Impressive, Great, Awesome, Stupendous, Fabulous or something else?

So I spent some time looking up a few words this evening: Stupendous, Awesome, Fantastic, Great, Fabulous, were just a few.  I wanted to see what Webster had to say about them.  After my extensive 5 minutes of research, I still have not found the word I want to use to be able to describe where my school is going.  I think we are all of those things and probably more… words that have not even been thought of yet, like #stupenawessivefab! So my search continued until I really thought about where we are currently and where we need to go.

Two words came to mind: Focus and Process

Mid Year Report Copy

Focus – This came to me a few weeks ago after hearing a voxer post from @GustafsonBrad and talking to my director of schools @PeteLeida.  We have focus, but we need to constantly remind ourselves of that.  I made the above pictograph to show myself more than anyone else, in simple terms, the focus.  I am going to remind myself and the staff that we are here to challenge our students to be 21st century learners by looking at cognitive growth targets, collaboration, making connections, using technology tools, problem solving, etc.  What does that mean?  It boils down to the tasks we ask our students to do and the questions we ask them to answer.  Beyond that, it is the choices and faith to step back as educators, and let them work through the challenges.  Working through challenges is the environment of 21st century learners.

Process – We the #cddolphins are Stupendous, Awesome, Great, etc. but not Perfect.  We will never be perfect or done.  I was reminded of this, just this past week by another innovative PLN teammate @Gelnnr1809 who was showing and writing about how he is challenging his students to fix computers with a makerspace in the hallway during hall changes.  That is both crazy and genius!  With all respect to Glenn, that idea will not last forever… although I am sure you can get a lot of mileage out of it.  Then as educators we find something else.  We constantly unlearn to learn again.  We beg, borrow, and steal ideas. We change constantly to search for perfection, although we will never achieve it.  That is the joy and love of this profession. If you embrace that and have a passion for working through issues with a clear focus, then this work is for you.

I remember Herman Edwards as a football coach saying, “We Play To Win The Game!”  There are often sports and education analogies that fit… This one does not… We don’t play to win the game, we play to play and play some more.  We never win, we can’t, if you win in education you are saying you are done, reached the finish line, laminate those plans, put them in a binder forever.  We can’t do that, use a pencil, have a focus, enjoy the process, and make a mess.  Keep it moving, keep celebrating small victories, love your students, and work on!

Why we need New Year’s… Not for the party!

We need a New Year celebration, both calendar and school year.  We as educators are lucky because we get them twice.  We need these restarts and the ability to take an extended break and recommit to being the best for “our kids” and I don’t say, “our students”. These are our kids and we build those relationships and feel the pains and joy of their learning or lack of it.  So more like a grandparent, we need a break, and then we need to recommit to why we do this.

I have spent the break watching multiple TED talks and reading many blog posts from those I follow on twitter and voxer.  So they have inspired me to write again before the New Year. Thanks for this week or reading… I know I forgot a few too!  @SchleiderJustin @Glennr1809 @DrSpikeCook @JustinAion @sarahdateechur

We do this, because as educators we feel this is the most important job in the world.  We see the reaction of those that we tell we are “educators”.  We either get immediate respect or a look of contentment.  I ignore the contentment…. I once told my wife when I was 24 that I need to make a shirt that says on the front “respect” and on the back, “because I teach your kids”.  I was a punk then and would change that shirt now to on the front, “Listen to me…” and on the back, “I will tell you the great story of your kids”.

Let’s get refocused to tell their story, to challenge them, to model for them, to take risks!, and be their champion everyday.  To work with our parents and community to build a system that is so powerful that legislators and congress people have to listen.  Let’s go #cddolphins  Let’s get ready to model what 21st century education is all about in 2015!  I am willing to put the work in and I know you are too!  Just tell me what you need….

The challenge, sometime comes from home.

So I cam home from #edcampnj on a major high… Then I was asked the question from my wife., “how did it go?”.  I responded with the usual, things were great and met lots of great people that I have connected with on twitter and voxer.  Then she said, “it would just be nice if you could back up what you probably spoke about today.”  I said, “what does that mean?”  Here was her response, “I just wonder if you can pull off the stuff that you blah blah blah about all day today?”  Mmm…. My wife is a great, well respected, special education educator, so she has a stoop to stand on.  I have to respect her opinion, because she, more than many, understands the struggles of teachers every day.

