Leadership Mojo, and why I broke my New Year’s Resolution

Skypeing into the 2013 Techspo with Carrie Sinone!

A few weeks ago I wrote two posts that garnered a lot of attention. I appreciate how supportive everyone was when I posted about losing my Leadership Mojo. My friend and mentor, Brian Robinson, commented on the post. What he said resonated with me, and I wanted to share it with everyone,

Spike-
There are seasons in every part of life. This includes leadership. As the ancient teacher said, “To everything there is a season…a time to weep and a time to laugh…a time to mourn and a time to dance…a time to keep silent and a time to speak.
This seems to be your season to reflect and re-energize. Your mojo isn’t gone, it’s just taking a break. Hang tight and keep doing the right things you always do!

Brian knows me all too well! My leadership mojo wasn’t gone, it was taking a break. In addition to Brian, I also heard from some other mentors in my PLN who shared their leadership struggles. It was really helpful to hear that I was not (am not) alone! So, that’s it. My Leadership Mojo is back, because it was never gone!

 

This work out is “Bananas”

Now for the New Year’s Resolution. I gave up. In the post, I talked about wanting to try the middle path, and not do anything extreme. Well, I signed up for the Biggest Loser at my school (we have about 7 teams with 3 to 4 people per team competing). And guess what? I want to WIN! So I started doing Insanity this week. I actually have been getting up a 5 AM (after being inspired by my teams’ dedication) and doing Insanity. As of now, we are in 4th place and moving up ever so slightly each week. Since participating in the competition, I have come to look forward to Friday mornings (it helps that I have lost 6 pounds). My school is always a fun place to be, but Friday mornings now have an added jolt of camaraderie,  joking, and most importantly… weight loss! Our entire Biggest Loser competitors have lost 132 pounds in 3 weeks!

 

Wow!

Lastly, I want to thank everyone for their support for my Insights Into Learning blog. I just celebrated my first full year of blogging. I was humbled to see that I had 54,030 visitors through my cluster map last year. Here’s to another successful, reflective year!

Happy Birthday, and don’t forget your image!

Happy Birthday from the entire 5th Grade

Yesterday was a special day for me. It was my birthday.

 

The days started out as usual. I had to wrangle the kids out of bed, while my wife got their lunches together. Fortunately, the kids were “morning drama-free.” Once everyone was ready, they sat me down for my cards and presents. My family knows me all too well. Coffee mug, and coffee. Yes!

 

When I arrived at school everything appeared normal. I knew I had a weigh-in for our Biggest Loser competition. By the way, I love weigh-in day. Most of our school, who are competing in teams, gathers near the Nurse’s office. We are very competitive, so there is a lot of banter. I lost another 2 pounds, and considering the week I had, I was happy!

 

Office with tin foil everywhere

We had our announcements (Which I announced everyone else’s birthday, but conveniently forgot to mention mine), and security drill squeezed in before an administrator meeting at our BOE office. At the administrative meeting, my colleagues wished me Happy Birthday, and made lots of funny comments about getting older. After the meeting, I had a few folks to catch up with which proved to be very productive. I rushed back to school. I knew I had a busy schedule ahead of me with walkthroughs, meetings, and a bunch of loose ends to be followed up on (I had been out for a day and 1/2 this week).

 

As I walked through the parking lot at our school, I heard a few kids inside say, “Here he comes. Here comes Dr. Cook.” I entered the building and went up to the room where I heard the chatter. They were working on “math” and everything appeared normal. I went to my office and noticed that everything was NOT normal. While I was out, staff members (who have remained anonymous), tin foiled my entire office. Pictures, clocks, computers, chairs, papers, staplers, the list goes on and on were tin foiled. I went into my office bathroom and the toilet, sink, mirror, and anything else were tin foiled. Wow.

 

My bathroom was also covered with tin foil

As I mentioned earlier, I had a lot of walkthroughs to perform, meetings, and items to follow up on, so I just left my office with the tin foil all over the office. Then, as I walked around, a great deal of my staff gave me that Cheshire cat smile as they wished me Happy Birthday. They knew something, but no one gave up any names. The rest of the day was a blur.

 

After everyone cleared out at the end of the day, I finally was able to start making headway with getting rid of the tin foil. I just wanted to be able to sit in my chair and work. I left a bunch of the tin foil up for Monday. I then went through the cards from the students and teachers. Reading the cards was the best part of the day.

 

Before one of the suspicious jokester/teacher’s left, she reminded me that tin foil could be a symbolic message. “Dr, Cook, remember what you always say, Your Image is Our Image. Have a Happy Birthday!”

Dreams Became Reality: Damear, Principal for a Day

Preparing for his day as Principal

In my post Turning Dreams Into Reality I discussed how I received a letter from a 5th grade student who wanted to fulfill his dream of becoming a Principal. What better day then the day after we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day to make this a reality!

 

Demear reported for work early and was ready to get started. We reviewed the day’s objective in my office and then went to the cafeteria for morning breakfast duty. It was awesome seeing the kids come up to Damear and asking how it was being a principal. Damear was humble, and I could tell he was taking this experience very seriously.

 

“Good morning Bacon Elementary”

We then headed up to the office for announcements. Damear prepped, and then delivered his message to the students and teachers. After the announcements, we attempted to walk around the building, but then Damear quickly saw how difficult it was to actually get out of the office. We would get a few steps, and someone had a question. We would retreat back into the office, and then someone would call. I pointed out that often times I am unable to make it out of the office!

 

I had a meeting at our Board of Education Office, so instead of having Damear join me, I simply left him in charge of the building. It was during this time that he really thrived. He walked throughout the building, checked on classrooms, and hung out with the secretaries. He had his walkie-talkie with him the whole time.

