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My friend and fellow ASCD Emerging Leader, Matt Mingle, recently tweeted in a #satchat conversation that “@MMingle1: Can't help but think how easy it is to shift from leadership in action to leadership inaction. Hard to be ‘on’ all the time! #satchat.” Matt’s tweet actually has nothing to do with the rest of this post, but it did get me started thinking about lines and how easy it is to cross them. In the context of Matt’s quote, the line in Matt’s quote is the line between action and inaction and his quote points to how very close those two opposites really are.
So what “line” did Matt’s tweet start me thinking about? I started thinking about humor or, as I was “accused of” so many times when I was growing up: “being funny.” What does this have to do with leadership? Authentic interpersonal relationships (developing and maintaining) are, arguably, the most important part of leadership—our students, their families, our colleagues, our community members, and so on. For me, I face the challenge of being authentic (which, given the aforementioned accusation, includes being funny) and also being aware of the risks of “being funny.”
From a real “whole-child” and “social emotional” perspective, humor and joking can be important for bonding and creating connections (Anyone who has interacted with @ToddWhitaker can attest to this in our professional community!). On the other hand, it can also have the adverse effect of making someone feel like an outsider or feel uneasy or unsafe in a space. Whether with students, colleagues, peers, or friends, joking around can bring people closer together—but there is also a line—and if crossed, can make people feel marginalized, hurt, or disconnected. Much like Matt’s quick tipping point from “leadership in action” to “leadership inaction,” crossing from “laughing with each other” to people feeling “laughed at” or “laughed out” can happen fast and even blindside you.
@FredEnde, another friend and ASCD Emerging Leader, shares his #QuoteADay blog posts (http://fredende.blogspot.com/2014/07/quote-day-day-209.html) which reminded me to look at quotes about humor to help make my point here. Indeed, I have found two (Fred, feel free to use either, as neither is mine!). First, the words of adventurer Sir Edmund Hillary, demonstrates the positive social-emotional power of humor. He said that “when you're in a difficult or dangerous situation, or when you're depressed about the chances of success, someone who can make you laugh eases the tension.” Conversely, Erma Bombeck pointed at the line I am talking about here. She explained that “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”
I’d suggest that we can often see that line coming, even if it comes fast. Some people (especially younger students) are more obviously uncomfortable with jokes and joking around. That is not a flaw in them, but an obligation in those of us who like to joke. We are obliged to recognize, understand, and genuinely honor their different relationship with humor from ours.
The particularly thorny situations, however, are not with those who are less comfortable with humor than we are. Rather, the risk of being blindsided is with those who we have the most similar personalities, those with whom we have great comfort joking with, those who typically give us back exactly what we dish out (those with whom the role of joker and jokee are often shared or otherwise are interchangeable). When you have a student, colleague, or friend with whom you are always joking around, you can get caught inside a bubble—lost in the jokes, if you will. Then, when you don’t see it coming, you are smacked in the face with the reality that someone you care deeply about feels like an outsider or feels like the butt of the joke, rather than feeling like your laughing partner or your co-star.
The first moral of this story, this post, is NOT that we should persistently temper our humor—it is not that we should walk on eggshells. Rather, it is a reminder that we need to check ourselves periodically and we need to be on the lookout for times when we may not realize that we have made someone feel like they are on the outside. Even the people we are closest with, those who give us the most leeway to joke and be silly with—especially those people. In Happy Days parlance (love my TV show references, and apologies to a hero of mine, @hwinkler4real, for this one), the Fonz stopped being cool when he jumped the shark (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4ZGKI8vpcg). We (read that as “I”) need to pay attention to when something that was funny “jumps the shark”—when it stops being funny to the people around us or, worse yet, when it starts to hurt someone.
That is not the only moral, though. The second moral is about healing. It is much easier to return to leadership “in action” from leadership “inaction” than it is to renew a relationship that is “burned by the flame of a joke taken too far” (@FredEnde, you can use that one, too—that one is all me!). It starts by you, the joker, realizing that you took the joke too far. Then, you must make your amends. For a moment, the responsibility then switches to the jokee—they must make the choice whether the relationship deserves to withstand the misstep.
