Who are the Problem Solvers?

Many look to the principal to be the problem solver.

We can’t agree on how to schedule these students. What should we do?
There’s an issue with the lunch cards in the cafeteria. How should we handle it?
My child is being bothered by another student. Can you help us?
We’ve tried many different instructional approaches with this child, but he’s still not understanding. What can we try next?
Most principals are inherently skilled problem solvers. One of the benefits we have in our role is being able to step outside of the situation and view the varied aspects of the problem before offering input into how it can best be solved. As sometimes uninvolved participants in the conflict, we can remain cool-headed, consider all options, and draw upon our experiences to help craft possible solutions. John Gardner reflects in On Leadership that leaders who work to resolve conflicts use their influences to eliminate irrational demands, and “foster the transition from a cross fire of accusations to a collaborative search for solutions” (p. 105). Leaders look for the underlying causes of the disputes. Is it a lack of communication? Insensitivity to needs? Leaders then work to solve conflict in an environment of open communication and honesty and explore all alternative solutions.

Let’s examine the graphic above, shared from one of my favorite sites, Indexed. (Go to this site after you are finished reading my post. And after you are finished commenting. It’s so smart.) On one hand, the graphic is an accurate representation of how someone from outside of the situation can bring a unique, honest, unfiltered perspective on the conflict. It is sometimes easier for that person to recognize a solution and thus, it becomes less “impossible” to solve. However, personal accountability is huge. The more invested in a situation someone is, the more difficult, ultimately, it is to solve the problem. But truly, can anyone other than the people so deeply involved make the change?

Principals are certainly not the only problem solvers in the school. In fact, some of the best principals will insist that teachers who raise an issue also present possible resolutions to that problem. Last year a team of teacher leaders in our building read John G. Miller’s QBQ: The Question Behind the Question: What to Really Ask Yourself to Eliminate Blame, Complaining and Procrastination. Intense subtitle aside, the guidelines within this text really help you focus on what you can do to alleviate a problem as opposed to look to others to solve the problem for you. When a teacher asks, “How can I improve this situation?” “What can I contribute?” or “How can I make a difference?” he is placing himself in a different frame of mind that will empower him to be an active part of finding the solution to the problem, not just bringing the issue to someone else’s attention.

How do these principles apply to our lives in schools? Reading Brian Crosby’s words about what teachers need from administrators helped me reflect on the fact that most teachers want to be held accountable, want to be involved in the change process, and want to do what it takes to improve their practice and their schools. They don’t want change handed to them- they want to be active participants in the process. Anyone who has ever tried to initiate change in an organization knows that conflict will certainly rear its ugly head at some (and likely, all) points in the process. Problems will need to be solved.

Carry this premise into the classroom as well. Teachers and staff should model for students what effective problem solving looks like – identify the issue, examine the facts, determine the emotional elements involved, brainstorm possible solutions and the consequences of each, agree on some form of action, and continually reflect on that decision to ensure it was right. Students will absolutely need to be adept problem solvers in all capacities in their adult lives, and we need to help them hold themselves accountable for the fact that they do have the power and skills to make the right choices.

Principals are problem solvers, but we cannot, and should not, do it alone. We need the expertise and creative solutions of our faculties, parents, and students to help us. I’d love to learn about the different approaches to problem solving in your schools!

Welcome Back!

Being a paparazzi principal does have its perks… we showed the video below today at our Welcome Back assembly…the students love seeing themselves and their friends, teachers, parents, and siblings on the big screen! It warms my heart when they giggle at the funny faces and cheer for their grade levels! I’ll definitely post this on my school webpage and also run throughout Meet the Teacher night next week. Another idea I hope to bring to fruition this year is for our student council members to create an “All About Brecknock” video for new students. It could feature a building tour, interviews with students and staff, and just general FYIs introducing our new students to our school! Copies could be kept in the district office and distributed to new families at registration. Looking forward to a great year!

Back to Brecknock from Lyn Hilt on Vimeo.

A principal's first day of school….

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(Author’s note: The full title of this post is A Principal’s First Day of School: Ramblings of a Crazyperson.)

