March 30, 2014

Learning With Your Mistakes

Yeah......I did it.  I goofed.  I pulled a Dufus move. No, it's not the first time (that number wouldn't fit in this post) but it was a mistake I should have known not to make. Granted, it was made out of zeal and innocence, but mostly it was made because I focused on my goals and not the goals of my teachers.

So each week I try to send out a Weekly Update to my staff.  The goal is to reduce the need for staff meetings, or at least reduce the amount of housekeeping that takes place in staff meetings.  There are notes about upcoming events or deadlines, changes to plans, and a calendar of events. These pieces seem to cause little stress sometimes a little confusion, if my calendar is off from theirs, but little stress.

However, in the past few years, I have added a professional development/growth piece to my updates. I found myself collecting some incredible resources, thanks to my Twitter PLN, and thought it may be helpful to share some of the blog posts, videos, websites and apps that I have discovered thanks to those connections.  I have added in some great infographics as well. All of this was just meant to be a piece that was there for them to check out at their own pace. If they get to it great, if they don't, well that's fine too. I have started to add more and more links, posts and graphics lately, and that has created an issues I should have seen coming.

My hope was that I was providing them with some new perspectives, some new information, and even some inspiration, that they wouldn't have to go looking for.  What I didn't consider was......maybe there was a reason they weren't looking for it.  Maybe they didn't have time to go looking for it.  Maybe they were busy creating newly aligned lesson plans, finding resources to add to their curriculum maps, digging through Teacher Pay Teacher for Common Core aligned activities, correcting papers, quizzes and tests. Maybe they were looking through their students data to see if it was time to adjust flexible learning groups, possibly working on progress reports, report cards or just contacting the parents of a troubled student, and maybe they were preparing their budgets for next year. This is more of a probably than a maybe.

Somehow, I forgot to recognize and realize all that my staff was already doing, to see how stretched they already were. I goofed.....I forgot to be empathetic in all that I do. I was actually trying to add a little fun to the weekly updates and see how well they were being read.  So, a couple of weeks ago I decided to add a little note that said, "if you have read this far send me an e-mail with the word 'Surprise' in the subject box."  If I received that e-mail I went into the staff workroom and put a Ferraro Rocher Chocolate Truffle in their mailbox. A simple treat. Meant to be fun and be a small thanks for reading the update. 

What I didn't realize, was that this little treat, this little hidden surprise within the weekly update I share out, would actually create stress. A couple of my teachers (and maybe more, or even all) felt like this hidden treat was actually a check in, or a test to see if they were reading the update.  Were they doing their "homework" that I unknowingly assigned each week. I, being new to my staff this year, hadn't heard this yet. Yes, they are still figuring me out and they were afraid to share that thought with me.....So, unknowingly, I kicked it up a notch in the next week's update. I share 2 or 3 blog posts with my staff each week and next to one of them I added a note, "make sure to check out the comments after the post." Yep, I decided it would be fun to leave a comment on this Edu Leader's blog that told my staff members to come and say surprise to me face to face and then I would give them a free scoop of the day from a local ice cream place. What a Dufus!! 

By "kicking it up" I mistakenly added even more stress to the "fun" idea I had. When I heard that this was causing stress I apologized and have promised them that I would not be leaving surprises in the updates any longer. If I want to treat my staff, I will just buy pizza for lunch, have an ice cream sundae party in a staff meeting or provide Soup & Salad during conferences. I do try to be intentional in all that I do, but I also have to be empathetic, put myself in their shoes and see their perspective on things. I guess it is just more proof that sometimes we learn with our mistakes......

March 25, 2014

Reaching Across.....No More.

I find myself at one of those times in life, when I am at a loss.....a loss for words to explain my feelings about an issue. This issue is something that I have seen growing, spreading for a while now. We are changing here in America. Politics has divided people like I have never witnessed. It actually hurts when I read or listen to all of the rhetoric. It seems we can no longer reach across the aisle, shake hands with the people we don't see eye to eye with, and find a compromise.  We can't even agree to disagree.

I usually don't dare to tread into politics. There are many beliefs, and who am I to say what is right and what is wrong. Sure, I have beliefs, and while I stand by them, they are also changing and growing as my experience and learning changes and grows.  Still, I try not to thrust my beliefs on others, and when some feel the need to bluster theirs upon me, well, I try to smile and politely listen until there is an opening for my escape. Not that I can't listen to those I disagree with, I just don't care much for empassioned political talk. It ends up with hurt feelings, mine or others.....and....well, I try to avoid that. Much of my beliefs lie in what is good for people. We all need to find joy and happiness in life, and our beliefs should not restrict those things for others. But since we all have differences in opinion we tend to find issues that separate us.  Topics that can drive us apart as passions and beliefs can run deep.