My initial response was, I taught, I think pretty well, for a number of years before becoming an admin.  Yeah I can do this!  So if you know me, I need to prove it.  So #cddolphins have to help me out and let me borrow their class for a bit and if nothing else, allow me to reconnect with the teaching profession.  I have been an admin for 8 years now and I have taught, covered, and did all sorts of things, but…  This seems to be a sign, “calling me out” to make sure I am not too far removed from the daily grind.  I need to reenergize my own grit and show that I can still handle a classroom.  Send me a date and time and I will be there… as long as I don’t have a meeting!  HAHA!  We will figure it out….

Calling all new Principals… Got Vision? Now what…? Just my thoughts.

I recently heard a quote from Kenneth Durham, who is in a voxer chat with me.  He said, “anything is possible, everything is impossible” I want to add “maintenance is necessary.”

It is great to talk about making changes, doing things for students, making learning fun, and really creating a school that is a true learning environment.  This “talk” is the really fun part.  Movements (creating true learning environments) have starting points (creation of vision, mission, brand, etc.) Movements have no finish line, that is the tricky part.  Below is #cddolphins (Carrie Downie Elementary School) vision.  A very much 100% collaborative work done last spring.

“We, the Dolphins, are a community that supports each other, takes academic risks, and accepts all challenges to unlock the full potential of our 21st century learners to succeed in an ever changing world.”  

So check one done, now work on building common language, building a plan, making some tangible changes or improvements, create schedules, get training, etc.  You think Noah had it tough…

Now you are 6 months to a year later… How do you keep the momentum?  This is the part that is not glamorous.  I feel there are two reasons why  movements don’t last:

One, you see improvement as just “something you do” and it should be “who you are”, therefore jumping around and bringing up new “initiatives” constantly.  Initiative has become a bad word in education lately.  Look it up in Webster’s, it actually has a positive meaning!  The problem is that it has been identified in education as “one more thing to do”.

The second is by seeing school change or movement as having a finish line.  Moving schools does not have  finish lines, you are never done.  You need to constantly remind yourself and those that you lead.

So I am new leader in a building, almost one year into my first principalship.  What are we going to do, to keep it going?  Here is a short list of what “we” do, and I mean “we”.  This is not all inclusive and there are tons of things each individual teacher does to also push the movement.  This is just my list up to this point, almost one year into my first principal role at Carrie Downie Elementary School.  This list is in no order and by all means leave a comment if you have other ideas!

1.  Use twitter and create a school hashtag – Ours is #cddolphins

2. Create a Facebook page to keep parents informed on a medium they are familiar with.  Carrie Downie Facebook – http://goo.gl/ammnsf

3. Connect both to the school webpage that houses lots of other information. http://carriedownie.colonial.k12.de.us

4. Use a Youtube channel or other outlet to record and store videos of what is going on regularly in the building.  The more the videos can come from staff the more meaningful and powerful.  Spending a little money on a iPod and dropbox or google drive can help with sharing.  Here is my channel where I store weekly videos – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkby0DcWovOY_L-Q_a5C6kg

5.Capitalize on available staff like coaches, to keep moving the needle forward through feedback, PLC meetings, PD, and other informal and formal conversations with staff.  These personal connections can not be over emphasized.

6.  When you see great things that support the vision, celebrate it with quick notes, thank you’s, shout outs, etc.  This can be as easy as saying, “when I was in your class earlier I was really impressed by….. how did you think of that?”

7. Surround yourself with people that have similar views both in the building and outside with twitter, voxer, and Google+.  Need a pick me up, lean on your PLN to bring you back to center and seeing clearly again.

8. Read constantly and share good ideas with those you lead.

9. Listen and keep a good pulse on the mood of your staff.  Know when to push and know when to pull back.  Figure out where you need to be firm and where more leniency is possible.  Try to make these as clear to everyone as possible.  You need to be able to read people and what they are really saying when they are talking to you.

10. Whenever possible allow for autonomy for all stakeholders.  This helps build that intrinsic motivation that is essential to maintain positive growth and movement.

11. Model, model, model.  Smile, smile, smile. Be positive and appear stress free as much as possible.  Take things in stride, know when to apologize, admit you are not going to be perfect, and neither is the process.  Embrace challenges, get input, work through things together, realize the process is the growth and can also be the fun!