Most of us know what it’s like to be a student on the very first day of school. We lived it: new backpack, school supplies, and choosing the perfect outfit. Many of us who have spent time in the classroom know what it’s like for a teacher on the first day of school: newly labeled folders, clean desks with new student name labels, the best new dry erase markers the school supply closet could offer, and a new outfit (complete with sensible shoes).

What does a principal feel, do, hear, say, and think on the first day of school? I’ll tell you.

5 AM: First decision of the day. Do I wake up now, exercise, and then go to school; or sleep in, go to work a bit earlier, and exercise after school? The aches in my muscles from Saturday’s alumni hockey game coerced me into option B. Which I would later regret.

6:40 AM: Out the door. Students arrive at 8:45 AM, so that’s plenty of time to get my act together before the buses pull in!

7:20 AM: Arrived in the office. Surprisingly remembered everything I wanted to bring today!

7:25 AM: A gift waiting for me, hanging in a pretty bag on my office doorknob. While the gift was very cool, the accompanying card made my day. One of my teachers took the time to write me a card of appreciation. Her words were so beautiful and truly made me feel like a special part of our school. Could not have asked for a more amazing start to my day!

8:20 AM: First students arrive at the doors with some family members. Students are permitted to enter at 8:45 AM. Have to find a place for these students and their families to spend the next 20 minutes!

8:21 AM: Why did I wear heels today? What was I thinking?

8:30 AM: Brought my Flipcam to the office last week so it would be ready to shoot first day footage. Opened the box. No Flipcam inside. Guess I should have doublechecked to make sure the camera was actually in the box.

8:35 AM: Librarian kind enough to help me check out one of the school’s Flipcams.

8:40 AM: Assembled parent volunteers and staff supervising arrival. Go time!

8:45 AM-9:00 AM: Arrival supervision, helped 1st and 2nd graders find their homerooms. Assumed role of Principal Paparazzi, Flipcam in one hand and SLR in the other. 80+, humid degrees outside at this early hour. Why did I wear this suit jacket? What was I thinking?

9:00 AM-9:20 AM: Very, very unhappy young person in Grade 1. Won’t stay in the classroom. Tears. Screams. Parents still there, comforting him in the hallways. Consulted our trusty guidance counselor and watched her sweep in to save the day. Parents were equally as shaken as the little guy. Promised we’d call dad soon to update.

9:20 AM: Peeked at my inbox. 12 new emails. Moving on.

9:20-10:40 AM: Classroom visits, photos, video, introductions, Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Safe, This is how you line up when it’s time to go to lunch from the playground, What did you do this summer, Are you glad to be back? We’re so happy you’re here!

10:40 AM: Overheard in the office, “Mr. Jeff? Mrs. B. was just outside on the playground. There’s a dead bird on the jungle gym. And there are bees swarming all over it.”

10:45 AM – Finished a clerical task to help with recess flow. Should have done this in August. Totally overlooked it. Ate a lollipop.

11:00 AM: Prepping to head outside to supervise first recess. 22 new emails. Moving on.

11:10 AM: Teacher asked me to give her heads-up about “real” fire drills. She practiced one today, and a student was so shaken he asked to hide under her arms.

11:20 AM: Recess shoes on. 🙂 Blackberry on hip. Incessant buzzing.

11:25 AM: First and second graders flee to the playgrounds! So…. hot….out….side. How do these kids do it?! Talk strategy with the school monitors and counselor about how we’d like to arrange play areas outside and control the traffic flow into the cafe. Impressed with our superbly behaved primary students! We might just make this recess before lunch schedule work to perfection.

11:55 AM: Did you know 6-yr. olds take their sweet time eating meals? Recess/lunch schedule bumped 5 minutes for the next two periods.

12:00 PM-1:20 PM: Made many rounds from the recess to the cafe and back. Is that the superintendent? I think I see him over this crowd of students, but I can’t dwell on that right now because I’m trying to open this milk container for a thirsty third grader.

