Thursday, July 18, 2013

How Big is Your Brave?

When you build a new playground one of the things you don’t want to hear is… “That may be the biggest structure in Fall Creek.” As you can see, our new Play Web is huge…and awesome. One of the complaints our older elementary kids have had for years is that there is no playground equipment dedicated to them.  This Play Web and a few other pieces that we hope to add in the coming years will give our older kids a place to climb and enjoy. Having said that…I still can’t get over the size of the web.  It simply didn't look that big when I went to see an identical version in Ashwaubenon, WI a few months ago. It is big…and there may be some bravery involved to navigate it…even for older kids. Eventually they will all make it to the top (probably something our playground supervisors don’t want to hear), and won’t consider it a monumental task. As it often happens, the thought of the structure and bravery took me to how we operate in schools. Couple that with a Sara Bareilles song I heard the kids listening to and here we go...

We want teachers to grow, but we want them to own the process in which they grow.  If they are able to develop their own parameters I believe they will be brave enough to take big risks and grow whether the final result ends in success or failure. This year we completed our first attempt at a Professional Growth Model where staff were able to choose their goal, how they were going to assess it, and what evidence they could show to discuss their progress.  Success or failure of the goal was not determined by student score, but by evidence of teacher professional growth.  In essence, we wanted to know how they grew as an educator…and the results were great.  96% of our staff took part in the Professional Growth Model program. Here are some of the highlights:
  • 94% of staff taking part in the program felt it made them a more effective teacher and improved some aspect of student learning.  
  • 98% of staff taking part in the program felt they will use the strategies they learned in the coming years.
  • 92% of staff members taking part in the program felt their plan produced results that have benefited (or could benefit) the Fall Creek School District beyond their classroom. 

Conceptually, we allowed people to drive their own growth and the feedback has been great.  I was so proud of the process and reading through growth plans and evidence pieces at the end of the year was one of the highlights of my educational career.  There was so much work put into their evidence…and they were so brave to stretch their thinking. Our challenge to staff this year is simply this…How big is your brave?  We want people to take what they have learned and use that as the new baseline for growth. The question is how far can they take it? This is such a two way street.  As administrators, we need to trust our staff to challenge themselves to grow…from wherever they are to a new place…a better place. Our staff members need to feel safe to take risks…but then they need to be brave enough to take them.  Growth will not happen if their brave isn't big enough to stretch both thinking and practice.  Experience does not equal growth…but experience, reflection, and action certainly have the potential to bring us to a new place. If we can stretch as educators it takes us somewhere else…and that becomes the new normal.  Are we brave enough to not just step outside of our comfort zone…but leap to a whole new level?

We are just over a month away from staff members heading back to schools.  The prospect of a new year, fresh starts, and a renewed commitment to kids is always exciting.  Think about what risk you are willing to take…and then go one step further.  However, if you are planning on ordering the Play Web for your school district…you may want to stick to the medium. In every other case…I truly hope your brave is big.


  1. Wonderful message Joe!

    First of all you are putting me to shame! I'm installing new playground equipment but nothing as "cool" as that. I digress.

    My favorite line from your post was, "Our staff members need to feel safe to take risks…but then they need to be brave enough to take them. Growth will not happen if their brave isn't big enough to stretch both thinking and practice."

    The culture of our schools needs to be one of support. We want our students and staff to try new things. Without a supportive atmosphere this initiative will struggle. Thanks for the post Joe. I always enjoy reading. Now I'm going to go stick my head in the sand since my playground pales in comparison : )

    1. Thanks for the thoughts, Ben! I really enjoy your blog...appreciate the feedback. The play web is beyond cool...but it is huge. We also replaced a section for our younger kids and that is going to be great as well. Head out of the sand, are going to love whatever is long as they get to be outside playing I don't think they care. Have a good one!

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