Friday, March 27, 2015

10 tenets of #leadership

1). When we say 'no,' we are actually modeling the type of professional discourse we need. Far too often we blindly agree with everything because it's easier to say 'yes.' If we want people to push us in our thinking, then we must be willing to do the same, which means we need to be able to say 'no.'

2). Compliance doesn't equal commitment... an organization driven to compliance is being driven by fear. True commitment requires intrinsically motivated passion and autonomy for all those involved in the organization.

3). Knowing the difference between 'just tell me what to do,' and 'just tell me what to do...' The first 'tell me what to do' is out of unyielding loyalty with someone whom trust has been built and a relationship has been developed. The second 'tell me what to do' is someone who is just giving in and rolling over only to talk negatively behind your back about the initiative.

4). Who to blame and point fingers at is never a multiple choice question. We can either try and blame those with whom we work, or we can help them understand. Blaming almost always guarantees a negative response which only results in setting things back even further.

5). Always be working to develop, nurture, and groom your successor. We should always be focusing on growing our future potential replacement to ensure a smooth transition in the event of our departure.

6). Leaders don't get to stand on the sidelines. We need to be in the middle of the game in both the good times and the bad.

7). If there are a lot of 'sacred cows' in your organization, then it's time to have a good old-fashioned BBQ.

8). If an initiative you started fizzles out after you leave the organization, then it was never a part of the everyday set of expectations. If the projects, initiatives and programs that occured during our time can't sustain themselves and endure in our absence, then they were never fully entrenched in the culture of the organization.

9). 'Leadership' is having a position & having authority... 'leading' is a disposition that values and empowers others.

10). Most importantly... leadership is about developing more leaders, not accumulating more followers... it's that simple.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Should we offer signing bonuses for unique and specialized teaching positions?

Let's get one thing straight... this blog post ins't aimed at devaluing or slighting any particular teaching position. Rather instead, it's acknowledging the realities of the world we live in as we aim to make the learning environment for our students as robust and effective as possible...

So, we know there are trends that have been emerging and continue to emerge when it comes to schooling and the overall approach we take to student learning.

District curricula are becoming more specialized and more personalized to the needs of students as they work toward being prepared for a world that will be completely different by the time they graduate.

Schools are taking note of blended learning models that embrace the notion of moving away from 'seat time' being the main driving force in the typical schooling model.

Even an entire country is making a shift away from teachers teaching 'subjects' in isolation.

The world of education is experiencing unprecedented pressure and force that originate from the world in which we live. The demands of society continue to evolve and increase in complexity and schools are being forced to change as a result... albeit more slowly. :)

But here's the thing...

When a secondary social studies position is open in a school district, there is never a shortage of potential candidates. Graduating from college with the proper certification to teach social studies puts you in company with plenty of others. 

Similarly, when an elementary 1st grade teaching position is open, schools have to swim through mountains of resumes and online applications to narrow the list down before ever even speaking with a candidate. Now, make no mistake, it takes a special person to teach 1st grade... go observe a 1st grade classroom if you don't believe me. But, the reality is, there are a lot of people out there who believe they are that 'special' person.

But what about that new coding class you are looking to start at your high school? Do you have anybody on staff who would be qualified to teach this course? What about physics... what about engineering?

What about that new environmental recycling and sustainability course you want to get off the ground at your middle school? Do you have anybody on staff who has the expertise and knowledge to lead this class? What about Chinese as a foreign language... what about robotics?

Or even that principles of engineering and design course you want to add at your upper elementary school? Who do you have walking your building right now that would make this class a success? What about elementary special education... what about an autism behavior specialist? 

My point is simple... we know there are shifts happening in education in regard to what our kids need to be learning and the experiences they need to be having.  

But the truth is education can't attract the types of people who have these types of expertise and experiences. Someone with these skills and experiences commands more money in the business world and that is where they often end up going.

I fear education as a whole, and most importantly, our students are missing out...  
So, what would happen if we started offering signing bonuses to individuals who had these skills and sets of expertise? What would happen if we acknowledged that some individuals have a skill-set that is more specialized and more 'rare' than others?

What would happen if we acknowledged some individuals are more in demand than others?

What is the downside of offering more money to teachers who can do something that most others can't?

What is the downside of bringing up-to-date industry trends and practices into our schools for our students to learn about and experience as part of their educational journey?

I'll end with one last question...

