Out with professional development, in with professional learning.

Image by Doug Johnson

As a classroom teacher I engaged in several years of “professional development” before transitioning to a role of technology specialist, my first opportunity to design and facilitate learning sessions for my colleagues. Now as a building administrator, I often think back to the PD I experienced as a teacher.

There are very few instances I can recall with clarity. I can’t tell you most of the the topics discussed. I fail to recall activities we completed. What this indicates, to me, is that I was not a learner in those instances. I do have a rather clear picture in my memory of the workshops offered by Apple trainers when we were learning to use our new MacBooks. Perhaps those days are memorable because I’m a Mac-junkie, but more likely, it’s because I was an active participant in my learning on these occasions. We completed projects. We collaborated in teams. We were given autonomy and owned the day. We learned.

Consider the last time you experienced professional development offered by your school or district. Were you engaged in learning? How do you know? How did your learning impact your practice and influence student learning outcomes?

Learning Forward, formerly known as the National Staff Development Council, has undergone an important shift in focus and message: from one of development to one of learning. Stephanie Hirsch, Learning Forward’s Executive Director, reported in Education Week on the council’s release of the newly revised Standards for Professional Learning.

These standards call for a new form of educator learning. The decision to call these Standards for Professional Learning rather than Standards for Professional Development signals the importance of educators taking an active role in their continuous development and places emphasis on their learning. The professional learning that occurs when these standards are fully implemented enrolls educators as active partners in determining the content of their learning, how their learning occurs, and how they evaluate its effectiveness. The standards give educators the information they need to take leadership roles as advocates for and facilitators of effective professional learning and the conditions required for its success. Widespread attention to the standards increases equity of access to a high-quality education for every student, not just for those lucky enough to attend schools in more advantaged communities.

The standards are of great interest to me as an administrator who is charged with planning and implementing professional learning opportunities for my teachers and staff. In particular, I was curious to see how the standards addressed the need for educators to connect and collaborate with other educators in a variety of ways to enhance learning opportunities. I wanted to know:

How do these standards guide educators in “taking an active role in their continuous development”?

Is there a balanced approach that includes and respects teachers’ desires to individualize learning through professional learning network connections?

Is there ample opportunity for teachers to own their learning, supported through the typical professional development structures of a school system?

Hirsch’s quote in bold is quite meaningful. I appreciate that the standards focus on teachers as learners. Teachers are not to be treated as vehicles through which schools deliver programs and policies. This, in my opinion, has been the focus of traditional professional development frameworks for way too long.

Teachers, like students, are first and foremost individuals who have passions, interests, and an inherent desire to learn. The goal for administrators should then become how to foster the learning spirit in each and every one of our teachers through a system of learning opportunities that cater to their individual needs. This, in turn, will ignite a true excitement for learning in our teachers, which will transfer into their practice. The result? Students who spend their days with teachers who exhibit a true desire to grow professionally and who model that learning matters.

The revised standards emphasize collaboration & community

Educators can access the Standards for Professional Learning via Learning Forward’s website. They are organized into 7 domains:

Learning Communities: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students occurs within learning communities committed to continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and goal alignment.

Leadership: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students requires skillful leaders who develop capacity, advocate, and create support systems for professional learning.

Resources: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students requires prioritizing, monitoring, and coordinating resources for educator learning.

Data: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students uses a variety of sources and types of student, educator, and system data to plan, assess, and evaluate professional learning.

Learning Designs: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students integrates theories, research, and models of human learning to achieve its intended outcomes.

Implementation: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students applies research on change and sustains support for implementation of professional learning for long term change.

Outcomes: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students aligns its outcomes with educator performance and student curriculum standards.

Am I thrilled to see that Learning Communities is a component of the standards? Absolutely. As I addressed in my recent Reform Symposium presentation, Teachers as Learners, adult learning is enhanced through collaborative opportunities with colleagues that focus on shared passions, visions, and goals. Learning Forward describes learning communities as necessary to ensure continuous results for students, the development of collective responsibility, and the achievement of goals.

Within this domain, it is encouraging to see the standards highlight technology use as an integral way to form and foster a virtual learning community:

While some professional learning occurs individually, particularly to address individual development goals, the more one educator’s learning is shared and supported by others, the more quickly the culture of continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and high expectations for students and educators grows. Collective responsibility and participation foster peer-to-peer support for learning and maintain a consistent focus on shared goals within and across communities.


