History, Independence, and Ice Cream

Cook family at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA

Over the weekend, many South Jersey communities lost power because of a quick, but violent storm that crashed through the area. We lost our power on Saturday, June 30 around 3:00 PM. Since we were hosting our nieces, we decided to get a hotel for a night. We quickly learned that all of the hotels in our area were booked, and ventured to Philadelphia for a room.

We stayed in the Holiday Inn (right next to the Philadelphia sports stadiums) in South Philly. I was able to go out for a run on Sunday morning, and the views were breathtaking (especially for a Philly fan). I ran past Citizens Bank Park, Lincoln Financial Field, and the Wells Fargo Center!

Right behind Independence Hall

Later that day we took the kids into the historic section. We walked around Independence Mall, the Carpenter House, the Second Bank of America, and Ben Franklin’s House. The kids held up considering it was scorching hot!

Get in line

Throughout the trip, my 14 year old twin nieces continued to suggest that we visit Franklin Fountain. They said that they had seen it on the Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food, and had to try the Vesuvius sundae. Honestly, I thought it was a real fountain, but they explained that it was an ice cream place. Around lunch time we arrived at the famous Franklin Fountain. I was amazed at what we saw.

Eric speaking with the famous author, Robin Weir

Walking into the ice cream store was like walking into living history. There was nothing modern in the store. Everything was decorated as if it was the early 1900’s. After everyone ordered, we went outside to enjoy the treats. I struck up a conversation with a gentleman from England. He explained to me that he had been in Philadelphia studying, of all things, ice cream. He had visited many of the famous places, but raved that the Franklin Fountain was the best.

Eric spending time with the cousins

Right before we were about to leave, one or the owner’s, Eric, came outside. We talked with him, and I explained that my nieces were determined that we had to visit his store. I asked him about the British gentleman who was at the store earlier. He told us that the man we were talking to was the world-renown ice cream historian, and research, Robin Weir.  We took some pictures with Eric, and we went on our way.

There are many lessons that I took away from this experience.

  1. Everything happens for a reason
  2. Spending time with the family is refreshing
  3. You never know who you will meet
  4. Ice cream is delicious, and some people research it
  5. Being in Philadelphia around the 4th of July is special and I highly recommend it
  6. Make sure to visit Franklin Fountain, and their candy store Shane’s

Resources:

Robin Weir

Franklin Fountain

Man vs. Food featuring Franklin Fountain :

The Importance of Being Earnest: Do You Walk Your Talk?

A trivial blog, for serious school leaders

Source: classic-literature.findthedata.org

I am sure, at one time or another, you have come across The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. Recently, I was reflecting on the play, and wondering how it connected to leadership. An important aspect to the play was Wilde’s attempt to expose the Victorian Aristocracy for all of it’s contradictions.  In essence, I had to ask myself, as a leader, do I really walk my talk?

Argyris and Schon (1974) wrote the seminal piece, Theory in Practice: Increasing Professional Effectiveness. Since then, many researchers and educational leaders have discussed the concept of espoused theories (what I say I would do) and theories-in-use (what I actually do). I return to this time after time because I believe it makes me a better leader. The difficult part is that my theories-in-use (what I actually do) are understood by those who observe me. We all know that everyone has a different perspective. How do I know how I am doing?

When I talk with other leaders, or read their blogs I always wonder how their theories-in-use are observed by those they lead. I am sure they do the same with me! How would we ever really know? Does it really matter?

As leaders we are never going to please everyone. Our decisions impact the lives of students, parents, and teachers, and therefore are delivered with a lot of responsibility. With the ability to make those decisions, we must understand that there will be those who criticize our every move. This is certainly something that they try to teach us in graduate school, but it is only completely understood when you embark on your leadership journey.

Source: austin-williams.com

This year there were times when I struggled with decision making. I am not sure why. Maybe it was because I wanted to please everybody. Fortunately, I had (and have) supportive school leaders who I could turn to for advice. Eventually though, I would hang up the phone or the conversation would end, and I would have to make the decision on my own. I can only hope that my espoused theories and theories-in-use were in sync. Did I make the right decisions? Did I walk my talk? Only time will tell.

