Sunday, August 28, 2011

and building new bridges...

Brian Nichols (@bjnichols) recently wrote a great post titled "removing roadblocks." Brian outlined 3 ways leaders are unknowingly putting up roadblocks that are ultimately preventing their organization from growing. All 3 roadblocks that Brian mentions are unfortunately too often true. I am going to try to take Brian's post a step further by suggesting 3 ways to not only remove the roadblocks, but to build new bridges to undiscovered destinations...

1. Taking the time to provide support and encouragement...

The colleagues with whom I have had the pleasure to work that really helped to push me as an Educator were those who were able to help me meet my needs. These colleagues encouraged and motivated me to take risks while pushing me to question the status quo. When leaders provide a high level of support and they help to establish a culture that embraces collaboration and teamwork, members of that organization will have the opportunity to innovate and create. The results of this kind or atmosphere are limitless as long as the necessary support, encouragement and autonomy are provided.

2. Keeping things simple and avoiding rules and procedures for everything...

Rules and procedures are everywhere in our society, and there are several instances where I am happy we have rules and procedures. However, when leaders establish rules and procedures for everything, I fear the only results are confusion and a lack of importance. Additionally, when leaders create rules and procedures for everything we end up stymeing any hope of creativity and innovation. When leaders keep things simple and are not overly restrictive, they are helping to create an environment where people have the ability to navigate uncharted waters.    

3. Being there when others need you to be there...

An atmosphere where autonomy is embraced can be great, but an atmosphere where isolation and complete individuality are accepted can also be a negative. Leaders need to walk the fine line of providing space and autonomy while simultaneously providing relevant and timely guidance. When we work in isolation for extended periods of time it can push us even further apart. An environment where leaders are present to support those with whom they work will have the directions to find those undiscovered locations.

How are you or your leaders helping to build new bridges in your school or district?

What strategies have been successful, and what strategies have not worked so well?


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My first "real" day as an administrator...
Today was the first day of school...

I had the opportunity to speak with several hundred different students.

I watched dedicated & committed teachers smile because they are excited for the year.

I was asked at least 15,539 times to help a student find the location of their next classroom.

I stayed extra late with a student so he would not be alone while we waited for a parent to arrive.

I reassured several concerned parents that we would take care of their son/daughter at school.

I spoke to a student who told me everything there is to know about tornadoes and storms.

I witnessed the 3 secretaries at PBJHS work in unison while literally "running" the school.

I was reaffirmed that learning the names of as many students as possible is absolutely crucial.

I got to eat about 17 Cheez-its and drink a V8 Fusion for lunch.

I think I helped to solve more problems than I created.

I witnessed shared leadership by several staff members which is totally awesome!

I showed a few pictures of my baby Maddy to some students.

I tried to create an environment where students feel safe, comfortable and welcome.

I realized that being an administrator is truly an awesome job...

Stay tuned for day 2 :)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

I don't have all the answers, and I'm OK with that...

About a week ago I wrote a post on homework in schools. I used this post to outline my basic beliefs on homework, while emphasizing the importance of continuing the homework discussion in order to move education forward. As all Educators know, homework is one of those topics that tend to get people fired up and excited. This is a good thing, because that means we have many Educators who are passionate about their educational beliefs.

Yesterday, I took it a step further and posted the exact same post on Connected Principals. I did this because I always seem to get a different audience when posting on my blog versus the Connected Principals blog. My original post on my blog got 10 comments, and the Connected Principals post got 12 additional comments.
By no means do I claim to be an expert when it comes to homework philosophies; I don't even claim to be a half-expert when it comes to homework, but I am however very interested in this topic. Even after the two posts, I still don't claim to be an expert on homework, but as a result of these two postings I feel I am much better equipped to have the "homework" discussion.

I have been able to read the comments and respond to 22 Educators from all around the world, while also continuing this conversation by getting both Educators and parents involved. I have taken a topic that is considered to be a "hot topic" and I have put it on center stage for anyone to read. Some may disagree with what I have said, some may agree, but most importantly there are now hopefully more Educators and parents having this discussion because of my posts.

Most Educators who blog don't have all the answers... some of us have very few in fact :)  What we do have is a voice and a vehicle to have discussions that might lead to those answers. That is why I blog and tweet... I can discuss, share, collaborate, and learn from Educators from around the world while simultaneously increasing my educational foundation.

