PeterCohen21 – Rebranding myself – a case study on social media

In an attempt to track the power of social media and web 2.0 tools, I am rebranding myself.  I have created a new gmail account, a new blog site, a new Twitter account, a new website, an online CV, and I may even venture into the world of Facebook.  Social media is a way of life for many in society today.  As my research continues on technology leadership in schools, these social media tools are clearly essential.  I may still post an occasional blog at this site, but I plan to shift most of my online activity to the PeterCohen21 sites.  This is an exciting project.  Hopefully it will inspire me to have a more significant online presence.  I welcome your feedback. Thanks for following this site.

You can reach me via my blog:

You can follow me on Twitter @PeterCohen21

You can check out my website (currently under construction) at

Published in: on October 25, 2012 at 10:11 am  Leave a Comment  

The Evolution of a Robust Advisory Program

With the start of the new school year we also begin our second year of the robust advisory program that we began last year.  Advisory has evolved out of two other programs we had in place at the school: Team Time and PRIDE Time.

We work under the model of a professional learning community and ask the four key questions that a PLC asks:

1) What do we expect our students to know and be able to do?

2) How will we know they are learning?

3) How will we respond if they don’t learn?

4) How will we respond if they already know it?

Team Time was created a few years ago to provide students time in school to receive additional help from teachers during the school day.  This was our intervention/extension block in the master schedule and it took place every other morning at the start of the day.  The goal was to use this time to answer the third and fourth question of a PLC listed above. During this time students that needed extra help or an intervention to get them back on track with their academics had time to see a teacher.  Some teachers had a line out the door for students seeking extra help.  This was typically the case with the math teacher.  While we did an excellent job reaching some of our struggling students or students who just needed a little extra help, further explanation of a new concept, or time to catch up after an absence from school, we did not do much for our students who already understood the concepts and needed to be challenged. In other words, we were answering question three, but not answering question four.

PRIDE Time was our character building education program.  Students were assigned to an educator at the school in groups of up to 15 students per adult.  PRIDE was named after our core values of Pride, Respect, Integrity, Dedication, Excellence.  PRIDE groups met at least once a month and a committee of educators developed team building and character building lessons that were executed by PRIDE leaders.  The highlight was mission mural, which takes place every three years.  During a mission mural year, each PRIDE group designs and paints a 4 x 4 mural on the walls of the school.  We now have over 100 murals around the school depicting our school motto, Do The Right Thing, the letters of PRIDE, anti-bullying messages, and inspirational quotes.  The school looks great.

Our current Advisory Program combined Team Time, PRIDE Time, and a traditional homeroom.  Advisory groups meet every day.  Small groups of students are assigned to an educator.  Students report to their advisor every day upon arrival at the school.  This time is spent on team building, character building, extra help, and extension activities.  This year I will have an advisory group for the first time and will run it with the assistant principal.  I hope the 8th graders assigned to our advisory group are as excited as we are to spend the year together.  We will help our students set goals, meet those goals, and have an outstanding school year.

Does your school have an advisory program?  Please share some of the highlights as we are continuously looking for ways to make our program even better.



Published in: on August 24, 2012 at 7:53 am  Comments (1)  
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Hopes and Fears for a New School Year

Hopes and fears.  Eager, excited, and anxious sixth graders have been streaming into the school this week with a parent in tow to tour the school, locate their classrooms, and get the overall lay of the land.  The first day of school is fast approaching.  Next week we welcome back our 7th and 8th graders and welcome a large class of sixth graders and I can’t wait!  The first day of school is always so exciting.  Typically nobody gets a great night’s rest the night before the first day as a whole range of emotions keeps us up in anticipation of the first day.  I have so many hopes and fears for the new school year.

My hope is that we can all come together to collaborate and do the work required that is best for students.  I hope for everyone to focus on the fact that being an educator is the greatest, most important job in the world and at our school educators have it pretty good.  No lunch duty!  No bus duty, detention duty, study hall duty and the school day ends for students at 1:55pm.  And, most importantly they pay us to spend 6+ hours a day with kids helping them become better people, better citizens, and better students.  You cannot get more rewarding than that.

