mccoyderek

Its a Culture Builder, Not a Selfie Stick

We had our #OpenHouse Thursday night and it was a rousing success! After some heavy promotion and incredible preparation from an incredible staff [#GoBulldogs], we enjoyed a packed gymnasium, full halls and lots of smiles!

We had two separate events – one special open house for 6th graders and a separate one for 7th/8th. Both the same night, just 30 minutes apart. This allowed us to spend time with our 6th graders and introduce our teachers, support staff, share some essential logistics and give them the ‘run of the school’ minus 7th and 8th graders who already have working knowledge of the school but just have to get to know teachers, transportation changes and more importantly catch up with old friends.

Our night was a great success.

School Leader’s Tool for Culture Building

Most of you know that my last staff, #broncopride, gave a me a selfie stick as a going away present. It has without a doubt been a lot of fun at lot different events. It helps start conversations, make introductions and create some great memories. When I was given the selfie stick at the faculty meeting I took 40+ pictures in an hour, the next day in school I took 50+. At these open houses, I effortlessly took 110+ pictures. I’ve loaded some of them below.

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There are a couple of easy takeaways from the draw of the selfie stick in the principal’s/school leader’s hand:

  1. People believe in the approachability;
  2. The selfie stick says its ok to trust me;
  3. We draw together to be a part of something bigger [Relationships, relationships, relationships];
  4. Fun opens the door but the conversations keeps them there.

Culture Building

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that you can never take culture for granted, it can surface in the most obscure places. That night, I saw new parents and students, returning parents and students, faculty and staff take time to be a part of something bigger and happy! This was a great time because we all were a part of happy event we will remember for a while to come.

Its important to start the year off on a good note and let people know the culture of the school, the values of the leadership both involve transparency, working together and creating a welcoming environment.

So as I move forward with the school year, I’m not just having fun, I’m Who's this guybuilding a positive school culture. I’m not just taking pictures, I’m drawing my community together and letting them know that I’ll be there for them as their proud principal.

[ok, it is a lot of fun]

Making a Difference in Our Communities

This past month, we had the opportunity to participate in another great community event that really highlights the best of working in schools and serving kids.

When I first arrived at Spring Lake Middle, I was told about several strong, impactful, long standing community relationships that have made a difference in our school and community at large. For example, we have a great relationship with our Boys & Girls Club.We have a mutually beneficial agreement with them in sharing resources and supporting students. We can’t name all the ways this partnership benefits kids and families in our community.

Saturday, December 14th, Spring Lake Middle proudly hosted the T.I.G.A.P.A. Food Drive. We partner with T.I.G.A.P.A. to commit to being a service to our community. This partnership has proven to be an impactful vehicle in helping the needy families in our community.

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I was proud and overwhelmed to see the community support we  received that day. One reason we do this is to give our students an opportunity to put in some community service hours. We had several students show up to gladly help with boxing up food packages and carrying out heavy boxes to family cars. Planning ahead, this is an opportunity for our school to promote a bigger community service opportunity for more students. We also received organizational support from several local groups, organized largely by our newly elected Alderman James O’Garra. Without his help and dedication, we would not have been able to help feed over 300 families that day.

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These events are important for educators. Being a part of this strong sense of community helps recharge battery and provide new focus for us. We normally plan for outside operations for these food drives and the community came out expected that. But given this day was cold with steady drizzle – just enough to make standing outside for a couple of hours a very miserable day. With a  simple decision to move the event inside and making more restrooms and seating available, we had more grateful people open up conversations about the community, families and what they can do serve our school. Support will look different for everyone but at the end we welcome all support!

I’m thankful for T.I.G.A.P.A. and this inspirational opportunity. School leaders at all levels can develop a pretty narrow view of what serving the community is – this is a great way to create needed new looks.

Awards Assembly/PBIS Kick Off

Friday, Feb 2nd our school took the opportunity to take a great practice and make it better.

Every nine weeks, at the end of the reporting period, we have hosted a grade level awards assembly recognizing student achievements. We invite parents and community members to the ceremony. Its been a great connecting piece and has always been a great one of the better ‘feel good’ events of the year.