Technology facilitates and expands community interaction, learning, resource archiving and sharing, and knowledge construction and sharing. Some educators may meet with peers virtually in local or global communities to focus on individual, team, school, or school system improvement goals. Often supported through technology, cross-community communication within schools, across schools, and among school systems reinforces shared goals, promotes knowledge construction and sharing, strengthens coherence, taps educators’ expertise, and increases access to and use of resources.

This component is often neglected in typical “professional development” plans offered by school systems. How can we work to include more variety in the types of learning communities we’re forming and supporting? This coming year several of my teachers are working to implement The Daily 5 framework into their literacy blocks. I purchased books for them to read, and they will be meeting in study groups and observing classrooms throughout the year to support one another.

But some of my teachers took their learning a step farther. This week I was so pleased to see some of them engage in the #daily5 hashtag chat on Twitter. I had no idea they knew about the chat (I didn’t!), yet they sought out support and felt the desire to collaborate with other teachers who have experienced implementation of this framework. I watched as they shared ideas and knew they were indeed learning from this experience. This wasn’t dictated by our PD plan. It was something they had a passion for learning more about, and they used their PLN to facilitate their learning in this area.

I am also pleased that Leadership is a component of the Learning Forward standards. The Standards state that Leaders of professional learning are found at the classroom, school, and system levels. For far too long we have neglected to recognize our own teachers as experts in the field. Our teachers need to be given the opportunity to lead learning for their colleagues. It is essential to allow teachers to run district and school workshops and design and implement their own PD. How is this supported?

To engage in constructive conversations about the alignment of student and educator performance, leaders cultivate a culture based on the norms of high expectations, shared responsibility, mutual respect, and relational trust.

What do we need professional learning to be?

We need teachers to

  • be active participants in the learning process, one supported through a culture of trust
  • determine what content is important to learn
  • decide how they will best learn and implement this content
  • collaborate with others in communities of learning
  • assume leadership roles in the learning process
  • evaluate how effective their learning has been, including systemic reflection

To become more familiar with the Standards for Professional Learning and how they can support the frameworks you develop for teacher learning in your school, I recommend reading the research-base supporting each component, as well as checking out the FAQs and More FAQs shared by Learning Forward.

If you are a teacher, how will you take ownership for your learning this year? How will you communicate your needs to your administrators? If you are an administrator, how will you design and implement opportunities for your teachers to learn this year?

Written for the Powerful Learning Practice Voices blog. Originally posted on August 18, 2011.

The bar has been raised.

“How do we get reluctant administrators on board with utilizing technologies to communicate, connect, and collaborate?”

This is one of the most prevalent questions I encounter when chatting with educators on Twitter, through informal conversations, and in presentations I’ve shared. It came through loud and clear in the Connected Principals ISTE session that teachers want their administrators to value the opportunities to use technologies to enhance learning opportunities for students and to encourage collaboration and connected learning.

I decided to roll with Scott McLeod’s prompt suggestion of: Using the National Educational Technology Standards for Administrators (NETS-A) as a starting point, what are the absolutely critical skills or abilities that administrators need to be effective technology leaders?

How do reluctant administrators begin? By owning up to the fact that their participation and leadership in this area is essential. It’s crucial. This is one of my favorite graphics that Scott created:

In my opinion, it can happen…. I’ve seen many rogue teachers propel their classes forward in a manner not necessarily supported or understood by the administration. But it’s not easy. And it’s not systemic. And it won’t be as meaningful for all kids as it needs to be.

The NETS-A was developed with a critical understanding that the bar has been raised for school leaders. A school leader who wishes to “create and sustain a culture that supports digital age learning must become comfortable collaborating as co-learners with colleagues and students around the world” (aka “I don’t do technology” is no longer acceptable.)  Also, this framework seeks to help school leaders propel their organizations forward as members of “dynamic learning communities.” Vision is vital.

The NETS-A are organized around 5 major themes: Visionary Leadership, Digital Age Learning Culture, Excellence in Professional Practice, Systemic Improvement, and Digital Citizenship. 

If you are an administrator, read the descriptions of the components of each category and ask yourself, “Am I there yet?” If so, how will you influence and develop others in order to contribute to the shared vision? If not, how will you begin to develop professionally in order to get there? So you can get your teachers and kids there?

