Where is my Leadership Mojo? And how will I get it back?

source: despair.com

Being a reflective leader can be very difficult. Basically, if I am being honest in my reflections I have to write about the good, the bad, and the ugly. I am not sure which category this would fit into, but I need to come clean on something…. I feel like I lost my leadership mojo.

 

I’m not sure when, where, or even why, but as of now…. it’s gone. I know that people I work with have noticed. Yet, only two people have had the courage to address it with me. Their conversations started off very similar…. something to the effect of, “You’re not yourself lately” or “Is everything OK?” Every leader needs a Merlin, or trusted advisor within an organization. My “Merlins” were checking on me, and I had to be honest with them….. I just didn’t have any answers. I couldn’t put my fingers on it. I think they understood. I hope they understand.

Source themarteneygroup.com

 

Being a principal is not an easy job. It can be thankless, frustrating, political, and stressful. I get that, but honestly, I know I can deal with those challenges. Being a principal in 2013 sure comes with additional responsibilities because we are at a crossroads in education. We are constantly under scrutiny, pressed for outcomes, and responsible to fix a broken system that we didn’t break.  I can deal with that too!

 

I asked myself if I was alone in this? Thankfully the answer to this is no. Others have been brave enough to reflect on their leadership challenges. Recently, I went back and read two very important blog posts from mentors of my PLN. In his post, Disconnect to Reconnect, Dwight Carter discussed how his social media presence began to impede his ability to connect with his teachers. Dwight put his devices to the side and focused more of his energies on his school. To an extent, Dwight knows what I am going through….. Then there is George Couros. In his post, Fall Apart or Fall Together he talked about his struggles of leadership as he was zapped with low energy and a general malaise. George re-connected with his leadership by paying it forward. He began to help Edmonton Humane Society. They lost it, and found it.  Encouraging!

 

I’m still left with this question…How will I get my leadership mojo back? My first step was admitting that it was gone. That’s what this blog post is about. Believe me, this was the hardest step. I knew by exposing myself in this format, it could have a negative (or less desired) impact then I am seeking. It took a long time to hit the publish button. The second step was looking to trusted advisors, Merlins, and mentors to seek out advice from those who want me to succeed. They have all said the same thing…. it will get better, take care of yourself, you can do this, we believe in you! The third step was to start taking better care of my mind, body and spirit. I am thankful that I have a very supportive network, and I appreciate all of the help.

 

As for the rest of the story? Well, it hasn’t been written…. yet!

Turning Dreams into Reality

This morning a 5th grade student came up to me during arrival. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded up piece of paper. He told me to read and then went to class. Usually, these notes indicate a problem….Something I need to look into, investigate, etc. This letter was different.

To: Dr. Cook,

I think we should do a principal of the day at our school.

Because we can learn what being in office is like.

Some kids like myself have a dream of being a principal. I want to learn more stuff

about being a Principal like learning how to solve problems, and how to do write ups.

That is why I should be principal for a day.

From: Demear

 

What’s a principal to do? I sure could use the help!

I decided that the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day (January 22) I will allow Demear to be Principal For A Day.

Let me know if you have any ideas for Demear. I want to make sure I help him turn his dreams into reality!

 

Our response ….

A few weeks ago I blogged about not knowing how I would deal with the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary school. Fortunately, I came to the realization that it was not about me, but rather WE.

 

I was contacted by Neil Haley of the the Total Education Network to participate in a discussion on the tragedy. In the podcast, I talked about how our students, parents, and staff were part of the response.

 

Here is the podcast, I hope you will find our response to the tragedy to be worthwhile.

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New approaches to the New Year

I haven’t blogged in a few weeks, so I am really dusting off the cobwebs here. I took time away from reading and writing about education over the Winter Break. I needed to rejuvenate myself. I spent quality time with friends, and family. Even though I had 11 days off in a row, it still wasn’t enough.