Here, however, is the real rub. When the jokee accepts the apology, the burden then spreads to both. It is possible that the relationship will forever be altered—but, that is usually not in anyone’s best interest. Rather, the pair should genuinely reaffirm to each other that they can and should continue to laugh together. That from now on, whoever the joker is must commit to being more aware of the cues (stepping outside the bubble periodically) and whoever the jokee is should agree to make those cues more obvious—helping the joker get outside the bubble when needed.
Being funny, joking, and laughing together is great medicine. Developing relationships where that is safe and comfortable can be an important release that can lead to healthier and happier moments and lives. But as with so many other roles in leadership, we need to be good at communicating (when we are the jokee and feel like the joke has gone too far) and empathizing (when we are the joker, getting outside the bubble to recognize the cues that the joke has gone or is going too far). The first worst outcome is a person who feels hurt by the joke. The second worst outcome is the inability to renew a relationship impacted by that hurt. My hope, as I strive to be better as a person, better as a joker, and better as a jokee, is to minimize the first worst and hope the second worst never happens.
As always, thanks for reading (if you made it this far)! Until next time…peace.
Once again ASCD leaders from around the world are traveling to the Leader to Leader conference to be held this weekend. Leader to Leader (L2L) is our annual professional development event for those dedicated education professionals who serve in important leadership roles for ASCD Affiliates, Connected Communities, Professional Interest Communities, Student Chapters, and our Emerging Leaders program. Over the five years I have been associated with L2L, it has evolved to be a much more collaborative event with lots of opportunity for networking and learning from one another. The diversity of thought, perspective, experience and expertise is, in my own humble opinion, what makes this conference such a success every year. It’s never the same event twice.
This year we are looking to up the ante again, focusing on the theme of Take Charge Leadership, as we continue to encourage these ASCD leaders to work with one another across their constituent groups and generate new ideas, initiatives and energy that they can take back home and implement in support of the educators they serve. And so the question we ask at the outset of this year’s L2L is, “What do you get when you allow talented, capable minds to self-select groupings and projects that will build their professional capital while providing new value and greater capacity to lead?” We are about to find out.
We look at leadership around eight very specific actions that are nurtured and sustained over time. Beginning our conference work around these actions and then moving into an unconferencing format that allows participants to take charge of their learning sets the tone for the weekend. We are also instituting for the first time Web-based polling that will allow everyone in attendance to vote and comment instantaneously using their mobile devices throughout the three days. Modeling this as participants provide quantitative and qualitative feedback to one another will provide practice and experience with a tool our leaders can take back with them to their respective, states, provinces and countries.
By the time we wrap up Saturday, everyone will be saturated in new ideas and possibilities. L2L is always an exhausting experience for everyone involved. Exhausting and gratifying. What is most gratifying for us as staff is the number of return participants we have every year, and the highly positive feedback we receive from the conference participant surveys. The truth is, it’s the ASCD Leaders who come and participate who make L2L the success it is. As a membership organization, ASCD could not make the difference it does for educators everywhere without its constituent group leaders. L2L is ASCD’s way of giving back to our leaders in the field, offering them the skills and support to be effective on the ground where it matters most.
This past week #Satchat extended it's Twitter conversation to a mobile app called Voxer. It has been an amazing experience for participants who are now able to share their insight through voice messages. Once downloaded on your mobile device, Voxer enables users to hold individual or group chats in real time or at their own pace. In terms of professional growth, over 75 educators from around the world have shared their perspectives and insight on a plethora of topics. More specifically this week our group is discussing the trials and tribulations of being a new school leader. Educators from all walks of life including teachers, vice principals, principals, supervisors, superintendents, and other stakeholders have provided tremendous guidance.
The great thing about this experience is that participants, including myself, can hear the emotion that others bring to the discussion. It's one thing to read a tweet and a whole other thing to listen to someone speak to a particular topic.. That's why Voxer is so unique. Users can listen and learn on the own time, whether it's in their car or during a lunch break. Need to have a more specific conversation based on something that was brought up in a particular group chat? No problem. Send a direct voice or text message to that person within the application. Pictures, links, and other resources can be shared during a conversation as well.
Are you intrigued by this whole Voxer rage in the educational community? Send me a direct message on Twitter or via email with your Voxer handle and I will add you to the #Satchat group. Or better yet, try starting your own group. The options are many as it relates to the impact Voxer can have in the school setting. For example, it could be used as an assessment tool or during a time of crisis to communicate with staff. Currently I am apart of a Voxer book chat on digital leadership and participate in a administrator group that shares best practices. Over the past few weeks I have recommended Voxer to some of my PLN members from around the country. Although at first hesitant to see the true value of this web tool, their minds quickly changed after conversing with other like-minded educators.
