Increase Rigor by Relinquishing Control

student-led-conferences

As conference time is upon us, I am reminded of one of my major career “catapult” moments: initiating student led conferences. As I began to leverage the enthusiasm, ambition, and inquiry of the students in my classroom, I quickly began achieving more by doing less. As a result, I discovered an invaluable, always accessible, and unlimited resource in my classroom: my kids. This applies to all things, but I will share my learning progression as it pertained to initiating student led conferences.

Setting the scene: It was a century ago (1999). I was teaching 3rd grade and had one bulky computer in my room. The entire school (500 kids) had a hub of 30 laptops that could be signed out. No wi-fi, so cords, wires, and power strips littered the hub. I was a 2nd year teacher who had grown up without a computer, and was as far from a techie as one could possibly be. I had just finished my first year of teaching, and spent the summer taking a few student centered “tech” classes (HyperStudio, KidPix, Inspiration, Kidspiration, etc).

I was excited to put my new toys to use in my classroom; however, I was terrified of the equipment and the set up. I had no idea what the difference was between the blue cords and the yellow cords, or what plugged into what. But Kyle did. Kyle was one of my 3rd graders, and had a passion and extreme depth of knowledge of “tech stuff”. So, every morning Kyle volunteered to show up early and plug everything in for me, log in every computer, and set up the day’s program we’d be using. I would watch him, ask him questions, and have him show me how to do things. I wanted to become a techie like 8 year old Kyle…

The way things had always been: They were called Parent-Teacher conferences for a reason. Students were not a part of them. Teachers told parents about their kids for 15 minutes, then the next parents came in. Sometimes, parents would receive and take a different message home than was intended by the teacher.

I didn’t see the point of me entirely telling a parent about their kid. I wanted kids to tell parents about themselves and their work, goals and progressions, challenges and plans of action…

Phase 1: Students need to attend their conferences. I shared my preliminary vision with my principal and asked if I could request students to attend. Her response was, “The kids are only 8!”, to which I replied, “I know, they’re 8. They can do this!” I was told I could not make kids attend, but could ask. So I did, and got 100% attendance!

Phase 2: Students need to share. Not only did all of my kids attend, but some even improvised and voluntarily commented and shared! The response from parents was great, as hearing from their kids has a different value than hearing from the teacher. So, in anticipation for our next round of conferences, we prepared and practiced sharing. I offered some prompts and sentence starters, and my kids really took to them.

Phase 3: Students have examples of work, progress, & action taken as part of plans. A nice surprise that evolved from students taking to the verbal sharing was they wanted to provide evidences. To keep things organized, accessible, and mobile, with Kyle’s help we began creating electronic portfolios using Hyperstudio, Kid Pix, Inspiration, and KidSpiration. With so much value and enthusiasm being inserted by my kids, 15 minutes wasn’t going to be enough. So, we experimented by extending to 30 minute conferences, two at a time. We set up families in opposite diagonal corners of the classroom, and I set up a boom box (1999, remember?) in the middle of the room between them to provide some auditory privacy. Students shared and led with such pride, and parents were extremely engaged. I was able to simply float between the families, filling in where needed.

Phase 4: Get out of the way and simply support where necessary! Things went so well during our conferences, 30 minutes was not enough time. I had to kick out every single family. Because they knew that everything we did could potentially be something they share in the spotlight of their conferences, kids began taking serious ownership of their daily learning, behavior, reflections, goals, and action plans. In other words, school was becoming what school is supposed to be! So, moving forward, we set up 60 minute conferences, four at a time, one family per corner of the room, boom box tunes in the middle providing auditory privacy, with me floating.

Families could come and go as they pleased during their 60 minute blocks. For many families, 60 minutes was still not enough. So, we (Kyle, who was now in 4th grade but still came back to help me) set up laptops outside of our room for families to begin early or continue after their 60 minute blocks.

