5 Ways to Increase Higher Order Thinking Skills

Student led Socratic Seminar in LAL

Our school is going through the revalidation process to continue being an AVID National Demonstration School. Based on the feedback from a prior visits, the staff have been working on increasing Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS).

Starting this year, the AVID site team began providing weekly instructional practices, developed a Google Form to collect best practices, and they meet with me on a monthly basis to coach me how to use HOTS in the weekly email, staff meetings, and for teacher feedback.

We also began correlating the McREL Walkthrough data from last year as the compare the instances of remembering and understanding with analyzing and evaluating. The revalidation process has definitely caused our school to reflect on where we are and to improve in areas to make student learning better.

Here are Five ways we are increasing Higher Order Thinking Skills …

  1. Highlight areas where it is happening. Just because the administrator doesn’t see it in the walkthrough or in the observation doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. We created a Google Form to encourage teachers to share their HOTS on a weekly basis with the staff
  2. It starts at the top. This year I made a pact with our AVID site team to hold myself accountable to modeling Higher Order Thinking Strategies. Prior to meetings, weekly blog/email to staff, and professional development I share with the team and they help me to take it to the next level!
  3. Let the students take the lead. In the Google Form one of our advanced math teachers shared this powerful insight, ““Students were amazed at some of the great strategies they were taught by their peers. One of the best classes. I’ve had in awhile. The students taught each other and became competitive looking for better ways to solve problems.”
  4. Point of Confusion. This AVID technique is extremely powerful for students as they engage in their weekly tutorials. They identify an area they are struggling with and share it with their peers. Their peers are taught to use questions to assist the students in understanding and making connections with the material.
  5. If the teacher, then the student. We made this chart to help teachers and students make small changes to increase HOTS.
If the teacher…. Then the student will ….
Starts with why Know the relevance of the topic
Allows students to embrace the struggle Be able to implement Growth Mindset and participate in HOTS activities
Makes judgments based on criteria and standards` Use the text citations to support their claim
Identifies patterns or relationships See the interconnectedness of their learning
Plans questions ahead of time Be able to see concrete examples of HOTS Thinking
Allows student to produce knowledge learning takes place Students will add their original thinking and ideas
Asks questions with more than one possible answer and with evidence from the text Students will be challenged and have more opportunity to participate

This process is something that can be put into practice at any school or level. The most important aspect to this is the professional relationship between the staff and the administration with identifying and solving the problem collaboratively. Everyone becomes the expert and everyone improves!

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

Reflections on Summer School 2018

Students watched the inspirational Ted Talk with Nick Vujicic

In my previous post, Summer School:It’s More Than Just The Grades, I discussed the process of selecting and implementing a vision for our Summer School. Out goal was to provide more than just academic remediation but to also focus on the root cause of why they were in Summer School. I feel that the approach we were able to take allowed us to provide both academics and motivational interventions.

The academic core of the program was the Exact Path program through Edmentum. The students pent between 45 minutes to an hour each day working through their path based on the results of the Diagnostic Assessment. Over the course of the summer, we saw gains in both Language Arts and Math. In my next post I will break down the results as the kids are finishing up their final Diagnostic Assessments this week.

In terms of their progress with the motivation progress, students reported that they feel more confident going into next year. They identified areas they struggle with in the social realm of middle school such as other students (even friends) distracting them, as well as not doing basic assignments. When prompted about this the kids shared with us that their friends do not always support them in their quest to get good grades. They realized that this is something they will need to really focus on as they move onto the next grade level.

As for their reluctance to do basic assignments, the students reported that they sometimes do not see the relevance or have difficulty connecting with the work. Many students said that their teachers were willing to accept late work or would allow them to redo assignments but that they chose not to.