12. Be reliable, if you say you are going to do something, make sure you do it!

13. Care about your students and show the students you care about them. Realize you are going to be watched every time you have a conversation with a student and use this to model student/staff relationship building.

14. Put your thoughts out in a blog and share it with staff!  HAHA! Be transparent so your staff can hold you accountable for what you say and believe in!  As a leader you hold them accountable it is only fair if they can do the same!

Have passion, for without passion, nothing is possible.  Own your actions and hold your own actions accountable.  Reflect and tweak, borrow and share.  Be awesome! because your staff and students deserve it!

 

Motivation….

How and why are people, especially educators, motivated?  There is a lot of talk about intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation.  It is all around us, as parents, as consumers, and definitely in schools.  How many points do I need to…. How much more are you going to pay me if….. I will give you a piece of candy if you….  These are words we often use to motivate people.  I see motivation with staff not in the extrinsic variation.  I am not going to pay you more, one because I can’t, and two because I don’t think educators are motivated strictly by money.  I am not going to buy students gifts if they get good test scores either.

How do you motivate educators and students?  Here is my list, I think it works with all groups:

1.  Build trust with those that are motivated – Trust that they can fail and be supported, not ridiculed or challenged.

2. Build trust by challenging those that are not motivated – Those that are not making efforts need to be challenged to do better.  If you don’t try and put forth effort then you will be questioned.  You will be challenged.  It is important for those that “do” to see those that “don’t”  being pushed and being held accountable.

2. Give all a voice.  Make all decisions that impact the larger group with representatives from the larger group.

3. Encourage and celebrate! cue: Kool and the Gang!

4.  Give some level of autonomy and choice.  Copy the Google 80/20 model where if you allow teachers 20% time to plan and implement things of their choosing, the 80% will be way more powerful than the original 100%.

5.  Find and support good people.  Use Todd Whitaker’s book on “shifting the monkey” to try and not stress out the best people.

6.  As a leader: model enthusiasm, always stay positive, try to never show frustration or look tired, be active, model learning, be a problem solver, and realize your every word, movement, glance, and wink is being watched and judged.  People need to believe in you before they will believe in the message and therefore allow themselves to take chances, create wins, and therefore become motivated.

I am not David Letterman and this is not a top 10, but this is my list….

 

How do you do PD? I don’t mean professional death!

Here is how I want to address my staff as it relates to professional development, it starts with a question to my staff.  What do you want to do to make yourself a better teacher for your students right now?  How do you want to improve the learning in the classroom for your students?  Ask a teacher what they want to do, and often the response is “what do you want me to do?”

My response, “It is up to you as long as you meet two conditions; you do it with a colleague to collaborate and your learning will benefit your students.”

Stay with me as this is crazy talk, but there is a movement with students where we ask them to ask questions, we ask them to figure out what they want to learn, we ask them to differentiate their own learning.  Why are we not doing this for teachers?  So, what do you want to do, to benefit your classroom, lessons, and student learning?…  Don’t look at me as the person that has all the answers!

Yes, I have ideas, I have opportunities to spend lots of time “thinking” because I am not with students all day, and I get to see great things constantly.  That also puts me at a disadvantage, I don’t always see student reactions when they are authentic or the “aha” moments.  So how do you capitalize on this and create more “aha” moments?  So what do we do as Administrators?

Administrators have choices:

  1. I could tell you what I think you should do?
  2. I could ask someone else to tell you what I think you should do?
  3. I could pull in outside resources, and then they, tell you what I think you should do?
  4. I could leave you alone and you do nothing.

OR

  1. I could put you together and expect that you discuss, debate, share, and plan.
  2. I could give you time, resources, support, consistency, vision, and empowerment.

If I (admin) choose one of the first four, then life would be easy.  I tell you, you fake it, we all live happily!  I think Barney (purple dinosaur) said something close to that.  I don’t want to live life as a 2 year old or a purple dinosaur!  Let’s do what is right!

As an administrator be careful with this approach!  You will have to build trust with staff that you will do anything to support them, you will have to show them that you have more passion for education than could be imagined, and you are going to have to be the lead learner in all of this!  If you are not willing to make that commitment, then don’t ask the staff, “What do you want to do?”