As luck would have it, I was recently reading Shifting the Monkey by Todd Whitaker. He has a chapter titled, “Make Decisions Based on Your Best People.” In that chapter, Whitaker (2012) sums up the decision making process with these guiding principles: “1) Treat everyone well. 2) Make decisions based on your best people. 3) Protect your good people first.”

There really is a lot of importance in being earnest!

Resources:

The Importance of Being Earnest:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Importance_of_Being_Earnest

 Espoused theories and Theories in use:

http://www.infed.org/thinkers/argyris.htm

Shifting the Monkey, by Todd Whitaker

http://www.amazon.com/Shifting-Monkey-Protecting-People-Slackers/dp/0982702973

Tell Me Your ZIP Code and I Will Tell You Your Score

This is less a blog post, but rather an open letter looking for help. I am not blaming anyone. I just need an example (s). Please, someone, show me the way. There has to be someone who defied the odds of their ZIP code.

I am the Principal of a recently designated “Focus” School by the State of New Jersey. According to the State’s Department of Education, a Focus School is, “a school that has room for improvement in areas that are specific to the school. As part of the process, focus schools will receive targeted and tailored solutions to meet the school’s unique needs. There are 183 focus schools.

The designation for my particular school is, “Lowest Subgroup Performance: Schools whose two lowest performing sub groups rank among the lowest combined proficiency levels in the state. Schools in this category have an overall proficiency rate for these lowest performing sub groups of 29.2% or lower.”

Ironically, when I found out that we were designated as a Focus School, we were not given specifics. So, I really don’t know (other than lowest performing sub group) why we are designated. In the past, this type of Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) was determined by the students who were enrolled in the school prior to the start of the school year. I have heard, but cannot confirm, that the new designations were based on whoever took the test in the school, no matter how long they have attended. (For instance, my sister school RD Wood, a Priority School,  has had over 200 transfer in/outs this year alone.)

As I looked at the breakdown of the state data, something began to really stick out. It seemed to be correlated with ZIP codes and performance. According to the NJDOE website, District Factor Group (DFG) designations were, “First developed in 1975 for the purpose of comparing students’ performance on statewide assessments across demographically similar school districts. The categories are updated every ten years when the Census Bureau releases the latest Decennial Census data.” The NJDOE explains that there are six variables that further assist in determining a DFG:  “1) Percent of adults with no high school diploma 2) Percent of adults with some college education 3) Occupational status 4) Unemployment rate 5) Percent of individuals in poverty 6) Median family income.”

So, “A” is the lowest designation and B, C, D, E etc. are progressively more affluent districts. You get the point. As I looked over the report, I found some really interesting details.

Of the 75 Priority Schools, 81% were categorized as DFG A, and 100% were designated as Title 1 Schools.

Of the 183 Focus Schools, 54% were categorized as DFG A, and 70% were designated as Title 1 Schools.

Of the 112 Reward Schools, 4% (5 schools) were DFG A, and 32% were designated as Title 1 Schools.

(Please note that the vast majority of schools in NJ will not be found in any of these categories, and at the time of this blog, do not have a designation.)

Still, I’m not blaming anyone, but why so few DFG-A’s that were designated as Reward Schools? Why are so many Priority and Focus Schools?

I am looking for examples of schools who, despite their socio-economic status, achieve high test scores on a regular basis. I have some criteria, though, because I do not want to play the shell game. These schools must fit this criteria:

–          Is not a magnet school

–          Has not recently been “redistricted”

–          Is not a school for the “gifted”

–          Maintains the same type of demographics (sub groups included) from the onset of being identified as low performing (failing to make AYP for multiple years) to achieving a status reflecting success (Reward or not on the Focus or Priority list).

See, I am cautious when presented with examples of schools who overcame insurmountable odds to achieve high levels of success on high stakes testing in their state because there are usually a few asterisks. Under NCLB, schools who were not meeting Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) were designated as such. Some districts, with the best intentions, decided to spread the wealth (or in this case, non-wealth) and re-district. I cannot blame them. Some districts changed the nature of the school and once again, I cannot blame them.  They probably discovered Chicago’s Nettlehorst School, a “national example of a turnaround,” and decided to follow suit. Did you know that the poverty rate at Nettlehorst School went from 83% in 1999 to 34% in 2010? (Read more about this here)

 

What about the teachers? There is a drum beat pertaining to teacher effectiveness sounding in our media, dinner table conversations, and administrative meetings. I am sure that effectiveness can be improved, but I wonder about the vast throngs of teachers who do teach in DFG- A schools. Is it statistically possible that in the number of priority and focus schools in New Jersey that they have the least effective teachers? I can speak for my teachers and tell you that they integrate technology, best practices, and research-based methods, attended the same Universities as their counterparts in wealthier districts, and do all this day after day and year after year because, well, they think they can make a difference. Not to mention, they were “guided” by the State of New Jersey through the now defunct Collaborative Assessment and Planning for Achievement (CAPA).

