Principal 2.0

 

CC licensed image shared by Flickr user davidr

This piece was originally posted on Powerful Learning Practice’s Voices from the Learning Revolution blog. Visit Voices and be inspired!

“The principalship is the kind of job where you’re expected to be all things to all people.” (Fullan, 2001)

“Wanted: A miracle worker who can do more with less, pacify rival groups, endure chronic second-guessing, tolerate low levels of support, process large volumes of paper and work double shifts (75 nights a year). He or she will have carte blanche to innovate, but cannot spend much money, replace any personnel, or upset any constituency.” (Evans, 1995)

“At the present time the principalship is not worth it, and therein lies the solution. If effective principals energize teachers in complex times, what is going to energize principals?” (Fullan, 2001)

Not worth it. That is a pretty significant phrase, but one that I don’t believe most administrators find true. I would like to instead address Fullan’s question, “What is going to energize principals?” One possible answer? Connected learning.

I experienced some feelings of isolation my first year in the classroom, as my assignment was in a small, rural school where I was the only sixth grade teacher. The feeling of not having readily available help that first year pales in comparison to the isolation I felt in my first year of the principalship. Add to that the increasing demands Fullan describes, and the rate at which administrators are expected to lead change, and the complexity of our role increases hundredfold.

An administrator has the option of seeking guidance from a principal colleague or central office administrator, although there are times when doing so could cause the principal to feel fearful that she is exposing a weakness or lack of judgment. She instead turns inward for solutions, for explanations, until the isolation compounds and the day-to-day management tasks overwhelm the true leadership that should be prominent in her work.

As administrators, we expect our teachers to collaborate, cooperate, and continue to learn. We ask the same of our students. Why should we hold ourselves to a different, even lesser, standard? I believe assuming the role of lead learner in our school community is one of the most imperative roles we can play.

Harnessing the power of social media

We live in a time where the tools and technologies we are afforded have flattened our world. Principals and school leaders now have a vast array of options for learning and connecting with others. I have experienced the very real benefits of time invested in developing my own personal learning network, utilizing the Web and social media tools.

By harnessing the power of social media, principals can take advantage of improved organizational efficiency, solidify and broaden communications, serve as lead learner, and develop relationships that will ultimately build an organization’s capacity and benefit children. Our students will be expected to enter adulthood as critical thinkers, problem solvers, and collaborative, productive team members. We must model the power of digitally enhanced learning for them, for our teachers, and for the community.

We must connect. If you’re capable of connecting and learning from those in your physical realm, consider the power of building relationships with other inspiring educators from around the world. Too often we think: how could that person’s experiences help me when their schools and circumstances differ so greatly from mine? That’s precisely the reason we can learn so much from one another. I have as much to learn from a high school principal in an urban school setting as I do from an elementary principal in a neighboring district. The varied perspectives are invaluable.

So, where can an administrator find these connections? For me and many others, Twitter has been the main vehicle through which we’ve built a network of professional learners. This article can help you get started, and I personally am willing to help any interested administrator embark on this journey! The blog Connected Principals was essentially born out of the relationships built around conversations on Twitter. George Couros, recognizing the valuable contributions stemming from our online discussions, decided to create a common space for administrative bloggers, to bring us together and unite our voices under a shared purpose. I know that if I ever need advice, ideas for projects or resources, or just someone willing to let me vent, I can go to any of my Connected Principals colleagues who will be there for me with a supportive, critical voice.

We must share. As a starting point, consider the simple benefits of using shared, digital spaces such aswikis to organize and exchange information with staff. Respect your teachers’ time by only holding a faculty meeting when there is an agenda item worth true discussion. Empower your teachers to be wiki contributors so they can add information of their own. Stop the insanity of searching aimlessly through email inboxes to try to find that tidbit of information someone mass-emailed two weeks ago! Do you and others often locate great resources to share? Use Diigo or a similar social bookmarking site to share and even annotate those resources in a streamlined, organized manner. Collaborate on projects usingGoogle Docs. No longer do precious minutes have to be wasted in meetings if project authors can work in a common digital space and contribute at times that best suit them.