 

I woke up bright and early this morning (January 2) …. mentally preparing for the day. Instead of trying the latest fad diet or trendy exercise program (which is usually what I do), I relaxed in the morning quiet catching up with my thoughts, and drinking coffee. I finally opened up my zite and read a few articles and shared them on facebook and twitter. After I got ready, I attempted to rustle my kids out of bed, and at least get them excited about returning to school. (That wasn’t easy)

 

When I got to work everything was quiet. I started up my computer and stared at the log in. I actually forgot my password. I called a friend in the Help Desk but he wasn’t around. I told my secretary that I couldn’t log in because I forgot my password. She laughed at me! I remained focused, and finally (20 minutes later) I remembered the password. Winner!

 

After morning announcements,  I went around the school and visited every classroom. Some of the classes were already working diligently so I just waved and listened. In other classrooms I was able to wish everyone a Happy New Year, and welcome them back. Students told me all about their presents, or how they stayed up to see the ball drop. Just another day at school.

 

Source: http://www.economist.com/node/13315818

This blog post was supposed to be about new findings, goals, resolutions, or new ways of looking at myself for 2013… Instead, it really is just about my Winter Break and my first day back. But in all honesty, this is probably the healthiest approach I have had to a new year. No resolutions, no crazy fad diets, no more insane exercise attempts. Believe me, there are plenty of things for me to change, improve, lose, gain, etc.  The difference this year is my approach.

As a Principal, how will I deal with this?

I just posted on my school blog. That was the most difficult post I have ever written…. until now. As a reflective educator, who admittedly does NOT have all the answers, I am left with this question…. How am I going to deal with this? I am supposed to have all of the answers. I am supposed to be strong, brave, committed, and everything else that comes along with being a leader. Me? I am reeling from this tragedy  just like everyone else.

 

I spent yesterday morning reading the tweets of Dawn Hochsprung the Principal of Sandy Hook Elementary who was killed by the shooter defending her school. I hope to think that I would have had the same courage as Dawn, when faced with the same situation. I know through her tweets that she was doing everything she could to make her school safe, as well as create an atmosphere of learning for her students and teachers.

 

I have received several emails from my staff that have outlined their concerns about our safety and security. These valid concerns have made me rethink almost everything about our school. I will begin the process of working with the staff on Monday morning, but once again, I know that I don’t have all the answers.

 

In an attempt to be proactive, I have set up a meeting with parents on Wednesday evening before our Talent Show. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss their concerns about the tragedy, and to ensure that they feel comfortable sending their children to our school. It is my hope that this meeting will be a springboard for the future as we embark on a lengthy process of examining our entire school day from 6:00 AM – 11:00 PM.  Again… I do not have all the answers.
Then I had a epiphany….

 

I read a blog post from my friend Angela Maiers that really helped me. In the post, There is No Lesson Plan for Tragedy, she discusses how WE know what to do because, “Together we are smarter.” I truly believe that statement. Once I get away from the notion of I, and change to WE, I feel more confident, brave, and ready to face the challenges of leading an elementary school after this horrific tragedy. WE will continue to create a world class school, WE will help each other heal, WE will create a safer school, We are a lot stronger because WE work together to solve problems.

 

I know how to deal with this…. WE will deal with this!

 

Resources

There is no lesson plan by Angela Maiers

Dawn Hochsprung tweets

How to talk to kids about a school shooting by Dr. Laura Markham

Useful resources from Larry Ferlazzo

More resources Dr. Michele Borba

Sandy Hook Elementary information

 

Watch out 21st century world, our kids are Blooming!

Isaiah working on one of his experiments

One of our 5th grade classes recently conducted a “make over” on their class. This idea emerged after a group of students requested a “real” 21st Century learning environment. Their teacher, Mr. Hudson, asked them, “So, what does that look like?” Well, they took him up on the challenge and asked if they could replace their desks with tables in order to increase collaboration. They told their teacher that they really liked his teaching, but they learn more when he lets them take what they learn and “run with it” through a variety of projects and activities with their classmates. “Fine,” he said, “Then what?” Well, then they said they each wanted their own device (ipod touch, ipad, computer, or laptop, etc.). “OK,” he replied, “I might not be able to get one-to-one in here, but we can get pretty close.” They compromised…for now.

