This summer, I was in an Equity and Diversity workshop with Paul Gorski and he presented two options for us to consider.
1. We could save the Starfishes…. Meaning, once we saw a problem, we could work to solve it immediately.
The Starfish story is a very popular story. Basically, A young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish have washed ashore. Further along he sees an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean. “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?,” he asks. “Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.” “But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.” The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.” (source: http://www.esc16.net/users/0020/FACES/Starfish%20Story.pdf)
2. We could swim up the river… Meaning, we could see the problems as they currently exist, and swim up the river to see what is the actual problem.
One summer in the village, the people in the town gathered for a picnic. As they leisurely shared food and conversation, someone noticed a baby in the river, struggling and crying. The baby was going to drown! Someone rushed to save the baby. Then, they noticed another screaming baby in the river, and they pulled that baby out. Soon, more babies were seen drowning in the river, and the townspeople were pulling them out as fast as they could. It took great effort, and they began to organize their activities in order to save the babies as they came down the river. As everyone else was busy in the rescue efforts to save the babies, two of the townspeople started to run away along the shore of the river. “Where are you going?” shouted one of the rescuers. “We need you here to help us save these babies!” “We are going upstream to stop whoever is throwing them in!” (source: http://fasarizona.com/riverbabies.htm)
What are you going to do? Are you willing to swim up the river or just wait on the shore? Choice is yours….
Earlier this week we started Genius Hour 2.0 with the staff. Want more information on how we got here? Check out Genius Hour 1.0. I started off the meeting with a quote I heard on a podcast on the way in to work….
I’d rather have questions without answers than answers without questions – Max Tegmart, MIT Cosmologist
Our Genius Hour 2.0 is a drop in the bucket that is as big as an ocean. Reflect on this – How often do we provide staff with time to ask big questions, or even focus beyond the “here and now” to the future? The answer is not much. Not much at all.
Teachers are generally putting out the proverbial fires on any given day. Ask them to think about next year, 5 years from now and you might get a look. In their defense, that look is well deserved. They simply are not provided adequate time to work on the big picture because they are mandated to attend trainings, lesson plan, teach, grade, discipline, talk, listen, conference, work collaboratively on the most recent data, etc… and repeat. Every day for the school year.
To me, Genius Hour is my way of giving them back 20% of the “staff meeting” time to clear their head. Maybe, just maybe, this time requires them to think beyond today, next week or next month. I need them to think about anything that can improve the school.
So as the staff embarks on Genius Hour 2.0 I am hoping that they are able to travel up to the balcony and think about their passion, our school, and where it is going. This will be time well spent, and an opportunity for teachers do something different. To solve a problem that may not exist. To ask questions that can’t be answered.
At this year’s Back to School Night we wanted to do something different, something unique. So we set out to see what positive message we could send to the parents as they arrived at one of the most important events in the school year.
Fortunately, our teachers are always seeking opportunities to welcome the parents into the school community. So we partnered with a National Fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma, to take this opportunity to the next level. In preliminary meetings with the fraternity, we were able to sketch out a basic format to the partnership or “Adopt A School.” Here is the brief overview of the plan:
- Reading to students
- Spelling Bee
- STEM activities
- Book study
We are also going to be capturing this amazing story in an upcoming documentary titled, “A Year in Transition.”
All this has been (and will be) fostered by building relationships. The champion behind this entire project is one of our parents, Bruce Cooper. Last year he assisted with activities in the classroom, organized a Spelling Bee and helped students find their voice through a public speaking program “Bacon Speaks.”
At the Clap In we had about 80 people come out to welcome the parents. We had teachers, Board of Education members, local Politicians, volunteers, and members from the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. According to some of the parents I spoke with, they were so inspired by the support shown during the Clap In. I received many positive emails, messages, and phone calls about how the parents felt about the Clap In. It was a great start to a unique partnership!
Here are a few video clips and pictures from the Clap In:
As a school/district what are your plans for parents this year? Each school/district have so many awesome ideas for increasing participation and engagement! I am going to share a few things we are doing!
