Simple Ideas Can Lead to Big Changes

Photo from http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-09-02/lifestyle/35494321_1_happiness-positive-emotions-signs

Simple ideas can lead to big changes.

I ran across this blog post by Jason Markey that describes how he is developing a vision for his school around the simple idea of being kind to others. Markey says,

“Be Kind, Find Your Passion, and Commit to Excellence. This is my new personal vision for education. This is the sentence that I will share repeatedly with every one of our students and more importantly I will bring these thoughts to every conversation and decision I’m a part of.”

I really like this video that Markey included. It features the story of Massoud Adibpour who wanted to make a positive impact. Adibpour got some folks together and put simple messages like “Honk if you love someone” and “Smile” on signs and stood alongside busy Washington, D.C. roads. I love this idea of doing something simple to try and make a big impact.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EwYLZmkUxo

There’s been lots of research done to see what initiatives can make the biggest difference in schools, but it seems the best approach may look more like the vision of Jason Markey and Massoud Adibpour. Maybe the most influential school change initiative we can undertake is to show kindness every single day. Simple things like saying hello to a student or smiling at them can make the biggest difference.

Something has got to give. #EDAD688

There are many demands that pull on a principal. How can they manage demands and still lead the school?
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This post was inspired by a discussion forum conversation that took place for a class I am taking. The focus of the class is communication in educational leadership and how educational leaders go about building relationships with stakeholders through effective communication styles.

We were asked to pick a communication style that we might employ as building principals. I picked a style that involves communicating with and listening to the stakeholders within the learning community. This communication style fits with my philosophy of leadership that recognizes that it takes a strong team to get things done in schools. Giving a voice to all stakeholders and synthesizing those voices to establish a collective vision and mission for the school will be a powerful force.

I also believe this style fits me best because I tend to be an idealist and I often find myself asking “Why not?”. I like to buck the status quo when the status quo no longer works for the school. The parents, students, staff and community members are the heart of the school and a strong partnership with these stakeholders should be a principal’s priority. If I am able to strengthen the school-community relationship through a two-way symmetrical model of communication, then I will use it because it will enable the school to stay focused on a mission and vision that all of its stakeholders agree to.

A great question that was posed during the discussion was “With all the demands on the table for administrators, and the fact that they are constantly being pulled out of buildings for central office meetings (one-way communication), how can the 2-way model be organized in a time conscious way?” 

I like that question because it asked us to explain what we are willing to do to make this style of communication work for our school. Time is a precious commodity for everyone and effectively communicating with stakeholders will take a lot of time. So how do we respond?

We have to let some things go. There is only so much we can do and prioritizing our time can help us stay focused on what is important. But before we can let things go, we have to know what we can’t let go of.

I can’t let go of being in classrooms every single day. The interactions between teachers and students are the lifeblood of the school. I need to know what those interactions look like everyday to help my building continue to provide learning experiences that best meets each student’s needs.

I can’t let go of working with teachers to better support kids. If we want teachers to provide excellent instruction for students, we need to give them support. I need to be able to meet with teachers to find out what they need to make their instruction meet the needs of their students.

I can’t let go of working with parents and community members. It takes a team of many individuals with different skill sets and talents to create an excellent school culture. No one can do that alone and working with parents and other community members will be necessary to create a positive school climate and culture.

However,

I will be able let go of time-draining tasks like reading and responding to emails that go on for pages and pages. Chances are there will be a meeting about it anyway.

I will be able let go of being involved with too many activities that take me away from my building. Prioritizing my time and putting my building first will help ensure our progress is maintained.

And I will be able to let go of responsibilities that can be delegated to someone who has a stronger skill set than I do to complete a task. Not every important task or project needs to have direct involvement by the principal. There is a whole building of professionals that I will be able to rely on to get certain jobs done. I will need to rely on those professionals and the strengths they bring to the building.

If you know you need to make something happen in order to improve or enhance the quality of your school, but you aren’t sure how you will make it happen, then something will have to give. Know what your “non-negotiables” are and let them guide you to prioritizing your time and resources towards improving the quality of your school for the students, teachers and families it serves. 

Seeking Balance by Asking Questions #EDAD688

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Education seems to be changing at warp speed.

And it seems like everything is on the table when it comes to what needs to change in education: schedules, grades, lesson delivery, professional development – We are taking a “leave no stone unturned” approach to changing schools and looking into replacing it with self-paced online learning instead of classroom learning, passion projects instead of performance tasks, and PLNs instead of professional development.

This is a great development for students. I like how Ayna Kamenetz explained the latest trends in education: It’s never been a better time to be a learner.

However, I find myself asking questions about some of these changes.

  • Is a 1:1 program good for all students? Even Kindergartners?

  • Is “flipped instruction” the right instructional approach for all students?

  • Should all professional development happen through a PLN?

As a parent of a Kindergartner and a 3rd grader, I can tell you that I would not feel comfortable if my daughters learned everything through passion projects. They still need so many foundational skills such as reading, writing and math that will help them get to a point where they can explore an interest and do it successfully.

A hot topic in education in my district is passion projects and how we need to give students the freedom to learn more about their passions. Companies like Google and FedEx do that for their employees through “20% time” programs and it is yielding results.

But don’t forget, Google calls it 20% time because 80% of the time there is still work to be done.

Kids should explore their interests, but they should also need to learn how to be literate problem-solvers who can navigate and understand content.

And let’s be honest: Passion projects are really an instructional approach. The successful teachers I know are the ones who vary their instructional approaches in response to their students rather than use the same approach for everything.

So for now, I’m going to continue to ask questions about some of the changes being proposed. I’m not ready to throw everything out because we are doing great work with kids even if it’s not “flipped” or passion-based. As we strive for change, I believe we also need to strive for a balanced instructional approach.