1:15 PM – Buzz on hip. Glance at message – call the Assistant Superintendent. Really? Today? People are working in offices today?

1:20 PM: Called her. Have to migrate students into their new classes in the DIBELS system. Awesome!

1:25 PM: Lunch = spoonfuls of Kashi into vanilla yogurt. Lunch of champions. Eavesdropping on the 4th grade conversation outside my office during one of those whole-group-bathroom-breaks-aka-the-bane-of-my-existence. “No, it goes G, PG, PG-13, R, and unrated. Unrated means it’s so bad, you can’t watch it.”

1:45 PM: Filtered through some emails. Only read the ones from my supervisors and my secretaries. Oh, and the one from IT that said they accidentally closed the work order I submitted to have my printer fixed. Could I please resubmit another one?

1:50 PM: Trusty counselor wanted to update her guidance page on the wiki with a pdf of her newly revised schedule. We reviewed saving Word docs in pdf format, and I walked her through uploading a doc to the wiki. When we arrived at the step where she needed to FIND the file she wanted to upload, we hit a brick wall. Resisted urge to grab her laptop and do it myself. Encouraged her to save it to the desktop for ease of uploading. When I told her to do a better job organizing her files, she replied, “Stop it! I’m old.” (She isn’t. And she uploaded successfully).

2:00 PM: Oh my goodness! I totally spaced on visiting the AM kindergarten class this morning! I was so consumed with introducing the recess procedures to the first graders!! I CANNOT forget to go to PM Kindergarten!

2:02 PM: There is no kindergarten today. It’s a visitation day. Sigh.

2:03 PM: Lollipop.

2:04 PM: More classroom visits! 2nd graders in art class, two of whom informed me they were “boyfriend and girlfriend,” to which I promptly replied, “No, you aren’t.” 5th grade scientists performed an experiment to review the steps of the scientific method, 6th graders created acrostic projects, Life skills students worked in small groups on hands-on learning activities.

3:00 PM: Thinking, when did these children get so tall?

3:25 PM: Dismissal. The gang’s outside ready to supervise when the mass exodus begins. Secretary armed with a bus list. Same for teachers. Apparently we live in the tropics. The sun is seriously beating down on us.

3:35 PM: The buses pulled away with children safely on board. Success!! What a day!

3:40 PM: Post-dismissal run down with some teachers, my support specialist shared schedules with me. Joked with the counselor that we’re both contemplating wearing sneakers for tomorrow’s recess supervision. And I told her I was going to blog about her wiki skills.

3:50 PM: Checked email, clerical tasks, talking with one of our custodians who visits my office after work to empty my trash and who calls me “boss.” I asked him what’s new? “Nothing, and there’s no use complaining anyway, since no one will listen.”

4:10 PM: My to-do list (on paper, always on paper) is updated. And by updated, I mean that 5 things were added to it. And none were crossed off.

4:20 PM: So quiet…with the little pitter-patter of feet go the hustle and bustle of voices and laughter and noise. But inside these quiet rooms I know there are dedicated teachers reviewing their lesson plans, pondering how to best reach the new children they’ve met today, and gearing up to start all over again tomorrow.

4:40 PM: Heading home. I have to exercise before dinner. And write a blog post.

I have before referenced Fullan in my posts, but one particular chapter of The New Meaning of Educational Change really struck a chord with me, and my mind kept coming back to it today. Chapter 8, simply titled, “The Principal,” explores the principal as the center of the relationships between teachers and external ideas and people.

2,000 interactions every day – that’s what principals encounter. Fullan describes the characteristics of principal burnout. Have you, as a principal, ever felt: guilty at the end of the day because you didn’t accomplish everything you set out to? Addicted to the social aspect of your role and fidgety in meetings because they’re slow and you crave those personal interactions? As though you’re not as effective as you once were? A reality shock of knowing you are working in a job that you are very scarcely prepared for?

These notions are so scary, but for educational leaders everywhere, there is hope. Those of us who have connected with others through social media and through networks of professionals in our districts and states know this to be true. Fullan (2007) states

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? We are now beginning to see more clearly examples of school principals who are successful. These insights can help existing principals become more effective; even more, they provide a basis for establishing a system of recruiting, nurturing, and supporting and holding accountable school leaders (p. 159).

