Insights Into Learning

Archive for the ‘Leadership’


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 

 

 

A special guest on the next PrincipalCast Podcast…

principalcast

Have you heard the PrincipalCast Podcast? We’ve recorded 5 episodes now on the following topics:

#1 Social Media and Facebook

#2 Social Media in the School District

#3 You know you’re a connected educator when…

#4 Observing and Evaluating Teachers in the 21st Century 

#5 Evaluations and Observations

You can find PrincipalCast on iTunes or on Stitcher/Beyond Pod for Android.  If you watch us live (Sundays at 8:30pm CST) on teachercast.tv you can also chat with us in the live chat box or using the twitter hashtag #principalcast.

This Sunday we are inviting our first guest to the show and we are going all out by having Todd Whitaker join us.  We are excited to talk to him about his newest book coming out this month, The Secret Solution. Do you have a question you want us to ask him? Share your question with us HERE.

What’s your decision making color?

Leaders are required to make decisions. Each decision, no matter how big or small, has an impact on the organization. It is crucial for leaders to understand their decision making color. Reflection on these colors (and their attributes) may help as you continue (or embark) on your leadership decision making  journey.

 

Opaque

main.opaque

Source: http://images.yourdictionary.com/opaque

What is opaque? According to dictionary.com, opaque is defined as “not allowing light to pass through” and “hard to understand.” Is your decision making color opaque? If you do not share information with your colleagues, make decisions without the input of others, or attempt to build WALLS between you and those impacted by the decisions, then your color is opaque.

 

Impact on Leadership – Leadership can be a lonely place, but it doesn’t have to be. Granted, there are times that you are required to make decisions because you are the leader (sans input from others) yet are you able to explain why you made a certain decision? In order to overcome being opaque, it is important to seek advice from others, build a collective efficacy where stakeholders are involved, and be able to articulate decisions once they are made. Opaque leaders are viewed as shady, untrustworthy and unapproachable. Is this how you want to be viewed?

 

Translucent

2-translucent-effect

Source: http://www.designbuild-network.com/projects/litracon/litracon2.html

What is translucent? According to dictionary.com, translucence is “permitting light to pass through, but diffusing it so that persons, objects, etc., on the opposite side are not clearly visible.” Is your decision making color translucent? If you veil your decisions in an attempt to be honest and forthright, but ensure to leave mystique in decision making (or decision articulation) you may be translucent.

 

Impact on Leadership – Leaders have a tendency to want to be an open book, but may have difficulty with truly being open. The more leaders expose, as some may fear, they more they could be criticized or questioned. Translucent decision making provides others with the appearance of being open and honest, but are unable to fully commit. Decisions, in a translucent environment, are focused on the dichotomy of open access and veiled secrecy. Although translucent leaders are more open than opaque leaders, they may struggle with allowing others to get in too close, or feel that since they are in the leadership seat, they should make the decisions.

 

Transparent

Transparency-graphic

Source: http://community.qlikview.com/blogs/ theqlikviewblog/tags/transparency

What is transparency? According to dictionary.com, transparency is, “easily seen through, recognized, or detected: transparent excuses.” Think you are transparent? If you are able to articulate your decisions in an open, public forum and allow others to see through your decisions so that all questions are answered, you are probably transparent.

 

Impact on Leadership – Those leaders seeking to be progressive, data-driven strive to be transparent. For too long, organizations (insert any and all) have had trouble “opening up the books” and allowing others to see in. Transparent leaders are able to make decisions within a shared governance paradigm, and can explain rationale on their decision making. As the graphic on transparency illuminates, it is important to have the organization climate focused on transparency. Simply put… Keep it clear, and process-centered and allow others to see everything.

 

What’s your decision making color?

Let’s talk about …. Cheese!

As I was driving into work last week, I was thinking about our final staff meeting of the school year. I had an agenda, and was fully prepared to carry out the agenda. Then I thought about all of the changes facing my school next year: Model Curriculum (NJ’s transition to the Common Core), Model Assessments (NJ’s transition to the PARCC), new teacher evaluation, new principal evaluation, increased state monitoring of student data and not to mention any other changes that we would want to address our own, unique needs. Then it hit me… A great clip to show the staff (and myself included) would be the classic video, Who Moved My Cheese? based off the book by Dr. Spencer Johnson.

 

After the clip concluded, the staff actually began to clap. In talking about the clip, I stressed that I too have had my cheese moved and that next year we will all be in the maze… together. Throughout the rest of the week, teachers referenced cheese moving…

 

As you think of next year, what cheese has been moved? How will you deal with this change? Do you have a person definition of how you deal with change?

