Friday, December 27, 2013

The Year in Pictures

1,201 is just a number.  I can’t decide how I feel about it.  On one hand it seems like a lot of pictures to take at school that tell the story of the amazing things happening in Cricket Country.  On the other hand, it doesn’t seem like nearly enough to articulate what happens in our schools on a daily basis.  Obviously, pictures tell stories.  The pictures and videos we take in schools hope to tell stories for those who can’t be there to experience what we see every day.  The pictures can highlight what happens, but often the message gets lost with the “you had to be there” mentality.  We hope that the pictures we take contribute to the mosaic that is Fall Creek. All 1,201 can be seen at  It was next to impossible to come up with only a few to highlight in this blog, but here goes…

The first picture is the monstrosity that is our Play Web.  It’s huge…and the kids love it.  It represents what I hope students bring to school all the time.  Be brave, aim high, and step out of your comfort zone.  When we were building the new playground, I had inkling that the structure would be big…but had no idea that I could go to the top and take an aerial shot of the school!  The idea was to have some equipment for our older students at the elementary level.  Turns out that everyone loves it…from Kindergarten students to Middle School students…I even saw some of our high school kids navigating the ropes.  In the end, it is awesome and the students have been both safe and brave while spending time on the structure.  It clearly represents what we want from kids and we hope that the same level of nervousness and drive can get them to the top of their academic career as well.

As the year went on we wanted to get more time for our staff to collaborate.  We have grade level collaboration days and our professional development time has moved to more of an independent model where our group gets to choose how they grow.  That model leaves little to no time for all staff collaboration between SPED, Title, Counseling, and across grade levels.  So, thanks to Jay Posick (who I will yell at later in the post) we started collaboration mornings for our staff and students.  Every 6 weeks I get to take our students, all 350 of them, in the gym for 90 minutes.  During this time we read a book together, play some team building games with classes and grade levels, and have some buddy reading time.  Our teachers get that additional time to work together and connect on a different level.  The picture is from one of our teambuilding activities.  Look at the smiles!!!!  Now…I have learned a few lessons.  First…though the time is crazy and trying to keep the interest of 350 kids ages 5-12 is next to impossible, I love it.  The staff has been very appreciative of the time and the connection I get with our students has been excellent.  Next…our 5th grade students have helped organize and even plan some of the days, which is a prime example of what happens when you trust and empower kids…they have been awesome.  Finally…listen.  When I talked to Jay about the idea I failed to listen to the details.  Apparently, I didn’t hear the part where he told me they get together for 30 minutes…not 90.  So…

This is a first grade student drawing during indoor recess.  I snuck behind him only to see that he was drawing a picture to give to his teacher.  It speaks to the connection we aim for when
working with kids.  The feeling that they have when they know they belong, when they know they are wanted, and when they know they can succeed is so special.  This happens all the time…kids color a picture or draw something for their teacher and the stacks of mementos grow on the edges of desks in every school.  Our reaction to the picture is what makes the connection work.  If it’s just another picture, the likelihood of the connection diminishes.  If there is that moment in giving it to their teacher, when they feel like the only other person in the world, the connection goes well beyond curriculum and school rules…and that is where amazing starts.
Moment captured by Karen Stuttgen

Finally, and my favorite, was taken in a classroom by one of our teachers.  It is rare that the ah-ha moment is ever captured.  This was it…the moment where one of her students “got it”.  The student was teaching her peers and the knowledge that she understood the process was overwhelming…it is both precious and poignant.  We spend hours and hours hoping that a moment like this happens for our kids.  We help them to own the process so the joy comes in learning, not memorizing.  When they take pride in the learning and can work through the tough times to get to that moment, it makes everything right.  The joy in her face continues to make me smile and gives me hope that this feeling happens often, even if we can’t catch it with a picture.