Let’s help each other through the first days, and every day, as we work to bring about educational change and do what’s best for kids!

And thus ends the day in the life of a principal.

Searching for answers…

Today  is opening day for teachers! Exclamation mark!

As a teacher as I was always curious about what messages our principal would be sharing with us on opening day. As a principal, I’m always curious about how my teachers will react to the messages I will be sharing with them on opening day. When developing schedules for the next two days, I was inspired to scale back on the amount of time I ask teachers to sit in meetings with me, and rather trust that they will use their classroom preparation time wisely in order to finalize everything for students’ arrival on Monday. I’m going to work hard at focusing on relationships this year, developing trust with our stakeholders, and, as always, keeping the needs of our students our top priority.

This year is my third in administration, and I have fallen into the intriguing position of “elementary principal with the most years of experience” in our school district. (Insert giggles, shock, awe, pity, etc.) By default, I’m the “expert” on how things work at the elementary level. I use the word expert loosely.Very loosely. I may know more than I probably realize I know, but when faced with a question from a new administrative colleague or teacher, I have resolved to be comfortable with the answer, “I don’t know.”

“I don’t know” are three scary words. Speaking them admits a certain vulnerability that not all leaders are comfortable revealing.

What if you truly don’t know? What’s next?

Simple- you learn. You seek answers to your questions. Principals need to be skilled learners, and model the habit of lifelong learning to students, teachers, and their school community. Here are some ways I continue learning every single day of my life and seek the answers to my questions.

Surround yourself with smart people.

I work with some amazingly gifted educators. My support specialists have in-depth knowledge of reading, interventions, data, and curriculum that I will probably never have. Several of my classroom teachers are the most creative, kind, energetic souls I have ever met. My administrative team is small, but mighty, and when we’re in a roundtable discussion about any topic, I truly am thankful for the support that they provide. My students are smart. They teach me something new every day.

To echo a sentiment that has been expressed here many times over, I so appreciate the network of professionals I’ve “met” through Twitter and other social media. I try to impress upon my teachers the importance of stepping outside of their classroom walls, our school’s walls, and our district boundaries, and learning about the innovative experiences of other schools. Outside perspective is amazingly valuable.

These are just a handful of the people that inspire me every day, a list I created here. I’m not sure exactly what constitutes being honored as a Twitter BFF, but I’m pretty sure it means that you’re awesome, so thank you to all of my friends for contributing to my lifelong learning experiences and helping me better myself by finding the answers.

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Admittedly, there are 630 unread feeds in my Google Reader, but I will, by the end of the weekend, catch up. As a teacher I did not do a lot of professional reading. Three years ago on a plane I read Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind and it reignited my passion for learning about learning. In graduate courses this year I was inspired by Fullan, Zhao, and Friedman. I listened to Gladwell’s The Outliers on audiobook religiously for a week as he fascinated me with tales of Canadian hockey-playing youth and Microsoft leaders and his theories on achievement gaps. I’m working through Curriculum 21 and will use it to guide my technology integration work with teachers. I can’t comprehend how a book published in 1969 contains so much relevant commentary on what’s right and what’s wrong with education. I read the best tools compiled by Richard Byrne, am inspired by Shelly and the #edchat crew, and love being challenged by the mind of Lisa Nielson. I learn how to be a better administrator when I read anything written by Chris or George or David and all contributors to the Connected Principals blog and elsewhere.

Ask for help. And listen.

The answers don’t come easy. Admitting you don’t know is step 1. Truly, actively listening to others is what will help you discover the answers. Administrators interact thousands of times every single day with their students, staff, and parents. This year I’m going to make a better effort to stop the one million thoughts running through my brain, if only temporarily, to focus on the person in front of me. I’m going to be present. I’m going to listen and find the answers.

Take a break.