So what do say? Take that leap into the Voxer world and see your professional growth be stimulated in a way once thought unimaginable.
ONEness…Here Lies the Power!
Most the time we consider ONE an isolated number. Isolation Island is not a fun, nor an effective place to be. Not in education, that is! One cannot make great things happen alone…it is unfair to the student(s) and the educator. However, ONE is a dynamic number when we’re talking about a team…or even a school. Uno, isa, dua, taha, ngicce-q, een, um, ëk, wa’, or d’aya…. they all mean ONE no matter what tongue speaks the word. Great leaders know the impact teams have when operating from the “power of ONE.” Now, don’t get me wrong! I do not mean they operate like a cookie factory where everyone does the same thing simultaneously. I simply mean that teams have unified goals, objectives, visions, and the ability to come together to make things happen. Students deserve teachers and administrators who are willing to work together and make decisions collectively for the betterment of all those they serve. In fact, all systems should be operating from the “power of ONE.” If a school wants to ensure their campus goals are met, they also need to make sure they have a one-way vision that is so visible and audible to all stakeholders, including parents and the community. All those who influence student achievement in any way should be walking the same path in a unified direction. This means they need to have leaders providing direction, encouragement, and the drive needed to keep the path moving forward. Schools need to have a respectful fear of the “power of ONE.” Without taking this power stance, a school can rapidly lose momentum and fail.
Last night I was reading an article on from Education Leadership (EL) magazine published by ASCD. By the way, if you do not subscribe to this magazine, you are missing out on a lot of awesome PD through intriguing monthly articles. Great stuff!!! The article I read, How Japan Supports Novice Teachers, discussed a Japanese system that lines up with my thoughts on the “power of ONE.” In 2006, “only 1.35 percent of first-year teachers in Japan left the profession” (Ahn, 2014, para 3). Not to my surprise or probably even yours, the “power of ONE” does not work for our novice colleagues in America. Ummmm…the United States loses about one-third of our new teachers sometime during their first three years in the profession. By year five, the percentage increases to nearly one-half (Ahn, 2014). The article describes a room called shokuin shitsu (do not try to say that ten times fast because it will not sound good…believe me…I tried). This shared space is an area where teachers and administrators hang out anytime they are not in the classroom. The goal of the shokuin shitsu is support. Inside this “educator only” space, teachers collaborate and work side-by-side before school, after school, during off periods, and at lunch. Novice teachers get help with planning, calling parents, or simply gaining support or encouragement. So, is this type of “power of ONE” the answer for teacher retention in the U.S.? Maybe! Maybe Not! It definitely couldn’t hurt! It fares better than the systems I’ve witnessed in my years as an educator. Even if we did half as much (myself included), we would most likely see a sharp decline in teachers leaving the classrooms.
The shokuin shitsu may be a bit too much for us to implement as our systems and mindsets are not ready to support it. I share this story not to start this Japanese practice at my school but to show the powerful force found in unified organizations.
If you, your team, or your school is not operating from a ONE stance, then you need to reevaluate yourself or the systems in place at your school. Before going back to school this fall, reflect on ONEness (my word of the day). Remember, the “power of ONE” can certainly begin with you!
Caring connects kids to their school, their teachers, their learning, their families, their communities, to one another and to themselves. Therefore, creating and maintaining a culture of caring in our schools and communities is paramount to effecting real change.
As with any impactful change, creating a culture of caring requires a delicate combination of programs, processes and people. It is simply not good enough to create or purchase a program and implement it. Over the years, packaged programs have proliferated while bullying and mental illness have increased. Schools have developed processes to create safer environments, yet more students are being hurt physically, socially and emotionally. Little attention has been paid to empowering the people in our schools and communities to make a difference.
As principal of a large, inner city school we implemented a very effective balance of programs, processes and empowerment of people that resulted in a very effective school culture in which our students thrived. Bullying was almost non-existent, kids who needed help got it and test scores went up. All of this occurred in a budget model which allowed us to spend funds where needed. We were empowered.
In order to move you to action, here is a selection of our most effective strategies that allowed us to create an award-winning school in which everyone was proud to work and to learn.