Benefits: Students can achieve anything put on them. As I learned, what was hindering my classroom was not my students’ learning, but my comfort in the rigor of things I limited myself to putting on my kids. My student led conferences progression spanned 2 years (4 rounds of conferences). What I put on my 2nd cohort of kids was much more complex than what I put on my 1st cohort; however, to the kids it was simply how we did things and the expectations of what they knew 3rd grade to be. As I learned something new, became comfortable, and shared A, B, and C with kids, they took it in as A, B, and C. As I evolved to D, E, and F, then G, H, and I, then J, K, and L, kids were still taking it in as A, B, and C. Because to them, it was all they knew. It simply was how we did things.

During daily instruction and learning time, I rarely had to discipline kids and never pointed to a poster of rules not to break. We simply reminded ourselves, “Am I going to be proud to share this during conferences?”

In Summation: Student led conferences promote ownership and accountability in learning. It gives meaning to daily work and builds community around expectations. Implementation paces will vary dependent upon district initiative, building administrative support, culture, and your own comfort.

My journey began with an immense fear of technology, and resistance from a principal’s perspective that kids should not even attend conferences because they were only 8. It progressed to those same 8 year olds leading 60 minute conferences twice per year. It resulted in our student led conferences being filmed and used for presentation as a district initiative of student led conferences all the way down to Kindergarten.

Students consistently monitored themselves, their learning, and behavior, invested in their goals and plans of action, and achieved beyond anything I could have put forth for them at the time. By relinquishing control and utilizing the number one resource in my classroom, rigor was increased on all levels.

SLC-blackboard

The Power of Detentions

detention quiet

If we had to host our own detentions…

  • how many would we write?
  • how would we want student behavior impacted as a result?
  • how would we work toward achieving that result during our time with the student?

Answering these questions may provide insight into the power of our detentions–and perhaps more importantly–offer insight into what we value as educators.

How many would we write? If the thought of spending more time with kids who have just broken a rule, not turned in an assignment, defied a request, or disrespected us makes our tummies queasy, I ask that we consider this: these kids need us more than ever at this time. And, oddly enough, we need them.

The students need us because we are their teachers, and they need to be taught/re-taught expectations, responsibility, order, or respect. We can teach math, science, art, etc., without kids in our rooms, but we cannot teach kids without kids in our rooms. Teachers teach KIDS.

We need more time with these students, not less. More time spent with kids increases the likelihood of cultivating relationships, both academic and social emotional. Research suggests that students learn and experience increased success when we’ve developed positive relationships with them.

How would we want student behavior impacted as a result? I’ve seen teachers stumped in silence when asked this question. In the heat of the moment, sometimes we become egocentric. What we “want” is for students to be punished as a result of their behavior toward us. When we find ourselves here, I suggest re-routing our focus. It is challenging to prescribe resolutions for students when we are focused on ourselves. Do we want increased student responsibility? Respect for the learning environment? Compassion for our community? It is imperative that as educators and professionals we prescribe student-centered solutions that promote positive behavior moving forward.

How would we work toward achieving that result during our time with the student? If the detention time is not dedicated to improving the probability of positive student behavior moving forward, it runs the risk of being punitive. Consequences for the sake of punishment can quickly deteriorate student-teacher relationships, thus decreasing the probability of positive student behavior moving forward. This can lead to a cycle of infractions and punishments that viciously and exponentially feed one another.

If detentions are time spent with kids, focused on student learning outcomes and positive behavior, and we engage with them to promote such, let’s give all our kids detentions! They can serve them during the natural course of the day, and we can just call it teaching.

If you have ways you seamlessly build relationships and incorporate compassionate re-teaching responsively and flexibly during your school day, please share.