Being an administrator can be isolating, frustrating, terrifying, aggravating, and downright exhausting. The good news? Its reward is unrivaled. But there will be days when you just have to step away from it all, and do something for you. The answers will come easier when you do. Go for a run, hug your dogs, visit the park with your family, watch reality television, or blast The Killers in your office at inappropriate decibels and just be.

Your staff and students don’t expect you to have all of the answers, but they do expect you to want to find them.

What's best for kids?

“It’s what’s best for kids.”

Have you heard an administrator use this phrase to justify decisions? Did you think, “Cliche.” Or, “Easy for her to say.” Or, “How convenient, no one can argue with the merits of We do what’s best for kids.”

Well, it’s true! Who can argue with it? No right-minded educator, that’s for sure.

Administrators who say this, and mean it, stay focused on student needs and make students the center of the decision-making process. Those of you that are parents, or who have a child in their personal lives in any capacity (here’s where I gush about my sweet, sweet new nephew who was born today!) exist in a reality where in their family, children are the centers of their lives.

Children are, and should always be, our focus. Our schools should be families. What are some ways to transform your school into a family of learners?

Include parents. Often. Always. See David Truss’s thoughts on doing so. At our school, we held our first Moms & Muffins and Dads & Donuts mornings this year. All extended family members invited, too! We had an amaaazing turnout. It was unreal! I have never seen so many people packed into our cafeteria. I met Dads and Moms I’d never met before. Parents walked their children to homerooms after our breakfast. Some stayed to volunteer for the day. What a beautiful thing!

Build morale, the subject of recent posts by Dave Bircher and Janet Avery by making connections and building relationships with staff and community members. Show them videos of your dogs. Ask them about their families and their summer vacations. To start our opening day, we’re doing a round of “speed dating”-esque reconnect time where we’ll get in two circles, and every 2 minutes, the people in the inside people will move to the left. Two minutes, introduce yourself and tell them all about your summer/life. Tell your partner one goal you have for the school year. We had a difficult year last year, when a colleague passed away from breast cancer. This year will continue to be about healing. As the principal, I need to support my colleagues in their grief and help build relationships, because the success of our students depends on it.

Get to know, and love, your students. When I hear teachers say, “I don’t have to like all of my students, I just have to act like I do,” I get really tense and uncomfortable and a whole list of other adjectives. There are students who will always push your buttons. I was one of them, I know I was. Get to know each and every child on a personal level. Find out what they’re all about. How else can you possible expect them to respect you? Because you’re the teacher? Because you’re the principal? Children respect those that show them respect. They’re children.  Know your students on a personal level, because doing so will make discussions about behavior that much easier. George Couros often explores the importance of developing rapport with his students and the positive impacts this has on his practices.

I will conclude with just one example of when I was convinced that the children I serve are indeed part of my family. A  young man in an intermediate grade made some unwise choices, and was spending the day in my office. He was getting a bad rap around the school (and frankly, the community) for his behaviors, and it seemed as though the whole world was against him. His classmates were in the hallway outside of my office en route to the library, and not only did every single one of them crane their necks to see how he was doing in my office, several of them said, “Hi, buddy!” and “How are you, friend?” from their place in line. One boy in his class, a boy who was also known for lapses in judgment, asked to come inside my office and see his friend. He walked over to the boy, put his arm around his shoulder, and quietly, almost in a whisper, encouragingly said, “It’s okay, buddy. We all make bad choices sometimes. We know you’re a good kid.” And he turned on his heel and headed back to the line.

My heart burst.

We do what’s best for kids. They’re our family. Their teachers and parents are family. As educational leaders, we’re the head of this family, and we have to commit to making it the best it can be.

Charting Your Course

From Flickr user yachtfan

“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” Seneca

For many, the new school year has already begun. For others, we are in the final planning stages before teachers and students return. Where will you lead your school this year? How do you determine to which “port” you are sailing? How do you chart your course for success, and how will you use your resources to make it happen?

As a newbie principal in the state of Pennsylvania, I am required to complete coursework through the National Institute for School Leadership. In our introductory course we considered the role of principal as “strategic thinker.” We took a good look at vision and how leaders develop and sustain meaningful vision, referencing The Principal Challenge: Leading And Managing Schools in an Era of Accountability (Tucker and Codding, editors).

