How important is it to you..?

I took this picture last week in our media center. As I began to ask questions about what was going on, I was inspired to share some thoughts in this post.

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How important is it to you to have things happen a certain way?

In the picture above, this student is not in trouble. He simply asked that for today, for that lesson, he sit by himself to work on his own. The teacher agreed knowing that he would miss some of the direct instruction that set up the lesson. I applaud her insight for valuing a perceived need of this student over the routine of making sure everyone hears her talking points. This student completed the work just fine independently and what he needed, he got later from the teacher.

This scene made me think of instances when I’ve seen practices that are more about tradition or habit than an opportunity to flex to accommodate student needs or desires to engage at a higher level. These are some recent pics I’ve taken that have sparked some questions.
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How important are desks, rows to you?

How important is it that students sit in chairs/desks?

I love walking into this teachers classroom. When you walk in, kids are getting that work!! Its about what kids need to do and what they need to know and they understand those expectations. I like the two kids sitting under the whiteboard but I love how comfortable the young man is under the desk. He is in his own world doing what needs to be done. Teacher preference vs getting that work – #nobrainer!

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How important is it that students sit?

How important is it that desks look like desks?

 

This picture came from the West Rowan High School on a recent visit. This is during their flexible period where students can choose where they work and what they will work on. I love that students who need to stand here can stand and get it done. But I love more that we are repurposing furniture. Instead of something pricey out of a catalog, we use what we have and in this case some redesigned old bookshelves [with the help of our cabinet class]. I will take functional and comfortable any day of the week.

Our school had a recent visit from Melanie Farrell and Kyle ‘My Info’ Hamstra. I shared a lot of the great things our teachers are doing including their building some collaborative work spaces for our students. Melanie shared a personal frustration in that her son’s room at home has a table that allows him to stand and do his work but at school, he is forced to sit all day, taking him out of his work comfort zone. When I think of the adults in my building that have to stand or get out of their seats after several minutes, I cringe for students who have the expectation to sit for long periods of time.

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Grading

I have had to challenge my own personal thinking/philosophy on this one.

I’ve always prided myself on the fact that I have been very flexible with my grading policy as a classroom teacher. Every year in the classroom, I’ve told students and parents that if you turn it into me at the end of the quarter I will change any grade. While that was a good start, I didn’t focus enough on the learning. ‘Why were you so late turning that in?’, ‘Its been a long time, do you need some additional help now?’

Because my philosophy has evolved over the years I do ask my teachers is what they’re doing about the grade or about the learning outcomes that have been set? Does the grading policy get in they way of kids true learning potentials?

imagesPlease share your some of your challenge points below. Let’s keep the conversation moving.

#bethatteacher

 

 

 

 

Be That Teacher

0050ec171fb4eff4365f729391c9ab38Teaching is hard.

Change is hard.

We regularly ask teachers to make difficult adjustments to their practices. Change talks come from all levels, central office, building administrators and from the teachers themselves. If we are going to commit to relevant and rigorous learning, we have to commit to real, regular and honest conversations with ourselves, and our groups, about what we are doing in our schools, what things need to look and be like, and then work we need to engage in to get there. Without these talks and commitment, we won’t realize changes in:

  • implementing teaching practices to get students to communicate, collaborate, think critically and creatively;
  • making sure students are future ready, whether it be college or a career;
  • changing not only how we teach, but how we think and FEEL about what teaching is and should be;
  • using different mediums or approaches, sometimes that challenge us personally and professionally, to reach students
  • taking deliberate steps to meet the individual needs of every student in every class.

I recently had a conversation with some of our teachers about the difficulties we are facing in our school. As with any school, a new leader brings some new viewpoints and practices in how things are done. But it doesn’t matter if these innovations are brought in from the administration or the central office or from a strong teacher leader – changes have to be made to keep learning the priority. Reflection, new learning goals and a focus on student learning means change is inevitable.

Change is hard. And if that difficulty isn’t managed or monitored or addressed carefully frustration, resentment and feelings of hopelessness can overwhelm everyone. These feelings can cause arguments or conflicts to start between different parties. We can get caught up in making sure our point is heard or that we win a disagreement. If not handled appropriately, while battles are fought, students lose out.