Discipline to Build Student Relationships

Discipline meaningless punishment

 

The best teachers have great relationships with students. Part of this can be attributed to who they are at heart, but part is also intentionally focused energy and effort. 6 things the best teachers (and educators in general) do are:

1. Set kids as the priority every day. As educators, we have many demands, pressures, and expectations exerted upon us. The best teachers understand that putting kids first can inherently accomplish anything else on the list. Test scores, standards, grades, motivation, behavior, and attendance are examples of things that can be increased by setting kids as the priority. What does this mean? Setting kids as the priority means genuinely getting to know kids, their strengths, interests, passions, aspirations, frustrations, backgrounds, and areas for growth, then acting upon this knowledge in planning for instruction and engaging students in learning. The best teachers know this transcends the content of any manual or basil reader (which can have value as resources and tools–just not end goals).

2. Treat discipline/behavior as a content area to support student learning.  Just like Language Arts, Math, PE, Music, Foreign Language, etc., behavior is an area in which kids need our support to learn skills to grow. Math teachers do not send a student to the office if he fails a quiz, then expect an administrator to spend an hour or two teaching the concepts to him, call home, assign negative consequences, and expect the student to return with a positive attitude and ace the quiz; however, some educators treat disciplinary infractions this way. The best teachers meet students where they are behaviorally and accept the responsibility of supporting them as needed, just like they do academically.

3. Relish the opportunity to support student learning in the area of behavior. The best teachers know that working with students–and families–through behavioral infractions is a fast track way to building positive relationships. The disciplinary process provides teachers an opportunity to show kids they matter, and families they care. These situations take time, energy, and firmness; but so do teaching kids to read, understand fractions, and speak a foreign language. Educators who pass off these fast track opportunities to others not only pass off the opportunity to build and progress relationships, but often create just the opposite: adversarial relationships with students and families.

4. Recognize and celebrate positives (positively) disproportionately to negatives. Although the best teachers hold kids to high expectations, they still take the time to acknowledge achievements. They praise them, and also contact parents to share. This is very time consuming, but so is fielding negative calls from parents. The best teachers know this, and also understand the invested time yields much different results when placed proactively at the front end rather than reactively on the back end.

5. Remove teacher ego from student interactions. The best teachers always focus on student centered objectives when dealing with disciplinary and behavioral infractions. The root of the issues are addressed, and teachers support the skill in need. Incidents–especially disrespect and insubordination–are never compounded with punitive consequences because they were directed at the teacher, and are rarely outsourced for resolution.

6. Search for relationship building opportunities. The best teachers jump at opportunities like lunch duty, recess duty, hall duty, morning duty, after school supervision, extra-curricular supervision, and chaperoning. These environments are saturated with relationship building opportunities, as both parties can take off their “school caps” and engage on another level.

 

Perhaps this winter holiday can provide time for us to examine our priorities. If kids are not at the top of the list, hopefully this offers assistance with any necessary revision. Our kids deserve it.

What essentials would you add to this list? Please share.

GenEd Differentiation: SPED’s Been Ahead of the Game for Years

learning knows no bounds sped

With a different kind of emphasis and focus recently (last couple decades or so) on mainstream differentiation, I think we must turn to our SPED educators for guidance. They’ve been doing it all along.

The premise of special education is to work with colleagues and families to devise an individualized education plan (IEP) to meet kids at their learning readiness levels. Recent mandates and expectations have placed the same accountability on general education teachers for mainstreamed students.

To plan for and accommodate the standard three traditional learning levels (“on level”, “below level”, and “above level”) are no longer enough. The reality has always been that in a classroom of X kids, there are X different readiness levels. In the past, grouping students into 3 instructional cohorts was acceptable(?); however, this is not acceptable in the current era of education. General educators are under more and more pressure (some mandated, and some from personally high expectations and passion for their craft) to cater to each individual learning readiness level in the classroom; in essence, to create personalized learning paths–or individualized education plans–for each and every student.

