Leadership


As I think about my childhood, I well remember many interactions with my parents that ended with the same response from them…”Not yet.” I usually heard that when I asked things like, “May I have a snack? May I have a pet? May I go to my friend’s house? May I have ice cream? May I have some money?”  Well, you get the point. (Disclaimer- I really did have a great childhood). 

These were all met with the same response from my parents, “Not yet.”  In my young mind I heard this to mean “Not Ever” because the gratification of getting the desired outcome was not immediate; therefore, I treated the delay of “not yet” as if it was a “not ever.” 

As I have become an adult and have had various experiences in my personal and professional life, I have come to appreciate the upside of “not yet.” In retrospect, it is often the best answer I could have gotten. Does it mean it’s what I want to hear? No!!

I have realized that getting the “Not Yet” is often in my best interest so that I can be positioned for the highest levels of success when the answer becomes a “yes, now.” The difficult part of hearing “not yet” is in feeling like I did as a child and misunderstood “not yet” to mean “not ever.” 

As an adult, “not yet” gives me time to continue to grow and develop my knowledge, skills and mindset so than when I hear a “yes, now,” I am able to succeed at a more effective level. 

So, even when it is not what you want to hear, look for the upside of “Not Yet” it doesn’t mean “not ever.”

This is a question that we are constantly trying to answer. It seems that we are currently in a time frame in education when things appear to be off-balance. Balance doesn’t mean that all things are equal all the time. It is defined as “a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.” How much technology integration should there be? How much writing should there be? Does this assessment reflect the learning that has occurred? Did I teach this standard? The list goes on and on with a common underlying element of balance. How do we determine these ‘correct proportions’?

Have we found it? My answer is, not entirely, but that doesn’t mean we will give up on trying to get there. How are you achieving balance?

EIP, IEP, SST, RtI, EBD, BEH, AIMS, SIP, 504, EL, GT, SE, SWD, LD, OHI, TAPS, TKES, LKES, RT3. If you are an educator, you probably know many of these acronyms. We do have a “language” all our own in the school setting. Truth be told, it seems that we add more of these each year. But, there is one that I think needs to be used and heard the most. The word? J-O-Y.

I was fortunate to hear @shareski this past summer at @DiscoveryEd Principal Institute. His topic, “Whatever Happened to Joy?,” was a great reminder of the power of finding joy in every aspect of life. It was a powerful reminder as I thought about how having joy translates to being a better person and thus, a better educator.

It directed my own thoughts toward the lyrics of a song that I had recently heard. The song, Wonder.

May we never lose our wonder
May we never lose our wonder
Wide eyed and mystified
May we be just like a child…

The lyrics remind me that finding joy can come from anywhere, everywhere, and at any time. Finding joy often starts with a sense of wonder. In our schools, our children find joy in most everything and on most every day. THAT brings me joy! I hope not to forget that.

I posed the question, “What Brings You Joy?” to my staff upon returning to school this year. With all of the other acronyms and words that exist, let’s not forget the importance and power of this one as well. So, “What Brings YOU Joy?”

The world of education is in constant evolution as we strive to improve the quality of the learning experience for all students. We have our own lingo, and it does not take you long to realize that within the educational world there are lots of ways to say things. We spend lots of our own money on resources aimed at creating a challenging learning environment. We speak of differentiating, increasing the rigor, developing critical thinking skills and using higher-order questions as means to deepening the academic experience for our learners.   We spend countless hours in professional development sessions learning new strategies. In fact, just look at the session agenda of any educational conference where you will find lots of sessions on “How You Can Have a Challenging and Differentiated, Rigorous Classroom Where Critical Thinking Skills are Developed Through Asking Higher Order Questions.” 

Just google the word differentiation and you get no less than 16 millions hits. Wow! With all of this emphasis on what these types of learning environments should be, we often neglect to talk about how things are in getting to these types of classrooms.