Visionary Leadership: Educational administrators inspire and lead development and implementation of a shared vision for comprehensive integration of technology to promote excellence and support transformation throughout the organization.

Key ideas: all stakeholders; purposeful change; maximize digital resources; exceed learning goals; support effective instructional practices; develop and implement technology-infused strategic plans; advocate for this vision at the local, state, and national levels

Digital Age Learning Culture: Educational Administrators create, promote, and sustain a dynamic, digital-age learning culture that provides a rigorous, relevant, and engaging education for all students.

Key ideas: ensure instructional innovation; model and promote effective use of technology for learning; provide learner-centered environments to meet the individual needs of students; ensure effective practice in the study of technology and infusion across curriculum; promote and participate in learning communities that allow for global, digital-age collaboration

Excellence in Professional Practice: Educational Administrators promote an environment of professional learning and innovation that empowers educators to enhance student learning through the infusion of contemporary technologies and digital resources. 

Key ideas: allocate time, resource and access to ensure ongoing professional growth in technology fluency and integration; facilitate and participate in learning communities to nurture administrators, teachers, and staff; promote and model effective communication and collaboration using digital tools; stay current on the latest educational research and emerging trends in educational technology to improve student learning

Systemic Improvement: Educational Administrators provide digital-age leadership and management to continuously improve the organization through the effective use of information and technology resources.

Key ideas: lead purposeful change to maximize achievement of learning goals through appropriate use of technology and media-rich resources; collaborate to collect, analyze, and share data to improve staff performance and student learning; recruit highly competent personnel who use technology creatively and proficiently; leverage strategic partnership to support systemic improvement; manage and maintain a robust infrastructure for technology

Digital Citizenship: Educational Administrators model and facilitate understanding of social, ethical and legal issues and responsibilities related to an evolving digital culture.

Key ideas: ensure equitable access to appropriate digital tools and resources to meet the needs of all learners; model and establish policies for safe, legal, and ethical use of digital information/technology; promote and model responsible social media interactions; model and facilitate a shared cultural understanding and involvement in global issues through the use of communication and collaboration tools. (ISTE, NETS-A, 2009)

When I read over these components, none appear glaringly over-demanding.  I cannot image an instance where an administrator wouldn’t consider these competencies important enough to at least begin to acknowledge, given the needs of our children who walk through our schools’ doors each day. Is it going to happen in a year? No. Will competencies and the expected skill set of a principal change continuously throughout her career? Yes. Are the daily demands of a principal exceedingly unreasonable and intolerable some days? Absolutely.

But I think where it begins is with connections. It begins by developing a supportive network of peers that can enhance your comfort and familiarity with the components of these domains. I think where it begins is with no excuses. Try something new. Read about the latest. Communicate in a different way than you did before. You’ll find that you like it. Empower your teachers and students to help you develop in this area professionally, and share what you learn with others.

In last year’s post for Leadership Day, I reflected upon my experiences utilizing various technologies in my role as an administrator. I conjectured about how it came to be that I became so comfortable with the tools and connecting, collaborating, and communicating via social media. I re-read the list of ways in which I used technology to communicate with my school community and further my own professional growth, and this made me realize that my knowledge base has blossomed in so many different directions since Leadership Day 2010. I owe much of this to to the ever-expanding network of professionals I have the privilege to engage with each day and my own self-driven desire to continue to learn more about the benefits of connected learning. Thank you to everyone who continues to contribute. A post recently written by Jon Becker really made me think. Yes, many of us are good at sharing, collaborating, creating. But what do we have to show for it? How can we demonstrate our growth in ways that demonstrate the impact on student learning? I am going to set a goal of sharing more of those stories this year. Of working to ensure what happens in our classrooms isn’t necessarily about the latest tool or gadget, but rather has a focus on learning.

It’s Leadership Day 2011! I hope you’ll add to the conversation!

Getting to “I Can”

Educator Kiran Bir Sethi shared this inspirational message in November 2009, so perhaps you’ve already heard the story of how she and her colleagues in India’s Riverside School empowered their students to lead change among themselves, their school, their community, and their country. I just recently viewed this talk and found her message to be so simple, so real, and so attainable that I wished to share it with you.

