New Beginnings: First Steps

I am honored to continue serving my district as the next principal of Alton Darby Elementary. The goal of this blog was to document my journey to the principalship because I wanted others who might have been interested in educational administration to see what the journey may be like if they decided to take it. Now that I have accepted a position as principal, I will shift my attention to the transition period that has already begun to take place. I am excited to start documenting these reflections through a blog series called “New Beginnings”.

http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6163/6231641551_541c96e583.jpg

 

Since I was announced as the next principal of Alton Darby, the question that seems to come up most is “What is the first thing you are going to do?”. I love that question for a few reasons. I think it’s funny that sometimes people will ask the question and they stop themselves short of saying “…with all that power?“. They see the principal as the decider who makes sweeping changes.

The truth is the “power” does not lie with me. The power lies with US — the students, parents, teachers, and community members that represent Alton Darby. My mission and my responsibility is to empower these representatives and to synthesize our voices into one vision for learning so that Alton Darby continues to be a reflection of the values, goals and dreams of its community.

The other reason I love this question is because it gives me a chance to talk about my vision for where we can go as a learning community. I believe that leaders need to be transparent in their beliefs. Being transparent helps to foster a culture of trust within the school community. So when someone asks me what I want to do as principal I tell them, “I want to discover the dreams, goals, and passions of the students, teachers, and parents of Alton Darby”. I feel that I can effectively lead when I have a deep understanding of what my learning community values and what we want to accomplish. I choose to share this message because I want everyone to know that I believe in building relationships and creating learning environments that are safe and welcoming to all.

So, what is the first thing I will do as principal?

Listen.

Listen to teachers.

Listen to parents.

And listen to students. I can’t wait to start having conversations with students so that I can find out what they love about Alton Darby and what they feel we need to focus our attention on in order to help each student reach their goals and discover their passions.

I am thrilled to being my first steps as the next principal of Alton Darby Elementary, and I look forward to continue sharing what I am learning about educational administration.

Advertisements

"To sync or swim?" Thoughts on e-learning…

I wanted to share a response to a learning module I just completed for a course I am taking called “Technology in Administration”. This module asked us to think about our experiences of a synchronous e-learning experience (think Skype or Google Hangouts) and asynchronous e-learning experience (think “all online learning”). I am fascinated with this topic because of the potential of online learning spaces and because I believe passionately in the learning experiences that can only be found in a traditional “brick-and-mortar” school. A question I come back to is, “How can we provide both traditional and online learning experiences for students?”

My own synchronous online session experiences have been successful learning experiences for me, overall. There is something to be said about being able to connect with your peers from the comfort of your home. The fact that I can eliminate an hour’s worth of travel from my day is a huge benefit to me and my family. I appreciate that I can get the same out of the content of the course as I could if I were in a classroom. However, the personal connections and social interactions do not seem as real to me as they do when we are able to meet face-to-face.

As I read through the module’s materials, one resource in particular jumped out at me. It was the Rubric for Online Instruction from California State University, Chico. Take a look at the “Instructional Design and Delivery” section of the rubric:

What I noticed was that the characteristics of an exemplary online classroom have the same characteristics of an exemplary brick-and-mortar classroom. This was clear to me after reading the Exemplar characteristic for Interaction and Communication: “Course offers ample opportunities for interaction and communication student-to-student, student-to-instructor and student-to-content.”

The traditional classroom and the online classroom are striving for the same thing when it comes to interactions. However, if I were to have to choose which of the two formats for learning have the edge in providing connections, I would definitely choose the traditional classroom. While there is convenience that comes with online learning formats, it’s hard to replace face-to-face interactions with people in the flesh.

This leads me to believe that e-learning should be an instructional approach – not a way of learning – that is blended with traditional learning experiences. And apparently I am not alone in this belief. Our district recently organized a technology task-force of students, teachers and community members and one of the key findings was that students overwhelmingly said they do not want to sit in front of a screen all day.

We have classrooms in our building as young as 2nd grade utilizing online learning formats. We are using sites such as MobyMax and Khan Academy to supplement instruction (but not supplant it). Teachers have their classroom set up as workshops where students rotate to the online based activity throughout the workshop. I appreciate this approach because it seems like the classroom teachers are seeking out learning experiences for students in a response to student need rather than a top-down directive. It’s an approach that isn’t utilizing technology for technology’s sake and is instead keeping the focus on the learner.

School leaders need to keep the learner at the center of any technology conversations. We need to ensure that we are teaching the learner, not the content or the device.

