July 1, 2014

Principals are People too

I have connected with thousands of amazing educators on Twitter.  It's been such a wonderful tool for connecting with teachers and administrators that I may have never met. There are a few though, some that I have met and some that I have not, that have become dear friends. We have taken that connection we made on Twitter and deepened by meeting up at conferences, google hangouts and most recently by having long and personal conversations on Voxer.  
Voxer is a new walkie-talkie type app that works on smartphones and iPads.

But this post isn't about the new app we use, this is about the idea that we came up with to all create a blog post about the same subject.....or at least the same title. We have been chatting and sharing personal stories, challenges and successes for quite a while.  Being that we are all administrators we agreed that it was almost therapeutic for us to connect with each other as we have all felt the withdrawal and loneliness that comes when living on Admin Island.

Oooh, the job isn't as bleak as that term makes it sound, but let's face it, there is usually only one administrator (sometimes two) in a building, and they are responsible for everyone else in the building. They are "the boss" and that always changes the relationships with others, no matter your attempts to build trust. I am not a believer in building walls between people trying to accomplish the same goals, but sometimes they are already there, and it takes time to tear them down. So sometimes, it seems like there is no one else to go to with your complaints, concerns, questions, etc.  And sometimes it feels like you have no one to go to with your own "personal" concerns, complaints and questions.  That friend that you can turn to and share things with, knowing they will support you no matter what.  Sometimes, they just listen and sometimes they share some solid advice, and somehow they know which you need.

I was in need of this group this year more than they may ever know.  I took a job this year that was 2 hours away from where my family lived. I usually get back every weekend to see them, and sometimes I will even drive down after school to catch a basketball game or track meet, but it has been difficult.  I have been fortunate that my staff has been wonderful and has invited me out to social gatherings, and most of them have opened up to me personally to help create some great bonds of friendship and trust. But, it is just not the same when you are the only administrator in the building, and when your spouse isn't even there to go back and chat with at night (I'm glad she has Voxer on her phone as well).

Of course when you are a 6'3" guy that looks to be built for the purpose of unloading Viking ships, well.... people tend to think you aren't in need of much warmth or support for something like missing your family a little. Besides, I tend to wear a big smile and try to keep my spirits high in hopes that it will rub off on others. What I appreciate about my staff is that they have reached out to me, they are wanting to connect and get to know me as well. But this group of peers from Voxer knows me, and they hear me when I share the tough aspects of the job, or even of my situation of being away from family, and they have been the best supporters I could ask for. They can relate to many of these situations I share with them. None of this post is a complaint, on the contrary it is a compliment. To the friends I have found in my new district, to those I have connected with on twitter, they are all wonderful people with bold ideas, fresh perspectives and twists on things I have tried, but that I had not considered. You all have been a huge help to my growth as an educator. But the friends that I have connected with via Voxer, those friends that have been there for me daily, I am so thankful for your support and reminding me that Principals are People too and that I can be weak, make mistakes, tell bad jokes, be sad, and still be respected and appreciated. Thank you for making a tough year bearable. Actually, thanks for making a tough situation, enjoyable and filled with laughs and support.

Make sure to check out the other blog posts with this title from this amazing group of friends that I have connected with.  You can find their blogs at the links below:

Tony Sinanis - Leading Motivated Learners  
Jessica Johnson - Reflections from an Elementary Principal  
Curt Rees - I know this much is true   
Melinda Miller - The Principal Blog   
Amber Teamann - Technically Yours, Teamann  
Joe Sanfelippo - FC Superintendent
Leah Whitford - Reflections of a Learner  
Jay Posick - Jay's Journal

June 30, 2014

Are You a PFD?

Whoa! Just found this post that I apparently had ready to submit back in May. Sorry for the tardy posting, but I may as well share it now.

Ok, so how many of you thought this was going to be a techie post about using Adobe?  Yeah, it said PFD not pdf. A Personal Flotation Device.  It's that time of year. No, not boating season. It's that time of year when educators feel like they are drowning. Assessments, grades, deadlines, field trips, planning for next year, summative evaluations, IEP meetings, creating class lists, summer school, poor behaviors on the rise and cleaning out classrooms.  There is just a myriad of activities taking place in May.  All this flurry of activity can create a lot of stress. 

