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 ūüôā

 

 

 

 

 

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! 

 

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 B√ľhler. 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‚Ķ ‚ÄúAm I really prepared for this?‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs Guide to High School, as he discusses the crucial role Professional Development plays in leadership development.
  • Bill‚Äôs 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

‚ÄúEven though we have busy schedules,‚ÄĚ Bill said, ‚ÄúWe need to be mindful of the importance of producing, not just consuming.‚ÄĚ

 

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 ūüôā

 

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 

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‚Äôm not sure when, where, or even why, but as of now‚Ķ. it‚Äôs 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‚Ķ. something to the effect of, ‚ÄúYou‚Äôre not yourself lately‚ÄĚ or ‚ÄúIs everything OK?‚ÄĚ Every leader needs a Merlin, or trusted advisor within an organization. My ‚ÄúMerlins‚ÄĚ were checking on me, and I had to be honest with them‚Ķ.. I just didn‚Äôt have any answers. I couldn‚Äôt 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!