Questions about communication.

CC Licensed Photo Shared by Melvin Gaal
CC Licensed Photo Shared by Melvin Gaal

One of my district’s recent projects has been thinking through and seeking to transform the way we communicate via digital means. These are some questions that come to mind when I contemplate digital age learning and communication.

Dear Superintendent,

If I were a parent moving into your district, would I be able to access quality information about your schools online? Not just test scores and state report cards – but a real, true, authentic look into the classrooms and learning in your schools? Would I be able to Like your school’s Facebook page and follow your district on Twitter, and receive timely updates in my own social media streams or through a district app? Does information from your district come to me? Or do I have to go out and find it myself? Can I comment on and re-share district news?

Are there methods in place for informing me about issues in times of crisis? Is it clear where and how I should be locating that information and/or how the information comes to me? How can I easily find out about your district’s policies and procedures? Are directories readily available so I can contact who I need to, when I need to? How do you collect, store, and protect my child’s data? Who do you share it with and why? How can we access our child’s data at any time?

Are you proactive in publishing critical news and updates to community members or reactive after stories hit the local news?

Do your communications clearly share your vision for learning and the resources, concepts, programs, standards, and instructional techniques used to help students achieve? Do I know what your leadership team hopes to accomplish this year and beyond, in five years? Ten years?

Are all subgroups and populations equally represented in communications? Can I find as many stories about learning in the primary classrooms and emotional support classrooms as I can about high school sports achievements?

How do you accommodate for families who do not have Internet access available at home or Internet-enabled devices? Are your communications able to be easily translated for speakers of other languages? Are your district’s facilities opened up to the public to allow those without access to stay current and engage with your online spaces? Are paper communications used to reach all stakeholders in the absence of connectivity? What are you doing as a school leader to help local and government leaders get access for everyone in your community?

Do you have an online presence as a learner? How do you model for your staff and students that you continue growing and learning as a leader? Do you communicate efficiently, effectively, and consistently with your staff?

Am I a welcomed visitor on your campus? How will I feel that I am welcomed?

Dear Principal,

I want the best for my children, as I know you do. When I want to learn more about your school, can I go to your school’s blog or website and see learning taking place? Does your online presence demonstrate to the public why your school is a special place to learn? Why are your teachers special? Students? Staff? Community? Who are they? What do they believe in? Does your school’s vision and mission shine through in all of your communications? What events and activities are being shared to spark excitement and interest in your school community? How are your postings and your online presence modeling respectful and powerful online communications? Can I see photos of learning in action? Do you use Instagram or Flickr or similar to allow glimpses into daily school life?

Does your district respect the demands on my time as a busy, working parent, offering various structures (online and offline) and opportunities for learning and for parent involvement? Are there Twitter chats or Google Hangouts or live streams of events that I can attend virtually if I can’t attend in person? Are things archived for easy access after events? Are there regular opportunities for parents to provide input on various aspects of school life?

Can I find common forms on your website, things I can access quickly and easily? Schedules, handbooks, menus, bus information, directory information, policies, procedures? Do you report daily or weekly happenings in the form of school news or interactive bulletins? Do you offer the same benefits for your staff through consistently-maintained information processes?

Am I met with smiles when I enter your school’s doors?

Dear Teacher,

You spend countless moments day in and day out creating stimulating learning environments and designing learning experiences for our children. Do you communicate the ideas shared in class with your students’ families? Do your students’ families know what your class values and admires and works to achieve? If my child was in your class, would snapshots of the week’s learnings be available to me through your class blog or website, or your class’s Twitter feed or Facebook page? How can I communicate my questions and concerns with you? How do you involve my child in the communication process? How is my child expected to share his learning with you, with me, with his peers, and with an authentic global audience?

Do you share what you do with other teachers who are looking to bring the best they can to their students? Do you freely share resources, ideas, content, and time with your both your local and global colleagues, knowing that in the spirit of reciprocity you, too, will benefit from what others share? Do your students know you are a learner first?

Is my feedback welcomed and encouraged? Can you help me understand the difficult work that you do in a way that helps me best support my child?

