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)

We say it every year, and we mean it every year. Time flies! I haven’t yet decided if it’s a result of getting older or just a condition of the human existence that days seem to go by at an alarming rate. We have so much to do! No less is the case with this school year. It is hard to believe that another school year is coming to a close, but it is. Each school year begins with lots of hopes and ideas of doing things differently…teaching that lesson that we did not get to the year before…adding that project that just seemed to be on the ‘I’ll do it later” list.

Whatever the idea, let’s not forget one thing…it’s the DO-ing that is important. Having the great ideas is the first step to DO-ing differently, and is often a step that many educators find rejuvenating and exciting, but time flies and we often fail to DO. As this year comes to an end, let’s not only think about what we could do differently but resolve ourselves to actually DO things differently.

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

It could have been accomplished by telling the staff that we were low on funds to purchase cases of paper. It was true that each school had been allocated a specific number of copies that could be used before the local school would have to pay for the copies. For any amount of copies that exceeded the yearly allotment an incurred cost of $.04 each copy would be billed to each school. This may not sound like much, but left unchecked, this could eat away at the instructional dollars that could be invested in non-fiction books for the leveled library, technology to support technology integration, hands-on resources for STEM-based learning activities and other resources which are better for today’s learner.

What we did do was to frame the conversation around this essential question:

How could we more effectively engage our leaners without running this through a machine?

This simply worded question had profound impact across the teachers who all truly wanted highly engaged learners in their classrooms each day. Teachers gladly talked about and collaboratively planned a day, ‘No Paper Day,’ around this. What leaders have tried to get teachers to do in sometimes unproductive ways, resulted in teachers gladly embracing and willingly collaborating around this concept as their entire grade level worked to design lessons for ‘No Paper Day’ on their hallway. This level of engagement on the part of adults along with the excitement and energy that were created spilled over to our students at Kelly Mill ES.

On the day that teachers decided for their No Paper Day, students and adults eagerly participated and authentically engaged in their learning. For some teachers, this intentional ‘push’ allowed them to realize the effectiveness of the integration of technology as a normal mode of delivery for their students, They saw, first-handedly, that technology did not have to be nor should be considered an ‘add-on.’ Once teachers saw the level of excitement from their students and heard the depth of conversations that students were having regarding their learning of the content, they were hooked.

Teachers extended this ‘one day’ of purposeful and intentional focus on engaging without worksheets to be their normal way of collaborating and instructional delivery in their classroom,

This is the ultimate in professional development to take a concept from hearing to doing. Teachers translated what they learned into classroom practice that changed the learning activities and experiences for their students.

So, what about your ‘No Paper Day?’

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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