As a matter of fact I don't usually blog in May.  I worry that I will let emotions take over and instead of sharing something useful or something that is a worthwhile reflection for myself,that it would most likely just end up being a venting session or rant. Not many people want to read about someone else's rant (especially in May) and I am not sure that I grow that much as an educator by just venting my frustrations.  So, as I started to reflect on those feelings and how my staff may feel in May as well, I started to ask myself, "How can I be a servant leader and help my staff through these tough days at the end of a school year?" 

Teachers need something or someone to keep their spirits up.  To keep the mood light and buoyant. To help them stay positive and supportive toward their students during this stressful time of year. While the building leader has plenty to do at the end of the year as well, it may be most important for that leader to help keep spirits up and the culture positive as things wind down and deadlines loom. Leaders, I say to you, be the model in May and find a way to keep the spirit of your school positive and filled with joy.  Find a way to make these last weeks fun and light, or at least as light as you can, so that people can face the coming summer break with a smile and not just a spring to their cars on their last day.

March 30, 2014

Learning With Your Mistakes

Yeah......I did it.  I goofed.  I pulled a Dufus move. No, it's not the first time (that number wouldn't fit in this post) but it was a mistake I should have known not to make. Granted, it was made out of zeal and innocence, but mostly it was made because I focused on my goals and not the goals of my teachers.

So each week I try to send out a Weekly Update to my staff.  The goal is to reduce the need for staff meetings, or at least reduce the amount of housekeeping that takes place in staff meetings.  There are notes about upcoming events or deadlines, changes to plans, and a calendar of events. These pieces seem to cause little stress sometimes a little confusion, if my calendar is off from theirs, but little stress.

However, in the past few years, I have added a professional development/growth piece to my updates. I found myself collecting some incredible resources, thanks to my Twitter PLN, and thought it may be helpful to share some of the blog posts, videos, websites and apps that I have discovered thanks to those connections.  I have added in some great infographics as well. All of this was just meant to be a piece that was there for them to check out at their own pace. If they get to it great, if they don't, well that's fine too. I have started to add more and more links, posts and graphics lately, and that has created an issue.....an issues I should have seen coming.

My hope was that I was providing them with some new perspectives, some new information, and even some inspiration, that they wouldn't have to go looking for.  What I didn't consider was......maybe there was a reason they weren't looking for it.  Maybe they didn't have time to go looking for it.  Maybe they were busy creating newly aligned lesson plans, finding resources to add to their curriculum maps, digging through Teacher Pay Teacher for Common Core aligned activities, correcting papers, quizzes and tests. Maybe they were looking through their students data to see if it was time to adjust flexible learning groups, possibly working on progress reports, report cards or just contacting the parents of a troubled student, and maybe they were preparing their budgets for next year. This is more of a probably than a maybe.

Somehow, I forgot to recognize and realize all that my staff was already doing, to see how stretched they already were. I goofed.....I forgot to be empathetic in all that I do. I was actually trying to add a little fun to the weekly updates and see how well they were being read.  So, a couple of weeks ago I decided to add a little note that said, "if you have read this far send me an e-mail with the word 'Surprise' in the subject box."  If I received that e-mail I went into the staff workroom and put a Ferraro Rocher Chocolate Truffle in their mailbox. A simple treat. Meant to be fun and be a small thanks for reading the update. 

What I didn't realize, was that this little treat, this little hidden surprise within the weekly update I share out, would actually create stress. A couple of my teachers (and maybe more, or even all) felt like this hidden treat was actually a check in, or a test to see if they were reading the update.  Were they doing their "homework" that I unknowingly assigned each week. I, being new to my staff this year, hadn't heard this yet. Yes, they are still figuring me out and they were afraid to share that thought with me.....So, unknowingly, I kicked it up a notch in the next week's update. I share 2 or 3 blog posts with my staff each week and next to one of them I added a note, "make sure to check out the comments after the post." Yep, I decided it would be fun to leave a comment on this Edu Leader's blog that told my staff members to come and say surprise to me face to face and then I would give them a free scoop of the day from a local ice cream place. What a Dufus!! 

By "kicking it up" I mistakenly added even more stress to the "fun" idea I had. When I heard that this was causing stress I apologized and have promised them that I would not be leaving surprises in the updates any longer. If I want to treat my staff, I will just buy pizza for lunch, have an ice cream sundae party in a staff meeting or provide Soup & Salad during conferences. I do try to be intentional in all that I do, but I also have to be empathetic, put myself in their shoes and see their perspective on things. I guess it is just more proof that sometimes we learn with our mistakes......