In theory, I believe every educator wants to do this; however, in reality, it is a challenge–and not an area of strength–in public education. Time, resources, and manpower are just a few constraints that make this task challenging. I believe 3 things can help alleviate this stress and promote work toward accomplishing this great task:
1. Collaborate & confer with your SPED staff. This is the work they’ve always done for kids. Working with all staff who have any kind of relationship with the student (academic, social, emotional), along with parents, as a team to target strengths and areas for improvement is their everyday job. They design goals and plans to reach said goals. They continuously check in with one another, formally and informally, monitoring progress along the way, always including parents. They make adjustments as necessary, always in an effort to create success, build confidence, and foster independence.
2. Stay current and implement best practices: multidisciplinary, project based, inquiry based, backward design, Maker Education, genius hour, to name a few. These practices can empower learners (including the teacher and parents as learners) to take ownership of the learning process. When this occurs, you’ve essentially increased the resource of instructional manpower in your classroom.
3. Leverage the resources available to you. For example, there are so many apps and social media platforms that can be utilized to foster collaboration. Collaboration can take place among learners within the classroom, grade level, school, district, state, country, and world. These relationships can be used for sharing, brainstorming, proof reading & editing, and feedback. Talk about increasing the resource of manpower–the assistance of the entire world and its expertise is one click away! Leveraging 21st century virtual tools for collaboration also increases the resource of time, as these tools transcend learning outside of school hours and across time zones, borders, and oceans.

During this educational era which can feel lonely and barren, it is imperative to reach out to the people and resources you do have around you to maximize our kids’ learning opportunities and experiences. If you have more ways to accomplish this, please share.

Meetings That Work–and Get Work Done!

are u lonely hold-a-meetingdreadful meetings

If you find these cartoons humorous, it’s unfortunately likely this is your workplace reality. You are not alone. Why is it common for meetings to be major obstacles to getting things done? Objective. Every leader of a meeting hopes it will be productive; however, specific meeting objectives may vary. It takes more than hope to have a productive meeting. Here are 6 types of meetings, with very different objectives:

“Have a meeting to have a meeting” meeting. These meetings are set in stone on the calendar at the beginning of the year (say, every Monday), and are committed to and protected at all costs. All efforts are focused on finding things to do for the meetings. These meetings never end early, because the leader has spent hours (or even days or weeks!) stressing over how to fill the entire time. In some cases, these meetings result in bonus “emergency” meetings to finish the leftover “work” that time ran out on at the previous meeting.

“I’m the boss” meeting. These meetings rarely begin on time, as the boss likes to make a grand entrance with all present. It’s very ego boosting for the boss: all things come to a stop when he enters, and all eyes are immediately on him. Now the agenda may begin. And when the boss’s presentation/talk at you part of the meeting is over, he can often be found tending to his personal to-do list, taking calls, or even nodding off, while others present and painfully power through the misery. Oh, and since it began late, don’t expect it to end on time. Especially in conjunction with the following…

“In trying to create an agenda that fills the entire preset calendar commitment of meetings, I have convinced myself these things are important to me, so surely they are a priority for you” meeting. A subset of the “I’m the boss” meeting, this meeting has you continuously stupefied in trying to comprehend how these agenda items are worthy of the time away from all the other things you’ve been directed to do, plus the things you know must get done in the best interest of kids and families. The time periods on the agenda are simply suggestions–or worse, template space fillers–and (loosely relevant to begin with) topics frequently spin off on magnificent tangents. These meetings are sure to result in bonus “emergency” meetings to complete the agenda. The only saving grace of these meetings is texting/chatting confidants the “can’t make this stuff up” things you’re being subjected to–unless, these meetings are in conjunction with the following…

