Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Keep it Real, Make it Personal



Teachers have great ideas! What they do with them is the key. We are working in an age where personalization is becoming more relevant than ever before. Our students are expecting an education tailored to their abilities and interests. The work force, their future employment, is asking for a graduate that can express themselves personally and professionally in a digital age.

We are fully aware that students need an authentic and rich academic journey. Is it past time that we allow our teachers to explore those great ideas, to give them some freedom to make it pesonal? Too often we find ourselves constrained by time, resources, money and outcomes.  The outcomes of a regimented schedule of mandated assessments often take away a teachers desire to find the authenticity, the voice and the passion that they have in their desire to teach kids.

We ask our students to budget their time and to balance their interests. When at school we encourage students to get involved as much as possible.  Yet we as educators are controlled by a course of study and a list of learning outcomes that too often stifle our creativity, the very reason we got into this profession, and defeat the ambition that burns inside.

Being an educator is no easy task. There is content that has to be taught. And, undoubtedly, we need our students to master concepts in the course of study and show mastery of the material to grow on that quest for higher education and their pending employment.

Whether a business leader, academic leader or teacher leader, we need to help our colleagues get to a place where they can take their great ideas and apply them in their instruction. Encourage teachers to do things like: collaborative work spaces, Project-Based Learning, embedding technology and using social media as a learning tool.  We need take away rows of desks, add four fronts of the classroom and share in the teaching of material so that classrooms become an environment where all participants are both teachers and learners.

Supporting our colleagues to make their teaching authentic, to make it personal and foster a climate of trial and error in their instruction is pivotal to the educational experience of our students.

Take the great ideas and bring them to fruition.  Keep it real and make it personal.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Fueling the Fire



As building administrators it is a part of our instructional role to get into classrooms and observe our teachers. As teachers you should hope for it and demand it. The goal as an observer is to provide meaningful feedback to what we have observed with the intent to make the instructional process better for kids, better for teachers and better for the learning process.

The feedback that we give based on these walkthroughs must be genuine. It can not be surface expressions and meaningless. Telling a teacher something you observed was "great" is a start. Telling that teacher WHY it was great and how it impacted the learning for the students is what they need to hear.  With purposeful feedback, teaching improves and learning improves.

Teachers want administrators in classrooms and providing this authentic feedback. Teachers want engaging and purposeful dialogue about improving and growing in the process. Students also recognize when we are there. What used to be the running joke of students knowing a teacher was up for evaluation (based upon the visit of the school principal) has turned into the expectation of even our kids that administrators are a part of the lesson and it's common practice, not an anomaly.

There are great resources of what separates the good teachers from the outstanding ones.
  • Todd Whitaker has excellent resources that we can all learn from.  In his text What Great Teachers Do Differently, he outlines 17 different attributes of great educators. He also writes about Making Good Teachers Great where he continues the message of helping all educators reflect upon their practices.
  • The late Stephen Covey has sold millions of copies of his books detailing the characteristics of Highly Effective People.  Educational institutions and businesses alike adopt and adapt these characteristics for their success.
  • And, the Hilliard City Schools, the district in which I work, has embedded The 7 Characteristics of Highly Effective Leaders, Teachers and Students, their own variation, and intertwined the message into the everyday work of its staff. The districts 7's is a collection of resources into one list for all to incorporate, embrace and embed into their work.

As we reflect on what we have read, what we have studied and what has been shared, we can quickly generate our own lists.  As I have completed my walkthroughs this year there are some "must see's" each time I visit a room.  If there is evidence of these attributes then I can rest assured that there are great experiences, quality instruction and learning of content coming from that class and that teacher.  These are some questions as I ask and my "must sees":

  • What's the Purpose? Have Target Goals/I Can Statements - They need to be shared and visible throughout the lesson. Maintains focus for the teacher and the student.
  • Where do you talk about the work? Collaborative space - A space where kids and/or teachers can elaborate on their learning. 
  • Can you hear the learning taking place? Noise - Chatter as it connects to the learning. Discussions and debate are great. 
  • Who's doing the teaching? Students and teachers - Make sure there is movement by the teacher, and the students. Nobody can sit for over 6 hours a day. 
  • Have we tapped into the resources? There should be an infusion of technology - Somehow, someway. As either part of the instruction or an extension of it. 
As we continue to grow in our profession, continue to reflect on your must-sees, must have's and must do's. Continue to get into classrooms. Jim Collins writes that we need to go from Good to Great. Once we accomplish that, we will have endless success.