 

Here is the imovie trailer the students made about their classroom make over:

Anthony met Millville Mayor Tim Shannon and presented an idea for a skate park

 

So after they completed their filming project with Pearson’s EnVision Math (Yes, they were picked out of hundreds of classrooms to highlight the new math program) we treated them to new tables. They really have been working hard this year! Did I mention that they are all avid bloggers? This class, through kidblog.org has been actively blogging before, during and after school not to mention the weekends and some long after they should have been sleeping. Their blog, Bear Necessities, is comprised of the teacher, the entire class, librarian, principal, parents, and even former students. This learning environment allows them to create ideas, complete class projects, and pontificate on what the town needs to do to improve. Did I mention that this is all optional and not required by the teacher? Neither is the “H” word… Homework. Students in this class have designed their own learning games, study guides, and blogs in the most self-directed manner…. because they want to, because the culture of the room encourages it, because no one has to tell them no. It’s a culture of yes, a culture of innovation, of experimentation.

 

Recently, Mr. Hudson’s class enthusiastically accepted a unique opportunity to host TeacherCast for RM Bacon’s FIRST EVER live podcast. The students invited the superintendent, assistant superintendent, and me for a 45 minute session on education. They read our blogs, tweets, and even our resumes to formulate their questions for the podcast. In fact, TeacherCast was so impressed with these kids that he is starting a section on his website for students!

 

RM Bacon’s first podcast was hosted by Mr. Hudson’s class

Administrative walkthrough reports from this class have produced some interesting data trends. 27% of the observed time, this class has been engaged in Generating and Testing Hypothesis, specifically problem solving. 100% of the time the students have been able to articulate the learning objective. 94% of the time there has been teacher directed technology, and 100% student directed technology. As for student grouping, the class was observed (Whole group 33%; Individual 6%; Small Group 44%; Cooperative Group 11%; Pair 6%).

 

After applying what they have been learning through technology, the students realized they hit a glass ceiling in terms of their classroom infrastructure. Ironically, the walk-through data supported their findings, reflecting cooperative group activities identified 11% of the observed time. Hmm, it makes me think how cool would it be to pilot student walk-through’s? Empowered with problem-solving skills, they analyzed their current situation, evaluated what they needed to enrich their learning experiences, and are now in the midst of creating their very own 21st century learning environment. Our students are truly “Bloom-ing” in their very own and student-designed 21st Century classroom. 

 

Resources:

Classroom Instruction That Works, 2nd Edition 

Bear Necessities

TeacherCast 

 

Moneyball, and the importance of systems-thinking, process-centered leadership in education

It was the day after Thanksgiving 2012, and I was not able to fall asleep. As I flipped through the channels I stumbled upon Moneyball. I remember when the book came about about 10 years ago and I really wanted to read it. I also remember when the movie came out last year that I really wanted to see it. So, finally this was my chance! Kids were asleep and I had control of the TV. Nice!

The importance of systems thinking

The importance of systems thinking

Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics with the help of his assistant General Manager, was looking to operate a team with limited financial resources. Their process, known as sabermetrics, was contrary to the conventional wisdom prevalent in baseball scouting for over 150 years. Scouts were looking at prospective players in terms of feel, disposition, and even looks. They asked questions of each other like, “How did the ball sound coming off his bat?” or “Does he have what it takes?” when referring to the players. In a sense, they were looking at the intangibles until Billy asked a familiar question that is often overlooked in organizations, “What is the problem?” I wondered to myself if Billy had gone through Six Sigma training.