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.

Seeking Balance by Asking Questions #EDAD688

https://hhigginbotham.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/be34a-whysign.jpg

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.

Creating Opportunity #EDAD688

I feel strongly about using Twitter for professional growth.  Each day, I run across dozens of great ideas shared by amazing educators across the world.  Being involved with Twitter really has changed me professionally.

http://earthandindustry.com/files/2010/02/twitter-screen.jpg

Every now and again, someone will share something short and to the point (which is the point of Twitter) that really changes my thinking about teaching and learning and what I can do to help improve learning experiences for students.

This quote made me have one of those moments:

Screenshot 2014-01-24 18.33.13

This quote really resonated with me in two ways.  First, this quote is something I’m realizing more and more the older I get:  If you have an idea, go for it.  It may be a risk, but isn’t it riskier to never know what might have happened if you didn’t try?

Second, and more importantly, this quote made me begin to think of how we can teach the kids we work with how they might be able to create the very opportunities they are waiting around for.  How many of our students are secretly wanting to start some sort of club?  How many are wanting to do a big project, but need more likeminded folks to help out?  What could we share with students to help them get going on their own big idea?

I’ve just started thinking about how I might help students advocate for opportunities.  Right now I have more questions than answers, but I might just start listening a little more closer to what kids are asking for to see how I might help them get there.

Core beliefs should drive you to improve each day.

“If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.” -Winston Churchill

Last week, I had a conversation with a teacher about our student support process. We are both on our intervention team and the teacher was feeling frustrated about what to do next with a student case.

This was a great conversation for me because the teacher was giving me feedback on a process I helped to develop. I was stunned at first – I was under the impression that our intervention process was working well and we had great results for students during the previous school year. How could this be an issue?

But I quickly ignored those thoughts because this was someone whose opinion I trust and I didn’t want to miss a word.

After I listened, I reminded them about a conversation we had a couple of weeks ago about something similar. I told them that the structures we put in place to support students should be the floor and not the ceiling. If what we do is the very best we can do for a kid, then who cares what the process says is the next step?

I’ve been thinking about my conversation with my teammate a lot since then. While I believe structures and protocols are important, I also believe we often build our own barriers to solutions for the sake of protocols. I believe we need to consider protocols and processes the starting point for our conversations about a student and then use what we know about the student to help him or her be successful.

However, just because something is a core belief doesn’t mean I’ve mastered it yet. This is something I need to continue to reflect upon and improve, and it drives me to want to be a better leader each day.

3 Reasons Why We Gave Access to Everyone

http://discoveryourpowerteam.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/keys-colour-in-a-circle-817549_73710812.jpg

Today, we gave every staff member access to our school’s Twitter account.

This could be a little jarring for those who are worried about what might go wrong. But after all, they have keys to the school building and they are with children all day.  Surely teachers can handle access to a school-wide account.

What’s funny is that when my principal and I established our school’s social media accounts during the summer, we kept the passwords secret and in a protected file. The whole purpose behind creating these accounts was to help our school get our story out there for everyone to see.  How was that going to happen when only two people had access to the accounts? 

But really, this goes beyond letting everyone access — It addresses 3 big reasons why teachers need to be connected.

1. On-going Professional Learning — Those of us who have connected to Twitter know that one of the best things about being connected is the countinous learning experiences we have because of our connections to other teachers around the world. There is a fourth grade teacher who has not only embraced learning through Twitter, but she has also used this new learning to create meaningful and engaging experience for her students through such as participating in the Global Read Aloud.  She is a voice that the staff needed to hear because she is making social media work for kids.

2. Sharing the good things that are happening every single day — Good things are happening in our building every single day. However, most of it never makes it outside of the walls of our building. We have an opportunity through Twitter to share our stories of learning with the world in real time. Getting our teachers connected to the school account will help share even more of those stories.

3. Becoming the digital leaders our students need — I showed our staff a Twitter account of a fourth grader in our building. This is an account that was created on his own. He certainly does not meet the age requirements needed to have an account, yet he has one. How many other of our elementary aged students have a social media account?  Rather than taking a “wait and see” approach to social media, we teachers and school leaders need to be taking a “learn with me” approach so that our students have positive models of responsible digital learning.

Today, our staff was given the tools, the chance and the trust to be digital leaders.  We need to be living the learning lives our students are learning so that we can help them be successful.  If we aren’t the role models for our students, who will be?