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.

5 Takeaways from the National SAM Conference

I recently had the opportunity to attend the 11th Annual National SAM Conference. SAM (which stands for School Administration Manager) is a process to ensure that School Leaders increase their instructional time in their schools. The program was created by Mark Shellinger who was a former teacher, principal and superintendent.

This was my second SAM Conference and I am in the second year of working with the program. I know I need to do a blog about how crucial SAMs has been to my leadership but for now I will just focus on the conference.

Here are my 5 Takeaways from the conference:

  1. SAMs is inclusive! The SAM conference is one of the only conferences that secretaries and school leaders attend together. The idea behind SAMs is to increase instructional leadership at all levels.
  2. SAMs is innovative! All of the keynote sessions were in the sand on the beach at Marco Island Marriott Resort. I can honestly say I have never imagined listening to speakers with my feet in the sand. In addition, this year at the conclusion of the conference we had a “choose your own adventure.” There were three speakers to choose from at the same time (LaVonna Roth, Willow Sweeney, and Ken Williams) and with a headset you could listen to one or toggle between the three.
  3. SAMs focuses on listening! One of the best workshops I went to was on Deep Listening by Kirstin Olson. We learned techniques to become better listeners for our students, staff, parents and community members.
  4. SAMs focuses on Professional Development! I received 6 books at the conference. Marc Shellinger made sure that we received all books from the Keynote speakers. I now have a long list of reading to do! Here are a list of the books we received: The Big Disconnect by Catherine Steiner-Adair; Successful Women Think Differently by Valorie Burton; Visual Intelligence by Amy Herman; Crucial Conversations by Joseph Grenny; 17,000 Classroom Visits Can’t Be Wrong by John Antonetti.
  5. SAMs is about networking. Throughout the conference I worked with educators from throughout the country. I met colleagues who were able to share ideas with me and challenge my thinking.

This was such an amazing conference. I am re-energized to improve my daily practice as a Principal at Lakeside Middle School. I am prepared to be a better listener and encouraged to take chances to improve my leadership!

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.

What happens when things go right?

I recently had the opportunity to hear Valorie Burton speak at the National SAM Conference. She began her talk asking the audience to reflect on this basic question that framed her discussion, “What happens when things go right?” What seems like an easy question can reveal a lot about how people look at the world. Sadly, there are so many people who would not be able to answer that question.

Burton discussed the research that points out that maintaining a positive outlook on your life can actually change your life and ensure that you would have less stress, anxiety and difficulty with change. Positive psychology will not prevent negativity in your life but rather it could help you to ground yourself as you experience difficult times in your life.

She asked two very powerful questions for us to reflect on:

  1. What do you need permission to give yourself permission to hope for?
  2. How do you define success?
  3. What happens to you when things go right?

These powerful questions can act as a guide as we experience the triggers that are prominent in our experiences. She encouraged us to stop trying to fix our weaknesses. We need to be kind to ourselves and focus on those triggers that prevent us from reacting (or over reacting) to situations. Valorie said that this way of thinking can start at any time. In fact, she said, “Today is a starting point!”

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 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. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

 

 

Celebrate Two Staff Members a Day

Photo by Jony Ariadi on Unsplash

On a recent PrincipalPLN podcast, we interviewed “Principal In Boots” Lindsy Stumphorst. As we talked about her day, the question came up about balancing tasks. Lindsy shared a great idea that I am definitely implementing and maybe this could be something for other administrators to try.

Lindsy developed a system of recognition cards with her secretary to celebrate teachers throughout their building. He secretary keeps track of the list to ensure that everyone is included. When Lindsy comes into her office every morning there are two cards with teacher names. Lindsy’s sole mission for the day (on top of all of the tasks she already has) is to fill out the cards and get them to the teachers.

Sounds easy enough, right? Well, in order for the system to work, the Principal must be cued in on how and what the teachers are doing. It forces the Principal to focus on positive contribution of the staff and to spread out their time. We have about 90 days left in the school year so if I can implement this, I will be able to celebrate 180 (of course there will be duplicates) staff members by the end of the year.

I will be sure to check back in and let you know how I do. Thanks for reading!

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 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. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

My #oneword 2018 Gratitude

Spike Cook, Millville, NJ 

I am not setting any New Year’s Resolutions. I haven’t joined anything new, or set out on any new adventures. In year’s past, I have set and achieved New Year’s Resolutions (Blog 365 Challenge, ran a marathon, and lost weight). I have also set and failed to follow through on countless New Year’s Resolutions (way too many to write about).

