Insights Into Learning

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My 2013 Edublogs Award Nominations

Nothing like waiting until the last minute… Nominations close tomorrow!!!! So, here are my 2013 Edublog Nominations:

edublogs

Building a plane while we are flying it

source:www.kaastrupandersen.dk

source:www.kaastrupandersen.dk

Do you know how absurd this statement is? We are building a plane as we fly it. What industry would approve of this? Unfortunately, all too often it’s education…

Something tells me that the businesses that we hail as successful, and that we are attempting to prepare our students to be part of, would never build a plane while flying it. I have had the opportunity to study organizations and organizational leadership and have found that the most successful have been systemic, innovative, and committed to continuous improvement through multiple measures. For instance, I highly doubt that executives at Toyota, one of the most successful car manufacture in the world, would discuss changes with their organization and say, “We are building the plane as we fly it.” (or building the car as we drive it)

I have been to countless meetings in my 13 years as an educator, and all too often (especially in the last few years) I have heard state officials describe the current assessment, curriculum or evaluation procedures with the phrase “we are building the plane as we fly it.” I’ve talked to educators in other states through social media and sure enough they’ve heard it too. Why?

Why? If those in education are experiencing such difficulties in managing the change, or even implementing the change, then why not take a step back. Why not take a bold step to the side?  Then, they could take the time to ensure that an initiative is properly deployed. Just a thought. Maybe the new mantra for a year or two could be that they are taking a step back, analyzing the situation, working with small teams, or maybe even reconsider the direction based on data.

Maybe, just maybe, the reason why we are experiencing so much turbulence with the changes in education and we are always “hurrying up” is because education has become so political. Our elected officials only have so much time. So a moratorium or a pause would help us out, but certainly not those who are constantly looking at the clock, the re-election schedule, or their next political move. How has education become so intertwined with the political cycle? When did we as educators give up the control?

In reflecting on the theme of this post I am left with a few items for everyone to consider:

  • What is the direction of public education in this country?
  • Who owns the vision? And how long will they own it?
  • Is the change we are experiencing linked to the election cycles and outcomes? How can we change this process? How can we improve it?
  • Would you feel safe, no matter your occupation, if someone was building a plane why you were in it….flying?

Short on Time, long on resources

short on timeASCD is venturing into a new market through their arias publications. These books are designed for the busy professional that can be read in less than an hour, but can provide resources for improvement well beyond the time spent reading. Short on Time: How do I make time to lead and learn as a principal? by Bill Sterrett was a great read! It took me about 38 minutes to read it. I found myself hooked from the beginning.

 

Short on Time will help you with the following:

- Help you take action and realize change in school and professional life
- Gain insights into specific steps that you can apply to your situation
- These action steps involve teaching, innovating, and leading which will require planning, action, and reflection

 

Sterrett developed a  4 point acronym DISC (District, Instruction, School, Community) to help educational leaders manage their professional schedule. Each of these areas require the educational leader to determine their own allocation of time, but all are important. According to Sterrett, all of the DISC activities should be placed in your master schedule, which should be accessible to key stakeholders.

  • District – Any requirements from your central administration such as BOE meetings, presentations, or meetings 
  • Instruction – Referred to as the heart and soul of your job, these activities include walk-throughs, faculty meetings, school level meetings
  • School – School activities can make the school the center of the community
  • Community – These activities include developing and managing partnerships external from the school

 

ASCDapp_iconIn addition to providing tips and resources for the educational leader’s own time, Sterrett spends a considerable time discussing the importance of maximizing instructional time for students and teachers. He suggests leaders develop a collaborative scheduling team to examine the master schedule to maximize time for collaboration, reflection, outdoor learning, and time for the whole child.

 

Sterrett posits that teachers should be provided time for their personalized and school-based learning. In order to use time effectively, leaders should provide time for teachers to improve instruction through meaningful faculty meetings, Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), peer observations, and collaboration.