At our school we are really focusing on engagement this year. Over the summer we installed a Digital Sign for the parents to watch as they drop off or pick up their child. On the first day of school we invited the parents to our All School Assembly and encouraged them to visit the classroom to meet the teacher. We are continuing with our convenient arrival and dismissal procedures we established last year. Basically, the car riders are dropped off and picked up at the same point allowing the parents to stay in their car and relax while we ensure their child is ready.
We are committed to sharing our school information on Social Media. Our staff uses everything we can to get our message to the parents:
- #rmbacon on Twitter
- You Tube channels
- School Messenger
In addition to the plethora of free Social Media tools, we are committed to printing monthly newsletters, calling home, visiting homes, informal conversations, Home and School Association, and opening the classroom up for collaboration. We were even recently adopted by a local fraternal organization (Phi Beta Sigma). Sounds like a lot? Yet, we are always seeking ways to improve and get better.
At this year’s Back to School we are planning a “Clap In” for our parents. They deserve a round of applause and well wishes from the community as they are a key component of our school family. Check out the Smore flyer we are sending throughout the community here.
What are some ideas that you have to help increase parental engagement? Share your ideas in the comments
How often do you engage in conversations or discussions in your school or district? If you are in a healthy organization, the answer would most likely be “all the time.” However, if you organization isn’t having conversations, or isn’t focused on the key elements, you may need to get people talking. Sometimes, as they say, good conversations are hard to find….
What is a conversation?
According to dictionary.com, a conversation is, “the informal exchange of ideas by spoken words.” Sounds pretty simple. In order to be engaged in a conversation, we simply need to talk. In today’s “connected” environment, we spend a great deal of time using technology-based tools to find others from around the world. Often these conversations online produce valuable ideas or resources that can take our organizations to the next level level. Yet, if you are unable to discuss the impact of these ideas or resources, you may become frustrated.
As a leader (no matter the level), it is important to provide the opportunity for conversations. Here are some ideas to ensure that your students, teachers, and community members will be able to talk this year:
- Integrate conversation time into your meetings. Have a topic you want feedback on? Has someone brought up something that we need to discuss? Take 10 minutes and put your team into groups to talk about it. You can even use post-its to make sure that everyone gets a chance to share.
- Open Door – Sometimes people want to chat one-to-one or as a small group. As a leader it is important to create time in your schedule to have a conversation.
- Create a monthly conversation-based meeting times. If you can dedicated 30 to 45 minutes a month at a specific time (before or after school) to allow your staff to talk, it would go a long way.
How are you going to get the conversations flowing this year?
We all have them. I mean everybody. It’s probably one of the few things that parents, students, teachers, administrators all have in common. What do they mean? Why do we have them and more importantly, what can we learn from them?
There are hundreds of dream interpretation web sites and resources. The results from these sites are mixed. Some people feel that dreams are an important part of your sub-consciousness and others say that they are complete nonsense. I am somewhere in between. There have been times in my life where I have kept a dream journal, and analyzed the dreams for deeper meanings. In the long run, I am not sure how much I got out of the process, but it was interesting. I felt that I remembered more dreams as I used the journal. Like anything else, it takes discipline.
What Happened Last Night?
As a principal I have had many Back To School dreams. Each summer I will dream about the opening of the school year. Usually, there is something off. Maybe I am not in the correct building, I forgot to wear pants, or someone totally random shows up. I attribute these types of dreams to the anxiety of getting the year started. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to begin the year in the best possible way…. so it makes sense that our dreams would reflect our anxieties.
What Can We Learn From Back to School Dreams?
Since most of my dreams have been about something that didn’t go quite right, I take it as a sign that I have another chance. Honestly, can anything ever go that wrong? Chances are you will not show up to the first faculty in your underwear or at the wrong building. However, the question remains, have you done enough preparation to feel comfortable about the start of the year?