Our facilitator asked us to come to class prepared with our district’s vision and mission statements in hand. Before class, he randomly organized and posted them so our districts could not be identified, and the “dissection” began! What were we looking for? We assessed each statement by asking the following questions. Is/does the vision….

Achievable? Why include statements in a vision statement that are unattainable? Doing so will frustrate the organization, and the vision will not be realized.

Focused on results that lead to accountability? Educators need to be held accountable for the work that they do. A vision that articulates a focus on results will help drive the organization to routinely assess the impact of their actions.

Measurable? How will the school know when their vision is achieved? How will it know when it’s veering from the intended course?

Simple and clear? How many of us can actually recite our district’s vision statements verbatim? (Or even recall where we have last seen it?!) This is not to say the statement should be short, sweet, and without substance, nor are long, eloquently written vision statements any more meaningful. Simple, clear language is necessary to make the vision…

Actionable? To achieve this vision, what will we DO to achieve it? What is our strategy? Who are the key players involved? What is the timeline? What resources do we need?

Lead to hard choices? In order to achieve the goals of the organization, sacrifices in other areas must be made. In accordance with our vision, where do we focus our efforts to ensure it is realized?

Worth fighting for? Above all else, if a school’s stakeholders don’t believe the vision is worth fighting for,  it is not likely to be attained. And what is more worth fighting for than the education of our children?

It turns out, most of our example vision statements met at least two or more of the criteria, but not a single one would be considered an exemplary vision for a school. Many were almost poetic, yet not actionable. Others were vague and unmeasurable.

The start of a new school year is the perfect time to re-focus our efforts where they matter most. As educational leaders, we need to be able to identify our school’s/district’s vision and priorities. We need to keep The End in mind – our goals. We need to formulate The Ways – strategies for achieving our goals. We need to develop The Means– our people and resources that will help us meet our goals and realize our vision.

Sail on!

Leading with Walkthroughs


Walkthrough observations take many forms in the elementary, middle, and secondary levels. This practice typically involves the principal or other supervisor spending a few minutes observing a classroom to take a quick pulse of the teaching and learning occurring. Some districts tie walkthrough reports into the formal teacher evaluation system. Others use walkthrough forms to provide informal feedback to teachers. No matter what system is used, there are several characteristics of walkthroughs that in my experience have made them more effective in changing teacher practice.

1. Decide on your “look-fors,” and be sure teachers are well-versed in this content.

Our district utilizes the iObservation system for walkthrough observations. iObservation provides a variety of comprehensive walkthrough forms based on the works of Marzano and Danielson. Many of the qualities of Learning Focused Schools are also represented on the forms, and since our teachers are expected to utilize these strategies in their instruction, the iObservation system provides us with many look-for options in the classroom. The forms I used most frequently last year were the Research-Based Instructional Strategies K-12, Research-Based Classroom Management K-12, and Teaching Authentic forms. Our district also has the option of accessing our state’s formal evaluation forms through this system. We use tablet PCs to visit classrooms, complete the checklist forms of the strategies we see in, and can add narratives when needed. iObservation includes banks of coaching questions to help lead discussions with teachers, as well as rubrics that identify teachers as Beginning through Innovating on specific strategies. The rubrics are probably the most powerful aspect of the program, as teachers can identify where they are on the rubric, and using the descriptors provided, work to improve to the Innovating level. For many strategies, there are embedded “Best Practices” videos that teachers can watch to see a master teacher execute the strategy in the classroom. It’s a comprehensive program that we have not yet used to its fullest potential.