My fear is that we will get bogged down by folks who count minutes of planning time instead of doing the right thing for every student, whatever it takes.  My fear is that while the vast majority of educators want to move forward from the difficult year that occurs when there are contentious contract negotiations, that a very small minority will continue to bring others down with negativity and gossip, which is toxic to a school culture. After all, if you are not having fun and laughing every day while working in a middle school, you are doing something wrong.

Thankfully, the educators at the school are hard-working, outstanding teachers who take pride in their work and stay focused on doing what is right for students.  Together we can silence the negativity and stay positive, working together as a team.

My hope is that we can continue to build on the unbelievably positive aspects of the school.  Our advisory program is superb and will only get better in this second year of implementation.  Student led conferences, a strong after school activity program, a robust website with homework assignments posted nightly, an open parent portal, and a faculty committed to continuous improvement make this an outstanding school.

I look forward to a new beginning, a new school year and to helping the school continue to improve.  My hopes far outweigh my fears as I am confident that we have the right people in place to be not just a good school, but a great school.

I share your emotions incoming sixth graders.  I am so excited and anxious all at the same time, but I know it is going to be a great year.


Published in: on August 23, 2012 at 4:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

End of Year One – A Brand New Day

It has been one year since I started this blog.  What a year it has been.  I am ready to begin the second year of my doctoral program at Boston College.  My summer classes will start soon.  As I wrote about in my first blog post, now that summer has arrived it is time for reflection, relaxation, and re-energizing.  I was able to get in one short weekend on the Cape to relax (briefly) and get energized for my summer coursework.  Once my summer classes conclude, I will take the time to process the year that was and create a plan to be a better principal and a better doctoral student.

Among the challenges of the past year was navigating through a year when the teachers in the district were without a contract and following “work-to-rule” practices and other protests that included adjustments to the arrival and departure times and wearing black on Wednesdays.  Thankfully, the contract has been settled and that should set us up to have a fresh start for the new school year.

In my study of technology leadership and the use of technology for communication by school leaders, I quickly discovered how effective social media tools could be to reach stakeholders.  I now utilize email, our school website, this blog, Twitter, and Facebook to communicate with parents, teachers, students, the community, and the media.  The local media follows what I write and I follow them via Twitter and their websites.

I try to lead a school in as transparent a way as possible.  Secrets and gossip, in my experience, can be toxic to a school.  Therefore I like to have an open door policy and share and make information as accessible to everyone as possible.  In a year when tensions were running high due to the contract negotiations, I found myself not blogging even when I had thoughts to share, as I did not want to add to any fuel to the fire, so to speak by publicly sharing my thoughts about anything that might be controversial.  I believe a strong school has an on-going dialog about teaching and learning.  This includes have those good debates or good fights about philosophy on challenging topics such as grading practices and homework.  One of my goals for the coming year will be to get back to having these conversations.

I am excited about the three R’s of the summer of 2012 – reflection, relaxation, and re-energizing.  I am also excited for the new school year, my seventh as principal.  You can follow along via our school website, this blog, on Twitter, and we plan to post a picture a day on our Facebook page – highlighting an event a day for 180 days of Stony Brook School.

Now back to preparing for my classes.

Published in: on July 1, 2012 at 4:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Photo Finish: The Race to 1000 – Blog Hits vs. Twitter Followers

Three months to the day since my last blog entry.  I need to figure out a way to put down my thoughts more frequently.  Since my last entry, I have been reviewing a ton of literature about the use of social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and Web 2.0 tools for communication (blogs, wikis, etc.) by school superintendents and principals.  Interestingly, while there are new blog entries on this topic popping up all the time and there are a number of articles on this topic, finding peer-reviewed literature on the use of these modern tools for communication by school leaders has been a challenge.  You see, many of the folks writing about this topic are not concerned about a formal peer review process and would rather get the blog or article out there on the web and get reaction from the professional learning network right away.

