Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Northfield Middle School. That’s the beauty of having a PLN. I reached out to Kevin Jarrett and Glenn Robbins because I had to see their new “maker room” and the EdCamp style afternoons for the kids. It was everything I thought it would be…. and more!
As I walked around the school, I was impressed with how the hallways had transformed into “Idea Streets.” Kids, middle school kids, were treated like college kids. If they wanted breakfast, they just had to go to the kiosk near the front office. If they wanted to sit down and collaborate, there were chairs for them to do so. If they wanted to write on the walls, or the windows, they could. There were no “bulletin boards” because they had been replaced by white boards.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast ~ Drucker
Kevin’s room is crucial to development of student exploration. It was obvious to me that Kevin is a perfectionist and it showed in the room. I followed the progress of the room over the summer, but I never imagined it would be so… inspiring. Everything had a purpose. Everything from the design of the room, the walls, chairs, tables, the lighting, material storage, and especially the course itself. As I watched kids come and go for their “class” I was impacted by the discussion, the cadence, the creativity, and even the coolness.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast ~ Drucker
As we were touring around, Glenn introduced me to a few kids. I was able to see what they were working on, and more importantly, why. One of the students was working on a design that he was hoping to get picked for the 3D printer. He shared with me how the site he was using helped him apply what he was learning from math, science and language arts. As I scanned the room, all of the kids were on their Chromebooks doing the same thing… pushing their learning, listening to music, creating, and designing.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast ~ Drucker
Glenn asked a girl to come out in the hall to discuss the afternoon EdCamp. She was the one who was working on the art in the for the Respect Campaign. As we talked, she said something that really struck a chord, “I love how this school allows us to have a voice. We can choose what we want to learn in the afternoon, and the teachers listen to us. I’ve never felt like this in school.” Honestly, neither had I growing up!
Culture eats strategy for breakfast ~ Drucker
Very often we hear about cool things and immediately want to get them into our districts/schools/classrooms. What I saw in Northfield was the result of hard working, innovative thinking people who were ready to work collaboratively over the past few years to get to make a difference. This didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen by chance. Everything happened (and will continue to happen) because the stakeholders (parents, teachers, BOE, students, administration and community) worked collaboratively to create a culture that encourages doing what is best for kids!
People are talking about this school… Check out these blog posts about Northfield Middle School:
When I first arrived at the elementary school I was very impressed by the 8 kids who were in the band. It was clearly a dedication that went above and beyond what was offered at the school. Fast forward 4 and 1/2 years and I am amazed at the 48 students in the band (the enrollment of the school has been steady in the 320 range). 48 students is a lot when you are talking about practice, instrumental instruction, and playing as a unit.
Our Band teacher has worked tirelessly to establish one of the most advanced elementary programs in the school district. One of the tools that she uses when instructing the kids in small groups is Smart Music.
By using Smart Music, the students can track their progress with their instrument. It records, plays, and guides the students in their quest to master their instrument. When this was presented at our most recent “tech Friday” it trumped anything the that was presented that day. It has everything that classroom teachers seek: data, continuous improvement, and timely feedback for students. What more could you ask for?
I was in a meeting the other day and someone made a very important insight…. our problems are coming from the new ones (in schools that means our transfer ins). Ah, yes, I replied, “It is because we have not developed relationships with those kids.”
What are you doing to develop relationships with those who are new to your school? District? Or organization?
How you orient or welcome newcomers says a lot about where you place your priorities…
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:
- Reading to students
- Spelling Bee
- STEM activities
- Book study
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:
How often do you engage in conversations or discussions in your school or district? If you are in a healthy organization, the answer would most likely be “all the time.” However, if you organization isn’t having conversations, or isn’t focused on the key elements, you may need to get people talking. Sometimes, as they say, good conversations are hard to find….
What is a conversation?
According to dictionary.com, a conversation is, “the informal exchange of ideas by spoken words.” Sounds pretty simple. In order to be engaged in a conversation, we simply need to talk. In today’s “connected” environment, we spend a great deal of time using technology-based tools to find others from around the world. Often these conversations online produce valuable ideas or resources that can take our organizations to the next level level. Yet, if you are unable to discuss the impact of these ideas or resources, you may become frustrated.
