Friday, August 16, 2013

Keep It Simple-Relationships & Growth...Go!

Philosophies of Education tend to be like shoes...your experience changes with them over time and there is always something new to try on.  Philosophies are well intended and give a basis of why we teach or lead in a particular fashion, but as we are all different, so too are the philosophies we carry.
My perspective on what education has become and where it can go has certainly changed over time depending on my role and time in a district.  New initiatives that brought the promise of solving the issues with struggling learners, advanced learners, classroom culture, and behavior management seem to come and go like miracle diets.  All of this is well intended, but the multitude of changes in education have allowed our staff members to wait out initiatives they don’t like because they don’t have time to invest or dismiss them altogether because they know another one will be coming soon.  So, at its core I believe educational philosophy should revolve around the two things that have not changed in all my years of school...Building Relationships and Growth.

Relationships-Kids are smart, they may not know how to find the circumference of a circle, diagram a sentence, or problem solve on the playground, but they know if you like them.  The connection with kids is something you simply can’t fake.  They may not like everything you do or what you assign or how you assign it, but if they know you care about them they will try anything.  They are not just here to gather knowledge, spit it out, grab a diploma, and move on.  They want the experience of school and they want to be in a place where they are is our job to make them feel that way. That environment will allow them to take risks and allow them to grow beyond the score on a test or the grade in a book.

Growth is not just about kids, it’s about all of us. This means that sometimes we have to engage in learning that helps us, not just adds to areas where we find success.  I will never be a great golfer. I hit the ball well and score relatively well most times that I play, but I don’t get any better for one reason.  I can’t putt.  Horrible...and I refuse to practice putting because it’s beyond boring.  I would much rather go on the range and hit the ball as far as I can.  So, clearly I’m never going to get better.  If we as educators only work on things that we do well already, we don’t grow.  Stepping outside our comfort zone is tough, but necessary for growth. If we want kids to think beyond what is safe we must do the same in our practice. Everyone’s checkpoints are different, but when you hit one it becomes the new normal and the beginning of new growth.
My philosophy is not long, but doesn't come with a ton of exterior variables...create relationships with the people around you (students, colleagues, community...) and grow. Wherever you are now...just grow. The impact that it can have on you and your students will be fantastic!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Why I Lead

Did you ever start doing something and then think... “Wow, that got a little more involved than I thought”? I think every leadership opportunity I have had in my life started as a good idea that turned into something much bigger...and in the long run better...but as it’s hard to see the forest through the trees it is equally as hard to see the impact of leadership through the daily grind.  Sometimes it’s nice to refocus. George Couros (@gcouros) started a virtual leadership mentoring program this summer (#SAVMP) and I thought it would be a good way to share some knowledge and learn from those around me when it comes to mentoring in a new way.  After a few weeks, multiple posts by incredible educators, and the connection to phenomenal leaders across the world, I have already found myself pushing leadership thought and learning from everyone involved. The first thing George asked us to do was reflect on why we lead.  Sometimes I wonder, but never are some of the thoughts that came to mind:

Flickr via Michael Dales
I lead because it drives me
The opportunity to grow and help others grow drives what I do on a daily basis...and honestly, consumes me at times.  If I can get one new resource into the hands of a teacher who needs it, make a new connection with a student who is struggling, or promote the great things going on in our district, I feel like I have helped move the group forward. Above my desk sits My 3...a piece of paper that I am forced to look at everyday...and it keeps me focused on the true importance of why we do what we do.  My 3 are: Every Teacher...Every Day, Follow Through...No Excuses, Connect with All Students.  I adjusted them recently and feedback from our staff was the impetus for that change.  We have a duty to listen to what our group is saying and it is our responsibility to make changes to what we do to help them grow.  We expect our teachers to evolve...we should be held to the same standard. Reviewing the data and developing a plan to get better helps me become more transparent and I think our group enjoys the fact that they know what I am working on professionally.

I lead to be the voice of those who don’t
I am the loudest person you will ever meet...and it’s not close.  I find it ironic that I often tell my kids to lower their voices (which inevitably leads to the eye roll from my gorgeous wife).  There are time that being the loudest person ever is an issue...but there are others when being the loudest helps advocate.  Our kids and teachers do great things...not good things...great things.  They make amazing connections, have always been willing to try new things, and work tirelessly with our students.  I see them at sporting events, concerts, plays...I saw one teacher at MULTIPLE birthday parties for her students outside of school...they are amazing and the volume of my voice, hundreds of tweets/posts, and the fact that I will stop anyone in the streets to tell them about the great things happening in Fall Creek is one of the positives of being the loudest.

I lead for them
Most importantly...I lead for kids.  All kids...we owe it to them.  Not because it is our job, or because someone did it for us, or even because they will be taking care of us someday...we owe it to them because they deserve the best. No questions...they come to us as innocent 4 year olds and trust that we will help make them better.  They test our patience and we spend the majority of our professional lives having our happiness determined by the attitudes and actions of kids ages 4-18.  Having said that, we chose this and they deserve everything we can do to make their time with us magical.  We are going through a building remodel this summer...and as I walk through hallways that are changing, a playground that is new, and rooms that are much more inviting I start to countdown the days until we’ll all be back together again.  Our building is going to be great...but it’s not school until they come. I can’t wait to see the look on their faces when they walk through the doors or hit the playground for the first time.  There is something about a child’s smile...and helping to provide an environment where SMILES ARE THE DEFAULT make me extremely happy...and is a clear reason why I lead.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Fear of the First Step

I think most people have a sense of fear.  Something...someone...somewhere...most people go through life sensing fear at some point.  This week we took our kids camping and as we were hiking in the bluffs of western Wisconsin I feared that any or all of our kids could go over the edge, get a snake bite, cut themselves whittling, or what I would do to them if they took the last marshmallow.  Sometimes that fear can stifle what could be a great experience.  We had a great time one went over the edge, the intricate designs of weaponry developed through whittling were fantastic, and we had enough marshmallows to send us away with a slight stomach ache.

