Book Review – Be The Flame by Shane Saeed

The folks at ConnectEDD Publishing have quickly built a stable of quality books and resources for the education world. Their most recent addition to their quality publications is Shane Saeed’s Be The Flame: Sparking Positive Classroom Communities.  This is going to be a great book for educators as they seek ways to inspire learning in the 21st Century Classroom.

If you are looking for answers to the following questions, this is the book for you, your department, your school and your district.

  • How do you establish and maintain rapport?
  • What activities can encourage teamwork?
  • How do you continue to build community throughout the school year?

In the introduction, Shane describes where she got the term “be the flame.” It was through her father and mother who would always encourage Shane to be a positive leader in the community. Fast forward to her adult years as an educator, and Shane wanted to honor the flame that her parent instilled in her for everyone else! Hence the title, and the analogies made throughout the book. Be careful… this book is HOT!!

There are 8 chapters to the book. Each chapter has a resource at the conclusion to encourage the reader to take action either personally or professionally. She also integrates voices from her students, colleagues and  inspirational professional development.

Teachers must stoke the momentum of the community they’ve started in the classroom and use it to create a community of collaboration ~ Shane Saeed

Here are some highlights from the book that any educator could use to integrate into their classroom immediately:

  • Building positive relationships with students and parents
  • Creating a classroom community
  • Developing a collaborative approach to learning
  • Lesson plans with specific outcomes to support a positive classroom community

Throughout the book, Shane shares vignettes that are helpful to the reader to truly understand the “why” behind positive classroom communities. I felt these reflective stories were powerful because it revealed Shane’s ability to convey a message to the reader that, although teaching is rewarding, there is a lot of work that goes into it. There are bumps and bruises along the way, and Shane does a great job of incorporating these into the book.

Teachers must keep the flame ablaze within themselves to continue lightning flames within the people they impact ~ Shane Saeed

Shane is committed to keeping the conversations going with the reader. She encourages you to stay connected with her on Instagram (@fantasticallyfourth) , Twitter (@saeed_shane) or email. Order the book by clicking here.

About the Author

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership: It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is an Adjunct Faculty member in the Masters of School Administration Program He is featured in Twinkl’s 30 Education Influencers You Need to Follow and Klear’s Top Ten Middle School Influencers. Dr. Cook is also on the Education Advisory Board for Whole Health Ed. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter, YouTube,  LinkedInFacebook or Instagram.

 

 

Book Review – Permission to be Great by Dan Butler

Who doesn’t need permission to be great? According to Dan Butler in his new book Permission To Be Great: Increasing Engagement In Your School, we all need permission.

Let’s face it. The past two years of educating in a global pandemic has wrecked havoc on every aspect of teaching, learning and leading. This is exactly why Dan Butler wrote the book. He realizes that we have a seemingly insurmountable amount of factors that are impacting the future of teaching and learning.

Because everyone in the school setting can build skill from the content provided in this book, this was written for all educators, including current and aspiring school leaders. ~ Dan Butler 

Dan’s permission begins with a very overlooked and underused application… a how to use the book. In the How to use  section, he outlines four specific “look for” or “intentions.”

  1. Stories from the field – Learn about success stories from educators, students and families all over the world.
  2. Practical research, leadership and experiences – Dan provides easily to understand research to ground his theories and assertations.
  3. Enlightenment enhancers – Each chapter concludes with 4 simple and impactful ways you can implement the information right away in your classroom, school or district.
  4. Caring for you –  Dan gets educators. We are in the service industry and spend many hours caring for others. What are we doing for our own self care? Throughout the book he outlines 8 tactics that are simple and effective to help you fill your own bucket.

Chapter 1 – The Problem

This chapter is focused on the overarching problem facing education today… burnout. Throughout the chapter, Dan provides a rationale for how we got into this “problem” and more importantly, how we can take control again.

Chapter 2 – Balancing workload, control and autonomy 

In recent years we have begun to wear our business with pride. Just take a look through social media and you can see numerous examples of all types of folks discussing how they are up at 4:00 AM, have 17 side hustles, workout for 3 hours, spend time with their family and eat like a champion. What impact does this have on others? Well, it has had the adverse effect of motivation. In fact people feel guilty for just saying no to an event or sitting on the couch and decompressing. Dan provides ways to stay motivated and to put in processes that protect your precious time.