1. Student Empowerment
1. Early Intervention Program- Intermediate students self-selected to be part of a weekly mental health support group that addressed at-risk behaviors and was run in partnership with a local mental health hospital.
2. Yoga – Students self-selected to be part of a weekly lunchtime yoga group. One at-risk girl commented that it saved her life.
3. Mental Karate – The entire school was involved in Mental Karate, a program that took them through setting goals and taking action in the areas of Initiative, Discipline, Contribution, Courage and Awareness.
4. United Mentors for Peace - Intermediate students planned activities to create a peaceful school, reaching out to the community and beyond. They created annual peace assemblies, managed charitable fundraising activities, and took responsibility for supporting a safe and caring culture in the school.
5. Peacekeepers – Junior students were trained in conflict resolution strategies and helped resolve disputes in the Primary and Junior yards.
6. Fun Bunch – Junior students were trained to teach and supervise schoolyard games for Primary students.
7. Social Skills group – Identified students were directly taught social/ emotional skills in partnership with a local community center support program.
8. Leadership development – Students of all ages were engaged as lunch monitors, peer tutors, teacher helpers, reading buddies, coaches and referees. They were also engaged in a multitude of service learning projects.
9. Option Program – Intermediate students had one period a week in which they could choose an activity of interest from such things as cooking, chess, hip-hop dance, drama, visual arts, guitar, board games etc.
2. Teacher Empowerment
1.SSafe and caring teaching and leading– All classrooms were safe and caring, free of ridicule, harassment and sarcasm. Teachers understood the importance of creating an atmosphere in which the brain is at the optimal level of arousal.
2. Bi-weekly professional development staff meetings – Staff were trained to differentiate teaching strategies through honoring multiple intelligences, learning styles and current brain research.
3. Shared leadership – Division leaders were empowered to implement programs and process to support their students academically, socially and emotionally.
3. Parent Empowerment
1. Parent Council was guided to develop a Mission and Goals that supported the school’s Mission.
2. Parental responsibility was embedded in the school’s Mission Statement, “To maximize student learning through students, staff, parents and community working together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and shared responsibility.”
3. Parent education workshops were provided.
In addition to the previous empowerment examples we maximized the adult:child ratio of support; ensured that each student had a significant connection with a teacher; focused on connections and relationships; worked within a shared, vision, values and beliefs; maintained stability on our staff and leadership team; became a recognized leader as a Professional Learning Community and ensured that being at our school was fun and rewarding.
I hope this provides you with some useful ideas to move forward in creating a safe and caring culture in your classrooms and in your schools.
As I read about Google’s New Car said to have been “designed for learning and is considered to be a prototype that could develop in a lot of different directions,” I thought of how this concept of a "work in progress" speaks to learning as a process that is often messy.
What is Learning?
Learning can be described as the acquisition of skills and knowledge through experiences, study or by being taught. For learning to take place, methods, techniques, activities and assessments are organized within the frame of a learning theory and consideration is given to learners’ needs. All of these elements then comprise an instructional plan.
Learning is Not Smooth
It is of course a good thing to have a plan because a plan tells you what to do, how to do it, holds you to a timeframe and provides you with a means to evaluate what you have done. However, though it is important to have a plan, it is not prudent to spend inordinate amounts of time planning for every possible mishap, because inevitably, something will go awry, in other words, some type of mess is bound to occur. This is not necessarily a negative because deciding on a solution for a mess provides an opportunity to learn. Messes allow for the spontaneity of natural expression, which feeds the love for learning, gives way to creativity, which in turn draws on errors and uses same to find solutions that are outside of the box.
Understand the Mess
We must be careful to not standardize how learning takes place to the point of sterilizing the learning process, that is, making narrow decisions about what should or should not be within the bounds of what we consider to be learning and ignore occurrences that we do not immediately recognize as part of the learning process.
As Boettecher (2007) points out learning is not about producing "standardized brains." As such, it is perfectly natural for instance, that some students may not complete an assigned task because all students do not grasp concepts at the same rate. Similarly, a student who decides to follow another path (other than that prescribed by the teacher) to accomplish a task but still attain the required outcome, should not be chided for doing so because like Google’s New Car, students’ learning can also develop in all sorts of directions.
These types of messes – referred to as such since things did not go as planned – provide the student and the teacher with an opportunity to extend the learning process. In fact, for teacher evaluations to be fair and accurate evaluators need to be able to recognize messes, to understand the role that they play in the learning process and able to determine which ones can be addressed immediately and which ones need to be addressed later.
