As a Middle School Principal of 1,100 students it is sometimes difficult to make individual connections. We are all busy but there are times when we have to stop in our tracks and listen to the youth, and find the young! Earlier this year, 11 year old Mya Reid, published her first book of poetry apply titled Finding The Young.
When I talked with Mya about her passion for writing, she told me that she started in 4th grade when a teacher gave her a journal. Since that time she has written many poems, short stories and ideas in that journal. Fortunately, she connected with Mikey Wayward, a local Millville poet, who helped Mya to take her poems to the next level. She admits that life hasn’t always been easy but she finds solace in her writing.
Mya’s partnership with Mikey Wayward, known as Mr. Mike, has continued to flourish. He has helped her and encouraged her to continue writing and expand her language. They have a new, collaborative book of poetry due out this month.
I highly recommend you check out Finding the Young. There are 44 poems in the book and you will be mesmerized by her words! Here is one of my favorites:
Friendly Hollow I’ll be leader, you be the follower. I’ll show great leadership Because my name is friendly hollow. I sleep in the night You play in the day. We’re totally different But, we think the same way Your friendship I don’t borrow I keep I know because you sweep me off my feet I respect your expectations.
So you I follow.
I hope you follow me, friendly hollow.
School leaders are constantly searching for a practical book with realistic opportunities to improve teaching and learning. From Leading to Succeeding: The Seven Elements of Effective Leadership is a book that will exceed the expectations of the reader. Be prepared to be inspired and to enact a systemic process of change that will benefit teachers, students and the school community. In short, this book should be required reading for all school leaders!
Reeves outlines seven elements that will assist leaders. The seven elements are purpose, trust, focus, leverage, feedback, change and sustainability. These comprehensive elements provide a scaffolding for leaders to take their organization to the next level and beyond. Reeves doesn’t take this opportunity lightly to assist leaders seriously being concrete with the application of these elements and more importantly why they exist.
Here is an overview of the seven elements: Purpose
What is the purpose within your organization? For instance, as you approach tasks as a leader are you able to articulate why something is worth everyone’s time and energy? Do you know what the end results will be? These are questions that Reeves delves into providing applicable answers.
When you think about your relationship with your staff or community is there a level of trust? Reeves points out that people will not be able to follow a leader that they do not trust. In addition, Reeves is able to challenge even the most well intentioned school leader to revisit the organization’s mission statement and how decisions can support or detract trust.
When was the last time you examined the initiatives in your school? Are you trying to do too much at once? In this section, Reeves helps school leaders to avoid the initiative fatigue that plagues school districts. His practical advice will cause school leaders to take a step back from the next shiny toy and develop a “less is more approach.”
In this section, Reeves helps school leaders to understand how and when to use their influence to improve the organization. In addition, he points out that school districts need to assess their standardized assessments and curriculum to determine which issue requires the most attention to yield the best results.
If immediate and frequent feedback to teachers is not common place in your school, you are running the risk to stifle improvement. Reeves challenges school leaders to help teachers go beyond right and wrong answers to being specific with feedback. He also provides technique suggestions on how feedback improves performance when given in a timely manner.
Have you ever wondered how you lead change? Do you have any idea whether you are effective in leading change? If you have, Reeves provides support and clear insight on how to not only manage but lead change in your school. Be ready to answer tough, reflective questions such as: what can you control, what will you change, and are you willing to be unpopular due to the change initiative?
Will your legacy be short lived or will it be an opportunity for the organization to be poised for long term, effective growth? Reeves expresses the research pointing out that school leaders do not have longevity. Therefore, it needs to be understood that decisions need to be approached with a higher level of consideration, will have long lasting impact on the organization, and can be met with cynicism.
In conclusion, if you are ready to do the hard work required to improve your organization, Reeves’s book will be a helpful tool to assist your leadership because it combines theory and practice as well as structured activities that will take you from Leading to Succeeding.
A few weeks ago I was on a hike with a good friend of mine. Throughout the conversation we talked about how people transition in life and work. She asked me a really tough question… What is your 2.0?
We are not computers, phones or even software but the analogy can certainly be made. As humans we evolve, transcend and we change. This is constantly happening whether we like it or not; sometimes life even forces you to change.
There are no rules or playbooks for change, of course there are countless books, podcasts and movies dedicated to the process of change. But, if you were to really dig down deep they only offer a few suggestions or ideas, and if you are fortunate one of those tools will help you with that change. Yet, isn’t personal change and personal developments just that… personal.