Chapter 3 – Practicing encouragement, recognition and appreciation 

This chapter is full of examples and innovative ideas on how to take your passion to the next level. Whether you are a teacher or an administrator, there are numerous easy to implement strategies that will have you filling others buckets while not draining your own.

Chapter 4 – Building community and relationships 

Dan spends a considerable amount of time in this chapter focusing on the aspects of a health community. Faced with a shutdown of the school for two to four weeks, Dan recounts the early days of pandemic education and what he learned from the experience. He and his team put in many successful initiatives during this experience to put community first.

Chapter 5 – Focusing on values and fairness

When was the last time that you or your team or district spent time exploring what they value? In this chapter, Dan provides a very systemic process that anyone can use to determine what their team values. In addition, he provides guidance on what to do with that information once you have collected it.

Dan concludes Permission to Be Great with a very touching story about what teaching and learning is all about. It definitely brings everything together from the book and answers the question on why we need permission to be great.

If you would like to purchase this book, click here.

About the Author

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership: It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is an Adjunct Faculty member in the Masters of School Administration Program He is featured in Twinkl’s 30 Education Influencers You Need to Follow and Klear’s Top Ten Middle School Influencers. Dr. Cook is also on the Education Advisory Board for Whole Health Ed. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter, YouTube,  LinkedInFacebook or Instagram.

Book Review – The Incredible Value of Employee Power Unleashed

The Incredible Value of Employee Power Unleashed: How to Gain Competitive Advantage by Treating Your Employees Well. By Robertson Hunter Stewart 

Treating your employees well? Sounds like a novel concept but as many of us have experienced in the various organizations we work in this is not always the case. Fortunately, Robertson Hunter Stewart wrote this book to help employers, managers and leaders to take a more person-centered approach to dealing with our most precious commodity… people! 

Stewart is all about power to the people! He defines employee power as, “The power produced by employees with an organization which allows it to obtain and keep competitive advantage within the marketplace overtime.” 

In the book, Stewart discusses some of his past occupations (he worked for Euro Disney at one point) and is able to convey what it felt like to be valued and to be not valued. What he found from his experience and his research is a four point understanding for what employees want:

  1. To be treated well
  2. To work in a good atmosphere 
  3. To have the right tools to do one’s job
  4. To be paid well (p.23)

Stewart urges companies to put employee satisfaction as the top priority. He suggests that surveys, focus groups and brainstorming sessions are imperative for management to listen. Unlike a lot of management philosophies that put the customer first, Stewart challenges that notion by articulating how employees must be first. According to Stewart, “Employees are the internal customers.” (p. 49)

One of the  most critical chapters in this book is on training. Stewart presents a very easy to follow training protocol that will help any organization get the most out of professional development. He leaves nothing up to guesswork when it comes to training and it is clear that there is no guesswork. Employees must be trained in an on-going process that values constant feedback and recognition. 

The book concludes with a detailed overview on meetings. He starts out this section by asking one of the most important questions regarding meetings… why do we need a meeting? In order to hold an efficient meeting, Stewart suggests developing a clearly defined purpose. He then outlines a basic protocol that every meeting should have so that everyone knows the expectations. He also points out that management should take time during meetings to listen to the employees concerns, ideas and feedback. 

No matter what type of company you are in or what role you play, The Incredible Value of Employee Power Unleashed will be a great resource. I found the book easy to read and implement. I am quite sure you will too! 

 About the Author

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership: It’s Just a Click Away; Breaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. He is featured in Twinkl’s 30 Education Influencers You Need to Follow and Klear’s Top Ten Middle School Influencers. Dr. Cook is also on the Education Advisory Board for Whole Health Ed. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter, YouTubeLinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram.

Are You Manifesting Limiting or Abundant Beliefs?

Photo by Eric Muhr on Unsplash

A few months ago, I co-hosted a 5 part series on Maintaining Balance with Dr. Aili Pogust. We explored our mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional bodies and how we are responding to various triggers.

One area that resonated with me was in the mental body in terms of our self talk.  We were asked to examine a number of belief statements to determine if we were limiting ourselves or living in abundance.