Sethi sought to design a process that could “consciously infect the mind with the “I Can Button.” She believed that if learning was embedded in real world contexts, thus blurring the boundaries between school and life, that children would embark a meaningful learning journey. The steps of this process involve students seeing the change, changing themselves, and then leading the change in others.

Aware – Enable – Empower

Feel – Imagine – Do

This process directly increased student well-being and allowed students to become more competent and less helpless in their own learning. I was so intrigued by Sethi’s descriptions of the authentic examples of how her students changed the perceptions of child labor in their community. Having first lived the experience, they enabled themselves to transform their own thinking. These experiences changed mindsets. They caused her students to passionately educate and lead adults in their community to understand more about this issue. And these weren’t high school students taking to the streets with their message- these were 10 and 11-year olds.

The “I Can” mindset is a shift from “teacher telling me” to “I can do it.” Isn’t this what we want for all of our students? How can we make this happen in our classrooms on a daily basis? This technique may seem well-suited for lessons involving the social sciences, but what about math? Reading? What about the pressures for students to succeed on those pesky standardized tests?

The Riverside School parents had the same questions. While they appreciated that their children were becoming better human beings, they said to Sethi, Show us the grades. As she replied in her talk, And we did. Her students outperformed the top 10 schools in India in math, reading, and science. When children are empowered, they have the tools they need to do well in all aspects of their lives and education.

The Riverside School students influenced their city to devote time and “give to the children” because in the future, the chlidren will give back to the community. As we debate over tax increases to fund our schools and deal with incessant budget crises across our nation and beyond, I sometimes think our taxpayers and politicians fail to recognize that an investment in our students’ education is an investment in human capital. We want our children to return to the communities that educated them, and use their gifts to enhance our lives in many ways. Sethi’s students inspired their communities to recognize this important fact.

Sethi ends with, Contagious is a good word.  As we work to inspire children to say, “I can,” their enthusiasm will empower us as a learning community to say, “We can.”

How will you infect your learning community this year?

You know who you are.

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user always be cool

So a little bird tweets me that there is some sort of list out and about that has my name on it. Neat-o!

Only, upon further inspection, I examined the list and realized, Hey. Let’s all simmer down here. The fact that my name appears on that list is silliness. I know for a fact there are other edu-tweeters out there that are waaay more influential than me. (And have a significantly higher Klout score, for what it’s worth. (Not much.)) Plenty of fantastic people are represented, from whom I learn an awful lot on a daily basis. But this post is not going to debate who should or shouldn’t be on that list. To do so would give it even more attention than it warrants.

What’s worth recognizing is that the list exists. And why is that? Because someone is paying attention to us. We, as a collective network of educators who care about children and their futures, are sharing with one another on a regular basis and helping to influence our practices in positive ways. People are noticing.

I’m thinking about my network. I can easily name ten people who influenced my practice today. Do I need to publicize it in a list? No.

You know who you are.

This influence is not limited to the intertubes, of course. I’m considering the people who’ve shaped me into the educator I am trying to be today. Most of those people aren’t on Twitter. They don’t blog. They don’t have Facebook accounts, can’t get into Google+ no matter how many invites they receive (thanks for nothing, Google), and they surely were not at ISTE. But their influence, care, compassion, and support have forever changed me. They’re the people that demand I put the phone away when we’re out to dinner. Or at an administrative retreat. (I was taking notes, I swear!)

You know who you are.

Tonight I was all set to compose my post-ISTE reflection post, and it seems as though I am now going to combine both my reflections of that event with my ramblings about online popularity. They’re weirdly related.

Cliques. Clusters. Cadres. Cohorts. Cavorting. Cackling. Keynotes. Abuse of alliteration. Cafes. Conversations. Contempt for Comic Sans. Connected Principals. Some sort of fancy dance. All of this and more, at ISTE 11! Many of the ISTE reflection posts have focused on the power of relationships, the importance of conversations, and the jr.-high-esque social mentalities that can ensue when you bring a whole bunch of people together. #sigh

I’d like to highlight two of my favorite memories from ISTE. First, this: Kids displaying their awesomeness. Like this sharp-dressed young man:

who eloquently explained how his school’s project involved using technology to improve our Earth’s ecology. I listened to his podcast using ear buds that probably 100 other people placed in their ears. And I didn’t really care. He shared his thoughts in carefully dictated English, his second language, mind you. This group had it made. They sent out recruiters – pint-sized bits of adorableness- into the crowds to ask attendees, “Do you want to hear our presentation about technology and ecology?” Heck yes, I do. And then they led me to the booth. Gold.