Also since my last blog entry, my blog and my Twitter account have been in a little competition to see what would come first, 1000 hits on the blog or 1000 followers on Twitter.  It has been as close as yesterday’s Kentucky Derby and today the Twitter account @SBprincipal has its 1000th follower while there have been 997 hits on the blog.  Surely if I had more written blog entries or posted more tweets with more hashtags both would have hit the 1000 hits/followers marks long ago.  Perhaps herein lies a possible topic for study.  Is there a correlation between the number of blog entries and the number of tweets and the number of stakeholders reached via these tools for communication by school leaders?  Or, is it simply enough for school leaders to be using multiple ways to communicate from a newsletter sent via email to setting up a school Facebook page? From my personal experience, at this point I believe more people are reading my Friday emails to the school community than are reading the blog or following me on Twitter.

Now back to writing the review of the literature.  Let the competition for 2000 hits/followers between the blog and my Twitter account begin.  Thanks for reading and I will try to blog/Tweet more frequently… maybe once the lit. review is complete.

Published in: on May 6, 2012 at 1:03 pm  Comments (14)  
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Technology and Schools

It has been far too long since my last blog post, which was about preparing for student led conferences. The student led conferences took place in January and were a big success overall.  We will soon conduct an online survey for parents, students, and teachers to share their impressions of this process as well as suggestions so we can improve the student led conferences for next year.

Since the time of my last blog post, I have been assigned a big umbrella topic for my capstone project at Boston College.  That topic is technology and schools.  My challenge now is to narrow down the topic of technology and focus in on a specific area.  I will need to complete a review of the literature that is available on this topic and later complete a research project as part of a group dissertation known as a capstone project.  My group members and I will be focusing in on topics related to technology leadership in schools.  This includes leading a digital conversion in schools and the steps needed for schools to evolve to a one to one learning environment where every student has a laptop or tablet.  Additionally we will look at technology and student achievement, technology and effective instruction, and the use of web 2.0 tools to enhance the school and home connections.

It is the latter topic that is of interest to me.  How can the use of blogs, wikis, websites, online polling/surveys, YouTube, podcasts, learning management systems, e-portfolios of student work, parent portals, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media improve communication between a school system and students, parents, teachers, principals and the community at large?  Additionally, as someone who in the past has advocated against student use of cell phones in school and against students being on Facebook, my thoughts on these topics have evolved (perhaps this is a blog post for another time).  How can we have a school Twitter account, a school Facebook account and these powerful tools (smart phones) that most students are already bringing to school and not take advantage of these tools to enhance not only communication, but instruction?  Our charge as educators is to prepare students with 21st century skills to be ready for a career in the workplace or for higher education.  Technology plays such a prominent role in our world today, that we do a disservice to students when we ban technology rather than develop ways to incorporate technology into the work we do. What would that look like and how do we implement new policies at the appropriate pace and with the necessary professional development for teachers?

The next step for me is to narrow these thoughts down to a workable topic for research.  I am interested in your thoughts on any of the above. Please assist me and comment on this blog, email me, Tweet about the blog and share any relevant resources.



Published in: on February 6, 2012 at 3:31 pm  Comments (2)  
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Student-Led Conferences & Flipped Classrooms but No Jogging or Blogging

My last post was nearly two months ago.  While I have been able to manage my time relatively well, it is a constant battle to get everything that is on my plate accomplished.  Despite the grind, I am thoroughly enjoying my coursework at Boston College and my work as middle school principal. So far two things have been sacrificed: jogging and blogging.  Outside of some regular walks with the dog, I am not getting enough exercise and as you can see from the two-month blog hiatus, I have not managed to fit this into my schedule as often as I had hoped.