This year I saw something interesting on Twitter… What is your “one word” for 2018? I thought that sounded interesting and achievable. So, I chose the word GRATITUDE. If you have been reading my blog, you will have seen a lot about gratitude. It really has become something essential in my life. No matter how difficult or trying the day has been I can always find at least 5 things that were good, positive, worthwhile, and even excellent. Why not continue with it?

Thank you for reading this!

When you get a chance…. tell me something good!

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 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. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

How to Spread Gratitude at Your School

Spike Cook, Millville, NJ

Over the last year and a half I have been dedicated to practicing gratitude every day. Yes, every day when I wake up I reflect on the previous day and identify 5 things that I am grateful for.  After identifying these 5 things, I incorporate them into my daily meditation. In short, this daily practice of gratitude has transformed my life. No matter how tough my day was, I know that I can find at least 5 things to be grateful for. Based on this transformative work, I began to initiate activities at my school to spread this unique gift.

My first step in spreading gratitude at my school was sharing my personal journey with the staff. This wasn’t easy as I had to display vulnerability in front of 150 educators. Fortunately, best selling author and Ted Speaker Brene Brown gave me the courage to be vulnerable as she said, “Staying vulnerable is a risk we take if we want to experience connection.”

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

It got easier to share my experience the more I allowed myself to be vulnerable. In staff meetings, I continued to discuss my gratitude journey. I talked about how it transformed my perspective on life. In addition, I worked closely with the administrative team and we spent time in each meeting discussing our own gratitude. Encouraged by the positive feedback from the staff and administrators, I sought ideas on how to spread the gratitude throughout the school.

Based on the feedback from the staff, we implemented a Week of Gratitude at Lakeside Middle School in the fall of 2016. During this week, we delivered blank thank you cards to staff and encouraged them to thank someone, anyone. In addition, we gave blank paper to students and also encouraged them to write thank you cards to each other or staff. What may have seemed like a benign activity turned into an incredible buzz throughout the school. Teachers started spreading gratitude on their own by buying each other flowers, sending anonymous gifts and candy to each other.  

Over the summer I reflected on the impact of gratitude. It was clear from the positive feedback that gratitude was having an impact on the school. I could tell because of the conversations with staff at the end of the year and how they cherished the way their colleagues were treating each other. Some of these conversations brought me to tears. Who would have thought that seemingly random acts of gratitude could have such a profound impact?

I decided to take the gratitude to the next level. At the first meeting of the 2016-17 school year I distributed blank journals to each staff member. I talked with the staff about how they could use these journals to write 3-5 things each day that they are thankful for at Lakeside Middle School. I modeled how I use the gratitude journal personally and professionally. I shared that sometimes it is easier to find things outside of the school to be grateful for so that I was going to start a specific gratitude journal for the school.

After distributing the journals, I asked the staff to write their gratitude list individually and then share it with their small groups. I then asked for volunteers to share with the entire group. One teacher shared that she was grateful for her colleagues because her personal life had become very challenging. She then connected it to the experience that some of our students have and how important it is for us to create a safe space for them. This sharing brought tears and validation that we were going in the right direction with gratitude.

The teacher planted a seed with me as she shared her connection with the students. Prior to the Thanksgiving break, I decided to create a process for staff to share their gratitude with the students and families.

Here is what I did

  • Developed a Google Form for the staff with areas for them to identify about 3 students, why they are grateful for them, and the staff name.
  • Sent out the Google Form to the staff and gave about 2 weeks for them to fill it out.
  • I wrote a general letter for the parents and left space to add in the individualized information from the form.
  • Over a weekend, I copied each student name, staff name and gratitude into the letters. I would recommend doing a mail merge. 
  • We then printed out and mailed 140 letters the week before Thanksgiving.

Here is what I learned

  • The impact of these letters was incredible. Staff reported that parents sent them thank you cards, called, emailed or even pulled them aside at an event to personally thank them for the kind words. Many parents took pictures of the letters and posted them on Social Media, and their friends left positive comments on the activity.
  • The staff received the activity very well and were appreciative that I provided the platform.
  • As the principal, I learned about the identified students through reading the comments about them from their teachers.
  • I decided that this needs to be done several times throughout the year.

Since the gratitude letters had such an impact on the school climate and culture, I integrated this into my professional goal for the school year to hold myself more accountable. I then prepared another Google Doc for December. This time I allowed the teachers to nominate as many students as they wished and they responded. We sent 360 individual letters to students the week before the Holiday Break.