What is sad is that we appear to have lost the skill of compromise. The ability to find middle ground is apparently lost. Politics in America has come down to win or lose. No middle, no compromise, no working together, no give and take.  The latest evidence of this is shared in the resolution shared below that took place here in Wisconsin. Two Wisconsin Government leaders were given a resolution of non-support and no-confidence simply because they acted on the best interest of the school districts in Wisconsin. Why did they do this? Because they have actually had long and meaningful discussions with educators. Because they cared about all the time and money already invested in district's aligning to the Common Core State Standards. Because they decided not to support a move to rename the standards, to change little, but to change enough to make it a pain in the neck and the pocket book of districts (and taxpayers), and to allow the Governor to put his stamp on the standards in Wisconsin and rename them as better standards, his standards. This appears to be just another stake in the heart of compromise.....

2014 –Resolution of non-support and no-confidence for Sen. Luther Olsen and Rep. Steve Kestell
WHEREAS the Republican Party of Wisconsin adopted a resolution calling for the rejection of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) at the 2013 state convention, for numerous reasons listed therein and
WHEREAS the Republican National Committee at its 2013 spring meeting adopted a resolution rejecting the Common Core State Standards for all the reasons stated therein and
WHEREAS Common Core State Standards are nothing more than a continuation of the past failed programs of the Federal Department of Education and the Wisconsin State Department of Public Instruction that sought to indoctrinate students instead of educating them and
WHEREAS State Senator Luther Olsen obviously has and continues to act as a biased champion for CCSS in Wisconsin and has failed to withdraw his involvement in educational matters in which he has a conflict of interest as between his and his wife’s interests and that of taxpayers and constituents
WHEREAS Senator Olsen and Rep. Kestell have remained manipulative, misleading and unaccountable in their dealings with Wisconsin citizens, even with their own constituents who have repeatedly voiced their wishes and been ignored by Senator Olsen, Rep. Kestell and their office staffs alike and
WHEREAS Senator Olsen and Rep. Kestell appear to have personal and independent motives in their promotion of Common Core State Standards which do NOT reflect the views of the members of the Republican Party of the 6th District, the Republican Party of the State of Wisconsin, and the Republican National Committee and
WHEREAS Senator Olsen and Rep. Kestell do NOT seem to have the ability, inclination or commitment to represent the views and positions of their constituents regarding education issues in the 6th District, the State of Wisconsin and the Republican National Committee;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that Senator Olsen and Rep. Kestell resign their positions as state chairs of the education committee and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Republican 6th Congressional District of Wisconsin, in caucus assembled, assign Senator Olsen and Rep. Kestell a vote of no-confidence and a declaration of non-support and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that copies of this resolution be delivered to ALL Wisconsin Republican legislators and the Governor before April 1st, 2014.

March 19, 2014

Don't Blame the Goat

Let's face is far easier to blame some one or some thing else for the challenges we face.  We've all been guilty of it.  We learn at a young age that it is far easier to point the finger at Billy over there (yeah, he's the one who did it), than it is to face up to the fact that we did something wrong or made the bad choice.

No, this post isn't about assigning blame to you, or anyone else for that's about our tendency to blame problems on outside forces, more accurately to blame problems on factors that aren't the actual problem.

I tend to hear a lot of griping about the Common Core State Standards.  Have you heard about those things? Once or twice maybe? To be honest, I'm a little tired of it. There are a myriad of reasons for the blame: They are too rigorous. They are too age inappropriate. They are too many. They are signs of Federal Government control. They were created by Republicans. They were installed by Democrats. It's a Socialist Conspiracy. They were influenced by Publishers and Education Businesses (I tend to buy into that one).  

The thing is, I think many of us (at least educators in Wisconsin) have to admit that our previous standards were a little weak, way too many, and our bar was set a little low. To me, the new standards are a gift sent at a time that it was sorely needed. They provide direction without declaring the content. They are focused on skills, deeper learning, critical thinking, analysis and creation of products that all directly deal with real life application as compared to the previous standards which dealt with......passing a multiple guess test.

What do I really see in the complaints?  Fear.  Not, "oh I'm scared!! Run away! Run away!"  No, I mean the fear of having to learn new things. Fear of not having enough time. Fear of not knowing what is okay to throw out from the old. Fear of technology integration. Fear of how kids will adapt. Fear of raising the bar too high. Fear of kids failing new tests. Fear of that student failure reflecting on a teacher's performance.

Are some of these fears a point, yes. We have significantly raised the bar of expectation.  Is that a bad thing?  I think not. Raising the bar of expectation for me, has always forced me to improve. Of course bar raising is often done by outside forces like your boss, your spouse, your district or even your government. So, we see it as something we have to do, reluctantly maybe, but we do it, because we have to, or because we do realize it is what is best for kids, but we do it.