Examining the Statements – Are they Limiting or Abundance? 

Take a few moments to examine some of these belief statements and see if this is something that you are (Source: Aili Pogust, 2021):

  • I have the ability to go far beyond the position I now hold.
  • I know when to set my boundaries.
  • My relationship with food is in balance.
  • I am fully capable of taking complete control of my life.
  • I am at ease with my body and my looks.

If one of those statements resonates with you. Do you believe that these statements are true?  Are you limited or in abundance?

What we believe about ourselves and our world literally creates the events we will face in the future. If we feel lack in any area, we are holding limiting beliefs that keep that lack operative. On the other hand, it is true that by imagining abundance in different areas of our lives, we can bring it about. ~ Dr. Aili Pogust, 2021

The Exercise 

When I did the exercise, I resonated with the statement “I have the ability to go far beyond the position I now hold.” I am not sure about you, but I do not always think I can get beyond something that is challenging me in life. Although I might tell others that “this too shall pass” or “the storms will be move away” I wasn’t always manifesting this for myself. So here is what I did.

The Daily Process 

After examining the limiting statement that I didn’t think I had the ability to go far beyond the position I now hold,  I spent a few minutes each morning meditating on the abundant belief “I have the ability to go far beyond the position I now hold.

  • I examined what it looked like if it was a belief system for something in my life that I wanted to get past.
  • I then journaled about what that looks like, smells like, how my life would be different, and  most importantly what would I do when I truly got to the place of going beyond the position I currently hold.
  • I wrote a commitment statement of something (or somethings) that I would do daily to strengthen my belief.
  • I also included a visualization of how my life would be different if I operated more fully through this belief.

Guess what …..It worked! 

I spent about 4 months working on this one abundant belief as part of my daily morning practice. Although it only took a few minutes each day, I eventually was able to see how the limited belief was being replaced by the abundant belief.  We all know that change takes time, and this is true for the abundance exercise. It just takes a little bit each day.

Give it a try and let me know how it works! 
Comment below and let me know how you are manifesting abundance or struggling with limiting statements.

About the Author

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click Away; Breaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Dr. Cook is also on the Education Advisory Board for Whole Health Ed. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram.

Non Negotiables in Middle School

6 Non Negotiables at LMS

In the spring, our staff worked collaboratively to identify a climate and culture goal for the 2019-20 School Improvement Plan. As part of the process, we did a compare/contrast on Pearl Cohn High School in Nashville. This school was featured in Edutopia’s School Climate section.

We spent a considerable time reflecting on where we were and where we wanted to go. We surveyed parents, students and the staff to help us determine a specific area (s). One of the areas that resonated with the staff was Pearl Cohn’s emphasis on Non Negotiables. In fact, one staff member said, “That is exactly what we need. We have to be on the same page with the Non Negotiables.”

Prior to the conclusion of the school year we identified our Non Negotiables (which are very similar to Pearl Cohn). We had a parent meeting to discuss the ideas to improving the climate and culture of the building. Staff met with students to ensure they were a part of the process, and even had them do a compare/contrast with the Pearl Cohn School.  Over the summer, the administrative team operationally defined and organized the Non Negotiables. We also developed a script and a response protocol.

At our Staff Welcome Back we officially “rolled” out the Non Negotiables. As everyone knows, the Staff Welcome Back time is precious but we scheduled a considerable amount of time so that we all understood the “why” and had opportunities to interact with the Non Negotiables. It was time well spent.

Our staff worked collaboratively to develop “real middle school life” scenarios and practiced how we would address these scenarios. This activity added to the ownership that is needed to make an initiative like this work. We have very creative writers and actors in our staff!

Beginning of class script (every period, every day)

“In this class, I expect that you will follow our non-negotiables. We do not use cell phones, we respect each other, we are dressed appropriately, and we do not use profanity.”

End of the class script (every period, every day)

Before we enter the hallways, remember we walk to the right, we keep our hands and feet to ourselves and we keep our voices down.

We are off to a great start. Many staff members feel that this is one of the best openings we have had at our school. We are very mindful that we need to work together as a team in order for this initiative to work. We are dedicated to doing everything we can to improve the climate and culture of the building!

