Friday, May 30, 2014

20 Things I Would Do If I Were a School Leader

Recently, I came across a blog post by Sean Hampton Cole entitled "20 Things I Would Do if I Were a High School Principal." Since undertaking my educational leadership degree, I've kept a journal with thoughts and ideas about what kind of school leader I might become. I predict that once I become a school leader, I may be so overwhelmed with day-to-day duties that I might forget what I envisioned for myself. So, here's my organized and optimistic list of the first 20 things I'd like to accomplish as a school leader.

1. Flatten the hierarchy. With shared leadership, teachers will help make decisions regarding aspects of school culture. This will motivate teachers to be responsible for their learning and performance, which will positively impact student learning. Daniel Pink's work with motivation is a great starting point.

2. Recruit, hire, and retain the absolute best teachers and staff. During my educational leadership internship with Vic Wilson, I learned to offer outstanding teachers the opportunity to teach by asking, "What could I do to make it impossible for an amazing teacher to say no to working in my school?" I will do whatever I can to attract, employ, and preserve superstar teachers. Teachers make the difference, positively or negatively.

3. Provide autonomy and support. As said by Theodore Roosevelt, "The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it." After hiring the best teachers, let them do their job and back them up. Don't micromanage superstar teachers, but trust that they have done what's best for their students when questioned by parents. 

4. Respect teachers' time. Minimize the number of faculty meetings. Handle business via committees, email, or creative means when possible. When meetings are required, use an agenda and stick to it. Never go over the allotted meeting time.

My family 
5. Value family commitments. Be familiar with the lives of every teacher and staff member. Family comes first. Period.

6. Praise publicly and criticize privately. Provide sincere and worthy praise in front of peers and when constructive feedback is necessary, think about the delivery. What method of delivery will help change the behavior of the teacher? Also, it's important to not make a general mandate to all for the benefit of one teacher. 

7. Differentiate professional development. Teachers need different ways of learning various concepts, just like students. Teachers should determine their own needs, while I encourage participation in their PLNs. All teachers should have the same opportunities to learn relevant and engaging ideas that will move their teaching forward.

8. Be a lifelong learner. As said by John F. Kennedy, "Leadership and learning are indispensable of each other." I'll continue to learn and grow as a leader by being part of professional organizations and sharing what I learn with others. As an assistant principal, I will learn from from the experience and wisdom of the principal.

9. Take feedback and reflect. Just as we expect our students and teachers to be open and responsive to feedback, I will utilize feedback to grow as a leader. With learning and growth, mistakes will be made. I won't forget to apologize. Bruce Lee said, "Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them."

10. Be an example and inspire others. Jerry McClain said, "The best example of leadership is leadership by example." I'll never ask teachers to do what I won't do myself and will offer opportunities for leadership to inspire others to realize their potential.

11. Employ a servant mindset. Another thing I learned in my educational leadership internship was the essential job for a school leader - to facilitate learning. When a teacher, student, or parent has a problem or an idea, always ask, "What can I do to help you?" The school leader should make learning possible. Max Dupree said, "The first act of leadership is courage. The last act is to say 'Thank You.' In between, the leader is a servant."

12. Welcome change. But, don't push too hard. When thinking about making change, I need to assess whether the change is worth the results and remember the words of Dolly Parton - "The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain." Do a few showers outweigh the promise of a better tomorrow?

Perspective is everything.
13. Utilize various frames of leadership. Take time to look at situations from multiple perspectives using Bolman and Deal's four frames of leadership. Their book Reframing the Path to School Leadership is a great approach to show how the frames can be utilized in real school situations.

14. Be visible. I will help with carpool, eat in the lunchroom, and visit classrooms daily, even for a few minutes. Michael Smith wrote that the secret to being a great principal is walking around. He recounts a great story of a leader who was not visible. No office days or hours will also be part of my leadership repertoire. I will continue to teach.

15. Be proactive with public relations. Share accomplishments with parents and the community. Be active within the community and communicate with local organizations. Utilize social media, like I am currently with my school's Facebook page, as well as traditional print media. 

