Monday, September 26, 2016

Rethinking Professional Development - Friday Focus

If how we deliver content to students is constantly evolving than how we offer professional development to our teachers needs to continue to evolve as well. And the good news for many of us in the field of education, it is doing just that. Professional Development (PD) is on the move. It is better, smarter, more efficient and personalized. Educators are moving PD in the right direction. Just as powerful is the fact that there is an amazing number of exemplars in the field of how we can and should offer PD to and for our colleagues. Equally as powerful is that educators are and need to continue to find platforms to share what is and what is not working in relation to teaching and learning. And, for those of us that are connected, there are countless members in our #PLN that make us better at this very task.

When it comes to your own learning in how to become a more impactful educator, most teachers and administrators in the field of education value the need to continually grow themselves in all aspects of their jobs. Like growth mindset, professional development centers around the notion that we each strive to increase our abilities as educators by constantly growing our depth of knowledge. In an attempt to be relative to our audience, we must challenge our way of instructing them. When it comes to teaching and learning we must model our own growth if we expect those around us to embrace the same expectation.

When it comes to the delivery of professional development with my teachers, the truth is that I am no genius when it comes to best practices. I know very little theory in the matter. The reality is that my approach to professional development for my teachers, and the training I have, is in large part to what I have observed from those around me, including you. Simple observation has been most greatest tool. Application of what is best and removal of the ineffective has been my greatest asset. Instead of just doing, I do with purpose. I model what I observe.

Think about the best PD you have experienced. The following characteristics should be present:

  • collaborative
  • shared ownership
  • an environment that fosters the idea that the collective whole is greater than any one common presence
  • open communication
  • each participant feels valued and respected
  • meaningful and relevant content
  • applicable to your role and those you serve
  • student-centered
  • interactive
With this list of characteristics (and more that you could add) think ahead to your next opportunity to learn with others. If you are the leader of this PD then I encourage you to think about the ways, platforms, tools and resources to ensure the needs of the audience are met. If you are on the receiving end of the professional development than make sure that your school leaders embrace these common threads of PD.

Here is an example of how I am rethinking PD that supports each of the bulleted items above. This is just ONE of many forms of ongoing embedded growth. Please feel free to use this idea in your work with your colleagues.
This week my assistant principal and I continue our Friday Focus (link that explains what it is with questions) series in which we invite staff to our innovative Media Center as we discuss our next topic. This week we discuss Parent Engagement in the Learning Process as we prepare for the end of the first quarter. On Monday (going in to the Friday Focus) we share out questions to consider so that staff members can be reflecting on it throughout the week. Then, on Friday, we simply facilitate the conversation allowing our teachers to share out best practices, ideas and suggestions for the weekly topic. Teachers come to the Media Center during their plan period. Conversations can last anywhere from 10 minutes to the end of the period (50 minutes). Teachers can come and go as they please and it is NOT required and we do NOT take attendance. Each semester we have four of these "Focus" conversations. Next semester our staff will determine the topics by using a Google Form to submit ideas.  So far, so good. Great feedback from our staff.
As you continue with your year in learning and growing as an educator, continue to embrace how you offer and how you learn when it comes to professional development. You do not need a title to offer rich, meaningful and intentional content to those around you. You need a passion for growth and a willingness to learn.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

What I Have Learned So Far This Year

This week will mark the one-month moment in our school year. Hard to believe that a little over 30 days ago we were in our final stages of preparing for students and staff to return. The excitement, anticipation and eagerness is still with us today as it was just a few short weeks ago.

Putting time into perspective, it is hard to believe that one-ninth of the year has passed. You heard that correctly. Thirty days of teaching and learning have concluded. There is no "do-over" for the days and weeks that have passed. How have you made the most of your first month with students and staff? For me, it was full of learning and in many cases, reaffirming all that I believe when it comes to education. With that, it is time to reflect on what those 30 days have taught me. And, in 30 more days I will do the same.

