We wonder about how things present themselves to us. We are often challenged by the obstacles we face on a day to day basis… but is it really so strange?
Isn’t the presentation of problems an indication of lessons yet to be learned?
This summer, I was in an Equity and Diversity workshop with Paul Gorski and he presented two options for us to consider.
1. We could save the Starfishes…. Meaning, once we saw a problem, we could work to solve it immediately.
The Starfish story is a very popular story. Basically, A young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish have washed ashore. Further along he sees an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean. “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?,” he asks. “Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.” “But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.” The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.” (source: http://www.esc16.net/users/0020/FACES/Starfish%20Story.pdf)
2. We could swim up the river… Meaning, we could see the problems as they currently exist, and swim up the river to see what is the actual problem.
One summer in the village, the people in the town gathered for a picnic. As they leisurely shared food and conversation, someone noticed a baby in the river, struggling and crying. The baby was going to drown! Someone rushed to save the baby. Then, they noticed another screaming baby in the river, and they pulled that baby out. Soon, more babies were seen drowning in the river, and the townspeople were pulling them out as fast as they could. It took great effort, and they began to organize their activities in order to save the babies as they came down the river. As everyone else was busy in the rescue efforts to save the babies, two of the townspeople started to run away along the shore of the river. “Where are you going?” shouted one of the rescuers. “We need you here to help us save these babies!” “We are going upstream to stop whoever is throwing them in!” (source: http://fasarizona.com/riverbabies.htm)
What are you going to do? Are you willing to swim up the river or just wait on the shore? Choice is yours….
Earlier this week we started Genius Hour 2.0 with the staff. Want more information on how we got here? Check out Genius Hour 1.0. I started off the meeting with a quote I heard on a podcast on the way in to work….
I’d rather have questions without answers than answers without questions – Max Tegmart, MIT Cosmologist
Our Genius Hour 2.0 is a drop in the bucket that is as big as an ocean. Reflect on this – How often do we provide staff with time to ask big questions, or even focus beyond the “here and now” to the future? The answer is not much. Not much at all.
Teachers are generally putting out the proverbial fires on any given day. Ask them to think about next year, 5 years from now and you might get a look. In their defense, that look is well deserved. They simply are not provided adequate time to work on the big picture because they are mandated to attend trainings, lesson plan, teach, grade, discipline, talk, listen, conference, work collaboratively on the most recent data, etc… and repeat. Every day for the school year.
To me, Genius Hour is my way of giving them back 20% of the “staff meeting” time to clear their head. Maybe, just maybe, this time requires them to think beyond today, next week or next month. I need them to think about anything that can improve the school.
So as the staff embarks on Genius Hour 2.0 I am hoping that they are able to travel up to the balcony and think about their passion, our school, and where it is going. This will be time well spent, and an opportunity for teachers do something different. To solve a problem that may not exist. To ask questions that can’t be answered.
At this year’s Back to School Night we wanted to do something different, something unique. So we set out to see what positive message we could send to the parents as they arrived at one of the most important events in the school year.
Fortunately, our teachers are always seeking opportunities to welcome the parents into the school community. So we partnered with a National Fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma, to take this opportunity to the next level. In preliminary meetings with the fraternity, we were able to sketch out a basic format to the partnership or “Adopt A School.” Here is the brief overview of the plan:
We are also going to be capturing this amazing story in an upcoming documentary titled, “A Year in Transition.”
All this has been (and will be) fostered by building relationships. The champion behind this entire project is one of our parents, Bruce Cooper. Last year he assisted with activities in the classroom, organized a Spelling Bee and helped students find their voice through a public speaking program “Bacon Speaks.”
At the Clap In we had about 80 people come out to welcome the parents. We had teachers, Board of Education members, local Politicians, volunteers, and members from the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. According to some of the parents I spoke with, they were so inspired by the support shown during the Clap In. I received many positive emails, messages, and phone calls about how the parents felt about the Clap In. It was a great start to a unique partnership!
Here are a few video clips and pictures from the Clap In:
As a school/district what are your plans for parents this year? Each school/district have so many awesome ideas for increasing participation and engagement! I am going to share a few things we are doing!
At our school we are really focusing on engagement this year. Over the summer we installed a Digital Sign for the parents to watch as they drop off or pick up their child. On the first day of school we invited the parents to our All School Assembly and encouraged them to visit the classroom to meet the teacher. We are continuing with our convenient arrival and dismissal procedures we established last year. Basically, the car riders are dropped off and picked up at the same point allowing the parents to stay in their car and relax while we ensure their child is ready.
We are committed to sharing our school information on Social Media. Our staff uses everything we can to get our message to the parents:
In addition to the plethora of free Social Media tools, we are committed to printing monthly newsletters, calling home, visiting homes, informal conversations, Home and School Association, and opening the classroom up for collaboration. We were even recently adopted by a local fraternal organization (Phi Beta Sigma). Sounds like a lot? Yet, we are always seeking ways to improve and get better.
At this year’s Back to School we are planning a “Clap In” for our parents. They deserve a round of applause and well wishes from the community as they are a key component of our school family. Check out the Smore flyer we are sending throughout the community here.
What are some ideas that you have to help increase parental engagement? Share your ideas in the comments 🙂
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:
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:
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:
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:
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)
Deltas (or things that didn’t work well and can be improved)
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.