Back in January 2012 I jumped in with two feet into the world of Social Media. I made so many connections and the tools helped me to grow as a leader and a learner. I was able to present at local, state and national conferences. Published two books and co-founded a successful podcast for aspiring and current administrators. I spent the better part of five years maintaining two blogs (one for school and this one) as well as writing for other publications. One year I actually blogged every day (365 new posts). Yet there has always been something missing. Many times, I felt like it was a chore, constantly searching for something that I could not capture or contain. I was glued to my phone, laptop and whatever social media app I could find.
Over the past year I have benefited from the practice of mindfulness. Slowly developing a healthier work/life balance, being present and most importantly shutting devices off. I implemented a daily meditation and gratitude journal, practice yoga a few times a week and hike every chance I get. There are days that go by when I realize that I haven’t checked Twitter and weeks have gone by when I realize that I haven’t checked Voxer. I took my work email off of my smart phone, and find myself going through Facebook for the articles and events as opposed to trying to find out who has the latest and greatest application. I’ve even slowed down my personal blogging to only a post or two a month. I still read a lot but I am going back to buying real books. I’ve even considered going back to a flip phone!
So when I finally answered the question of “what is your 2.0?” I actually realized I had already started doing it over the last year. Slowly but surely I am developing the 2.0 of myself. This is what brings me to this post. Now I can actually articulate what my 2.0.
This is my 2.0:
Less screen time, more outside time.
Redesigned focus on my personal blog to reflect my new passion… hiking. I have even thought of a name “Take a hike with Spike.”
More focus and being present with my main job which is to be the best principal I can be for my staff and students.
Working with staff, students and others in the education world on mindfulness, meditation and gratitude.
So over the next few weeks I will be redesigning this site to focus more on what it can do to help others achieve a work/life balance. I will be evaluating the social media applications I use and more importantly, why.
I ask you again, what is your 2.0 and how will you get there?
On October 4, 2016 I met with a Professional Development coach hired by the district to assist administrators with whatever they were struggling with as a leader. At the time I was stressed about a lot of things such as the beginning of the year challenges, there were a few initiatives that were not going so well, and personally I was drained.
Her first question to me after I went through everything that was going wrong really threw me off… She asked, “So what are you grateful for?” I struggled to even remember what gratitude meant, much less what I was grateful for. I quickly replied, “I am grateful for my kids.” She validated my answer but challenged me to look more micro. She went on to talk about sunshine, trees, life, food, someone smiling, showers, etc. Then it hit me … there is so much to be grateful for.
She taught me how to make a gratitude list and how to incorporate it into a daily mediation that would be completed in the morning. She also recommended that I purchase The Magic by Rhonda Byrne. I highly recommend to get this book! I read it and applied each of the suggestions in the book for a month and it did wonders for my life and my school!
Everyday (well I have missed a day or two here and there) since October 4, 2016 I wake up and complete a very basic Gratitude List. I focus on 5 things I was grateful for from the previous day. As I stated before, this was very difficult in the beginning because I was focusing on the wrong things. This journal has helped me overcome the stress, anxiety of being a father, and a principal.
Practical Applications for Schools
Those in the field of education can empathize with the stress, and demands of our profession. Whether it is federal, state or local initiatives, fights, bullying, curriculum, poverty, etc we are always facing some type of challenge. For instance, prior to doing the gratitude list I would be extremely disappointed when we had a fight in our school. It would be as if the entire day was ruined. Since doing the gratitude list I can put things in a better perspective. Now, although I am disappointed, I realize that there were 1,100 other students who came to school and did not fight. I realize that there were thousands upon thousands of interactions with students that did not result in a fight.
So as you can see the Gratitude List can make small, important changes in your perspective. As an educator you will be transformed through gratitude and pretty soon you may even have your students and teachers writing gratitude lists!
Students working collaboratively with community members
The Lakeside AVID team is committed to community involvement. AVID’s mission is to close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society Throughout this year we have worked with the Millville Neighborhood Alliance on several projects such as Lightning Strikes Bogarts, The Front Door Project and most recently the Shark Tank.
Beginning in August of 2016, representatives from the Millville Neighborhood Alliance and Lakeside Middle School’s AVID program organized a purposeful PBL for our students. Each month community members, teachers, and administrators met to identify areas in the city that would benefit from improvement. The MNA presented on the history of Millville in October and the kids presented on Lakeside Middle School in November. In December we had a local architect, Larry Merighi, work with the students on Design Thinking and Planning which really helped the students see the relevance and real-world application of PBL.