The article Classroom walkthroughs: Learning to see the trees and the forest by Howard Pitler with Bryan Goodwin provides solid examples of look-fors in the classroom. They suggest principals ask these six questions to guide their classroom observations: Are teachers using research-based teaching strategies? Do student grouping patterns support learning? Are teachers and students using technology to support student learning? Do students understand their learning goals? Are students learning both basic and higher order levels of knowledge? Do student achievement data correlate with walkthrough data? The authors conclude with their thoughts that walkthrough observations should be used for coaching, not evaluation. Walkthroughs can be used to measure the school’s staff development efforts as well.

iObservation is an instructional and leadership improvement system. It collects, manages and reports longitudinal data from classroom walkthroughs and teacher observations. Teacher growth and leadership practices inform professional development differentiated to individual learning needs for every teacher and leader to increase his/her effectiveness each year.

Another tool I’m looking forward to using this year is ISTE’s Classroom Observation Tool (ICOT). This is a free online tool that helps administrators and observers look for key components of technology integration in the classroom. What I appreciate about this tool is that it does not focus strictly on technology use, but also on student grouping practices, varied learning activities, and NETS Teachers Standards observed.

Look-fors will vary from school to school, but it is imperative that teachers are knowledgeable about what supervisors will be observing on their visits, and that they are supported in using these strategies in the classroom.

2. Follow-up conversations are crucial.

Our teachers truly desire constructive feedback about their practice. Though it might not always be easy to hear, a teacher cannot possibly seek to improve without input from a supervisor or colleague. A walkthrough observation is not complete without some type of follow-up conversation. This can be as informal as making sure you drop into the teacher’s room after school to comment on the positive practices you saw, to offer suggestions for improvements, and to share your walkthrough paperwork. In our iObservation system, our teachers log in to access their completed forms. They can start an online conference in a confidential message-board-type-forum with the observer to answer any questions that were posed, or interactions can occur via the iObservation email system. The reflective practice component of walkthroughs is vital.

3. Talk to students!

I do not complete a walkthrough without talking to at least one student in the classroom. Questions I typically ask include, What is your essential question for this lesson? What do you think your teacher wants you to learn as a result of completing this activity? How will you know that  you have learned (insert objective here). How do you know your work meets the standards set for you? I also enjoy when students read their writing to me or show me their latest project work. If I am observing learning centers, I like to join in the fun!

Walkthrough observations were recently the topic of discussion on the #cpchat and #edadmin hashtag on Twitter, so be sure to check out the meaningful discussions to learn more. This year, I hope to expand the use of iObservation for peer-peer learning walks and observations. Administrators and teachers, please consider commenting on this post with walkthrough practices you’ve found to be most effective, or most ineffective.

It's people, not programs

One of the most positive aspects of interacting with other educators via social media, whether it be Twitter, Ning communities, or a meeting of the minds such as the Reform Symposium, is the array of talented individuals working in education today. It is quite apparent to me that there are extraordinary teachers and administrators participating and sharing their ideas in these forums. What makes these teachers stand out from the rest? What qualities do these administrators have that make us want to follow, want to emulate, their lead?

Todd Whitaker’s What Great Principals Do Differently was on my summer reading list. Whitaker examines 14 qualities of “Great Principals.” This is a fast read, but a compelling one. As a principal I could envision a real-life scenario of every aspect of quality leadership Whitaker described. His points caused me to pause and reflect about how I could have handled a situation differently, how I could have approached a teacher’s behavior rather than her belief, and how I needed to serve as the “filter” for my school. I hope to elaborate on these points in my next several posts.

It’s people, not programs.

Isn’t this the truth? How often do schools, teachers, and administrators buy into a program or tool, thinking (hoping, praying) it will be the golden ticket to improved reading scores, or math fact fluency, or a more positive school climate? Too often. This year we tried a new math fact fluency program. After hearing from our teachers at grade level meetings that our students could use a boost in fact fluency, I researched various programs. I read reviews and consulted with former colleagues who used the program, so I thought it would be the perfect fit. I provided teachers with the program framework and all necessary documents and folders, and also showed examples of how “real live teachers” included it into their daily routine. The results were definitely mixed. Some teachers embraced the program and integrated it seamlessly into their math instruction. Others struggled with the maintenance of the student folders, tasks, and how to include it in their schedules. The program was the same for all teachers- what varied was how the teachers approached this new idea, and that was because I needed to abandon the “one size fits all” approach to implementing this program. Instead I should have provided varied levels of support to teachers to accommodate the different levels of understanding and comfort with the new tool.