0a83c260d3084c6a58067328d5eab5a0Our recent talk was about how some of the recent changes in our school was affecting everyone. I wanted to convey two big points with the staff. First, I wanted to acknowledge that I know change is hard. Change is particularly difficult for educators because we invest so much, personally and professionally, into creating learning experiences for students and our colleagues that when we find something successful we want to protect and guard it. Every person wants to build something that is good and valuable. These kinds of investments are significant and when we are successful in creating a great activity or lesson to share or design great presentations or trainings for our colleagues, we want to protect it – after all it is great and we are proud. The hard part, especially for teachers, is when we have created lessons or activities that were engaging at some point but have to be changed or modified to fit the needs of different learners or environments or times. Because of investments in time, emotion and sweat, it can be hard to let. These factors make change hard. They have to be respected and heard.

#BeThatTeacher

The second part of my message was a call to the teachers in our great school to rise to the challenge. Our school is great school because we have committed teachers who are determined to make a difference. You can’t have one without the other. They do many things that unseen to make sure students are successful and thriving. Its inspiring to see our teachers daily trying to reach students, personally and academically, and push them to grow and improve, if only just a little, from the previous day. And as they push kids, we have to push ourselves as well.

Be That Teacher who:

  • builds a great activity with a teammate and later asks, how can we improve next time?;
  • acknowledges the frustration, comes into the principal’s office to vent, hugs it out and leave with a plan to do a little better;
  • doesn’t see it as a failure, but sees it as a journey;
  • is learning a new thing this week or month or year;
  • chooses not to hear a criticism but an opportunity to grow;
  • doesn’t accept a 0 or 50 or 100, but looks thinks, ‘Do my kids get it?’;
  • isn’t afraid to bring a good plan to the team and make it better;

[Some of these bullet points weren’t part of my talk but as I write this, I reflect on conversations I’ve had with teachers over the years in different schools and with members in my PLN.]

In one of the opening chapters of Mindset, Carol Dweck writes about athletes who have thrived in competitive environments where they were often outclassed. At the end, they were better for it because it forced them to develop an attitude to keep pushing and moving forward. Its not about the win, its about the struggle – that’s where the victory comes.

#bethatteacher is about change, not for the sake of change, but change to give kids what they need for their future. Its about being happy enough with ourselves to accept that we have to keep working at what we are doing for our classrooms, schools and students.

Stay motivated.

Get inspired

#bethatteacher

NC Distinguished Leadership in Practice for Digital Learning Address

Last week, it had the privilege and honor of being invited to the final meeting and end of year banquet of the first cohort of the NC Distinguished Leadership in Practice for Digital Learning [NCDLPDL]. This cohort and event was organized by the NC Principal and Assistant Principals Association [NCPAPA]. The goal of NCDLPDL is to provide principals with a skills boost in ‘best practices for leading a successful digital transformation.’ Partnered with the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation [an innovation lab and playground dedicated to helping NC schools], this has been a year long blended learning experience providing the principals with the best voices and trainers in this transformative journey.

NCPAPA Executive Director, Dr Shirley Prince, was gracious enough to invite me and my wife to their end of year banquet to give the closing address. The audience was comprised of digital leaders, all at different experience levels. My talk was crafted to share some of my experiences as well as some key focus points that we should have to

  • Our focus is on student learning and achievement – 1:1’s, computer labs, devices are all tools to make the learning relevant and engaging
  • Complacency can easily lead to obsolescence. We can’t be afraid to innovate;
  • We have to  be responsive to our new learners. Access has changed how they think and learn;
  • We have to be drivers and supporters, lead conversations from above and below;
  • Develop BHAGs for your school, staff, students and yourself;
  • Connect and grow with your PLN!

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I applaud NCPAPA for developing these DLPDL cohorts to grow the digital leaders in North Carolina. Its great to see a statewide organization take the initiative and head up a program that will support paradigm and skills shifts in school leaders. If we want to see the changes, we have to start leading the conversations and build a vision for what it looks like! This is a strong proactive initiative to build the leaders our learners and teachers and schools need.