 

 

The end is coming…

summer sunYes, the end is coming to  the 2012-13 school year. We are in our last days. We are so close….. so why does that matter?

 

I feel the traditional school year (based on the agrarian calender) is antiquated and I am not alone in this thinking. For many students we provide something they are not getting at home, or in their community… What a juxtaposition… In a few short weeks teachers and administrators will be cheering, celebrating, and making their summer plans a reality…. and many students will be sad, upset, and realizing their summer will pale in comparison to the school year. Sad isn’t it.

I certainly do not have the answers but I sure do have a lot of questions as to why we continue to follow this antiquated system.

summerlearning1-10b

- Do we make school calender decisions based on our needs, or student learning needs?

- Could we restructure the school year to build in more time for students (Currently we have 180 days beginning in September and ending in June, can we get everything accomplished during this time?)

- Does the current calender maximize student and teacher effectiveness? (I hear a LOT of chatter about burn-out during certain times of the year)

- If given the opportunity to restructure the calender, what would YOU suggest? What are some other states, countries doing to maximize their calenders?


 

Let’s discuss… I’ve got all summer :)

 

 

 

 

 

We can do better…

Our school recently participated in the annual state testing of students in grades 3, 4 and 5. I noticed after the first day was complete that we had a lot “free” time in the afternoon. Not to mention, there were a fair share of kids who ended up in my office for discipline related issues that emerged from…. you guessed it…. “free time.”

 

Considering the fact that the actual assessments were only about 90 minutes (at the most) I was a bit dismayed at the lack of structure after the testing. I heard a lot of comments such as “they need a break,” “this testing is overwhelming,” and even “these kids can’t take anything more today.” I sent out a blanket email detailing my expectations, and highlighting what I valued. This whole situation took me back to my first year of teaching when I learned a valuable lesson about how we can do better.

 

 

I was finishing up my first marking period and I had to get my grades finished. In order to accomplish this task I put in the movie “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Honestly, I wasn’t thinking about fall, Halloween or anything other than keeping the kids occupied so I could get my work completed. I needed time. My mentor, a fantastic, passionate teacher who I admired, asked me about the movie I was showing. I told him that I really needed to get my grades finished. He was understanding, but then he said something to me that I will never forget. He said, “I really hate it when my son comes home and tells me that he just watched a movie in school. I really think, as educators, that we can do better than that. These kids can watch movies anytime, we should be able to do more.” That was like a dagger through my heart. Ouch. He was right. We can do better.

 

Since that time I have never showed a mindless movie, and refuse to allow it as an administrator. I firmly agree with my mentor…. we can do better. Sure, kids can watch movies that are connected to the curriculum, or even parts of movies but we should always make sure that what we do is connected. We should always be raising the rigor, extending the line, raising the bar. Always! We can do better!

 

So what happened the rest of the week? Honestly, I saw more engagement, projects and even more of what I had seen before we started the assessments. I had to have some conversations with teachers about my expectations and why I feel so passionately that we need to continue to send the right message to the students, parents and community. I know some of the teachers were not happy with me and I understand. I was there before and I am so thankful that someone challenged me to keep the bar raised high! We can do better! 

 

We can do better! 

 

You need to watch this… I will not let an Exam…

I was just sent this video by a good friend of mine… Besides feeling like I am a generation away from this spoken word artist, I had to step back and listen (twice) because he was teaching ME a great lesson… I hope he does the same for you (no matter what your generation)

 

 

Let’s discuss!

 

Are you a producer or consumer?

Insight is the understanding of a specific cause and effect in a specific context.An insight that manifests itself suddenly, such as understanding how to solve a difficult problem, is sometimes called by the German word Aha-Erlebnis. The term was coined by the German psychologist and theoretical linguist Karl Bühler. It is also known as an epiphany. Source: Wikipedia

When I read Insights Into Action, I was hooked from the introduction. Bill Sterrett asked himself this very reflective question… “Am I really prepared for this?” I know that every school leader has wrestled with this question from time to time and for Bill to begin his book with that question was powerful. There are times when being a school leader is isolating and challenging. Throughout the book, Bill provides concrete examples of how to address the isolation and challenges. He needs us to take action!