March 25, 2014

Reaching Across.....No More.

I find myself at one of those times in life, when I am at a loss.....a loss for words to explain my feelings about an issue. This issue is something that I have seen growing, spreading for a while now. We are changing here in America. Politics has divided people like I have never witnessed. It actually hurts when I read or listen to all of the rhetoric. It seems we can no longer reach across the aisle, shake hands with the people we don't see eye to eye with, and find a compromise.  We can't even agree to disagree.

I usually don't dare to tread into politics. There are many beliefs, and who am I to say what is right and what is wrong. Sure, I have beliefs, and while I stand by them, they are also changing and growing as my experience and learning changes and grows.  Still, I try not to thrust my beliefs on others, and when some feel the need to bluster theirs upon me, well, I try to smile and politely listen until there is an opening for my escape. Not that I can't listen to those I disagree with, I just don't care much for empassioned political talk. It ends up with hurt feelings, mine or others.....and....well, I try to avoid that. Much of my beliefs lie in what is good for people. We all need to find joy and happiness in life, and our beliefs should not restrict those things for others. But since we all have differences in opinion we tend to find issues that separate us.  Topics that can drive us apart as passions and beliefs can run deep.

What is sad is that we appear to have lost the skill of compromise. The ability to find middle ground is apparently lost. Politics in America has come down to win or lose. No middle, no compromise, no working together, no give and take.  The latest evidence of this is shared in the resolution shared below that took place here in Wisconsin. Two Wisconsin Government leaders were given a resolution of non-support and no-confidence simply because they acted on the best interest of the school districts in Wisconsin. Why did they do this? Because they have actually had long and meaningful discussions with educators. Because they cared about all the time and money already invested in district's aligning to the Common Core State Standards. Because they decided not to support a move to rename the standards, to change little, but to change enough to make it a pain in the neck and the pocket book of districts (and taxpayers), and to allow the Governor to put his stamp on the standards in Wisconsin and rename them as better standards, his standards. This appears to be just another stake in the heart of compromise.....

2014 –Resolution of non-support and no-confidence for Sen. Luther Olsen and Rep. Steve Kestell
WHEREAS the Republican Party of Wisconsin adopted a resolution calling for the rejection of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) at the 2013 state convention, for numerous reasons listed therein and
WHEREAS the Republican National Committee at its 2013 spring meeting adopted a resolution rejecting the Common Core State Standards for all the reasons stated therein and
WHEREAS Common Core State Standards are nothing more than a continuation of the past failed programs of the Federal Department of Education and the Wisconsin State Department of Public Instruction that sought to indoctrinate students instead of educating them and
WHEREAS State Senator Luther Olsen obviously has and continues to act as a biased champion for CCSS in Wisconsin and has failed to withdraw his involvement in educational matters in which he has a conflict of interest as between his and his wife’s interests and that of taxpayers and constituents
WHEREAS Senator Olsen and Rep. Kestell have remained manipulative, misleading and unaccountable in their dealings with Wisconsin citizens, even with their own constituents who have repeatedly voiced their wishes and been ignored by Senator Olsen, Rep. Kestell and their office staffs alike and
WHEREAS Senator Olsen and Rep. Kestell appear to have personal and independent motives in their promotion of Common Core State Standards which do NOT reflect the views of the members of the Republican Party of the 6th District, the Republican Party of the State of Wisconsin, and the Republican National Committee and
WHEREAS Senator Olsen and Rep. Kestell do NOT seem to have the ability, inclination or commitment to represent the views and positions of their constituents regarding education issues in the 6th District, the State of Wisconsin and the Republican National Committee;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that Senator Olsen and Rep. Kestell resign their positions as state chairs of the education committee and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Republican 6th Congressional District of Wisconsin, in caucus assembled, assign Senator Olsen and Rep. Kestell a vote of no-confidence and a declaration of non-support and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that copies of this resolution be delivered to ALL Wisconsin Republican legislators and the Governor before April 1st, 2014.

March 19, 2014

Don't Blame the Goat

Let's face it....it is far easier to blame some one or some thing else for the challenges we face.  We've all been guilty of it.  We learn at a young age that it is far easier to point the finger at Billy over there (yeah, he's the one who did it), than it is to face up to the fact that we did something wrong or made the bad choice.

No, this post isn't about assigning blame to you, or anyone else for that matter......it's about our tendency to blame problems on outside forces, more accurately to blame problems on factors that aren't the actual problem.