1,201 to 4.  I often think about the work we do in schools and know that it is worth it, but don’t know if everyone feels that way.  Our staff and students are amazing.  Our staff has the best interests of students in mind and their joy comes from seeing students succeed.  Our students are respectful and find joy in owning the learning process.  When those two ideas collide, magic happens.  Here is hoping that you, your students, and your staff have seen it happen this year and continue to do amazing things in 2014. Go Crickets.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Social Media is the new Fridge

Image via Jones Sign
Think back to when you were a kid.  Stuff would come home from school, out of the backpack, and in my house, would go immediately to the refrigerator.   My mom used to display everything.  Draw a circle on a piece of paper…fridge.  Paint a line on construction paper…fridge.  The one time I got 100% on a spelling test…fridge.  As time went on, essays, my sister's grade reports, school pictures (fashion faux pas and mullets included) were all affixed on the central location in the kitchen.  The place where everyone would go for nourishment was also the place they went to get an emotional pick me up.  Many of the good things going on were prominently displayed in that place.  Anyone who came to the house would inevitably stop at the fridge, and the displays would spark a conversation.  It was a great place to tell the story.

Social media has brought the conversation that happened in the kitchen to the masses.  The pictures that were held by magnets are now posted and shared through Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. The opportunity to share has grown exponentially.  Iphoto streams can be shared with anyone and the story told through pictures.  Obviously these feeds/streams can become saturated, but the fact that our refrigerator was so covered in paper and pictures lends itself to the same concept.  We WANT to share…we are PROUD of our kids and deep down we want others to know about it.

image via
Parents want to be connected and want to brag about what their kids are doing in school.  They want to be proud of the place they send their children…who wouldn’t?!?!  We have a number of people following our district Twitter and Facebook feeds, but the real gold comes with the feeds specific to classrooms.  Some of our teachers took the leap last year and helped parents sign up for Twitter.  The teachers post often to keep families up to date on the great things going on in the classroom.  They don’t try to meet a quota of how many times they post or count to see who has been in pictures and who has not…they just post…a lot.  The feedback has been great!  Essentially, families now have a running story of what happens in the classroom. This is happening all over the country.  Leaders like Tony Sinanis and Ben Gilpin flood their Twitter feeds with the great things happening in their schools.  Matt Gomez and Pernille Ripp are not only displaying what happens in their classroom, but are allowing students to own the process through posts and blogs.  The list clearly does not end there…hundreds of teachers across the country are connecting with their families through social media…but what if it was in the thousands…or more!?  When someone asks what is going on in school, the evidence is right in your pocket…all the time.  It can be shared with family, shown to coworkers, and provide a little smile when a day gets tough.  Stories are told day in and day out in schools…sharing those stories with the world is a great way to connect to families.

There will never be a time in education where someone walks into my office and says… “Wow, I just don’t know what to do with all of this time.”  We expect a great deal from our group…and they deliver.  Connecting with parents is simply not optional.  How teachers connect with parents has been based on comfort zone and time.  As we move into an environment where the fridge has turned into a phone, it is essential to find parents where they live socially.  Twitter and Instagram will turn into something else in a few years, and we will be ready.  We want the conversations around what happens in our school to promote the positive things going on at every turn.  The medium will change…but the commitment to creating opportunities for parents to connect to what we do will not.  That connection can help the conversation that has happened at kitchen tables since the dawn of time…

Parent: How was your day?
Student: Good.
Parent: What did you do?
Student: I don’t know.

I used to live that discussion every day.  Using social media as the new fridge swings that conversation.  When kids own the process, know there is a connection to home, and can take pride in what they do because they see it all the time, their response goes from “I don’t know” to “I don’t know where to start”.  Go Crickets.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Power of Branding

When is the last time something amazing happened in your classroom?  I’ll help you out…the last time you had kids in your classroom and they were engaged in learning, it was amazing.  To think that we have people in this world that have the skill level to engage a group of children of varying abilities, backgrounds, races, needs, and interests is amazing.  The work done in schools all across the world is spectacular.  Kids gather…learn…leave…and make the world we live in a better place.  So…amazing happens all the time.

