Maximizing my own Summer learning: An #ILEdchat reflection

This week, the #ILEdchat team chatted about maximizing summer learning. (New to #ILEdchat? You can read more about how that started and what we do here.) As our team formed questions for the chat, my own hopes and plans for summer were heavy on my mind. I knew the time would pass all too quickly, and I didn’t want to head back to school with the same To Do list I had in June and a pile of regrets as to how I’d used my time. I knew that being intentional with my time could lead to great progress. Family time, my dissertation, my best friend’s wedding (the real deal…not the movie!), #NAESP14, teaching an online course, many much neglected home projects, preparing for the school year ahead, and improving my fitness were and still are all part of my summer master plan. As the chat unfolded, it was indeed encouraging to hear how others were approaching their summer plans, too. You can read the chat archive here for ideas on summer planning and some great reading suggestions from teachers and administrators across and beyond Illinois. I left our hour-long chat and have moved through the week considering the following ideas that certainly pertain to summer learning and progress but have relevance beyond:

  • Continue to share the terrific and the tough: There is power in sharing our hopes and plans with one another and taking on a role of encourager instead of solely needing to be encouraged. Admittedly, the latter is more how I felt in preparing for our chat. I am fortunate to benefit from a great support system, both virtually and face-to-face. As I work on my dissertation, I have a great accountability partner in my friend and former colleague, Brent. We share what we do accomplish, and he isn’t afraid to tell me when I need to get my act together and keep moving. I also have a PLN with people like Nicholas Provenzano, who I’ve only seen once face-to-face a couple years back at the ISTE Leadership Forum. We’ve never even had a conversation, but the post he shared about his own deep, personal struggles and the responses he received on his blog and Twitter are incredible examples of mutual support in which he was both supported and his willingness to share lifted others who share such struggles. 
  • Be intentional & disciplined: This morning, Daniel Pink shared a post by Shane Parrish , An 18-Minute Plan for Managing Your Day and Finding Focus. In exercise and time management, there are no shortage of plans to follow that promise great results, but there are often ideas to glean within them. I appreciate that this reinforces the importance of starting a day with a plan and ending it with reflection. The idea to set alarms to monitor progress throughout the day is worthwhile, especially in the summer when I have a bit more control over my schedule than during school days. During the year, I set my phone alarm for our morning half-day kindergarten dismissal, our afternoon half-day arrival, and for 5 minutes before school dismissed so that I was reminded to be part of those times. I think that could be a helpful strategy in monitoring my time in the summer, too. I know what I need to do, and I have to be disciplined in following through and intentional in planning and adjusting. 
  • Allow yourself to have fun! Looking back up at my summer list, there sure is a lot of opportunity for fun amidst the tasks! Recently a friend shared this article on Facebook about too much hurrying and what that can do to us and to our children. I can visualize the mom dragging her child along with reminders to hurry; I have been that Mom, that wife, that principal… Being intentional and disciplined means building in that time to not hurry, too,

A simple summer to do list quickly moved me to deeper reflection about how I really want to be all of the time, and it left me feeling encouraged and challenged. Seems summer learning is actually about much more than summer learning and task completion. To take thoughts to action, I will use my calendar to schedule my time and alarms during work time to stop and reflect. I will use running time to reflect, too.

In the chat we asked participants to finish this sentence they likely uttered in the Spring: “I can’t wait for summer so I have time to…”  Think about how you might finish this sentence in the Fall: “This summer was awesome because…”

I can do this

In the Fall of 2010, I enrolled in a doctoral program in Educational Administration at Northern Illinois University. Today, I spent this afternoon in  DeKalb to observe a dissertation defense for a candidate with the same committee chair and a quantitative study. While I’m likely a year+ from that step myself, I needed to see someone successfully navigate that process. I needed to remind myself that I can do this. Now here I am writing ABOUT my dissertation, when I probably should be writing my dissertation itself. All in the name of reflection, right?