Innovation

From group discussion and conversations and dreaming, we came up with notion to change this from small, separate celebrations to a big school wide recognition. After some mass reorganization and planning, we put this new plan in motion and enjoyed a tremendous celebration.

The crowd was entertained by our orchestra playing as the crowd entered along with performances by the band and chorus

The Chorus starts off by sharing what they believe..,

Chorus gets them standing

One change we were particularly proud of the addition of guest speaker Val Jones. Ms Jones is a local radio celebrity, speaker and motivator. Her topic fit squarely with our theme of achievement and students striving to get better. Below is a clip of her getting the crowd motivated by showing pride in your name. Val had a great, inspiring message for students and parents alike.

From this great experience we have really learned the value of ceasing every possible moment to connect with, share and educate students and parents alike. This was a great day of smiles and excitement for every person who entered our doors on this day.

Skyping In – #GRESA Conference

images   Last week, I had the great opportunity to Skype into the conference with a good friend of mine from Georgia. Rod Smith, @IAmRodSmith, is the Director of Technology and Communications for Griffin-Spalding Schools. I contacted him earlier to get his help with an iPad technical issue [he is an iPad guru]. We arranged for me to Skype into his session for school leaders using social media for their own growth and for connecting with their stakeholders.

A main goal was for this group to hear from a current school administrator who using social media. We previously discussed the sharing on the following points:

  • The right tools make the difference – Tools like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck make the difference, whether its scheduling tweets, organizing information, participating in chats or any number other features
  • Connecting with stakeholders – I created this information sheet [Stay Informed@SLMS] at my last school and modified to fit my current district’s social media policies. I attribute this sheet to Communicating and Connecting with Social Media
  • My changed perspective – I am a different educator today than when I first joined Twitter and began diving into social media four years ago. This journey is about lifelong learning and shifting paradigms
  • Participating in chats – I spoke to the group about my active participation/facilitation in two chats:
    • #edfocus – This began as a book study chat and has evolved to include an implementation portion. The main facilitators include @mrbernia and @normandin
    • #ncadmin was started with fellow NC administrator @CSmithGoBlue. We want a forum to keep NC administrators current on new trends but are very fortunate to be joined by administrators across our nation.
    • I encouraged all school leaders present in the session to either join an existing chat or create one specific for their circle and growth

This was a great experience! I’m thankful for the opportunity to share some impactful experiences I’ve had that could help others benefit from diving into social media. We should all can do what we can to help other educators change their perspectives on what 21st century professional development and growth means.

Integrating Google into Our Admin Function

personal   One of the major shifts we’re making this year is our use of Google. Cumberland County Schools is a Google district was already a Google district before I joined July 2012. We have most of our functions tied into the Google Cloud or at least available in the cloud. I’ve only been with Cumberland, @cumberlandcosch, since July 2012 but I’ve been a fan of Google since I’ve started shifting my thinking and practice. You can see obvious efforts from county administrators make to utilize Google tools whenever possible to save on meetings and phone calls by using some tools like the chat, surveys and forms.

   Specific for our school, we’ve had to make efforts to replace previous practices with Google tools. I haven’t approached this with a specific plan [which of course in hindsight would have helped the school more] but in my meeting groups, we have transitioned to some of these tools for production and archiving purposing. Our weekly Leadership meeting is great example. Every Monday, the school’s leadership team meets to discuss the upcoming week, set some expectations and plan for upcoming conversations and events. We created a meeting template in a shared folder on Drive and post our meeting notes including details discussed and persons responsible for activities. It is taking some time but the norm is slowly and steadily being built that Google is a part of this process.

   Some of the benefits of integrating Google into our practices that I envision realizing include:

  • Making the planning efforts of some of our groups more transparent
  • Archiving talks and plans
  • Flattening the administrative approach
  • Creating a paperless environment
  • Allowing the staff to participate in a collaborative process we need to create for students 

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 Talks on Google+

 I‘m proud to share that my admin team has began to use Google+ as a tools for pre-planning and communication. I don’t have to share with you all that there isn’t enough time of the day to get it all done. Getting the team together for a quick 15 minute meeting over the weekend to discuss an important item we missed or a last minute detail makes a huge difference in being prepared for the upcoming week. We stay in touch regularly with email and text messages but the planning platform of video and embedded Drive form when needed make a huge difference. 10 minutes of a Google+ chat eliminates 30+ minutes of text messages/emails.