 

sterrett-w124x160Understanding that we are all “short on time,” Bill Sterrett provides an amazing resource in this arias book for educators to maximize their time on what matters most. Once you read this book, you will see that becoming organized, communicating effectively, and prioritizing your day is not as hard as you might imagine. Although the book is titled “Short on Time” it is long on resources!

 

There is no problem so bad that you can’t make it worse

source: www.3birdsmarketing.com

source: www.3birdsmarketing.com

Recently, I was listening to a podcast with renown astronaut  Commander Chris Hadfield. During the podcast Chris said, “There is no problem so bad that you can’t make it worse.” I was immediately struck by the quote. Could we doing just this in education?

 

It has been documented over and over again that we have problems in education(and it has been documented that we do not have problems). There are achievement gaps, poverty gaps, technology gaps, and even teaching gaps. Some of these gaps get wider, some deeper and all are noticed.

 

We have also seen countless ideas on how to fix our problems. There are schools that are closed, monitored, given more money, more resources, less money, less resources…. there are increased emphasis on assessments, data, and student out put. We have countless studies informing teachers why they should use whole group instruction, direct instruction, small group instruction, leveled instruction, one -to-one and we debate class sizes, use of technology, co-teaching, departmentalization, integration, private, charter, public, magnet…. not to mention common core, national standards, local standards…. The lists, the contradictions, the hyperbole’s go on and on and on…

 

Are we making the problem better or worse?

Thoughts?

Ideas?

Suggestions?

 

 

 

The sweet and sour

yinYangThere is an old adage I reflect on quite often…  you can’t enjoy the sweet without the sour.

 

The sweet and sour aspects of leadership.

 

Recently, my co-hosts on the PrincipalCast  Podcast discussed how being a principal was the greatest job in the world. We were able to spend 45 minutes discussing how awesome it is being a principal, the rewards, and the responsibility.  I’m sure we could have went 45 more minutes discussing this topic. It was easy! But how do we really know the rewards without truly understanding the challenges. The sour aspects of being a principal.

 

For starters, being a principal is mentally and physically tasking. We work long hours, are required to wear many hats, and deal with a range of stakeholders who all have a say in the direction of the school. We are required to be part of a system, and many struggle with the fact that “our” school is not “our” school. If we are in public schools, then we have a Board of Education, State and Federal Department of Education that have a huge impact on our school. In the private education world, principals have Boards of Trustees, dioceses, and other governing bodies to consider.

 

It is often understated that principals are dealing with the pride and joy of parents. I’m sure it’s not hard to visualize the parent who couldn’t imagine their son/daughter engaging in behavior that would cause them to end up in your office. Or the parent that has waved the white flag even though their child is only 8 years old. Parents express their concerns with the school in many ways, and I am sure you have hear of the various “you can’t make this up” stories.

 

Principals are faced with many challenges that require a deeper understanding of the human condition. You never really understand the complexities of this until your sitting at your desk and someone comes in and closes the door because they need to “talk.” These closed door talks could range from needing to get out of work early to classroom management struggles, questions about an observations, or even to cancer, or even death of a family member. Life happens and teachers need the principal to be understanding, and aware of their staff’s situations. It always amazes me the responsibilities that are piled on teachers outside of the school day.

 

Accidents happen, mistakes are made, disagreements and challenges are thrown are way every day. Many on the outside walk by the principal’s office and say, “I would never want that job” while others say, “I could do that job so much better” and still others say, “I want to do what I can to make their job more enjoyable.”

 

Still we press on.

 

Sweet

and

Sour

 

 

 

 

The Greatest Job in Education

principalcastTonight on the PrincipalCast podcast we will be discussion the greatest job in education…. the principal…

Why is the principal the greatest job in education?

What do principal’s do all day?

Do we really need principals?

Join us for the discussion on why we feel the principal is the greatest job in education….

