How often do you engage in conversations or discussions in your school or district? If you are in a healthy organization, the answer would most likely be “all the time.” However, if you organization isn’t having conversations, or isn’t focused on the key elements, you may need to get people talking. Sometimes, as they say, good conversations are hard to find….
What is a conversation?
According to dictionary.com, a conversation is, “the informal exchange of ideas by spoken words.” Sounds pretty simple. In order to be engaged in a conversation, we simply need to talk. In today’s “connected” environment, we spend a great deal of time using technology-based tools to find others from around the world. Often these conversations online produce valuable ideas or resources that can take our organizations to the next level level. Yet, if you are unable to discuss the impact of these ideas or resources, you may become frustrated.
As a leader (no matter the level), it is important to provide the opportunity for conversations. Here are some ideas to ensure that your students, teachers, and community members will be able to talk this year:
- Integrate conversation time into your meetings. Have a topic you want feedback on? Has someone brought up something that we need to discuss? Take 10 minutes and put your team into groups to talk about it. You can even use post-its to make sure that everyone gets a chance to share.
- Open Door – Sometimes people want to chat one-to-one or as a small group. As a leader it is important to create time in your schedule to have a conversation.
- Create a monthly conversation-based meeting times. If you can dedicated 30 to 45 minutes a month at a specific time (before or after school) to allow your staff to talk, it would go a long way.
How are you going to get the conversations flowing this year?
We all have them. I mean everybody. It’s probably one of the few things that parents, students, teachers, administrators all have in common. What do they mean? Why do we have them and more importantly, what can we learn from them?
There are hundreds of dream interpretation web sites and resources. The results from these sites are mixed. Some people feel that dreams are an important part of your sub-consciousness and others say that they are complete nonsense. I am somewhere in between. There have been times in my life where I have kept a dream journal, and analyzed the dreams for deeper meanings. In the long run, I am not sure how much I got out of the process, but it was interesting. I felt that I remembered more dreams as I used the journal. Like anything else, it takes discipline.
What Happened Last Night?
As a principal I have had many Back To School dreams. Each summer I will dream about the opening of the school year. Usually, there is something off. Maybe I am not in the correct building, I forgot to wear pants, or someone totally random shows up. I attribute these types of dreams to the anxiety of getting the year started. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to begin the year in the best possible way…. so it makes sense that our dreams would reflect our anxieties.
What Can We Learn From Back to School Dreams?
Since most of my dreams have been about something that didn’t go quite right, I take it as a sign that I have another chance. Honestly, can anything ever go that wrong? Chances are you will not show up to the first faculty in your underwear or at the wrong building. However, the question remains, have you done enough preparation to feel comfortable about the start of the year?
Preparation Is Key
Many people ask me what I do all summer since there are no kids or teachers in the building. I always answer the same way, “Of course it is different without teachers and kids, but there is a lot to do to prepare for the school year.” Here are techniques I use to keep myself focused:
- Month by Month Summer Checklist – Through experience and working with other administrations, I developed a checklist that lists activities, person responsible, approximate date, date of completion and notes. I fill out the boxes (the first three boxes are filled in before the summer begins) when I complete the tasks. I also follow up with those responsible for activities in my building.
- Planning the Monthly Calendar – Prior to the end of the school year I always have the teachers reflect on the year and plan for the upcoming year. This year I tried the 3-2-1 (see post here for more information). I then take that information and create a yearly calendar in my office. I take that information and also make a digital calendar (using our school calendar) and invite everyone to acknowledge their participation. In the end of the summer, we have another meeting to double check and add/delete as necessary.
- Learn something new – Each summer I learn a few new things and implement them into the school. I almost always get those ideas from my PLN. Educators throughout the world are doing awesome stuff and are always willing to share on Social Media.
- Read, Read and Read- I read a lot. Reading is a huge part of the educational process and I spend time everyday (even at work) reading appropriate material to help the school. This summer I am reading Jim Knight’s High Impact Instruction. I am loving it so far and I highly recommend it. I also read blog posts, and articles about education, innovation, and mindset.
- Scheduling – I spend a lot of time on the Master Schedule. I used to try to get it out before the end of the school year but I found it was too much. This summer, I have literally spent 3 weeks refining the schedule. I feel the schedule needs to be as detailed as possible (even at the elementary level).
- Blog/Write – I blog about the school and my reflections. I maintain the school blog even throughout the summer. I share it with our community each week. Just because kids and teachers are not here doesn’t mean everything stops.
No matter how much I prepare. No matter how I perceive the Back to School dreams, they still pop up. As I said earlier, I take them as they are presented. I learn from them, and I make sure I am spending my waking hours preparing for what is to come. Finally, I make sure, when I leave the house on the first day, that I have all of my clothes on and that I am going to correct place!