It has been a crazy year for weather in Massachusetts.  In the last year we have had blizzard conditions and record-breaking snowfall amounts, a tornado, a hurricane, an earthquake, and now a freak October snowstorm that has given us four “snow days” and counting.  Have experts considered putting all wires underground so that these storms do not impact power?  I would think the upfront cost would pay off in the long run. Just a thought.

Over the past two months there are two things in education I have thought a lot about, student-led conferences and flipped classrooms.

We will be implementing school-wide student-led conferences that will take place in January.  Students are currently preparing portfolios that will allow them to share work samples with parents. This portfolio will include teacher approved work samples from each class, math, science, language arts, social studies, foreign language, and integrated arts classes of choice.  The conference will be a guided conversation between student and parent with the academic advisor close by for support.  Students will be able to describe areas of academic strength, areas for growth, goals for success and a plan to reach those goals.  We believe that this process will lead to students taking more responsibility and ownership of their learning, setting them up for success in middle school, high school, and beyond.

A growing trend in education is the concept of a flipped classroom.  A flipped classroom is when teachers provide students access to a lecture or lesson via the Internet.  Students watch and learn from the lesson at home and then work on assignments, projects, and practice in the classroom with the teacher present as coach or tutor.  This has been particularly successful for math classes, but can work for any subject area.  This is one example of technology as a game changer.  With Apps that allow teachers to write on virtual white boards on top of PowerPoint presentations the classroom is now mobile.  There are so many possible positive outcomes by flipping a classroom. There will be less stress with homework for students (and parents) and more time for teachers to work directly with students as they apply their knowledge.

I would like to hear from educators around the globe about successes and challenges they have faced when flipping a class and/or with student-led conferences.  Please post your thoughts and comments.


Published in: on November 2, 2011 at 2:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Work – Life – School Balance

On the white board in my classroom when I taught 8th graders US history, were two sayings that I considered words to live by for my students and for me.  The first was “do the right thing,” which is now also the motto of the Stony Brook School.  The second was “time management is the key to success.”  In addition to posting learning objectives, an agenda, a calendar of upcoming events and assignments I wanted my students to know my overall expectation was for them to do the right thing.  Additionally, history was the vehicle used to teach students more than content, but the skills they would need to be successful as they moved on in school and beyond.  If they established a routine, they would be able to take care of all of their student responsibilities and still have a vibrant social life, which was of course of primary importance to so many 13 and 14 year olds.  They needed to balance soccer practice and piano lessons and dance lessons and time to play and socialize with completing homework assignments, reading, writing, and studying.  They could have it all by taking the advice of establishing routines and managing their time well.

As educators, and it is true for any professional, it takes a lot of effort to maintain a healthy work-life balance that will prevent us from stressing out or even burning out.  With the start of the new school year and the end of this four-day Labor Day weekend coming to a close, I am faced with establishing new routines that will allow me a healthy work-life-school balance.  This was challenging when it was just work and life on my plate.  Now with the added responsibilities of course work for the Boston College Ed.D program with classes resuming in September, the new routines begin.  Surely something will need to give without creating a schedule that will lead to undue stress or burnout.  Sleep, walking the dog, eating healthy, and exercising while still completing readings and projects for school as well as completing all of my responsibilities as principal and of course spending time with my wife all need to be part of the plan.  So how will this work?

Thankfully, I believe in teamwork and collaboration as keys for success in schools.  At Stony Brook we have a team of educators in place that will work together to lead the school.  This is not about administration vs. teachers.  Instead we have a team of educators in various roles that lead the school and work with the community to ensure the success of each individual student.  I am confident that nothing at the school will be sacrificed due to my added responsibilities at BC.  We are set up for continued success at the school.  Now I just wish I was that confident about the healthy eating, exercising and sleeping.  Work-life-school balance.  Once again it is about doing the right thing and time management will be the key to success.


