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Have you ever stopped to think or have been told that ‘there is more?’ In the educational setting, we usually hear a second part of that phrase which goes something like “…to do.” More mandates, more tests, more requirements, etc. Although this is often the case, I challenge us to complete the phrase with “..to be.” There is more to be for our students, colleagues, and parents. This state of being is a constant ebb and flow of how our conscious actions can enable each group to reach greater depths of personal and professional fulfillment.

I share with the staff at Kelly Mill Elementary, that we certainly want academically successful students, but an equally important goal, is in helping our students, colleagues and parents be the best people they can be. In order to reach this goal, “There is More…”

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It is hard to believe that another school year has ended. All of the thousands of ideas, hopes, possibilities, and dreams for what can happen for learners – children and adult- have come to a close…for this year. But, that’s the great thing about being an educator when, in a few weeks, there’s another opportunity awaiting when we can begin again with new ideas, hopes, possibilities, and dreams.

So, enjoy the “lazy days” of summer to reinvent and envision what can happen for your learners – children and adult.

In the words of a poem I recently read…

DREAM BIG

If there were ever a time to dare,
to make a difference,
to embark on something worth doing,
it is now.
Not for any grand cause, necessarily —
but for something that tugs at your heart
something that’s your dream.

You owe it to yourself
to make your days here count.
Have fun.
Dig deep.
Stretch.

Dream big.

Know, though, that things worth doing
seldom come easy.
There will be good days.
And there will be bad days.
There will be days when you want to turn around,
pack it up,
and call it quits.
Those times tell you
that you are pushing yourself,
that you are not afraid to learn by trying.

Persist.

Because with an idea,
determination,
and the right tools,
you can do great things.
Let your instincts,
your intellect,
and your heart
guide you.

Trust.

Believe in the incredible power of the human mind.
Of doing something that makes a difference.
Of working hard.
Of laughing and hoping.
Of lazy afternoons.
Of lasting friends.
Of all the things that will cross your path this year.

The start of something new
brings the hope of something great.
Anything is possible.
There is only you.
And you will only pass this way once.
Do it right.

(Author unknown)

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.

Boy! I cannot believe that it is that time of the school year when we are winding down. Could it really be that another year has come and gone? It literally seems that we were just seeing the finishing touches of paint being applied, we were waiting on the classroom furniture to arrive, we were checking to make sure that all of the lights worked and that running water was accessible in the cafeteria. I remember sharing on social media sites that @KellyMillES was going to be the place where educators could provide the type of educational experiences for students that they always wanted to provide. I readily admitted to my staff that I was making promises they would have to keep. 🙂 (I am thankful they have done just that!)

As I reflect on this first year @KellyMillES, I often share that these things should not happen to a first-year school. My actual quote is, ‘It Ain’t Normal.’

Yes, I do know the correct grammatical format for the sentence, but I also wanted to emphasize a point with my staff. Too often we accept the ‘way we have always done it is good enough’ pathway to education. We rationalize that it was ‘good enough for us’ so ‘why shouldn’t it be good enough for today’s learner.’ Well, the short answer is that today’s learners are not like us. They truly learn differently and in order to reach them, we must teach differently.

I have been honored to work with such a dedicated group of educators who have embraced this ‘teach differently’ mentality and are making the atypical…typical. We have received local, state, national, and global recognition. This is humbling, but it is mostly exciting because it has allowed us to connect with other phenomenal educators and learn with and from them as they also strive to do what is best for today’s learners. We have held sessions on Skype, Google + Hangout, presented at conferences, won national competitions (Siemens Change the World), had numerous site visits because of effective technology integration (Breaking Barriers) and from the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education (GPEE) Bus Tour, had a graffiti artist work in our Media Center, had invaluable support from our community, etc. The list literally goes on and on. Bragging? No. Proud? Definitely, but mostly because these serve as tangible evidence that we as educators DO have the ability to create learning experiences for children that do not have to be merely the expected. We CAN teach differently and meet the rigorous expectations of life in the 21st Century. We CAN effectively integrate technology so that it becomes a natural and expected component of the educational experience.

The secret to all of this?? Simply DOING differently, taking risks, collaborating with other educators around the world, being open to a different perspective, doing what educators naturally and passionately want to do…do what is best for their students.

I am grateful to be part of a district, community and school (Kelly Mill Elementary) that strive to do this daily. Just like you in yours…

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

One of the most powerful tools for improvement is personal reflection. I had a profound moment of realization the other day. I realized that…I am afraid! Yes, I am a grown man and admit that fact. Not scared. Afraid. Not of the dark nor things that go ‘bump’ in the night, but actually of things that are real.

In fact, I even made a list of these real things of which I am afraid as a leader. These are:
I am afraid that I will not inspire my staff.
I am afraid that I will not appreciate them enough.
I am afraid that I will not provide enough support to them.
I am afraid that I will not give specific enough feedback directly linked to improved teaching and learning.
I am afraid that I will not be learning quickly enough to stay current with best practice.

I could go on, but I realize that it makes me vulnerable to criticism by sharing these, but more importantly, it makes me consciously aware that I do all of these things of which I am afraid.

Thank you for letting me be vulnerable. I’m still afraid…

Ron

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