What are your Back to School Dreams? Share them in the comments!
This past year our school embarked on the Genius Hour journey. (For previous posts that lead to the Genius Hour: inspiration; 80/20 staff meetings; my passion). In short, I took 20% of the the Staff Meetings this year and made them Genius Hour. The staff could do whatever they wanted with the time (it just had to be something they were passionate about, and could benefit students or the school). We had many ups and downs with the process which lead to successes and failures. It was such an amazing experience!
At the conclusion of the school year we scheduled a meeting to review Genius Hour. Honestly, prior to the meeting, I though that the staff was going to vote to abandon it completely. The sad reality is that education doesn’t support geniuses! Let’s be honest with ourselves on why education doesn’t support Genius Hour:
- We have so many “compliance” activities from the district, state and federal government
- We have to get our test scores up, and achieve our School Improvement Goals
- Time – How are we going to fit all this in?
- Not everyone is passionate about something that can translate into a school setting
- General apathy and malaise from teachers that think “this is just another passing phase”
To my surprise, the opposite of everything listed above was unfounded. The teachers, for the most part, loved it. Of course they are well aware of the factors, and despite those factors were willing to put themselves out there for their passion. They want a lot of the things that are out of our control (the compliance stuff) to go away and do more with their passion!
In the final report out, I didn’t require everyone to present…. only those who wanted to. I stressed, prior to the report out, that failure was absolutely acceptable. In fact, my own project failed miserably. What is most important (as you will see) is how each person or team talked about what they would do differently!
My project – Genius hour was Podcasting for the district. I only completed 4 shows. I hit road blocks such as getting people to schedule, storage space, and time. Next year, I would like to focus on our school, parents, teachers, and students.
Here are the other takeaways:
- 2 Kindergarten teachers – Genius hour was focused on increasing technology. They both learned how to use their Brite Links. They were very proud to have used it with the interactive pen. They were able to integrate it into several topics in the Kindergarten curriculum.
- PBIS Aide- Focus was on developing an incentive program to increase the attendance for the students. She reported out that the attendance board (first project)was difficult to maintain, but then she implemented a daily Bingo game which was very successful. There were road block such as prizes for younger kids and how to reach them.
- 2 Special Education Teachers – Genius Hour was on Crafts. She taught kids how to cross-stitch, and crochet. They really picked it up after PARCC was completed in each grade. The students really enjoyed it and were excited about the project.
- Art Teacher – Genius Hour was having students do video interviews about their artwork. There are some videos on You Tube. Her target group helped kids working on existing art work. A couple videos were made. She started too late but will be doing it again because the kids loved it!
- Music Teacher – Her project was to bring in a Chamber Group. Prior to that she had to focus on listening skills. She determined early on that the students were not where they need to be able to appreciate the music. She would eventually like to embark on this project.
- 1st grade teacher – Her Genius Hour was based on her passion for school safety. She realized a lot is more than just a school building level. The other factors were money and district support. So she started a Girl Scouts and Daisy/Brownie groups with another teacher. A lot of group character education lessons were integrated into the program. They involved community members into the project.
- 7 teachers started a Gardening Club for their project. They wrote and received a Grant for 2,000 dollars. In September, the group will be starting a school garden club for kids. They will plant things that can be eaten right away. They will also incorporate green houses in some of our classrooms which will be brought out to the outside garden outside. LOWES will be working school closely.
- 3 teachers – Their goal was to look into grant money for problem solving for 5th grade students. She used the Genius Hour (Along with the 2 other teachers) as an opportunity to get to know what the students were passionate about in the beginning of the year. The kids shared ideas such as developing new applications, chicken coops, school newspaper, photography, and dirt bike tracks. The students began their own fundraising in school lunches (pencils, Valentines dance, and coupon books).
At the end of every meeting, we do a Plus/Delta (for more information Plus/Delta click here).
Plus (or things that really worked well)
- Such a positive experience
- Hearing all great things people are doing
- Talking with each other and working together
- That Principal is supporting us
- Failure was acceptable
- Everyone did something different that can impact all students
- Thanks to Principal for challenging Staff to Genius Hour
Deltas (or things that didn’t work well and can be improved)
- Took awhile to understand the concept
- Not everyone shared
Overall, I am very excited about the continuation of Genius Hour. I will be scheduling 4 “meetings” during the year, and a time at the end of the year to report out. Now, I have to go back to the “drawing board” and work on my project
A few weeks ago I read the ASCDEdge blog post 3-2-1 Countdown to Summer by Kevin Parr. It was just what I needed. It was just what our staff needed. Since the concept was so applicable, I was able to integrate it into my final staff meeting of the year. Our purpose was to reflect on the year and to begin to plan for the next school year.