“I don’t fully understand the benefits of technology to work production, so it’s not allowed during our meetings” meeting. Any hope you had of being productive is out the window with these meetings. The only work that gets done during these meetings is writing notes to yourself about all the tasks you need to retroactively complete when you are free to return to the 21st century: email your boss that phone number he asked for during the meeting, verify facts presented during the meeting, share a link with the group that would’ve brought clarity to a topic of conversation during the meeting, add some important work related events to your calendar which were shared during the meeting, forward the data to the group that would have made a 25 minute discussion during the meeting moot, begin a google doc to be shared with the group to recap significant information from a discussion held during the meeting, send a doodle to the group regarding an offshoot committee formed during the meeting, etc. These all could have been taken care of on the spot during the meeting, when most meaningful; however, due to technology being prohibited, they must wait, and most likely will not be done until hours, days, or weeks later–if at all. The leaders of these meetings are fully aware of the potential for off-task emailing, g-chatting, texting, and game playing on devices; however, they’re not at all aware that the prohibiting of 21st century devices is entirely independent of their value-lacking content they’ve prepared, which is the cause of the off-task behavior. They’ve also forgotten the power of paper and pens to make grocery lists, pass notes, doodle, and play “dots”. Whether it’s to accomplish work, or pass the time because there is no work to accomplish, you’d give anything for your phone, laptop, iPad, tablet, or any other 21st century work tool. Instead, it’s just you, the pen you borrowed from the person on your right, and the sheet of paper you borrowed from the person on your left. That is, if you’re awake. Otherwise, you need to borrow a tissue from the person on your right to mop up your drool puddle, and apologize to the person on your left for kicking them when you jumped during that crazy weird dream you just had.

“Story time” meeting. These meetings are spent with the leader reading emails to you that he sent earlier in the week. Want to read along? No, you aren’t allowed to have your computer in the meeting, but never fear–boss has print outs of the email to pass out to everyone. After getting the group warmed up with some announcement email reading, the boss may move on to reading a PowerPoint presentation to you. Yes, the one he emailed you earlier this week. No, you are not going to take action on it during this meeting as if you had read the email earlier this week as required. No, you cannot follow along on your computer, because your computer’s not allowed. No, you cannot follow along on his computer projected for all to see. But, yes, he has color print one-sided stapled packet handout screenshots of the PowerPoint for all to follow along with as he reads to you. And if you’re lucky, the screenshots being read at you while you follow along in your packet are step by step instructions to do something new on your…wait for it…computer! Yes, the one you had to leave back in your classroom/office for these meetings! You are being “trained” on new computer skills, programs, apps, etc., because your District is committed to 21st century education, blah, blah, blah. Oh, the irony. Ugh.

“Let’s get things accomplished” meeting. Sigh. My favorite. These meetings respect people’s time. They’re only scheduled when necessary, or make the best use of the meetings already set in stone. These meetings always start on time, and end promptly. These meetings may end early due to task accomplishment, and rarely go over time. In the rare event they do go a little over, the leader is sure to announce dismissal when time is up, and make it clear that anything beyond is 100% voluntary. Due to the effectiveness of the time together, there are often many willing to stay a few more minutes or carry over later into the evening or next day; however, it’s that same effectiveness that makes the necessity of overtime extremely rare.
These meetings understand there are certain things that require whole group face to face time, and certain things that do not. These meetings are dedicated to the former, and allow small groups, emails, common plan times, google docs, committees, etc. to address the latter. These meetings empower the attendees, converting them to contributors. These meetings have buy-in due to a running agenda that has been open to all well in advance for any and all revisions, additions, and contributions necessary to maximize the limited face to face time together as a group.
These meetings remove obstacles and encourage the use of all available resources and tools. These meetings may even require that you bring a device, and have it open at all times ready to use, mirror, share, verify, create, etc. These meetings treat everyone as professionals. These meetings trust that prior requests have been obliged ahead of time. These meetings use time in advance of the meeting to brainstorm, dialogue, read, and respond virtually, while maximizing face time together to act, accomplish, and achieve in a hands-on manner. Less the welcome, some moderating, and facilitating transitions, an outside observer would find it difficult to identify the leader, as leadership is abound throughout the room.
These meetings result in time flying by. These meetings result in, “Can we do that again?!? We got so much done!” These meetings result in subgroups, committees, and teams replicating and/or implementing parts of the meeting structure. These meetings add value to the group, the work it does, and the mission it’s dedicated to. These meetings…don’t feel like…meetings.

