Monthly Archives: July 2013

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.

 

Myths & basketball teams

Today marks the end of #draftweek in which I finished and published the 5 posts from my draft folder one day at a time. I initially started this post in April following a particularly heated conversation in my doctoral course. I wrote the italicized portion that day, as follows:

For the last three years, I’ve been part of a doctoral cohort in Educational Administration. During that time, I’ve been fortunate to learn with a group of really funny, hard working, supportive school leaders from the greater Chicago area. Many of us are nearing the point of having less than a month of coursework and our dissertation ahead of us. (When did I ever think I’d be saying I ‘only’ had a dissertation left?!)  We’ve been enrolled in a policy course this term that includes graduate students from other programs, mostly still related to education. Recently we’ve read and discussed Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs, an ethnography written by Paul Willis in 1977 about working class boys in school and preparing for the factory floor.

Last Saturday afternoon, we engaged in some discussion with our peers, our professor and a guest professor with some expertise in Willis’s work. Our guest referenced the myth he believes our schools perpetuate by telling all students that they can succeed, go to college, and find a job. He further suggested there are a finite number of jobs and we simply don’t have a place for everyone.

He said we tell kids to work hard and they’ll succeed, and question the ethics of selling this to kids when he doesn’t believe it to be true. Essentially, he went on to liken this to a basketball team in which not everyone that wants a spot on the team gets a spot on the team. He said it doesn’t make sense to prepare all kids to be on the team because only the best kids will make it. This didn’t go over so well (and there is some speculation that he was just stirring the pot). Going back to the make-up of the class, it specifically included my doctoral cohort from Educational Administration, some Master’s level students working toward administrative certification, and doctoral students in other education programs. Many of my cohort members didn’t care for his stance, especially as we could all think of ‘that kid’ who didn’t exhibit the profile of someone who ‘makes the team’ who DID end up being successful with intervention and collaboration. These are students that may have had a different path if we selected it for them based on the early traits we saw.

One of my classmates is a principal at a high school with a fairly large Hispanic population, and his dissertation research relates to Hispanic student success in college. His question to the professor (which went unanswered) was simply, “What is our message then?” Should we be encouraging students and telling them that, with hard work, they can go to college and be what they want to be? As my colleague also questioned, “How is telling students to try their best not the truth?” How does hard work not pay off, even if the payoff is sometimes delayed. How could this be a myth? Your thoughts? What should our message be?

These blank walls

2012-12-29 12.20.00
Today marks Day #4 of #draftweek. Basically, after Jesse McLean Tweeted about his plan to complete some lingering drafts, I decided to join him and complete 5 drafts of my own. I started writing this post in January of 2013. I didn’t get too far, as you’ll see by the italicized start to my thoughts. I also snapped the picture to the left right around that same time to use for this post:

 

See that track? That’s where I spent some time between Thanksgiving and Christmas as I embarked on the challenge to complete the Runner’s World Holiday Running Streak for the second year in a row.

 

Truthfully, in the three months leading up to the streak I’ve been pretty inconsistent with any exercise.

I’ve been pretty inconsistent in the months since then, too. Running on that track, which is 5 laps to a mile, gave me plenty of time to think. Looking down, I’d see the track that’s pictured. Looking around, I saw a yellow wall to one side and the dark green tarps surrounding the tennis courts to the other side. I’m a very visual person, and images spilled from my thoughts to that yellow wall as I ran. I’d see successful scenes play out at school, completed projects, and such. Sometimes I’d simply space out and enjoy my music. Regardless, I ran on the track or outside every day for 42 days. I Tweeted or posted to Facebook as I ticked off the days. Sometimes, i was sneaking in right before my gym closed to get in the quick mile minimum, and other times I was I had all the time I needed. Once I publicly shared my goal of finishing the streak, it was going to take a lot to compromise that. I knew the running was good for me, too, both physically and mentally.

That’s also the case with #draftweek. Even though it is only 5 days, once I committed to joining Jesse I made sure these posts got done. I didn’t want to be the one to say, ‘Hey, couldn’t make this happen. I’ll try again tomorrow.’ I’ve wanted to blog more, but I hadn’t been successful in making that time a part of my daily schedule.

LIkewise, I haven’t had pop in a month, either, because I decided to cut that out of my day. It was too easy to grab a Coke when I was out, and I knew it wasn’t good for me. I finished the Warrior Dash, even though I was undertrained, because I’d signed up and didn’t want to back down from what I told my friends I’d do.