After introducing the concept, I had the teachers work individually to identify their 3-2-1.
3 to Keep – Taking from the blog post, teachers “identified 3 practices that were working for them.”
2 to Tweak – Teachers were asked to identify 2 activities/practices that they would like to continue, but that needed a little improvement or “tweaking.”
1 New – Teachers were asked to identify one area that they would like to try that is NEW to them.
Putting the activity into motion …
After working individually, the teachers shared their 3-2-1 in small groups. These discussions were very rich with reflection, connections, and new ideas. Then we shared out in a large group for everyone to hear. We learned so much about the year. Here are some of the insights:
Teachers flipping their instruction
Using data to improve writing
Focus on the Whole Child
Classroom behavioral plans
Professional Learning Communities
First aide supplies for recess
New components to reading series
My reflection …
After the 3-2-1 workshop, I challenged the staff to try this with the students. I was pleasantly surprised how the teachers then used this with the students. They had the students reflect on their class using the 3-2-1. This feedback will help the teachers as they plan for next year! One grade level even tweaked the activity, and had the students change the 1 new to 1 that should go. I liked that approach and if I do this again, I would like to see an area for one to go.
As the Principal, I felt this activity was very easy to implement, and the feedback from the teachers was amazing. I was amazed at all of the insights from this year. I was able to see what is working in the school and what needs to be improved. The activity gave me an opportunity to listen to teachers, and hopefully empower them to take chances to improve their learning environment.
I want to thank Kevin Parr for putting together the activity.
Looking for a conference in August that could invigorate your staff, district or most importantly, you? Join an action packed team at the EmpowerED Conference scheduled for August 6-7th.
There are so many awesome presenters that will be gathered at EmpowerED… For instance, the Keynote speaker is George Couros! George Couros is currently a Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning with Parkland School Division, located in Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada, as well as an innovative teaching, learning, and leadership consultant. He is passionate about distributed leadership within my division, and believe that creating a collaborative environment with all stakeholders, will help to ensure that we meet the best needs of all children.
In addition to George, there are dozens of presenters that I learn from everyday! Here are a list of the presenters. These educators are accessible through Social Media, and can easily be part of your Professional Learning Network! Check out the list of presentations and strands where you will learn about:
- Branding your school/district
- Isolation in leadership
- Becoming connected
- Global learning
- 1 to 1
- App fluency
- Flipped leadership
- Empowering student voice
- Transforming your Help Desk with students
- Developing Digital Citizens
- Understanding relevance in technology and leadership
Updates and pricing information:
- $299 per individual
- $274 groups of 5+ (must all register at the same time)
- $25 off for attendees at ISTE, BLC and NAESP (see attached flyers with promo codes listed that they will need to enter at registration in order to receive this price)
- “Bring a Buddy” – attendees already registered will receive a complimentary copy of their choice of a publication from the Connected Educator Series of their choice for referring a friend to attend the conference with them
Want to learn more about the inter-workings of the conference? There are many ways to connect:
- Follow @corwinpress
- Join the facebook event: bit.ly/empower15FB
- Join the google plus event: bit.ly/empower15Gplus
Let’s pack Grafton High School with people excited to connect with each other and learn about integrating technology into our schools and districts!
Every student has his or her preferences when it comes to learning. Some get excited about math while others prefer history or astronomy.
The formula for teaching many of these subjects can be pretty straightforward. Review a chapter or lesson in class, take questions, do some sample problems and send students on their way with homework to solidify their knowledge of that day’s lesson. This is a formula that works well when students enjoy the material.
But what can be done when they don’t? How do you motivate individual students without sacrificing the rest of the class? In my experience as the designer of an education technology software, the key is taking a learning tool and expanding it into something that can be used for fun.
When designing out educational product we decided to focus on flashcards because they have been used since the early 19th century and have remained viable through massive changes that have happened over the last 200 years (the invention of the computer, cellular phones, wide spread internet adoption, tablets, etc). Today opportunities for students are better than ever because we can put an almost unlimited number of flashcards in a pocket or backpack by putting them on phones and tablets.
When we created our software, Cram.com, our intention was to load it up with features. We thought that turning the flashcards into a practice test, providing options in a lot of languages, allowing you to sort your cards, were all things that students and teachers would want.
What we discovered instead is that kids simply like games (surprise!) and that’s made the biggest difference towards people enjoying our product not just using it. We quickly attached two games to our product. The games not only help make learning fun but the competition aspect behind them helps push learning-adverse students to better themselves and raise their test scores along side their game scores.
With the competition aspect, points are assigned on a continuous spectrum, so every kid will get a different score. Some of our teachers have used that facet to award extra credit or the opportunity for the student with the highest score to skip a test. Even the kids who don’t get the opportunity to skip the test will have competed enough for the top prize that they are much more likely ace the test anyway.