To the kids who inspire me every day, from those in my first sixth grade class to the children I only briefly interacted with at ISTE: You are amazing. You know who you are.

My second favorite memory of ISTE is Irene from the Newbie Lounge. I wish I had taken a photo of  Irene. She was truly awesome. By no means in her first years on the job (or her first twenty years), Irene sat on the couch with her iPad 2 and called out, “Can you help me with this?” as I walked by, with just a few minutes to go before our Connected Principals panel session. (Thanks, by the way, to everyone who attended. It was slightly overwhelming.) I wanted a bottled water desperately. I glanced at the mile-long concessions line longingly and then thought, What the hell am I thinking? This person needs me. So I sat with Irene for about twenty minutes and walked her through the process of bookmarking a website on her Safari browser. She was truly astounded that whenever she wanted to visit that wiki filled with resources from the last session she attended, she could just go to her bookmarks and … poof! There it was. She was so happy. I was so happy.

Irene, thank you for centering me and helping me realize how much I love being a teacher. I will agree with others that the shared conversations in hallways, cafes, museums, sidewalks, and #Edubros venues were certainly well worth the price of admission. I became a tad bit emotional having to say goodbye to some very good friends on my last day there. Yes, I said it, friends. Real live avatar-people that turned into friends. Shocking! Thank you to the presenters and attendees, young and old, who inspired me at ISTE.

You know who you are.

I guess, that in the end, that’s all that really matters. That you know the positive influences you have on the work and lives of others. I agree with Kristina that many of us felt as though something was missing before we developed this supportive network of professionals via Twitter, blogging, and other media. The connections have certainly added value to our lives.

Yet in a way I also disagree. I am not so sure that something was missing so much as it was lost. Lost inside of each of us. After experiencing powerful learning, working to positively influence others, and doing the right things for kids, every one of us should be able to examine our personal accomplishments and be proud. Be very, very proud. We will make mistakes, falter, and lose our way. We will share ideas and then take too long to act on them. Just pick yourself up, put a plan in place, do something, and continue to be awesome. No list can define our ability to do so. Only you can make that happen.

You know who you are.

Leading the charge.

In many school districts, when summer arrives, administrative teams come together for the annual “admin retreat.” When I first heard this term, I envisioned principals and central office personnel packing up their camping gear, overdosing on bug repellant, and venturing into the Pennsylvania woods somewhere to discuss the trials and tribulations of the role of the administrator. For the past two years, my experience with the admin retreat has consisted mainly of day-long meetings (drowning in data) held in overly air-conditioned rooms (how can I concentrate on all of this delectable data if my body temperature is 92 degrees?) at a local conference center or golf course banquet hall (greens fees not included).

Not so this year.

Kudos to my superintendent for exploring alternative options for our retreat this year, as we spent the day immersed in stories of leadership through the lens of the American Civil War, on the battlefields of Gettysburg. Battlefield Leadership, led by former school administrator Dr. Michael McGough, was highly engaging, personally relevant, and one of the most meaningful days our administrative team has spent together.

Interwoven through his detail-rich tales highlighting the people, places, and events that comprised the battle of Gettysburg, Mike used examples of Civil War leaders’ thought processes, strategies, and character traits to shape our understanding of various leadership styles and provide us with essential principles for educational leaders. He often referenced Jim Collins’ Good to Great, John C. Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, as well as wisdom shared by Lee Iacocca in Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

I’d like to share with you several of the leadership principles and ideas we discussed yesterday.