Embrace the Mess
As long as we remain fully human and do not succumb to becoming Cyborgs (but then again even machines are known to malfunction), our propensity to make messes while we learn will continue be an enduring feature. We can, however, find ways to clean up our messes and by doing so continue to grow. Hence, let's embrace our learning messes and all the benefits that they offer.
Boettcher, J. V. (2007). Ten core principles for designing effective learning environments: Insights from brain research and pedagogical theory. Innovate, 3(3). www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=54
For many years New Milford High School was just like virtually every other public school in this country defined solely by traditional indicators of success such as standardized test scores, graduation rates, and acceptances to four year colleges. These indicators have become so embedded in the minds of those judging our schools and work that we, like everyone else, worked hard to focus only on initiatives that would hopefully produce favorable outcomes in those areas. If we were doing well we continued down the same path allowing the status quo to reign supreme. The mentality of if it isn't broke than why fix it resonated so profoundly with us that we would not have even considered changing our ways. If results were not what our stakeholders wanted this would then trigger meetings leading to the development of action plans to get us back on course.
For so long schools have resembled a hamster running on a wheel doing the same things over and over to improve sets of numbers. We were no different and had succumbed to a fixed mindset. Every excuse in the book was at our disposal not to change and continue down the same path year after year. Heck, our education system has become so good at maintaining the status quo and enforcing compliance throughout that we and many others have been brainwashed into thinking any other course of action would be foolish. If education is good for one thing it is making excuses not to move forward. There is still an innate desire to sustain a school structure and function that has remained relatively unchanged for well over a hundred years. This is a problem. It was a huge problem for us. We were in a rut and didn't even know it. Luckily change came in the form of a little blue bird that gave me the kick in the butt that I desperately needed back in 2009. Being blessed with an amazing staff, student body, administrative team, and community provided the necessary support needed to move us forward.
As another school year comes to a close I can't but help reflect on the many successful initiatives that have been implemented this past year. It is even more gratifying to see numerous other initiatives that were implemented over the past couple of years flourish. Moving from a fixed to a growth mindset and feeding of the daily inspiration that connected learning provides gave me with the fuel to create a shared vision that eventually became a reality as a result of action. For change to be successful it must be sustained. As leaders we must not only be willing to see the process through, but we must also create conditions that promote a change mentality. It really is about moving from a fixed to a growth mindset, something that many educators and schools are either unwilling or afraid to do. The essential elements that work as catalysts for the change process include the following:
What I have learned is that if someone understands why change is needed and the elements above become an embedded component of school culture he/she or the system ultimately experience the value for themselves. The change process then gets a boost from an intrinsic motivational force that not only jump starts the initiative, but allows for the embracement of change as opposed to looking for buy-in. We should never have to "sell" people on better ways to do our noble work nor rely on mandates and directives. These traditional pathways used to drive change typically result in resentment, undermining, and failure.
This gets me back to the main point of my post and that is reflecting on the many changes that have been implemented and sustained at NMHS. Even in the face of adversity in the form of education reform mandates, Common Core alignment, impending PARCC exams, new educator evaluation systems, loss of funding, and an aging infrastructure we have not only persevered, but proven that positive change can happen with the right mindset. If we can overcome these challenges and experience success others can as well. Throughout the past couple of years we have also seen improvements in the "traditional" indicators of success by mainly focusing on creating a school that works better for our students as opposed to one that has always worked well for us. Here is a short list of some of the changes that have been implemented and sustained:
· Social media use as a communications, public relations, branding, professional growth, and student learning tool implemented in 2009. So many of my teachers are making the choice to integrate social media as a learning tool that I just can't list all of the examples:
I need to stop here, but I think you get the point. We have transformed the teaching and learning culture at NMHS that begins and ends with a growth mindset. The time for excuses, talk, opinions, and fear needs to end if our goal is really about improving teaching, learning, and leadership outcomes. Leadership is about action, not position or ideas that just get pushed around. We continue to push ourselves to create a better school. So what's stopping you?
I teach an on-line graduate course at National Louis University in Chicago to students who are currently teachers and who are seeking to complete their master’s degree. One of the courses the student need to take in a series of three is called, Instructional Decision Making. Although the course has multiple learning goals and objectives, one of the key elements to the course is to engage the student in critical reflective practice to evaluate key understandings, assumptions, rationales, and shifts that underpin one's instructional decision making. The course explores a variety of teaching strategies and appropriate activities for grade school students. Being an on-line course, we do not meet face-to-face but do share the completed assignments with each other in the on-line class forum.