The idea of branding schools isn’t about selling kids or making false promises…it’s about promoting the amazing things going on for those who don’t have the opportunity to experience it on a daily basis.  The percentage of people in your community who have kids in schools is relatively small.  When we were looking at community data for a referendum, about 20% of our community was made up of households who had students in our building.  That leaves a huge void in who has knowledge of what goes on in our building and who does not.  Telling the story of the wonderful things happening in schools to the kids who see it all the time is simply not enough.  Students understand the experience because they live it…we need to make connections to everyone else because the 80% can be an incredible asset to the 20% who walk through the hallways.  That large percentage is the group that tells the stories of their community and their experience with the school system.  Schools have the chance to be the piece that communities get behind and provide an identity to those who live within the boundaries.  Some community members will come to you…they will show up at games, concerts, school plays…and when they do, the performances on courts, fields, and stages is only part of the story.  The feeling they have when they leave your building is the one that gets talked about at dinner tables, local restaurants, and work the next day.  Others will not…but if they both are speaking the same language and can identify with a brand it helps you build a great deal of social capital and celebrate the wonderful work of kids. Here are 3 things we discussed when building our brand in Cricket Country:

Get a Win Early
We started a Facebook and Twitter feed before the school year was up and running a few years ago.  We had a Red Carpet Welcome Back to School for teachers where students lined an area of the hallway and when all of our teachers walked out of a meeting on their way to lunch the kids screamed…yelled…took pictures…asked for autographs…made it feel like the Oscars.  They were awesome.  We got some media coverage and it ended up on for the day.  One event…and we were off.  We had something to celebrate and it was fun to see it grow.

Find something and go. 
It’s really that easy.  People see the golden arches or the swoosh and know exactly what it means.  The Fall Creek Crickets put Go Crickets on everything…everything.  Shirts, window clings, bracelets, umbrellas, stress balls, Frisbees, lanyards…everything. We throw t-shirts out at games, give away bracelets, ask who needs window clings…whatever we can do to get the word out.  The financial investment we put into "stuff" is  minimal in comparison to the amount of social capital it builds.
We use the #gocrickets hash tag all over the place.  Staff, students, and now even parents are using the hash tag…as social media continued to grow we needed to find a presence in that space…having our community own that through a shared voice has been an incredible feeling.  Identify your brand and then promote it.

Never give up the opportunity to say something great about your school
The issue is not about what is happening in schools, it’s the perception of what is happening.  The reality is that everyone didn’t have a great school experience when they were younger.  The thoughts and feelings they had as students often linger to a point that their perception of what it was becomes the reality they convey to others. That perception can change…if your voice, and their new experience, are positive. The interactions you have through social media and face to face have an incredible impact.  If your focus is on the positive things happening in  your building the take away for those who don't see it everyday is so powerful.

I am unbelievably fortunate to work in a school district that has outstanding teachers, great families, and a supportive school board.  I understand that this is not the case everywhere, but the opportunity to change the perception of what your school district is starts with you.  We are with kids everyday…we see their smiles, growth, and accomplishments.  Those are the stories that build pride and community.  As a school district you can hope that the words of your students and parents reach the 80% of the population who are not there everyday.  Or…you can take to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, YouTube, local media, games, and community events to spread the amazing story of what kids do all the time.  Our story is special and so is yours…TELL IT. 
Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and start building a brand that celebrates the great things going on in your building and district.  Good luck…and Go Crickets!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Delivering on the Promise

Travel half way across the country for a conference with no agenda…really?  Try to explain that to people who have not taken part in an Edcamp and the look you will get is priceless. When you explain it to those who have attended and Edcamp, they seem to get it.  The trip started out as an idea to connect with family and attend a great professional development opportunity, and I’m so glad that it came to fruition.  The people, conversations, and connections made the 3000 mile trip well worth the time and effort. EdcampNJ was the first of a 3 stop East Coast #Edutour of great things happening on the other side of the country.  It was a fantastic way to start the trip.  Here are a few reflections: 

The day started like many Saturdays do with #satchat.  The only difference this week, was that I got to participate live with the moderators at #EdcampNJ.  Twitter is a funny thing…you get a chance to talk to people that you have never met, and form a relationship based on common interests.  Somehow, when you meet these people face to face, that conversation just continues seamlessly.  The opportunity to meet some people I connect with on a regular basis was something I was really looking forward to at the event. I had the chance to meet with Billy Krakower, Scott Rocco, and Brad Currie as they were getting ready to start the live feed.  As great as they are online, they are better face to face.  During the show, put on by Jeff Bradbury from Teachercast (his work is also fantastic!), they asked me to come up and share some of the great things going on in Fall Creek.  It was an absolute honor to be on stage with those incredible leaders.  The work they are doing through #satchat is outstanding, and brings together a tremendous amount of people who want to change the face of education.  To have the chance to share our story with that audience was truly humbling.  