  • “A leader without followers is just a person taking a walk.”
  • A leader understands her role in the organization.
  • A leader doesn’t allow his followers to forge ahead without first surveying the lay of the land. He leads from the front, but he always gauges where his team is, and knows how he will adjust if necessary.
  • Great leaders always have a plan B. And a plan C. A great leader is always focusing on his next move in checkers, not the move he’s about to make.
  • True leaders breed other leaders.
  • Powerful leaders know the people they’re leading. Build relationships.
  • “The absence of leadership is chaos.”
  • The people you’re leading should always know exactly what you’re asking them to do. When there are communication lapses, it causes frustration for both the leader and his followers.
  • Leaders understand that they are part of the emotional framework of the organization. They lead with civility and compassion.
  • Always be willing to adjust long-term goals based on short term successes and strategies.
  • What one thing made Lincoln such a powerful leader? Unwavering vision. (Did Lee lack this quality?)
  • A leader knows the difference between winning and not losing.
  • A great leader concerns herself with the critical mass. She does not base her effectiveness on the accolades of the two people who think she walks on water, nor the two people who criticize her every move.
  • Ego-driven leaders are not true leaders.
  • You’ll never hear the bullet that hits you.
  • Leaders effectively and eloquently react to unexpected circumstances.
  • Leaders are directly responsible for some successes, and others are delivered to them by successful team members. Know the difference. Recognize and celebrate the team members who bring the organization success.
  • It is essential for a leader’s followers to respect the leader and what he does. It is not essential for a leader to be well-liked by everyone in the organization.
  • Leaders know when to admit defeat and take responsibility for it.
  • Leaders have the desire to express a lot of things… but true leaders know what’s appropriate to express and how to do so.
  • Leadership is time, place, and situation sensitive. Leadership can be studied, refined, and augmented to meet any condition.
  • When issuing directives, make it clear whether you want the task completed effectively or efficiently. Dedication to one may be at the cost of the other.
  • A great leader knows where a person best fits within the organization. He delicately and personally evaluates each person’s performance and moves them to another role if necessary for the good of the organization.
  • Leaders make sure to differentiate between fact and opinion when someone else delivers information to their door.
  • It’s not degree or pedigree… true leaders are born of hard work. True leaders are tired at the end of the day.
  • Leaders understand the power of words and know how to use them.

We were asked to consider each thought in the context of our role(s) within the learning organization, and I encourage you to do the same. At the start of our day, we were given green and yellow index cards. Our task was to consider our goal-setting, our strategies, our actions, and jot down things we wished to stop doing on the yellow cards, since these things were not contributing to or aligning with our ultimate visions. On the green cards, we were to document ideas for how we might improve in an area or do things differently. At the conclusion of the day, we sealed the cards in separate, self-addressed envelopes, which we will receive anytime over the course of the next six months. These short messages will serve as reminders of our day together and all that we have learned.

If you would like to inquire about this learning experience and how it can serve your organization, Mike can be reached at drmike3@comcast.net. Many thanks to Mike and my administrative colleagues for a day immersed in history, learning, and camaraderie.

Fill the empty.

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user esti

He who has seen everything empty itself is close to knowing what everything is filled with.
Antonio Porchia

The classrooms are empty. Our hallways are vacant. When I walk in cafeteria, no little hands pass me their milk containers to open. No whistles, shouts, or cheers can be heard on the playground. No one is inquiring, “Are you busy?” while peering inside my office. The flood of emails in my inbox has ceased. No calls from the office letting me know a parent has stopped by to see me.


I sat with one of my teachers in an end-of-the-year conference after students’ final dismissal on Monday, and our conversation continued on into its twentieth minute and beyond. Her eyes were clearly glossy and she seemed quite overwhelmed with the idea of going back into her classroom, knowing the students wouldn’t be there.

“It’s not the same without them. I don’t like it in there.”


The last month of school was quite the learning experience for me. Wrapping up my third year as principal, I figured I could stick with my same routines and timelines and finish off the year at a relatively low stress level. I was mistaken. It made me consider how very different each year of teaching is as well. No teacher and no administrator can be satisfied doing things the way they’ve always been done. Our roles encompass the ever-changing, spontaneous, magical, surprising, evolving world of personal learning. No two days are the same, and that’s why I love this role so much. For a few different reasons, I wasn’t quite prepared for the changes this year brought. Too bogged down playing “catch up” to appreciate my role. Unable to make connections between the tasks I was fervently completing and student learning. Unable to articulate and find time to share with others. This is very overwhelming place for an administrator to be, but I am certain every one of us has felt this way.


Many administrators are twelve-month employees and therefore find themselves in need of a shift in motivation throughout the summer months. The children and teachers that inspire and excite us for work each day aren’t present when we arrive at our school buildings, and it’s easy to get bogged down with menial tasks: checking things off lists; tidying up files and paperwork; finalizing schedules; budgeting, ordering, etc. My former principal used to tell me how torturous the summer months were for him, and that he’d purposely schedule time to drive to other elementary schools within the district where summer school classes were hosted so he could visit with students! He felt empty otherwise.