 

So I ask you, I beg you, and I plead for your assistance. Can somebody please send me examples of schools that have defied the odds and have achieved sustained success on their state’s high stakes assessment? *Please remember, no shell games.

Resources:

Overview of Current Designation: http://education.state.nj.us/broadcasts/2012/APR/11/6423/Memo%20re%20accountability%20and%20Regional%20Achievement%20Centers.pdf

List of Priority, Focus and Reward Schools in NJ:

http://www.nj.gov/education/reform/PFRschools/Priority-Focus-RewardSchools.pdf

Nettlehorst Article:

http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/January-2011/Nettelhorst-Elementary-Schools-Remarkable-Turnaround

Changing demographics at Nettlehorst:

http://iirc.niu.edu/School.aspx?source=About_Students&source2=Educational_Environment&schoolID=150162990252370&level=S

The Cat’s in the Cradle

And the cat’s in the cradle with the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man on the moon

Father’s Day had always been a difficult day for me until I had my own children. I grew up without a father. He passed away in an unfortunate accident while my mother was pregnant with me. Gone, just like that. Throughout my life I have had a strong desire to be a father. I am sure it is because I never had one. It was my life mission to be a father. The World’s Best Father!

The past 8 years I at least looked forward to Father’s Day. I hadn’t always cherished the day, though. I didn’t understand how important it was to me. I used to want to go play golf or have time to myself, because that’s what dad’s do. It’s ironic, on Mother’s Day moms across the globe look forward to spending time with their children. Dads are different.  All that changed when I heard a song that I had heard hundreds of times.

Ever listen to the song “Cats in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin? (Ironically it was released in the year I was born) About 3 years ago I was listening to the song in the car, and I started to cry. I couldn’t stop. It really got me. I thought about all of the times I was the Father, and I how I was too busy to spend time with my children. Was I becoming the dad in the song? Would I regret the decisions I made someday? I put so much emphasis on being a great father that I forgot about the most important aspect: spending time with my children.

Talk to any grandfather, and they will tell you that their children went through a similar progression that Chapin noted. They will tell you that it is hard to compete with friends, technology, or sports/activities. Then their kids go to college, they go to work, and find someone to start their family with. All of those fathers will tell you the same thing: it goes so fast!

So, for me Father’s Day will be spent with the most cherished people in my world… my wife and children. How will you spend your Father’s Day?

Take a few moments and listen to this song. Think about your dad. Think about your children, or even think about your life. Are you present? Are you engaged? Let me know, and we’ll get together then, I know we’ll have a good time then….

More information on the song:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cat’s_in_the_Cradle

 

Cymbolic Symbolism

Just minutes before the Spring 2012 Concert

As an Elementary principal I have had the opportunity to play floor hockey, football, kickball, challenge students in math, substitute teach, write essays, and even tried Double Dutch  with the students, and teachers. Up until the other night, one thing I had never done was perform with a School Band.

Growing up I had an appreciation for music, but never had any interest, or patience in playing instruments on my own. A lot of my friends played the guitar, drums, and even the Tuba, but not me. So in order to grow as a professional, I came out of my comfort zone and played the cymbals in our Spring Concert!

I have to admit that during the practices, I felt just like a kid, and I was treated like one! My fellow band members had little patience for me at first. They would say, “Dr. Cook, you are supposed to play on 23 and 29. See its right here!” I had to inform them that I didn’t read music. They laughed at me! Before long I wore them down, and they all chipped in to make sure I met my marks.

As for the actual playing of the cymbals, I needed a lot of practice. All I was required to do was a cymbal roll. I was told to start in the middle and “roll” towards the outside of the cymbal. It was not easy. I played too quiet, I played too loud, and I messed up a lot. One of the kids in the percussion section told me, upon seeing my frustration, that I needed to play with more confidence.