16. Communicate with parents early and often. Make positive connections with all parents. We all want the best for the students. Our differences are only differences in opinion on how to make that happen. If I know a parent may be angry, I'll call first and not avoid conflict. In addition, utilize the Friday five as described by Chris Wejr

17. Put students at the heart of everything. They're the reason why we do what we do. 

18. Make relationships a priority. School faculties and staff are a family. We help each other. We trust each other. There is healthy conflict. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, "I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people."

19. Don't work too hard. Eat lunch, exercise, and have fun. Remember, it's all about balance.

20. Dream. I must dedicate time to dream big and develop a vision. As said by Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground."

That's definitely a long and involved to-do list. The challenge will be finding the time and focus to follow through. I guess that's the definition of success as discussed by William Feather: "Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go." And, the grit that's a necessary component of most successful people as presented in Angela Lee Duckworth's TED Talk.

What did I leave off the list that is necessary in an effective school leader?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Top 10 Things I Learned from the “Dusting” of 2014

On January 28, I was one of the thousands of Alabamians stranded at school overnight with students, parents, faculty members, and general citizens during the winter storm. While uncomfortable and inconvenient, I was thankful that my family was never in any danger. My husband made it home safely just as the roads were becoming impassable and my children were stuck with me at school. After the ordeal, I mainly felt exhausted, but also humbled and proud to be part of the noble education profession.

It has been said, “Everyday starts with expectation, but ends with experience. Learn whatever life teaches you.” I definitely learned many things from the crazy “dusting” experience. Here are the top ten.

1. Forgive.

No one can accurately predict Alabama weather, even James Spann. Being angry with meteorologists, school administrators, or community leaders does not improve the current situation. You can only do the best with the hand that you are dealt. Live, learn, and move on.

2. Be prepared.

We should all adhere to the Boy Scout motto. Schools especially need to be ready for emergency situations. Teachers and administrators are seasoned writers of action plans, but we must have the supplies to follow through with those procedures. This is also true for individuals. Do you have an emergency kit in your car?

3. Every minute matters.

As Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” In the chaos of dismissal, some students were able to make it home, while others that left a few minutes later had to return to school due to impassable roads. Make the most of each moment and take opportunities as they come.
Roger Day Skypes with students

4. Music saves.

On the second day of our extended school stay, one of the nation’s most recognized family entertainers, Roger Day, performed via Skype for our students. It was great fun for the children, who sang and danced along with his well-known songs, and a much-welcomed respite for the teachers, who were wearied from a night of restless sleep. Music truly saved the day.

Faculty, staff, and friends scrape and sand the road
5. Kindness abounds.

Aesop wrote, “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” In addition to the impromptu Skype concert with Roger Day, our school was the recipient of many compassionate deeds. Nearby families brought blankets, pillows, cold weather clothing, cookies, and coffee for warmth and comfort. Strangers on ATVs and in 4WD vehicles transported many of our parents to school and our students to their homes. Kind acts also came from colleagues in the form of toothbrushes, Diet Mountain Dew, and phone chargers. Faculty and staff went beyond their prescribed duties by scraping and sanding the road leading to the school and doing whatever needed to be done. It’s the small things that mean so much.

6. Meaningful conversations are essential.

I thought I knew my colleagues, but I surely had no idea what actually drove their character. Spending nearly two days with the same people requires you to delve into their likes and dislikes and what pushes them over the edge. This experience bonded us together as a faculty, because we now understand what makes us individuals. It is worth the time to really listen to what people are saying.

A letter to our principal
7. Kids have all the fun.

During the storm, our primary concern was taking care of our students. We wanted them to be safe, comfortable, and loved. Those were the least of the students’ worries. They were having too much fun on their overnight adventure at school. As parents were arriving to retrieve their children, many students were asking why they had to leave and if their parents could come back later. In the words of Bob Basso, “If it’s not fun, you’re not doing it right.” I hope that means that we were doing it right.

