Monday, October 28, 2013

Which part of the flame are you...?

Have you ever just sat and watched a fire from birth to finish on a nice cool fall evening?

It's a mesmerizing process and quite relaxing to say the least!

Having said that, I've noticed that there are three stages to the fire process:

Stage 1: The initial spark which includes smaller pieces of wood that slowly spread throughout the fire pit but won't last too long without proper placement and proper air circulation.

Stage 2: The slightly larger pieces of wood that catch flame by being surrounded by many smaller pieces already aflame that will last a while but won't be able to withstand a strong gust of wind.

Stage 3: The largest pieces of wood that then catch fire from the medium sized pieces of wood and burn quite hot and last for quite some time and are easily able to withstand a strong gust of wind.

I couldn't help but notice the similarity of this process to the process of initiating and facilitating change.

All change starts with a spark and a small flame... (stage 1)

All change needs to be carefully constructed and planned out with additional supports to help get the change really off the ground... (stage 2)

All change is sustainable and enduring when the supports and structure become the culture of the organization thus becoming too powerful to be overcome by outside variables and factors... (stage 3)

We all play a certain role on our teams, in our schools, and in our districts.

Which role do you play?

Which part of the flame are you...?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

What I envision for education...

I envision an education system where students are trusted & given the benefit of the doubt before being prematurely judged.

I envision an education system where students are viewed from the lens of 'why couldn't they' instead of the lens of 'they can't.'

I envision an education system where we act upon what we know to be true & most effective rather than what's convenient for adults.

I envision an education system where we operate on the premise of if it doesn't make the world a better place, then we don't do it.

I envision an education system where we collaborate & develop long lasting partnerships with others who are invested in helping kids.

I envision an education system that doesn't let what's happened in the past to dictate what we can do in the future.

I envision an education system that doesn't focus on what we as the educators are doing, but rather how the students are responding.

I envision an education system where we don't feel that we are in competition, but rather we are all working toward a shared common goal.

I envision an education system where students are 'allowed' to take responsibility for their learning.

I envision an education system where educators are empowered, trusted, & provided the resources to make 'school' the 'real world.'

I envision an education system where students are shown the possibilities of the world, rather than the limitations of schools.

I envision an education system that firmly believes in eliminating the 'opportunity gap' between those who have & those who don't.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

8 things every student deserves...

One of the things I miss most about my job is the connection and relationship with students. For me to speak and work with students, I really have to go out of my way and make it happen. Unfortunately this doesn't happen nearly as often as I would like, but my recognition of that is incentive enough to make it a priority.

What's clear to me is that our students deserve and need a lot from us:

1). Every student deserves to have someone who won't give up on them; someone who will encourage them, support them, and reassure them that there are those who believe in them. #youmatter

2). Every student deserves to have the appropriate tools and resources available to them that will allow them to find success. We are rightfully obligated to provide the necessary tools for our students, and this must be a part of the bigger picture when it comes to available resources and personnel.

3). Every student deserves to have similar and equal opportunities that others may have; the opportunity gap we have in education is broadening the gap between the 'educated' and the 'non-educated.' We can't continue to allow this to happen when we are talking about access to learning.

4). Every student deserves the benefit of the doubt. Far too often we assume students are doing something wrong and not doing what they are supposed to be doing. When we assume, we tend to be incorrect.

5). Every student deserves a teacher who believes that what's been done in the past is not the only factor when determining what to do in the present and what to do in the future. The choices we make affect our students... we can't hold them back because we are scared to do something we aren't comfortable with.

6). Every student deserves the opportunity to design, create, and explore. We must create a safe environment for our students to feel comfortable with doing things they have never done before. This level of comfort and trust makes everything else possible.

7). Every student deserves to have the best teacher. Far too often we put our newest and least experienced teachers with our most challenging and most at-risk students. Shouldn't we have the best teachers and most experienced teachers working with our students who can most benefit from their skills?

8). Every student deserves a teacher who is willing to take a risk and take a chance. Sometimes it's appropriate to play it safe, while other times it's necessary to take a chance and step outside the box. Students all need someone who is willing to be different and someone who is willing to travel this journey with them...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Don't use a firetruck to put out a match...

We've all heard the phrase 'put the fire out.'

We all know the fires that are the biggest and fastest growing tend to get the water first.

We've all experienced a situation that grew out of control before we could even identify the problem; let alone find the hose to put the fire out!

Every day we experience problems. They range from small problems that require a little finesse all the way to big problems that require an 'all hands on deck' approach.