Blessed with another surprise in the mailbox today! The Staff at Lakeside Middle School nominated a total of 326 students they were grateful for. My daughter was nominated for her many fist bumps and positivity! Thank you to Mr. Williams for the nomination and to Dr. Cook for the awesome surprise. Michelle Asselta, Parent

One day as I was walking out to my afternoon duty, a student pulled me aside to talk about the gratitude letters. He said he was very thankful that we sent out these to the students but then he asked me this question, “How can the students do this for the teachers? Is there a way you could create a Google Doc so the students could tell the teachers why they are grateful for them?” I thanked him and told him that would be the next step in the spreading gratitude throughout the school!

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 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.  Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

My Top 6 Posts from 2017

Spike Cook, Millville, NJ

Blogging provides an excellent resource for reflection. As I thought about this year, I was able to look through my posts (on this blog and on other sites) and see how much I have grown. Over the course of the year, I learned a lot about balance and the power of gratitude. As I look into 2018, I am poised to continue to help other educators through my writing, podcasts and presentations.

Here are my Top 6 posts/moments that I am grateful to have experienced. Please click on the links to help me travel through 2017!

Lakeside STEM Day (Written by Joseph Smith)
This was such a great experience for our students at Lakeside Middle School to see the many offerings at Millville High School.
Innovate My School is an amazing resource for educators. The site is based in the UK but has a global reach because of the resources provided!
We took a much needed break to work on other projects and to truly understand the work/life balance. This podcast was very fun and we decided to continue podcasting in 2018.
EdWeb.net is one of the best resources for educators through online learning. They provide relevant topics presented by practitioners who seek to make others better.
As I scanned the blog for the most clicked on post for 2017, this post on gratitude was at the top. I am very grateful for the support and it encouraged me to work on a follow up to be published very soon!
I am big fan of Solution Tree and they continue to send me excellent resources for review. From Leading to Succeeding is a book that I was able to put right into action at my school!
Thank you so much for your support of Insights Into Learning. I am looking forward to more posts in 2018.

We All Float On: My First Float

Source: Discovering Legacies

Spike Cook, Millville, NJ

One of things on my bucket list for the winter break was to do a “float.”

For those of you who have no idea what a float is or never heard of a sensory deprivation tank, here is the best description I can find:

Floating is an experience of ultimate peace and relaxation in which you spend one hour in a private, specialized tank filled with ten inches of highly-saturated Epsom salt water causing one to float completely effortlessly atop the water at near zero-gravity.” Float Haven Spa, Pitman, NJ

There are many benefits from floating and it has been around since the 1950s. Recently, Float Tanks have become popular from celebrities such as Joe Rogan and Stephen Curry who use them on a regular basis.

I wanted to give it a shot for a few reasons. First, I have never tried it and I believe in the statement, “When was the last time you tried something for the first time?” Secondly, I wanted to experience sensory deprivation in order to gauge my mindfulness practice. Lastly, I have had many people I respect in the yoga/mindfulness community highly recommend it.

My Takeaways

  • An hour isn’t enough – It does take some time to chill out once in the tank. For me this process took a while even though I was practicing my breathing.
  • You are going to bump the walls – I laid as still as I could be inevitably I gently bumped against the walls of the tank.
  • Eyes open and eyes shut – Throughout the experience I tried a few different techniques. I would keep my eyes shut for some time and open as well. Since there is literally no light in the space, it probably doesn’t matter.
  • It is salty – I could feel the salt crystals on my face and chest as I floated. This salt is what keeps you buoyant and provides restorative healing. After the float you can wash this salt off but I was instructed to let it stay. I sort of feel like I just got back from the beach.
  • One session isn’t enough – I plan to go back at least two more times. Now I have a better grasp on the experience, I feel there are things I can do in preparation to ensure that I get the most out of the float.
  • Visuals – It is dark, very dark! 

Overall, I had a very positive experience during my first float. I wasn’t able to solve all the world’s problems, or invent a new form of technology, but I was able to get an hour of peace, disconnected from the world with literally nothing holding me back.

Want to learn more about Float Tanks? Check out these Frequently Asked Questions courtesy of Float Haven in Pitman, NJ.

