Category Archives: Living a Mission & Vision Focused on Results

Confessions of a rebounding blogger

img_9726Looking back through my posts, one topic that emerges the most is my lack of blogging. Candidly, this is in direct opposition to my firm believe that educational leaders must take risks and model what we hope to see in others. It makes my cries that everyone has something to share and our voices are valuable seem just a bit hypocritical, don’t you think? As George Couros noted in Blogging is your job, “If you see reflection as crucial to what you do, don’t find time; schedule time.” So here I am with my mocha, an R & B playlist and a pile of work I can tend to later.

Over the past couple years, I’ve gotten to know Jennifer Kloczko through our #LeadWild Voxer group. This summer we finally had the opportunity to meet in person, and I’m more than excited for some upcoming projects we’ll tackle together. Aside from being school leaders, we shamelessly share a love of Justin Timberlake. Can you blame us? This weekend, Jennifer shared more musical goodness through her post Leadership Lessons #maroon5. Before getting to those lessons, she, too references George’s post about blogging. Jennifer writes, “You see, I write blog posts in my head all the time. When I’m walking, and driving– inspiration is everywhere. And once in awhile a post makes it out of my head and onto the page.” I can totally relate to blogging in my head, but blogging in my head doesn’t help anyone but me. To be honest, it doesn’t even help ME as much as getting my words on a page. As I updated other parts of my blog tonight, I couldn’t help but reread old posts…old posts with words I barely remember writing but very much needed to read.

This is the part where I’d typically make a grand statement about being back on the blog train for good. Instead, I’m going to hit Publish (before I overthink this) and put that next writing time on my calendar! What are you doing to protect your reflection and sharing time?

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?

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.