I got a lot better through one word…practice! I attended as many practices as I could leading up to the performance. I thought about my part, I talked about it to other musicians. I felt like I was a part of something.

My main goal for participating in the concert was to show kids that they could achieve something if they set their minds to it, and used their resources. I tried to show them how difficult it was for me, and that I too have challenges in my life.

Mr. Mazza leading the chorus

I also learned a little more about the correlation between playing in a band and leadership. Although the conductor is in charge, everyone has their parts, and with that everyone needs to be on the same page. Each instrument has its purpose, and there are times for solos, playing along with everybody and letting others take the lead. Every0ne has to work together for the music to sound beautiful. You have to trust that everyone else has practiced, and that they are following the script. Mistakes are bound to happen, and sometimes those mistakes are only heard within the band.

Thankfully, it all came together on the night of the concert. I welcomed the parents to the Spring Concert and admitted that I was nervous (but I didn’t tell them why). Once the concert started, I got into the zone. I remained focused on my objective…cymbal roll. I felt such a rush after we finished our first song. Although I probably missed a few of the notes, I was on cloud 9!

RM Bacon kids working to the crescendo

Thanks to everyone who supported me in my first concert, self-titled, “Cymbolic Symbolism.”

I was just like you…

Dear Administrators,

I feel like I need to share some really good news with you. And I am not alone. See, I was just like you!

source: en.wikipedia.org

During these past few months I have opened myself up completely to the 21st century. I went full board, having never created a blog, wiki, uploaded a video, nor participated in ANY social media prior to this year. I have never been a techie, or desired to acquire the newest gadgets (Honestly, I held out for a long time from buying compact discs).

I will admit it… I was scared. I had nothing good to say about facebook, twitter, google, blogging, and I too felt that I had learned all I needed to know about the computer (Hey, I was a wiz at the Microsoft office suite). As long as I could get on the internet, I was fine. I knew how to search for things. I could find articles, and resources, or so I thought. As an educator, my mind was made up: we are not allowed to participate in this new found social media stuff anyway. It was all “trouble” and the “devil’s playground.”

I was good. All good. I knew a lot more then my predecessors. I have worked with administrators in the past who didn’t know how to turn on a computer. They couldn’t text, or had no idea what a url was. They were just fine, and some almost reveled in their learned helplessness. Let’s face it, I thought, there were hundreds of thousands of effective principals since the beginning of time who never even wrote an email.

source: kerrywills.wordpress.com

Then a strange thing happened on my way to being comfortable. I found out that as a 38 year old first-year principal, who was a self-described progressive in education, that I was already a dinosaur (insert dinosaur sound). I have called educators dinosaurs before. Gulp. We all know how that story ended: Extinction! Well, I didn’t want to be extinct.  And I don’t want you to be either! I had ask myself some tough questions: Am I modeling 21st century skills for my teachers and students? Am I really progressive? Do I really know where education was going? The answers were clearly, NO. So I DID something about it. I TOOK a LEAP. I got off of the comfortable road!

So, this is your homework assignment for the summer.  You need to start something. Depending on where you want to grow, there are plenty of resources. And I am willing to help, and so are all the connected educators near you, and thousands more are just a click away. Actually, we are all just a click away from you!

We are not trying to keep anything from you. We want EVERYBODY to be connected. This is not a competition. Rather, it is a privilege that you are in the position you are in. With the gift of being an administrator, there is a responsibility to your teachers, parents, students, and most of all, to yourself. Now, what are you going to do with this precious gift?

Ask yourself these questions….Here are some resources for you.

I want to know how to access the cutting edge information on education. Where do I start?

Twitter.com – It is free, and you will have access to Professional Development at your fingertips 24/7. I recommend to start with the following educators:

@NMHS_Principal, Eric Sheninger, High School Principal

@stumpteacher, Josh Stumpenhorst, Teacher

@PrincipalJ, Jessica Johnson, Elementary Principal

@web20classroom, Steven Anderson, Technology Supervisor

@gcouros, George Couros, Principal and founder of Connected Principals

I want to know how tell my classroom, district or school’s story? Start a school blog or a personal blog using (Blogger, edublogs, or Word Press).