We asked them what message they would send to next year’s  students who could potentially go to summer school, and here are some of their responses:

  • You have to try harder
  • You have to set goals for yourself
  • You need to develop a Growth Mindset for school and learn as much as you can
  • The teachers are willing to help if you just ask them
  • Keep reminding your friends that you need to do good in school and not to fool around in class

So in a few short weeks the students were able to evaluate where they were and set goals for their future. In their culminating activity (due this week) the students have to submit a final essay on why they feel they should be promoted to the next grade level. We hope that these essays can be shared with the teachers when they return in the fall. The students worked hard and I feel that all of us involved with the Summer School have such high hopes for their continued success in the future!

About The Author

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

Summer School: It’s More Than Just the Grades

Officer Rick Kott speaking to the students about overcoming obstacles.

Two years ago our school implemented a Retention Policy. Prior to that, as I was told, we allowed students to be promoted with 2, 3, 4 failures in academic classes. Teachers were frustrated, students were being sent mixed messages, and parents were under the impression that No Child Left Behind meant we were unable to fail anyone.

The School Leadership Committee (SLC) worked for a year on drafting a Retention Policy. They looked at what surrounding schools were doing, did some research on the impact of retention, and eventually came up with a progressive Retention Policy. We implemented the policy in the fall of 2016. Students, parents and the community were made aware of the policy which basically retained 6th graders if they failed all 4 classes, 7th graders if they failed 3 or more classes, and 8th graders if they failed 2 or more courses. During the 16-17 school year teachers, guidance counselors and administration worked with students and parents on this policy. There were increased face to face meetings after each marking period, additional resources assigned to students and more referrals to the I and RS team. At the end of the year there were 8 students who were scheduled to be retained. Each of those students either transferred to another school or enrolled in our Alternative School. The SLC closely monitored the policy and ended up requesting that we revise the policy for the 17-18 school year due to a lack of rigor.

The revised policy for the 17-18 school year was far more rigorous than the previous year but there were additional assistance added in. The new policy, which was throughout all 3 grade levels, required any student who failed more than 2 year long classes to be retained, and anyone who failed 2 classes would be required to attend summer school. As we went through the year, we continued to monitor the academic progress of the students in danger of being retained, increased our contact with parents, and added in additional resources.

At the conclusion of the 17-18 we had 17 students retained and 38 students eligible for summer school. Due to some poor planning on my part, we also didn’t have a budget for summer school. I wasn’t able to hire any staff. I had to ask all the 12 month guidance and administration in the building to assist me in running the summer school. We were also very fortunate that our contract with the online learning platform Edmentum still allowed us to use the diagnostic program Exact Path. So, in a sense, the academics would be taken care of through the online program.

As we analysed the students who were eligible for summer school, we noticed a few trends. First, these students were not your likely candidates. Very few had high levels of discipline and even fewer had attendance issues. We scoured their report cards and read the comments from the teachers.  It was through this exercise that we were able to identify the main reason these students were in summer school. Want to take a guess at what the main factor was?

If you guessed motivation than you would win!

The major theme of the teacher comments on the students centered around motivation. It was not a case of “can’t do” but rather a case of “won’t do.” Armed with this data we developed a summer school that would get to the core of the issue for the students so that they could use this time to change their mindsets about school, learning, teachers, and most importantly, themselves.

We are only one week into the program and of the 31 students who chose to participate, we have a 90% attendance rate. Students are doing daily gratitude journals, practicing mindfulness, analyzing their 17-18 school year, and learning about the impact of growth vs. fixed mindset. They spend about half their time working on their academic areas of concern and the other half working on themselves. We show daily motivational videos and we have scheduled local community members to visit and talk with them about overcoming obstacles.

The 5 staff who are working the program have learned a lot in one week. As we have read through their essays and journals it has become clear to us that these students have so much to offer our school. Some of them are dealing with a mountain of obstacles both personally and in their community. They will admit that school was not their top priority but they are now seeing the value.

What will the next 4 weeks hold for the summer school? We hope that we continue to build the students motivation and understanding of their amazing potential. We will continue to expand their horizons and have them begin working on their service learning projects. There are even a few students who are going to be developing a presentation to the administration to show the staff based on the popular book If She Only Knew Me. Stay tuned for more as the summer school develops.