8. School can be scary.

Schools can be a little creepy during the day. At night, they are even more so. As my eyes were opening and closing, I saw shadows moving and heard claws scratching. The students’ sleeping habits added to the mystery. We had sleepwalkers and throw up. Some of our bilingual students were talking in their sleep in their native languages.  The snorting, laughing, and sneezing added to the menacing symphony of sounds. My imagination was running wild. I’m glad I had lots of company!

9. Try new things.

I usually bring my lunch to school, so I’m not accustomed to eating the typical school cafeteria food. On our overnight stay, our cafeteria staff prepared Crispitos. Why have I not tried them before?!? The chicken and chili filled tortillas were one of the highlights of the experience. I must remember the words of Mark Twain, “Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.”

10. I really love my job.

Sometimes it takes a disaster to encourage gratitude. Through this experience, I was thankful for the safety of my family and the love that we share, but also for my school family and the opportunity to share my passion for music with them. William Arthur Ward said, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” My gratefulness through this experience will inspire greatness in things to come. I am sure.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Malcolm London's "High School Training Ground"

Last night's TED Talks Education on PBS was a showcase of some of America's greatest thinkers in education. If you missed it, take the time to watch. It is well worth it. It expanded my vision of education and reenergized my professional commitment.

I was particularly entranced by Malcolm London, a 19-year-old poet from Chicago, who is a teaching artist with Young Chicago Authors. I was not previously familiar with his work and was immediately taken with his confidence and ability to reflect on how America's educational system effects the lives of students.

As a visual learner, I needed to see what he was saying. I felt as if I was missing a nugget of his wisdom. So, here's a video and transcription of his poem, "High School Training Ground." He edited this version for his TED talk, but the impact is the same.

High School Training Ground
by Malcolm London

At 7:45 AM, I open the doors to a building dedicated to building yet only breaks me down.
I march down hallways cleaned up after me everyday by regular janitors, but I never have the decency to honor their names.
Lockers left open like teenage boys' mouths when teenage girls wear clothes that covers their insecurities, but exposes everything else.
Masculinity mimicked by men who grew up with no fathers.
Camouflage worn by bullies who are dangerously armed, but need hugs.
Classrooms overpacked like book bags.
Teachers paid less than what it costs them to be here.
Oceans of adolescents come here to receive lessons, but never learn to swim.
Part like the Red Sea when the bell rings.
This is a training ground.

My high school is Chicago, diverse and segregated on purpose.
Social lines are barbed wire.
Hierarchy burned into our separated classrooms.
Free to sit anywhere, but reduced to divided lunch tables.
Labels like honors and regulars resonate.
This is a training ground.

Education misinforms.
We are uniformed.
Trained to capitalize letters at a young age.
Taught now that capitalism raises you, but you have to step on someone else to get there.
This is a training ground.

Sought to sort out the regulars from the honors.
A reoccurring cycle built to recycle the trash of this system.
I am in honors classes, but go home with regular students, who are soldiers in a war zone in territory they don't really own.
When did lives become expendable?
CPS is a training ground centered on personal success.
CPS is a training ground concentration on professional suits.
CPS is a training ground.

One generation is taught to lead.
The other is made to follow.
No wonder so many of my people spent bars, because the truth is hard to swallow.
The need for degrees has left so many of my people frozen.
The educated aren't necessarily the educated.
I have a 1.9 GPA.
Got drunk before my ACT and still received a 25.
Now, tell me how I'm supposed to act.

Homework is stressful, but when you go home everyday and your home is work, you don't want to pick up any assignments.
Reading textbooks is stressful, but reading doesn't matter when you feel your story is already written, either dead or getting booked.
Taking tests is stressful, but bubbling in a Scantron doesn't stop bullets from bursting our direction, hasn't changed.
When our Board of Education is driven by lawyers and businessmen, only one teacher sits on that Board.
Now, tell me what does that teach you.

I hear the education systems are failing, but I believe they are succeeding in what they're built to do.
To train you, to keep you on track, to track down an American dream that fails so many of us all.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Exploration into Project Based Learning

Winterboro High School
Last week, teachers from my school visited Winterboro High School to explore the incorporation of project based learning (PBL). We are interested in students taking responsibility for their learning in a more engaging environment. During our visit, we were impressed with how students from a low socioeconomic area utilize their resources to problem solve real life situations. Our students have access to any needed resource, but do not delve into such in-depth problem solving and critical thinking. We were a little ashamed of what we offer our students.