We must build community. Communications with families and community members are vital to the success of any school and can be powered up through the use of social media. Consider the advantages of writing about school successes in a public blog or Facebook page regularly, highlighting the wonderful accomplishments of students and staff. Social media affords principals the opportunity to develop forums where community voices can be heard and valued. The benefits of managing public relations before outside sources distort the facts are innumerable, and the platforms through which these communications can occur are, for the most part, free to use!

We must be transparent. Are you transparent in your learning? Would you like to be? What does transparency entail? For one, allow your teachers and students to see that you value your own learning. Have you ever discussed with a teacher how a book or article you’ve read could impact classroom practice? If so, you’re comfortable with sharing your learning in a local forum, so consider branching out to share your ideas with other interested parties. Blogging is a great first step to becoming a producer, not just a consumer, of information. Simply take the thoughts you’d normally converse about and compose a post! Posterous, WordPress, and Blogger are all user-friendly platforms and ideal for the beginning blogger.

Keep in mind that there are no right or wrong ways to express one’s feelings and share knowledge. New bloggers often ponder, “Who really wants to read what I have to say?” “What if someone doesn’t agree with what I write?” Begin blogging as a personal form of reflection, to help you examine your decision-making processes and actions as principal. Read other educators’ blogs. Subscribe to RSS feeds and organize the flow of new ideas with Google Reader. Comment and include links to your own writing to develop a readership. Get to know the other educators you’re connecting with. Learn about their philosophies, and let the shared wisdom you discover help guide your work.

Principals leading the way

The role of the principal is definitely worth it. It’s a role that should, first and foremost, be about sharing, building relationships and community, and connecting for learning. Principals need to ensure they are modeling and building capacity in the most efficient and meaningful ways possible. We need to embrace, not ignore, the tools we now have available to build powerful learning communities. We are faced with a compelling need for change, and we owe it to our children to lead the way in bringing connected, enhanced, and authentic learning opportunities to our schools, communities, and world.

Evans, C. (1995) ‘Leaders wanted’, Education Week.
Fullan, M. (2001). The new meaning of educational change. Teachers College Press.

 

Crossing the finish line.

 

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user iman Khalili

It’s not whether you win or lose… it’s how you run the race.

Jonathan Martin provided us with a detailed summary of his reflections after viewing Race to Nowhere, a documentary film that highlights the lives of high school students, parents and families, and teachers and administrators, all in the context of a system that is broken and failing our children. As Jonathan stated, it is “emotionally manipulative,” and the first sentence of the About the Film description on its website indicates that it indeed features “the heartbreaking stories of young people across the country who have been pushed to the brink, educators who are burned out and worried that students aren’t developing the skills they need, and parents who are trying to do what’s best for their kids.”

I didn’t know what to expect from the film, and I actually wasn’t prepared to take notes, but about 20 minutes in, I knew that I needed to write a reflection on the film’s contents. I covered the fronts and backs of scrap pieces of paper I had in my purse with seemingly incoherent scribblings. (I had owned my iPhone for about 1 hour prior to attending the screening, so, unlike Jonathan, was not yet skilled at taking notes on my phone in the dark. 🙂 The quotes below are my reflections as I remember them and may be paraphrased.

These are my take-aways:

On happiness:

  • Children are trying to balance lives that few adults would be comfortable balancing. Something that resounded with me was a student explaining how people always want to know from her, Aaand… “I’m a member of the student council.” And? “I have straight A’s.” And? “I play sports.” And? Why aren’t you doing any community service??!
  • We are basing students’ successes not on how happy they are, but rather on a systemic assumption that they need to get into a good college and make a lot of money, which will lead to happiness.
  • Why cant happiness be a metric used to determine the success of our schools? Why just reading and math scores? Focusing on academics alone does not respect the child.