 

We (Jessica Johnson, Theresa Stager and Dr. Spike Cook) love our jobs because we get to:

  • Work with dedicated professionals who are committed to educating our youth
  • Interact with students (learners) who have the capacity to transcend obstacles and love coming to school
  • Collaborate with community members to improve the area surrounding the school
  • Watch students collaborate, question and connect
  • Listen to students creating music
  • Watch students creating art
  • Provide the opportunity for learning new ideas
  • Be the cheerleader, coach, leader, and model for an entire school

 

Want to add to the list? Challenge it?

 

Tune in tonight to www.teachercast.tv 

 

 

What time is it?

What time is it?

If I asked that question at home, my children would probably yell, “Adventure Time!” At work, I ask myself that question all the time (no pun intended).

source: czarto.com

source: czarto.com

 

There are a lot of old adages and cliche’s about time and I love everyone of them… I’m sure you have heard them too:
“Time swiftly passes”
“Time is of the essence”
“Time flies when your having fun”
“Time is an illusion”

 

With the increasing demands on school leaders, I think that this post is timely (pun again). How do we spend our time?

 

I struggle with time. I am not a morning person, but I know it is important to be at work early (although no one seems to care how late I stay). Throughout the day I am constantly juggling the responsibilities of observing, walking through classrooms, connecting with other educators, talking to students and parents. My time is precious. …. I can’t be everywhere all the time (pun number ?)

 

How do I manage my time? I have become reliant on my Outlook calendar. I have my calendar on my laptop, iPhone, iPad and anywhere else I need it. Someone asks me to do something or be somewhere, I usually whip out my iPhone to check my availability. I know I only have so much time (pun number ?).

 I have to make time to learn new time management tools

source: www.chicagonow.com

source: www.chicagonow.com

My PrincipalCast co-hosts and I just did a podcast on Time Management. Although the session was not recorded (due to technical glitches) we had an amazing discussion on technological breakthroughs that can assist educators with time management.

 

In preparing for the show, I read a wonderful post by Tony Sinanis who ended up stopping by to chat. In Put What Matters First, Tony discusses how he “prioritizes” rather than “manages time.”He is student-centered and remains steadfast that students are first on his list of priorities!

 

Jessica Johnson shared how she prioritizes her time. She uses the Four Quadrants of Time Management, a matrix popularized by Stephen Covey in his book 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. She also uses BILT (Before I leave today) to ensure she accomplishes her tasks before heading home.

 

I shared one of my favorite books, Eat That Frog, by Brian Tracy. In the book, readers are provided with 21 time saving tips to make sure that priorities do not get out of control. Here is a video that illustrates the main tenets of the book.

Other resources that were shared on the podcast:

Paperless Principal by Jethro Jones

Want to lose the 3 ring binder? Try Livebinders 

Want to connect with people without email? Printing? Try Google Docs 

Quickly becoming the best place to explore, share and contribute educational content… Educlipper

 

Like sands through the hour glass, so are the days of our lives

 

 

 

 

From Vulnerability to Action

source:www.kidpresident.com

source:www.kidpresident.com

In my previous post The Importance of Showing Vulnerability, I discussed how I was not a fan of “know it alls” or folks who were not humble in their interaction with others. Someone who had read the blog asked me this question (which lead to this post), “ Spike, I understand the concept of showing vulnerability, but don’t people take advantage of that? Also, what if you really know something? Isn’t it important to speak up?” All great questions….

 

Although there is power in being vulnerable, it is very important to ensure that others do not take advantage. For instance, you are in a meeting and people are arguing over something, and you know that you could add insight… It’s important for you to take action! In many regards, actions speak louder than words.

 

Here are my suggestions for turning vulnerability into action:

  • Turn questions or problems into action – Volunteer to get involved or to get a project started. Sometimes it is hard to add things to you plate, but if helps you or your organization then you will ultimately benefit.
  • Stand up for yourself when you feel others are being inappropriate – Know it alls, bullies and passive aggressive people are detrimental to organizations. Don’t let them speak for you or others.
  • Use your resources – If you don’t know the answer, make sure to look it up. Ask trusted collegues for advice, research, plan and put something into action.

Actually, I think Kid President’s suggestions are better than mine…. Enjoy!