Define, look-for and then provide feedback for your must-sees.  Be the spark that fuels the fire.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Checking the Pulse


Like many mornings to start my day at school, I was roaming the halls before the first bell interacting with students and teachers alike.  Lockers opening and closing, teachers chatting across the halls over the tops of students heads and kids waking up slowly, teachers the same. Each person I interacted with turned on the "switch" as my greeting of good morning hit their ears.

I moved from the hallways into the classrooms, I engaged in conversation with a handful of different students and their teachers to get a pulse of the day. It was rewarding to hear upbeat responses that contained alertness and readiness. Students and teachers were revved and ready to go for the day ahead.

As you go through your daily routine, make sure to take minute and check the pulse of your building. Follow a few simple steps to ensure your building and your classroom are beating at a healthy rate.
  • Be visible - get into classrooms everyday. Doesn't matter if it is to start the day, or end it. Make sure your students see you as part of the instructional process by being engaged in their teachers work.  Walkthroughs count but so does the informal drop-in.
  • Reach out to your teachers, reach out to your students. Find a connection with your colleagues and/or a certain student(s) and acknowledge their efforts. Share with them something you appreciate that they have brought to your building or your classroom.  Send a note. It's worth it.
  • Acknowledge something that is a concern, needs to be better or that needs addressed. Let's face it, no matter how good we are at our jobs, administrators or teachers, there is always something, big or small, that needs improved.  Own it, work on it, improve it.
  • Agree to get better. Whether through listening, interacting, instructing or advising, know that as an academic institution staying stagnant is not an option. We must work collectively and collaboratively to identify our deficiencies and seek out solutions for improvement.

When it comes to connecting with students, George Couros offers his own perspective. He posted 6 Ways Principals Can Connect With Students after he heard this from his niece:

My 8 year old girl when asked what a Principal does, “It’s that person that talks to you when you’ve done something bad.” #cpchat
—Alec Couros (@courosa) August 25, 2012
George suggests the following as part of your regular practice as a building administrator:
1. Welcome the kids when they arrive.  Wave goodbye when they leave.
2. Your first interaction with a student should be a positive one.
3. Talk as little as possible.
4. Use humor to deal with situations any chance you can.
5. Do the walk.  - Every day when I was in school, I would purposely get up and be present in every single classroom.
6. Kids will love you if they know you love them.

The entire article can be found at: http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/3220

When you make your rounds during the morning and throughout the year, make sure you keep checking that pulse and ensure it is beating better than ever. Establish your own set of expectations for yourself and your teachers and teachers for your students.  

Whether the instructional leader of a classroom or the instructional leader of the building, take the time to connect, interact and demonstrate your investment to the students and staff.






Saturday, February 15, 2014

Finding Balance


The past few weeks I have found myself focusing on finding balance. Since we started this school year back in August we have been working ourselves harder than ever in the changing world of education. Whether as administrators or teachers, each of us have given countless hours to our classrooms, our staff's and our own professional growth.

You are an example of your commitment to your own career more than ever. You have the foresight to know that growing yourself as a learner and leader is essential to your survival in this industry.  And with your passion to learn and your desire to guide others you will be able to help others on this path as well.

For us, the learners, social media has enhanced our work ten fold. We have taken to the internet to seek out the guidance and expertise that at one time in our careers was only delivered in the "library's" of our buildings.  What was once a district initiative to create PLC's through the work of Rick and Becky DeFour, we have multiplied our contacts exponentially with the growth of our Professional Learning Networks, our PLN's.  We can now seek out experts by simply sending a tweet or reading a blog.  And who those "experts" are has increased multiple times over as well.  And with this ability to be connected all of the time comes a risk that many times we don't even recognize. We begin to lose that balance.

With resources at our fingertips and the internet connecting learners and leaders at lightening speed, we still have to ensure ourselves that we find our balance. This year I have made it a priority to find focus on not just my professional growth but also ensuring that I give as much to my family, my faith and my friends.  With that commitment, I have enjoyed a few new adventures. As an avid runner I have joined a challenge, #500in2014, in which other runners across the world have set a goal for the group.  My family has embraced the cinema and have been checking off the movies leading up to the Oscars. And I write. That itself has been as therapeutic as anything I could have hoped for in my career.