On accountability:

  • We have a “tremendous preoccupation with performance.”
  • Our educational system is an inch deep and a mile wide. What is important is NOT “knowing a whole bunch of things.”
  • We’re always preparing kids for “what’s next.” Think about it: “In middle school, you will have to do X, so in sixth grade, we’re going to make you do X to prepare you.” “In fourth grade, your teachers will expect you to write in cursive, so in third grade, we’re going to learn cursive.”
  • Due to the pressures of No Child Left Behind, we teach students formulaically so they can pass a test, but if they encounter something unlike that which is on the test, they fall apart. The tremendous pressure to produce leaves out time for critical processing. Cheating has become “like another course.”
  • Kids want to know exactly what’s on the test and not go beyond it. We give them study guides! We base our teachings off of those guides!
  • Teachers feel like “yes men” doing what the district, state, or government wants, even if it’s not best for kids. One teacher cited the example, “like teaching them what a semicolon does.” She went on to explain the need for us to teach students critical thinking, problem solving, and how to work in groups. This passionate teacher explained that she wants for her students to be learners. She stressed that if you’re not teaching what you love, you can’t do this job. “I’m a mother to my students. I see them more than they see their families.” This teacher’s frustrations with the system and feelings of helplessness eventually caused her to resign.
  • The tutoring industry has exploded because we are treating all kids like they need to be in the top 2 percent academically. Children are nervous about upsetting and disappointing their teachers if they don’t perform. And that they may “lose recess” for incomplete work.

On homework:

  • “At what point did it become okay for school to dictate how a child will spend time outside of school?” It’s not about learning anymore.
  • There is no correlation between homework completion and academic achievement in elementary school. (This was my absolute favorite line of the movie.) In middle school, there is a slight correlation, but past 1 hour of homework, it lessens. Past 2 hrs of homework time in high school, the effect lessens. Reference made to Sara Bennett’s and Nancy Kalish’s work, The Case Against Homework.
  • We all need to educate ourselves about the effects of homework. Why do we insist upon assigning it? Teachers think it’s necessary to cover content. Parents expect it.

On passion-based learning:

  • Our kids have grown up in a “world of training wheels” and have been coached from a very young age. They don’t realize they can fall off the bike and pick themselves up.
  • Instead of taking 5 classes, think, here are 3 classes I’m really interested in taking. One student expressed his belief that college is going to be a place where I “start to learn.” What does that say for his high school experience?
  • “Smart” has so many different meanings. The system is ignoring a great group of kids that is talented artistically, visually-spatially, etc. “Absolutely no appreciation for that kind of talent, or thinking.”
  • What creates the opportunity to be innovative? What does it take to create a creative human being? Children need time, so we must provide that downtime. Play is children’s work. It’s a tool to figure out how the world works. They’re not able to figure out what they love to do or find their passions without that freedom.

I was surrounded by a very emotional audience at the screening I attended. The movie was shown in the high school auditorium of a neighboring school district, one whose name is synonymous with wealth and high academic achievement. We have often looked to this district for ideas about how to implement programs and structure schedules due to their documented successes. The parents in the audience were likely those of high school students, and it was clear, from only 30 minutes into the film, that they would start to reconsider the types of discussions they would have with their children about learning and achievement. I wonder how this movie’s message made them view their roles differently?

There was a member of the audience with whom I’ve interacted on several occasions in her role as consultant. She has spent hours with our administrative team, reviewing the RtII framework, discussing data at great lengths, and yet, her best intentions noted, not once did we mention a child by name, or discuss actual, meaningful learning. I wonder how this movie’s message made her view her role differently?

The president of my parent-teacher organization approached me about the film and asked if I thought it would be beneficial for her to view. I agreed it would be, and she is taking a group of our parents to see the film in a few weeks. I wonder how this movie’s message will cause them to view their roles differently?