Did I find the "homework" answer with these two blogs posts? No, certainly not, but I have encouraged and embraced a collaborative approach to discussing the very issues that we are dealing with in our schools on a daily basis. If one Educator continues this conversation at his/her building as a result of these posts, then I know my time spent writing these posts was time well spent...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The 6 secrets of change...

I just finished reading "The Six Secrets of Change" by Michael Fullan. If you are a building or district leader interested in growing your school or district, this would be a valuable book to read.

"Probably the two greatest failures of leaders are indecisiveness in times of urgent need for action and dead certainty that they are right in times of complexity. pg. 6"

1) - Love your employees "The key is in enabling employees to learn continuously and to find meaning in their work and in their relationship to coworkers and to the school/district as a whole"

- The quality of the education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers pg. 23
- Empowering those at the bottom beats punishing them from the top pg. 25
- Loving your employees is about helping all employees find meaning, increased skill development, and personal satisfaction in making contributions that simultaneously fulfill their own goals and the goals of the organization pg. 25

2) - Connect peers with purpose "The job of leaders is to provide good direction while pursuing its implementation through purposeful peer interaction and learning in relation to results."

- Successful organizations engage peers in purposeful interaction where quality experiences and results are central to the work pg. 46
- People who are always making sure their boss sees them, who direct their efforts up the chain rather than to their colleagues, are the ones who don't work out pg. 46
- "Bad" competition (you fail, I win) is replaced by "good" competition (how do we all get better, but I still want to improve as much as I can - friendly competition) pg. 48
- Leaders have to provide direction, create the conditions for effective peer interactions, and intervene along the way when things are not working as well as they could pg. 49

3) - Capacity building prevails "Capacity building entails leaders investing in the development of individual and collaborative efficacy of a whole group or system to accomplish significant improvements."

- Groups are high capacity if they possess & continue to develop knowledge & skills, if they attract & use resources (time, ideas, expertise, money) wisely, & if they are committed to putting in the energy to get important things done collectively & continuously pg. 57
- Capacity building trumps judgmentalism pg . 58
- In the intrinsically complex and uncertain world of today, problems get solved when people believe that they will not get punished for taking risks pg. 60
- People have built quite successful careers - describing the hill, measuring the hill, walking around the hill, taking pictures of the hill, and so forth. Sooner or later, somebody needs to actually climb the 63
4) - Learning is the work "Effective organizations see working and learning to work better as one and the same."

- Effective organizations address their core goals and tasks with relentless consistency, while at the same time learning continuously how to get better and better at what they are doing pg. 76
- You can achieve consistency and innovation only through deep and consistent learning in context pg. 86
- Professional development programs or courses, even when they are good in themselves, are removed from the setting in which teachers work. At best they represent useful input, but only that pg. 86
- If you want great people to do their best work, the logic goes, then you've got to create the right working conditions the moment they walk through the door pg. 89
- Deep learning is embedded in the culture of the workplace in successful organizations pg. 89

5) - Transparency rules "When transparency is consistently evident, it creates an aura of positive pressure - pressure that is experienced as fair and reasonable, pressure that is actionable in that it points to solutions, and pressure that ultimately is inescapable."

- Transparency is an openness about results; an openness about what practices are most strongly connected to successful outcomes pg. 99
- We need to work on developing transparent cultures in which it is normal to experience problems and solve them as they occur - effective cultures embrace transparency and the use of data as a core part of their work pg. 101
- The long-term survival of an organization is dependent on public confidence. Call this external accountability pg. 102

6) - Systems learn "Systems that learn have people who are learning new things all the time, and their sense of meaning and their motivation are continually stimulated and deepened.

- A reason why organizations do not sustain learning is they focus on individual leaders pg. 107
- Organizations learn by developing many leaders working in concert, instead of relying on key individuals who approach complexity with a combination of humility and faith that effectiveness can be maximized under the circumstances pg. 109
- Leaders need to be aware that the world is becoming more dynamically interrelated, as well as learn to cope with uncertainty pg. 113
- Leaders who operate from a position of certitude are bound to miss something, likely to be wrong more than their share, & almost certainly will not learn from their experiences pg. 117
- The best way to keep a secret is to share it pg. 126

Here is a great PDF with additional information about "The Six Secrets of Change." 

Friday, August 12, 2011

My thoughts on homework...

I recently wrote a blog post titled "5 conversations to improve your school right now!" The 5 topics I recommend each school to discuss are:

1) - Homework in schools
2) - Cell phones and technology in schools
3) - School public relations
4) - Teacher and administrator relationships
5) - Meetings

John Spencer (@johntspencer) is an Educator I have a lot of respect for, and after reading my post he challenged me to share what I really believe about homework. I have some very strong feelings about homework, and I honestly believe each and every school should take the time to evaluate their homework policy, as well as the way students are assessed. Here are my thoughts:

- More times than not homework adds little value when it comes to student learning...