Here is what I have learned so far this year:

1. It is All About Relationships. We were purposeful in how we welcomed our students back. We were intentional in how we established our school culture. And in the end we must sustain those relationships and come back to them each and every day. Our #1st3Days must be in existence all 180 school days of the year. It is how we are intertwined with each other that will set a tone for the direction we will go. (Resources - Sean Gaillard and Bethany Hill)

2. Personalized Learning and Blended Learning are Everywhere. What spent much of last year as a buzz term in education, personalization of teaching and learning for all students is truly taking form as we get into the second month of school. Both administrators and teachers are embracing the craft of ensuring each students academic experience is aligned with their style of how they are taught and how they best demonstrate mastery. Personalization is best practice and has rightfully taken its place in our schools. (Resources - Randall Sampson and Marcia Kish)

3. Homework is Out. Whether a social media revolution or Hattie's work has finally made it into mainstream academia, teachers are realizing that piling up hours of evening work for their students has very little value and in fact is as archaic as rows of desks in classrooms. For those that are well versed in the research, we know we need to move homework out of the students after school experience and instead focus on more impactful practices. We as educators who believe in this shift need to continue to share with your colleagues. (Resources - Connie Hamilton, Starr Sackstein, Samantha Althouse)

4. Space Matters. Three years ago I took on the task of revamping our Media Center in the middle school in which I serve. Having been furnished in the mid 90's, it was time to re-think the space that I considered the hub of our school. Seeking the input of our community, doing some research on higher educational settings and listening to professionals talk about their evolvement of their spaces, we completely overhauled the focal point of our building. Now, students and teachers clammer to head to a location that is open and inviting. With comfortable seating and a mindset of 21st century best practices, our teachers are also rethinking how the space in which they serve students needs to evolve as well. (Resources - Dwight Carter)

5. Instructional Feedback is Essential. This past week I found myself in a couple of tough conversations. I had stepped into a classroom and decided to stay for a while in an attempt to learn a little bit more about the co-teaching delivery that was taking place. While knowing the teachers had good intentions, I found myself a bit frustrated in what I was observing. I took some mental notes, reviewed the time I was in the room for 24 hours and then decided the next day that the teacher(s) and I would need to have a pretty straight forward conversation about best practices. It was time for some intentional feedback. In the end, there is work to be done. The positive is that the teachers are receptive to my involvement and are learners themselves. With this relationship, and an establish growth mindset, students will benefit. Even though it will take some time, I look forward to all parties growing through this purposeful conversations over time. (Resources- Neil Gupta and Jennifer Hogan.)

As you work through your year, make sure to take time and do some intentional reflection on the progress you are making in your own teaching and learning. Having taken some time off from blogging to start the year, I am re-energized to get back at it and tell our schools story in growing as leaders and learners.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Not Your Ordinary Start to School

We are tired, we are spent and we could not be more excited to be both. The past week has been a whirlwind of emotions. Like many of you, school has resumed and we are already on a pace to accomplish so many great things on behalf of teaching and learning.

This year, we started school a bit different. Check that, we started school like we had never began before! Our "rule" for the first few days was to focus on relationships. You know, the kind of relationships between students and teachers and with teachers and students and with the students and each other. You know, the interactions between people, young and not so young, that drive us to achieve and succeed. Our focus was simple: relationships first. Our plan was something unique.

With that, as a staff of 80+ educators who serve 950 7th and 8th graders, we came up with a plan. A mighty grand plan! What did we do? Well, we agreed last spring that we would place a hold on content for the first three days of school. We agreed that we would follow the lead of educators like Dave Burgess, Alan November and George Couros (among others) and we would center all of our energy and all of our efforts around getting to know one another. We would embrace the straightforward concept that if we get to know our learners (and they got to know us), all of the days that follow will build upon the foundation that we had created within our community. 

Simply put - if you get to know me and you will believe in me and if we will have trust in one-another, then there will be a commitment to the growth of each of us in all aspects of our learning experience. This will include the critical components of the social and emotional elements of our journey this year. We would be invested in each other. 

We would be a team, a family. 

And with that, our #1st3Days took off. What began as a simple idea, a concept, built around the belief that our relationships, community and culture drive our success, turned into three solid days of devotion to the art of building those very relationships. In those three days we formed a bond that will lead us down a path of honest, real, and at times difficult, moments in our learning this year. 

We know that we believe in one another. We believe in our team. Our passions are real. Student, teacher, parent, community. We are a collective unit. We have many directions but we will move as one. We will have a year like no other.

As you reflect on your back-to-school experience, I would encourage you to be intentional with how you welcome both teachers and students back through your doors of your classrooms and buildings. Through conversations with others, using social media and simply hearing from colleagues near and far, there are great things happening this month of school in each corner of education. Borrow ideas, reach out to those in which you see great things happening and be courageous in all that you do. You get one chance to start your year. The more energy and effort you put into that, the days and months that follow will only magnify in opportunities to learn and grow. 