One of my colleague principals had a chance to view the film, and I feel it’s important for us to share our thoughts with the rest of our administrative team. I wonder how this movie’s message will cause them to view their roles differently?

I’m actually overwhelmed composing this post, as I decipher my notes to try to articulate just exactly what I’m feeling about this film’s message. I agree with the conclusions shared at the end of the movie that we need to rethink how we “do schooling.” What do we want to invest in? What matters most? The quality of teaching is what matters most.

We have to start asking ourselves how films like this, articles we read, success stories we hear, problems we encounter, and convictions we hold cause us to think differently. And then we have to do something about it.

There is no easy fix to the flaws in the system, because the inherent problems are so complex. But there is so much that we are doing right in schools across the nation and beyond. What I’d love to do is create a Race to Nowhere-esque documentary that captures and celebrates the extraordinary learning that’s going on within and outside of our classrooms each day. (Many of us do this with our blogs. But is it enough?) We need to share our successes with a wider audience. We need to inspire each other and start to build a collective body of knowledge that can help lead us in the direction of a finish line worth crossing.

Go. See. Connect.

CC licensed photo shared by creativecommoners via Flickr

Connecting with others through social media? Good.

Getting too comfortable in the same circle of colleagues and not taking the time to branch out into new networks or interact with new members of the virtual community? Bad.

Over the past few weeks I had the privilege to meet, face-to-face (what a luxury!) some new friends at Pete & C, #ntcamp Burlington, and Teach Meet NJ… I’ve also connected with some pretty amazing folks on Twitter as of late, and I would like to share the wealth.

You may already know and love many of the people on this list, and I can imagine that to be true, because of the fantastic work they’re doing for kids. I regret I can’t spend more time listing the names of the hundreds of educators that influence me daily!

Mary Ann Reilly – one of my biggest regrets leaving TMNJ is that I didn’t get to meet Mary Ann. I enjoy reading her blog, engaging in discussions with her, most recently our #FocusASCD discussions about Schmoker’s new book, and she develops and shares the most fabulously detailed lists of global books for kids.

Chris Lindholm – Chris is an assistant superintendent from Minnesota. He blogs about many facets of leadership and is a great supporter of the resources and ideas shared on #cpchat!

Corrie Kelly – Corrie has been quick to respond to many of my queries about integrating technology into our classroom activities with elementary students. She is a valuable resource!

Pete Rodrigues – Pete is, first and foremost, a great sport who allows me to bust on him several times per week on Twitter. Great sense of humor aside, he is an aspiring administrator who shares meaningful thoughts about learning through his posts and virtual conversations. And at one point in his life, he built a suit of armor. #enoughsaid

M.E. Steele-Pierce – M.E. is an incredibly talented assistant superintendent of schools in Ohio. I enjoyed meeting her at Educon and recently have had the chance to work more closely with her for our contributions to Powerful Learning Practice‘s Voices for the Learning Revolution blog.

Ryan Bretag– Ryan’s blog, Metanoia, is a must-read for me. I am always impressed with his well-articulated ideas and his continual focus on student learning. Sometimes his posts make me think so hard my brain hurts. In a good way.

Kimberly Moritz – Kim is a very inspiring superintendent from New York. I had the chance to meet her at Educon and respect her tireless efforts for kids and her thoughtful blog posts.

Justin Stortz – Justin is sparking “new fires” of thought in everyone that encounters his tweets and reads his posts. I enjoy his contributions, particularly the discussions several of us had over clarity vs. content in student blogging.

Lesley Cameron – Lesley is a third grade teacher from Alberta, Canada, who shares her wonderful ideas and classroom happenings on her blog here. I appreciate her positivity, her willingness to take risks, and her dedication to her students. She clearly is becoming quite a leader in her school and beyond.