Dangerous words in education…

The Carrie Downie Elementary School Journey from my perspective – Doug Timm (principal)

I have seen some of those usual posts on twitter lately that you see from time to time… The most dangerous words in education are, “we have always done it that way”.  Although I agree that those are dangerous words, I believe the most dangerous words in education are the words.  By this I mean, any words without action.  There is way too much talking and conversing about theory and thoughts in education.  I wonder if in the banking world they talk as much as we do.  I don’t see any hashtag chats surrounding banking.  They are driven by money, get it done!

I am not trying to state that conversations about best practices are not valuable, they are extremely important, and I engage in them as much as possible.  I have been regularly trying to attend #satchat, #sunchat, #whatisschool, and a few others from time to time.  I am also in a few voxer groups where we discuss all sorts of topics.

With that being said, I do find myself asking when do I stop talking about the things that I am chatting about and do something.  At our school we have taken on a number of movements, including trying to turn our learning environment into a blended school.  We also held a lot of spring meetings and in talking with the staff, one of the major changes they wanted to see was an increase in our “academic culture” of the building.  That is a big endeavor and extremely important.  There are many facets to that.

So as the leader and a learner in the school environment, how do you make it happen?  Here is what I do, but this may not be for everyone.  I make bold predictions and statements with just thoughts, no plan, on how this is going to be accomplished.  That sounds stupid, but it forces all stakeholders to get involved.  They ask, what is your plan? I say, “I don’t know, lets figure it out”.  If you are forced to help in the “figuring” out part then you are invested in making sure it works.  A little side note; I have full confidence that as a group we can figure it out.

As an example, last winter after being at our school for a month, I said,”we are going to create a blended learning environment, where all students use technology everyday to enhance their learning experience.”  Had I read a book on this subject? NO.  Had I seen this in action? NO.  Have I made bold predictions and worked really hard to make them come true before? ABSOLUTELY.  That trust in myself and the staff that I already knew  was assembled is what enabled this and other bold predictions.

So what does this do?  It creates a need for immediate action!  No more words, you say something bold with passion, you better deliver, or you won’t survive.  Is it going to be perfect, absolutely not.  Are there going to be really bad days and moments, definitely.  But if you have the confidence to make bold predictions than you have the confidence to see them through.  I had the confidence because I knew right away I had the resource in the staff to make great things happen.  So that is what we are doing.  Only a few months into this with a summer in between and I am extremely proud of my staff and school.  We have so many stories already of great moments and because we have been committed to memorializing them through videos and pictures we can reflect on how truly AWESOME we are!

We have a lot to do still and if I was running a race, I would say we are at mile 1 of a marathon… but we are going at a great clip and still breathing! So bring on the next 25 miles and 385 yards to go! #cddolphins! #cdedcamp!

Conversation with the experts

I have been reflecting on some conversations I have had with some of the staff, support staff, specialists, custodian, bus drivers, secretaries and anyone else I may have missed.  One of those happened today that I feel I need to express more than my inner thoughts.  Here are my guiding questions based on this conversation in order to write this blog; Why are we not listening to them?  Why are we not trusting that they have the student’s best interest in mind?  Why do we question and dictate as administrators things that we know aren’t right, but we feel we have no choice?

Here is the story and the reason I felt I needed to write another blog:  Picture this: I am in a meeting with a technology coach.  She comments, one of your teachers said, (this is a paraphrase, not direct quote).  “I am a facilitator! I can give assignments and then walk around and personally assist those students that I determine need immediate help immediately.  Because of technology, I now have the tools to see real time data! Not data that is so late to make real adjustments to my instruction.  I pull one student over and within 30 seconds I have determined his problem and fixed it.  Then I pull another student over and realize the issue is larger and begin to form a small group with others that have the same problem.”

This conversation with my technology coach continued…. Then I realized I needed to write a post.  There was that moment “aha”, something happened, maybe magic…? Or maybe the realization that technology with the right motivation and support will lead teachers and students to levels that have only been dreamed about before.

How can we not all see the power in letting go of instruction and allowing our students to learn.  Teachers need to be facilitators of learning, not gatekeepers of learning.  Who goes to a job and then gets talked too for 90% of the day.  I have been to those PD days, and if I did it everyday, I would quit after a week.  Let them work, give them parameters, use technology to engage, and let them work.  You are going to be amazed every day with what they come up with!  If you aren’t, then your lessons need to be modified.  If you are asking them to do things that you know aren’t relevant, immediately stop.