About The Author

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

Exploring possible solutions

As our school continues to work on school improvement for next year, we have reached a time to explore possible solutions. This past week we met again in small groups to begin brainstorming ideas to address one of our areas of improvements… hallways!

I asked the staff to reach out to friends, relatives, Google and social media outlets to see what other schools were doing to address issues in the hallways. I led the discussion by saying, “We are not the only Middle School in the country. There have to be answers to our questions somewhere.”

When exploring possible solutions there is no better place than your PLN on Twitter! I placed a very generic Tweet to help me to see what was going on at other schools. Fortunately, @Teacher2Teacher, picked up the Tweet and asked if it would be OK to share the question on their community. Of course I agreed and very shortly the ideas came flowing into my Twitter notifications.

Know that none of us have it all figured out. We’re all learning everyday. Surround yourself with positivity and always keep an open mind and heart. ~ Teacher Emily Francis

I received dozens of ideas that schools are using throughout the country. Some schools are playing music in the hallways with one actually having kids play drums. Other schools pride themselves on having staff in the hallways greeting students with high fives and fist bumps. Everyone chimed in that presence in the hallways (both admin and teachers), and clearly defined rules are the keys to success!

Just like that you can explore possible scenarios with a click of the mouse (or thumb). Be sure to include Teacher2teacher!

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

 

Reverse Brainstorming: How can the problem get worse?

Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unsplash

A few months ago Margaret Keefer, a Professional Development Specialist in our district lead us through a Reverse Brainstorming Activity for our Professional Learning Communities. She asked us to list all the things we could do to allow ineffective PLCs in our district.

At first I was puzzled by the request. I was thinking to myself, “You want us to say how we can continue to allow ineffective PLCs?” So I began to write as many ideas as I could think of and when we shared out I could see how this information would eventually work to help the process! The ideas we listed ended up informing our solutions!

What can we do to allow ______ to continually be ineffective at our school/district? ~ Reverse Brainstorming prompt

A few weeks later we were planning for our School Improvement Process for next year and we needed an idea to get staff thinking about improving our hallways. Beth Benfer, Professional Development Specialist and I immediately thought of the Reverse Brainstorming activity. We then developed this prompt, “What can we do to continue to allow ineffective hallway behaviors at our school?”

We did this activity with about 100 staff members from from teachers to paraprofessionals, secretaries to guidance and administration. The feedback from the process was very insightful. Staff members were able to be honest (and vulnerable) by listing all the things we could do to basically make the hallways worse. The activity was a good starting point for us.

So if you are looking for something that would create good discussion and get you started on solving a problem in your classroom, school or district try a Reverse Brainstorming Activity. Here are some suggested ways to implement the activity:

  • Identify your problem or issue
  • Develop a prompt that would allow the problem to get worse
  • Have everyone write down individually as many ideas as possible
  • After 3 minutes have each person share one idea at a time. If someone else has that idea they can either piggy back off the idea or share another one
  • Take the ideas and reverse them into solutions or actions to eventually solve the problem

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

What is your One Thing?

I was recently talking with the Transformative Principal Podcast host Jethro Jones and he recommended reading The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller. He recommended that I read The One Thing to help me personally and professionally. I am very grateful for his recommendation!

Personally, the One Thing requires you to answer a seemingly easy question, “What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” The beauty of this question is that it is not very easy. Thankfully, the book assists you with a process of determining that One Thing and then putting it into motion.

For me, I analyzed my morning routine. I have been keeping a Gratitude Journal and mediating for about a year and a half. This routine has helped me in many ways and I have been very dedicated to keeping this going. According to Gary Keller, it takes about 66 days to create and implement new habits. Here I thought I was being disciplined, but if you read the One Thing you will learn that discipline is a bit of a myth. In all honesty I had one thing going but what was leading up to that one thing (the Gratitude Journal/Mediation) was not helping.

Like many people today, when I woke up I was immediately going on my phone. At first it was to check some messages and then 30 minutes later I have checked email, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Then I would be rushing to get into the shower and afterwards speeding through my Gratitude/Mediation. This was not working for me.