Marc Siegel – Marc was a participant in the session at #tmnj11 that I co-presented with Eric Sheninger. He was vocal in sharing his concerns about how to best influence his school and district administrators to move in a positive direction with change. Marc seemed genuinely invested in his students and helping make a difference in their lives. Check out his blog, too.

Greg Stickel – wins the positivity award. He is very supportive, comments regularly, shares resources freely, and is a great contributor to our virtual conversations. Hoping he starts to blog soon. 🙂

Again, there are many people here I didn’t highlight… but I’m thinking this may be a regular post topic…. who has been adding to your learning lately? Share with us!

What really matters?

Saturday I greatly enjoyed my day at #Ntcamp Burlington. It’s fantastic to connect with some of the people that inspire me the most. Thank you so much to Patrick and Andrew and the rest of the #ntcamp crew for everything you taught me this weekend.

Those relationships matter.

I was pleased also to meet some fabulous new teachers, fresh in their professional journeys. They asked all of the right questions. They honestly reflected on their new roles, wanting to learn more. They listened eagerly to one another and their passion for teaching shone through with their words.

Forming new connections matters.

Saturday evening I received a phone call from my Dad, which was the first sign that something was wrong, because he doesn’t often call my cell on a Saturday night. As I stood in the post-#ntcamp venue, he told me in a very composed voice that “we just lost Grandma.” His mother. Grandma hadn’t been doing well, but at the moment when I received that news, I was a few hundred miles from home, and I didn’t like it.

Knowing there was nothing I could do about that, and that I was flying home the next day, I returned to the group of #ntcampers and told some of them the news. There was an instant outpouring of care and concern for me and my family, from people who didn’t know my family. Yes, I was away from home when I received this upsetting news, but in a way, I was in my “other” home, surrounded by people who are a genuine part of my life. Relationships formed through social media around a shared passion for teaching, learning, and kids.

Caring about people matters. Passion matters.

My dad is the oldest of five and is now charged with taking care of everyone. I am also the oldest of five. I now need to take care of everyone. As we spent some time with my grandfather yesterday, I noticed my Dad and I assumed the same sort of robot-like, “we’re in charge here” stance. We deflected emotional waves with humor and common sense prevailed, not emotion. We felt a need to stay composed in front of the people that depended on us.

But, as I am sure we will find in the coming days, emotion matters.

I love this picture of my grandparents. My Grandma’s gaze? The love in her eyes? That’s what matters. My Grandma has taught me so much in my life. She quilted beautifully. She made every grandchild (all 14 of us) a quilt when they were born, moved to a “big kid bed,” and got married… she taught us how to bake and cook…. when we were kids we’d have sleepovers at Grandma’s and she’d treat us to blueberry pancakes in the morning…. she taught us the importance of family and loving one another….she bragged incessantly about our accomplishments… “this is my granddaughter, she is a principal now!”… she was a wonderful teacher because she recognized the value in relationships.

Sometimes we allow mandates, rules, policies, naysayers, standards, testing, data, accountability, etc. to overshadow what really matters. People matter. Kids matter. Forming relationships for learning matters.

I encourage everyone to take a step outside of the web of what doesn’t matter today. It’s easy to get entangled in that web. It’s messy and it can suck you in pretty easily. Look around you, appreciate what you have, and do something extraordinary to make someone’s life more meaningful today.

Time for #NTcamp!

At some point this evening I will arrive in fabulous Burlington High School country for #NTcamp Burlington, which will be held at Burlington High School, home of Patrick Larkin and the Red Devils. 🙂  Only Mother Nature and Southwest Airlines know exactly when I will arrive, but when I do, I know a lot of great connecting and learning experiences await! Why? Because NTcamp…

…uses the unconference model to promote engaging, participatory driven professional development for teachers, librarians, administrators, technology specialists, and college students. NTCamp is not only for new teachers, but also for anyone in the education field looking for a variety of professional development packed into one day. While the focus remains on professional development for new teachers, those who have had years of teaching experience will not get bored.  

