Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The #CompelledTribe - We Have Spoken

(courtesy blogher.com)
The #CompelledTribe is speaking and we hope you are listening! A few months ago, myself, along with Jennifer Hogan, threw out a challenge to those on Twitter looking for bloggers who wanted to commit themselves to writing, commenting and sharing the work they were doing. The request was simple in nature and the participants knew it would take quite a bit of work and of course, effort.

As we near our first official posting date of August 1st, I can proudly say that the tribes are already speaking. And loudly! Our first theme is discussing the work that goes into returning to school. It might be discussing summer professional development, setting goals for the school year ahead or simply searching for the inspiration that will drive each member as they get ready to head back.

As you have time, take time to check out the members of the #CompelledTribe. You won't regret it. And, more so, we each hope our efforts might push you just a little bit when it comes to how you use reflection in your instruction and your leadership. In the end, that is the reason we are taking on this challenge. We, like you, want to improve on our work in every aspect.

Check out the tribe members, and their efforts, that are either Fueled By Vroom or Fueled By Hogan that are located on the front page of our blog pages and many of our tribe members. As you read, feel free to comment, and tweet, when you find something you like! 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

5 Ways to Get in Shape for Back to School Without Sweating

(courtesy of campoutkid.com)

Back to school is around the corner and students and teachers are starting to twitch and shake awkwardly as they try to deny the reality that yes, we have to go back to school. Extending summer is not an option.

As I was watching my own kids as they process the fact that their middle school sports begin in 5 short days, I see the look in their eyes when they realized that they had done very little, if anything, to physically prepare themselves for the conditioning that is approaching rapidly. Yep, a summer of much deserved relaxation and laziness has quickly turned into panic as they realize that running out of breath hurrying up the stairs is a sign of being out of shape. Granted they are 13 and it will only take a few days, maybe a week, to get back into top form, the reality is there are still the first few days of painful calisthenics that will rock their worlds. They will cry, they will hurt.

Much like my children, teachers that I have bumped into over the past week or so at the grocery or the park have an eerily similar look on their faces and a quiver in the tone of their voices. They too realize that what has been a much deserved, earned and appreciated few weeks away from school has just turned into the daunting reality that they too are "out of shape" for their own return to reality.

No worries. I have an easy fix, promise. As you wind down your summer, take a look at these 5 quick pieces of advice to get you in shape for the upcoming year. And remember, you too will be right back in top form in no time at all. And, most likely, never break a sweat!

1. Get On Twitter, Now. Whether to use it as a resource for information or using it as a resource of information, there is not one person within my Professional Learning Network (PLN) that has ever been disappointed in their feed. Follow people, read their ramblings and follow along on a chat or two. If you have made it this far, you can surely hop on one of the greatest social media platforms to learners.

2. If You Can't Read About It, Watch It. Or, Even Better, Listen To It. We know, never enough time in the day. Therefore, we have to make the time we do have as purposeful as possible while still leaving time for the joys of day-to-day life. YouTube, TeacherTube and the Internet in general have thousands upon thousands of educational and timely videos for you to stumble upon by simply typing in some key words. And, if you don't have the time for that, when out on your next walk, listen to that book you have been dying to read - on tape. I wish I would have started that years ago. I do it now and get through a book a month, if not more.

3. Tag, You're It! Pick Up The Phone. Sometimes we forget about a tool we have now taken for granted when it comes to connecting us across the miles. Face it, during the day we have some of the best conversations with our colleagues while walking the halls or grabbing a fresh cup of coffee. And, if that isn't a part of your daily routine, then phone a friend. We used to rely on the old-fashioned telephone for years. Now that everyone has gone to texting, Facebook or other methods of connecting we often forget about something so simple. And to think we use to have rotary phones. Remember having to re-dial with that device?

4. Write It Down, All Of It. We often tell our students, and even ourselves, to take notes, make flashcards and re-write our work in an attempt to learn the material "better". Take that concept and tie it into our own lives. If an idea comes across your plate or you have wrapped up a conversation with a colleague, jot down some notes of what went wrong, or right, so that you can learn from that next time. That is what this blogging thing is all about for many.

5. Simply, Start Moving. The world of education has some of the most brilliant minds on the planet and you are one of them. With that in mind and having that belief within you then you need to commit yourself to connect, reach out, drive, fly, walk or crawl into a conversation, a book an article or an opportunity with the intent of being better. You won't regret it. And, as a bonus, getting back into shape will come quicker then ever.