20/20

   I‘m fortunate that there are already experts in the building who can help with the training and understanding. We will begin developing and rolling out a plan specific to what types of information we will put on school wide and department drives and discuss the management of our plan. Getting organized from the beginning of the year will help with our school’s functions, efficiency and support to teachers.

The Balance

‘Do we focus on fine tuning past traditions or work implementing new innovations/processes?’

This was the sum up of a conversation I was part of with my assistant principals.  As a fairly new administrative team we have pretty frequent conversations covering a variety of topics. My two APs are both in their second year and highly competent, productive administrators. They were already in place when I started. I’m very fortunate that we have parallel priorities and we all share the same top priorities: high expectations for staff and students and a focus on instruction that will be relevant and beneficial for all students.

Benefits of fine tuning past traditions
Part of our conversation focused on some recent conversations we all have had with several staff members about ‘how things have been done.’ We all can relate to these talks. As school leaders, we have to critically evaluate the value of maintaining a practice or determine is it time to abandon. With this we run the risk of alienating some stakeholders, staff, community, students, who are very invested in a tradition. On the flip side, it is a great opportunity to solidify relations with stakeholders and show everyone the value we, as school leaders, place in their feelings, concerns and past work.

Diving into innovation
Particular to this conversation, the topic of innovation not only involved instructional practice but how  methods in internal processes are conducted. This includes weekly newsletters, staff call outs, lesson plan submission and a several other school functions. Changing our approach to these things will definitely be serious adjustments for several stakeholders but it makes what we do relevant. There is inherent value in bringing practices and operations into the 21st century.

My sum up involved one of my favorite takeaways from Jim Collins. I think school leaders have to maintain a widened perspective. The ‘either/or’ approach to solutions is where we marginalize stakeholders and minimize opportunities for improvement. The ‘and’ solution allows us to respect the work that has been done and needs doing. The thing that makes us uncomfortable about the ‘and’ solution is that we can’t be formulaic about implementing it. For this situation, how do we know when to put tradition above innovation or vice versa? Knowing ourselves [as leaders], knowing our schools and staff and community all play apart. Being new to my building, I try to wrap in different viewpoints that I think have unique and significant value add potential.

Balancing the approach is what helps schools move forward and ensuring we are really serving kids. It truly is my desire that everyone believe I am vested in moving forward and honoring tradition.

Connecting with Community – 21st Resources

I’ve been an administrator in several districts. One of the many resources used to connect and share information with our parents and community is the call out system. Call out systems are standard protocol in school districts. Its a great way to make sure our stakeholders are kept current on school happenings using a popular medium.

My current district uses a connection system called ParentLink. I expected this to be like most of the other systems I’ve used before with a lot of similar features. During the training, that’s how it started to look but there is one great feature ParentLink has that has made a world of difference in use and implementation – an app!

I use this app on my Droid phone and iPad regularly. The app makes a world of difference. For other call out systems, I’ve had to use a computer in tandem with a phone to send a message out. These were simple combinations – use the computer to select the delivery time and audience and the phone to record the message. The app makes is this a lot easier by making this a one stop shop. From my phone or iPad, I can record a message, select and audience and delivery time. The interface makes this an easy process as well.

Digital Divide Experience

I love this app! Compared to earlier systems, the apps really make our job easy. I communicate this to my APs regularly. Its funny to see our different approaches and enthusiasm about this tool though. They are both beginning their great careers and haven’t had years of experience with the previous systems so their appreciation of these new features is not as full as mine. To them, its just another app or tool they have on their phone or iPad to use. They have learned it and know how to use it and make call outs when they have to.  I almost view this as a liberating tool and enjoy the new freedom it provides.

Despite our different enthusiasm levels, its exciting to see that companies are responsive to the needs of school systems.  I applaud efforts companies make to be provide 21st solutions and resources to reflect changing needs. And .., its fun to play with apps ; )