Am I met with smiles when I’m welcomed at your classroom door?

Dear Parent,

Don’t settle when it comes to your child’s school’s communication methods. You deserve to understand the full breadth and depth of your child’s learning experiences and to be embraced as part of the learning community. Your voice deserves to be heard and acknowledged. You should expect not only to be involved with your child’s school, but to be engaged.

 

What else should we be asking ourselves about the way we communicate in school communities?

Principal Evaluation: A book review

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No stranger to the work of James H. Stronge (our district used The Teacher Quality Index to design our teacher selection/hiring process), I was pleased to review a copy of Principal Evaluation: Standards, Rubrics, and Tools for Effective Performance to learn more about Stronge’s frameworks for principal evaluation.

I’ve written on the topic of professional development for principals and administrators and principal evaluation in the past, and, like teacher evaluation, the process of principal evaluation is tricky business. The job of the principal is multifaceted and complicated. Developing a framework to fairly evaluate the effectiveness of a principal’s areas of influence has to be a near impossible task. Every principal’s role is different due to the unique compositions of our schools and communities. To standardize it is laughable.

However, are there certain characteristics all strong principals possess? Most agree there are. So what are those characteristics, and how can we measure the extent to which a principal possesses them? (Because, as we all know, in public education, if we can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist.) Ahem.

Stronge’s book is organized into three parts:

  • How to Build an Evaluation System That Works – provides a conceptual framework for designing a principal evaluation system and how to build a system using a solid foundation of research-based performance standards
  • Comprehensive Set of Principal Performance Standards, Indicators, and Rubrics – presents seven performance standards and indicators with corresponding rubrics.
  • Principal Evaluation Steps, Guidelines, and Resources – a practical set of tools that districts can use to implement a system in their schools

So why is a principal evaluation model needed? Stronge states that meaningful principal evaluation is important “because quality principals matter, and because principal evaluation matters.” He presents the reader with a wealth of evidence about the value of the principal in effective schools, including their impact on teaching and learning and establishing a positive climate for their schools. Stronge emphasizes that people matter when it comes to improving school effectiveness, and that we need quality evaluation systems in place in order to discern if our principals are effective. Without these systems, we can’t hope to improve principals in order to increase school effectiveness.

Stronge’s standards are comprehensive and include:

  1. Instructional Leadership – Creating a Vision, Sharing Leadership, Leading a Learning Community, Monitoring Curriculum & Instruction
  2. School Climate – The Principal’s Role, The Stakeholder’s Role, Trust, Shared Leadership
  3. Human Resources Leadership – Selection, Induction & Support, Evaluation, Retention
  4. Organizational Management – Safety, Daily Operations, & Maintenance, Fiscal Resources, Technology Resources
  5. Communication & Community Relations – Effective Communication, Communicating with Families, Communicating with the Larger Community
  6. Professionalism – Professional Standards, Ethical Behavior, Professional Development
  7. Student Progress Indirect Influence, Focus on Student Goals

Standards 1-6 are performance standards that represent what the principal should know and be able to do. Standard 7 represents the need to evaluate principals based on the results of their work. These standards are aligned to the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) standards. 

Stronge makes the point that

principals exert both direct and indirect influences on schools and the people who work and learn there. Thus, the framework of principal effectiveness should not only contain standards related to the processes of leadership, but also to the outcomes.

The model is outlined in the next section of the book. The framework includes performance standards with accompanying performance indicators and a performance appraisal rubric for each. Here’s an example (p. 66):

Screen Shot 2013-04-27 at 10.28.27 AM

Stronge identifies the standards, performance indicators, and appraisal rubrics as the “basic building blocks” for principal evaluation in his system. The remainder of the text details how to document principal performance, rate performance, and use principal evaluation for professional growth and improvement. Recommended data sources include self-evaluation, informal visits and observations, document log (principal’s blog, anyone? Perhaps used in conjunction with the self-evaluation process for reflection? portfolio building?), climate surveys, goal setting.  The rating section of the book details how to calculate scores based on the evidence collected and accompanying rubrics using a four-level rating scale. I glazed over that chapter.  The last section of the book includes information for districts wishing to implement the system.