What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

I decided to cut out my phone from the morning routine and get out the door for a walk. I love walking (really wish I could run but that is another story) and I felt that if I got out of the door and started walking everything else would be easier. I wouldn’t end the day looking at my step count only to be disappointed. I wouldn’t waste time in the morning on the various social media apps. I would have already accomplished something and that would make everything else easier and unnecessary.

I am only a few days into implementing the One Thing in my personal life. I have many days to go to get to the “sweet spot” of 66 days. Yet, I can already see changes!

Professionally, I implemented the One Thing into our School Improvement Plan for next year. I will be following up on a post about this shortly. In the meantime, be sure to check out the One Thing and be ready to get extraordinary results!

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click Away; Breaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

Mindfulness and Leading with the Heart

Spending time in nature can reduce stress

Life will constantly teach you lessons even when you don’t realize it. Using mindfulness on a daily basis can assist with life’s challenges and celebrations. There are many resources out there to assist with the daily practice of mindfulness. This is my humble attempt to share what helps me and what others have suggested.

How can you integrate mindfulness into your daily practice as an educator? Here are 5 suggestions:

  1. Take a daily temperature of your mindfulness. If you use a scale (like 1-5) how would you rate your day? A follow up question to that would be ‘what would have made it higher?’ Be sure to do this in a non-judgmental manner. This activity is designed to help you track days to maybe identify trends. For instance, if Mondays are always tough, this could give you an opportunity to focus on being pro-active when Monday rolls around.
  2. Daily gratitude list. Either in the morning or the evening be sure to identify at least 5 things you are grateful for. This could be a simple thing like sunshine or more specific. It’s your list so you can write whatever you want.
  3. Use your heart. It is very important to exercise and get your heart pumping. Another activity to get your heart going is meditate on your heart. Are there people in your life that you want to send love to? These people could be family members or friends, and it could even be people you disagree with. Send love for healing!
  4. Get out of your head. Thinking, over-analyzing and catastrophic thinking (thinking the worst case scenario) will not get you very far. If you find yourself in your head try to do something to get grounded. Grounding activities include working out, meditating, cleaning, listening to music or even talking with a trusted friend. Whatever “story” you are telling yourself has to be let go. Maybe just changing your perspective on the story could help. Tell yourself that whatever you are worrying about as already happened. Whatever the outcome it is important to remember, you can not control it. You can only control your reaction.
  5. Stop judging yourself. We can be the toughest critics on ourselves. This doesn’t help our mindfulness practice. You have to forgive yourself for mistakes, accept how you look, and send yourself love. Similar to number 3 (send live from the heart) it is imperative to send love to yourself.

Do you have any mindfulness activities? Be sure to comment and share your ideas.

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click Away; Breaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

 

School Security: A Serious, and Comprehensive Issue

Photo by Nicola Tolin on Unsplash

I want to start out by expressing my sincere condolences to the community of Parkland, Florida. This tragedy has not only impacted the community of Parkland, Florida but also all of us who work in schools in the United States.

This post, however, is not about the politics, mental health or gun debates that are currently filling up social media networks as well as local, state, and national news. This post is about the seriousness of school security and the reality of being a principal having to deal with it.

No where in my Principal training was there a class or certification for school security. We discussed ideas, argued about the difference between being managers or leaders, and developed a leadership platform. We learned about school finance, researched best practices for curriculum and instruction, and wrote papers about the schools of the future. Honestly, this is what what should have been doing as aspiring school leaders.

However, throughout my experience as a teacher and guidance counselor, vice principal and Principal we have spent a lot of time discussing school security in professional development. I have learned from some of the best local law enforcement officials about how to keep a school safe and how to deal with tragedy. I’ve read countless articles on how to make a school safe and proactive approaches needed to ensure school security.

For some reason, schools are a target and we are required to act accordingly. None of us wants to do the security drills but we do because we are committed to keeping kids safe. We take this aspect of our job very seriously.