What is the upside if education started doing this?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Virtual Field Trip - Wild Biomes: From America’s Rainforest to America’s Desert

Water... the one commodity that keeps the world moving...

We use water and interact with water on a daily basis and far too often we take for granted those interactions. There's no denying the importance of water and the role it plays in our lives.

To highlight the impact water has on different environments and how it affects the everyday happenings within those different environments, the Nature Works Everywhere organization plans to host a virtual field trip with a 'live' Google Hangout. This virtual field trip will be comparing the two distinctly different ecosystems of the temperate rain forest in Washington State and the dry and arid Arizona Desert.

What you need to know about this virtual field trip:

- Sign up to participate in this virtual field trip

- The 'live' event is Wednesday, April 8, at 12 noon Eastern time

- The target audience for this event is students in grades 3-8 with a focus on science and geography... several NGSS and national social studies standards will be covered in this event!

- The virtual field trip is roughly 40 minutes in length which isn't too short but also isn't too long... the perfect amount of time for an in-depth and thorough lesson

- This field trip is a part of larger series via Nature Works Everywhere with the goal of building students' knowledge of environmental issues, as well as helping students to make a more emotional connection to the world around them

- Teachers and students can also watch the virtual field trip live via Google Hangout On Air and Google+. 

- Teachers and students can view the event streaming live on YouTube or you can check it out later when timing is better by visiting the Nature Works Everywhere YouTube channel

If you still aren't sold on being a part of this virtual field trip, check out this additional information!

- There will be several participants in this virtual field trip. Tyler DeWitt, science teacher, will be serving as the emcee, and Kari Vigerstol who is a senior hydrologist on The Nature Conservancy’s Global Water team, will also be joining the conversation. 

- Additionally, there will be a classroom full of students participating with video clips and graphics being shared in advanced in preparation for the event. Also really neat is the fact that questions can be asked via the chat function in the Google Hangout to be answered live!

- If you are looking to align what you are currently doing in your class or start preparing for this virtual tour in advance, below are some of the key concepts and key terms that should be focused on:

Biomes (temperate rainforest, desert), water quality, water quantity, Pacific Northwest, urban watershed, Arizona desert, Verde River, geography, rainfall, how water affects people and how people affect water, and lastly, where does your water come from?

- Nature Works Everywhere has even provided some supplementary materials to go with the virtual field trip:

Nature Works Everywhere has also provided corresponding classroom resources on how natural areas filter water and how managing salmon can help support healthy forestsLastly, if you are needing materials and information on water, check out this garden activity guide.

So, with all this information, be sure to check out this neat and exciting opportunity to bring learning to life for kids. This is a wonderful example of how we can take technology and the globally connected world we live in and bring them both right to your classroom!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Administrators: keep these 5 suggestions in mind

Leadership in education isn't easy and definitely isn't for the faint of heart. Additionally, it's easy to second guess and question how a school leader reacts, responds and makes decisions. In the end, it's really impossible to understand what it's like in the chair without having ever sat in the chair. Having said that, here are some suggestions to keep in mind to make that chair as comfortable as possible:

1). Publicly praising those who are deserving doesn't always yield the positive results and 'kick-start' motivation you seek...

When we publicly praise someone, we think we are doing them a real solid, but in the end, it may cause more negative than positive. Here's the thing, some people don't want to be publicly recognized as it can put a target on their back. Additionally, when we publicly recognize someone for their efforts, it acknowledges that there are others who aren't doing what that person is doing. This unfortunately can empower and confirm a secondary culture that exists beneath any of the positive. Praise is a good thing and we need more of it, but be aware of how it affects the praised and those who are around when the praising is done.

2). Asking others to be 'tech savvy' but yet your actions lead others to think you are quite comfortable with 20th century education...

The title 'instructional leader' and 'lead learner' are commonly used but may just be misplaced. Assuming that there are no other instructional or lead learners in a building other than the administrator(s) may be a little presumptuous to say the least. Having said that, we need administrators to not just talk the talk... they need to walk the walk. We need administrators to model effective technology usage and put technology integration into everyday life and the daily operational structure of the school. Technology integration can't and shouldn't be an event... not if you want teachers embracing and using technology consistently for the benefit of student learning.

3). The unintended consequence of always saying 'yes...'