 

Enjoying some chips and floor hockey

When I returned to the office I got an update from him. He told me we were doing good. He mentioned to me that he felt the Kindergartners were pretty easy to deal with. I told him that they can be, but you never know what can happen. Sure enough, a few minutes later we received a call that a Kindergartner had kicked and spit on another student. Damear immediately wanted to suspend the student. I showed him how we interview kids and teachers, determine if we received the whole story, and then refered to the discipline manual. He eventually decided that suspension was not the answer, and I called the parent.

 

After we had Subway for lunch, Damear and I finally got to walk around the first floor. Then I had a parent that needed to talk to me. Damear kept up with his walkthrough.  He helped a few teachers out with copies, and even joined in on a hockey game in the gym. Dismissal, which was very cold today, went really well, and soon enough the day was over. Success!

 

Making sure we were ready for dismissal

I would say that Damear was an effective 21st century principal. He listened, kept himself visible, and made sure to be of service. I was really proud how he displayed his leadership for the entire school to experience. The teachers were impressed as well. One teacher in particular said that she felt Damear did a fantastic job as Principal. Hmm, is looking to take my job?

 

Damear asked if he could be principal again, and I told him he needed to get his degrees and make his dream a reality (for more than a day)!

 

 

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!

 

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 

 

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 

Back in the Saddle Again

I’m back in the saddle again, Out where a friend is a friend, Where the longhorn cattle feed On the lowly gypsum weed, Back in the saddle again ~Gene Autry 1939

One of “my” classes

Yesterday I had the opportunity to get back in the saddle again. The idea came to me as I read about No Office Days, You Matter, and the importance of being a Lead Learner. So, thank you to Patrick Larkin, Jessica Johnson, Angela Maiers, and Joe Mazza for your inspiration for me to get back in the saddle! 

Basically, this monthly program is designed to recognize teachers, and allow them to spend a day collaborating with their peers while I teach their classes! Its a win, win, win! Free Professional Development for teachers. Free time to collaborate with other teachers in the building or explore online learning. And here is the kicker – I get to teach again.

 

I arrived at my assignment a few minutes late (Cut me some slack, I was trying to get the building started). Once I arrived at the classroom I took on the persona of a guest teacher. I started from scratch and gave myself a pre-test. How many names did I really know? In my first class, a paltry 6 out 16. Yikes. As I went through the math lesson with the students, I was able to shake off the cobwebs and get down to some real teaching, and learning.

 

Here is what I learned:

– First day jitters never go away

– After about 10 minutes, the kids forgot I was the principal

– Before teaching the subject, you have to take time learning about the learners

– Interruptions require flexibility – I still had to take a few calls, speak with teachers all while teaching

– I needed coverage for a bathroom break

– I did get a walkthrough by our Fine and Performing Arts Supervisor, and I really want to know what he thought

– My Assistant Superintendent, upon hearing what I was doing said, “Your crazy, but I still love you!”

– Slate drills elicit participation, but the markers smell, so I had to keep the windows open

– Technology aides such as SMART boards, videos from EnVision math, ipods, and computer centers assist with application of learned math skills

– Since I missed recess duty, the other 4th grade teachers said I owe them 15 minutes

– The art teacher, when I handed “my” class off to her, wondered when I am going to choose a special area teacher for this program

– Teaching is still the best job, bar none

– My random songs, which used to be a lot better when I taught full time, still make kids smile

– I still have it (well, at least I think I do)

 

I am sure you are wondering how my assessments went through the rest of the day. In the middle of the first class I gave myself another, and I scored 10 out 16. At the conclusion of that same class, with the kids clapping and cheering, I earned a 16 out of 16! In my second class, my pre-test was 10 out of 19. I scored a perfect 19 on both the middle and the post test. Once again, the kids were cheering and clapping. What fun!

 

Most importantly, the 4th grade teacher who spent the day collaborating with other teachers came to me at the end of the day, beaming! He was able to get into about 8 classrooms throughout the day. He team taught, facilitated centers, and assisted teachers with any questions they had regarding math. It was so obvious that he really grew as a professional! And, he loved it!

 

So what is next? Well, I have a 3rd grade class later this month and a Kindergarten class next month. I can’t wait to get back in the saddle again!

I want to be your Felix!

Dr. Gentile and Dr. Moore, (My Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent)

Source: thefoxisblack.com

Last week I am sure you saw my email to the staff titled, “Teachable Moment.” In the email, I encouraged the teachers to show the historic sky jump of Felix Baumgartner. Unfortunately, the jump was unable to happen that day.

Today, as I was eating lunch in Dallas, TX I watched Felix make the historic jump. I was amazed at the whole production: five years of training, corporate sponsors, innovation, data, and family support. This jump really struck  a chord with me. I want to be your Felix!

If you are looking for something to challenge the status quo, to be innovative, or even different, I am your guy! I know that I learned a lot from the jump and I can’t wait to see the documentary on this epic journey. There are so many parallels to what we are trying in our school district. I my humble opinion, he was able to make this jump for the following reasons:

– Ultimately he was researching product advancement such as space suits, technology, etc.

– Someone had to do it, so he worked with a team of individuals who helped him accomplish the task.

– The information collected will help the space industry.

– His team believed in him, and supported his “calculated” epic jump.

– No one told him “no” or it cost too much or it was “impossible.”

– There were many process checks along the way to ensure safety.

So, next time there is something you want to try, or something I want to try, let’s work together and break a record, or two. I will be the one that jumps! I will be your Felix!