- There is pressure from society to continue giving homework because that is the way it has always been done...

- Assigned homework rarely has any true relevancy or purpose for students, thus completion rates are negatively affected...

- When a student receives a zero for not completing homework, he/she is NOT learning about responsibility and "the real world."

- Grading homework on completion typically inflates grades and ultimately distorts overall content mastery...

- Homework should be an extension of the learning environment that provides students the opportunity to explore and discover...

- Homework can be a valuable tool in schools, but I believe too often homework is misused and ultimately detracts from the learning environment.

- More homework does NOT equal more learning...

- Students should not spend all night every night doing homework... I don't know many Educators who work 8 a.m. until 10 p.m.... why should students be subjected to that...?

- The natural love and curiosity of learning are destroyed by too much irrelevant and unproductive homework...

- A school without homework and grades would be a school where student learning and success increased...

- Not enough Educators are having this difficult conversation about the role of homework in schools...

What are your thoughts...? Let's keep this conversation going in an effort to move the homework discussion forward.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Teachers, my commitment to you...

As I prepare for my first year as an administrator, I continue to be humbled and amazed by the many intricacies of the administrative job (and school hasn't even started yet!). I have spoken with many current administrators, and they all say the first year as an administrator is by far the most difficult.
Though I have been spending a lot of time speaking with administrators, I have also taken a significant amount of time to speak with teachers, both in my new building as well as with former colleagues. Overwhelmingly there has been one common message from teachers, "Don't forget what it's like to be in the classroom."

As I am sure you know, there are some teachers who think that administrators are pure evil. Likewise, there are some administrators who think teachers are insignificant and have it way too easy. I don't believe either statement, but I am aware that these beliefs exist. Consequently, I am going to make a commitment to all my teacher colleagues to not forget what it's like to be in the classroom. Here is how I plan on doing that:

1) - I commit myself to listening much more than speaking. I will actively seek out teachers and ask them how things are going, and what I can do to help.

2) - I commit myself to teaching a lesson at least once a quarter. I want to get back in the classroom, while also providing a deserving break to a teacher.

3) - I commit myself to continuing to learn and grow as an instructional leader. As an administrator, I believe I was hired to help enhance the learning environment which in turn will increase student learning. I need to continue learning and growing to remain relevant and applicable.

4) - I commit myself to sharing content specific resources with my colleagues. By doing this, I will be thinking of ways to apply these strategies in a classroom setting, thus keeping my teaching skills refined and sharp.

5) - I commit myself to modeling effective delivery methods during PD sessions, PLC sessions and faculty meetings. By modeling these strategies I can stay relevant, while also providing concrete examples for teachers to use in their classrooms.

6) - I commit myself to finding and encouraging the strengths of all my colleagues. By modeling this behavior I can set an example that we all should be doing in our classrooms.

7) - I commit myself to getting into classrooms on a daily basis. One of the easiest ways for me to stay relevant and current on classroom trends is to be present. I need to observe and be witness to what is going on.

8) - I commit myself to focusing on the "we" rather than "them" and "us." We will never be as strong or effective as we are together, thus collaboration and teamwork are my top priorities.

These are my strategies to make sure I don't forget what it's like to be in the classroom. What strategies have you used or what strategies would you suggest...?

5 conversations to improve your school right now!

1) - Homework in schools...

2) - Cell phones and technology in schools...

3) - School public relations...

4) - Teacher and administrator relationships...

5) - Meetings...

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Can Facebook help your school...?

Chris Wejr (@mrwejr) recently wrote a great post on why "your school needs a Facebook page." As I reflect upon his post, as well as the newly created Facebook page for my junior high school, I wanted to add a few comments to the discussion...
Some of the advantages:

- The "school image" is hurting; we need to take school public relations to the next level
- Most parents, teachers and students are familiar with & comfortable using Facebook
- 750 million people are on Facebook; there is no faster way to connect with your community
- News about your school or district can be far reaching, relevant & timely
- You can take an active role in controlling the image of your school or district
- It will give parents, students and community members something to talk about
- Individual teachers can share some of the awesome things going on in their classes
- Information & online discussions can be controlled & monitored
- It's an opportunity to bring social media into the educational setting

Some things to be aware of:

- Your building principal, superintendent, or school board might not be comfortable using Facebook in an educational setting (here is the letter I sent to my superintendent)
- Somebody will have to manage the page and be responsible for doing frequent updates
- New laws are being developed that impede the growth of social media in schools
- It is only a matter of time before there is an inappropriate comment or personal attack
- If updates are not done frequently, you will cause more harm than good
- It needs to be clear what the expectations for the page are
- You can't give up & shut the Facebook page down the first time there is a complaint or inappropriate usage

If your building or district uses a Facebook page please leave a comment with the link. It would be great to compile a list of schools that use Facebook as examples to show others who have not yet taken the leap. Additionally, what other advantages or disadvantages do you see when using Facebook in an educational setting?

Friday, August 5, 2011

How well does your team collaborate...?

My new district is in year 2 of implementing Professional Learning Communities. Fortunately, my principal and I both come from districts where PLCs were further along in the implementation process, so we bring a little experience to the district. Each school in the district has a PLC leadership team made up of around 10 teachers and the building administrators.

Over the last two days our leadership team had the opportunity to meet with central office administrators and and other building PLC leadership teams. This was a great experience because we were able to further our PLC understanding, as well as develop relationships among the team members.

Lots of things were discussed, but one of the main factors that will determine how well PLCs operate in your building or district is the ability of your teams to collaborate efficiently and effectively. If your teams are unable to use data in a collaborative approach in an effort to enhance student achievement, then your teams won't have much success with PLCs.

As part of our training:

we had some difficult conversations that made people feel uncomfortable...

we discussed issues that most Educators avoid due to the potential of conflict...

we pushed each other to reflect upon our classroom practices and beliefs...

we were honest and we put ourselves in a state of vulnerability...

We also had the opportunity to watch these two videos exemplifying the stark contrast between good collaboration and bad collaboration. Please enjoy, and think about how you and your teams work collaboratively. The difference it makes is the difference between sustainable growth or simply wasting your time...

Bad collaboration

Good collaboration

Monday, August 1, 2011

A vision of shared leadership...

I am in the process of reading my second book as part of the #edfocus book club, which meets on Wednesdays at 8:30 CDT. The first book we read was "Focus" by Mike Schmoker, and we are currently reading "Leaders of Learning" by Richard DuFour and Robert Marzano. As you probably know, DuFour and Marzano are key players in the Professional Learning Communities model, and as such this book ties a lot of its points to the implementation of PLCs at both the district, building and classroom levels.

I don't want to try to say it better than DuFour and Marzano so I am going to take a few statements from the book on "shared leadership," and what building principals should look for when selecting team leaders:

1) - Their influence with their colleagues - The acceptance or rejection of an idea often depends less on the merits of the idea itself than on the person who is supporting it. In most organizations there are some members who are so highly regarded and respected that their support helps convince others a proposal has merit. The people best suited to leading a team are these "opinion leaders."

2) - Their willingness to be a champion of the PLC process - Organizations are most effective when leaders throughout the organization speak with one voice regarding priorities and align their own behaviors with those priorities. The most effective team leaders demonstrate their belief in the PLC process by modeling their own commitment to a focus on learning, collaboration, collective inquiry, and results orientation.

3) - Their sense of self-efficacy and willingness to persist - A recent national survey of teachers revealed they believed the two most important factors for improving student achievement were more funding and better support from parents. This tendency to look for solutions outside one's own sphere of influence is a major barrier to improving schools. Effective team leaders do not look out the window waiting for someone else to improve their situation - they look in the mirror. They demonstrate their belief that the collective actions of the members of the team can have a significant, positive impact on results. This belief enables them to rally rather than retreat when faced with setbacks because they assume that negative events are temporary glitches rather than the permanent state of affairs that pessimists see, and that setbacks are due to specific causes that can be identified and fixed. They stay the course.

4) - Their ability to think systematically - The most effective team leaders see the interconnections between the work of their teams and the improvement of their schools and districts. Whereas ineffective leaders will view the work of teams as a series of disjointed tasks to be accomplished for a checklist, effective team leaders are able to connect the dots. They bring coherence to the collaborative team process.

If you are looking for a great read on district and building leadership, then I would suggest reading "Leaders of Learning." Additionally, if your school is considering, beginning, or underway when it comes to implementing PLCs, then this book is a must read for all the members on your leadership teams.

As a district or building leader, what strategies do you use when developing a system of shared leadership, as well as what characteristics do you look for when selecting team and committee leaders?