Besides raising the bar though, we have also significantly increased the rigor and complexity of the tests. They absolutely will be tougher than the previous multiple guess tests we used to hand out. Of course, even that may not be the scariest part. The big fear factor seems to come from the fact that now these tests affect a report card that each school gets. A report card that is designed to look amazingly like a 0-100% scale. Also an interesting thing that is taking place, the Governor and many Legislators from Wisconsin (can't speak for other states) would also like to impose accountability measures for schools that do not perform well on their state report card. There is pressure to recall the Common Core State Standards and create more rigorous standards that would be created by a legislative panel. This is all taking place of course, while school funding is being reduced. So, it is getting easy to see where some of the teacher fear comes from.

My concern though is that it is constantly blamed on the Common Core State Standards. Is that really what we should be fearing?  Are the standards really what we should be blaming?  Or have they become an easy scapegoat for all of the other messes going on. What truly are the things that are causing instability and insecurity in this noble profession? I have asked my staff to stop even using the term Common Core State Standards. We just call them the standards.  We are choosing to focus on the skills our kids need for today. If we are truly preparing our students for the world they will be entering, then we will easily meet the standards. And more importantly than them passing a test, they will be ready to pass into our society and be successful people, employees and citizens......and that is what we need more of.

March 11, 2014

Get Back Up Again

I have some amazing teachers, and even better I have some great conversations with them.  I don't know if all administrators take the time to really talk with their staff.  Not to their staff, but with them.  I'm not talking about standing in front of them and telling them about the next initiative or program that they will be undertaking.  I'm not talking about telling them about the budget, the latest policy or the recent data from state tests.  I mean sitting down with them and talking about what really matters to them.  Their opinions, their ideas, their passions, their fears, and their experiences.....these are the things they want to share with you.

Today I had one of those amazing conversations with my staff as we discussed creating the vision for our school and what we are all about.  But through this conversation, I discovered that the staff was feeling a sense of overwhelm from all of the initiatives and programs that had been implemented in the past few years.  Okay, I didn't really just discover that today.  I had realized this feeling a while ago, and even more honestly, who hasn't realized this about teachers. But, what was interesting was that they had shared that they were very frustrated by the lack of training they had been given in all of the initiatives and curricular programs they had taken on recently.  

Well, I can understand that. No one likes to feel unprepared, especially for a job they perceive as incredibly important and that comes with heavy scrutiny by outsiders.  Wouldn't it be nice if everyone thought teaching was incredibly important? But I digress, the point is, my staff felt as though they were thrown to the lions unprepared.  That they had been given a highly technical handbook and told to read through it and begin the next day.  I am not sure how accurate that feeling is to what was actually done, but I know that is how they feel.

Here is also what I know.  My staff is AWESOME!! I have been incredibly impressed with their knowledge and skill since I have come to my new district.  The expertise and knowledge in my buildings (I actually have 3) has truly impressed me and I give a great deal of credit to my predecessor and to my staff.  If they truly have not been given much in the way of training and professional development on the Daily 5, PBIS, Math Expressions, Common Core State Standards, PLCs, Curriculum Mapping, and more, then I am impressed with how well they have adapted and learned about these initiatives without much support.

That is not to say that they don't have things to work on.  We all do.  I know I do. As soon as we see ourselves as not needing to grow, then I think we need to take on the new job of improving our golf game or lawn care techniques, and the best time to do that is in retirement.  And the wonderful thing is, my staff has embraced that concept already.  They are learners.  But what I fear, and what I gathered from today's conversation, is that they don't see themselves as self-directed learners, or as the experts in the room.  They fear they don't have the knowledge or the skill set to teach themselves.  They know they can teach kids, but not themselves or their peers.  And the funny thing is..........they do already.  They have been doing it for a while.  They have taught themselves how to implement the Daily 5 framework into their reading and writing program. They have learned how to implement a PBIS program. They may have connected with other districts also doing this type of a program, they may have gone to a workshop to hear other stories of its implementation or its philosophy, but no one has come in and done extensive training with them.  They have trained themselves. Educated themselves.

The problem, I believe, is that they have begun to listen to the naysayers, the un-involved experts, the lounge-chair microphone hungry political planners that have said our teachers are falling short, and that we need to revamp the system.  They have lost sight of the fact that they are the experts within the system and that no one knows this game better than themselves.  Well.......I won't stand for it anymore. I am going Bobby Knight on them. We are going to become the best at what we do by sticking with the fundamentals, and fundamental #1 is that you have to believe in yourself!!! 