Ready. Set. Go.

Enjoy the rest of the summer!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Constant Growth

It is difficult to fathom not challenging myself during these past couple of months away from the routines of the school day to grow professionally. Reading, following twitter chats, conferences and of course, blogging, have all been a part of the routine.

Does this sound familiar to you?

Most likely, yes! Why? Because you have taken the time to stumble upon my ramblings of this blog. Well, more than just that. In fact it is through your commitment to reading, tweeting, blogging, courses and conferences that you are growing. You are more capable of being better today then you were yesterday. You yearn to being a better educator, student and/or person. That is commendable and should not be overlooked.

Most of "us" just take this learning for granted. We do it and therefore assume so has everyone else. Is that the case? Doubtful. You have challenged yourself, even subconsciously, to grow in your knowledge of being a better teacher, leader, student or person for the unforeseeable future. You have taken a pivotal step in being better.

Here is my struggle and my concern. What to do with those that have not challenged themselves professionally during this time of year and therefore missed out on opportunities for professional growth. Are they going to be left in our dust?

(courtesy cnn.com)
We have read the books, we have heard the keynotes. Growing ourselves professionally is a necessity to our survival. For nine months out of the year our school districts provide it for us. We are given time, release days, and often money to attend workshops and have collaboration time.

Therefore I ask this: If it is so important for our districts to create professional development budgets, line items in our finances, why would we not continue that learning during the time we are not in daily contact with our teachers, leaders, students or communities?

(courtesy indiereader.com)
With the summer days ticking away I challenge you to reach out to a colleague and check in on their summer of growth. Talk about everything and anything. Connect and open the conversation about how much success we have had in our roles and how we are going to have just as much in the year ahead. Let's not wait until the district spends the dime and we "have to". Instead, let's avoid getting left in the dust and take the lead in our learning.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Stuart Scott, More than Booyah

Last night I found myself sitting down with a few extra moments to end the day. Normally I would use that time to simply flip through my twitter feed, scroll through Facebook postings or even check the channels on the television and find some brainless show to occupy the time. Last night was going to be different.

By now, many of you have heard, or even discussed, the moving speech given by ESPN's Stuart Scott as he accepted the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the ESPY's. This award named after the legendary basketball coach Jim Valvano is given to someone of high character who has been affected by an unimaginable turn of events in their life.  

Here is Mr. Scott's story: 

Many of us have loved ones that are faced with life-altering diseases or a circumstance that changes our normal or a series of events that no longer allows us to live as we once we did. Personally I have lost childhood friends, college classmates and as an adult have tended the bedside of ailing family and friends. Too many times our story ends in tears shed and lives remembered.

You too have been faced with adversity. You too have watched others struggle. We each have our stories with one no worse, or better, than another. 

What moved me to share this event was Mr. Scott's ability to articulate not only his fight, but his unwavering love of life and his desire take on this challenge. He made me feel his commitment to his persevere. He shared the love of his family, especially his daughters, and his need to feel normal when life was anything but. 

As you watch his acceptance speech (see link below) allow his words to be those of others that you know that continue to overcome daily challenges. Yes, he has the degree and the life experiences to be as eloquent as he is, however I would argue that his words are those of so many individuals that are faced with similar challenges each day. He truly defines what perseverance is. Keep up the fight Mr. Scott. You are an inspiration to so many.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fuel the Mind. Pick Up a Book

(courtesy mhpbooks.com)
Why is that sometimes what should be the easiest of tasks becomes the most complicated? Or, having that project that sits for weeks on end?

Consider the lose board on the fence. The paver on that sits just crooked enough to be an eye sore or the closet that has engulfed every last shoe and tie and shirt or skirt in a fashion that is anything but that. 

It can be either overwhelming or ignored.

With summer now in full swing, and many having already taken their summer vacation to a destination of their liking, here lies the challenge, something that can not be ignored, it is time to clean out the closet and gear up for what will be an amazing month ahead, August.

There are still many opportunities for some R&R, but at the same time, keeping those minds fresh is essential. Whether you pick up a book, organize your office, or simply keep those brain cells moving as you prepare for colleagues, students and families returning to the school house, I urge you to continue to grow yourself.