 

Billy and his assistant GM used data to discover which statistics really mattered in Baseball. Instead of the flashy statistics that fans usually paid attention to such as home runs and stolen bases, they focused on batters getting on base, pitch counts, even where the ball should be hit. This paradigm shift caused an uproar to the scouts and baseball pundits who had been steeped in traditional baseball analysis. Throughout the rest of the film, Billy remains committed to this process-centered, sabermetrics. There are people within the organization who question him and even challenge him, but he remains process-centered. Eventually, the team found consensus and won. The data worked!

source: the Yankee Analysts

My school incorporates the utility of data analysis for everything. For instance, within the realm of Response to Intervention, we facilitate Universal Assessments for all students, and we use that data to determine whorequires basic  skills instruction in reading fluency, reading comprehension, and/or math. Then, after a cycle of individually and research-based interventions, we analyze the data to determine if the intervention cycle was successful. We also analyze our Office Discipline Referrals (ODR’s). We compare our ODR’s against the previous school year, where the referrals are occurring, and which students are committing the referrals. This data advises us on how to provide appropriate remediation. We no longer have to “guess” if a student needs basic skills or if the discipline is “out of control.” We use the data to inform us and keep us process-centered.

 

This movie reaffirmed Six Principles I have learned about leadership and systems thinking through working in the Millville Public School District with the assistance of our PEG consultants:

  • Organizations need to take time to understand their mission and vision – Why do we exist?
  • Leaders need to assemble key stakeholders to undertake a problem solving matrix
  • Processes need to be charted or flowed to identify how/why things happen
  • Action plans that are developed must be time bounded, and an “owner” needs to be assigned, and held accountable
  • Innovation is important, and there should be processes in place to allow people to push the limits, and take chances
  • Periodic updates on the process ensures a better flow communication, and helps everyone stay connected

 

The story of Billy Beane, and the Oakland Athletics ends with the notion that Moneyball and sabermetrics changed baseball.  They were able to prove that money doesn’t solve everything. I agree. All too often in education we are always looking to “buy” the latest program, or solution as opposed to determining the root cause of the problem and doing the difficult work to solve the problem. If we follow the methodological framework of revered systemic thinkers to identify problems at their core, we will find ourselves true competitors in a 21st century educational environment that we call schools!

 

Moneyball Trailer

Resources:

Moneyball 

Performance Excellence Group

My 2012 Edublogs Nominations

After much thought and consideration I have filled out my Edublogs Nominiations for this year. It goes without saying that I learn so much from these people, and I want to do my part to have them gain recognition.

 

 

And the nominations go to….

Good luck everybody. You Matter!

Beyond the Bake Sale, Our Visit to Knapp Elementary

The Background

Our vision for RM Bacon Elementary is to provide a world class school for all of our stakeholders. We work tirelessly to develop our teachers, and provide the best instruction to our learners. But when I looked into the reflective mirror, I realized that we were not engaging our family and community members as well as we would like. So this year I made it my mission to improve in this area. I started out by finding a teacher who was willing to take on this quest with me. Leigh Simpson, our music teacher and aspiring school administrator, volunteered to join the team. I then met with our Home and School President, Beth Markee, and asked her to join our team and help us increase our family and community engagement beyond the traditional avenues.

 

The Research

We scanned the twittervese researching family and community engagement. We looked at a bunch of schools and districts to see who we could model ourselves after. We quickly came to one conclusion…. Knapp Elementary embodied the type of engagement we were seeking. Knapp uses twitter, facebook, newsletters, events, to enhance their school culture and engage the family and community unlike anyone else. So we fueled up the car and went on a ROAD TRIP.

 

The Visit

Our team was comprised of Leigh Simpson, Parent and Community Engagement Chair, and Beth Markee, Home and School Association President, and myself. Fortunately for us, Knapp Elementary is only an hour and half drive from my school so we were able to accomplish the visit in one day.

Welcome to Knapp

When we arrived at Knapp we paid close attention to climate and symbolism of the school. We were welcomed by very pleasant and excited secretaries who were happy to see us. We scanned the foyer and soaked in the pictures, artwork, and design that sent a clear message…. Welcome to our home!