Select-a-Topic Video Sharing
For one of the assignments, the students are asked to research and share a presentation, report, video, etc. on a topic related to instructional decision making that was not covered as a part of the course. They are asked to elect a topic that we have not covered and create a lesson/presentation for the class on a selected topic of their choice. No “list of themes” are given to the student for ideas. They are asked to include a video example of teaching practice or expert opinion on a topic as a part of their presentation. The video could be from a third party source such as the videos they have viewed for the course. It could take the form of a chat session, VideoThread, Prezi, individual video, PowerPoint, etc.
To my surprise, and delight, one of the students in the class chose to write about the Whole Child Initiative. After grading her Prezi presentation, I sent her a separate email and asked her why she selected this topic. She informed me that she chose the Whole Child Initiative as she felt that in order for her students to be successful in the classroom, teachers need to cater to the whole child, not just one part. She went on to state that when teaching preschool, this is her goal in the classroom. She noted that this mindset changes as the students get older. This was a topic that she had heard of before but did not know much about it. She wanted to learn more in order to implement this concept in her classroom and hopefully encourage other teachers to follow suit.
What impressed me the most was here very appropriate selection of YouTube clips. Each one was spot on as they gave example for each of the five Whole Child tenants. She was right on the mark. She sums up nicely making note of several ASCD Whole Child Publications and where to find more information at the different websites.
I asked her if I could show this at our next Illinois ASCD board of directors meeting and she was thrilled and honored to have me do so.I, too, was exited and thought this would be worth sharing as a blog on the EDge. I look forward to your comments. Here it is.
About a year ago Adam Bellow and I were discussing the possibility and the benefits of doing an Edcamp at the site of the United States Department of Education. Adam had just met with some members of the Department and I was in touch with many of them from the connected educator month committee on which I was serving. Our thought was to have an Edcamp take place in the Department of Ed and have all of the policy makers attend sessions with real, in-the-classroom educators to see, and feel their concerns as educators in regard to what is important in the classroom. We were thinking in terms of #Edcampwhitehouse.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the Edcamp model of professional development, a brief explanation may be in order. The Edcamp model is a grassroots movement for professional development. Educators assemble at a location with no set agenda for PD sessions. The day starts early with a provided breakfast while everyone collaborates. There is usually a large board with session times and room assignments for each session, but there are no session descriptions. That is what the breakfast collaboration is for. As educators’ discussions emerge and develop there are usually two types of participants, those who know about a subject, and those who want to know about a subject. Either type may put up that subject in a session slot. Both the experts and the novices then will have an opportunity to discuss the topic. Edcamps are more about discussion than presentations. The discussions involve classroom experiences both successful and unsuccessful. Each session provides a safe discussion for educators to explore their understanding of any education topic.
Both Adam and I thought that this is what the policy makers within the Department of Education need to hear. This is a great way to put educators into the national discussion of education, that so many educators feel has been hijacked by business people and politicians. So, with the help of some key members of the Department of Education, we got the go ahead. The DOE was willing to provide a space and coordination, but the bulk of the organization and planning were to be up to the educators to complete. To me, that meant The Edcamp Foundation under the leadership of Kristen Swanson. The Edcamp Foundation is a volunteer group that helps organize and support Edcamps around the world. This US DOE Edcamp was a perfect opportunity for their leadership. They took on the project without hesitation.
Since the space at the DOE would have a limited capacity, the attendees needed to be limited as a result. The invitations to all went out on social media to enlist interested educators to enter a lottery for the Edcamp attendance. There was a huge response considering it is on June 6, a weekday. The DOE is closed on weekends. Edcamps are usually a Saturday event. The lottery was held and invitations to attend went out. Many educators at their own expense will be making the pilgrimage.
The Edcamp will take place this Friday. I truly hope that the people or surroundings that educators will encounter at this event will not intimidate them in any way.
We are hopeful that most of the participants will be tweeting out their experience. This entire project came as a result of social media and connected educators. It will be that connectedness that gets the experience and feelings of the event participants out to all educators. I look forward to thousands of tweets and many blog posts coming from this event on Friday. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a statement with what educators do, and who educators are to possibly affect change. It is doubtful the President will show up, but at the very least Arne Duncan, The Secretary of Education, should have some level of engagement.