Justin Tarte, Life of an Educator

Dave Gentile, The Road To Excellence is Always Under Construction

Pamm Moore, Learning to Lead

Spike Cook’s RM Bacon School Site, RM Bacon Weekly

Curt Rees, I know this much is true

How will I be able to do all this? You have to make time. Just like the teachers you are frustrated with, you can’t punch in and out. You have to be willing to put in the time, and be committed.  The more you are connected, the more you will become inspired by what folks are doing.

How can I learn all of this? Like the famous book by Anne Lamott Bird by Bird you have to start small and take it one bird at a time.

I guarantee that you have a teacher in your building or an administrator in another building that can help you out with your transition to being connected. You just have to open yourself up to the possibilities.

For those of you who are reading this because you are connected, my challenge to you is to print, email, forward, or even read this to another administrator that you feel could benefit.

Remember, I was just like you!

Resources:

My Prezi on Social Media in Administration:

http://prezi.com/thmleuo19vp2/copy-of-copy-of-social-media-for-administration/

Great Article on the Power of the Principal:

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/finding_common_ground/2012/05/the_power_of_the_principal.html

Twitter accounts for Technology:

http://paper.li/DrSpikeCook/1333674940?edition_id=300ef930-a924-11e1-a2b7-00259071bfec

 

 

 

It’s Spring Break, and we are in School

“Greatness and nearsightedness are incompatible. Meaningful achievement depends on lifting one’s sights and pushing toward the horizon.” Daniel Pink

Photo by Dr. Pamm Moore

Even though we were on Spring Break this week, Dr. Pamm Moore and I ventured to school an hour and half away. Our session was facilitated by Lyn Hilt, Principal of Brecknock Elementary School in Eastern Lancaster County.  We arrived for class excited for a day of sharing and expanding our Professional Learning Network (PLN).

Photo by Lyn Hilt

Brecknock Elementary is tucked neatly in the rolling hills of Eastern Lancaster County.  The roads, which must be shared with the occasional horse and buggy, are narrow, and winding, and they take you up and down, over, and around just like my own experiences as a principal this year. In all honesty, Eastern Lancaster County is beautiful farm country.

lynhilt.com

When we arrived, Lyn welcomed us into her office.  We assembled at a conference table and began chatting. We had no agenda other than to learn from one of Twitter’s most famous elementary school principals. Lyn has close to 7,000 world-wide Twitter followers.  When she Tweets, educators listen. Her main blog, Lyn Hilt: The Principal’s Posts have been viewed by over 33,000 visitors. In recognition for her hard work and determination, she has been nominated for multiple Edublogs Awards the past two years.  Her school blog  has been viewed close to 2,000 times.

Photo by Lyn Hilt

Lyn enthusiastically described the 21st Century teaching and learning strategies that are integrated into her school’s daily practices. We talked about her foray into Social Media and its subsequent impact on the district, school, and most importantly, the students. Lyn’s Social Media crusade is specific and measurable; intending to arm her teachers and students with the most up to date applications to continuously advance their learning to new levels. She makes no apologies for this.

After our discussion, we toured the classrooms of Brecknock where the ideas are put into practice. We were able to visit with Kindergarten students who had recently Skyped with a class in Peru. When asked where Peru was, one student quipped,  “South America, of course!” We all laughed.

Next, we visited a 1st grade classroom where the students were enthusiastically sharing their blogs via kidblog.org. One student in particular, Dakota, and I chatted about Social Media, blogging, reading, and life.  I encouraged her to finish her blog, have her Principal send it to me, and I would have my 1st graders do the same.

Photo by Dr. Pamm Moore

In 4th grade, students were using Storybird to write their own stories. This was the first time I had seen Storybird in action. Lyn highly recommended this, and she described how the company uses images from real artists.  One student read their entire story to us. I found it interesting that right next to him another student was working on a traditional story. You know the ones that are photocopied and the students color in and write their own story. I picked it and up looked at Lyn and said, “Basically, this is what Storybird is for the 21st century.” She replied, “You got that right!”

Photo by Dr. Pamm Moore

As we walked from room to room, we felt the embrace of the positive and stimulating learning climate that permeates throughout Brecknock Elementary School. Each classroom had its own decorations and distinct character. Some were of the traditional elementary variety and some classrooms made us feel as if we were in someone’s living room.