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

Tell Your School’s Story Through Blogging, Tweeting, and Facebook

Recently, our district participated in Digital Learning Day. Volunteers took time out of their day to share their learning. I shared how we use Social Media to tell the story of Lakeside Middle School. Take a few minutes to watch and let me know how you use Social Media to tell your school’s story!

I want to thank Alicia Discepola and Lauren Daigle for inspiring and coordinating this special event. Want to see more of the awesome presentations from Millville, click here.

About the Author 

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

Using Google Classroom to combat information overload for staff

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Teachers have an unbelievably long list (that grows each year) of information, deadlines and requirements. How can administrators (who have a growing list themselves) create a platform to streamline all this information? I have been using Google Classroom the past two years to try to combat this information overload. Here are 4 things I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Information over load is real. We need to help teachers manage all of this information and not be consumed by it. Teachers are required to adhere to deadlines with numerous acronyms such a SGO, PGP, GCN to name a few. Utilizing a platform such as Google Classroom has allowed our staff the opportunity to sync their calendars with the deliverables, provide an opportunity for quick access to information and to model the learning that they are using in their own classrooms
  2.  There are many times I wonder where the 90 minute delay schedule is or who I have to observe for the second round or what our policy is on the dress code. Instead of shuffling through papers or asking someone, “Where is the ____ fill in blank?” I can do it myself. Then, if I look on the classroom and I can’t find it, I know I need to put that information in.
  3. Gather information. We have so many meetings happening throughout the month it is hard to keep track of the notes from the sub committees, department meetings, PLCs, school leadership meetings etc. We created shared folders with easy to use Google documents that are accessible through the classroom. It makes everyone’s life much easier and organized.
  4. Collaboration. Using Google Classroom to collaborate is extremely valuable. Staff are able to comment on a post or direct message me regarding information posted. Eventually, we will be able to use the classroom space to hold meetings that teachers can attend on their own time.

Our Google Classroom is a living document that changes as we go throughout the year. Each year the classroom gets more and more user friendly and streamlined based on the demands of the profession as well as feedback from the staff. It wasn’t easy to get the buy-in first but as we have developed, staff have consistently placed it as an important tool to help increase communication!

How are you using Google Classroom with your staff?

About the Author 

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

 

5 Ways to Increase Higher Order Thinking Skills

Student led Socratic Seminar in LAL

Our school is going through the revalidation process to continue being an AVID National Demonstration School. Based on the feedback from a prior visits, the staff have been working on increasing Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS).

Starting this year, the AVID site team began providing weekly instructional practices, developed a Google Form to collect best practices, and they meet with me on a monthly basis to coach me how to use HOTS in the weekly email, staff meetings, and for teacher feedback.

We also began correlating the McREL Walkthrough data from last year as the compare the instances of remembering and understanding with analyzing and evaluating. The revalidation process has definitely caused our school to reflect on where we are and to improve in areas to make student learning better.

Here are Five ways we are increasing Higher Order Thinking Skills …

  1. Highlight areas where it is happening. Just because the administrator doesn’t see it in the walkthrough or in the observation doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. We created a Google Form to encourage teachers to share their HOTS on a weekly basis with the staff
  2. It starts at the top. This year I made a pact with our AVID site team to hold myself accountable to modeling Higher Order Thinking Strategies. Prior to meetings, weekly blog/email to staff, and professional development I share with the team and they help me to take it to the next level!
  3. Let the students take the lead. In the Google Form one of our advanced math teachers shared this powerful insight, ““Students were amazed at some of the great strategies they were taught by their peers. One of the best classes. I’ve had in awhile. The students taught each other and became competitive looking for better ways to solve problems.”
  4. Point of Confusion. This AVID technique is extremely powerful for students as they engage in their weekly tutorials. They identify an area they are struggling with and share it with their peers. Their peers are taught to use questions to assist the students in understanding and making connections with the material.
  5. If the teacher, then the student. We made this chart to help teachers and students make small changes to increase HOTS.
If the teacher…. Then the student will ….
Starts with why Know the relevance of the topic
Allows students to embrace the struggle Be able to implement Growth Mindset and participate in HOTS activities
Makes judgments based on criteria and standards` Use the text citations to support their claim
Identifies patterns or relationships See the interconnectedness of their learning
Plans questions ahead of time Be able to see concrete examples of HOTS Thinking
Allows student to produce knowledge learning takes place Students will add their original thinking and ideas
Asks questions with more than one possible answer and with evidence from the text Students will be challenged and have more opportunity to participate

This process is something that can be put into practice at any school or level. The most important aspect to this is the professional relationship between the staff and the administration with identifying and solving the problem collaboratively. Everyone becomes the expert and everyone improves!