People not Programs
This is a staple of Todd Whitaker’s message when he speaks to groups.  As educators, we tend to get so hung up on process that we forget it is the people who make schools successful.  This was clearly the case at #EdcampNJ.  When you attend an Edcamp, you put a tremendous amount of trust in the people associated with the event.  As I connected with people on Twitter who were planning to attend, I knew the event was going to be in great hands.  The day absolutely delivered on that promise.  Tony Sinanis and Tom Murry have been incredible go to people online for me over the course of the last year.  To meet them both on the same day and get a better understanding of who they are was a fantastic experience.  They are both hysterical…and 100% about kids.  The passion they project in discussions about students was stunning, and I am glad to call them friends.  It seemed that everyone I connected with fit their Twitter persona perfectly.  The #edtechchat crew in attendance was hysterical (@iplante, @thomascmurray, @ajpodchaski), the #satchat crew wonderful, and the 300+ people who attended were all fully engaged in getting better as educators.  It was very cool.

Cross Country Connection
A few weeks ago, I was talking to Tony as we were both working on a presentation about branding your school. The importance of branding your school district and telling your story has become more important than ever.  It was ironic that we were both preparing a very similar presentation for a future conference and attending #EdcampNJ.  As Tony and I talked, we thought it might be fun to connect what we were doing in our own states, and present as one of the sessions. Though we didn’t have anything formal to present together, we had enough to start a great conversation.  The session went great!  Tony and I had a blast.  We joked that if it wasn’t going well after three minutes, we were going to vote with our feet, and leave our own session. Ha!  Unfortunately for everyone in the room, we really like to hear ourselves talk, and didn’t even get through introductions in the first three minutes.  After that the discussion was really insightful.  We certainly learned more from the group than they did from us…but we sure had fun doing it.  I would encourage anyone attending an #edcamp to own the process and present something.  You don’t need to be an expert…only willing to start a conversation and see where it goes.  It was a wonderful experience.  

Walking Away
There were so many take aways from the day, but a few were clearly quantifiable.  The people running this event were absolute pros.  Logistically, it was flawless.  The venue was great, and the sessions were outstanding.  I walked away with new apps, a better understanding of Google hangouts, an experience that will help run #EdcampEC in April, and the opportunity to present with a great friend.  I made another connection to the #edtechchat crew that afforded us an opportunity to share our session with a larger audience the following week (post coming soon), and continued connections with people who I truly respect in the education world.  #EdcampNJ was the first on my East Coast #EduTour, and it couldn’t have started out in better fashion.  Thank you to all who made the day possible…it absolutely delivered on the promise.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Power of Choice

We are 2 weeks removed from our Edcamp style PD opportunity for 7 districts (known as Cluster A) in northwest Wisconsin.  Just under 450 people showed up ready…and mostly willing to be part of what we did that day. I say mostly only because it was a required day for staff.  Usually an Edcamp involves individuals who choose to spend a Saturday learning and growing.  Though this day was required, I think the experience was beneficial and made people think about professional development in a different way.  Here are a few things that led to the success of the day:

Planning and Preparation
We asked Superintendents from all 7 schools to choose two people to serve on the Cluster PD committee.  The only requirement, in terms of choosing people, was to ensure we brought individuals to the table who were interested in providing a new opportunity for growth.  New ideas…new format…new energy…we wanted this group to look at the importance of modeling growth and learning.  We spent our first meeting last year discussing how adults learn and what we could do to provide the opportunity for growth in the context of an already full school schedule.  The conversations were great!  Ideas were challenged, we ended in a much different place than we started, and the dialogue left us wanting more when it came to providing a better opportunity for our staff members.  The Edcamp format is organic in that the sessions are built by people who attend on that day.  We had to modify that piece a bit because we felt getting 450 people into a room who have not been to an Edcamp before could have led to only a few sessions.  So we began to ask our staff members to facilitate sessions…an open document was sent out to everyone in the 7 schools, some members of the committee connected with people in their building and encouraged them to provide a session, and we ended up with over 60 sessions for our group.  The concept of learning from colleagues was at the heart of what we were trying to do…and the number of sessions really helped with the choice for our staff.  We then created tracks so there was a variety of choice for each level (Elementary, Middle, HS) and the technology options (Moodle, Twitter, Camtasia…) were spread throughout the day.

