Category Archives: Leading & Managing Systems Change

The obvious & the amazing: 3 workflow strategies in action

I’m consistently trying to find ways to simplify my workflow as an elementary principal so I can spend more time with students and staff. In going through the day, I was reminded of a favorite Derek Sivers video clip that presents a compelling reminder to share what we do, even if it is a seemingly simple workflow strategy…or three…that are helping me this year.

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Computer Post-It: While I am a big fan of digital resources, I sometimes need an ‘in plain sight’ reminder of next steps or critical tasks. I use my calendar, Google apps and Voxer voice notes digitally, but I always keep a Post-It on my MacBook with simple bullets of things I must do. I keep that list short and focused.

Desk reminder: Each week I prepare an internal staff communication, The Friday Flight, and publish a joint publication of our school and Parent Teacher Association news, The Lowell Memo. In addition to labeling items for inclusion in my email and using one week’s publication as a base for the next, I keep a hard copy note on my desk as topics frequently come up during calls or when I’m checking email before or after school. I’ve also added a space for cards as a reminder to praise, thank or encourage others during the week. And, of course, there’s an ‘other’ category to use as needed! Part of my end-of-week routine is to remove my old list and add a new one to start Monday fresh.

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2016-17 files: This week I spent some time ensuring our staff Google site was updated with important information for my staff. Thanks to the fabulous power of Google Docs, I took 5 minutes to open essential documents like our master schedule, lunch/recess supervision schedules and supply ordering, and make a copy of each and rename the files for 2016-17. In sharing these with my office staff now, we have a shared accountability and an efficient way to plan and reduce unnecessary oversights that would negatively impact others.

 

 

IMG_3254I’ve been away from my blog for a long time, which will result in a different, more ‘challenging to write’ post along the way. Thanks to the power of my #leadwild and #principalsinaction networks and the goal I set for myself in my own family’s goal setting talk, I’m committing to writing more about both the ‘obvious’ that comes from sharing an idea or strategy that is part of my practice and the ‘amazing’ that comes with deep reflection and dialogue with others.

What workflow strategies have helped you the most? What is ‘obvious to you, but amazing to others’?

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?

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. 

Talking #ILEdChat

I’ve developed this pattern of reflecting on the awesomeness that comes from my Personal Learning Network (PLN) Monday nights at 9 p.m. CST. This is right about the time #iledchat wraps up for the week. We’ve just passed the 5 month point since we started a weekly chat initially rooted in Illinois education topics. ‘We’ includes the planning team of me, Jill Maraldo, Kevin Rubenstein, Bob Abrams, and other educators from both within and outside of Illinois who are so gracious to join us in learning. Sometimes the conversations mean encouraging and agreeing, and sometimes they mean challenging and pushing back; often they include both. I know we learn from both, for sure. Just tonight, we were glad to welcome Chris Wejr from a couple time zones away as we talked about awards in schools; be sure to check out his blog for some thought-provoking reads.

Leading up to the start of #iledchat, a few factors coincided:

  • I’d started a Google doc to track local educators that used Twitter. I loved connecting with educators from all over the globe, but my curiosity also led me to see what local people were Twitter users. 
  • I had gotten more involved in my region of the Illinois Principals Association, so I was both connecting with more people in person and wanting to share the amazing connections and resources that they could access.
  • Illinois administrators had just endured the evaluation training modules and we were getting ready to administer the 5Essentials survey to our staff and our parents, both were a little stressful and uncertain.
  • I’d noticed and jumped in on some other state Twitter chats like #IAedchat; you can find a list of many chats here. Months prior to that, I’d had my first chat experience with #PTchat.

When Jill asked if I’d like to be part of a team to start this, I didn’t hesitate at all. Backing up to that #iledchat team, I’d only met Bob in person before this started. I met Jill a full month later, and I’ve yet to meet Kevin face-to-face. Weekly, however, we collaborate on a shared document, share resources, and offer both positive and critical feedback to one another as we prepare to facilitate the chat. I’ve been excited to have other local colleagues join in the fun, too, as they reached out as newly connected educators.  We’ve also added a Google+ community where you can find our chat archives each week along with related resources! Check it out and feel free to share there, too.

We tackled the 5Essentials survey as our first topic(Coincidentally, those results just came out.). Like tonight, though, many topics are global in nature, and I enjoy learning about school systems in other states and countries. Both local and global topics benefit from sharing varied perspectives. You can check out the much larger #edchat and some thoughts from Tom Whitby for the background on that, too.

If you found this post through Illinois Principals Association and a chat is new to you, check out these resources to learn more about participating in a chat. You can also use the #iledchat hashtag throughout the week to share. Again, while this has enhanced my global network, it has also undoubtedly enhanced my local network. That translates, in simplest form, to enriching my school community through people, resources, examples, and conversations of what is truly possible as we seek to best serve our kids. Thanks to everyone who has joined us and we’re excited for those of you who will join us in moving forward in connection, reflection, and action!