Let’s face it. It’s awkward. What do I mean by that? In our best intentions and desires to have a challenging classroom, we do not mention that it creates a time of awkwardness on the part of the teacher and learner. This awkwardness, or sense of being uncomfortable, is created when the learner struggles to achieve at higher levels. This can be seen in the form of students struggling before they answer, being unsure about what to do, students who typically respond with confidence getting things ‘wrong,’ et cetera. In reality, it is this awkwardness that you WANT within your classroom as you are designing an academically challenging class or school. If the instructional level presented by the teacher does not create a sense of dissonance (uncomfortable), then is the instruction at the appropriate level? Instead of this awkwardness causing the teacher and learner to give up, it should be seen as a sign of success and a step toward getting the type of learning environment that matches the learner’s needs.

If struggle indicates strength — an ability to face down the challenges that inevitably occur when you are trying to learn something — you’re more willing to accept it. (MindShift)

So, embrace this uncomfortable feeling as you are intentional about raising the level of instruction in your classroom. It’s a good thing!

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(Wonderful Staff at KME)

As a principal, I am accustomed to getting questions from parents, students, teachers, Central Office personnel, community members, and visitors to the building. I have to say that I really like questions. In fact, I ask questions. I’ll gladly admit that I have more questions than I have answers.

I agree that having questions asked of me causes me to clarify my thinking around educational issues. I love when kids ask questions as it opens unknown possibilities for them. Working with staff provides a great venue for asking questions about instructional strategies. It provides an opportunity to strengthen professional learning on the part of the teachers and me.

Recently, when asked questions by newly hired faculty members, I found that my response was, “I don’t know.” I comically realized that it was the answer I gave to most of their questions. At that moment, I know they were comforted and confident that they had every confidence in their principal. I was confident that our collaborative conversations would result in better answers than I could give any way.

There is one question that I have been asked that ‘strikes fear.’ It is, “So, what are you going to do in year two of Kelly Mill?” Yes, this is a simple and straightforward question, or so it would seem. As a principal of a newly opened school, Kelly Mill Elementary, that had an amazing first year, this is NOT a simple and straightforward question. It is fraught with exponentially high expectations and aspirations of grandeur which I can barely fathom. Yet, while this question keeps me awake at night, it also inspires me to be consciously competent of ways in which I can be a small part of attaining those high and lofty goals for KME.

As I think of it, I realize that the best I can do is to ‘Be Better Than Me.’ Be a better version of who I was as a person, principal and leader last year. Be an improved and more effective advocate for doing what is best for our KME Colts. Be the kind of supportive principal that enables teachers and other staff members to achieve at personal and professional levels they have never before. Be a reflective and evolving leader who takes advantage of ways to promote and share the great work done by phenomenal educators and parent community members of KME. Be a continual reader of current educational practices and issues. Be a learner through ‘listening to learn in order to lead.’ And even sometimes, just Be.

As we think about meeting new expectations, the challenge for each of us is to ask ourselves, “How can I be better than me?” If we individually commit to being better than we were last year, great things will continue to happen for our students and for our colleagues.

Experience Doesn’t Make You Better, Only Evaluated Experience Makes You Better. (Dr. Howard G. Hendricks)

I recently heard this quote in a series by Andy Stanley. As I began to think about this statement, I continued to see its application within the educational setting and mentoring aspects of leadership and leader and teacher development. Educators know that providing descriptive feedback to the learner is a critical element for learning and growth.

Marzano and others have long researched the benefits of consciously providing feedback to the learner.

W. Fred Mizer stated, ‘Feedback is an objective description of a student’s performance intended to guide future performance.’ Teachers have long understood that the more specific they are in their feedback to the student, the higher the ensuing achievement of the learner. No longer are ‘Good Job’ or Smiley-Face stickers appropriate for providing feedback about learning. Feedback is specific and non-judgmental. It is merely a statement of what was observed and what can be done to improve the next time.