Another source of emptiness may derive from the necessary reflection that occurs once the hustle and bustle of school days has passed. I don’t know about you, but I have made mistakes this year. Others have made mistakes as well. These mistakes have caused strain in our organizations and lives. While it is very hard to do, I am trying to forgive myself for these mistakes, and not forget, but rather learn from, the decisions I’ve made. It’s imperative to look ahead with a positive outlook. It’s essential as a leader to reflect critically and use that newfound knowledge to make wiser decisions in the future. It’s never healthy to hold grudges against oneself or others, or carry over negativity from one school year to the next. Clean slates. Fresh starts. Opportunities for growth. Forgive and learn.

Admittedly, there are definite positives to completing managerial tasks over the summer. Doing so ensures you’re not missing any action in the classroom. It helps you become more prepared for the year ahead. The more things you “cross off the list” over the summer means the less time you have to devote to those tasks in the fall.

So while I accept that there are many tasks I need to complete this summer – sitting in all-day data analysis meetings, tweaking master schedules, developing an improved system of school communications, working on our elementary technology integration matrix, etc., I plan to do so from a perspective that requires me to consider, “How will this positively impact learning for my students and/or teachers?” If the answer is, “It won’t,” then, quite simply, I’m not going to do it.

Ryan Bretag shared a great piece recently called Bringing Ideas to Life. He shares that while many educators talk about the innovative and wonderful things they’re planning to do in schools, where we fall short is with the action and implementation of those goals. This summer I want to focus on making sure my actions match my shared philosophies. That the ideas we brainstormed together as a faculty this year are brought to fruition. With each summer brings amazing opportunities for learning. People to meet. Books to read. Ideas to share.

I’m going to fill the empty. But only with the good stuff.

Principal for a day!

My guest blogger today is Alecia, a sixth grade student at our school who entered a raffle drawing to win the prize of Principal for the Day…. and what a fantastic prize it turned out to be, not just for Alecia, but for me. 🙂 Alecia has been a strong presence in our building today, observing classrooms, interacting with students, completing fun tasks like student birthday cards and helping me prepare for our Students Rebuild paper crane project for Japan, as well as serving as photographer for our 10-Picture Tour!

Here are Alecia’s photos, with descriptions of why she chose to showcase these areas of our school, as well as some reflections about what it’s like to be a principal! Thanks for a great day, Alecia!

1. Our main entrance - I picked this picture because this is where we come in and out of the school from.
2. Our library - I like this picture because this is where we do our research.
3. Our art room - I choose the art room because this is where we do our crafts.
4. Our multi-purpose room - The multi-purpose room is were we do multiple activities such as gym, music performances, and it turns into our cafeteria at lunch time.
5. Our wall of teachers - I choose the wall of teachers because it shows who works in our building.
6. Our front showcase - I choose the front showcase because it just shows an Easter/spring theme.
7. Our quilt - I like the quilt because it welcomes you to Bowmansville.
8. Our hallways -The hallways were chosen because they show student work!
9. Our computer lab - I picked the computer lab because it shows the students hard at work.
10. Our mural - Everyone in our school got to help make the mural by placing a tile on the project.

Alecia ~ what did you enjoy about your day as a principal? What did you learn? What advice do you have for anyone who wishes to become a principal?

I enjoyed being a principal. It is really fun just to go around and see what other kids are working on and just to be able to be in charge of the school is really cool! Some advice I have for people who want to be a principal is just to be understanding with children and have fun!

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.


Living on the edge.

Shared via Imagebase

Since much of the most relevant knowledge on the edge is tacit knowledge, edge participants naturally place a heavy emphasis on building diverse networks of relationships that will help them to collaborate more effectively with others in the creation of new knowledge. For this reason, conferences and other gatherings where participants can share stories and experiences, learn from each other, and identify potential collaborators become particularly prominent on edges. The Power of Pull (Brown, Davison, Hagel)

Do you live on the edge? Are you an educator who uses the power of pull to access, attract, and achieve in shared, passionate-filled learning spaces? Having recently attended Edcamp NYCEducon and Pete & C, with ntcamp Burlington to follow next weekend, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that the educators involved in the passion-driven organization of these events harnessed the power of pull to make these learning experiences a reality for attendees. What’s so great about gathering together in these types of learning environments? Why do so many of us count down the days until the next Educon, Edcamp, Ntcamp, ISTE…  what’s in it for us?