We will develop resilience in ourselves so that we can develop it in our students. We will try things and fail.  But, we will learn from them, get back up, and become even better. We will not fear the failure. We will not fear the mistakes, the things we don't know yet, the effort of learning or the courage of getting back up again. Because when you get right down to it, that is what learning is for kids every day, and I won't ask it of them if we don't ask it of ourselves.  And as I shared this expectation with my staff, you could see chins rise, eyes brighten, and cheeks become flush.....because they knew they could do all of this as well. Because they had done it all before. Yeah, they may think they haven't have been trained in many of the things they have learned how to do.......but that's only because they have forgotten to see themselves as some of the most qualified trainers available.  I can't wait to see where they will take themselves!!

Have I mentioned how impressed I am with my staff?

March 7, 2014

Amongst The People......

So it's Parent/Teacher Conference night and I have decided to move myself out into the main entryway of our school so that I can meet more parents and say "Hi" to the students that tag along, all to avoid the isolation of my office.  Yeah, this could be one of those nights when I could catch up on things if I  chose to hide in my office, but I really prefer to be out here in the mix and meeting all of the families that stop by.  Tonight I will be joined by the District's School Board President as we attempt to inform parents of our upcoming operating referendum.

As I sit out here and see the importance of my being out "amongst the people," I start to ponder how some administrators don't see the importance of that day in and day out in our role within the school.  Although maybe they know the importance, they just can't find a way or the time to make it happen.  I know I can find myself feeling trapped in my office and I absolutely feel like I could and should be in classrooms more.  But, I do feel slightly consoled when staff tell me they see more than they have seen other administrators in the past.  I'm not trying to make a comparison to anyone, I still weigh my effectiveness by the growth of our students and my staff's feelings on our building climate. 

It's pretty easy for an administrator to get locked away into their office, handling all the management pieces of the job that can easily fill a day.  Paperwork, budgeting, parent contact, discipline, and e-mail can all be done from a desk, eliminating your time to get into classrooms to see kids and teachers in action, allowing you to interact and build relationships with those most important people in your building.  This is easier said than done.  I try to make it a daily goal to get out amongst the students and staff, in the classrooms, where the learning takes place.  I have found a way to make it a little easier.  The cart in the photo allows me to take my office with me (except my phone) and see what is taking place in classrooms, halls and other spaces while keeping some of those managerial tasks close at hand.  This tool will help me with our new online observation tool, it will help me be quickly accessible when I am not in my office, and it will help me understand our students and staff by not just hearing about what is taking place in our classrooms, but participating in it as well.

If you are an administrator, find a way to take those management tasks with you and get out amongst the people.  This little cart was well worth the money I spent on it.

March 3, 2014

Lame Excuses

I've been thinking about how to get my blogging going again. It's really something that should take little thinking.  Blogging should be an easy and natural reflection that takes place frequently.  Reflection is important, it helps you grow and examine your practices, it helps you become a sharer of knowledge, an active piece of your #PLN. 

I have discovered and learned a great deal from all of the wonderful educators I follow and the blog posts they share.  Their experiences have inspired me, taught me new things and given me insights that have made me a better leader.  It is my duty to share what I know, what I experience and help others avoid the pitfalls I have stepped into.  

So where have I been in the blogosphere recently?  Just being a reader I am afraid.  I haven't even been keeping up with that as well as I should.  I have been learning the ropes of my new district, and I am trying to keep up with the pace of leading 3 different elementary buildings, but really......those are just lame excuses.  We are all busy, but I still find a way to watch the Olympics, a way to watch Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones, I find time to listen to my audiobooks and chat with friends on Twitter or on my new favorite app Voxer (you all really need to check that out!).

So why not blogging?  There could be a number of reasons. Maybe I am nervous about how my new staff will respond to my posts? Often, staff members will see themselves in every post a leader writes.  They see every post as a possible criticism of them, not realizing (or just forgetting) that you, as a leader, most likely have had experiences from other districts or even positions in your career.  Maybe I am nervous about how my supervisor will react to my posts?  Not everyone agrees with my ideas or beliefs.  I know my beliefs and ideas have changed in just the past 3-4 years.....heck, even the past 3-4 months.  Much of that is due to the learning I have gleaned from the experiences of my #PLN. What if she thinks differently?  Will he be mad or embarrassed by my post?

But if I get honest with myself, that isn't really the case.  I know my beliefs, and I have faith in my skills as a leader and what I know about teaching and learning.  I have an incredibly supportive district leader and an amazing and positive staff to work with here.  So what is holding me back from blogging? Myself. Confidence and commitment to myself.  I know that reflection is important, but that it can open myself to critique.  I know that it can help me grow and connect with other educators, but I also know it can mean sharing a weakness with the world.

But I also know that I have never felt more supported than I have when I connect and share with the members of my #PLN. Sure there are trolls out there and there are people that just have very little tact in their approach to criticism, but overall the feedback has been positive and loaded with good ideas that will work with my thoughts or provide a twist to my approach that is easily adapted and improves what I do.  So I will conquer my fears, and put the sweat back into my reflection and start sharing what I learn again.

No More Lame Excuses.