Security drills are nothing new to education. In some form or fashion we have been doing fire drills, bus evacuation drills, safety drills, nuclear war drills, and depending on the region there are countless weather related drills. After the Columbine School Shooting, schools began implementing active shooter drills, shelter in place, lock downs and evacuation drills. No matter the drill, teachers and students take these exercises seriously even as they may occur at any time. It has become part of what we do.

As I watched the news reports from the most recent incident in Florida, I felt a deep emotion for those involved. I couldn’t help but to ask myself the question, “What if that happened at my school?” Honestly, if you work in a school in the United States, you asked yourself that question. The answers, I am sure, would vary. It made me think about an incident that hit close to home.

Prior to the Winter Break, our school had a “shooting threat” that turned out to be a vicious rumor fueled by misinformation, judgement and hysteria. We went through our protocols, included the local police, did thorough and extensive interviews only to find out there was nothing…  no threatening posts on social media, no guns at the student’s house, no written accounts, not even a confirmed one on one conversation. We informed the teachers when were allowed to and we informed the parents when we were allowed to. Honestly, as I reflect back on this experience, all I think about are the parents and community members who rushed to judgement, pointed the finger at us and insinuated that we were not doing our jobs. The feeling I felt was that people actually thought it was our fault and that we were not doing enough. That hurt the most.

As a parent and an educator I understand the emotions behind this entire debate. No one wants to send their children to a war zone, they want their kids to learn to read and write. This is why we practice drills. This is why we take threats seriously. This is why we investigate. This is why we involve law enforcement. This is why we are constantly being trained, and re-trained on crisis management. This is why we work together.

When it comes to school security we take this very seriously.

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

 

 

Visibility and Vulnerability

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

As a leader do you struggle with being visible? Is it difficult to be everywhere at the same time? Frustrated that the cloning software hasn’t kicked in yet? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, we are in the same boat!

I am fortunate to be teaching a graduate class at Rowan University this semester titled Education Organization and Leadership. One of our recent assignments was for the students to interview an administrator about the management of the building. The students wrote such compelling accounts from their interviews and inspired me to reflect on my own practice. I am so grateful for their inspiration!

Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen. Brene Brown

In my first Principal position I rarely was concerned with my visibility. I was the only administrator in a building with 320 kids and about 40 full time staff during the day. There were 3 floors and about 22 classrooms. The front office and my office was connected by a sliding door. Moving throughout the building was relatively easy, and I was able to check in with staff on a daily basis. This was my life for 5 years. Believe me, there were difficult times and I am sure that amnesia has kicked in regarding my perception of visibility, but for the most part this was my world.

Fast forward to now as I get closer to my two year anniversary at Lakeside Middle School. I struggle with visibility. I am the building Principal with 3 vice principals, 120 staff during the day and 1,100 students with over 75 classrooms, two floors and 10 hallways. One hallway is literally a 1/4 of a mile. It is an exciting building to work in and there is never a dull moment.

What does the data say?

We use the McREL Walkthrough system and I was able to go back through to see how many walkthroughs I have completed in the past two years. I have done 205 classroom walkthroughs.

In that same time, I have formally observed about 75 staff with an average of forty minutes (some with pre-conferences and all with post conferences). I have attended about 25 PLC sessions. We have had monthly staff meetings, subcommittee meetings, department meetings, and about 10 Professional Development days.  In addition, I have done about 160 cafeteria duties (very few this yer) and have been out for countless class changes. I spend almost every morning and afternoon in the front of the school directing traffic and directing students.

According to my SAMs data, since October of 2016, I have worked about 2,300 hours. In 2016-17, I spent 53% in “instructional” time as compared to this year where I have spent only 40%. In both years I have spent about 30% of the time in “management” and about 3% in personal time (I rarely take lunches). Each year I average about 17% in “unscheduled” time which is basically me having difficulty recalling what I actually did.

Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change. Brene Brown

So what is the problem? 