I jumped to the “Professionalism” section of the rubrics so I could see what was included in terms of personal professional development recommendations for administrators. Forming a PLN and sharing with connected networks are important venues through which an administrator can grow. I’ve lived it. This could be included in performance indicator 6.9: Assumes responsibility for own professional development by contributing to and supporting the development of the profession through service as an instructor, mentor, coach, presenter, and/or researcher. Stronge highlights research from various sources that indicates the need for principals to serve as “lifelong learners” and to participate in development networks with other principals. There are few references to technology use in the framework. One is in the description of the Organizational Management standard, where it is expected that principals support implementation, include technology use in their school’s vision, and support scheduling and use of equipment. There’s nothing specific in terms of technology in the performance indicators, and no compelling argument is made in terms of ensuring principals themselves stay current and/or model the use of technologies themselves. To be fair, the framework states performance indicators “include but are not limited to,” so districts and schools could easily craft their own to meet the standards based upon individual needs.

In summary, Stronge’s model is very comprehensive. With so many performance indicators (there are 13 alone under the Instructional Leadership standard), it is definitely no small undertaking to attempt to implement and use this system with all principals in a school district. I shudder at the thought of the paperwork that accompanies this framework (like all similar frameworks). I’d hope for districts to consider putting the emphasis on self-directed learning using these standards as a guide. The principal could determine where he/she needs support and improvement, develop a personal growth plan, and work with their colleagues and expanded networks to achieve their goals. I think the many important qualities of administrators such as trust-building capacities, climate shaping, and instructional leadership are covered thoroughly.

What are your thoughts on Stronge’s model? What essential elements has he included? What’s missing? Can this model be used realistically in our schools today? What positive experiences with principal evaluation models have you had?

For districts interested in utilizing Stronge’s work to craft their administrative evaluation models, ASCD offers a study guide on the work here.

Until we meet again…

there-are-far-better-things-ahead

Dear Principalship,

It’s been quite a ride.

I transitioned into administration in the summer of 2008, not knowing what to expect. But, after 9 years in the classroom, I welcomed with open arms (and a whole boatload of nervous) the new adventures you’d bring.

It’s hard to summarize in a single post the valuable leadership lessons I’ve learned over the past five years. I’ve blogged about many of them. I don’t want this post to be a total rehash of everything I’ve ever written about the life of a principal, so suffice it to say that serving as the principal of Brecknock Elementary School has allowed me to learn about myself as a person, teacher, leader, manager, caregiver, organizer, disciplinarian, partner, mentor, mentee, coach, supervisor, friend, teammate, and student.

I laughed, and I cried.

I will greatly miss interacting with my students on a daily basis. (Understatement of the century). When I thought my day couldn’t get any worse, I’d see one of their smiling faces, or one of the kids would say something so innocent and ridiculous I’d laugh my head off. Thank you, students.

I worked with a large number of teachers during my principalship. New teachers, veteran teachers, and teachers somewhere in between. Teachers with a variety of strengths, needs, and all inspired by the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child. Thanks to the teachers who supported me, challenged me, and everything in between 🙂

Thanks also to all of the members of my PLN who’ve supported me over the past five years, who’ve read and shared my work on leadership, and who’ve joined in the conversations both here on my blog and on Twitter. Thanks also for your support of my webinars and conference presentations. I appreciate everyone at Connected Principals (not sure if I’m permitted to post there anymore 🙂 and the educators who contribute to #cpchat and #edchat. I’m so grateful for the contributions of these communities. Much love also to Powerful Learning Practice and all of the plpeeps! You’ve all nurtured me as a learner and leader, in one way or another.

The bad news? I suppose I’ll need a new title for my blog!

The good news? I’m not going anywhere!

I’ll be serving as our district’s elementary instructional technology integrator beginning next school year. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work closely with teachers and staff seeking to best integrate technology into our classrooms and to help bring about “the shift” that is so necessary in the ways in which we approach teaching and learning for today’s learners. I’ll have the chance to design professional development, co-teach, coach teachers, and facilitate student project work. The position will afford me with the freedom to pursue my passions and to help teachers get connected and transform learning experiences for their students.