Introduce the Day
We took a few minutes at the beginning of the day to introduce the format and the schedule.  A few minutes is the operative term…providing an hour keynote wasn’t the way we wanted to go.  We felt like that would put us back in the same format we have used in the past so a quick 15 minute introduction to the day and a few words about owning the learning were shared…then we moved on.  The morning was spent with grade levels or departments and the afternoon was dedicated to the Edcamp format.  It was really important for both facilitators and staff members to mention that the premise of the day was to meet the needs of all staff members through choice.  We asked people to vote with their feet…if a session did not meet their needs, they should go somewhere else.  If there were no sessions that met their need and they wanted to connect with a colleague in an open space…do it!  We didn’t want facilitators to feel slighted if people left their session, but also didn’t want people to sit in an offering for an hour and get nothing from the time in that space.

Provide food.  Done.

We asked all facilitators to video their session.  This was met with some resistance, but had more to do with uncertainty about running the video than actually recording the session.  Of the 60 sessions we were able to capture over 30.  This is a great start!  The opportunity to learn something new or go back and review the session you attended was important to us.

All 7 schools brought raffle prizes for staff members and we gave away some Cluster A shirts…not essential, but a cool thing to have throughout the day.

Continuing Discussion
The idea of Event PD has been around forever.  We go somewhere…get inspired…leave…and repeat the following year.  Our group wanted to continue the discussion so we have added a few things.  Email distribution lists helped our groups connect through department or grade level.  Together we are better for kids…it’s really that simple.  There are amazing things happening in this part of the state…but they are happening in pockets.  Being able to connect outside of our district is important in finding those pockets and improving all programming for students.  We are also offering mini session offerings specific to levels in November and January before we get together again in February for another Edcamp as a group.  The mini session offerings are optional and will rotate between the 7 schools in the area.  If the discussion doesn’t continue then we are just putting a fancy bow on something we have done for years and our Edcamp turns into another Event PD that doesn’t allow for growth.

Get Feedback…on the day
Surveys through email are great…but we wanted to get the immediate feedback from our staff so it was reflective of what they had just done.  We asked staff members 2 questions…what did you like and what do you need?  That’s it.

As I reflect on the opportunity it provided for staff it made me think about the importance of choice in our schools. I was incredibly proud of the group that put this together.  The discussion about what it could look like was fantastic.  The idea that we couldn’t make it work was never an option.  The day was a success because of a few things.  First and foremost, we had colleagues willing to facilitate discussions.  If we had 450 people show up with a small number of sessions to attend, the day would have been compromised.  To have 60 people step up and facilitate speaks volumes about our group.  Secondly, our PD group did an incredible job of selling the day.  This day was about our staff…and that was clear when anyone talked to our PD group…they were spectacular.  Next, the staff in all 7 schools…they did not have to buy into this day.  They did…and that is a credit to them.  Finally, the leadership in the 7 districts was willing to give up 2 days that could be spent doing things within their district.  Huge shift and the trust they showed in the process was outstanding.

The feedback from the day has been wonderful.  The adjustments people wanted had more to do with logistics (more snacks and better parking) than it did programming.  I received a number of emails praising the work the committee did in planning, but a few stood out…here are some excerpts:

  • "In my 34 years of teaching I have never walked away feeling more excited about teaching" 
  • "I enjoyed it much more than I anticipated!!" 
  • "It was the most productive inservice day I've been part of in 21 years"

People want the connection to their colleagues and need the choice to drive their learning.  We provided the opportunity and 450 people ran with it…I am so proud to be part of a group that is giving ownership of learning to staff members…growth is inevitable…and when we can give that same opportunity to  Go Crickets.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Not Just Another Day

As educators I think we all have days...maybe weeks or months where we wonder if the work we are doing has an impact on kids, families, and communities.  Sometimes we can get caught up in the routine of “doing school” and the days run together. In those times it is nice schedule something to bring the focus back together.  Sometimes it just happens...