I know, I taught 5th grade, before I was a principal.  I created lessons to kill time.  Imagine that… what was I thinking?  I can only blame the fact that I was young and did not know.  I knew those lessons and activities I gave had no meaning or were time killers.  I could have just asked questions or set up learning adventures.  Why didn’t I do it….

No excuses now with the technology that is available in any situation.  Take a chance, don’t be scared, what can happen?  Students can be excited about learning, achieve more than ever before, and want to come to school.  If that is the byproduct than sign me up!!!  Don’t get me wrong we can not all go 100% all day long, but put it out there, let the students decide their pace.  Pace of learning is differentiation, not adjustments to rigor.  Pace is possible with technology, rigor can be maintained.  Imagine that….

You want to waste time ask this question, “what do you want to learn about today?” and then give them the means to find those answers.  It is obviously not that simple, but it is a start and I truly believe you can find ways to make this fit in any situation you are currently situated.

Final Push Before the Start of the Year

With two days of teacher professional development and room preparation time done, we are ready for students to arrive on Monday.  It would be great to be able to meet with the teachers for more days, but we don’t have them.  I believe the vision/mission/ideas of what our school is going to stand for were further cemented into everyone’s mind.  This vision was created by teachers for students.  We are going to take academic risks, work together, share hardships, celebrate  joyous moments, and most importantly prepare our students for a world that is evolving exponentially.

We seem to have a little swagger going into this school year, which is a good thing.  I believe the better you feel about your situation the better you will perform.  Personally, I feel pretty good.  I trust that the majority of the staff feel good too, although I am sure they are as anxious as I am.  Anxiety and stress make it hard to sleep, but also in many situations bring out the best in teachers and administrators.  It makes us double check our plans, review the schedules, and check for mistakes.  I look around the building and feel proud about what we have achieve collectively.  Most importantly we have built up a sense of wanting to get this whole show rolling.

During the last two days I spent the majority of the time trying to further our message and possibly inspire the staff to be better professionals.  We did not talk about compliance issues, that I can think of, or any of those things we are going to “have to do”.  Those aren’t going away and like a bad dream they are going to come back.  Just like you should not yell at a student the first time they enter your room, you should not hit staff with the “have to do” stuff during the first 2 days.  There will be time for that or I may try and  flip it to deliver that message in a different way.  The time will come…. but not today… Today is to get your mindset right for the dreams and excitement of our most precious commodity coming on Monday!!!

Models! not the catwalk kind… the verb.

I am struggling as I prepare for the school year with one of my own promises and goals for myself.  How am I going to model everything that I want my staff to do?  It is so easy to say to staff, “differentiate your instruction” and then deliver or engage in PD that is not differentiated.  How about, “you need to make sure to hit all students’ modalities” and then only lecture to your staff for an hour or more.  My inclination to return back to what I have been shown and modeled is a strong force, sort of like the dark side in Star Wars!  How do I fight this off? How do I believe that Darth Vader is my father and yet still make the right choices for my building!

About a year ago my district brought in a counselor to teach us about dealing with stress.  I have a lot of stress right now… Why did I make a promise to myself that seems almost impossible to keep.  Well I saw this info graphic once that said taking big chances = big learning.  Making goals and professional promises to yourself based on info graphics is probably not a good habit to keep.  Oh well, I did, so I deal with it.

One thing from this training that stuck with me… Stress is created from situations where you don’t have all the information or are lacking the ability to get it.  Well I have the ability to get ideas, twitter, voxer, google+, linkedin, web searches, podcasts, TED talks, face to face meetings, etc.  So then what is this stress about?  I am finding that I need to get in there and work with the tools that I am going to ask my staff to use.  I need to treat my meetings/PD like a lesson that a teacher might deliver to a group of 2nd graders.  I don’t mean to dumb it down, but deliver in a way in which I want them to deliver it to their students.  This is not a novel idea, but my realization in the importance of this is revolutionary to me.  Finding the the time and ways to do it now becomes the hard part.  I have the tools to make my life more efficient, which I thank the internet for.  I recently read/saw another info graphic.

Not changing the ways we teach students after the internet is like not changing the way we transport things after the invention of the wheel.

I like that one… I need to stay away from info graphics!!!