We did have some concerns with aspects of PBL. A few Winterboro teachers discussed the amount of time required to plan for PBL. Time for collaboration in elementary school is limited and we are unsure of how to manage this time constraint. Winterboro teachers were also concerned with covering required content, although their test scores show that they are meeting all necessary benchmarks. Our students may have a more meaningful and in-depth experience, but they may be missing some areas of the content. At Winterboro, projects were mainly completed at school. Most nights students do not have homework. Winterboro teachers are concerned that their students do not have the resources to complete their projects at home. Our concern is that our parents will complete the projects for the students if they are sent home. Most of the Winterboro teachers were in the first six years of their career. With a completely tenured faculty, we are concerned that we may be too set in our ways to make an easy incorporation of PBL.

After we visited a few classes, many of us felt that we were already using PBL. We all incorporate projects as part of student learning. Then, one teacher explained how the projects drove the students' exploration. In our classes, students are taught the necessary material and then, assigned a project at the end of the unit to assess knowledge. In PBL, students feel driven to learn the concepts, so that they can solve a problem. For example, in a collaborative math and music class, Winterboro students were composed musical ostinatos using found sounds by formulating one and two step mathematical equations. They were taught pre-algebra concepts and rhythmic notation as they were needed to complete their project. Here's their composition:

A distinction must be recognized between PBL and project oriented learning. This video clearly explains the difference.

Students commit to graduate
Winterboro has a clear commitment to student success. When students enter their freshman year, they sign a commitment to graduate. Since utilizing PBL, graduation rates have improved, college acceptance rates have increased, and the drop-out rate has dropped to zero. On our visit, Winterboro students were the tour guides. They were well spoken, engaged in our discussions, and quick to answer questions. I see great success in their future! Graduating seniors are honored for their accomplishments. One bulletin board displayed each graduating senior's picture along with a dialogue from one of their teachers. What a meaningful sendoff!

A tribute from teachers to graduating seniors

Obviously, our previous understanding of PBL was not accurate. We are utilizing some parts of PBL, but we need to fill in the gaps. For example, I collaborated with a classroom teacher on a poetry and songwriting unit, where students wrote their own poems, which developed into a song. This project could easily be transformed into PBL with the addition of a driving question and a public audience. This checklist could help direct us in the right direction when revamping current projects using a PBL focus.

PBL is an exciting focus to explore in the coming year. How do you incorporate PBL? What were the best resources when you began your PBL journey? What training do you think is absolutely necessary?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Summer Reflection and Planning

As the weather is getting warmer and the to do list is growing longer, summer is right around the corner. For many teachers, summer is a hard-earned reprieve from the day-to-day routine of the school year. Some use the time to prepare for the upcoming school year, while others spend the time working supplementary jobs or volunteering.
Summer fun at the beach

I asked my students what they thought teachers do during the summer. They said that teachers
·      Sleep a lot.
·      Go on vacation.
·      Spend time with their family.
·      Have a big party and then, close the school.
·      Make people be quiet.
·      Learn about next year’s students.
·      Get ready for the next school year.

While I’m sure that teachers do most of those things, one activity the students failed to mention was reflecting on the past year’s successes and failures. When I look back over the past year, I ask myself the following questions based on a list posted on Dr. Troy Roddy’s educational leadership blog, The Art of Education.
  1. What were my goals for this year? Did I accomplish my goals? If so, how do I know? If not, why?
  2. What were my best lessons this year? How do I know?
  3. What were the lessons that were the biggest disappointments? Why?
  4. Is my classroom set up to facilitate the type of class I want to teach?
  5. What feedback did I collect from students about their learning experience?
  6. Did I grow as a professional this year?  If so, in what areas?  If not, why?
  7. If I could do one thing over again, what would it be and why?
The answers to these questions naturally lead to thoughts on how I can improve my performance and have a more significant impact on student learning in the upcoming school year. I ask myself the following questions when developing my goals and plan for accomplishing those goals:
  1. How will I turn this year’s reflections into action? How can I repeat my successes and transform disappointments into celebrations?
  2. How will I encourage collaborative problem solving?
  3. How will I develop leadership skills in students?
  4. How will I further incorporate technology to impact student learning?
  5. How will I become a better leader in my school and professional organizations?
  6. What areas do I need to focus on for professional development? What opportunities are available in those areas?
  7. What resources or support do I need to accomplish my goals?
John Dewey said, “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” Don’t let the summer pass by without reflecting on how you can improve your teaching skills and have a more profound impact on student learning.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Why Do You Want to Become a School Leader?