Yesterday we had 2 events that made me walk out of the door feeling incredible about what our teachers do everyday.  Both were part of our routine, but there were pieces that made me look at things differently...and it was wonderful.  Each month we have an all school meeting...consisting of birthday announcements and a story centered around a theme for the month or some of the PBIS data we have addressed as a need.  This month our meeting fell in the same week as Homecoming (we are a K-12 building...which is awesome and the subject of a blog post in the near future) and specifically on 80s dress up day at the high school.  So...we did a quick contest with the elementary staff in which we split into two groups, I gave a song title from the 1980s and they had to tell me the artist.  All 385 students were the judges and pointed to group that got the answer correct.  It was meant to be very quick.  As I looked at the 2 groups from the back of the gym I had this overwhelming sense of pride...not because they knew the answers (even though a few were born in the 80s!) but because I saw them laughing as they went through the game...genuinely laughing...and enjoying just being together.  It was great.

The second event happened after school at our all staff meeting.  We have been talking at great length about Finding Super in kids. I asked our staff members to bring their class lists to the meeting and when they got there I gave them some time to look at each student on their roster and write down what they believed to be that child’s superpower.  As I watched them write I noticed a few things.  First and didn’t take them long to identify a superpower for each student...which made me feel great about the relationships they have formed.  One of the real stories to me was the look on their faces as they wrote.  A smile, little chuckle, nodding of the was subtle, but they were so invested in the process of identifying great things about their students...and that was very cool.  I asked them to share a few superpowers of kids with the people at their table and the conversations were awesome.  Teachers who had particular students in the past added their view, they were laughing, and I could really tell that they really knew their students.  The follow up was the kids on your list know their superpower?  Have you  told them?  At 3:00 today our kids will walk out of this building poised for a 3 day weekend...and I have no doubt that they will know their superpower on the way out of our doors.

I love our staff.  I love that they are honest, even when it it uncomfortable.  I love that they tell me to put my phone away. I love that they tell me to slow down.  I love that they are willing to have tough conversations.  I love that they take on additional tasks because they know the work needs to get done. I love that they laugh together.  I love that they are willing, absolutely and unequivocally,to do what is best for kids.

I hope every leader has a day like yesterday.  A day where you walk into school thinking it is just another Wednesday and walk out knowing that the collective effort is making a difference in the lives of kids.  We are not perfect...but that is not the expectation.  The expectation is continued growth and working toward our vision of a “Community that works, learns, and succeeds together.”  There is no other group that I would want to take that journey with than the one that resides at 336 E. Hoover Ave in Fall Creek Wisconsin. Go Crickets. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Choose Your Own Adventure

As a kid I was not an avid reader at all.  It really came down to sports books where I was more interested in the pictures than content and the occasional Choose Your Own Adventure book which I liked because the story could change and I had the opportunity to make a decision.  Subsequently, if I didn't like the outcome, I would go back in the story and choose something different to meet my needs. I think one of the reasons I had a hard time getting started with books was the unknown.  Will it be something I like? Will it be too hard for me? The questions that I didn’t have answers to tended to drive my desire to read and that really hindered my ability to grow through text.

As I started my career in administration I think I was bringing the same concept to those around me.  People were limited in their growth because I was the only one providing the resources for them...and it tended to cause a great deal of stress from my perspective because I felt that I needed to be all things to all people.  Therefore, the leadership tended to be on a surface level and though people may have been excited to be at school and enjoyed the culture...pushing for growth as educators came in a very limited form.  I reference George Couros (@gcouros) very often and one of my favorite quotes of his is “The smartest person in the room is the room”.  I actually started using it with students when I visited classrooms last week and love the idea of growing well outside of your own perspective.  Instilling that concept with staff is a key component to educator growth.  Combine that with the EdCamp movement across the world and we are getting ready for the winds of change in Northwest WI.