I often say: To better educate our students, we must first better educate their educators. Friday I will say to better affect change in education, we need first to better affect change in our policy makers.
How far would you go to make sure learning matters for your students? Would you make a promposal to model Brittany Mason? Create a Vine to send to soul singer Maxwell? Mass tweet Chipotle? Share with your students that you glued your ears to your head when you were twelve and never went to prom?
How about turn down a six-figure salary as Susan Lucci’s love interest to teach high school social studies?
If you’re Nick Ferroni, that was your Friday of last week.
I met Nick through Twitter. Both of us are New Jersey teachers, went to Rutgers, and are around the same age. But, that’s about where it ends on its surface. Nick was a three-star high school athlete, a scholarship division I football player, made some money underwear modeling, and had walk on roles on a soap opera. I wear underwear, played sports, and hated soap operas.
If you look at our picture together, there’s me on the left, and the man who Men’s Health called “One of the 25 fittest men in America” on the right. Nick’s biggest takeaway from this picture? His forehead looks shiny. My biggest takeaway: my body looks like Mr. Potato Head and it’s time for me to get a personal trainer.
Where Nick and I are similar is where we matter: we’ll both go to any lengths to make sure students learn, and how we define learning is much deeper than what’s in any textbook, teacher’s guide, or curriculum. We’re looking at students long-term: what impact will they have on society, and what impact will society have on them? What can we do to aid students so they have a positive experience in life, bouyed with a skill set transferrable to any situation. Can we teach them to solve problems, collaborate, advocate, compromise, and think creatively? Can we get them to push their boundaries from what they think they can do to what we think they can do?
Nick will buy gym memberships and train students who need a positive emotional release. He has a stack of protein bars in his desk in case his students get hungry. He leverages his experiences in theatre and the arts to invite in Maxwell, Brittany Mason, Brian Leonard, and more, to talk about their life experiences. Then, Nick weaves these experiences to draw parallels to the subject he teaches. Because, when he shuts the door, Nick is the curriculum. And, he takes that job seriously.
Which is why, when I have an opportunity to hang with a high energy, humble, creative rockstar educator, I’m going to do it. Even if it means waking up earlier than usual, driving an hour, and going to another school when my district is closed. This is probably how Nick’s students feel when they come to school: that there’s something worth coming inside for. And, that is half the battle.
Nick allowed me to live tweet the charades his students did to prepare for the US History 1 exam they had coming up. The energy, enthusiasm, and engagement I saw from the students and their teacher made me want to join in. Here are a few of them, as well as the class Twitter feed:
When I left later that day, I learned two things about Nick and his students: they have a real desire to eat Chipotle before their lives are over, and I want to spend more time with them. I hope both happen soon so we can cross them off our bucket lists. Maybe we can all go to Chipotle together? (FYI, still waiting for a tweet-back from Rusty).
Our morning staff meeting came to a halt as a staff member shared that she visited Facebook on her phone and saw a memorial post on our counselor's Facebook wall. While our principal brought the meeting to a close, our office manager and I went to the office where I called the family. I made it about halfway through the conversation with family before starting to tear up. The family confirmed that our elementary counselor lost her multi-year battle with cancer that morning. Within an hour, the district had a counselor on campus who coordinated a crisis team that spent all week on campus supporting students and staff.
Below are some lessons I've learned so far about leading through grief.
Public displays of compassion. This goes for both staff and students.
-The crisis team taught me that, if people are interested, a staff tribute can be helpful in the grieving process. Our staff decided to invite the whole school to wear pink in honor of our counselor who passed away from cancer. Coincidentally, our monthly potluck was on the same day we wore pink. Beautiful stories of celebration and hope filled the staff room as everyone ate together and honored our counselor in pink.
-The Giving Tree was one of our counselor's favorite books so one classroom decided to create a giving tree where all students in the school could share what was on their heart.
Everyone brings their own experiences and feelings. It's important to acknowledge this as we all grieve in different ways.
-A student had his head down when I went into the lunchroom and I saw he was crying. As I walked the student to our library, where additional counselors were housed, the student shared his mom passed away from cancer two years ago. There are many stories like this, where students or staff experienced loss. These emotions can be stirred up in times of crisis, and it's important we provide avenues for sharing and support.