Looking at the data above it appears that I am very active in the school building, but I have to admit that I have had staff members say the following to me:

  • “You still work here?”
  • “I haven’t seen you in ___ days”
  • “Well, at least you aren’t as bad as one of our previous principals, I didn’t see that person for 39 straight days one year. “
  • “Thanks for stopping by”

Honestly, the people who have said these things are not saying them in a mean or attacking way, but as someone who is constantly reflecting, it bothers me…. alot!

So now what? 

Since this has been bothering me for quite some time I have already begun to address the problem. Honestly, no one cares about the data I shared above. It doesn’t matter how big or small the building is, or how many walkthroughs or observations have been accomplished, if I don’t feel visible, the staff surely feels the same way.

Here is my game plan:

  • Being vulnerable and writing this post!
  • Use the SAMs program to it’s fullest. Adhere to the schedule even if it says “monitor class switches” or “visit staff and students”
  • Save email for later. Yes I get between 80-90 emails a day, but again, who cares? Schedule uninterrupted time to complete the email tasks when the building is less occupied.
  • Reduce meeting time by 20%. I have a lot of meetings in my office that can range from 45 minutes to an hour. I need to streamline these meetings to allow more time out of my office.
  • Try a “no office” day each month. This is something I could easily do with technology and wifi. My office can literally be anywhere for a day. There are 5 months left in the school year so I should easily be able to have 5 “no office days.”
  • Continue with the feedback cards. I started this on January 15 and I have been able to distribute about 30 cards. It has forced me to respond to staff about what I saw, what I wonder, and to acknowledge the great work going on in their classroooms!
  • Connect with staff and students beyond the walkthroughs and observations. Ask questions, listen, be present!
  • Be where the staff is (at sign in, sign out, common areas, etc)

Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection. Brene Brown

I am excited about addressing these issues and more importantly sharing them with you. What advice do you have? What are some struggles you would want to share? Be sure to comment so we can get better, together.

Spike C. Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two book through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

5 Takeaways from the National SAM Conference

I recently had the opportunity to attend the 11th Annual National SAM Conference. SAM (which stands for School Administration Manager) is a process to ensure that School Leaders increase their instructional time in their schools. The program was created by Mark Shellinger who was a former teacher, principal and superintendent.

This was my second SAM Conference and I am in the second year of working with the program. I know I need to do a blog about how crucial SAMs has been to my leadership but for now I will just focus on the conference.

Here are my 5 Takeaways from the conference:

  1. SAMs is inclusive! The SAM conference is one of the only conferences that secretaries and school leaders attend together. The idea behind SAMs is to increase instructional leadership at all levels.
  2. SAMs is innovative! All of the keynote sessions were in the sand on the beach at Marco Island Marriott Resort. I can honestly say I have never imagined listening to speakers with my feet in the sand. In addition, this year at the conclusion of the conference we had a “choose your own adventure.” There were three speakers to choose from at the same time (LaVonna Roth, Willow Sweeney, and Ken Williams) and with a headset you could listen to one or toggle between the three.
  3. SAMs focuses on listening! One of the best workshops I went to was on Deep Listening by Kirstin Olson. We learned techniques to become better listeners for our students, staff, parents and community members.
  4. SAMs focuses on Professional Development! I received 6 books at the conference. Marc Shellinger made sure that we received all books from the Keynote speakers. I now have a long list of reading to do! Here are a list of the books we received: The Big Disconnect by Catherine Steiner-Adair; Successful Women Think Differently by Valorie Burton; Visual Intelligence by Amy Herman; Crucial Conversations by Joseph Grenny; 17,000 Classroom Visits Can’t Be Wrong by John Antonetti.
  5. SAMs is about networking. Throughout the conference I worked with educators from throughout the country. I met colleagues who were able to share ideas with me and challenge my thinking.

This was such an amazing conference. I am re-energized to improve my daily practice as a Principal at Lakeside Middle School. I am prepared to be a better listener and encouraged to take chances to improve my leadership!

Spike C. Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two book through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.