One of the most common questions during assistant principal interviews is "why do you want to become a school leader?" I've spent a lot of time pondering my answer and have found it difficult to put into words why I feel drawn to school leadership.

So, I thought about why I decided to become a teacher in the first place. The following is an excerpt from an essay about the factors that influenced me to become a teacher:
Gramps playing my wedding waltz

As I spun around the dance floor with my new husband, I glanced around the room through the crowd of family, friends, mentors, and teachers. My eyes and ears fixated on the soundtrack performed by Dad and Gramps. As the waltz played, I realized that these two men, who surrounded me with a lifetime of love and support, led me to discover my passion of music and my life’s purpose of teaching it to others. They shaped me into who I am and created in me a passion to lead others to the joy of music.  
Gramps was a thoughtful person, who was always willing to give. He served our country during World War II and spent his career with U.S. Steel. However, his lifelong passion was music. He could sing, play any instrument, and call square dances. Gramps made music an essential part of family life and encouraged Dad to experiment with all types of instruments. The banjo is what stuck. After learning a new technique in his lesson, my dad would run home, teach Gramps, and they would play into the night. As my own musical passion flourished, Gramps attended my performances, from school holiday programs to halftime shows in the sweltering heat. Gramps was always encouraging me to not only pursue my passion, but to use my talents to lead others. When he was no longer able to play, Gramps still surrounded himself with music by listening to and discussing music. Even in death, his passion for music is a model of leadership. Interlaced in his papers regarding funeral arrangements were two aged newspaper clippings discussing the honor of having “Taps” sounded at the funerals of veterans. Gramps was granted his final musical aspiration when one of my father’s longtime friends played “Taps” at his burial. 
Dad's induction into the
Alabama Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame
Gramps’s musical passion continues to thrive through my father’s talent, skill, and leadership in the bluegrass community. Dad was recently inducted into the Alabama Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame for his guidance in instilling musical passion in others. His ownership of a local music store, musical prowess in performances, and teaching of banjo and guitar has inspired thousands to develop a love of bluegrass music. 
I'm "helping" Dad practice
My family’s engagement in my education is the main factor that influenced me to become a teacher. Through Dad and Gramps, I discovered a passion for music and I am honored to share this legacy with my students. The joy I experienced in my childhood continues to shape my teaching. Students sing, play instruments, move, improvise songs, create compositions using technology, and lead others to learn about music. They utilize music as a tool to learn about other subject areas and unlock their hidden talents. It is my goal to continually show my unwavering passion for music and be a “Gramps” to my students by introducing them to the incredible world of music, the thrill of learning, and their lifelong purpose.

Once I revisited my reasoning for becoming a teacher, I realized that I feel drawn to school leadership for the same purpose. I aspire to follow in Gramps's footsteps by leading others to find their passion. That could be inspiring students to realize their purpose and become leaders in their area of talent. Or, I could assist a teacher in utilizing data to impact student achievement. As a school leader, I have the opportunity to impact school culture at a more profound level than I could as a teacher.

What inspired you to pursue school leadership?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Edublog Award Nominations

This is the first time that I've nominated my fellow educators and tools for the Edublog Awards, but it offers a chance for me to say thank you. I have learned an endless amount of new ideas and techniques for teaching and leading from these resources. 

Now, it's your turn! Click here for instructions on how to nominate your favorite edublogs.