How we handle these wide-range of problems is ultimately one of the biggest factors that separates those who can contain and put fires out and those who can not.

Just as important, is how we react to those fires; how we respond to, and how we choose to contain and/or put out those fires.

For example, when someone is obviously in a frenzy because of something that has happened, you have a choice as to how you are going to respond.

You can join the frenzy and risk growing the fire, or you can be calm and logically and systematically figure out a resolution to the problem.

Remember, there are those fires that require us to bring in every hose that is available.

There are also those fires that require a little spray bottle.

Which fire are you responding to?

Are you putting the fire out or are you fanning the fire and causing it to grow...?

Monday, October 21, 2013

If you don't 'toot' your own horn, then who will?

I recently had a conversation with a colleague whom I greatly respect and greatly appreciate. This conversation definitely was not what I expected, but nevertheless it really got me thinking about something that's been bothering me for a while.

The topic of discussion was basically about making sure others know what you are doing and know of your contributions. In other words, what are you doing to 'toot' your own horn and make sure there is no confusion about the value you are adding.

Now, here's the thing, I honestly don't see anything wrong with people knowing what you are doing and knowing about the value you are adding to the organization. 

The tricky part is how you go about doing this...

For some, sharing everything about themselves and their contributions is quite easy because they relish the spotlight. For others, it can be quite difficult as they wish to remain behind the scenes and out of the spotlight. 

Finally, there are those in the middle who don't mind the spotlight occasionally, but are equally interested in sharing the spotlight with others.

The part of this conversation that hit home the most was how to balance ensuring others know the value you are adding without having to walk around and toot your own horn all day long.

Is it not enough to assume that others know what you are doing and know your worth?

Is it not enough to work behind the scenes from time-to-time while allowing others to be in the spotlight?

Is it not enough to step aside occasionally and empower others to share the value they are adding?

Or, is every time you step aside and remove yourself from the spotlight a missed opportunity to share your worth with others?

Keeping me up at night...

Friday, October 18, 2013

8 things educators need to know about the brain

1). A lack of sleep has a significant impact on one's ability to do many of what we would consider to be simple but yet essential tasks.

2). There are two brains and each is quite different from the other.

3). The girl brain and the boy brain have some significant differences that affect learning and affect brain development.

4). There are different stages and different compartments for memory.

5). The stressed student will perform significantly worse when compared to the student who is not stressed... especially over the long term.

6). Physical activity has a significant impact on overall brain activity and brain performance in the short term.

7). Different parts of the brain are engaged depending on the activity and the information that is being accessed in the brain.

8). Exercise affects the brain in a positive manner and impacts several of the most vital features of the brain.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Data driven or driven by data...?

I don't know about you, but there seems to be a trend that's been gaining momentum for quite some time now.

This trend is quite evident as almost all education employers are asking about it and looking for it in the interview process.

They are looking for you to say, 'I'm data driven and I am always using data to drive my decision making process.' Basically, they want to know that you recognize there is some form of accountability for your actions, and gut feelings don't cut it anymore.

It's almost a guarantee that if you don't mention being 'data driven' in an interview, your chances of getting the job drop drastically. I'm sure there's some data to support this claim...

Now, don't get me wrong, I enjoy the occasional data party when I sit down with excel spreadsheet upon excel spreadsheet to 'crunch the numbers.' There is quite a lot that can be learned from data and there is a lot that can be gained by knowing the root cause of something.

Having said that, I question our fixation and ever-growing thirst for data.
I think we are drowning ourselves and drowning each other with data. We have data on everything you could ever want to quantify. Heck, we even have data about the data we've collected.

So, like I said, I'm not saying data is evil and I'm not saying we should completely ignore data. But, I do think we need to recognize data overload and recognize what happens when we lose sight of the 'grey.'

As educators, we all know that a lot of things fall in the 'grey' area and don't exactly fit in the black and white model. Knowing that, we can't just focus on those things that are quantitative, we must also recognize and consider those that are qualitative.

Remember, from time to time you should probably ask yourself, are you data driven or driven by data?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Keep moving...

You were feeling completely overwhelmed...

You attempted to write a 'to do list' only to end the day with a 'things I didn't get completed list...'

You even started to consider if this was the right job for you...

Your evenings (when you weren't swamped with work) consisted of you complaining about how you have too much on your plate...

Your drive to work starts off fine but the closer to work you get the more frustrated you become...

Then something happens...

You start to figure out ways to work smarter and not harder...

You rely on those with whom you work to assist and help; more importantly, you start to trust them more to do more thus removing stuff from your plate...