Check out the NTcamp blog to read about the day’s events, view the schedule, and find out how you can participate virtually through the LiveStream sessions and interactive Twitter feeds. To learn more about the origins of the “unconference,” read Patrick’s great post and thank Dan Callahan and MaryBeth Hertz the next time you see (or tweet) them!

To kick off the day, I’ll be participating in the Connected Principals panel with Patrick Larkin, Larry Fliegelman, and Eric Juli. I’m really looking forward to this experience and encourage you to take part by submitting questions for the panel! Use the hashtag #ntcamp to follow along with the happenings tomorrow. Thanks to Andrew Marcinek and the rest of the organizers for working so hard to make this day of learning come together!

The Networked Administrator

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user fluffisch

I’m excited about the opportunity to present to a group of administrators and educators at next week’s Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo & Conference. Through this session, I hope to engage attendees in conversations about the shifts in learning and how our role as administrators as transparent learners is imperative as we lead the way with these efforts. I’ll describe my own experiences with social media use and how it has benefited my practice, my school, and my teachers and students. This is the session description:

This session will explore the role of the networked administrator, who, as the school’s lead learner, recognizes the value and use of social media to develop professional connections, build relationships and capacity, help create organizational efficiency, and bring innovative learning experiences to students and staff.

I can count on the fact that there will be at least one audience member live and in person (one of my teachers is attending the conference, so his participation is mandatory :), and I did consider that often at conferences like these, administrators are often few in number. I’m fully prepared for an audience of two. Knowing that more participants will likely add to increased value in the conversation, I decided I’d attempt to Livestream my session in the event that anyone out there who had the time and interest would like to tune in. I’ll sign onto Skype as well to engage any virtual audience members in addition to the Livestream chat that may emerge (l_hilt). Thanks in advance to future administrator and all-star Greg who is going to help me out. Fingers crossed that the venue’s technology supports this effort. If not, hopefully the resources shared below will still be of use to someone out there.

The session is Monday, February 14, at 4:00 PM EST.

This is a topic I’m quite passionate about, simply because of the amazing transformation in my learning over the past year since I’ve been more involved in connected learning through social media. I highly respect and admire the other principals, administrators, teachers, and educators I’ve engaged with and learned from through Twitter interactions, blog posts, and in face-to-face encounters. In my experience, in talking with other administrators in this area, the concept of learning with others through social media is a foreign concept. I feel I owe it to this group of influential educators to share the benefits, ideas for use, and personal stories about how we as leaders need to model our learning for those whom we lead.

Links you may need:

Watch live streaming video from leadandlearn at livestream.com

Knowledge candy

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user Sidereel

A few weeks ago I was having lunch with some of my uber-talented sixth grade students. We were talking about school life (amidst the music and occasional ping pong game and mini-dance party) and they also began blogging their thoughts about what their ideal school would look like. Common themes: more social time, less structure, more freedoms, more interest-specific explorations.

One thing that struck me as interesting was a response when I asked, “How do you think your teacher decides what to teach you?”

Very thoughtfully, the student replied, “I never really thought about that! I don’t think she decides. I think it comes from the higher-ups. It’s not like teachers have the freedom to say, Okay, we’re going to learn about candy today!”

So. Do our students indeed view the teacher as the imparter-of-knowledge? Or do they view the teacher as a mechanism through which someone else decides what’s important for children to learn?

I followed up. “Do you think teachers should ask you what you want to learn about?”

“I think some people wouldn’t take it seriously and would just be joking about it.”

“But if that was the norm. If, every day, you came into class knowing you could explore the topics that most interested you. How would that go?”

With that thought in mind, she began describing how she’d center her daily learning experiences around theatrics and drama…there would be role-playing, acting, performing, and creation. Because, in her words, she was going to be “the world’s greatest actress.”

What can we do to promote this passion-driven learning in our schools? How can we, as administrators, help children find that which they love and involve them in their learning experiences that promote, celebrate, and honor those passions?