Preparation Is Key
Many people ask me what I do all summer since there are no kids or teachers in the building. I always answer the same way, “Of course it is different without teachers and kids, but there is a lot to do to prepare for the school year.” Here are techniques I use to keep myself focused:
- Month by Month Summer Checklist – Through experience and working with other administrations, I developed a checklist that lists activities, person responsible, approximate date, date of completion and notes. I fill out the boxes (the first three boxes are filled in before the summer begins) when I complete the tasks. I also follow up with those responsible for activities in my building.
- Planning the Monthly Calendar – Prior to the end of the school year I always have the teachers reflect on the year and plan for the upcoming year. This year I tried the 3-2-1 (see post here for more information). I then take that information and create a yearly calendar in my office. I take that information and also make a digital calendar (using our school calendar) and invite everyone to acknowledge their participation. In the end of the summer, we have another meeting to double check and add/delete as necessary.
- Learn something new – Each summer I learn a few new things and implement them into the school. I almost always get those ideas from my PLN. Educators throughout the world are doing awesome stuff and are always willing to share on Social Media.
- Read, Read and Read– I read a lot. Reading is a huge part of the educational process and I spend time everyday (even at work) reading appropriate material to help the school. This summer I am reading Jim Knight’s High Impact Instruction. I am loving it so far and I highly recommend it. I also read blog posts, and articles about education, innovation, and mindset.
- Scheduling – I spend a lot of time on the Master Schedule. I used to try to get it out before the end of the school year but I found it was too much. This summer, I have literally spent 3 weeks refining the schedule. I feel the schedule needs to be as detailed as possible (even at the elementary level).
- Blog/Write – I blog about the school and my reflections. I maintain the school blog even throughout the summer. I share it with our community each week. Just because kids and teachers are not here doesn’t mean everything stops.
No matter how much I prepare. No matter how I perceive the Back to School dreams, they still pop up. As I said earlier, I take them as they are presented. I learn from them, and I make sure I am spending my waking hours preparing for what is to come. Finally, I make sure, when I leave the house on the first day, that I have all of my clothes on and that I am going to correct place!
What are your Back to School Dreams? Share them in the comments!
This past year our school embarked on the Genius Hour journey. (For previous posts that lead to the Genius Hour: inspiration; 80/20 staff meetings; my passion). In short, I took 20% of the the Staff Meetings this year and made them Genius Hour. The staff could do whatever they wanted with the time (it just had to be something they were passionate about, and could benefit students or the school). We had many ups and downs with the process which lead to successes and failures. It was such an amazing experience!
At the conclusion of the school year we scheduled a meeting to review Genius Hour. Honestly, prior to the meeting, I though that the staff was going to vote to abandon it completely. The sad reality is that education doesn’t support geniuses! Let’s be honest with ourselves on why education doesn’t support Genius Hour:
- We have so many “compliance” activities from the district, state and federal government
- We have to get our test scores up, and achieve our School Improvement Goals
- Time – How are we going to fit all this in?
- Not everyone is passionate about something that can translate into a school setting
- General apathy and malaise from teachers that think “this is just another passing phase”
To my surprise, the opposite of everything listed above was unfounded. The teachers, for the most part, loved it. Of course they are well aware of the factors, and despite those factors were willing to put themselves out there for their passion. They want a lot of the things that are out of our control (the compliance stuff) to go away and do more with their passion!
In the final report out, I didn’t require everyone to present…. only those who wanted to. I stressed, prior to the report out, that failure was absolutely acceptable. In fact, my own project failed miserably. What is most important (as you will see) is how each person or team talked about what they would do differently!
My project – Genius hour was Podcasting for the district. I only completed 4 shows. I hit road blocks such as getting people to schedule, storage space, and time. Next year, I would like to focus on our school, parents, teachers, and students.
Here are the other takeaways:
- 2 Kindergarten teachers – Genius hour was focused on increasing technology. They both learned how to use their Brite Links. They were very proud to have used it with the interactive pen. They were able to integrate it into several topics in the Kindergarten curriculum.
- PBIS Aide- Focus was on developing an incentive program to increase the attendance for the students. She reported out that the attendance board (first project)was difficult to maintain, but then she implemented a daily Bingo game which was very successful. There were road block such as prizes for younger kids and how to reach them.