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a bit about my decisions, the challenges, and the benefits here. Since then, I completed my final two courses, passed my comprehensive exams, and started my dissertation work. The exams were pretty stressful, and I was glad to put them in the rear-view mirror on my first attempt. And while I was pleased to reach the milestone of completing my coursework, I found myself having some mixed feelings. As a mom and a principal, I feel the weight of my responsibility to those I serve at home and at school. Often that is a  positive, but it certainly isn’t without challenge. For that time on Saturday, though, I selfishly felt responsible only for myself and found myself in the company of others at a similar stage in life trying to balance the same things I tried to balance. It was a comfortable place to be, and I miss that part of the experience.

Since then, I’ve changed school districts and started my dissertation. I was fortunate to find a chair and a methodologist so I could begin fine-tuning my study. Some members of my cohort still check in from time to time; one friend, Brent Anderson, and I check in more regularly and made the trek today to see that defense, talk about our experience and progress, and enjoy the local nachos. At some point in today’s conversation, and in most that we have on this topic, I find myself saying, “We can totally do this.” Watching a candidate present and respond from questions to her committee was really helpful and encouraging. As we were there to observe, the chair and committee members explained some parts of the process to add to our learning. In that moment, I feel okay. In the moments where I’m focused on my next step, I feel okay. When I think about all that happens between my next step and that last step, I feel a little less than okay. I’m guessing that’s a normal part of the process, although I assure you it isn’t my favorite part.

salonwritingMy plan?

Keep focusing on that next step with the knowledge that I’ll reach my end goal. Continue those support and accountability conversations with my friends and colleagues who are working through the process as well. Be disciplined as I work toward my own graduation target of May 2015. And keep taking photos of the random places I work on my dissertation, giving credit to Brent who started this. I’m sure it’ll make for a lovely collection someday!

 

Before the data

Many times this year, we’ve talked about data. As grade level teams, we’ve explored local assessment data to ensure appropriate interventions are provided. As a school intervention team, we’ve collected data on behaviors and their antecedents to ensure we set students up for success and support their areas of need. As a principal team, we’ve talked about the kind of data that might come from the new PARCC assessment versus what we’ve experienced in the past. As part of the weekly #ILEdchat on Twitter, we’ve discussed using data to guide instruction and the type of data we could glean from portfolios or summative assessments or formative assessments. I will agree that data is important to guide objective, well-thought-out decision making. I can’t, however, stress the importance of what comes before the data enough.

They are all ‘our’ kids

Relationships are key. If we want to build relationships, we have to know our students before and beyond the data we collect. Our experience may not be their experience. Their experience may be different than their neighbors’ experience. We have to know that, to honor that, and to support one another as we seek to support our students. Sometimes this means considering that a child’s school experience is greatly impacted by home stressors. Sometimes it means contemplating that another student who ‘shouldn’t’ feel picked on really, truly does. And if we think crunching numbers and analyzing data makes our heads hurt, we have to be even more ready for the heavy weight that comes with really knowing students, the challenges they face, and the compelling urge to be part of their support and solution.

This story below is one of my favorites in highlighting the need to support one another as we farm our corn, or in this case support our students. It highlights the theme that every member of our learning community has to be all in.

photoAs the time of year is upon us where we’re making class lists and making decisions about the learning environment and supports a student might need in the year ahead, I’ll be sharing this story with my staff again. All kids are ‘our’ kids and we have to work together. Remember what comes before the data.

What will I learn, Mom?

My husband and I have four kids between the ages of 7 and 11, and we live in a neighborhood with many more. As we’d hoped, our house is a place where our kids and their friends congregate quite a bit. This weekend, my soon-to-be-sixth-grade son and a neighborhood girl were chatting about junior high. Both of them started summer band this past week and are loving it.