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

Summer School: It’s More Than Just the Grades

Officer Rick Kott speaking to the students about overcoming obstacles.

Two years ago our school implemented a Retention Policy. Prior to that, as I was told, we allowed students to be promoted with 2, 3, 4 failures in academic classes. Teachers were frustrated, students were being sent mixed messages, and parents were under the impression that No Child Left Behind meant we were unable to fail anyone.

The School Leadership Committee (SLC) worked for a year on drafting a Retention Policy. They looked at what surrounding schools were doing, did some research on the impact of retention, and eventually came up with a progressive Retention Policy. We implemented the policy in the fall of 2016. Students, parents and the community were made aware of the policy which basically retained 6th graders if they failed all 4 classes, 7th graders if they failed 3 or more classes, and 8th graders if they failed 2 or more courses. During the 16-17 school year teachers, guidance counselors and administration worked with students and parents on this policy. There were increased face to face meetings after each marking period, additional resources assigned to students and more referrals to the I and RS team. At the end of the year there were 8 students who were scheduled to be retained. Each of those students either transferred to another school or enrolled in our Alternative School. The SLC closely monitored the policy and ended up requesting that we revise the policy for the 17-18 school year due to a lack of rigor.

The revised policy for the 17-18 school year was far more rigorous than the previous year but there were additional assistance added in. The new policy, which was throughout all 3 grade levels, required any student who failed more than 2 year long classes to be retained, and anyone who failed 2 classes would be required to attend summer school. As we went through the year, we continued to monitor the academic progress of the students in danger of being retained, increased our contact with parents, and added in additional resources.

At the conclusion of the 17-18 we had 17 students retained and 38 students eligible for summer school. Due to some poor planning on my part, we also didn’t have a budget for summer school. I wasn’t able to hire any staff. I had to ask all the 12 month guidance and administration in the building to assist me in running the summer school. We were also very fortunate that our contract with the online learning platform Edmentum still allowed us to use the diagnostic program Exact Path. So, in a sense, the academics would be taken care of through the online program.

As we analysed the students who were eligible for summer school, we noticed a few trends. First, these students were not your likely candidates. Very few had high levels of discipline and even fewer had attendance issues. We scoured their report cards and read the comments from the teachers.  It was through this exercise that we were able to identify the main reason these students were in summer school. Want to take a guess at what the main factor was?

If you guessed motivation than you would win!

The major theme of the teacher comments on the students centered around motivation. It was not a case of “can’t do” but rather a case of “won’t do.” Armed with this data we developed a summer school that would get to the core of the issue for the students so that they could use this time to change their mindsets about school, learning, teachers, and most importantly, themselves.

We are only one week into the program and of the 31 students who chose to participate, we have a 90% attendance rate. Students are doing daily gratitude journals, practicing mindfulness, analyzing their 17-18 school year, and learning about the impact of growth vs. fixed mindset. They spend about half their time working on their academic areas of concern and the other half working on themselves. We show daily motivational videos and we have scheduled local community members to visit and talk with them about overcoming obstacles.

The 5 staff who are working the program have learned a lot in one week. As we have read through their essays and journals it has become clear to us that these students have so much to offer our school. Some of them are dealing with a mountain of obstacles both personally and in their community. They will admit that school was not their top priority but they are now seeing the value.

What will the next 4 weeks hold for the summer school? We hope that we continue to build the students motivation and understanding of their amazing potential. We will continue to expand their horizons and have them begin working on their service learning projects. There are even a few students who are going to be developing a presentation to the administration to show the staff based on the popular book If She Only Knew Me. Stay tuned for more as the summer school develops.