Not many of us can resist reaching into a bowl of sugary sweet candy goodness. Let’s work to make our children’s learning experiences just as irresistible.

Be an artist.

In Linchpin, Seth Godin asks us to consider the task of emotional labor: doing important work, even when it isn’t easy. It’s the type of labor we often avoid, due to its difficulty and the fact that to some people, emotional labor is a gift given without reward. In reality, emotional labor perhaps yields the greatest benefits, to both the giver and the recipient of those efforts.

The act of giving someone a smile, of connecting to a human, of taking initiative, of being surprising, of being creative, of putting on a show- these are things that we do for free all our lives. And then we get to work and we expect to merely do what we’re told and get paid for it.

Godin’s message is to bring your gifts to work. Your initial reaction to this idea may be, “Why should I? I just want to leave work each day and go home and do things I enjoy and be around people I actually like.”

What gifts do you bring to your school? Clearly you seek to display your strongest leadership qualities on a daily basis, in the hopes of modeling and shaping learning for your staff and students. What art do you create on a daily basis, at work, that allows your organization to flourish?

If you believe that your role as administrator or teacher or parent does not fit the definition of “artist,” I ask you to consider the following:

  • Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.
  • Art is about intent and communication, not substances.
  • Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does.
  • Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.
  • Art is the product of emotional labor. If it’s easy and risk-free, it’s unlikely that it’s art.

I didn’t want this to post to be filled with feel-good fluff and void of actual instances of how I know emotional labor is being expended each day in schools, and how this work benefits our kids. In our elementary school, there are artists creating at every turn.

  • My guidance counselor recently designed a “break the mid-winter-blahs” picnic lunch day for the entire school using her gifts of compassion and her awareness of our school climate.
  • For a few weeks of the year physical education teacher transforms our gymnasium into an amazing obstacle course, complete with hanging “vines,” hula-hoops, clever contraptions made of PVC-pipe, and opportunities for rolling, tumbling, running, laughing, and learning.
  • One of my kindergarten teacher’s many gifts is her unrivaled ability to break into song, dance, skit, funny character voice… basically whatever theatrics is necessary…to excite and energize her students and engage them in learning.
  • My 3/4 hallway has this amazing chemistry. You can feel it when you walk through the hall. It hits you in the face. I love their contagious energy!
  • An incredible group of teachers and staff imagined and implemented a now-annual Day of Service for our entire school community in honor of a teacher who lost her battle with breast cancer last year.
  • Grade 2 teachers designed a Parent Blogging Night, where they will introduce parents to the learning opportunities their children will be involved in using blogs and where parents will help their child write their first post!
  • Students offer to stay in from recess to assist a teacher. They offer to make posters and visit you at lunch time and give you their ice cream and deliver cupcakes to you when it’s their birthday.
  • Dedicated parents in our parent-teacher organization write grants for technology and run science exploration clubs for our young scientists. Another parent blogged with a third grade class on his recent business trip to Shanghai and visited us upon his return to share this experience with our students.

None of these given gifts are written as requisite activities in teachers’ job descriptions, nor in any of those instances do you see the words standardized testing, curriculum map, or homework. They clearly all involve love, care, and learning.

How will you be an artist today? How will your emotional labor and efforts change your organization? Take a risk. Your passion-driven efforts will not go unnoticed, and you will find that when you expend emotional labor, although sometimes exhausting, it will be deeply gratifying. What we often forget, as Godin reminds us, is “The act of the gift is in itself a reward.”

We consume. Do we produce?

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user John*Ell

The relationships between consumers and producers in life cycles and food webs is introduced in the elementary years. Children genuinely enjoy exploring the relationships among animals and other organisms in our world.

As I navigated through the websites Stumble Upon recommended for me this morning, I got to thinking: We’re really good at consuming. How are we doing with producing? Sharing?