The winning team from the Shark Tank
From January through March the students worked tirelessly on their projects. They researched, interviewed, and designed their projects. Each group tried different options and most importantly, failed many times on their projects. Eventually, they narrowed their topics and crafted their proposals.
On March 22 we assembled a group of community members such as the mayor, local business owners, administrators, and Larry Merighi, the architect who met with the students at the beginning of the project. All of the groups did an amazing job with their presentations. Our Superintendent funded each group with a $500 grant for the students to use to accomplish their tasks. Checkout the video from SNJ here.
One of our project was even featured on A Community Thrives website which is part of the USA Today Network. Take a few minutes to watch the video our students put together (click here).
Even if we do not get the $50,000 grant, it is clear that our kids understand and can implement a Project Based Learning experience in a Middle School with fidelity!
How do we grow as professionals in the ever changing world of the 21st Century? How do we make learning relevant for adults and children? If you are asking yourself these questions, the answers could be as easy as 1, 2, 3. Step 1 – Identify The Problem
Problems are not necessarily bad or good but should be seen as opportunities. One easy way to identify a problem to explore is to get your key stakeholders together and ask them 3 things your organization is doing well and three things they are struggling with. Chances are, no matter how many people you involve, there will be 4 to 5 themes. After you reveal your themes, then you can narrow your focus.
Step 2 – Explore Solutions
After you have identified your problem, it is time to begin working on possible solutions. We suggest that you ask your key stakeholders what they think the organization will need. This will require you to brainstorm creative approaches to address the problem. After you have brainstormed areas to address the problem, it will be important to create an action plan focused on how long the professional development will take as well as resources to support.
Step 3 – Relevance, relevance, relevance
In order for the professional development to be effective it needs to be relevant. We suggest that you tailor the professional development to meet the individual needs of the participants. For the most part, people want to know why this would be beneficial. Every professional development needs to address the why (want to know more about this, please check out Simon Sinek TED Talk). If you can not provide the relevance, ask the participants to identify their own why and tailor the learning to suit their needs.
About 90 days ago, I embarked on a new venture as the Principal of Lakeside Middle School. I used the book, “First 90 Days” as a guide to help me transition into the school and my new role. Throughout the process I am gaining knowledge on so much: learning, teaching, leading, and the most important part… people!
“Where have you been?”
In my last post (First 13 Days) I was able to capture the initial transition, which was April 2, 2016 and, now today is June 26, 2016. It is not as if I lost internet connection or my blog expired, but there was no way I could get back to here until now! For me blogging is an ebb and flow, blogging every day for a year or taking time off balances it all out. Honestly, there was a little blogger guilt that I wasn’t able to get back here, but I believe it was due more to the sheer volume of change and transition I was experiencing. I did get a few messages from friends asking if I was OK, I was more than OK, I was focused on the task at hand.
Lakeside Running Man Challenge – What Teachers do When the Students Leave
Reflection on the first 90…
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” ~ Drucker
Students on a field trip having fun!
As I reflect on my first 90 days at Lakeside I am amazed at the energy of the building. In a school with over 120 staff members caring for about 1200 kids a mountain of variables is expected. My first goal was to individually interview every staff member. I was able to get through 75% of the staff for one on one interviews, asking them two questions: what is going well and what needs to be improved on? One of the constant themes in these conversations were how much they like each other and the school. Every single person I interviewed had a similar response and it was genuine. As the new person on the block it was remarkable to continually hear such positive statements. I just wish they would tell each other more often how more much they like each other 🙂
During the first 90 days I was able to scratch the surface on the climate and culture of the building. Throughout the transition period, I paid particular attention to the symbols, beliefs (mission/vision) and the language. Often listening to what was being said and comparing it to what was being done. For the most part, there is a match on the espoused theories and theories in use. Most people are passionate about their craft, no matter what role they play, which leads to a lot of conversations centered on “how do we get better?”
Autism Awareness Month.
So what needed to be improved? In the beginning I was hearing a lot of comments such as “staff morale, communication, and admin turnover.” All of these factors are not attributed to a particular person, and honestly some morale issues are a result of local, state and national perceptions of our profession. But then, there became a shift in the initial interviews, changes were already beginning. I am not quite sure when the shift in the conversations happened. I do know that people were no longer mentioning staff morale or communication. So maybe it was the Lighting Round, Teacher Appreciation Week, staff meetings, becoming a regular on the morning announcements or everyone began to tell their co-workers how much they liked each other.
