Insights Into Learning

Archive for the ‘Reflective Practice’


The Greatest Job in Education

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

Why is the principal the greatest job in education?

What do principal’s do all day?

Do we really need principals?

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

 

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

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

 

Want to add to the list? Challenge it?

 

Tune in tonight to www.teachercast.tv 

 

 

What time is it?

What time is it?

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

source: czarto.com

source: czarto.com

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 I have to make time to learn new time management tools

source: www.chicagonow.com

source: www.chicagonow.com

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Other resources that were shared on the podcast:

Paperless Principal by Jethro Jones

Want to lose the 3 ring binder? Try Livebinders 

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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.

The importance of showing vulnerability

17029_qutote_albert_einstein_quote1Do you know a “know-it-all?” You know, the person who always has an opinion, never listens, seen it all, knows so much information… I am quite sure that a “know-it-all” is lurking in your midst… I’m actually surprised that we still have “know-it-alls” because of the ever changing nature of information.

 

I decided to do some research for this post (because I don’t know everything). First, I wanted to see what the “great” minds had to say about this concept of knowledge.

 

Here is what I found:

The more I learn, the more I learn how little I know. Socrates

The more you know, the less you understand. Lao-Tse

To appear to be on the inside and know more than others about what is going on is a great temptation for most people. It is a rare person who is willing to seem to know less than he does. Eleanor Roosevelt

If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.  Albert Einstein

Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance. Confucius

Nobody knows enough, but many know too much. Marie Von Ebner-Eschenbach:

 

I like people who show their vulnerability. Sounds like the highly regarded minds thought the same thing.

 

Then, I did some research to see how information (and the universe) is growing in the 21st century.

 

Information

According to the Worldwide Information Growth Ticker from the Digital Universe study revealed that we have created 1,987, 262, 613, 861, 770,000,000 bytes of information since January 2011!

 

Universe

According to www.space.com, “Space itself is pulling apart at the seams, expanding at a rate of 74.3 plus or minus 2.1 kilometers (46.2 plus or minus 1.3 miles) per second per megaparsec (a megaparsec is roughly 3 million light-years).”

 

If you can keep up with all of that, good luck.

 

My advice for dealing with others in the 21st century is simple.

  • Show your vulnerability
  • Be humble and graceful in your interactions with other
  • Listen
  • Ask questions

 

By doing this, you will end up learning much more, and resonating with people in a deeper way.

 

And by the way, there is no way you know-it-all!

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! 

 

Solving the achievement gap through cooperative grouping

Part 3 of the ongoing series where students are solving the achievement gap issues at RM Bacon….

Cooperative learning requires patience

During our 3rd week we had the students spend the entire day steeped in cooperative learning. In preparing  for this, we thought a lot about how we teach kids to work cooperatively as opposed to just having them work on an assignment in close proximity. Cooperative learning is difficult… especially when you combine students in grades 3, 4 and 5 who may have never worked together prior to this program. Honestly, how often can adults say they really work collaboratively? (that’s another blog for another time).

 

We spent the first part of the morning teaching the students how to work cooperatively. We made sure that they understood that everyone in the group needed a responsibility  We taught them how to honor brainstorming ideas. We taught them group consensus tools (thumbs up, down or in the middle). Everything had to be voted on and the students had to learn the art of consensus. For instance, in one group the discussion boiled down to one question… How could they get Timothy from thumbs down (he opposed it) to thumbs in the middle (he could live with it).  Ironically, it was Timothy’s own idea that he eventually couldn’t live with and the group had to re-work their plan. Frustration! Tears!

 

Cooperative learning is not always fun

All three groups had tears. It was difficult for students to truly honor ideas, plans and even concerns regarding their projects. Even though we modeled cooperative learning and facilitated the groups, we still had struggles. The students became very frustrated with each other, some felt left out…. all of the kids wanted to give up at some point. We stayed with them and helped them through the struggles. After seeing the frustrations evident in each group we all looked at each other and said ‘they need a break.’

 

During the break, we took the kids outside for some fun team building exercises. Although it was a simple activity, the kids loved it. They had to get a ball around the circle (without giving it to the person next to them and they could only touch it once). We modeled manners (which actually helps the students understand the pattern of the game). Anytime they passed the ball they had to say the person’s name. Anytime they caught the ball they had to say “Thank you” and then the person’s name. As the students figured out the pattern, they were able to add in multiple balls and one team were able to have 7 going at the same time. Success!

 

The second half of the day went much better. Eventually the groups were able to able to plan their PBL projects. One group chose to do an imovie, another group chose to do a dramatic song, and the 3rd group chose to do a classroom skit. Next week we begin filming!

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? 

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 

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!