You begin to do things you've not been able to do in the past because now you have a little time...

You aren't just focused on staying afloat, you are focused on swimming clear across the lake...

You are becoming comfortable in your job and you're now finding certain tasks to be mundane and trivial...

You now occasionally find yourself bored with what you do at work and your 'zest' isn't quite what it used to be...

If you are like most humans (which I'm confident you are), you have most likely found yourself in both camps at several times throughout your life. The question is how long do you allow yourself to say in either of these camps.

If you allow yourself to stay in either of these camps for too long, you might not find a way out...

Saturday, October 12, 2013

8 things we can't accept in education

We can't accept what's been done in the past as the only way to do things in the future. Obviously changing just for the sake of changing is not appropriate, but we can't ignore the changes that are happening all around us, and as such there must be corresponding changes in education.

We can't accept not teaching the 'whole' child. More and more frequently our students are entering our schools with needs that extend far beyond just 'learning.' In order for education to be successful, we can't ignore the external factors that play a critical role in what we do in education.

We can't accept working in isolation and working in silos. The world is rich with opportunities for collaboration and there is no possible way to argue that we aren't stronger as a team and stronger working together.
We can't accept that our content is more important than the relationships we establish with our students. It is with almost absolute certainty that students won't care about your content if they don't care about you. Develop strong relationships to truly bring your content to life for your students.

We can't accept and continue to allow educators to believe that integrating technology into instruction is optional. As individuals, we can choose to ignore the influence of technology in society, but as educators we are robbing our students of experiences they will need to be successful.

We can't accept and continue to think that learning is limited to what happens within the four walls of a classroom. Learning can't be contained and learning can't be defined by man-made structures. Learning is everywhere and learning is all around us... education needs to acknowledge it.

We can't accept and continue to believe we have an achievement gap. In reality, we are facing an 'opportunity gap' that continues to divide the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' between equitable and equal access to educational materials and resources.

We can't accept and can't allow ourselves not to be held accountable. We as the educators are responsible for what happens in our schools, and it's that responsibility that makes working in education awesome.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Leadership is about letting go...

Leadership is not about making every single last decision...

Leadership is not having everyone with whom you work check in on a constant basis to share their progress...

Leadership is not forcing others to sit and wait before moving ahead because they need your prior approval...

Leadership is not critiquing and changing everything that is done by others...

Leadership is not about following the paths that have already been traveled and have already been explored...

Leadership is not about what you accomplish and what you are able to achieve...

Leadership is allowing and encouraging others to make decisions that impact the team...

Leadership is giving those with whom you work the autonomy and flexibility to do what they were hopefully hired to do...

Leadership is empowering those with whom you work to do what they feel is going to be best...

Leadership is providing constructive feedback and input with the intent of team collaboration...

Leadership is about forging new paths and discovering new possibilities...

Leadership is about what you help others to accomplish and what you help others to achieve...

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

I got in trouble for Tweeting at work...

I remember the day like it was just yesterday...

I'd just finished a meeting with our elementary group leaders and I was on my way home. The meeting was good and was quite productive. I was feeling pretty good about what we had discussed and the plans we had moving forward.

On the way home my phone started to ring and I noticed it was my assistant superintendent. I of course answered the call and thought it a little unusual since this person was present and a part of the meeting I had just left.

'Justin,' it started out, 'I have some information you probably need to be aware of.'

Of course this is not the way most people want a phone conversation to start, so I immediately began to worry and prepare myself for some kind of bad news.

The news that was to follow was definitely not what I was expecting.

'There has been talk among some in the district about the utilization of your time while at work.'

By now of course I realized this bad news was about me, and not someone or something else.

I began to think about the day and the things I've been doing recently at work. I personally didn't feel that I had a lot of free time and frankly was quite busy as usual.

I then asked, 'can you be more specific when you say the utilization of my time while at work?'

The response came swift and hard and literally felt like a punch to the gut...

'Some are concerned about the amount of tweets you send out during work hours and are questioning if that should be something you are allowed to do during the day while you are at work.'

I of course then went into defense mode and listed every possible reason in the world why I thought using Twitter in the day was not only acceptable, but was also benefiting the district because I was leveraging the help of others to assist those within my district. I then made the case that my Twitter stream was almost all professional and all related to education and leadership.

First thing the next morning I was in my superintendent's office to defend myself...

We talked... I explained... questions were asked... information was shared... in the end... we agreed.

