mccoyderek

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.

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   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 Grey Area [Creating Options]

Several years ago, an assistant superintendent used this graphic in a talk with a room full of assistant principals to help explain some possible  motivations and actions in stakeholder decision making:

Her talk and this image made such an impression on me, I remember it vividly 10 years later.

The focus here is the grey area. The grey area represents many things. Pertinent to this talk, it represents the objectivity, point of view, and willingness of the involved parties to negotiate. When there is an issue on the table, school leaders are dealing with students and parents who want [or need] a particular outcome and that is the focus of the conversation. What can I do or say to get a particular outcome? What will it take to change from this outcome to another outcome?

The hierarchy in the graphic shows how perspectives typically change as the conversation moves up the ladder. Again, this is generally speaking. During this trainig, we were being instructed on a need to be willing to consider multiple options and not be limited to a few options. Increasing the number of options helps us with resolving conflicts.

Using this model can help us in our efforts in leading change in our schools. Change is difficult for some of our stakeholders and a ‘black/white’ viewpoint often accompanies a hesitance to change. Consider a recent conversation you may have had with a teacher about the need to change or adopt a different approach. Those conversations often involve not being able to see options or neither party really considering/creating different options. We’re more rigid when there are only two options ahead of us.

The school leader who can help the stakeholder realize that there are more options available that may be seen or discussed will be more successful in implementing change because he/she will do a better job with improving buy-in. We increase our buy-in and help build our vision more when others feel empowered to create choices.

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 ; )

Edmodo for our Faculty Meeting

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This week a last minute inspiration led to a unique learning and sharing opportunity.

One of the topics I was finalizing for our Tuesday meeting was our discussion on Edmodo. Our district is an Edmodo district, we utilize it completely, from teacher-student instructional purposes, to communication efforts to curriculum planning and development.  My plan was to go over a couple of points:

  • making sure we are connected to Edmodo;
  • utilizing digital instrucitonal and curriculum benefits;
  • and connecting to our district and school curriculum departments efforts.

While planning this, I made had an inspiration/realization, ‘Why don’t I conduct the faculty meeting on Edmodo?’ What better way to let our teachers have digital learning experience and utilize the tool we need to get better at using.

I have only been using Edmodo for 3 months mainly to join groups and communities and post articles. In order to lead a discussion, I would have to utilize a lot features. My Math Coach gave me a crash course in some features. In a more perfect world, I would have thought of this and planned it out earlier. But given everything, I think we had a rich, innovative experience. For interactivity, I asked teachers to respond to posts and created pop quizzes and polls. At the end, I thanked my teachers for their participation and their understanding and patience with my experiment. They are a great group – with their participation I think we had a good learning experience.

 I didn’t realize how much fun this was going to be. I definitely plan on hosting another faculty meeting on Edmodo. Taking time to plan out the agenda for an online forum, tailored to Edmodo’s features is a learning experience everyone benefits from. This has also given me some urgency to follow through with utilizing a couple of other platforms, including flipping a meeting or two. This is a great way to break the monotony of the face-to-face and let teachers experience firsthand the importance of digitizing our efforts in reaching this digital generation.

The Enormity of It

   I had a conversation with my Director of School Support, Doris Williams, earlier this week. Doris is a educator/administrator with some great experience and insight to share from her career. She is one of four individuals who has really helped my transition to Cumberland County Schools. We have regular talks about process and plans for my school, staff, students and community. Among the many topics we talked about this week, Doris gave me a great piece to reflect on. It has stuck with me for several days, giving me need to work it out of my system through my blog.

  Doris shared a conversation she had with a past supervisor of hers. To help her really grasp the responsibility and scope of the job of the principal, he instructed her to walk through her school building either before school or after school while it was empty. His goal was to get her to see and feel the building, the grounds, the resources – everything in the building that helped support the school. Its part of our process to make the lives in our school part of our lives. Getting to know, care for, understand and help the people is what we are all about in education. This exercise is to create a different experience. As school leaders, we should know what we are responsible for – from document cameras in the classroom to the slightly bent lockers to the maintenance of the sports fields.

   When I did this, I walked away with a couple of ‘enormity realizations’:

  • Student and teacher growth depends on my know and utilizing every resource, room and inch of my building to the fullest
  • My community members who have attended my school invest pride in a different way now

   Walking the building with this in mind, won’t change your perspective 180 degrees but it will definitely give you a new appreciation or help with a realization you haven’t had before.

   I‘d encourage every school leader to do this and share your experience and realization below. Or if you have had a different event that’s inspired your own enormity realization, please share it below.