Clearly, Lyn resonates with the students, and teachers. As we entered classrooms, everyone was excited to see her. It was also obvious that she was in high demand. There were many students who wanted to eat lunch with her. I am not talking one or two students; there were at least a dozen who wanted to be put on her “lunch list.”

Photo by Breaknock Student

We ended our tour and reviewed some of the resources that she imparted on us. She agreed to send us some additional information that would aid us in our transition to world class. I told her that I would get in touch with some of my teachers and that we could connect with her students through one of the various online learning applications. We had one of her student’s take our picture!

Resembling the enthusiasm of Lyn’s lesson, we ventured back over the Delaware River to finish Spring Break. We talked about what we could immediately integrate into our district, and what would we need to research further. We were extremely thankful to spend time with Lyn because we too want to be put on “the list”. The state of New Jersey recently unveiled a directory of Reward Schools and like Lyn, our goals are specific and measurable; we want to be on that list!

 

Resources:

Her personal Blog – Lynhilt.com

Brecknock Elementary Blog – http://blog.elanco.org/br

Free Blogging for kids – Kidblog.org

Artful storytelling- storybird.com

Pink, D.(2011). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Riverhead Trade. New York.

 

It’s all about the Journey AND the Destination

Scholastic cover: @NMHS_Principal

Our superintendent was able to secure a visit to New Milford, NJ to visit with Eric Sheninger, principal, blogger, presenter, leader, father, husband, traveler, and more. In Millville Public Schools, we use a systems approach to everything. One of the most important principles in systems thinking is to look to the “best in class”. Eric is considered to be the “best in class” when it comes to social media, leadership, and technology. Who can argue with his close to 20,000 followers, books, presentations, keynote addresses, Scholastic Administrator of the year, and other accolades?  Rightfully so!

We were scheduled to be in New Milford High School (NMHS) by 8AM.  Our crew (Dr. David Gentile, Superintendent; Dr. Pamm Moore, Assistant Superintendent; Mrs. Kathy Procopio, Principal, Millville Senior High School; and Dr. Spike Cook, Principal, Rebecca Mulford Bacon Elementary) assembled at our meeting place at 5:30AM in order to beat the traffic and allow ourselves time to get there safely.  We knew the journey would be part of the experience, so we all set our alarm clocks – EARLY. Armed with my contribution of coffee, we were set to take off.

The ride up was both comical and inspiring. We dealt with a lot of technical issues, including a new GPS system and our lack of experience in commuting in North Jersey.  We talked about how our lives were going. We learned about each other’s families and our recent experiences at school. Somehow, we even managed to make it there on time!

Once we arrived at NMHS, Eric’s secretary greeted us with a warm smile. The office was quiet, and all the students and teachers seemed to be in their places. Eric brought us into his conference room and spent the first 30 minutes discussing the day’s planned events, as well as what to expect in this school building. We had prepared questions to guide the discussion, but after a while that was not necessary. Conversation and ideas just flowed. We were curious about the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, technology in the classroom, cell phones, culture and climate of NMHS, and of course, Eric. He took great care in crafting his answers making sure to let us know that he was no “prophet” but rather a man on a mission to bring 21st century learning to the forefront of the educational experiences for his students. Eric feels that the way NMHS embraces technology speaks to what students already understand – that phones are now devices, and making them taboo only adds to the problems, as opposed to being part of the solution.

NMHS's new 21st Century learning environment

As we walked through NMHS, it was clear that Mr. Sheninger was in his element. Students approached him with ease, said hello and some continued their conversation with him from earlier. One student, in noticing the visitors remarked, “The suits are here. This must be something important.” We laughed. Eric had us visit a few classrooms to experience what he can only describe to his Twitter followers or presentation attendees. His classrooms are, in some regards, traditional-looking from the hallway, but once inside, I felt something much different. As the students texted answers to their teachers, or looked up resources on their cell phones, there was something oddly normal. As a young lady in a Geometry class articulated, “Using our cell phones in class is really no big deal. When we are finished with it, we just put it away and move on with something different.”