EdCamp...Cluster A Style
This Friday over 500 educators will descend upon little Fall Creek, WI.  Members of 7 different school districts (known as Cluster A) are coming together to learn...from each other.  We have over 60 sessions offered as well as a chance for grade level and departments from other districts to get together in hopes of celebrating the work we all do with students and challenging each other to grow as a group.  A collection of 14 people from these districts got together for one reason...Professional Development was simply not working.  Seeing a motivational speaker was great, but the end result was a spike in excitement and then a faint recollection of the message months later.  This group wanted to provide the vehicle for continuous improvement, allow choice for our staff members, and grow as a group dedicated to changing what education could look like in our area.  We have AMAZING people doing incredible things...but the chance to connect and grow together was not happening. We broke from traditional Edcamp format in that we asked for sessions and facilitators in advance.  The biggest difference between what we are offering and what Edcamp generally provides is the motivation to go.  Attending an Edcamp is a choice so there is a great deal of internal motivation to drive the day.  Our day is we wanted people to know and understand what they were getting into before showing up on Friday morning.

Beyond the Day
With the help of our technology coordinators, special thanks to @fcsdtechguy and @jbgrangaard, we have set up an interactive Cluster A web page for our group of schools that will go well beyond reference and promote the opportunity to grow from wherever your baseline sits.  The expectation is that all sessions will be videotaped, archived, tagged, and available in the future.  Our tech guys have done a great job of setting this up so there won’t be added pressure on our presenters during sessions.  We hope the discussions that start will continue through email, twitter, blogs, and optional after school sessions.  Our job as a coordination group is to provide the opportunity and resources for our staff. 

Choice is crucial.  We often talk about providing opportunities for students to choose their learning, but if we don’t model that from an administrator perspective, we need to take a look at what we are doing.  We also hope this eliminates the… “There is nothing for me” reaction to PD we have heard in the past.  With over 60 different sessions our guess is there will be spark interest and add something to your toolbox as an educator.
So here we go.  The intent of the day is simple...fix the way we grow teachers and change the face of education.  That's it!  Clearly this won’t happen in one day...but if we give our staff the the opportunity to choose...their adventure will be much more meaningful and the impact on our kids will be tremendous.  Follow the #ClusterA hash tag this Friday...we are hoping to break Twitter.  Go Crickets.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Issue with Alphabet Soup

A few years ago I divided my staff into groups based on how many years they had been in education. I asked them to write down all of the initiatives they have gone through in their careers.  This was a fascinating activity.  The amount of change in education over time has been incredible, but the most telling thing to me was during the discussion our staff members spoke to the cyclical nature of education.  Many of us have seen Jamie Vollmer’s List of increasing duties on schools since the 1900’s.  Things we do today were done in the past, but under a different name.  The importance of early childhood education, character education, alternative education programs…all were discussed and implemented in the 1980’s.  Ready to feel old…that was 30 years ago!!!  Clearly more is being put on educators and school leaders when it comes to meeting the needs of the whole child.  I came across this list of acronyms used in education.  I ask our staff not to speak in acronyms when they talk to parents, but we have landed at a point where there needs to be a test every year on new abbreviations in  our own building. To make things worse, some acronyms have multiple meanings…as Phil Dunphy reminds us in this clip.

We decided to have a little fun with all of the initiatives going on in education during our opening staff meeting.  Our Middle School Principal Brad LaPoint (@bradlapointfc) developed the script, our HS Principal Brian Schulner (@BSchulner) and I tried to carry it out the best we could, we had great staff help at the last minute, and a surprise guest at the end that brought it all together. Click on the Staff Welcome Video to check out our 4 minute skit.
The issue with multiple initiatives is that it creates an environment of surface implementation.  Staff members are conditioned to be wary of diving in with both feet for fear that a new program or process will come along and they will have to start over.  This is not their fault, but clearly impacts the culture when initiatives have to be rolled out.  The reality is we tend to build planes while we fly them in education…and that’s ok.  The environment that we build with our staff prior to an implementation will set the stage for what happens during and when it needs to be adjusted.  I am extremely lucky to work in a place where our faculty, parents, and board members are flexible and understanding throughout these changes as long as it is communicated well and has the best interest of students in mind.