We’re in the midst of planning an upcoming professional development day for elementary teachers, and they were surveyed to find out what tech integration topics they’d like to explore. One of the responses indicated “websites for use in the primary classroom.” I guess I understand where that response is coming from, but a few keyword searches in a short amount of time could result in a list of such websites. Consuming.

I’m meeting monthly with a group of elementary teachers who volunteer their time after school to explore ideas and tools that will help them become more adept learners, and hopefully bring that knowledge into their classrooms for use with students. We discuss the “shifts” in education- the importance of connected learning- the tools and applications that can be used for students to authentically demonstrate their learning- there’s honestly too much to explore in the short time we have together, but I do appreciate the time these teachers are spending stepping outside of their comfort zones and working to produce. Not only are they creating projects as we explore certain tools, but they’re producing new ways of thinking and transforming their mentalities about teaching and learning.

I often hear, “Well, they have to start somewhere,” in reference to teachers taking on new roles and trying new things in the classroom, but at what point do we apply a little more pressure? How long do we allow teachers to either a) ignore technology and the “shift” or b) use it in superficial ways that don’t necessarily add to student learning before we push them to step outside of their comfort zones? Do we have time to allow them to continue to consume without at least attempting to produce?

Administrators need to provide opportunities for their teachers to become producers of content and ideas. Why? Because our students are natural producers. They act, they sing, they dance, they draw, they make up jokes, they journal, they create websites, they problem solve through social interactions, they establish their own YouTube channels and comment on peers’ work… they produce. If we don’t foster that love of creation in our schools, it will diminish.

Dean Shareski says, “If you generally think of the Internet as a ‘place to look up stuff’ you’re missing the best part.” Agreed. How will you help your teachers become producers and share their ideas? How will you help design learning opportunities for your students to do the same?

Without producers, the consumers will eventually dwindle away, won’t they?

Don’t miss a learning opportunity.

Many times, the best opportunities for learning do not occur in classrooms. This is especially true for administrators, as we perhaps have fewer chances to interact with students in the classrooms than our teachers do.

Consider a student that is “sent to the office.” (That phrase makes me cringe a little, but I know it happens more often than I care to believe.) Each administrator has a preference for dealing with student behaviors and potential discipline scenarios. The policies and techniques will vary according to student ages, school district policies, and by administrator philosophies. My sincere hope is that each situation is handled with an element of care and respect for the child as an individual. No two children are the same. Why should any two conversations about behavior be the same? Consistency and fairness can be obtained without doling out blanket consequences.

The poem above resonated strongly with me. The students who are most often referred to my office are those that are craving positive relationships with the adults in their lives. It is unlikely that a consequence alone will instill in them a desire to change behavior. What will? They want to be heard. They want to be valued. They want you to understand. So you have to listen.

Chris Wejr reminds us in his post The Power of Positivity that the positive connections we make with students and families are crucial in helping to build relationships and a community of learners. Make time every day, every week, all year long, to build those relationships with your students. Don’t wait until students appear outside your office door. Go to them. The cafeteria. They playground. Their sporting events. Their classrooms. Their homes. Be a positive part of their lives. And if they have to visit your office? Make it a comfortable place to be. I’ve heard so many people question why my office isn’t a cold and sterile place where children fear to be sent. Really? Do I want to be known as the person children fear in our school? Absolutely not! For that reason, my office is equipped with a basketball hoop, putting green, tabletop football and ping-pong, and giant beanbag chairs surrounded by books to read. I want students to visit! I want to hear all about their days and what they love about school and what they would change and what they are doing this weekend and what their favorite movies are and what hilarious new jokes they heard on the bus.

Will you be that someone? The person who looks a child in the eye? Who helps him learn more about this tricky business that we call life? By engaging in thoughtful, caring conversation and collaborative problem-solving with students in need, students will learn to trust and believe in themselves as learners, and set out on the road to making better choices. They’ll know they have a supporter in you.

And you? I guarantee you will leave the conversation having learned a thing or two.