Solve and text

In another math class, the teacher used the responses from the cell phones to understand the learning process of his students. In one question, 100% of the students answered correctly, and he moved on. Following a second question, 55% of the students missed the answer. Using that information, he promptly revisited the skill to address the needs of his class. To me, this was evidence of data driven and learner-centered education at its best!

After our classroom visits, we went back to the conference room for more discussion. Eric showed us his new “interactive white board in a bag.” No, Eric is no magician, he showed us a newer device that connected his iPad, Apple TV, and HDMI display tool to create an interactive display wall. Of course, he mentioned, this can be purchased for a fraction of the cost that an interactive white board costs.  Ideas were swirling around in our heads.

Eric was excited to show us the cafeteria. We descended upon one of the first lunches to watch how the students used technology at lunch. Sure enough as we walked through the cafeteria, students were on their devices watching videos, playing Angry Birds, or reading. Dr. Moore and I chatted with two sophomore girls. Similar to the other student in math class, they both said that having their cell phones out at lunch, and when the teacher lets them in class, is nothing big. I asked if they felt that students used these devices to bully, harass, or cause problems at the school, to which one of them said, “Maybe at other schools, but not here.”

MPS and Eric Sheninger

We concluded the visits by getting our pictures taken with Principal Twitter, as his secretary jokingly mentioned, “I knew him before all of this, you know.” Eric signed a copy of the Scholastic Magazine featuring his story. He encouraged us to keep Tweeting, blogging and modeling the way for our teachers and students. 

On our car ride home, we reflected on the day. It was obvious to us that Eric had developed a culture and climate that valued technology and treated students with dignity and respect. It was also clear that the stakeholders of NMHS mutually agreed that learning was priority number one. We each shared our “takeaways” from the day (in between navigating Teaneck, New Milford, and the NJ Turnpike – think Clark Griswold from European Vacation, “Hey Kids, Big Ben, the Parliament”). Mrs. Procopio, who took 4 pages of notes, felt the experience helped her see how technology can be an integral part of the high school experience. She reflected on the many positive teachers at NMHS, and how she couldn’t wait to explore options for her school. Dr. Gentile felt that the whole experience, both the journey and the destination, was worthwhile and inspiring. Dr. Moore saw the important benefits of technology and curriculum integration which was neither forced nor contrived at NMHS.

Spike Cook and Eric Sheninger

As for me, I am looking forward to our district’s journey through technology exploration and our future destination of becoming a world class district.

 

 

 

 

Are you going to ASCD12?

Check out Dr. David Gentile, Dr. Pamm Moore, Mrs. Joanne Colacurcio, and Mrs. Arlene Jenkins, as they present on Saturday 3/24/12 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm #1335 — Transforming Schools Through Powerful and Systematic Walkthroughs

http://myeventmarket.com/ascd12/pre-conference-and-conference-session/44734/1335-transforming-schools-through-powerful-and-systematic-walkthroughs

Where does the road of excess lead? Emotional Intelligence? Resonant Leadership?

"The Long, and Winding Road" source:istock

I truly live by William Blake’s famous quote, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” The problem is that road goes in two directions, with many turns, stops and hills. The road of excess can make you tired, stressed and dissonant. On the other hand, it can make you energized, healthy, and focused. As for the middle path, I don’t know much about that path. I do know that learning about Emotional Intelligence and Resonant Leadership has helped me tremendously.

 

 

 

 

We all have personal energy source:personal-energy jpeg

Emotional intelligence has been defined as the ability to recognize how leaders understand themselves and others (Goleman, et al., 2002). Leaders, including myself, are prime candidates for stress, weight issues, and health issues (Boyatzis & McKee, 2006). Using the concept of emotional intelligence, Boyatzis and McKee (2006) proposed that leaders utilize a process of renewal to deal with the sacrifices that have been inherent in today’s work world. When leaders do not renew themselves, they run the risk of becoming dissonant, and therefore, ineffective or burnt out.

 

 

Are you running on empty? source:energy_crisis jpeg

Ironically, being a principal causes a lot of stress and anxiety.  It also has an energizing effect, but these two forces do not always balance each other. Through much reflection, I have found that I am a potential candidate for Sacrifice Syndrome (Boyatzis & McKee, 2006). I tend to volunteer for activities even when my plate is full. I have a tough time declining opportunities because I feel that everything I do has the potential to benefit my professional growth and school community. In my world, there is always another mountain to climb. In the process, there are occasions when I become stressed out and continue to take on those potentially advantageous opportunities that end up becoming more detrimental to my well-being and supersede the intended beneficial outcomes.

