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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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

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

I just ended one of the most energizing two days with my staff @KellyMillES. The energy and enthusiasm truly filled the room. The staff willingly came together during their own time to continue our journey to become the best staff we can be and attain our great moments.  We met new people, had lots of laughs, collaborated with educators @shiraleibowitz and @S_Blankenship in a Google + Hangout, had lessons on fly fishing, pottery, phone photography, sacred harp (shaped note) singing, and weaving.

We spent time learning about ourselves (directionality) in order to learn about interacting and collaborating with others. We resolved to practice three concepts:

  • Commit. We understand that unless we all commit to each other we will not commit to do the right work for students. In absence of a commitment, the action becomes merely a task to be completed. It is the commitment, or connection, to the person that results in the highest levels of achievement. We commit.
  • We don’t have the answers. In an era within education where information multiples at an unimaginable rate and knowledge abounds, the work of educators is more complex that it has ever been. Progression of standards (Common Core), intense scrutiny on assessments, and other demands cause us to realize that having ‘the’ answer is an archaic mindset. We do; however, realize that having lots of questions is more important and allows for true learning to take place. We don’t have the answers, just lots of questions.
  • Listen to Learn. As part of the human race, we understand our nature is to teach those most like us in terms of personality, learning style, etc. As such, we miss many opportunities to reach our students who are not like us and collaborative interactions with others who can help us become better and connected educators. So, we choose to listen with open minds, not having a preconceived idea of what the other person is going to say or what they should do. We consciously listen in order to learn. We listen.

At the conclusion of an amazing time together, I shared a quote that, in flipping channels, I heard from a TV commercial.

You’ll never get to the next great moment if you don’t keep going, so that’s what I do, I keep going.

If we are true to the three concepts @KellyMillES, I think that we will get to our ‘next great moment.’ In doing so, the students and adults connected to KME, will have their next great moment.

I can’t wait…

~Ron

When asked, one of my favorite topics of conversation is ‘leadership.’ I truly love the topic, and as a principal I am sometimes asked for leadership advice. At those times, one phrase comes to mind based upon my own reflections of growth and professional development. I call it ‘The 3 L Philosophy.’

Listen to Learn in Order to Lead

I find myself rehearsing this almost daily as I encounter opportunities to lead. No, it is not that I think ‘I have arrived’ or even have any of this ‘figured out.’ It is simply that I believe it is the responsibility of everyone who finds him-/herself in a leadership role at any level and within any organization to pay forward any lessons learned to others.

Listen is defined as to attend closely for the purpose of hearing. This hearing is more than a listening for sounds and words, but for detecting the message that the speaker is intending to communicate. This is a consciously competent action which requires hours upon hours of practice with the focus on the speaker. I am convinced that this skill is a must have for any leader and an absolute non-negotiable!

This leads to learning. Notice that an effective leader does not go directly from listening to leading. Instead, the next ‘step’ is to learn. A leader always looks for the opportunity to learn as there is no ‘one size fits all’ response or methodology for effective leadership as each encounter provides its own unique framework of interaction.

Lead. Wow! You might think, ‘Finally! This is the critical moment-the pinnacle on which the listening and learning hinge’. And if so, you’d be right.

No true leading occurs without the development and application of the previous two. Without listening to learn, one it merely speaking words.

The 3 L Philosophy may seem overly simplistic, and my purpose is not to make light of a very detailed and complex set of actions collectively called leading. Rather, in trying to articulate some areas that cannot be overly emphasized or utilized by a ‘leader’.

What do you think?

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barrier: Something immaterial that obstructs or impedes (www.thefreedictionary.com/barrier)

As I sat in my grad class this weekend, yes, this weekend, I was struck by a question that the professor posed in one of the moments of his lecture. He said, ‘What barriers hinder you from reaching your potential?’ Wow! Those words resounded over and over in my head after that. I have to admit that I probably missed the next few moments of his dialogue because I could not shake the profound nature of his question.

I began to think of the ‘barriers’ that exist in my workplace and started a jot list of them. I have to say that as the list grew I had a moment of sudden realization that the ‘barriers’ to potential may not always be the ‘things on the list’ but that the ‘barrier’ might actually be a person, and that person might be me. Oh my!

What if I am the barrier to someone’s potential??