- 2 Special Education Teachers – Genius Hour was on Crafts. She taught kids how to cross-stitch, and crochet. They really picked it up after PARCC was completed in each grade. The students really enjoyed it and were excited about the project.
- Art Teacher – Genius Hour was having students do video interviews about their artwork. There are some videos on You Tube. Her target group helped kids working on existing art work. A couple videos were made. She started too late but will be doing it again because the kids loved it!
- Music Teacher – Her project was to bring in a Chamber Group. Prior to that she had to focus on listening skills. She determined early on that the students were not where they need to be able to appreciate the music. She would eventually like to embark on this project.
- 1st grade teacher – Her Genius Hour was based on her passion for school safety. She realized a lot is more than just a school building level. The other factors were money and district support. So she started a Girl Scouts and Daisy/Brownie groups with another teacher. A lot of group character education lessons were integrated into the program. They involved community members into the project.
- 7 teachers started a Gardening Club for their project. They wrote and received a Grant for 2,000 dollars. In September, the group will be starting a school garden club for kids. They will plant things that can be eaten right away. They will also incorporate green houses in some of our classrooms which will be brought out to the outside garden outside. LOWES will be working school closely.
- 3 teachers – Their goal was to look into grant money for problem solving for 5th grade students. She used the Genius Hour (Along with the 2 other teachers) as an opportunity to get to know what the students were passionate about in the beginning of the year. The kids shared ideas such as developing new applications, chicken coops, school newspaper, photography, and dirt bike tracks. The students began their own fundraising in school lunches (pencils, Valentines dance, and coupon books).
At the end of every meeting, we do a Plus/Delta (for more information Plus/Delta click here).
Plus (or things that really worked well)
- Such a positive experience
- Hearing all great things people are doing
- Talking with each other and working together
- That Principal is supporting us
- Failure was acceptable
- Everyone did something different that can impact all students
- Thanks to Principal for challenging Staff to Genius Hour
Deltas (or things that didn’t work well and can be improved)
- Took awhile to understand the concept
- Not everyone shared
Overall, I am very excited about the continuation of Genius Hour. I will be scheduling 4 “meetings” during the year, and a time at the end of the year to report out. Now, I have to go back to the “drawing board” and work on my project
A few weeks ago I read the ASCDEdge blog post 3-2-1 Countdown to Summer by Kevin Parr. It was just what I needed. It was just what our staff needed. Since the concept was so applicable, I was able to integrate it into my final staff meeting of the year. Our purpose was to reflect on the year and to begin to plan for the next school year.
After introducing the concept, I had the teachers work individually to identify their 3-2-1.
3 to Keep – Taking from the blog post, teachers “identified 3 practices that were working for them.”
2 to Tweak – Teachers were asked to identify 2 activities/practices that they would like to continue, but that needed a little improvement or “tweaking.”
1 New – Teachers were asked to identify one area that they would like to try that is NEW to them.
Putting the activity into motion …
After working individually, the teachers shared their 3-2-1 in small groups. These discussions were very rich with reflection, connections, and new ideas. Then we shared out in a large group for everyone to hear. We learned so much about the year. Here are some of the insights:
Teachers flipping their instruction
Using data to improve writing
Focus on the Whole Child
Classroom behavioral plans
Professional Learning Communities
First aide supplies for recess
New components to reading series
My reflection …
After the 3-2-1 workshop, I challenged the staff to try this with the students. I was pleasantly surprised how the teachers then used this with the students. They had the students reflect on their class using the 3-2-1. This feedback will help the teachers as they plan for next year! One grade level even tweaked the activity, and had the students change the 1 new to 1 that should go. I liked that approach and if I do this again, I would like to see an area for one to go.
As the Principal, I felt this activity was very easy to implement, and the feedback from the teachers was amazing. I was amazed at all of the insights from this year. I was able to see what is working in the school and what needs to be improved. The activity gave me an opportunity to listen to teachers, and hopefully empower them to take chances to improve their learning environment.
I want to thank Kevin Parr for putting together the activity.