Fear is so relative.  I wake up without pain, walk to work without any sense of danger, and I am able to provide for our family so we live comfortably in a great village. I realize that fear is different and am not trying to compare my fear to someone who doesn’t know where they will find their next meal, work, or something horribly worse.  The point is this...there are things that hold us back...and sometimes breaking out of our current normal can be frightening. My hope is that we can take a step out of the comfort zone and venture to a new place...knowing that fear may be part of that process.

There aren’t too many things I fear professionally.  I have a great school board, an incredible staff, and a wonderful community.  I think the majority of my fear is in continuing the status quo.  My only fear is that I look back on places I have been and groups I have been able to work with and come to the conclusion that they did not grow as much as they could have while I was there...and more importantly, continue to grow after I had left.  Establishing a culture where people can coexist and enjoy coming to work is the initial phase of change, but if that environment doesn’t turn into one of continuous growth, we’re closer to an amusement park than a school.  As I contemplated where we have been and how we should prepare our teachers for the upcoming year, I started to everything I am planning contributing to the status quo or am I helping our staff grow and move forward?  

I spend a great deal of time through this blog and on Twitter talking about creating an opportunity for student voice in classrooms.  It is truly important for our staff to take on the perspective of kids and allow them to own their learning process.  We have to go from the purveyors of content to the facilitators of growth.  This doesn’t mean we scrap everything we have been doing, it means we make a connection with kids so they begin, maintain, and extend a love for learning that takes them well beyond 13 years in our building.  In contemplating this perspective, I asked I providing this same environment for our teachers?

Dr. Leo Marvin via
I often turn to Twitter when planning and preparing for almost everything we do in school.  It has been and will continue to be an incredible place to learn.  This week I found a post by Wendy Lap entitled If Teachers Planned Inservice Training.  Though the post was meant to be humorous, it literally kept me up thinking...Good Lord, I do all of the things on “Don’t Do” list.  Binders of information...check.  Presentation for the whole group...check.  Humorous video to break the ice...check.  Building a newspaper and popsicle stick tower...check, check, double check.  Yep...all of it. I am not ready to can the whole process, but with an open mind, I clearly want to move in a direction that meets our group in a better capacity.  So...with the advice of  What About Bob’s Dr. Leo Marvin, I will be taking baby steps to improve what we do in our school and put our inservice in the hands of our staff.  Here are a few things that may help:

Inservice and professional development owned by staff: We have held techno days at our school where certain classes or sessions were offered to help staff learn new things to implement in their classrooms.  Our tech team has done a great job of planning and providing an opportunity for our staff to learn and grow in this area.  We ask what types of sessions they want to take in and find people willing to facilitate.  The issue has not been with the sessions, it has been with the time to explore.  We will still offer sessions based on what our staff want to learn, but this year we are providing less sessions and more time.  Staff will have the option of coming in for 2 days (and be compensated) to explore something new and start the year thinking about how to integrate some of those tools or revamp some of the others they have learned.  Session times will be posted...and our staff can choose to come in for a portion or all of the day.  We will have an open lab throughout the 2 days where staff can get help with any of the resources. Again, open, with no expectation to stay the entire time...just an opportunity to grow with help if needed.

Professional Growth Goal Resource Day: We are in the second year of our Professional Growth Model.  One of the issues with our process last year was strictly focused on the amount of time our staff members had to create their goals considering we rolled it out at the beginning of the year.  This year we are providing an opportunity for our staff to spend time with the teacher group that developed the model and talk through goal and potential evidence options prior to our students arriving.  This is an optional day and will hopefully allow our staff members to work through some of the logistics of a goal so it doesn’t cause as much stress when the year starts.

Modified Edcamp: I am a huge proponent of Edcamp style PD.  Utilizing the skill and expertise in our own building helps those who learn and those who facilitate.  The issue with running an Edcamp style PD in schools is simply that when people attend an Edcamp they choose to be there.  One of the reasons Edcamps are so successful is that you are putting hundreds of people in a room who have chosen to spend their Saturday growing as professionals.  That is not always the case outside of Edcamps.  In our modified Edcamp style, we will be asking staff from our school and 6 other districts what they would like to learn and if they would be willing to lead sessions.  We are scheduled to run two Edcamps this year for a group of schools in our area...the group planning these days has been incredibly dynamic and we are really looking forward to moving in this direction.

Commitment to Continuous Improvement: At the end of the day...these are still days.  We are hoping to move from “Event PD” to using those days as check in for continuous growth.  Learning doesn’t have to be driven by schedule, but due to the structure of how our public system works, there are only a few days we have together throughout the year to connect and grow.  If we use those days as boosters or times to refocus, our staff can continue to model that learning doesn’t start and end with a scheduled day.

Our inservice days will still include meetings (though hopefully less) and we will offer opportunities throughout the year for growth, but as we move forward I hope that we can trust our staff to make use of the time in their own way and direct their growth for the betterment of our kids. The fear comes in the unknown...I trust our staff to own their learning...but do I trust myself to step back and allow them to do it and break free of the what we have done in the past?  I guess we’ll find out!  Go Crickets!