In my opinion, the administrative team played a huge part in the shift. Everyone from Vice Principals, Supervisors, Guidance Counselors, and the Child Study Team stepped up in ways that teachers and students needed. All of the support personnel (secretaries, security, maintenance, cafeteria) played an incredible role in the transformation too. I began to hear parents, students and other staff remark on how everyone appeared to be working collaboratively. Honestly, they have always been collaborative and positive but maybe it was just a difference of getting the story out there.
What do the kids think?
Lunch with the Principal
Granted the Principal’s main responsibility is the staff, but it is extremely important to connect with students. I was fortunate that I knew a small percentage of the kids at the school because they went to the elementary school where I was Principal for the past 5 years. When I first started I made it a point to talk with kids I didn’t know. I asked kids the same questions “What do you like about this school? What do you want to change?” I also visited classrooms to get a chance to see what the learning look liked.
I scheduled a “Lunch with the Principal” day. I asked each teacher to select one or two students that were model students to have lunch with me. I gave the kids awards and read the comments their teachers made about them in the Google form. At the end of the lunch period, I asked them what they liked about the school and what they wanted changed. In addition, I attended as many extra curricular activities (dances, sports, music etc) as possible to see the kids in a different setting.
You have to be willing to be dunked!
I learned so many lessons over the first 90 days. As I stated before, I had to focus on the transition to the new school. Requiring me to let things go of things such as Social Media, writing, podcasting, etc… because I needed to be mindful of my time and mental state. Days were busy and at times exhausting, so I had very little gas left in the tank to write a post, or sign up for a conference. Temporary sacrifices for long term progress.
Laughter is the best medicine. Hopefully the staff can see that I don’t take myself very seriously. I laugh at myself and the unusual events that happen in the school. My goal is to make people want to have fun at work. I firmly believe that this will translate into happier kids. Let’s face it, middle school kids can be disenchanted, or appear to have a chip on their shoulders, but they like to laugh just like we do.
I want to work at a school where are no mistakes, no boxes, and everyone is encouraged to take risks. I feel it is important to create a culture of learning. In order to do that you have to think outside of the box, learn from mistakes, and take the opportunity to try new things. I made a lot of mistakes over the first 90 days. Many days I drove home without the radio or podcasts playing and reflected about my mistakes, or learning experiences. Often times I would walk out of the school wondering if I made any difference. Reflection really helps and I began to find people to help me decompress. These people are the true gems!
6 suggestions for transitioning into a new position
Focus on what is important – People. Learn names, positions, family and whatever else you can.
Do not try to change things too fast. It should take you a complete year to fully understand the organization. Proceed with caution and remember only fools rush in!
Actions speak louder than words. Want people to be visible? Be visible. Want people to be positive? Be positive.
In preparation for my new position as the Principal of Lakeside Middle School, I re-read The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins. Even though I had read the book before and was a Principal for the past 5 years, I wanted to ensure I wasn’t under estimating this transition.
The President gets 100 days to prove himself; you get 90 ~Michael Watkins
In the book, Watkins emphasizes a period of planning prior to the transition. This time spent planning is invaluable as you must develop a transition plan. For my transition, I researched as much as I could about the school. Fortunately, I already worked in the district, but I had no idea about the most important aspect of the school: the culture. It didn’t matter how much data I could collect on the website, I knew I had to develop a transition plan to understand the culture. This is why I set out to interview every person who works in the building. Obviously, this can not happen over night but over the first 13 days I was able to meet with 27% of the staff.
In addition to the individual meetings, I hosted 6 group meetings. In each of these meetings I asked the same questions:
What are three things going well at Lakeside?
What are three things we need to improve?
The meetings and informal data collection have helped me tremendously to understand, as Watkins suggests, “The norms and patterns of behavior.” These meetings require me to listen, listen and listen. There have been times when people want to know what I stand for or to discuss my vision for the school. When I articulate my vision, I say the following:
I want to create a culture of learning
I want to promote the awesome things going on in the school for the world to see
I want to increase student achievement, decrease discipline, and increase student attendance
At my first staff meeting as the new Principal, I reported out on my first 13 days. Part of promoting a culture of learning is modeling transparency. Here is the presentation I shared with the staff. It includes the highs and lows of the first 13 days as well as outline the next 18 days until the next staff meeting:
Change can be tough. I will not underestimate the impact of change on the staff. In my last position, I had a teacher tell me that it took her 2 years to trust me. I never realized that but knowing it puts things in perspective. It is crucial to prove yourself every day. Never take people for granted!