 

We need to get down from the balcony and sweat the small stuff

source: http://www.fastcompany.com/1798504/box-ceo-aaron-levie-create-something-exceptional-do-sweat-small-stuff

source: http://www.fastcompany.com/1798504/box-ceo-aaron-levie-create-something-exceptional-do-sweat-small-stuff

How many of you read the book, “Don’t sweat the small stuff?” I did and I agreed with it…. Until I started my third year as a principal. Why the shift? Glad you asked…

Over the past 10 or 15 years the message to administrators has been something like this…. Don’t be a manager, be a leader; stay in the balcony so you can see the orchestra; empower people and give them  freedom to work… All sounds like great advice, but what happens when the results from the organization are not what you expect? Are teachers and administrators matching their espoused (what the say) with their theories-in-use (what they actually do)? These are the questions that I am wrestling with as an educational leader in the 21st century.

So how will I lead differently? My plan this year is to pay more attention to the details. As I enter classrooms I will be looking, listening and interacting differently. I will be looking for standards-based instruction, listening for common language among grade levels and asking higher order questions of the staff and the students. I will be placing more emphasis on lesson plans and checking plans against the implementation of those plans.

 

Are we doing what we say we are doing?

 

I want to know why more then ever.

Starting at page 100: My Skype With Paula Naugle

12-12-11-The-ever-awesome-Ms.-Paula-Naugle-4th-grade-teacherWhen I was young, my mother told me it was rude to ask a woman their age. I have always remembered that and for the most part, have adhered to it. However, today, as I skyped with the infamous Paula Naugle, I couldn’t help but wonder about her age. See, age plays an important role in her story.

 

A few years ago, Paula was considering retiring. She had put in 30 years of teaching, and admittedly was feeling the effects of burnout. She attended the 2004 ISTE conference for 3 days and walked away from the experience realizing that as much as she knew about education, she knew nothing about 21st Century, connected education. It peeked her curiosity and left her wanting more.

 

Fast forward five years to 2009 and Paula continued to provide the best education to her 4th graders in Louisiana. Yet she still didn’t feel connected. She revisited the concepts from her ISTE experience and put together a grant proposal to redesign her learning environment. She ended up winning the grant which was 15,000 dollars! She used the money to purchase netbooks, interactive white board, and other goodies.

 

paula-brenda-at-receptionPaula then connected with Jan Wells a fourth grade teacher from Kansas. They worked together for 4 years connecting their 4th graders on various assignments, before ever meeting in person. Once they did meet in person, it was like they had been reading the same book and were able to start at page 100. Paula credits Joan Young for coining that phrase describing when connected educators meet in person. “We end up knowing so much about each other online, that when we meet, we already know so much about each other,” said Paula.

 

plnaugle_1372958072_81Similar to most people who become connected, Paula lurked and learned on twitter and blogs for some time. She didn’t think she had much to offer, but that all changed as she learned and connected with other educators throughout the world. As you check out her blogs, wikis and twitter, you will see that she has so much to offer!

 

Paula is committed to helping educators get connected. She is a tireless leader and when she goes to conferences she makes sure to spend time in the “newbie” lounge. She loves to pay it forward! When connecting educators to social media, she often shows them the graphic on Jeff Utech‘ blog (The Thinking Stick).

 

As for the future of education, Paula wants to see a 10-15 minute social media period added to the school day. That way, no one will have an excuse for not having the “time” to connect and learn. Since Paula came out of her comfort zone of 30 + years in education, she feels that other educators will be able to do the same and that will have lasting impact on our understanding of learning. She sees blended learning opportunities  become more prevalent. Paula also sees education becoming more individualized.

 

And I listened to my mom…. I never asked Paula her age because we started the conversation on page 100.

 

Take a few minutes to watch Paula’s story in her own words.

 

Connect with Paula

on twitter

on her classroom blog

on her classroom wiki 

#4thchat (every Monday at 7pm CDT)

on her professional blog (no wonder her initials are PLN)