Category Archives: Building & Maintaining Collaborative Relationships

“Here” is more than a physical space (#NAESP14 Day 3)

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This post was originally published on Ed Web, NAESP’s Principals’ Office Blog, and on the Conference News site for #NAESP14 where I served as an official conference blogger.

As I moved through Day 3 of the #NAESP14 conference and traveled back to Illinois, I knew this was going to take more than one post to wrap up; here’s the first one! Throughout the conference, we saw the tagline “It only happens here” on signage and programs, stressing the value of time together. Friday night, a few of us ventured into downtown Nashville via the hotel shuttle. Our driver was Al, and it was evident that he was proud of his work, enjoyed himself, and valued a good sense of humor. On Saturday, I walked out to the airport shuttle to discover that Al and I would be spending that ride together, too. I couldn’t help but think of this post by Jimmy Casas as I chatted with Al. As we waited for other passengers, Al asked about my visit and showed me a few video clips and photos of things I hadn’t had the opportunity to see and told stories of the resort expansion over time. When it was time for the shuttle to depart (Al is very punctual; we almost learned that the hard way coming back on Friday!), I was the only passenger. We tuned in the the Grand Ole Opry and chatted about that for the short ride.

Moving next through the airport, I was rather surprised at the quiet. (I’m starting to learn that all airports seem a bit quiet when you’re from Chicago.) I walked right up to security where a friendly man checked my ID and my boarding pass, and he asked how my visit had been. When he found out I was a school principal, he laughed about his own school experience and said he’d taken some swats back in the old days of school. I laughed with him and reminded him that some things had changed. He looked at me as he returned my ID and said, “Kathleen, be unstoppable.” I couldn’t help but walk away with a smile, feeling empowered from that brief, simple interaction. I asked the ladies who scanned the bags what his name was, as I realized I’d walked away without asking. They laughed and said, “Oh, that’s Charles.” I assured them I didn’t have a complaint, and they said, “Oh, we know. If you share a good experience and just write Charles, and they’ll know who you mean.” I thought about how many people he likely had the chance to impact a day (both passengers and co-workers) in a positive way such as this. As I continued through the airport, I heard them page the “passenger who lost his Star Wars Journal” back to security to get it. How great for that child! (And how great for his or her parents to have a treasure recovered before their flight.)

Eventually I got to the gate (after a sandwich stop where I ran into an old high school friend!), knowing my flight was delayed. A small group of women came over to sit, while complaining about service they’d received. Shortly before boarding, another couple entered the area complaining about their restaurant service. Another couple empathized with them, and the complaining continued. I thought about the contrast of those last few minutes compared to my trip from the hotel and through the airport. I thought about the contrast of those minutes from the last 3 days with the Social Media Ambassador team.

I boarded my plane with these thoughts about how “here” is more than a physical space…”here” is where we can have valuable, meaningful face-to-face interactions with members of our PLN (Personal Learning Network) and brand new faces alike. But “here” is also a metaphorical sweet spot…a zone…where positivity breeds and we lift each other up. Some lessons are indeed learned “here,” but they can and must be practiced everywhere. They reach into our own communities and through our social media streams, too.

  • Positivity is exponential: From Al’s passengers, to Charles’s TSA team, to the amazing leaders I worked alongside in the Social Media Lounge, we can choose to model positivity.  On the flipside, being negative can also spread. Choose to be positive.
  • Connectivity elevates all of us: The spirit of sharing elevates us. Giving others credit for their hard work and great ideas…that elevates us, too. Bringing the best and brightest to your students, pitching in, and working hard makes us better. Not in a “more for me” kind of way, but in a “Hey, I sure wish I could be more like him or her. I want to give back and I have certainly gained.”

  • Take time to notice: Notice names, listen to stories, and acknowledge others. Personally, I wonder if would have noticed what I did if I wasn’t traveling home alone. I need to be especially careful of not overlooking others when I’m with people I already know.

  • Return the Star Wars Journal: Sometimes there are small steps we can take that range from inconsequential to inconvenient. For someone else, our choices in those moments mean more. Take the extra minute to do the right thing and to make someone else’s day.

#NAESP14 Socail Media Ambassadors; Photo by @Joe_Mazza

#NAESP14 Social Media Ambassadors; Photo by @Joe_Mazza

Read other great thoughts on connectivity and the value of the PLN from the Social Media crew (check out our sessions & notes here) as you think about your own brand of “here”:

Leaders & introverts: Supporting our team members (#NAESP14 Day 2)

This post was originally published on Ed Web, NAESP’s Principals’ Office Blog, and on the Conference News site for #NAESP14 where I served as an official conference blogger.

logo1_highresToday I learned about staff morale and planning with our best people in mind from Todd Whitaker and the power of introverted people from Susan Cain (You can also view her TED Talk here.) Both messages are critical, I believe to our work as principals got me thinking about how these two in particular intersect.

I think back to a conversation I had with a great teacher in my building. We talked about the wonderful things happening in her classroom and how she was furthering her own learning to better support her students.  I shared that I would love to see her pursue more leadership opportunities in our school. Knowing her, she is not one to seek attention or impose her opinion on others. Looking back, I would expect her to identify herself as an introvert.

So what did I mean by ‘leader’? I really mean that I want her to share. I want others to know and see what’s happening that could ultimately serve their own students better. Thinking of our best people means thinking of what they need, though, not just what we need from them or what we think ‘good for them’ looks like. As Cain wondered aloud, how can we consider the individual learning styles of students and not do the same for our teachers? We can be leaders in different ways, and we have the power to spread that message.