I know that I will spend the majority of the rest of the school year learning about the culture and climate of the building. Of course there will be some decisions that will need to be made, observations to complete, and a whole host of end of the year activities. For me, I am building relationships (which is paramount) with people who I will be working with for a long time. I committed to building a strong foundation!
The last few weeks have been extremely busy and life changing. After 5 years at RM Bacon Elementary, I am moving on to a new venture as Principal at Lakeside Middle School.
At our last staff meeting, I made a video for the staff because they truly are my “heroes.” Not to be outdone, the wonderful staff at Bacon made me a video tribute. It was one of the nicest things I could have ever imagined.
I will always remember my time at RM Bacon. I learned so much about my leadership through the experience. I know “Once a Bear, Always a Bear” and “Then, Now, Always Family.”
Technology is a valuable addition to any classroom—when used correctly. In order to make the most of technology in learning, it’s important that you build a culture of tech in your classroom, rather than simply using it to “drill and practice.” This is not only boring for students, but is not as effective as when technology is used to immerse students in learning, according to Using Technology to Support At-Risk Students’ Learning.
Immersing students in tech-based learning creates a more interactive experience, which ultimately improves learning and engagement. “One of the benefits of well-designed interactive programs is that they can allow students to see and explore concepts from different angles using a variety of representations,” according to the authors of the same technology study.
Here are three simple, yet effective ways to begin building a culture of technology in your classroom.
Make Technology Your Default
To create a culture of technology in your classroom—one that improves the learning experience—you must make technology your default for as many things as possible.
“Use it to time a test, record a presentation, or play music during reading time. Encourage students to see technology not as the iPad or Chromebook they pull out for a project, but the go-to tool for all sorts of learning needs,” says Jacqui Murray, edtech author and K-8 technology teacher.
When you do this, students may begin to see value in technology outside of what they consider technology, like cell phones and laptops. When this happens, students will turn to technology more frequently, ultimately empowering them to create their own learning journey and become (and stay) more engaged.
Replace Manual Tasks
When making technology your default in the classroom, it’s important that you start by replacing as many manual tasks as you can. This further enriches the technology culture and shows students the many ways in which technology can be used.
Some manual tasks that can be easily replaced include:
Paper reading Logs: Replace traditional reading logs with Whooo’s Reading, an online reading log that allows students to track their reading online. Bonus: This tool also provides you with insights on student reading progress.
Attendance: Throw away your attendance book and replace it with an attendance app like TeackerKit, a free attendance-tracking app. With it, you can also track behavior and manage your seating chart.
Homework Submission: Whenever possible, encourage—or require—students to submit homework via Google Classroom (if your school uses it) or Google Docs. You can organize your Google Drive based on students, classes, assignment types, etc. You can even download Flubaroo, an add-on that automatically grades work for you.
Bring Digital Citizenship Into Lessons
There are so many ways to bring digital citizenship into your lessons on a regular basis—you don’t even have to tell the students that that’s what you’re doing. However, using social media, blogs and online research in the classroom opens up the doors to these discussions on a regular basis, which also helps to create a culture of technology in your classroom.
A few easy ways to bring digital citizenship into the preparation and instruction for average, tech-based assignments include:
When students are doing research, require them to explain with one or two sentences why each source they chose is reliable and credible. This gets students thinking about what’s on the web and how to decipher what they should and shouldn’t believe and trust.
Begin any social-media based assignment with a quick discussion about what is and isn’t appropriate—it’s easy to bring up the subjects of privacy, sharing, and digital footprints in this case. You can choose one digital citizenship “lesson” to focus on with each assignment, to make the most of these opportunities.
Building a culture of technology in your classroom will not only engage students, but will give them a chance to see technology as the powerful educational tool that it is. Use it more in your every day tasks, such as tracking attendance, and encourage students to do the same by submitting homework online. You may be surprised at how the learning experience improves as your technology culture develops.
Bio: Jessica Sanders is the Director of Social Outreach for Whooo’s Reading, a San Diego-based education organization that motivates students to read more every day. It’s available to teachers, schools and districts. Jessica grew up reading books like The Giver and Holes, and is passionate about making reading as exciting for young kids today as it has always been for her. Follow Learn2Earn on Twitter and Facebook, and check out their new ebook, How to Bring Technology Into the Classroom, just $2.99 on Amazon.com.