-Personally, the day before our counselor passed away, I found out a close relative was diagnosed with the same kind of cancer our counselor had. To take care of myself, I've taken longer walks with my dog and savored more time with family.
Find joy each day.
-I was on the playground as students exited from recess the other day. A classroom job is often "door holder". I noticed a kindergarten student going above and beyond his traditional door holder job to console his classmates. "Hug?" he asked each of his peers as they entered from recess. Most kids took him up on the offer. It's moments like this that provide me with joy each day.
My prioritization of tasks inside/outside of school is still shifting as the needs of our learning community fluctuate. I continue learning each day, and I use this learning to adjust my approach as I lead through grief.
The Common Core State Standards tell us what students should know and be able to do academically at the end of a school calendar year. They are, in essence, non-negotiables. But, what about you? What are your non-negotiables?
What should your students know and be able to do when they leave your classroom, your school, or your district? What’s most important that you can pass on to them?
Early in my teaching career, one of my non-negotiables was being a content and control specialist. I knew my material and loved to share it at the front of the room. I orated and did my best Dead Poets Society and Stand and Deliver impersonations. The content was dry, so I needed to make it fun by being ‘the fun teacher.’ I thought that was how teaching was done: by replicating what I’d been through in public education, what I learned in college courses, and what I’d seen in movies. But, I wasn’t teaching: I was wasting our time. Students were bored because I was teaching them that learning is boring. No wonder they passed notes, talked while I was talking, and made poor decisions. I put them in that position by keeping them isolated in their seats all day. I would have done the same thing if I were a student in my own class.
As I’ve grown as an educator, I’ve changed this non-negotiable. I’ve moved from a teacher-centered environment to a student-centered one. I’ve learned that I can’t control the learning outcome. Students control that. I can’t make students learn. Students control that, too. What I can do is create an environment that is conducive to student learning occurring: short mini-lessons and active student engagement, while embedding cooperative learning and character education in each lesson. I can make the learning environment fun, and through that, I can teach students that learning is fun. Because, when learning is fun, students will stay engaged in the process, even when it gets hard.
The Common Core State Standards are hard. There is a lot to cover, and the depth is tremendous. I can see why teachers get overwhelmed and scared. This is why I believe it is so important to know our non-negotiables, and fall back on our personal mission statements: what do I want my students to know and be able to do at the end of a school calendar year? What are my non-negotiables as an educator and a person. What is my role?
Even with the advent of the Common Core State Standards, my role as an educator hasn’t changed: if anything it’s become more important to stick to my moral compass. I need to work with students to create an environment that is safe, so they are comfortable learning and taking risks. I want to help build creative, outside-the-box thinkers of strong character, ones who use rejection or failure as opportunities to grow. My objective at the end of the year is to help activate the problem solving and skill set necessary within my students so they will be successful when they’re adults, even if it means they potentially score lower on a standardized test now. Because, they will learn from this failure and rejection, and work harder by growing from it. But most of all, when students leave at the end of a school calendar year, I want them to know I didn’t teach them anything: we learned it together.
Now, I don’t want people to think I’m down on the Common Core State Standards. I believe in them. I think there’s a lot of good stuff in there. I work with different education constituencies to assist educators in understanding the instructional shifts brought about by the Common Core. However, at our core, it is important that we always remember why we are educators, and what the most important thing we can do as educators -- and that’s too build the next generation of society with the skill set necessary for success in college, career, and life.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve been collecting any sort of quote or aphorism that relates to leadership. This week, I browsed my list and grabbed 10 of my favorite quotes to share with you.
Word to the Wise: 10 Inspiring Leadership Quotes for Principals
“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”
“You are good. But it is not enough just to be good. You must be good for something. You must contribute good to the world. The world must be a better place for your presence. And the good that is in you must be spread to others....”
―Gordon B. Hinckley
“A man can only lead when others accept him as their leader, and he has only as much authority as his subjects give to him. All of the brilliant ideas in the world cannot save your kingdom if no one will listen to them.”
“Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.”
―John C. Maxwell
“The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”
“Power isn’t control at all — power is strength, and giving that strength to others. A leader isn’t someone who forces others to make him stronger; a leader is someone willing to give his strength to others that they may have the strength to stand on their own.”
“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”
“The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.”
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
―Antoine de Saint-Exupéry