 

 

 

Welcome in different languages

Joe Mazza, the lead learner of Knapp, came out to greet us. I have known Joe for about a year and have seen him speak, read his tweets, and blogs, but it was especially refreshing to see him in his element… Knapp! He introduced us to Gwen Pescatore who is the President of the Knapp Home and School Association. After we exchanged pleasantries, we headed to the conference room to get to work. Even though we were there to learn from Joe and Gwen, they wanted the conversation to be a collaborative, learning opportunity for both schools. They asked us to talk about our school, the successes, challenges, and what we wanted to learn. As we were talking, a quote on the wall caught my eye, and I had to capture it (see “in this house”).

Our conversation flowed easily for about an hour. Joe and Gwen talked about Knapp and their journey to provide true engagement beyond the bake sale. Knapp Elementary has more languages spoken at home then most schools have classrooms… 22! They admit that their journey has been and continues to be a work in progress. Joe and Gwen’ s overarching message was simple… the core of true family and community engagement  is face to face contact with caring teachers. According to Joe, “First impressions are happening every day.”

We toured the building and visited a few classrooms. As we walked the building the message that we saw in the front of the building extended to the rest of the school as well…. Welcome to our home.

Art work was on all of the walls

A fish pond in an out-cove

Joe talking about family engagement

Discussing the takeaways on the ride home

As we drove away from Knapp we identified 7 key lessons we  learned from the experience:

1. Face to face contact with caring teachers

2. First impressions are made everyday

3. Make sure to have a menu of offerings for families and communities including social media, and traditional avenues

4. Televise HSA meetings in case parents are unable to attend

5. Think of the school as a 5 star hotel, and work to make it look like one too

6. Make sure that the HSA resembles the cultural make up of the school and community

7. Have designated places to recognize students

 

Since the trip we have increased our focus on family and community engagement. Stay tuned because we have just begun our journey. We are looking forward to report back on our progress as we embark on this extremely important endeavor to get beyond the bake sale, and into real family and community engagement.

Resources

Joe Mazza’s Blog 

Knapp Elementary School Twitter 

Parent Teacher Chat on Twitter

 

 

Don’t forget the spark!

source: prattcenter.net

I love the spark! I love being in a workshop and getting the spark, or being the one to create the spark!

 

I recently had the opportunity to talk with about 50 educators in a nearby school district on web 2.0 tools, Project Based Learning, and Social Media. For information about the presentation or resources, feel free to check out my website.

 

Going into the preparation phase for the presentation I didn’t want to make assumptions about their knowledge or understanding, but it was clear to me early on that these folks (and their schools) were not very “connected.” I think it was when I said, “I am having problems with my prezi,” when someone politely asked, “Whats a prezi?” In my mind I thought, “He is right. Great question!” Hmm, the spark?

 

As I went through the presentation I heard such deep, and rich conversations. It was so refreshing to hear their enthusiasm, or trepidation regarding these 21st century teaching tools. The questions that I was presented with showed me that they were looking for a good place to start. Ahh, the spark?

 

There were many amazing outcomes to the workshop. At least 5 teachers signed up for twitter. About 5 more who had twitter accounts were able to understand more about the “life of a tweet.” There were a few teachers who were interested in connecting with my skype resources Lauren Cooper, Sean Wheeler. Yes, the spark!

 

I am sure that there will be a new set of bloggers, pinners, tweeters, and edomodos as a result of this workshop. I know that this district will see the beginnings of PBL, and I am sure that there will be a few “flipped” classrooms. It will just take some time, but these students will benefit from their teachers willingness to try new things. Spark!

 

So my message to everyone out there looking to discover Web 7.89, or who snubs your nose at “un-connected” educators….. there is still a lot of work to be done at the introductory level to create the spark!

 

If you would have asked me to participate in a similar type of workshop just a year ago I would have asked the same questions. I would have had the same trepidation, or even more. Yet, thanks to those who helped me get started, I can now present on this same information. And sometime in the future, there will someone from this workshop presenting to me, and recreating the spark!

 

Resources:

insightsintolearning