 

I felt many parallels to Bill’s experiences as a school leader.  Bill was the principal of a Title 1 school in Virginia, challenged with the task of improving student achievement with limited resources. He had a very supportive superintendent, and was encouraged to take risks. Sound familiar?(If you have followed my blog you will see the striking similarities) So Bill challenged himself to tell his story, even going so far as telling me in a recent Skype conversation that we need more school leaders to be producers, not just consumers. Bill’s epiphany was clear, we all have insights into the education system, but how many of us are taking action?

 

Insights Into Action will be a quick read for anyone who is interested in a succinct framework for being a more effective leader. Bill integrates his interviews with some of the most influential practitioners of our age. You will read stories from:

  • Baruti Kafele, a vision-oriented, high energy school leader who provides his cell phone number to students, parents and teachers.
  • Rick DuFour, one of the leading proponents of being a learning leader through the use of PLCs.
  • Alex Carter, a Milken National Educator and coauthor of The Insider’s Guide to High School, as he discusses the crucial role Professional Development plays in leadership development.
  • Bill’s former superintendent Pamela Moran, the superintendent of Albemarle County Public School who is an author, presenter and active blogger as she discusses how technology as enhanced critical thinking skills.

Each chapter is organized in a way that allows the reader to reflect on their current practice, and then develop an action plan for improvement. I am excited about my action items I garnered from this book:

  • Start a book club with my colleagues (Insights Into Action) to enhance our professional practice together.
  • Continue to tell the story of my school, and district so that others may learn.
  • Schedule monthly walkthroughs with my colleagues to discuss instruction

“Even though we have busy schedules,” Bill said, “We need to be mindful of the importance of producing, not just consuming.”

 

What are you going to produce? 

The kind of day that makes blogging easy

On February 22, 2013 I had the kind of day that makes blogging easy…

@JerseyAlicia assisting with the inter-district Skype!

On the way in to work, I was perseverating over our growing discipline numbers in the month of February. I was out the school the day before at a workshop, and I hoped that I wasn’t walking into “one of those days.” Well, in a sense, I was right! It would turn out to be one of those days that makes blogging easy.

 

Prior to the start of school, I had a great philosophical discussion on the transition to Common Core with some teachers. We challenged each other as to how we could make this transition, why the transition was occurring,  and even asking the BIG question… WHO is behind this? I love a heated philosophical discussion with colleagues! (Challenge the Process!)

 

Inter-district Skype

The school day started smoothly. I had a few teachers that invited me to learning events. I made sure to update my calender, and I was off to a meeting to … spend money on our most precious commodity… our students! based on the budget, I will be able to start a 5 week Saturday program, extend our before/after school programs, and purchase more devices to enhance student learning! What a great meeting!

 

I was running late (this is a constant) to my observation in Kindergarten armed with my iphone (this was my first attempt to capture an observation on my iphone). As I tried to observe the staff member, I had students come up to me to talk. They wanted to tell me about the book they were reading, what they ate for dinner last night, and how they were improving with swimming. I joked with the teacher that they seemed very engaged today. She laughed, and said, “Welcome to my world!” After the observation, I attempted to leave, but the rest of the class wanted to tell me how the Superintendent came to visit them at swimming. Hmm, I thought, I haven’t even made it to swimming  yet this season.

 

Mr. Hudson was covered with numbers before the activity even began.

I scurried up to 5th grade (running late again). One of the 5th grade teachers was working collaboratively with another group of 5th grade students from across town through Skype. I watched as the kids introduced themselves to each other and began to work. I tried to do a walkthrough on the other class. I asked a young man what he was learning and why it was important. He was able to tell me that they were working collaboratively on reading a passage, and that it was important to identify vocabulary for understanding. What a great experience!

 

@mrsbensonsbunch preparing the volcano!

I then ran upstairs to the 3rd floor to observe a Volcano Experiment. The students were on the edge of their seats the entire time. She set the stage, engaged the students, had them write down their predictions, and eventually …. poof… a learning memory. These kids, for the most part, will never forget that experience. They all had smiles and were so excited. Impossible is really Nothing!

 

After I finished with the Volcano Experiment I ran down to the gym for math class… Yes, the same 5th grade class that was skyping earlier in language arts were set to test out another activity that they developed for math. I had to recruit a team (I picked the math supervisor  the curriculum coach and our SuccessMaker facilitator) to compete against the students. In the first activity, well, let’s just say we lost. All we had to do was solve the problems by finding the correct numbers that were placed throughout the gym. During the activity, we were penalized for running, and solving the problems out of order. We came in 4th place. The kids were howling! The next activity required us to read a list of problems, solve the problems, find the answers scattered throughout the gym all while connected at the arms. This really required us to work collaboratively. We redeemed ourselves and won! I love winning against 5th graders in math :)

 

Our new Media Specialist, Meg Finney,  challenges students with 21st Century learning opportunities.