As a leader (no matter the level), it is important to provide the opportunity for conversations. Here are some ideas to ensure that your students, teachers, and community members will be able to talk this year:
- Integrate conversation time into your meetings. Have a topic you want feedback on? Has someone brought up something that we need to discuss? Take 10 minutes and put your team into groups to talk about it. You can even use post-its to make sure that everyone gets a chance to share.
- Open Door – Sometimes people want to chat one-to-one or as a small group. As a leader it is important to create time in your schedule to have a conversation.
- Create a monthly conversation-based meeting times. If you can dedicated 30 to 45 minutes a month at a specific time (before or after school) to allow your staff to talk, it would go a long way.
How are you going to get the conversations flowing this year?
We all have them. I mean everybody. It’s probably one of the few things that parents, students, teachers, administrators all have in common. What do they mean? Why do we have them and more importantly, what can we learn from them?
There are hundreds of dream interpretation web sites and resources. The results from these sites are mixed. Some people feel that dreams are an important part of your sub-consciousness and others say that they are complete nonsense. I am somewhere in between. There have been times in my life where I have kept a dream journal, and analyzed the dreams for deeper meanings. In the long run, I am not sure how much I got out of the process, but it was interesting. I felt that I remembered more dreams as I used the journal. Like anything else, it takes discipline.
What Happened Last Night?
As a principal I have had many Back To School dreams. Each summer I will dream about the opening of the school year. Usually, there is something off. Maybe I am not in the correct building, I forgot to wear pants, or someone totally random shows up. I attribute these types of dreams to the anxiety of getting the year started. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to begin the year in the best possible way…. so it makes sense that our dreams would reflect our anxieties.
What Can We Learn From Back to School Dreams?
Since most of my dreams have been about something that didn’t go quite right, I take it as a sign that I have another chance. Honestly, can anything ever go that wrong? Chances are you will not show up to the first faculty in your underwear or at the wrong building. However, the question remains, have you done enough preparation to feel comfortable about the start of the year?
Preparation Is Key
Many people ask me what I do all summer since there are no kids or teachers in the building. I always answer the same way, “Of course it is different without teachers and kids, but there is a lot to do to prepare for the school year.” Here are techniques I use to keep myself focused:
- Month by Month Summer Checklist – Through experience and working with other administrations, I developed a checklist that lists activities, person responsible, approximate date, date of completion and notes. I fill out the boxes (the first three boxes are filled in before the summer begins) when I complete the tasks. I also follow up with those responsible for activities in my building.
- Planning the Monthly Calendar – Prior to the end of the school year I always have the teachers reflect on the year and plan for the upcoming year. This year I tried the 3-2-1 (see post here for more information). I then take that information and create a yearly calendar in my office. I take that information and also make a digital calendar (using our school calendar) and invite everyone to acknowledge their participation. In the end of the summer, we have another meeting to double check and add/delete as necessary.
- Learn something new – Each summer I learn a few new things and implement them into the school. I almost always get those ideas from my PLN. Educators throughout the world are doing awesome stuff and are always willing to share on Social Media.
- Read, Read and Read- I read a lot. Reading is a huge part of the educational process and I spend time everyday (even at work) reading appropriate material to help the school. This summer I am reading Jim Knight’s High Impact Instruction. I am loving it so far and I highly recommend it. I also read blog posts, and articles about education, innovation, and mindset.
- Scheduling – I spend a lot of time on the Master Schedule. I used to try to get it out before the end of the school year but I found it was too much. This summer, I have literally spent 3 weeks refining the schedule. I feel the schedule needs to be as detailed as possible (even at the elementary level).
- Blog/Write – I blog about the school and my reflections. I maintain the school blog even throughout the summer. I share it with our community each week. Just because kids and teachers are not here doesn’t mean everything stops.
No matter how much I prepare. No matter how I perceive the Back to School dreams, they still pop up. As I said earlier, I take them as they are presented. I learn from them, and I make sure I am spending my waking hours preparing for what is to come. Finally, I make sure, when I leave the house on the first day, that I have all of my clothes on and that I am going to correct place!
What are your Back to School Dreams? Share them in the comments!