many children. These were the students that were social, popular, and active in extra curricular activities. These students that had multiple stickers liked school and liked their teachers. There was no doubt as to their graduation completion.

As the exercise continued we noticed that there were a few, 4 in all, that had not one sticker by the name. Who were these children? How had they managed to attend our school and yet not one teacher would say a relationship was established? The information was profound. These children were at the biggest risk for dropping out. They were disenfranchised.

A plan was put into place as we determined how we could get to know and engage these children in school. Various teachers would reach out and try to get to  know these students. Perhaps they could invite them to participate in an extra curricular activity. Maybe just having a deliberate conversation routinely would make a difference. How had these children slipped through the cracks?

Did we save them all? Sadly, we did not. Honestly we were able to reach 1 of the 4 and engage him in school. The other 3 ended up dropping out. I take responsibility for these 3. Never again would this happen under my watch.

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Posted by on in What If?

You get what you expect in this world. That is a mantra that I live by, both with raising my children and overseeing students in my school. Having high expectations is paramount to student achievement, good behavior, teacher professionalism, and parent engagement.

When I was the principal of a rural high school high in the mountains of Colorado I took a radical measure based upon my high expectations for all students. I raised the eligibility policy standards to proclaim that students could not participate in any extracurricular activities with any grades less than a C. D did not stand for dance in my building. Students had to have Cs or better in all classes to play sports, go to a dance, or participate in the school play. Was this popular at first? With the teachers, yes! With the students, not so much.

Now granted we had safety nets in place to ensure that we were giving students a lot of support to make this happen. We had tutoring three days a week. Grades were checked by advisors on Mondays with eligibility running on Friday. This way students had all week to retake tests and get items turned in. We set the wheels in motion and did the culture ever change!

Tutoring was packed every day.  Classwork and assessments took on a whole new meaning. Students retook tests after spending time with the tutors and all of a sudden the grades began to improve across the building. Students were excited with their success and often would run into my office to show me their grades. We had turned the culture into one that displayed pride in academics instead of apathy.

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