About The Author

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

Visibility and Vulnerability

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

As a leader do you struggle with being visible? Is it difficult to be everywhere at the same time? Frustrated that the cloning software hasn’t kicked in yet? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, we are in the same boat!

I am fortunate to be teaching a graduate class at Rowan University this semester titled Education Organization and Leadership. One of our recent assignments was for the students to interview an administrator about the management of the building. The students wrote such compelling accounts from their interviews and inspired me to reflect on my own practice. I am so grateful for their inspiration!

Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen. Brene Brown

In my first Principal position I rarely was concerned with my visibility. I was the only administrator in a building with 320 kids and about 40 full time staff during the day. There were 3 floors and about 22 classrooms. The front office and my office was connected by a sliding door. Moving throughout the building was relatively easy, and I was able to check in with staff on a daily basis. This was my life for 5 years. Believe me, there were difficult times and I am sure that amnesia has kicked in regarding my perception of visibility, but for the most part this was my world.

Fast forward to now as I get closer to my two year anniversary at Lakeside Middle School. I struggle with visibility. I am the building Principal with 3 vice principals, 120 staff during the day and 1,100 students with over 75 classrooms, two floors and 10 hallways. One hallway is literally a 1/4 of a mile. It is an exciting building to work in and there is never a dull moment.

What does the data say?

We use the McREL Walkthrough system and I was able to go back through to see how many walkthroughs I have completed in the past two years. I have done 205 classroom walkthroughs.

In that same time, I have formally observed about 75 staff with an average of forty minutes (some with pre-conferences and all with post conferences). I have attended about 25 PLC sessions. We have had monthly staff meetings, subcommittee meetings, department meetings, and about 10 Professional Development days.  In addition, I have done about 160 cafeteria duties (very few this yer) and have been out for countless class changes. I spend almost every morning and afternoon in the front of the school directing traffic and directing students.

According to my SAMs data, since October of 2016, I have worked about 2,300 hours. In 2016-17, I spent 53% in “instructional” time as compared to this year where I have spent only 40%. In both years I have spent about 30% of the time in “management” and about 3% in personal time (I rarely take lunches). Each year I average about 17% in “unscheduled” time which is basically me having difficulty recalling what I actually did.

Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change. Brene Brown

So what is the problem? 

Looking at the data above it appears that I am very active in the school building, but I have to admit that I have had staff members say the following to me:

  • “You still work here?”
  • “I haven’t seen you in ___ days”
  • “Well, at least you aren’t as bad as one of our previous principals, I didn’t see that person for 39 straight days one year. “
  • “Thanks for stopping by”

Honestly, the people who have said these things are not saying them in a mean or attacking way, but as someone who is constantly reflecting, it bothers me…. alot!

So now what? 

Since this has been bothering me for quite some time I have already begun to address the problem. Honestly, no one cares about the data I shared above. It doesn’t matter how big or small the building is, or how many walkthroughs or observations have been accomplished, if I don’t feel visible, the staff surely feels the same way.

Here is my game plan:

  • Being vulnerable and writing this post!
  • Use the SAMs program to it’s fullest. Adhere to the schedule even if it says “monitor class switches” or “visit staff and students”
  • Save email for later. Yes I get between 80-90 emails a day, but again, who cares? Schedule uninterrupted time to complete the email tasks when the building is less occupied.
  • Reduce meeting time by 20%. I have a lot of meetings in my office that can range from 45 minutes to an hour. I need to streamline these meetings to allow more time out of my office.
  • Try a “no office” day each month. This is something I could easily do with technology and wifi. My office can literally be anywhere for a day. There are 5 months left in the school year so I should easily be able to have 5 “no office days.”
  • Continue with the feedback cards. I started this on January 15 and I have been able to distribute about 30 cards. It has forced me to respond to staff about what I saw, what I wonder, and to acknowledge the great work going on in their classroooms!
  • Connect with staff and students beyond the walkthroughs and observations. Ask questions, listen, be present!
  • Be where the staff is (at sign in, sign out, common areas, etc)

Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection. Brene Brown

I am excited about addressing these issues and more importantly sharing them with you. What advice do you have? What are some struggles you would want to share? Be sure to comment so we can get better, together.

Spike C. Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two book through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.