And remember to do the following each step of the way:

Have a vision.

Overcome obstacles. 


Have purpose.

Be intentional.

Your drive will determine your fate.

Your will is powerful. Believe in it. 

Find your "why". Answer it.

If you would like more information about the #1st3Days at Weaver Middle School, please contact me at: Phone works too: 614.921.7700. I would love to share the step-by-step plan of how a building this size pulled off an experience like no other. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Back-to-School Checklist for Administrators

The first days of school are closing in and it is time to welcome back your school staff, district administration and your school community. You are about to begin another year in their journey of teaching, leading and learning. Without question, it is the most exciting time of year!

As we begin our year as administrators (I am the principal at Weaver Middle School in the Hilliard City School Distict in Hilliard, OH) we are fully aware of the many hats that we wear. Pulled in various directions at any given time, our positions are not for the faint of heart. Like your staff, we too are fortunate to shape the minds of others. Our leadership is essential to those that work with us and for us. They look to us for direction, support and encouragement each and every day. We have a role and responsibility like no other.

As you begin your year as a school administrator, regardless of what position that might specifically be, I would encourage you to consider the following essentials for a successful year. 

Here is a back-to-school checklist for administrators:

1. Putting Relationships First. Recently I wrote A Back-to-School Checklist for Educators in which I emphasized that the relationships you create, foster and maintain with others will be the backbone to your success. As administrators this is the same. If you stay true to getting to know your teachers, your Central Office team and all of those that look to you for your leadership, the results of your organization will be limitless. Likewise, if you do not invest in those you turn to for their expertise in the classrooms and the buildings then do not be surprised when the climate of your building turns cold and the culture takes a dive toward dismal. Relationships with all stakeholders should be priority one as you begin the year.

2. Providing Ongoing Feedback. We ask teachers to provide feedback to students and students use feedback to grow as learners. As administrators we ask for feedback for the evaluation process. With that in mind, do not wait for an evaluation or a scheduled moment to provide feedback to your teachers and your colleagues. Having worked under a variety of superintendents, the one I have the most respect for is the one who provided me constructive feedback within my role within the moment. Whether you realize it or not, teachers and administrators crave feedback to their work. That is what drives us to be better.

3. The Art of Listening. My teachers often remind me when to "turn it off". I am fortunate to have a rapport with my staff that they are open enough to tell me when enough is enough. Taking the time to listen to your teachers and your staff is essential. Whether a scheduled conversation or just a moment in time passing through the halls, listening to the good and the bad of your organization is essential. Soak in their ideas, opinions, feelings, emotions and experiences and know that the art of listening goes a long way in building a successful school climate and a community of learners.

4. Having Accountability. If there is one area in administration that I believe takes more effort than any others aspect of leadership, it is the practice of holding ourselves and our leaders accountable. It is not an easy aspect of our jobs. However, we know what is best for kids and we know best practice. And, we know what sound instructional experiences should look like. With that being said, if you observe something occurring in a classroom or a building that is not aligned with your districts vision, mission and goals then use your leadership skills to address it. We are the administrator. We hold others accountable just as we hold ourselves to that same standard and expectation. Be supportive but be direct.

5. Serving Our Community. The word leadership means one thing above all other to me. My role as a leader is to serve. Serve my teachers, my colleagues, our students, their parents and the community in which we live and attend our schools. It is a role that should not be taken lightly. Serving others is the foundation of what we do. How we act and how we model our work in education is essential to our growth and our success. As you begin your school year make sure that you are committed to this essential component of your position. To lead is to serve. Do so with humility and with pride. 

As I shared in my last post, think about all of your back-to-school items on your checklist and remember the amazing responsibility we have as educators. There is so much that will be accomplished as long as we are intentional and purposeful in how we return. And, if you are dreading your return to school, then please weigh your options and consider not coming back at all. We need administrators that are overflowing with anticipation and excitement to welcome a new school year. Be ready to make a difference in the life of a child and an educator and your community.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Back-to-School Checklist for Educators

For many of us, the first day of school can not come soon enough. For those in the northeast, no worries, you still have until Labor Day to get in the many important summer outings. However, for those across the midwest, the south and to the far west, we will heading back to school in the coming weeks. And, we are getting excited to do so!

Back-to-school means so many different things to students, teachers and leaders alike. It is a new opportunity to explore new experiences. Relationships will have an entirely new starting point, slates are wiped clean and the learning that will take place is endless. We are our only obstacle and we can control how the year begins and where we will go throughout the months ahead.