Meetings should not be a break from getting things done. Times are changing. Expectations are changing. So must our practices. Leaders, with so much to accomplish for our kids, staff, and families, and so little time, let’s make meetings an effective use of everybody’s time.

Have I missed a meeting at your school, district, or work place, or other ways to maximize meeting time? Please share.

50 Shades of Grey: An Educational Conundrum

Kids? Politics? Both?

conundrum brain trauma

Traumatic brain injury = a conundrum wrapped in a mystery, buried in an enigma, and shrouded by secrecy

 

The best part about our profession of education is…kids! Most–if not all–of us teach on the most dedicated staff, with the greatest kids, affectionately supported by a passionate community, in a district that unconditionally puts kids first and is a 21st century educational leader. What, then, is it that differentiates us? Country to country, state to state, county to county, city to city, district to district, school to school, classroom to classroom, we’re different. Drastically different. Some may point to standardized metrics to “compare apples to apples” and suggest better and worse.

What distinguishes us from one another may be as simple as black and white. Or perhaps more accurately stated, the grey muddle in between that can look 50 shades of grey. Do our decisions, initiatives, programs, meetings, speeches, directives, suggestions, and questions become lost across 50 shades of grey? For example, often times we’re encouraged/convinced/directed to:

  • think out of the box–>within political structures which require us to stay in the same package
  • differentiate instruction–>to perform for a standardized test
  • celebrate and empower differences–>to be measured by a common assessment
  • be creative and innovative–>to assure mastery of common standards
  • be independent–>in an effort to get everyone on the same page
  • speak our minds–>in systems that strive for one voice
  • take risks–>in a society that historically values safe decisions and rewards predictability

This can cause a disconnect between words and actions. Our words are aligned, but our actions can vary amidst the 50 shades of grey. Our creativity and innovation can become diluted. Our growth can wane. Our vision can blur. Our leadership can waver. Our passion can diminish.

Perhaps all educators believe their era was the most challenging. If so, I will follow suit. I ask you: how do you go about aligning your words with your actions during this most challenging era of education? We all talk the talk. At the end of the day, how do you manage walking the walk so that you significantly move the needle such that student learning and school community needs are met and exceeded…in black and white? I would love for you to share your strategies, processes, successes, thoughts, and questions.

An Open Letter to Authoritarian and/or “Old School” Educator in Leadership Position

best practice

Dear Authoritarian and/or “Old School” Educator in Leadership Position,

We appreciate your role, and do not envy your position. We depend on you to make the countless difficult decisions you make. We know the success of our kids and community starts and ends with you. We want you to be successful. We expect you to be successful. We want to help. Please let us. Here’s how:

  • Ego makes many leaders; however, it can be a hindrance in an educational leadership position. Please put yours aside in favor of a shared leadership style. You may hold yourself to an expectation of being an expert in everything, but we do not. Let us fill in the gaps with our expertise. We do not view you as being “weak”, and we are eager and happy to help.
  • Empower us. We are passionate, knowledgeable, and driven. You may have more experience than us and/or a higher ranking title, but it’s our daily work with kids and families that will define your leadership and legacy.
  • Thank you for encouraging us to take risks. However, we are not afraid to take risks; we are afraid of what you may do if our risks result in something other than you expected. Your front end encouragement is great, but it’s your back end support that we desire.
  • Thank you for encouraging our suggestions and questions. However, we are not afraid to offer suggestions and ask questions; we are afraid that your ego will interpret a suggestion as implying we know better than you, and a question perceived as challenging you and your authority. Your front end encouragement is great, but it’s your back end collaborative dialogue that we desire.
  • Thank you for taking the lead in helping us to become 21st century educators; however, please focus on best practice–not technology. You see, many of our careers were born in the 21st century, and many of those who weren’t have by now spent the majority of our careers in the 21st century. Frankly, we don’t need help “becoming” 21st century educators. We are inherently 21st century educators. It is no longer something on the horizon to brace and prepare for. It’s here. It’s been here for 15 years. We need you to lead us with best practice. Focus on the human component of education, and the particulars of differentiation, instruction, student engagement, family involvement, and efficiency. As inherent 21st century educators, we’ll incorporate the tools and resources at our disposal. Support of those resources and tools should be supplementary, not the focus. The focus should be best practice instruction and student learning.
  • The same goes for helping our kids “become” 21st century learners. All of our elementary (PK-8) kids were born in the 21st century. Our high school–and even our college–students have lived the majority of their lives in the 21st century. They inherently are 21st century learners. Please focus on instruction and student learning–not creating already born 21st century learners.