Getting good user feedback has always been among our number one priorities. Through that feedback we’ve been thrilled to learn that when it comes to the internet and mobile apps, a lot of difference can be made in the classroom with a creative teacher willing to embrace a new technology. More importantly, these teachers all understand that learning can and should still be fun.
We’re also excited that Dr. Cook has been showing off our product to our third grade teachers and we thank him for letting us write a guest post on his wonderful blog.
Todd Clemens, Co-Founder Cram.com
A few years ago I took the “plunge” and became connected to other educators throughout the globe through Social Media. I can admit that I have never been the same since taking that plunge. One of the best parts about the connections was the relationship I built with Jessica Johnson and Theresa Stager. We started the PrincipalPLN to help other administrators to become (and more importantly to stay ) connected. Throughout our journey we realized one of the downsides of leadership…. isolation! So we decided to write a book on the topic.
Getting connected is one thing, and many educators are taking the plunge to become connected. Once connected, how does the leader avoid the isolation inherent in leadership? We have learned from conversations with others that many educators need help balancing their connected journey, and working with their peers. We wrote this book to ensure that the leadership wheels do not fall off.
In this book we help the readers understand the importance of being connected to benefit individual professional learning, mindfulness, and avoiding the traps of isolation . We use vignettes of leaders to give a picture of what the connected leader looks like. We also address the common challenges that come with being connected, such as criticism, isolation and battling mindset.
Pre-orders are available by visiting the Corwin site. The book will be released in the fall of 2015.
In a recent PrincipalPLN podcast, we interviewed Kirsten Olson and Valerie Brown, authors of the book, Mindful School Leader. I highly recommend to check out the book and the podcast. The practice of mindfulness for educators is a relatively new practice. Of course, mindfulness has been around for centuries, but it has often been relegated to eastern philosophies, yoga, and meditation. Yet, Olson and Brown provide research as well as anecdotal information from school leaders throughout the globe who are all practicing the art of mindfulness to combat the stress, sacrifice and malaise that plagues the profession.
During the podcast, I really tried to be mindful. In fact, I didn’t really ask many questions. I just listened. Towards the end, one question popped up in my head, and I asked, “So what would be 3 things we could try this week to practice mindfulness at work?” Without hesitation, Valerie said, “1. Take your lunch and just eat. Don’t do anything but eat, and taste what you are eating. 2. Breathe – Focus on your breathing a few times throughout the day. 3. Look at the sky for one minute each day.”
It’s funny how her first two responses need to actually be mentioned. Yet, how many of us actually focus on breathe, or take 10 minutes to just enjoy our lunch? And looking at the sky? When was the last time you actually looked at the sky for one minute during work? For me, it was never.
So this week I set out to really enjoy my lunch, breathe and look at the sky for a minute each day. I was able to achieve those goals, and I can honestly say that I had a less stressful week. For a school administrator in May that is a real accomplishment.
How about you? What do you do to practice mindfulness?
If it were not for my PLN, as I have said many times, I don’t know where I would be as a school leader. Today, I got the chance to meet up with a good friend, fellow principal, and active member of my PLN Douglas Timm. Doug, and his team of dedicated coaches and teachers, have recently implemented Instructional Rounds in their school. As a side note, you have to visit their active hashtag on Twitter (#ccdolphins) to see the amazing things going at the school.
The purpose of our (I was joined by Dr. Pamm Moore, Asst. Superintendent) visit was to experience the Instructional Rounds at Carrie Downe Elementary School. We were given a tour of the school by Doug. It was interesting to see the pace Doug has as he walks the hall. I know that pace. It is the early morning Principal pace We then met our team that we would be working with: Jessica Hoban, Stephanie Jones, and Tara Amsterdam who are all instructional coaches.
Prior to visiting the classes, we reviewed their model. It was clear that they have done a lot of work to establish a model (Modern Teacher) that complements their instructional mission. After we prepped, we headed into the classroom with our mission of finding evidence to improve instruction. Yes, that is it. At their core, Instructional Rounds are designed to provide evidence in a non-evaluative manner to teachers to improve instruction.
After the “round” we went back and debriefed as a group. We sequenced the lesson, and then went through the activities to determine if we were providing evidence or inference and at what level on Blooms the instruction was taking place. At one point, Doug commented,”This process of providing evidence to teachers has helped me with my formal observations, conversations, and feedback. It has made me a better instructional leader.” Sign me up for that!
So, what is it going to take? The models are out there. The research is clear. In my humble opinion, it is time for teachers to build collaboration and collegiality to improve classroom instruction with meaningful, non-judgmental feedback. I am excited for the possibilities!