Now that back-to-school is closing in, here is a checklist for educators to start the year:

1. Relationships First. The excitement heading into this year is powerful. The staff I am fortunate to work with has committed to starting their year like never before. We are committing the first three days of school to forming, fostering and embracing the relationships with our students, parents and community. "The content can wait", is what we have agreed to and is our slogan out of the gate. Investing every ounce of energy in to getting to know the community of learners we are going to work with for 180+ days can not. I look forward to sharing out about our #1st3Days in mid-August. We challenge you to hold off on diving into specific content. Instead, get to know those that you will spend an amazing amount of time with in an intentional and meaningful way.

2. Bring Patience. Just as much as this is a reminder for you as the teacher and leader, this is also to be kept in the forefront of your mind as students and parents enter the building. Whether a first-time kindergarten child or parent, a high schooler heading off to their freshman year or a teacher just starting their career, the first days of school can be full of angst and stress that we can collectively work together to ease. Deep breaths, lots of smiles and the sounds of laughter abound should fill your first days of school. Be patient and find the bright spots even in the most difficult of moments as the stresses of back-to-school arise.

3. Think Foundation. Whether working with staff, greeting parents at open house or standing by the front doors on the first days of school, the back-to-school experience means the start of a new journey in teaching and learning. Each moment of each day should build upon the next. What you do today will prepare your audience for tomorrow. Very little of what we do happens in isolation so think foundation as you begin to build those essential relationships. It's worth starting one brick at a time and being the mortar that holds it all in place.

4. It is a Story. Just like the first days are the foundation of your year, each day there after is a part of the story that has yet to be written. Different characters will take shape as the story unfolds and the setting will be your classrooms and school buildings in which we learn collectively. As the teacher and the leaders in our respective buildings we hold the key to whether our story and the story of our school community is a best seller or not. Just as an author has to make revisions to their work, we too have an opportunity to make corrections in our teaching and learning. Be inspired by the story you are writing.

5. Celebrate Day One. In our #1st3Days we are not only going to focus on relationships and think foundation, we are also going to celebrate our students and our staffs return to school. What many educators think to be end-of-the-year activities, we are putting them at the beginning. Instead of sitting and hearing syllabus upon syllabus, we are going to set a tone of expectations and excitement to our journey together. Nervous middle school students will be welcomed by eager teachers ready to explore endless learning opportunities. We will celebrate day one and every day there after.

As you think about all of your back-to-school items on your checklist, don't lose sight of the amazing responsibility we have as educators. There is so much that will be accomplished as long as we are intentional and purposeful in how we return. And, if you are dreading your return to school, then please weigh your options and consider not coming back at all. We need teachers and leaders that are overflowing with anticipation and excitement to welcome a new school year. Be ready to make a difference in the life of a child and an educator.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

So Much to Learn

Later this week I head off to Boston to present at the November Learning, Building Learning Communities Conference on the invitation from Alan November. This is an amazing opportunity to share with a fresh audience of educators about my passion for teaching and learning.

I often ask myself how I have ended up in the place that I have. A kid growing up in upstate New York and having attended a small university in Ohio, I feel like I have finally found myself as an educator. I take great pride in being fully invested in my school community and that is essential for me. Also, I am fortunate to work in the school district that I do that not only embraces innovation, it demands it.

The reality is, however, I made some significant errors along the way to get where I am today. In fact, for a period of time I felt like I had mastered the art of "failing forward". Without that period in my life, however, I would not be heading off on a jet plane this morning to connect with passionate educators from across the globe to share my story.

My learning has been powerful. My story is about how I picked myself up, recognized my errors, accepted my need for growth and how I bought into the notion that I needed to increase my own learning which in turn would evolve me into a better practitioner, a better leader and a better person.

Keep the following in mind as you fail forward:

1. Embrace the uncomfortable. Just 4 years ago I was having some tough conversations with my colleagues about my direction in this field. While in my seat in, I sat and squirmed and felt like the walls were closing in. Those were some rough days in my journey. My decision that day was a simple one. Instead of running from this tough moment, I embraced it. I looked it dead in the eyes and demanded more of myself. The growth began immediately.

2. Own it. When failing forward the hardest part of the process is to own the errors. If your colleagues, community or even harder to accept your superiors are giving you the impression that you are losing your way, you can respond in one of two ways. My advice is simple. Own that there are improvements to be made and commit to seeing it through. The sooner you own it, the quicker the path to success.