And finally this morning. I woke up and grabbed a cup of coffee and settled into a hockey game.  Not quite the same as the Miracle from 1980, however the atmosphere in Sochi was electric and I could sense the excitement through the television. For the better part of two hours I sat on the edge of my seat, kids joining me as they awoke, and I simply enjoyed the time.  

Today, like other days, I took time out for me, my family and my friends.  I am continuing my commitment to finding the balance.  I would challenge you to do the same. 







Thursday, February 13, 2014

Twitter Chat - Breaking Barriers




(photo courtesy of allcreative.com)

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a first of its kind for our school district.  Some of us Twitter hungry administrators and teachers decided to attempt our first (of what we hope will become a series of) twitter chats. 

#HCSDchat

The intent was simple: exposure to the vast opportunities of twitter and conversation with a PLN (Professional Learning Network). The well versed invite the novice. Break down the fear, engage the hesitant. Demonstrate the simplicity and take away the barriers.  And what better way to start than to ask the one question we are all asked:

Why education?  Most answers fell into one of four categories: 

To Guide:

The Legacy: 
Ones Destiny:
The Future:

Where do you see yourself?  Think back to your experiences as you entered into your career path and selected education.  My guess is you, like the responses above, had a direction from the beginning. This was the start of an inspiring chat!

At the conclusion of the chat the moderators, plus a few, had a side bar.  We went old school and took to email to further the conversation and assess the success of the night. Our takeaway, and based on the immediate feedback from those that participated, we had hit the mark.  We know though that we are far from creating a trend and the true measure will be the attendance of week two. Our intention is to invite more, increase our numbers and hope that even more people join us globally.  If you are available, and want to be a part of our grass-roots district twitter chat, please join us on Tuesday nights at 8:30PM EST. 

#HCSDchat  

From the experts to the novice, we welcome your experiences, your perspective and your desire to make us better!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Be an Agent




The opportunities are limitless.  As an educator you can make a difference in the lives of people each and every day.  As you go through your day the number of interactions you have with others is unimaginable. Each and every moment of every day you have the ability to influence the mind and spirit of another and that is at your fingertips.  

As you begin each day are you reminded of the awesomeness of your position? Whether as a teacher of young students, an administrator of teachers or a combination of both, do you fully realize your potential as a change agent? 


Simply stated a change agent are people who act as catalysts for change.

Making your way through your day is much more than a task.  It is a gift to make a difference in the life of another person that is yearning for direction and knowledge.  We've each been tasked to make an impact that will better our environments.  As educators we should be aware of our passion for allowing others to fail and succeed and then fail again in the hopes of being greater each time.

Watching the people with whom you work, the change agents they are, are you as mesmerized by their talent, by their ability to get others to buy into their beliefs, their passion and their direction, as I am?

Each day there are events, happenings and occasions that make us take a moment to reflect.  Being the person that has the opportunity to make that change comes with a feeling of accomplishment.  Having a collective effort as an organization only makes those occasions that much more rewarding.

Go be catalyst of change. Use your talents. You have plenty of them!  

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Simply Sunday



Whether it be faith, friendship or a moment to take a day for yourself, enjoy these minutes of this day and be reflective of your path in life.

Be appreciative for those that have guided you and be mindful of those you guide.  Look at each passing moment as an opportunity to be better than the moment before.

Know that we each impact a life. Whether that of a child, our own child, or someone else's, as an educator we have been given a gift. What you do with that gift will be your legacy.

Be grateful that today, or any day, you have the gift to give, to read, to write, to learn and to grow. 

Enjoy this day, this Sunday.  



Friday, February 7, 2014

March in the Parade

Today begins 18 days of competitive athletics in Sochi, Russia. The Olympics and all of its pageantry begins. 

And, for the next 18 days, Olympic dreams will come true and dreams will be shattered.  Years of sweat and tears will result in either a trip to the medal stand or possibly a disappointed trip home.  

For many athletes across the world, however, their dreams were fulfilled the day they made their nations team. Just competing is an accomplishment all by itself. And for that, they are rightfully proud.



(Videos courtesy of NBC Olympics)

As I make the connection of the Olympics to my work, I am drawn into the dreams behind the eyes of my students.  Will my students dreams be reached? Will the hours of work pay off? Will injury or hardship impede their success?