Thankfully I will still have many leadership opportunities, and this summer I’ll be teaching both my first college course to prospective principals (tech for administrators!) and an online course for admin through PLP (check out the details here, because I’d love for you to learn with me!), so I’m very excited about my continued role working with school leaders.

If you’re reading this post, please please comment with the names and blogs and Twitter profiles of people I should connect with to help me be the best I can be in my new role. What hashtags should I follow? What do I need to know? What can I learn to extend my thinking and strengthen my skills in this area? Reach out to me here, on Twitter, via email… thanks in advance!

I could write this farewell post ten thousand times over and remember fondly a different aspect of the principalship each time. I’m looking forward to change, growth, and to new beginnings.

Goodbye, Principalship. Until we meet again… because we will, someday.

 

 

 

Looking forward to learning with you!

On Monday, August 13, 2012, I’ll be facilitating four webinars for the Simple K12 Teacher Learning Community as the “spotlight” presenter. Join me!

10 AM EST – Getting Your School Started with Blogging – the what, hows, and whys of blogging for schools interested in getting started with student, teacher, and/or administrator and school blogs

11 AM EST – Google Apps for Streamlining Tasks: An Administrator’s Guide – easy ways to utilize Google Apps to make your life (a little) easier as a school administrator

12 PM EST – Innovative Professional Development: Host a Fed-Ex Day! – ideas for how to spice up professional development opportunities for your staff including the use of the #edcamp model, Fed Ex days, and other non-traditional types of PD

1 PM EST – Free Web Tools for Administrator Communication and Collaboration -an overview of some of the online, interactive tools administrators can use to enhance communications and collaboration within their learning organizations and among networks

Click on any of the above links to register. While much will be shared to guide the administrator in learning more about these topics, teachers and other educators are encouraged to attend. Hope to see you there!

Professional development for educational leaders- a follow-up post and request for input

A short while ago I posted Learning as Leadersa personal reflection of my experiences with our state’s PA Inspired Leaders (PIL) initiative. Our state enlisted the services of National Institute for School Leadership, NISL, as one of two curriculum providers for our state’s program. NISL has “worked with Pennsylvania to develop state standards for school leaders, design training programs that give participants the skills to meet these standards, and create assessment tools that measure the effectiveness of the program.”

Apparently at least one person reads my blog, because the post and its contents found their way to the PA Department of Education and supposedly to the NISL folks in Washington. The PIL program leader contacted me the week after my post was published and asked me to call him to discuss my experiences.

I nervously called the program leader, not sure how the organization would view my constructive criticism. We had a great conversation, and he shared that he and others had been working to ensure the program could continue to be funded for the future. He closed by asking me to put together my ideas for how the program could become more collaborative/networked in nature and meaningful for participants.

I think this is a really exciting opportunity, and I’m pleased that I have the chance to share my thoughts on this issue, even if the ideas never come to fruition. That being said, I know some folks at PDE and NISL are likely bothered by the fact that I publicly reflected upon my program experiences. I’m okay with that, because, honestly, we’re asked to put our feedback in writing after every single session. The evaluation form asks participants to rate the facilitator, the session’s organization, content, etc. on a Likert scale, and I’ve watched my table mates simply check off boxes to be able to get out of the room in a timely manner. Many do not leave descriptive feedback in the comments sections. I know there are other participants who share my sentiments, whether they chose to express them on those evaluations or not. My reflections found an audience, and for that I am grateful, especially if it helps to bring about positive change.

I’d like to reiterate that the NISL program content is very powerful, and I’ve been able to apply many of the concepts learned in my work as an administrator. The course organization and content delivery, however, assume that all administrators in the PIL program are in need of the exact same type of professional development, delivered in a one-size-fits-all-we’re-going-to-lecture-to-you-now mode. That has been my experience.

The online content portal lacks depth and includes no capabilities to connect with other course participants. I’d be interested to know how many principals actually spend time engaged with the online material. It includes specified areas for reflection- a “journal” if you will- but the mechanisms for doing so are cumbersome and do not allow for a continuous flow of reflective thoughts to enhance practice. The inclusion of a reflective mechanism for both individual reflections and those that could be shared with colleagues across the state would be very beneficial.