3. Let down your guard. Too often when we fail we build up a wall of trust, or lack there of. That is natural and instinctive. As hard as it is, try not to leave that wall up. You can't get better on your own just as you didn't fail forward on your own. No, you were not pushed. However, at some point others may have stepped away on your journey. I understand being cautious just don't be resistant. Allow others to be a part of your improvements.

4. Have a plan. Now that you are owning your errors, moving forward to being a better educator and embracing the reality of your situation, make sure to know the direction you are heading. For me I had to reach out to my most trusted colleagues and friends. I owned my missteps and dove in to seeing my improvement. I created a plan, set some goals and put my eyes forward to the potential that was there to be had. For me, the plan is what made all the difference. Going in blindly just leads to more failing. Having a plan is essential.

I am not finished with my journey in teaching and learning and especially leading. I have more to do and there is a passion within me to share my story with each of you. We are unique. Our paths in life are independent of each other. However, at the end of the day, we have one goal in common. Simply, we want to be better today than we were yesterday. There is so much to learn.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

You Can't Fake It

Either you lead or you don't. At the end of the day, you can't pretend and you can't fake it. People are looking toward you with all that they've got. They have chosen this profession to make a difference. The last thing they need is someone with a title that can't make a decision for the sake of the organization. Educators need a leader who can be honest and transparent and a leader that embraces all that comes with the role.

Leadership is an art. It takes more than just a few courses at the local university or through an online class or two. It is not for the faint of heart and it is not intended to be a responsibility that just gets you on more notch in the belt. If you want to be any good at this thing called leadership, then you should consider the following:

Get Off the Fence. For every book I have read, meeting I have attended or conversation I have been exposed to, one sure way to find a leader that has their head in the wrong place is one that can't make up their mind. Yes, there are times for pause, for reflection and for ensuring you are doing what's best for kids and your community. However, when push comes to shove leaders have to know when to get off the fence and make a decision. Due diligence is one thing. Procrastination is another.

Follow Your Gut. Leaders have been given hours of upon hours of life experiences in the real world. We don't get these positions lightly. Believe it or not, whether you want to or not, someone actually looked at you, handed you the keys to that building and said something along the lines of, "You'll be great. Now go lead your staff and students to do amazing things!" Now that you have that shiny key and walk those academic halls, remember that the thing on your shoulders and that pit in your stomach actually can go hand-in-hand. Follow your gut and do what's best for kids, for your staff and for your community. It's not always going to be easy, but it will always be worth it.

Surround Yourself With Really Smart People. We have all heard the expression in regards to "the smartest person in the room is the room". Well, if that is the case then I will darn well make it a priority to surround myself with super smart people when it comes to teaching and learning. They will be at the door, peering in the windows and clamoring on the roof. Many of us fall under the umbrella of "jack of all trades and a master of none". My honesty puts me there. I know my strengths and weaknesses. I would like to think that knowing this is half the battle. At the end of the day, I find those that are not only smart at what they do but also a compliment to how I lead. Too many of the same minds leads to little progress. Get out of your comfort zone and find others that will help you be a better leader yourself.

Give Credit Where Credit Is Due. Truth - most of the really great things that I do in my leadership role in my building I had very little to do with when it comes to the inception. Truth - most of us get our ideas from the endless amount of resources in this global, digital age. If you come across a great idea or concept and want to implement it in your own institution, do us all a favor and let us know where the idea came from. As a leader who depends on trust and honesty, don't get caught with your pants down when a colleague learns that your "brain child" of an activity or lesson really came from someone up the street or across the globe.

Be a Closer. If there is one thing I have learned on this leadership journey it is that you have to close on your ideas and your desire to lead others. Charm and charisma works for a while. However, when the smile no longer does the trick and the handshakes have worn out their welcome you had better be able to close when it comes to all things in leading others. Holding others accountable, being transparent with your staff and being committed to your community are just a few examples of how you can close in on your relationships with others. Build the connections and do the right thing(s).

When it comes to leadership, you need to be "all-in" or you need to get all-out. The reality is that when push comes to shove and teachers are in the trenches or administrators are in the buildings you need more than just a shiny key to the front doors in order for others to believe in you and buy in to you. If you can't lead in a way that does so, move over, let someone else give it a go. and as always be truthful with yourself and don't fake it.