I made sure to congratulate the students on a job well done, and was off to prepare for our monthly PBIS meeting. I knew we had big problems to identify and solve! As I reviewed the data, I was somewhat encouraged. Compared to last year, we have nearly 40% fewer Office Discipline Referrals. As I ate my lunch, I thought to myself, there are some positives here, the data tells an important story.

 

@drgentilemps takes the Minute to Win It Challenge

As I arrived to the PBIS meeting I remembered that our Superintendent would be joining us. Pressure. We reviewed the data during our meeting. We talked about root causes, trends, possible solutions and ideas for improvement. We dug into some of the data and established that 24 students (out of a school that has 320), were responsible for over 85% of the Office Discipline Referrals. We brainstormed ideas to help these students. The superintendent told me afterwards, “Basically, Spike, you have to adopt those students, assign them mentors, and keep them engaged in the process. You guys will be fine!”

 

Bear Buck Challenge. Spend a Buck to enter the room!

Our committee went down to unveil the monthly “Bear Buck Store” where the kids can cash in their bucks for rewards. This month we tried something new. We wanted to create a buzz for the positives! For a single Bear Buck, a student could enter a door to compete in a challenge. In addition to the challenge, they could spend their bucks on homework passes, time on ipods, or even time with a teacher. The students who chose the challenge walked into a room with tables lined with rigatoni. They were given a piece of dried spaghetti, a few instructions, then had a “minute to win it.” If they were successful  they kept their Bear Buck. At the end of each session we explained the importance of earning Bear Bucks and how next month we would have similar activities for their reward! (Its simple, students earn rewards for Being Safe, Being Responsible, and Being Respectful!)

 

The end of the day went off with out a hitch. There were no discipline referrals for the day! The buzz of learning, innovation, and 21st century skills prevailed!

Basically it was the kind of day that makes blogging easy!

 

 

Change

Change is neither good or bad, it simply is….

 

As a principal it is inevitable that you will be required to implement change. There are a range of possibilities of change from the mundane to the kind of change that keeps you up for 3 nights plotting, planning and organizing.

 

I have been steeped in the concept of change for years. I’ve read all of the leading authors from the field such as Whittaker, Fullan, Senge, Argyris, Kouses, Posner, and even Gladwell. All of these teachers, along with real life experiences, have shaped my philosophy on change. I’ve found that sometimes, we have to change because it’s imposed, sometimes out of necessity, and other times, well, it is just time.

 

Since the summer I have been charged with improving my school’s performance on the state assessments (This post is NOT going there). I have had to cull through data, brainstorm, and strategically plan for continuous improvement. Fortunately for me, the entire school has rolled up their sleeves and joined in this crusade. I work with some of the most dedicated teachers in the world!

 

We are now 8 months into our new “focus.” During that time we have changed many things about our school. In fact, two weeks ago a teacher came in to share an insight she had regarding our school. She said that she had been talking to some people, and admitted that she tries harder now, is more focused, and actually thanked me for creating a culture that helped her grow as a professional. It literally took me about a week to realize the impact of her personal reflection. Wow!

 

So what has been my process? What have I done? Why? So I figured I would list the process in order to reflect. These are not necessarily in sequential order.

  • Define the problem
  • Research possible solutions
  • Model the way
  • Listen to my advisers
  • Work collaboratively with others
  • Inspire a shared vision
  • Visit best practices or shining examples
  • Allocate proper funding
  • Engage key stake holders
  • Train the key stakeholders
  • Challenge the process
  • Encourage others to challenge the process
  • Exude passion for the solution and why we need to address the problem
  • Make mistakes
  • Learn from the mistakes
  • Discuss concerns
  • Vent about it all to those I trust
  • Enable others to act
  • ……and finally get out of the way!
As with any new change, there will be those who will get on board, others will criticize and still others will wait and see. Only time will tell if these new tools, philosophies, maybe some would say a more “focused” approach will pay dividends…. In the meantime, as the leader of change, I remain excited, even anticipating what is to come….. OK, I can’t wait to open the present this summer and peek inside to actually prove that we have changed, improved!

 

I always tell my staff I need them. In fact  I say I NEED ALL of them. We can’t fix this without everyone on the same page (even those who challenge the process – We need everyone).
That is why…
change is neither good nor bad, it simply is

 

Special thanks to …..

Kouses and Posner

Todd Whitaker

Malcolm Gladwell