I tend to hear a lot of griping about the Common Core State Standards.  Have you heard about those things? Once or twice maybe? To be honest, I'm a little tired of it. There are a myriad of reasons for the blame: They are too rigorous. They are too age inappropriate. They are too many. They are signs of Federal Government control. They were created by Republicans. They were installed by Democrats. It's a Socialist Conspiracy. They were influenced by Publishers and Education Businesses (I tend to buy into that one).  

The thing is, I think many of us (at least educators in Wisconsin) have to admit that our previous standards were a little weak, way too many, and our bar was set a little low. To me, the new standards are a gift sent at a time that it was sorely needed. They provide direction without declaring the content. They are focused on skills, deeper learning, critical thinking, analysis and creation of products that all directly deal with real life application as compared to the previous standards which dealt with......passing a multiple guess test.

What do I really see in the complaints?  Fear.  Not, "oh I'm scared!! Run away! Run away!"  No, I mean the fear of having to learn new things. Fear of not having enough time. Fear of not knowing what is okay to throw out from the old. Fear of technology integration. Fear of how kids will adapt. Fear of raising the bar too high. Fear of kids failing new tests. Fear of that student failure reflecting on a teacher's performance.

Are some of these fears valid.....to a point, yes. We have significantly raised the bar of expectation.  Is that a bad thing?  I think not. Raising the bar of expectation for me, has always forced me to improve. Of course bar raising is often done by outside forces like your boss, your spouse, your district or even your government. So, we see it as something we have to do, reluctantly maybe, but we do it, because we have to, or because we do realize it is what is best for kids, but we do it.

Besides raising the bar though, we have also significantly increased the rigor and complexity of the tests. They absolutely will be tougher than the previous multiple guess tests we used to hand out. Of course, even that may not be the scariest part. The big fear factor seems to come from the fact that now these tests affect a report card that each school gets. A report card that is designed to look amazingly like a 0-100% scale. Also an interesting thing that is taking place, the Governor and many Legislators from Wisconsin (can't speak for other states) would also like to impose accountability measures for schools that do not perform well on their state report card. There is pressure to recall the Common Core State Standards and create more rigorous standards that would be created by a legislative panel. This is all taking place of course, while school funding is being reduced. So, it is getting easy to see where some of the teacher fear comes from.

My concern though is that it is constantly blamed on the Common Core State Standards. Is that really what we should be fearing?  Are the standards really what we should be blaming?  Or have they become an easy scapegoat for all of the other messes going on. What truly are the things that are causing instability and insecurity in this noble profession? I have asked my staff to stop even using the term Common Core State Standards. We just call them the standards.  We are choosing to focus on the skills our kids need for today. If we are truly preparing our students for the world they will be entering, then we will easily meet the standards. And more importantly than them passing a test, they will be ready to pass into our society and be successful people, employees and citizens......and that is what we need more of.

March 11, 2014

Get Back Up Again

I have some amazing teachers, and even better I have some great conversations with them.  I don't know if all administrators take the time to really talk with their staff.  Not to their staff, but with them.  I'm not talking about standing in front of them and telling them about the next initiative or program that they will be undertaking.  I'm not talking about telling them about the budget, the latest policy or the recent data from state tests.  I mean sitting down with them and talking about what really matters to them.  Their opinions, their ideas, their passions, their fears, and their experiences.....these are the things they want to share with you.

Today I had one of those amazing conversations with my staff as we discussed creating the vision for our school and what we are all about.  But through this conversation, I discovered that the staff was feeling a sense of overwhelm from all of the initiatives and programs that had been implemented in the past few years.  Okay, I didn't really just discover that today.  I had realized this feeling a while ago, and even more honestly, who hasn't realized this about teachers. But, what was interesting was that they had shared that they were very frustrated by the lack of training they had been given in all of the initiatives and curricular programs they had taken on recently.  

Well, I can understand that. No one likes to feel unprepared, especially for a job they perceive as incredibly important and that comes with heavy scrutiny by outsiders.  Wouldn't it be nice if everyone thought teaching was incredibly important? But I digress, the point is, my staff felt as though they were thrown to the lions unprepared.  That they had been given a highly technical handbook and told to read through it and begin the next day.  I am not sure how accurate that feeling is to what was actually done, but I know that is how they feel.