As I used to be a junior high school administrator in our district, they asked me a few questions about schedules, electives, and lunch. I was able to weigh in based on my experience, while noting that things are different from school to school and changes have likely happened in recent years. Then he asked, “What will I learn in junior high that I can’t look up on my phone?” He then noted that I’d been using my own phone’s calculator to figure out my monthly expenses when we started this conversation. I talked about mathematical thinking I still had to know to figure that out. My husband, a former math teacher, chimed in and agreed, but none of us were totally satisfied. We talked more about our experiences as students and educators, and we talked about what we hoped our son’s experiences might be. I especially love his question because we’ve spent some time talking about respectfully asking questions when you have them and not staying quiet and compliant.

And a good question it was, son. To be honest, I’m still thinking about it. What do you want to tell him? Are you happy with your honest answer? What should we be able to tell our kids?

The value of the blog

A couple weeks ago, I finished 5 draft posts that had been lingering for some time. This stemmed from Jesse McClean sharing via Twitter that he was going to revisit 5 drafts in 5 days. I decided to join him in this endeavor and as of this morning we’d collectively knocked down 10 posts. You can check out his blog here. As I was writing so often, I gave a lot of thought to the purpose and value of blogging as a learner.

Going back, Josh Stumpenhorst‘s blog, Stump the Teacher, was one of the first education blogs I read just as I was starting out on Twitter. Knowing Josh in person, I found it so interesting to read about his experiences as a teacher. I admired his willingness to share his philosophy and opinions, even if they differed from others. From here and from Twitter, I found many other blogs that interested me. My first blog predates all of this as I wrote about our adoption journey here. I wrote there with the purpose of keeping our family and friends current on our adoption and keeping our own written record of the process. Eventually, I started my professional blog on Blogger, and then I moved it to my own domain after some good conversation.

Vehicle for sharing

As a consumer, I’m still often amazed at how freely people share resources and ideas through their blogs and Twitter. As a contributor, I find writing is a great way for me to both reflect and to share my story with others. Dean Shareski’s keynote Sharing: The Moral Imperative brings together many examples of the far reaching effects of sharing our practices with others and makes a compelling case for our ‘obligation’ to share. While I’ve known sharing my work is important, I don’t think I’d given sufficient thought to the impact it can make. As a school leader, I move from sharing my work to sharing our collective work as a learning community…by sharing our story. Thanks to other educators sharing, I can also see what is truly possible and gain perspective that differs from my own. I’d love for others to share comments and feedback that open further dialogue as I write; at the same time, I know I don’t do enough of this for others.

Evidence of learning

At the same time, I started working on the structure of my blog to both make it a useful space for others to visit and to support my own reflection and learning. George Couros re-shared this piece about using your blog as a portfolio. He talks about the blog portion of his website being his learning portfolio, and he uses his local principal standards as categories for his posts. While I’ve visited George’s blog many times, I hadn’t really connected with that piece yet. This time I did. I added a page sharing the Illinois Performance Standards for School Leaders, and I started using those as my categories. Over the rest of the summer, my goal is to go back and categorize my previous posts. In the short time I’ve done this, I already find myself connecting to and reflecting on the standards more than I explicitly have in the past. Sometimes I find it tricky to decide which standard(s) to link. Rather than viewing my blog as something separate and the standards something I link to my performance evaluation (I know, I know…), they both gain strength and meaning when considered together. You can also read about this perspective on Jessica Johnson‘s blog over here. She’s an elementary principal in Wisconsin, who just realigned her blog to her principal standards. (Full disclosure: She’s already done re-categorizing her posts. Nice work!) I’ve also added a page with professional presentations as I’ve started having those opportunities in the past year.

Some next steps

As I’ve shared before, I sometimes have a hard time being satisfied with a blog post in the moment. I’m getting better at that. If I have more to share on a topic later, I can do that. Hitting publish isn’t the same as The End. So, along with going back to categorize my earlier posts, my first next step is to keep writing!

Another challenge as a school leader has been encouraging others to share openly and globally. The biggest step I can take to combat that is to model that sharing myself. And not just the rosy, sunshine, that-went-so-well moments. But the moments where I questioned myself or admitted to something I could have or should have done better. As I prepare for this new school year, I am excited for the conversations and the stories that could encourage others to take next steps of their own.