As our passions become our professions, we begin to see how social networks can provide us with an unparalleled opportunity to achieve our potential by allowing us to access resources and attract people who can help us while we help them. We construct our own personal ecosystems, an interesting blend of local relationships and global relationships, and a mutual leveraging occurs.

Not long after arriving in Philadelphia for Educon, I was surrounded by familiar faces. How was that possible, considering I had never before met most of those with whom I interact in the Twitterverse? Because we’ve spent the last few months…years… connecting. We’ve reached out to one another in times of need, shared our excitement and successes, and revealed personal tidbits of our lives to help connect with one another. Throughout that weekend, I was able to engage in meaningful discussions about learning (and sometimes nonsense), breaking free of the 140-character limits to really get to start to build relationships with the educators in attendance. There was much laughter, camaraderie, and a little karaoke. Once the connections are made, they require attention. Forming meaningful relationships requires time and a lot of hard work. Those of us in attendance benefited from face-to-face interactions that provided a whole new insight into the hearts and minds of our colleagues. These interactions allowed us to identify those with whom we could exist “on the edge” and continue learning from.

Edges are places that become fertile ground for innovation because they spawn significant new unmet needs and unexploited capabilities and attract people who are risk takers.

Would you describe your school as a “fertile ground for innovation?” Most would not, although I think some of us are starting to see glimpses of what is truly possible! This is because in many organizations, businesses, and schools, push is the preferred mode of operation. Teams of administrators or policy makers forecast needs based on past performance, then design efficient systems using a standardized method to ensure that the right people and resources are available to meet system goals. We push standardized curriculum, lesson plans and strategies, and learning materials onto students and teachers. Push models treat consumers as passive recipients of information, and can lead to boredom and stress among program participants. These conditions are necessary in a push environment because they yield somewhat predictable results that can then feed into the cycle of forecast planning. Push programs are important when explicit knowledge is valued over tacit knowledge. But I do not believe any of us want our students to be passive, bored, and stressed recipients of information that may or may not be relevant to their lives and learning.

Pull differs from push in that it escapes institutional boundaries, seeks to help individuals realize their fullest potentials, and values knowledge flows and experiential knowledge more so than standardized bodies of unwavering factual knowledge. The authors of The Power of Pull examine three powerful levels of pull: access, attract, and achieve:

At the most basic level, pull helps us to find and access people and resources when we need them. At a second level, pull is the ability to attract people and resources to you that are relevant and valuable, even if you were not even aware before that they existed. Think here of serendipity rather than search. Finally, in a world of mounting pressure and unforeseen opportunities, we need to cultivate a third level of pull—the ability to pull from within ourselves the insight and performance required to more effectively achieve our potential.

Pull also requires awareness of trajectory (what’s your vision?), sufficient leverage (how will we best use the passions and abilities of other people?), and the best pace (how fast will we move with these changes?) to make meaningful forward progress a reality in a world that’s constantly changing.

Sometimes it truly amazes me how I managed to assemble such a powerful learning network of educators in such a short period of time. Serendipitous encounters definitely played a role, facilitated by social media, as I know others have also experienced. We can’t be satisfied with the connections we’ve made, however, and not continue to branch out and bring new people to the edge. A comment that has often been made following an Edcamp or Educon is, “Well we’re all just preaching to the choir. Everyone here gets it.” Let’s get new people on board so they, too, can connect, build relationships, and contribute to the tacit knowledge flow that we all seek to learn from. As we increase the number of people we connect with, our ability to pull from that network grows. Doing so will help us all achieve the third level of pull, where we reach within ourselves to achieve our fullest potentials.

The subtitle of this book is How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion. And isn’t that what we’re constantly discussing, debating, and detailing? The educational reform movement is a “big thing” that we are starting to put in motion with each one of our smartly made, small moves. We have to continue to connect, build relationships, share knowledge, and live on the edge to make our collective ideas the new reality for today’s students.

Cross-posted on Connected Principals