The same goes for educational leaders responsible for providing feedback to the instructional staff. No longer are comments like ‘Good Job’ or ‘I enjoyed the lesson’ appropriate as end conversations about the teaching and learning that has taken place in our classrooms.

With the renewed interest in teacher evaluation systems and the emphasis on learner outcomes, it is important that current educators realize that our emphasis is also on the input. As Dr. Hendricks stated, it is ‘evaluated experience’ that improves practice. We must embrace the benefits of descriptive feedback that we can both provide and receive from colleagues. Too often we simply reflect on our practice by answering, ‘What worked? What needs to be improved?’ Please do not misunderstand me. These are valuable questions to ask, but we also need to utilize the benefits of having someone else provide feedback to us in the course of our daily practice in order to effectively answer these questions.

As building leaders, we must continue to provide the kind of descriptive feedback to teachers of all levels in order to promote growth and the best instruction for all of our learners, student and adult.

The next time that someone says ‘Experience makes you better,’ remember that only ‘evaluated experience’ makes you better.

 

Ron

cc licensed by flickr photo shared by Robo Android

Today was one of our monthly administrative meetings for all principals in the district. It started off with some training on the SLDS (Student Longitudinal Data System) that is in operation in the state. The training was designed as an overview of the functionality of SLDS. Due to the length of the training, we were promised lunch and time to chat with colleagues. I have to say, that was when the real meat (no pun intended) of the meeting actually began.

The lunch was a great meal of hot soup, breads, and desserts prepared by the culinary program at one of the local high schools. During the meal, we watched a video entitled, A Game of Hope about the Gainesville Tornadoes. It is a moving video about the power of encouraging the human heart and what happens when you intentionally decide to believe in another person. I highly recommend seeing this inspirational video if you have not already seen it.

Our facilitators then posed a series of guiding questions focused on ways that we, as school administrators, provide ‘hope’ for our teaching staff through alleviating their stress or improving staff morale. This was a great opportunity to spend some uninterrupted time with colleagues and learn from their ideas. We then shared out some of the ideas such as Leave Early Pass, Jeans Pass, giving lots of chocolate, providing meals, and other variations on the theme.

One that I found most interesting was from a colleague, Steve (@Otwell_MS), who said, ‘Let your presence be your presents.‘ Wow! How powerful. I thought about this in terms of its impact far beyond what a leave pass, a piece of chocolate, or other ‘trinkets’ as presents could have. (There is nothing wrong with chocolate…sometimes that’s all you need). But, to improve morale, something long lasting helps and that’s when your presence is needed.

Some examples of your ‘Presence as Presents’ could be…

  • Physical Presence: Nothing replaces you being visible on car duty, bus duty, in the hallways, the cafeteria, and don’t even think about not being in the classrooms…
  • Mental Presence: Truly listen to the conversations that teachers have with you in passing in the hallways, at the coffee machine, in the lunch line, etc. The FISH philosophy stresses the importance of ‘being there’ (physically) and in the moment…
  • Leadership Presence: Yes, you are the designated ‘leader’ in the building, but this presence is a continual awareness that every encounter and exchange you have with everyone in your building is an opportunity to help lead them into fulfilling their professional and personal goals. It’s a presence that allows you to provide resources and strategies that help them be more effective in the classroom today than they were yesterday…
  • Human Presence: This is one that may be difficult for us as leaders as we sometimes feel that we are ‘supposed’ to have all the answers, do everything well, know the latest educational strategy, have read the latest educational publication, provide all of the support, answer every question, address every concern, and the list goes on and on.  But I have found that teachers, students and parents need us just to be human-someone who doesn’t have all the answers, who can’t do everything, who is still learning, and most importantly, who makes mistakes and doesn’t get it right all the time…

As you enter this holiday season, what ‘presence’ could you give to those around you, at work or at home? I look forward to hearing from you…

~Ron

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