And while the issue of “powering down” during training sessions was irksome to me, and while most of the administrators and PIL facilitators I encounter in face-to-face PD sessions are not yet utilizing technology tools to facilitate their own learning experiences let alone the learning of others, the changes necessary to better connect administrators across our state and develop cohesive networks of school leaders are going to necessitate the use of internet-based, social media and communication tools.

In my PIL experience, some facilitators were able to better engage participants than others. Those facilitators planned opportunities for meaningful participant-talk time. As I stated in my previous post, most of us are just longing to have the time to speak with other administrators and learn how they are handling issues and strategizing in their schools. Our PIL cohorts are localized mainly to our county, with a few principals from neighboring counties in attendance. Imagine the power if we connected PIL participants across the entire state via social networks and created the mechanisms for true learning communities to blossom?

Over my past five years in educational administration, no matter how many principals I speak with, no matter if the principal works in a small rural school or a bustling urban district, and whether he has 2 or 20 years in the principalship, one thing remains certain: administration can be a lonely gig. To be the most effective leaders we can be, we need access to one another. We need to develop strong networks of support, resources, and knowledge. There is great value in developing personal and professional learning networks. More and more educators are starting to realize this, and they’re learning to use digital tools to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge that exists in the minds and hearts of educators around the world. Consider, too, that the U.S. Department of Education has declared August Connected Educator Month and has worked with a number of learning organizations to plan and share webinars, online professional development, and opportunities for collaboration among educators worldwide. I have professionally benefited from being a connected educator, and I know many of my administrative colleagues have as well. There is power in the network.

So, where does that leave us with planning professional development for educational leaders?

I’d love your help. I’m asking my fellow administrators and educational leaders to please take a few moments of your time to reflect upon your own professional development experiences and share them with me through the survey below. Direct link here. Also feel free to email me lynhilt@gmail.com and/or send your thoughts via tweet @l_hilt.

Your honest feedback on learning as an educational leader and the conditions necessary to yield the most powerful professional development possible will help me craft my ideas to share with PDE. I greatly appreciate your time and involvement in my PLN! Many thanks.

Edcamp Leadership

Dr. Timony’s session at Edcamp Leadership – photo by Kevin Jarrett

One week ago I attended the first Edcamp Leadership, held in Monroe, NJ. The event was attended by a lot of friendly folks from New Jersey and surrounding areas, including administrators, teachers, tech integrators, curriculum specialists, and other fine educators. I was especially excited to meet valued members of my PLN Akevy, Shira, and Jason for the first time!

For those of you unfamiliar with the Edcamp model, the day’s learning sessions are created and presented by the event attendees. Participants sign up on the “board” to share sessions throughout the day. Attendees then choose from the menu, and the “vote with your feet” rule applies: if you don’t like the session you’re in, up and leave and head to another session. There’s a focus on conversation and making sure the day is meaningful for you as the learner.

I attended a number of sessions, ranging from learning more about Evernote and its use in schools to a discussion about personal preconceptions and how they shape our supervision and evaluation of teachers. Here are some highlights of the sessions I attended last week.

Evernote – There are a lot of uses for Evernote in schools, most of which I’ve never fully explored. I mainly use Evernote for personal notetaking, thankful I can access my notes from any device. I will sometimes use the web clipper, but again, I’m not sharing my clippings with the world. I asked the Twitterverse how they’re using Evernote in schools, and many admin chimed in that they use them for note-taking during observations and walkthroughs, which can then be shared with staff (and some even include photos). Our session facilitator referenced Nick Provenzano’s Epic Evernote Experiment, which I recommend to any teacher interested in learning more about how to use Evernote with students in the classroom.

Google Sites for ePortfolios – I stopped into a session about the use of Google Sites since we are a Google Apps school, and I’d like to encourage the use of portfolios for student use. This Livebinder of resources was shared.