Sure, we need administrators to support and encourage their teachers. And a lot of times this starts with allowing them to follow a path of their own choosing. It means giving teachers latitude and flexibility to do what they need to do. It means treating them as the professionals that they are. On the flip side though... don't get caught saying 'yes' all the time without little questioning or validation. What I mean is that when you become the administrator who always says 'yes,' people start to assume you will say yes no matter what. This then creates a culture of complacency and lack of appreciation for being intentional with our actions. Additionally, it removes the presence of being able to truly fight for and struggle for what we want. In leadership it's way too easy to say yes... it's when you are able to say no, you truly give yes the power and backing it deserves...

4). Making me question everything I do by making blanket statements to the entire staff about something you aren't happy with...

When a small group of people do something that needs to be addressed, leaders typically take one of two routes... the first route and better route is to address and speak with those individuals specifically. The second and more commonly used route is to send a staff-wide email or make a blanket statement at the next faculty meeting. The blanket statement is easier and most certainly less confrontational, but it's like many things that are easier, it's not nearly as effective or productive. The truth is that when you address the entire staff, the people you are really trying to reach won't be listening or they simply won't care. The innocent and majority of your staff will question what they are doing and worry that you may be talking about them when you really aren't.

5). Believing in collaboration and group consensus is important, but there are times when this isn't what we need as a staff...

Getting buy-in and support from as many stakeholders as possible is a trademark of great leadership. Educational leaders won't last long in a leadership position if they never stop to collaborate and get feedback and input from those with whom they work. However, if a leader makes all the decisions by way of group consensus, then there are decisions that won't be made soon enough and there will be decisions made that just aren't the best decisions. A leader is able to see the full picture, which means he/she has information and perspective that many others do not. Additionally, a big part of being a leader is making the tough decisions when others aren't able. Leadership requires action and there are times when collaboration and group consensus get in the way of that action.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Lessons I learned while being a substitute teacher

This past week I was presented with a unique opportunity. This unique opportunity was a little scary at first (I have no problem admitting that), but in the end it turned out to be a great experience I would do again in a heartbeat.

My district had several things happening in many of our schools which resulted in a higher than usual number of teachers requiring a substitute. This high demand of substitute teachers exceeded the number of substitute teachers available, so we were entertaining all types of options to get adequate coverage. As we discussed ways to ensure we had coverage in all of our classrooms, one of our assistant superintendents (@crdpwr) and I both decided we would cover a classroom for the day.

We both selected science classrooms at our HS which put us closer to having full coverage for our district for the day. My science class had 3 sections of general biology, 2 sections of physics, and 1 section of robotics. For the record, I've never been a substitute teacher before and prior to administration, I was a HS German teacher, not science, so this was something a little out of my comfort zone!

Here are a few powerful lessons I learned while being a substitute teacher...

Students want to know their teachers on both a professional and personal level.

Our kids really do crave the opportunity to share their thoughts on issues that affect them.

When we show respect and trust our students they show respect and trust in return.

Students really don't have a lot of freedom while at school and this impacts their attitude toward school.

Substitute teachers should be a more significant priority for school districts to minimize lost 'quality' learning time.

Administrators should commit to subbing for teachers both inside and outside of their building on a quarterly basis.

A full day of connecting with and interacting with students is a refreshing experience.

Students enjoy taking 'groupies' with their teachers.

In the end, this was a great experience and I look forward to doing it again.

Monday, March 9, 2015

What I wish I'd known as a first year teacher

1). Kids have needs that go far beyond anything in the curriculum or the content you teach.

2). Being tired and being mentally drained will become less of an issue over time, but do be sure to take care of yourself and tend to your basic needs like health and sleep.

3). Observing other teachers teach and inviting them to observe you to then discuss is a wonderful use of your non-existent time.

4). Doing something 'cool' or innovative with your students can cause your colleagues to be jealous.

5). It's personal the day it occurred... but in the long-term, it's rarely if ever personal between you and the student.

6). Kids want autonomy, flexibility and freedom... but they also secretly crave structure and safety in process first...

7). You're not there to be a friend, but there are days when your students will need you to be much more than 'just' a teacher.

8). Though mistakes will be plentiful and 'what the heck was I thinking' moments frequent, you won't permanently damage your students to where whatever you've done is irreparable.

9). A supportive and encouraging administration is a blessing that unfortunately all teachers don't have the luxury of... how so lucky and fortunate I was.

10). Go out and do what you do best... you were hired for a reason and it wasn't because nobody else was available.