How we measure success is often by the medals that are placed upon us and the ribbons handed out at the end of the competition.  

Watching the Opening Ceremonies and the athletes that march in behind their countries flag, I would like to think that dreams have been reached even without the medal placed around them.  Success is measured in a variety of ways. 

Celebrate, and acknowledge, those that "march in the parade". Celebrate, like the athletes in the video, as they discover who they want to be.  

When did we each know what we wanted to be?  When we work with our students, when do they know?  We are the ones that will help them reach their dreams and help them make it to the parade and possibly take the podium.


(Videos courtesy of NBC Olympics)









Wednesday, February 5, 2014

It's all in the bag!

The weather across the country has created an issue with calamity days (for those states that have them) in the state of Ohio.  The days missed and days required to complete a school year as required by law are having a trickle effect on the school calendar.

To tackle the issue of days missed the Hilliard City Schools opted to implement a concept introduced by the Ohio Department of Education in 2011, Blizzard Bags.  To have a successful implementation, our district leadership disseminated specific directions to building level administrators in which they shared with building staff, specifically the teaching staff who would be responsible for creating these assignments. And, as equally significant, a district message was sent to each home.  That can be read here.  

They keys to the effectiveness of the Blizzard Bag rollout was also captured in a letter I sent home to my parents the day before we anticipated being closed.  



Weaver Parents –

Teachers have been working hard to prepare Blizzard Bags in the event they are needed. While teachers make content available online in a variety of ways, WMS students can all start with the Teacher Webpages to locate their teachers' content. Click here or go to the Weaver Web Site (http://wms.hilliardschools.org/) and click on Teacher Webpages. 

Each Blizzard Bag will provide approximately 20 minutes of work per class. The student will have 2 weeks to complete the work. If a student does not have internet access, paper copies of the assignment will be made available by their classroom teacher. 

For additional information about the district's implementation of blizzard bags, please see this message from Superintendent John Marschhausen.

Thank you in advance!

Mr. Vroom

The call to cancel came in Wednesday morning and so the process began.  The true test was about to unfold.




From the early feedback we have received, overall our first attempt was a success.  Where there were issues, we will communicate with our colleagues to correct them.  We acknowledge them and we grow. Where there was success, we share that too so others can incorporate.



And in my home, from age 4-13, my kids spent the day growing as learners on a day that in the past was a day missed from instruction. 







Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Joining the Club, Ted's Club.

Each day we head off to the office, we never know what awaits us.  That is the beauty of our work in education. One of many.

A few weeks ago I pitched the idea of a Ted-Ed Club to my teachers.  I was hopeful that I could get someone to jump on the opportunity.  So many of us have been inspired by the organization and what it represents I knew that if we could get a club to our school the opportunities would be limitless. 

Today, the beginning of an amazing journey begins.  Thanks @ritakitchen for your willingness to step out of your comfort zone and take the leap of faith for our students.

For that, I am blessed to be in the job that I am.  I am looking forward to being in the Club!


Monday, February 3, 2014

Beat the Clock!

We all have them.  We can't avoid them and we know there will be more.  

Long Days.

Regardless, the drive that we posses as educators is what takes us back to the school building each morning.

As you think of your week ahead and all that falls within that "long day", I challenge you to write down some highlights that you experience.  

Do the following:

When you walk into your classroom or your office grab an index card, a piece of paper or open a note on your computer.  Next, create a couple of categories of people that you know you will interact with during the day.  For example: students, colleagues, classroom teachers or assistants, secretaries and custodians and of course, parents.



From there, without much thought or effort, go about your day.  Get into the chaos and the grind that consumes you from the first bell to beyond the last. Along the way make some mental notes of your experiences but don't over think it and don't try to find it.

When the day is over head back to your office or classroom and take 2 minutes to write down one or two interactions, or moments, or observations, preferably positive, that you experienced in each of those categories.

Leave the note there.  Come back the next day, repeat.

I challenge you to do this for a few days or even a couple of weeks.  Watch your list grow.  At most it will take you 15 minutes for an entire week of interactions in which a difference was made.

Over time you will stop writing them down and it will become a routine.

The meaning of the activity is simple.  The next time you are having a long day, grab that list. Write some things down.  Repeat.