In some ways, I think it goes back to Whitaker’s message about sharing expectations versus correcting behaviors. Instead of telling her I want to see her as a leader near the year’s end, I can use what I’ve learned about introverts v. extroverts and share what teacher leadership can look like and empower my teachers at that first, important faculty meeting. How do you define leadership in your school community? How do you honor your best people in doing so? In what other situations do you need to rethink the power of introverts as a school leader? I’d love to learn more!

You (Yes, you!) have something to share (#NAESP14 Day 1)

This post was originally published on Ed Web, NAESP’s Principals’ Office Blog, and on the Conference News site for #NAESP14 where I served as an official conference blogger.

logo1_highresOver the course of the first day of #NAESP14, the critical nature of choosing to share was evident. During the Keynote, Robert Fulghum shared stories of snowflakes, mermaids, and a dancing pig in Cinderella that highlighted the uniqueness of children. As principals and school leaders, we must embrace and encourage that, and we must also advocate for others to do the same. Fulghum’s words also got me thinking about children’s ‘can-do anything’ spirit, from singing to dancing to art, and how that diminishes over time. As adults, we must recognize that we, too, often have more to offer than we think.

Conferences such as this often bring us wonderful new ideas to try. Often, too, moments of pride about things that are happening in our schools creep in and we can (and should) feel good about those. In the Social Media Lounge, I appreciated that session attendees were willing to share what worked for them. As much as I enjoyed teaching mini-sessions, I can’t wait to try some of the ideas I learned. For example, prior to Using Facebook to Connect and Celebrate, @MelindaMiller asked for principals to share their school’s Facebook page. Melinda and I chatted about the great examples people shared. And as people shared, we learned. After the session, a principal shared with me how he takes pictures of parts of his building, like a corner of a mural, and posts them for parents and students to guess what they are. Great idea for making a school Facebook page more engaging! This was part of his routine, yet it will impact how I use my school’s page.

After leaving the Social Media Lounge, I was fortunate to catch Dan Butler’s session, “CPR: Providing a Lifeline for Principals through 21st Century Communication and Public Relations”. You can also check out Dan’s blog here. He shared several practical ways to connect with our parents and promote our schools, including Google Forms and Remind. He reminded us that, “Everyone has great things going on in your building; it is time to tell the world about it.” Again, it is time for us to share. As I listened to Dan, I also had the opportunity to share my school newsletter with Sandy Trach in an informal conversation. I was glad to share with her, and to do so I had to remember that sharing isn’t bragging and that I had something to offer. You do, too!

In recent years, Patrick Larkin shared a great video via Twitter called “Obvious to You. Amazing to Others.” Check it out here. Take time to reflect. What do you have to share? What do others have to share? I challenge you to take these steps before we part ways tomorrow:

  • Share a story one of your successes or promising practices with someone here at #NAESP14.

  • View “Obvious to You. Amazing to Others.” Send the link to a colleague to remind them what they have to offer!

  • Ask someone their story or their school’s story; Learn about a different state, a different school type, or a new approach to a common concern.

Connection for action (#NAESP14 Introductory Post)

This post was originally published on Ed Web, NAESP’s Principals’ Office Blog, and on the Conference News site for #NAESP14 where I served as an official conference blogger.

logo1_highresGreetings! My name is Kathy Melton, and I’m excited to be an official conference blogger for NAESP 2014. I am the proud principal of Lowell Elementary School in Community Unit School District 200 based in the Chicago suburbs of Wheaton and Warrenville. I look forward to connecting in the days ahead through blog posts, on Twitter (@kathyamelton), and in person at the Social Media Lounge as part of the Social Media Ambassador team. This is my first NAESP conference, so I can relate to those of you avidly reading the program book or devouring the conference app to make tentative plans. I do both with a flexible mind, though, knowing that my learning may take me in directions I haven’t planned both within and beyond the next few days.

In talking about our travel plans, for example, my friend and fellow principal, Heidi, asked me if I knew anyone else that was going. My response was an emphatic yes, despite the fact that I hadn’t met many of them face to face. This group includes friends and colleagues that I’ve met through being a connected leader. Twitter,  blogging, and co-founding and moderating #iledchat have allowed me to connect with more principals both locally and across the country. Even my learning and contributing in my local affiliate, the Illinois Principal Association, has been enhanced by the ongoing, real-time connectivity that comes with social media and a spirit of sharing. From parent engagement to authentic student writing through blogging to video chats with other countries to learning about Standards Based Grading, there is tangible evidence of these connections in my school. It is these relationships that allow you to maximize your time in Nashville, ensure the learning continues beyond the conference and help you as a leader bring the very best to your students, staff, and families. It is these relationships that amplify what we as school principals can accomplish together.

SMLsignBe sure to visit the Social Media Lounge in the Expo Center right next to NAESP Central. If you’re new to social media, we’re passionate about helping you get connected. Have some experience? We’d love to chat and learn from you, too. Click here to check out the most current schedule of sessions and connect with the rest of the Social Media Ambassador team. This is a fluid document that will be updated over the course of the week, so be sure to check back! Plan to join us at the Tweet Up at the Opening Reception on Thursday, July 10th at 8 p.m. See you in Nashville, everyone!

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.