As you prepare to start your new school year, consider the changes your teachers will face with curriculum transitions, new programs, and updated procedures. Focus your efforts on the people, not the programs, for the greatest benefit to students.

The best part about learning through social media? Not the tools or the programs. It’s the people!

Hands together

Leadership Day 2010


Are you an educational leader, formal or informal? Are you a blogger? If so, participate in Leadership Day 2010, the brainchild (one of many) of Scott McLeod. Today’s post is my contribution to this valuable endeavor.

Last night I passively participated in my first Open Mic Night sponsored by the PLP Network/Will Richardson & Friends, where the topic was “Rethinking Leadership.” This is my third year as elementary principal, and almost from the start, people started identifying me as the “technology” person or in conversations acknowledging, “We know you’re a fan of technology…” and I wonder, How did that come to be? Is it because I spent my last year of teaching as the K-5 Computer Education teacher? Doubtful. Perhaps it’s because I:

  • would rather send daily updates via email rather than waste everyone’s time before or after school in a meeting
  • developed a wiki for the building to share information, online resources, and shared documents
  • encouraged and supported my teachers in utilizing their classroom websites and keep my school district website up and running
  • presented to the school board the wonderful things our faculty was doing with new technologies in the classroom and to communicate with families
  • utilize Google docs for most of our surveys and “paperwork” tasks
  • created a school Twitter account (still only 5 followers, but after my planned introductory Twitter work with parents next year, I expect more!)
  • shared with administrators our wiki and my principal’s blog
  • post videos of students and their work on our website
  • advocated for the purchase of new technologies for the buildings and go head-to-head with the IT supervisor (only when necessary, of course!) to ensure our teachers and students have what they need, and that their equipment is functional
  • model the use of Wallwisher and Prezi and other tools in my presentations with staff members
  • agreed to serve as the district K-6 technology integrator and coach and have been working on infusing 21st century standards into the curriculum and designing professional development opportunities for teachers

As I type these accomplishments, I feel like I’m bragging, but truthfully, I am intrinsically motivated to keep learning. I want to help others learn. How can you be a part of such an amazing PLN and not want to spread the wealth?!

I am amazed to find that I created my first Twitter account in February 2008 while attending the Pete & C conference. I had two followers, one of which was my husband! For about one year the account went forgotten. I can’t exactly recall what sparked my newfound interest in Twitter last fall, but I am pretty sure it was #edchat. Once I realized there was a growing network of experienced, innovative, inspirational educators that gathered together every Tuesday night to discuss current educational practices and issues, I was hooked. I installed Tweetdeck, and the rest is history. Sometimes I wonder why in the world one person would want to follow me, let alone 792 people, but then I realize- we ALL have something to contribute. And that is the message I bring to Leadership Day 2010.

Many of last night’s “Rethinking Leadership” discussions focused on leaders as visionaries, and how to inspire staff members and other administrators to transform their practices to include changing technologies and methodologies. I think the title of the discussion says it all, and will be the focus of my work with staff this year.


Reconsider ONE THING (to start) that you do that could be done DIFFERENTLY. Consider new literacies. Consider new modalities. TRY something NEW. Take RISKS. I will SUPPORT you. Together, we will help our children learn and love to learn. It will be hard! It will be scary! But as long as we rethink and reflect upon our practices on a daily basis, and as long as we ACT in order to better ourselves and our work with students, we will see amazing transformations in our school.

No, I don’t think leaders need to be adept with every single new technology out there. How is that even possible? I feel strongly that they do need to be the “pulse” of what’s available, however. How can you do that? Join Twitter and develop a PLN. Start locating blogs and get your Google Reader up and running. Read, read, read. And if a teacher comes to you with a new idea, for heaven’s sake, research the tool/idea, determine how it meets your students’ needs, and support them. Advocate for change. Get your teachers on board. Start small, celebrate successes, and great things will happen!

Happy Leadership Day!