Our students may have more opportunities now than they did years ago, but life as a kid in a world where everything you do has the potential to be documented through social media brings on new challenges…and more pressure.  Through all the initiatives that we implement and all the acronyms we have to learn, I hope the four letters we focus on continue to be K I D S.  We are here for them…for big ones and small ones…for gifted ones and those who struggle…for those that get breakfast in the morning and those who don’t…for those who make us smile daily and those who challenge our decision to teach…for those who have support at home and those who don’t…all of them.  They deserve it.  Initiatives will come and go, but we got into this business to make a difference in the lives of kids…and if the focus is always on them our world will be a better place. Go Crickets.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Finding Super

Who is the best Superhero? All have value (though the Wonder Twin who could only turn into something with water could be argued) and would be welcomed in a time of need.There is a case to be made that superheros should be placed in two separate categories...those who have innate powers and those who help based on external means.  Superman-innate power.  He comes here from a different planet, can fly, does that thing with the eyes where he burns through things, relatively muscular...all powers that were part of the genetic makeup.  Batman-external means. Cool toys, awesome car, a belt that apparently never runs out of stuff. Spiderman-external means. Bug bite and the rest is history.

A few months ago a group of teachers at a conference saw someone wearing a shirt that said…."I teach.  What is your superpower?"  Within minutes I received texts from the group letting me know that we needed to have these for our staff members.  I loved the idea and when staff came back to school this year they all received a shirt with FC on the front and the saying on the back. The best part about the roll out for me was that everyone got a shirt…custodians, cooks, bus drivers, teachers, support staff, administrators…everyone.  I think some people could look at the shirt and think it is not for them because they don't have a classroom.  The bottom line is this…everyone teaches.  Everyone.  From the minute our community walks in the building to the time they walk out they encounter a crazy number of people.  We all have the ability and responsibility to teach.  We teach enthusiasm.  We teach responsibility.  We teach welcoming.  We teach perseverance.  We teach through our actions.  We want to be the most family friendly building ever…and in doing this our actions model what we want out of the FC school district.  Most importantly, we teach kids how to find their superpower.

Throughout the course of a day, a student in our school will see anywhere between 5-10 adults.  That number could easily be on the low side.  I am accounting for different classes, lunch, recess, specials, custodians…but there could certainly be more.  Can you imagine being a student in our school and knowing that EVERYWHERE you walked there was someone who wanted you to succeed?  If kids have a connection to one adult in school they tend to come back…what if they had a connection to everyone in the school?  Possibilities are limitless.  

We have an opportunity every day to find something in a child that they didn't know they had. We have the opportunity to allow students to learn at their level and with their interests in mind. We have an opportunity to engage children at their level and help them want to learn more.  Superheroes tend to fly in at the last minute and save the day.  We are asking our group to flip that concept…you don't have to be a superhero…you have to find them.  Everyone has "super" in them.  Being “super” is not limited to race, socioeconomic status, or gender.  It is only limited by confidence.  If we can find a way to instill confidence and allow students to find their "super",  there is literally no end to what they can do.  Students will accomplish at high levels if they feel they can and if they are engaged in the process.  How many times do you hear of a kid refusing to play a video game because it is too hard.  They simply don't…they keep struggling and failing until they succeed because they are engaged and challenged by the process. They like to play, even though it doesn’t always yield success. They don’t shut down if they get a bad score or if it takes them seemingly forever to pass a level.

Finding "super" in a student starts with a conversation and a commitment to ensure that relationships rule.  They will believe in themselves if we believe in what they can do...authentically.  One of the best parts of school is a fresh start for both students and teachers.  The conversations we have with students in the first 2 weeks will set the stage for how engaged they will be in our school.  The gifts that kids have don't come from a belt or a bite.  Their gifts come from knowing that someone in school is there to support, guide, and challenge them in a place where they feel safe. the school year gets rolling, I wish everyone a great start and best of luck finding the “super” in every student.  If we’re always looking, it will be easy to find.  Go Crickets.