So as I approach my next birthday this weekend, my husband asked me about my goals for the upcoming year. He always drafts some goals on his birthday, and he is one of the most self-disciplined people I know; I admire that about him. As I finished this post and thought back to those runs and such I realize that I am very good at keeping promises to others and following through on my public commitments. I’m also great at pushing my promises to myself to the side, like keeping my running active after I built that streak. My goals for this next year will tie to that thinking, as I consider:

  • Reintroducing consistent exercise and maintain the writing time I’ve managed to find this week.  In measurable terms, I’d like to be able to run 5 miles.
  • Writing more, as measured by no longer than a week between blog posts.
  • Completing some organizational work in our master bedroom by ensuring everything has a place.
  • Leaving receipts or sending texts to my husband so he can continue to manage our family finances.
  • Defending my doctoral dissertation proposal and conducting the research associated with my study.

Maybe I make each one an event or a hashtag, as I attain success when I bring others in to the fold. Maybe I just need to be able to reach these goals simply because they ARE my goals. What do you think? How can you relate? How do I paint these blank walls with those images of success? I don’t think this is where I initially intended this post to land, but it has sure given me something to think about now.

15 minutes at a time

This is my third post of #draftweek where I’m finishing up some neglected blog posts; you can read more about that here. This post was started in January of 2013 and wrapped up at its close with the italicized type.

Preparing for my teachers’ return from Winter Break on Monday, I’m blocking out time for my next round of 15 minute meetings. This is a concrete action step I take to give teachers a voice and build trust. Going back, I was selected as principal to open a new building in my district in February of 2010. As a district, we were in the final stages of a limited enrollment full-day kindergarten pilot. The school I now serve had been closed for renovations, as its previous population moved into a newly constructed building. It was decided we would be a kindergarten attendance center for 6 of our district’s 13 elementary schools; as a fast-growth district, not all of our buildings had capacity to house this program. With the growth of the full-day kindergarten student population nearing 80% of the total group, that also meant many teachers would be shifting from half-day instruction to the full-day program.In turn, this meant that 20 of my 23 classroom teachers would be joining me from another building in my district. Spanning 64+ miles and serving multiple municipalities and diverse student populations, I knew it was critical to embrace these teachers right away as they prepared to leave their school homes to help me shape our new one. Likewise, I needed to get to know them so I could be intentional with building teams within our school and have a grasp on both strengths and needs. As soon as I was permitted, I contacted all of my teachers by phone to welcome them. I followed that up immediately by scheduling trips to each teacher’s teaching location at that time, in many cases to meet them for the first time. When we met, I provided them with my personal contact information and contact information for our school. I also posed some questions and really listened to their responses.

  • Where have you been as an educator and an individual?
  • What opportunities do you hope to have?
  • What do you hope to step away from at this time?
  • What do you want me to know about you?
  • What is on your mind now?

Really valuing the information they shared along the way, I decided to embed this at another point in the year, too. After winter break, I shared a Google spreadsheet with blocks of time I was available. I made sure I offered times at different points of the day, knowing that before school, after school, lunch and prep time would be better for different teachers for different reasons. In advance of these meetings, I posed a couple basic considerations:

  • Tell me what is going well.
  • Tell me where there are challenges or where we could do better.

When I invite teachers to pick a time I stress that it is not mandatory and it is strictly a time for me to listen. I tell them I will keep the content of our conversation confidential unless I discuss it with them first. I remind them that it isn’t evaluative and I want to hear what they have to say, even if they think I won’t like it. If you are an administrator, I really encourage you to think about adding this to your practice. Consider this as you do:

  • Trust- Some of your teachers will be hesitant to share and may not take you up on this offer until they hear from colleagues what it was like. Others may embrace it right away.
  • Ideas- You’ll get some great ideas! For example, we started hosting one faculty meeting a month in a different part of the building so a team of teachers could lead off by sharing their work. 
  • Value- Listen carefully and talk little! Show teachers that you value their thoughts and their time.
  • Needs- It is critical to listen to what the teacher says, and what they don’t say, to assess his or her needs as an individual and a teacher. Sometimes in this one-on-one setting, what you’ll hear may be different than what you predicted.
  • Solutions-  While in some instances this was an informal conversation, some teachers approached me with written notes and their noted challenges were often matched with a possible solution. 
  • Follow-up- Be willing to take time beyond that 15 minutes to address what a teacher brings. In some cases that meant more one-on-one time and for others it meant a conversation with our School Leadership Council or another team .

While I had the bulleted terms in that last section listed in my draft, I filled them in today, so I’m not sure that’s exactly what I was thinking at the time; it is, however, what I believe to be important looking back. Admittedly, I allowed that intended time get chipped away and didn’t have those meetings in January. That explains the post in the draft folder, huh? I still think this is critical to share, for while I did use other measures to collect feedback, I missed out by not having these individual meetings. And with that our teachers and kids likely missed out, too. This spring, I accepted a principal position in a different district, and I’m committed to reinstate these meetings. I’ll start with those first questions I used when I met my new teachers at my last school, and follow up with an additional check-in meeting mid-year and at the close of the year. Other measures, while often valuable for a specific purpose, just didn’t give me the same feedback and connections as I got 15 minutes at a time.