Not everyone can do your job. Again, we appreciate your position. We want to help you be the best leader possible.

Sincerely,

Your staff (and students)

sharing learning together

Leaders: Strive to be the Weak Link

Leadership is action not position

Many have leadership titles, but our true leaders exhibit leadership behaviors. Some are listed here. Certainly not an exhaustive list, nor set in stone; but led to some great candid discussion and sharing–which is what learning and education should be all about! I’m not sure if this is an addition to the list, or a subset of empowerment, but leaders should strive to be the weak link. Leaders need to take pride in the hiring process and teaching, coaching, supporting, and learning from the staffs we lead.

Some leaders delegate critical aspects of the future of the school community such as initial screening of applicants, filtering of candidates, or evaluations of current staff. I understand the demands on everyone’s time, especially leaders; however, I urge us, as leaders, to be active participants in these critical endeavors. I believe there are 2 mindsets when it comes to hiring and evaluating, which differentiate those with leadership titles from those with leadership behaviors.

I believe the mindset of those with leadership titles is to take anybody and affix an “If you’re lucky, one day you’ll be able to know what I know, achieve what I’ve achieved, and get to where I am” mentality. The hinderance of this logic is that someone with a leadership title and 44 years of experience in 2014 sets a vision for an educator with 11 years experience that 33 years from now, in the year 2047, if lucky enough, the younger educator will have finally “made it” to where the elder educator was 33 years ago in 2014. Yuck.

The mindset of those with leadership behaviors is to actively seek out specific individuals and commit to a “With proper support, collaboration, and partnership, where you are 8-12 years from now will be further than I will ever be at any time in my career” mentality. The benefit of this logic is that, applied to everyone in the organization, the current leader becomes the “weak link”. This is when an organization or school community becomes “progressive”. Define it as you may, but I’m coming to learn “progressive” means when educators remove ego, explore, and push beyond boundaries–or better yet, push as if there are no boundaries–to achieve successes with and for kids never before achieved. This constantly redefines the foundation upon which new explorations occur, effectively creating a culture of continued progress, or progressive achievements and successes.

Our kids, staffs, parents, and communities deserve educators who exhibit leadership behaviors, and strive to be the weak link.

“What the He**’s Going On Out Here?!?” ~Vince Lombardi

This reflection is inspired by a culmination of things, but most recently a conversation with an aspiring teacher, and this recent post by @TonySinanis. The aspiring teacher approached me for some insight on education, stating her enthusiasm is being thwarted by many teachers she talks with. Tony Sinanis’ post highlights some major obstacles in today’s educational landscape. I’d like to add to Tony’s list by posing the questions that follow, and because I try not to ever share problems without offering suggestions to help improve or resolve them, I will share some suggestions.

Great list, Tony! Unfortunate, but right on. To add to your list, I offer the following questions: Educators, can we look the people we “govern” in the eyes with pride? When we make decisions, shortly thereafter do we physically engage with the people we’ve impacted? When we implement action and initiatives, do we stand among those who have to carry out in the trenches…while they do it? Do we roll up our sleeves and pitch in?