#satchat – Brad Currie and Scott Rocco began #satchat to involve educators in rich discussions of educational topics. Held Saturday mornings at 7:30 AM EST (thus my struggle to attend on a regular basis ;)), the Brad and Scott are passionate about learning and leading and did a fine job facilitating a session about the power of the PLN. To learn more about #satchat and the tools and features they use to support this endeavor (such as Storify, which I used only once, but found I really like), check out this post.

He, She, They, We: Tools for Faculty Evaluation and Development with @DrTimony – I always try to attend David’s sessions, because he’s wicked smart and I go in hoping some of his intellect will jump off of him and land on my shirt or my shoes or something and somehow seep into my brain. Our central question was, “How do our unspoken perceptions influence evaluation before decision-making occurs?” He referenced Michael Polanyi and tacit knowledge and its impact on our supervisory roles of teachers. We talked about good design and how something that is designed well requires few, if any, instructions to work it properly. How do our inherent feelings lead us to reasoning (making excuses to ourselves); how do our pre-cognitive decisions made by our brain (our brain is out to get us, I remember that clearly from EdcampNYC) force us into an agenda our brain has already put in place? When we start to process our perceptions, we start to make good headway. We can then intervene on our pre-cognitive decisions and prejudices. And while we can’t always change our prejudices/feelings that we have, we can use mechanisms to help us deal with them. We discussed frameworks for supervision and evaluation and the tools we could use to ensure we’re observing in an objective, constructive manner. Shira suggested asking four nonjudgmental prompts during walkthroughs to assist with this process: “I Notice, I Wonder, What if?, How might?” These questions help shape reflections and conversations following the learning walks.

David continued to stress the importance of observing in a purely supervisory role, not evaluative in any way. I struggled with this concept, because as an administrator, truly everything I see in a classroom could be taken into account in an evaluation. Do I think supervision needs to exist in its truest form to promote professional learning? Definitely, but it’s really hard to make that distinction sometimes. I know other administrators share that sentiment. On the whiteboard David reminded us Supervision = Coaching; Evaluation  = Judging.

Many participants shared that they became uncomfortable when being observed, whether by a single administrator, a team of observers, or by peers. One teacher said her students “froze” when the admin team walked in with their laptops. That, to me, indicates a bigger problem: the administrators/observers aren’t a regular presence in the classroom or school. The culture of the school should support a sense of openness: We don’t teach behind closed doors here, everyone is welcome at any time!

Conversations swirled around the term “effective practice” – determined by whom? What is the evidence of effectiveness? Are we asking students, “What are the characteristics of the most effective teacher you ever had?” Will those responses be the same for every student? Does every effective teacher practice the same way as every other effective teacher? What tool are we using? Checklists? Rubrics? David remarked that we use these standardized tools in a “prophylactic sense.” We want to be protected from what we might write in a more qualitative fashion in an observation report.

So, do our supervisory and evaluation methods operate under the assumption that everybody gets the same thing? Or does everyone get what they need? What’s alarming to me, is that in Pennsylvania and many other states, the teacher and principal evaluation systems have been revamped to be highly standardized, insanely time consuming, and tied to standardized test scores. I am being trained in this system in a few weeks and am eager to find the opportunities for teacher autonomy in professional development that districts can hopefully intertwine into the standardized process. A colleague of mine who has piloted the new system shared the details surrounding the 11+ page paperwork completion process for one formal observation, and I think I blacked out for a minute or two.

Some final thoughts on Managing Change, a session led by @dle59 (sorry, can’t find your actual name on your Twitter page!), who shaped the conversation around Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My CheeseYes, change is uncomfortable. Yes, we work with people who are entitled. “I’ve been teaching for 25 years! I’m entitled to doing things my way!” Yes, change is possible, even in large organizations, and many come to realize that it was silly of them to resist change in the first place. A great analogy was shared by a participant who asked us to consider professional athletes who are in the game too long. “It’s sad to watch, actually.” And then there are others, who realize that physically they can’t perform the way they used to, the way that’s necessary for the growth and performance of the team as a whole, so they find other ways to contribute to the profession. Look at your role. Find ways to be effective in this time of change.