In the end I was supported and reaffirmed in my pursuit to be and remain a connected educator. My superintendent was not only supportive of this behavior, he encouraged it and has even started a personal Twitter account.

The point of sharing this story is simple... we still have far too many educators who don't fully understand Twitter and don't understand the value of being connected. They aren't seeing the benefits of collaborative learning and are pre-judging those who do by assuming we are just 'playing' around.

For the record, my district has continued to show support and has been embracing social media as a viable learning tool. Do we still have work to do, yes, absolutely we do. But, hey, what district doesn't still have work to do?

Keep spreading the good word and modeling appropriate and effective social media usage to those who know not!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Keep calm and stop complaining

Why do people complain?

Why is it so easy and feels so good coming out even though we all know it doesn’t feel good later? It’s like eating that great big greasy meal before going to bed only to wake up the next morning feeling like death.

So, why do people complain?

They believe life is not fair. They are genuinely unhappy. They are jealous. They lack empathy and think they could do a better job than others are doing.

Sometimes I think life isn’t fair. Sometimes I am uphappy. Sometimes I’m jealous of what others have. Sometimes I think I could have done it better than someone else. Perhaps I should be complaining more. J

So, why is complaining so dangerous? Some say complaining actually is a stress reliever and can be therapeutic in a sense (in some sick twisted way).

The research even says that when people are exposed to 30 minutes of complaining every day, it physically damages their brain. It damages the neurons in the part of the brain used for problem solving and cognitive functioning by peeling back the neurons in those areas. Sounds pretty intense and pretty detrimental doesn’t it!

Research also says the more you’re around a negative person, the more likely you are to mimic their behavior. Neuro-scientific data shows that the brain works more like a muscle than previously thought so the more you repeat a behavior the more you become that behavior. Complaining is like the beginning stages of a snowball rolling down the mountain… it can grow and pick up momentum quite quickly!

So, in closing, do I truly know my point with this blog post? No, not really, but I do know that complaining has both its pros and cons. Complaining serves a purpose but it also can be toxic and slowly erode the integrity of our teams and structures.

Perhaps we should start handing out pieces of paper with this image on them when complaining rears its ugly head… just a thought!

As educators in our respective districts, we must be strong and stay above this behavior. We must protect those who need protecting from those who purposefully or inadvertently spread their toxicity. We must always be the model of who we wish to see working with our kids.

We must leave no doubt in the minds of others that our integrity and fortitude will endure despite whatever happens. This is no easy challenge… but I think we can do it!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Dear new teachers...

A few months ago I wrote a blog post just for you.

The blog post is titled, 10 things I want all new teachers to know.

Many of you read this blog post and for that I thank you. Hopefully you were able to get a few good pointers that have helped to ease your transition into the teaching profession.

You are now probably two or three months into the teaching profession. Not to be mean and not to say it will be you, but please know that historically about 50% of teachers leave the profession before the end of their fifth year.

This apparent mass exodus from education by young teachers is both alarming and detrimental to the overall effectiveness we have as educators.

So here's the deal: 

By now you have a little bit of an idea of what you are doing. 

You know that kids don't come in the same neat little packages just waiting to be unwrapped. 

You know that parents can be your biggest allies or your biggest pain in the rear at times. 

You know the system unfortunately is not always focused on doing what is best for kids. 

You know there are those with whom you work that are like walking blobs of toxicity.

You also know there are those with whom you work who would do anything and everything to help at the slightest request. 

You've also probably figured out that your administrator doesn't have as much time as he/she would like to guide you through this first year teacher process.

You know working beyond the typical school day hours is not only frequent, but that it's quite necessary to get everything done. 

You know this job isn't easy and you are starting to realize that it's only going to get more difficult..

You are learning that some really appreciate and respect what educators do, while others view education as the scapegoat for all of our societal woes.

So in closing, after all that you have witnessed thus far in your teaching career, please know that we need you. We are here to support you. We are here to help and we are here to see you succeed. We hope that you stick with it and we hope that you persevere and show the same type of grit you are expecting from your students. We hope you know that you matter and know that the work you are doing is vitally crucial to every facet of our society.

We hope to see you in five years...

Friday, October 4, 2013

The changing face of classroom instruction

Josh Hall, the instructional technology specialist in my district, will be doing a presentation with me at the Fall MSBA/MASA conference.

Our topic is the changing face of classroom instruction. No matter where you, your school, or your district is, we are challenged as educators to create an engaging, relevant, and purposeful learning environment for our students. This is no easy task... but please do enjoy our presentation and hopefully you will get a couple ideas!