Teachers, do we make ourselves available to parents by greeting kids on the playground to begin the day, and walking kids physically out of the building at dismissal? Do we attend extracurricular functions? Can we make ourselves available to the parents of the kids we impact everyday, and do so with pride?

Building administrators, can we walk the halls and classrooms of our schools and look kids and staff in the eyes, and do so with pride? Can we comfortably attend staff functions? Can we walk into the staff lounge without it immediately going dead silent? Can we approach students without them asking, “What? What did I do?” Can we make ourselves available to parents on the playground before and after school? Do we attend extracurricular functions? Do kids and parents see and know us well enough to identify us?

District administrators, do you visit your school buildings? Do staff know who you are by face–and name, title, and responsibilities, for that matter? Can you attend school functions (even during the school day) and look staff, kids, and parents in the eye with pride? Do you roll up your sleeves and help carry out the things you direct others to do?

Unfortunately, these questions may make many educators uneasy, as they know decisions they make are not ones with which they can engage with the impacted parties with pride. These people negatively impact school communities, through direct and indirect toxic relationships. These are the people and the environments that can make it feel as though the majority of education is in this state. This is what is thwarting the aspiring teacher’s enthusiasm who came to see me. This is what overwhelms some educators into receding to the shadows and just getting by, doing enough to “maintain” for kids and parents, but not too much that might draw undesired attention from the toxic people.

To Tony’s question, “Now what?” Here are some suggestions.

#1 Remember why we are educators. If the reason we do what we do is anything other than KIDS, we must reconsider.

#2 Do not allow anyone or anything to back us off of why we do what we do. We know what’s best for our kids. If someone asking us to do something different cannot explain why–especially with a reason pertaining to increased positive impact on kids–we must stick to our guns. There should be no volume at which people can raise their voices at us, no threats they can make, that should ever back us off our stance for doing what’s best for kids. I understand this is easier said than done, especially considering potential consequences such as reprimands, disciplinary action, and potential termination. This is a quality of life decision only you can make.

#3 Connect with other student centered educators. All of us claim to be, but our actions differentiate us. We know who we want and need to surround ourselves with to push our explorative and learning boundaries as educators. Find them and connect with them.

#4 Persevere…patiently. Know that every day and every effort counts–and is needed. Our kids are counting on us. Our PLNs depend on us. Our parents need us.

If we are provided a student-centered reason with a request, decision making is easy: we move forward with the option with the greater positive impact on kids. There’s no room for ego in education. This is why student centered educators can comfortably do “rogue” things like have candid dialogue, hold one another accountable, and challenge each other’s thoughts. We do not take things personally, as education is about kids–not us. These are the educators who not only sincerely ask for, but demand feedback. These are the educators who continually evolve. These are the educators who do what’s best for kids.

Nothing worth doing is easy. And our kids’ learning, education, and success is worth doing.

 

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Things That Suck!

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We’ve run 2 staff meetings this year using an #edcamp format. They were very well-received, productive, successful, and provided instant feedback for staff and/or immediate classroom learning opportunities for kids. We changed things up a bit for our most recent staff meeting, and did “Things That Suck”. Inspired by an edcamp session I did not attend (but piqued my interest by title alone), a tweet from @CurtRees, and this blog post by Bill Selak, I decided to give it a try. The result? Yet another hit spawned from global collaboration and sharing!

This format provided a platform for our staff to have candid conversation in a safe environment around pertinent topics that impact our daily work. We discussed homework, 1:1 student device initiatives, CCSS, Standards Based Grading, merit pay, and tenure. For those new to “Things That Suck”, I believe it can be productive in an environment that is already safe, candid, collaborative, and comfortable, or used to break the ice toward creating an environment with those characteristics. Either way, “Things That Suck” definitely does not, and will make a fine addition to your staff meeting format repertoire.

If you have other staff meeting formats that have been well received, or other ways to make collaborative time productive, I would love to hear about them.