Thanks to Shirley Prince, Emily Doyle, @NCPAPA, and the @FridayInstitute for this incredible opportunity! Thanks for this incredible opportunity.

Digital Tools as Difference Makers – Your Blog

I’ve had some recent conversations with some of my PLN members about how digital tools are helping me make a difference in my practice. Its always an honor to share some aspects of what I do with others. Its gives me a great sense of community to engage in these real, share conversations but I also benefit from these opportunities to share because they give me the opportunity to reflect on not only what I am doing but some of the other aspects these tools bring to my administrative function.

One conversation this week was about blogging. I was sharing my personal journey as a blogger with a principal here in NC, a newly connected learner and [hopefully after our conversation] a prospective blogger. I shared with him my need to overcome my hangups about writing to get to the real need and goal for my blog – to be a resource to my teachers and school. I am not a prolific blogger like many of my PLN but I do rely on my blog for several critical reasons.

Voice & Vision

We all have conversations with teachers and community members about what we are trying to do in our classrooms and school to have a positive effect on learning and teaching – this is an ongoing function of school leaders in and out of the classroom. So between and after conversations with our stakeholders what serves as a placeholder for the conversations we have? What can serve as the place to go to get a question answered as far as what is this principal/teacher/educator trying to accomplish? The blog is a great tool to not only share your thoughts but to paint a very clear picture of what your organization is about, what the goals are and where we are headed.

For several years I had a personal blog where I recorded experiences and thoughts about what I was thinking and doing to make a difference. Earlier this year at the @NASSP conference, I had a chance to meet Dwight Carter @Dwight_Carter, 2013 Digital Principal of the Year. One of the great conversations we had was on blogging, specifically how he not only maintains his personal blog Mr Carter’s Office, but also his weekly blog for his school and staff filled with announcements and resources and a blog to keep his community informed about what is going on. Hearing and seeing this made me rethink my communication efforts. I always ask myself what else can I do help my teacher and staff and this was a small consideration. What a great way to celebrate, inform, inspire and lead groups!

My NC colleague shared how he creates weekly and biweekly newsletters. With this transition, he will be able to maximize on the archiving and search features of the blog – his staff and community will be simple searches away from accessing and re-accessing difference making information.

Resources

I shared my new school blog in our discussion and what drew the most conversation was the resource section. In every blog, after our celebration and upcoming events, I make sure to share resources that I have gathered from my PLN over the week that I think will make a difference with our instructional goals. These are mix of blogs, articles, infographics – anything that reinforces recent conversations and past and future trainings we have had in the school. This is section has helped reduce the number of emails I send out to my staff through the week [I’ve been told I may have a problem]. One of the best examples of this that I’ve seen is from Jason Markey @JasonMMarkey, 2014 Digital Principal of the Year. Check out his central hub site – from here he links to all the resources and communication blogs for his school. From here you can clearly see a focus on keeping everyone informed and keeping everyone resourced.

The different aspects and benefits of a good blog can’t be spoken of enough. It starts with intention – making a difference. I am fortunate to have some great examples in my PLN that I can continuously learn from and share with others in their journey.

Its About Learning AND Sharing

A recent Twitter post inspired a great exchange between me Jennifer Marten,@jenmarten. I wanted to share this conversation because it epitomizes what effective educators are about. Effective educators should be about learning new information that will make a difference in their schools or classrooms and making sure that students in classrooms reap benefits as well. That’s the essence of a PLN – helping other educators help their students.

 

 

 

 

Thanks Jennifer for this great conversation!

Take a moment to reflect on what your PLN means to you or better yet, what you want your PLN to do for you! Now’s the time to engage with the difference makers who will help the learning in your classroom! We are all committed to growing students!

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.

Education 3.0

There have been some great posts published recently outlining the shift from Education 1.0  to Education 3.0. Its not all about resources and tools. 1.0 to 3.0 is about a commitment to better practices, exploration, change and being willing to go back to formula in designing how we teach to affect student learning outcomes.

 These two posts do a great job showing the shift:

What Is Web 3.0 And How Will It Change Education? , 2013

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Continue reading “Education 3.0”