Here is also what I know.  My staff is AWESOME!! I have been incredibly impressed with their knowledge and skill since I have come to my new district.  The expertise and knowledge in my buildings (I actually have 3) has truly impressed me and I give a great deal of credit to my predecessor and to my staff.  If they truly have not been given much in the way of training and professional development on the Daily 5, PBIS, Math Expressions, Common Core State Standards, PLCs, Curriculum Mapping, and more, then I am impressed with how well they have adapted and learned about these initiatives without much support.

That is not to say that they don't have things to work on.  We all do.  I know I do. As soon as we see ourselves as not needing to grow, then I think we need to take on the new job of improving our golf game or lawn care techniques, and the best time to do that is in retirement.  And the wonderful thing is, my staff has embraced that concept already.  They are learners.  But what I fear, and what I gathered from today's conversation, is that they don't see themselves as self-directed learners, or as the experts in the room.  They fear they don't have the knowledge or the skill set to teach themselves.  They know they can teach kids, but not themselves or their peers.  And the funny thing is..........they do already.  They have been doing it for a while.  They have taught themselves how to implement the Daily 5 framework into their reading and writing program. They have learned how to implement a PBIS program. They may have connected with other districts also doing this type of a program, they may have gone to a workshop to hear other stories of its implementation or its philosophy, but no one has come in and done extensive training with them.  They have trained themselves. Educated themselves.

The problem, I believe, is that they have begun to listen to the naysayers, the un-involved experts, the lounge-chair microphone hungry political planners that have said our teachers are falling short, and that we need to revamp the system.  They have lost sight of the fact that they are the experts within the system and that no one knows this game better than themselves.  Well.......I won't stand for it anymore. I am going Bobby Knight on them. We are going to become the best at what we do by sticking with the fundamentals, and fundamental #1 is that you have to believe in yourself!!! 

We will develop resilience in ourselves so that we can develop it in our students. We will try things and fail.  But, we will learn from them, get back up, and become even better. We will not fear the failure. We will not fear the mistakes, the things we don't know yet, the effort of learning or the courage of getting back up again. Because when you get right down to it, that is what learning is for kids every day, and I won't ask it of them if we don't ask it of ourselves.  And as I shared this expectation with my staff, you could see chins rise, eyes brighten, and cheeks become flush.....because they knew they could do all of this as well. Because they had done it all before. Yeah, they may think they haven't have been trained in many of the things they have learned how to do.......but that's only because they have forgotten to see themselves as some of the most qualified trainers available.  I can't wait to see where they will take themselves!!

Have I mentioned how impressed I am with my staff?

March 7, 2014

Amongst The People......

So it's Parent/Teacher Conference night and I have decided to move myself out into the main entryway of our school so that I can meet more parents and say "Hi" to the students that tag along, all to avoid the isolation of my office.  Yeah, this could be one of those nights when I could catch up on things if I  chose to hide in my office, but I really prefer to be out here in the mix and meeting all of the families that stop by.  Tonight I will be joined by the District's School Board President as we attempt to inform parents of our upcoming operating referendum.

As I sit out here and see the importance of my being out "amongst the people," I start to ponder how some administrators don't see the importance of that day in and day out in our role within the school.  Although maybe they know the importance, they just can't find a way or the time to make it happen.  I know I can find myself feeling trapped in my office and I absolutely feel like I could and should be in classrooms more.  But, I do feel slightly consoled when staff tell me they see more than they have seen other administrators in the past.  I'm not trying to make a comparison to anyone, I still weigh my effectiveness by the growth of our students and my staff's feelings on our building climate. 

It's pretty easy for an administrator to get locked away into their office, handling all the management pieces of the job that can easily fill a day.  Paperwork, budgeting, parent contact, discipline, and e-mail can all be done from a desk, eliminating your time to get into classrooms to see kids and teachers in action, allowing you to interact and build relationships with those most important people in your building.  This is easier said than done.  I try to make it a daily goal to get out amongst the students and staff, in the classrooms, where the learning takes place.  I have found a way to make it a little easier.  The cart in the photo allows me to take my office with me (except my phone) and see what is taking place in classrooms, halls and other spaces while keeping some of those managerial tasks close at hand.  This tool will help me with our new online observation tool, it will help me be quickly accessible when I am not in my office, and it will help me understand our students and staff by not just hearing about what is taking place in our classrooms, but participating in it as well.

If you are an administrator, find a way to take those management tasks with you and get out amongst the people.  This little cart was well worth the money I spent on it.