Published in: on September 5, 2011 at 10:27 am  Leave a Comment  

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I love this time of year.  Late August and early September typically brings some of the best weather of the year in New England.  More importantly, we are entering the last week before teachers and students return for the start of another school year.  I am so excited.  There is plenty to do to get ready, but I look forward to the energy that returns to the school once the students are back in the building and school is in session.  Thanks to our custodial staff, the school looks great. A terrific learning environment awaits our students and staff.

In the spring, countdowns to the end of the school year start to appear on the board in some classrooms.  While I certainly love the summer, too, I would rather see countdowns to the start of the next school year instead of countdowns to summer.  It sends a better message.  The start of the year for sixth graders is the start of a new school and their wide-eyed expressions in the first days of school are amazing.  Seventh graders come in with a comfort level now that they know what to expect in middle school.  The swagger of the 8th graders is also a joy to see.  They finally are at the top of the school (and the back of the bus) and have much to look forward to in this final year before high school.

We are now in the final ten days until teachers and students return.   This week is new teacher orientation.  It is also the week when so many sixth graders come in to tour the school and many teachers are busy perfecting their classrooms.  I am putting the final plans in place for opening day with the teachers.  I would love to hear from others about the most inspirational opening day activities or videos or speeches that kicked off their year on a positive note. Some of my favorites have been viewing the Dalton Sherman clip on You Tube or the Celebrate What’s Right With The World video that features National Geographic photographer, Dewitt Jones.  At Stony Brook, one of our most inspiring opening days was when we viewed a Power Point slide show we created with a slide for every teacher that contained a quote from them about why they teach.  Sometimes, with all of hard work that we do as educators we forget what led us to this profession of educating students and helping them reach their full potential.  The first days of school remind us why we do what we do.  As educators we make a difference.

The excitement is building. I can’t wait to welcome nearly 660 students and over 70 educators back to school. I believe in each and every one of these students as well as in the incredible teachers that will educate them this year.   It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Published in: on August 20, 2011 at 5:57 pm  Comments (1)  

Sunday Night Anxiety Syndrome

I am sure at one time or another every adult has experienced that feeling you get on a Sunday night ahead of another week at work.  You may be cranky or maybe you lose some sleep thinking about your to do list, an upcoming meeting, or a project that has a looming deadline.  For educators, a hint of this feeling often happens when we turn the calendar to August.   A colleague of mine once shared that summer for educators is like a weekend:  June is Friday, July is Saturday, and August is Sunday. With my vacation coming to an end Monday morning August 1, I am starting to get both excited and anxious about all of the work that needs to be done in the coming days and weeks to ensure a smooth opening of another school year.  I can’t wait to get to it and I am also sad to see my time on the Cape come to an end.

Sunday Night Anxiety Syndrome (SNAS) may not be in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), but I think it should be considered for the DSM-V.  I call it “snasing” (pronounced snazing) when you start to let your anxiety on a Sunday night impact your attitude or sleep. I found out this was common when I was speaking to a recently retired teacher who let me know the best part of retirement was no more Sunday night anxiety.

Turning the calendar to August for me means getting back into a regular routine.  More importantly it means that there is much to be done to get ready for the start of school.  We need to register new students to the district, finalize class rosters, send out a welcome back letter to teachers, and update the teacher handbook and all of the other behind the scenes work that takes place in August.  Additionally I have reading and projects to complete for courses in my Ed.D program, which resume in September.

After completing five years as principal, I hope to return to my original entry plan and once again meet with teachers individually to discuss our shared vision and goals for the year. These meetings will be brief and voluntary.  Almost every teacher in the past has spent two or three days at school in August setting up their classroom.  I will invite teachers to meet with the assistant principal and me when they are at school to work on their classroom.  In these meetings we can catch up on the summer highlights and also check in about goals.  By coming to school in August to take care of some of the classroom setup, teachers avoid some of the Sunday night anxiety at the end of the month as their to do list is not quite as daunting.

So tonight I hope to sleep well.  I am feeling much less anxious about the work ahead and much more excited to get back to work doing the job I love.

Published in: on July 31, 2011 at 8:17 pm  Leave a Comment