Looking for a good read? Check out these suggestions as part of your summer reading list, I did. They each speak to leadership, the art of teaching, innovation and the importance of relationships around us.

Here you go:

Steve Faber and his books Radical Leap, Re-Energized and Greater Than Yourself

Chip and Dan Heath as they share Switch

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner share Think Like a Freak after their hit, Freakanomics.

More great reads and awesome ideas from:

Scott Anthony has a hit on his hands with The Little Black Book of Innovation.

And if you need a review of some great leadership tips, Daniel Pink offers Drive.

Enjoy your reading, and, get those closets cleaned out too.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Innovation 101

Defining innovation is no small task. For the past few years we as educators have been tossing this word around and observing how it sticks. As a middle school principal with a staff close to 100, I am doing the same. I, along with my teachers, am watching, listening, and learning what it is to be innovative in this era of education.
Being on the cutting edge of best practices, we continue to explore new methods to deliver content and measure student growth. Teachers are allowing students to take more ownership of the lessons themselves and outdated practices are diminishing.
As we talk about the responsibility for the teaching and the learning within the classroom, we are recognizing that it is a shared task by both the student and the teacher. And, more than ever before, we are connected in what we are doing as teachers and how we support each other with our work. Social media is, where access allows it, a part of our daily work and our daily interactions with both students and teachers alike. Embedding today's technology in schools and classrooms is becoming more common and someday, we hope, will be universal for all educators at all levels.
Innovation in your school may or may not look similar to my own. Here are some topics to explore when having conversations with your colleagues about what it might look like as you walk through classrooms in your building:
Bring in Blended Learning—An approach that is taking our academic landscape by storm, Blended Learning combines the formal learning model and the schoolhouse approach and adds an online element to deliver content and instruction. This practice fosters innovation as well, as it allows for an element of student control and speaks to choice and voice in the learning process.
Shift to Project-Based Learning (PBL)—Having focused questions and solid, well-crafted assessments, allowing for multiple solutions, and getting the community of learners involved are all essential elements to a great PBL lesson. For PBL to be most successful, teachers use inquiry combined with accountability.  Schools across the country are working with their teachers to better understand how Project-Based Learning can increase student achievement.
Make Reflection and Feedback a Part of the Lesson—If you are not talking about teaching and learning in the moment, then you are missing the mark. Having students share out what they are learning at the point of delivery and giving feedback speaks volumes  for a teacher’s desire to improve the student learning experience. We need to be giving and receiving as much feedback as possible to support growth. If you haven’t yet done so, it might be time to have this conversation with your colleagues and add this element into your instructional expectations.
Groups & Teams—Sometimes our role as educators is to match our students’ learning styles, abilities, and interests with others—forming the best groups possible to work toward an assignment or academic goal. Being innovative can be as simple as creating groups of learners in a new, timely, and more strategic way. Being innovative can also mean knowing the distinctions that are sometimes drawn between groups and teams, and choosing the right format for the circumstance. Where the term "group" might mean any collection of students—or teachers—with a shared interest or purpose, "team" is more often used when group members not only share a common goal but work together interdependently, and are mutually accountable for that goal.
Make It Personal—I have written about this before and will continue to beat the drum. This is more than just knowing where a student is starting their academic journey at the beginning of each year or each unit of instruction. This is about creating a pathway to success based on their life-experiences, learning goals, and personal abilities. We will continue to be innovative in how we reach today’s students if we are encouraging personalization with our students. In the same regard, we as leaders should implement this same mindset for our teachers through their professional development. Not all teachers need to hear the same message all of the time and we should personalize their learning as much as we do our students.
Lead by Example—Get in the trenches and show what you can do when it comes to being innovative. Whether as a teacher or administrator, if you are not modeling what it is we expect to see from others, then we are no further ahead then where we started. So, get out of your comfort zone and lead, making visible what innovation can look like for all the learners that you work with.
Today, innovation is defining education.  What is included above is nothing more than a partial list of what is taking place in schools everywhere. I would encourage you to grow this list with your own thoughts, ideas, and creativity to best work with teachers and students in your environment.

If we remain focused on developing critical thinkers and problem solvers, being creative and supporting innovation in instruction, then we will have our students (and our teachers) ready for tomorrow.

Written for the National Center for Literacy Education. Find out more by going to their website at www.literacyinlearningexchange.org