 

 

 

source:life-balance-e1276962324836

When I am feeling well, I tend to be more charismatic and full of energy. I realize this because others point it out to me. “Hey Spike, you seem full of energy!” or “Wow, I wish I had your energy!” On the other hand, when I am stressed out, I have people tell me, “You look tired,” or “Is everything OK?” I am the kind of person who wears my emotions on my sleeve. In the fall, sometime after Thanksgiving, I knew I was deep in the cycle of sacrifice. I was tired all of the time. Although it took me a few weeks to get out, I was able to recognize, reflect and make the necessary changes to break that cycle. As a leader, I know that I must be awake, aware, and attentive. In order to achieve this, I need to adhere to a Cycle of Renewal (Boyatzis & McKee, 2006).

Henry and Daddy went for a snow run today. His idea!

Maintaining a Cycle of Renewal has become more difficult as I grow older and add more responsibilities to my plate. I used to run marathons, triathlons, and hike mountains. Since that time, I have fathered two children and earned both a masters and doctoral degree.  Plus, I became a principal. It has only been in the last year that I have truly committed myself to a new cycle of renewal. It has helped that the kids are more independent and out of diapers. I go to karate three days a week, eat as healthy as possible, meditate, and spend time with my family. I try to laugh, a lot. I like watching funny things on TV. I dance with my wife and children. We have competitions of all sorts. I listen to music and enjoy reading.

 

So now, I maintain two blogs, participate on twitter, and am a building principal (January 30, 2012 posts:  What is it like being a principal? Are you in meetings all day?). I know my colleagues wonder, “How does he do it?” As I stated earlier, I travel on the road of excess. On that road, I balance the cycle of sacrifice and the cycle of renewal. Want to learn more about the cycle of sacrifice, renewal or Emotional Intelligence? Here are some resources:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflective Practice: Looking into the mirror

Every Principal needs to look into the Reflective Mirror

The concept of Reflective Practice (Osterman & Kottkamp, 2004) has helped me balance my leadership as a new principal. The use of reflective practice provides me with the basis of how to become an effective principal by constantly asking questions and spending time reflecting. My natural tendency is to jump from one project to another without much thought. I used to ask myself, “What is the next thing for me to get involved with?” Now I ask myself, “What am I doing now?” and more importantly, “Why?”

One aspect of the reflective practice process has been the ability to value the input of others in decision making. I used to ask myself why I always need to seek input from others. Perhaps there have been decisions that could have been made on my own, but if I truly wanted to create a reflective environment for my school, I must have the trust that, even if I reveal myself as vulnerable, my staff would provide feedback. If someone betrays my trust, I have to believe it reflects more about them, not me.

One of the most influential books in my library

As a principal I have a vision of what my school should be. Whether I am at PTA function, Back to School Night, Faculty Meeting, or just casual conversation I see the school as the top performing elementary school in the county within five years. As a new principal, I have been forced to remain steadfast in this vision. Every day I am faced with a thousand reasons why we will not be the top performing school. Along the way, however, I have had to ask myself tough, reflective questions such as how does this problem reveal an opportunity? Knowing I cannot do this myself, who can I enlist to help? It is through these questions that I reflect and gain perspective.

I take a reflective approach when analyzing my leadership practices and it has made such a difference in my work products. In fact this blog serves as my reflective diary about my insights into learning. By taking the time to write about my experiences, I am implementing the reflective process technique. I know how I want to be viewed as a principal, but I also need to be able to articulate this to students, teachers, parents and other key stakeholders. Using reflective practice and asking myself tough questions forces me to confront my leadership as a mirror that reflects who I am and who I want to be. That is why the theme “Your Image is Our Image” is so fitting.

Want more information on Reflective Practice? Check out these links:

http://www.amazon.com/Reflective-Practice-Educators-Professional-Development/dp/0803968019

http://jte.sagepub.com/content/53/1/33.short

http://bul.sagepub.com/content/84/617/23.short

Osterman, K., & Kottkamp, R. (2004). Reflective practice for educators: Professional development to improve student learning (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.