 

Book Review – Transforming School Culture

Source: Amazon.com

Transforming School Culture: How to Overcome Staff Division, Anthony Muhammad

Book Review – Spike C. Cook, Millville, NJ

Are you looking for a leadership book on school culture that integrates data, practical advice, and strategies tailored to your school’s unique needs? Honestly, anyone who is an administrator in a school is looking for such a book! In Transforming School Culture (2nd Edition) Anthony Muhammad provides a road map for aspiring and current school leaders who are interested in addressing the daunting task of improving school culture. For this new edition, Dr. Muhammad has updated the research, added a frequently asked questions section, and added further guidance to equip leaders to take their school’s culture to the next level.

Throughout the first section of the book, Dr. Muhammad provides an overview of the current reform movement as well as a detailed analysis on the four types of educators he found in schools while doing his research. The four types of educators and their goals:

  • The Believers are focused on the core values of healthy school culture, feel that all students can learn and that they have a direct impact on student success.
  • The Tweeners are new to the culture and still experiencing the honeymoon phase.
  • The Survivors are a small group of educators who are burned out, overwhelmed and struggle to survive.
  • The Fundamentalists are vehemently opposed to change and through political power become a major obstacle in reform. They are usually against the Believers.

Source: slideshare.net Linda Hopping

As you read the brief overview of the four types of educators, did these descriptions make you think about your faculty? If you had to group your faculty into the four groups, how long do you think it would take? According to Dr. Muhammad, identifying these four groups is essential in understanding the real culture of the school. The next step, and perhaps more difficult, is to take action so that you can transform your school culture. Through this work, you will learn how (and why) to transform the culture by developing the following:

  1. Systemic focus on learning
  2. Celebrating the success of all stakeholders
  3. Creating system of support for Tweeners
  4. Removing the walls of isolation
  5. Providing intensive professional development
  6. Implementing skillful leadership and focus

These six steps may appear more difficult to implement because of the overwhelming tasks required to operate a school with the demands of the 21st century. Have no fear because Dr. Muhammad provides practical, easy to implement exercises to support you on your journey. All you will need to do is put the framework provided into practice!

In the final chapter, Dr. Muhammad includes the questions he has encountered from the emails, messages as well as the in-person discussions since the release of the first edition in 2009. These questions will resonate with you as you may have already penciled them into margins as you read the book. For instance, one of the questions could spark a much needed conversation on the four types of educators such as what if a Fundamentalist believes that he or she is a Believer? I can honestly say I thought the same thing!

In conclusion, Transforming School Culture: How to Overcome Staff Division 2nd Edition will be worth the read. Dr. Muhammad understands school culture not only as a researcher and author, but also as a former teacher, vice principal, and principal. He led a staff transformational process in a high poverty, high minority school with a toxic, low expectation school into a nationally recognized school and earned a Principal of the Year in Michigan for his efforts.

 

Spike C. Cook, Ed.D. is Principal of Lakeside Middle School in Millville, NJ. Connect with him via twitter @drspikecook or check out his personal blog drspikecook.com.

What to do over Holiday Break?

Source: elephantjournal.com

The Holiday Break is upon us. There are many educators who thought about this time for the past week, month or maybe even since September, but no matter how long you have prepared yourself it is finally here. There seems to be a lot of preparation and planning about what to do over the break.

 

I saw this quote on the Elephant Journal website and I thought I would share. I think it is powerful…

Stop waiting for Friday, for summer, for someone to fall in love with you, for life. Happiness is achieved when you stop waiting for it and make the most of the moment you are in now. Elephant Journal

I am grateful that I saw that quote during the most stressful time for schools (which is clearly the week before Winter Break). The quote made me stop and think about the present moment. Most of us are always wishing for that time or person who will make it all better as opposed to seeing the beauty in the now.

This Winter Break I plan to do the following (not necessarily in any order) and these plans are not definite.

  • Read Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness. I am intrigued by her work on vulnerability.
  • Float. I’ve heard about Float Tanks/Sensory Deprivation tanks for some time. Basically, you get into a tank for a few hours and become suspended in your thoughts, intentions without any distractions.
  • Hike. I love to get out into the woods and walk. Southern New Jersey is somewhat mild in the winters and there are plenty of trails near where I live.
  • Couch time. Although I sometimes struggle with couch time, I feel it is essential practice to a balanced life. Whether I am watching a documentary, sporting event, movie or binge watching a television series, I find solitude on the couch!
  • Write. I am working on a few things and I could see myself spending time in a coffee shop typing away at something or nothing!
  • Friends. I love hanging out with friends. There is always an adventure on the horizon.
  • Podcast. We recorded a podcast this morning on the PrincipalPLN. Our goal is to get one more in before the new year.

So now is the time for the break. How are you going to spend your break?