Get connected and make a difference.

Originally posted on Connected Principals

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user fauxto_digit

When I taught sixth grade science, our students were immersed in learning about wildlife characteristics, environments, and patterns in nature in relation to the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and our surrounding region. For weeks we explored and discussed the habitats and migratory cycles of raptors, plant life, conservation, as well as the formation of the “river of rocks” and other natural phenomenon that delighted children and helped spark in them a real desire to learn more about the environment. Our culminating day-long adventure to the sanctuary (just a short drive from campus… lucky us!) provided students with an appreciation for, and deeper understanding of, the beautiful and fascinating world of nature that surrounds them.This is a unit that was important to us personally, as residents of the Hawk Mountain area. Yes, there were PA science “standards” that related to our content, but we delved deeper. Had we only covered the required content standards at surface value, it would not have yielded as many benefits for students.This week’s #edchat was about how to close the gap between connected and non-connected groups of educators. I appreciate the many comments that pushed my thinking, like from Jon Becker who inquired whether I believed that if teachers/educators were not connected they weren’t learning or growing professionally. My response?

In one way, this planning for and inclusion of the Hawk Mountain experience in our curriculum required a certain level of connectedness among staff and the local area. At some point, teachers recognized the importance of including this environment in students’ learning experiences, and they made it a point to plan for that. It involved connecting oneself with the sanctuary in order to plan for the field trip, access resources, etc., as well as connecting with one another in order to plan for a meaningful unit for students, as there were many cross-curricular connections developed.

Later in the #edchat conversation questions were raised about how we determine if teachers are growing professionally: what measures we use, how we use data, why we use it, who should be evaluating teachers and how, should we be considering other measures, why are we measuring everything, can we measure what’s important? And so on, and so forth.

Frankly, if you are not a connected educator at this point, you may not have an awareness that we are at a critical juncture in education. These driving questions must be answered. If you are not a connected educator, how can you support your own professional growth and the success of your children if you are not constantly questioning, re-evaluating, and striving for improvement?

It’s clear we’re not the only ones raising the questions above. We know our politicians and government systems (read: non-practicing educators) are working to design and implement common standards (the Common Core is coming for you, too, science). They are determining for schools across the country what’s important to teach. How do we feel about that? Where are the very important elements of local control and student ownership in all of this? Mary Ann reflects on Common Core’s definition of what types of text students need to be read in order to build comprehension. Will wonders, what do we absolutely need to teach?

And to improve student learning outcomes we need to ramp up teacher evaluation systems, correct? The “latest and greatest” systems rely heavily on student achievement data to determine teacher effectiveness. Principals and central office administrators are trying to wrap their heads around the new state-issued teacher evaluation systems that are draining their time, energy, and according to at least one principal, their passions. Increased principal presence in the classroom? Yay. Getting lost in 3-4 hours of cumbersome rubrics and paperwork per observation? Nay. Superintendent Kimberly Moritz ponders, How are we going to do this work? In Pennsylvania, a new teacher evaluation system is set to be implemented, where 50% of teacher evaluations are based on students’ standardized test scores and growth data. Should we consider perhaps more comprehensive standards of learning for our teachers in order to promote true professional growth?

Administrators, get connected. First, with yourself and your beliefs. What do you know about your communities and students, and the world in which we exist? What is important for children to know and be able to do? If you don’t know – find out. FROM KIDS, the community, and others around the world. Next, connect with your own school and administrative councils. Consider what you’re asking your teachers to teach; why you’re doing so; how you’re evaluating the effectiveness of the learning environments in your schools; when and how often you’re going to push the status quo and start demanding changes in your school’s curriculum, assessment, teacher evaluation systems, and instructional methods in order to provide more authentic learning for your children. Get connected. Make your voices heard among bodies of decision-making leaders, starting with your own administrative council and moving beyond into your state and national organizations.

There are schools and systems out there that are getting it right: they’re designing innovative learning experiences for students, and those students have immense ownership over their learning; they’re being guided by a curriculum in which they have personally invested time, effort, and input because it contains great value for the learners and places emphasis on skills such as creativity, critical thinking and global engagement; they understand how to most effectively evaluate teachers and their impact on student learning. Connect with these schools. Learn from them.

We can’t lose sight of what we know is important. We can’t lose the chance to engage our children with the beauty of the Hawk Mountains of the world. Being a connected educator is so much more than Tweeting some resources and reflecting in a blog post. Get connected and make a difference.

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!



Jessica Hagy - Indexed

Every now and then, a student is sent to my office. I don’t encourage this practice, because I feel as though a classroom teacher with whom a student has developed a personal relationship is in the best position to help transform a so-called “discipline” situation into a learning opportunity. As I peruse through office referral records over the years, it never ceases to amaze me that the students in our most engaging classrooms never seem to find their way to my office door. (Unless it’s for a good reason, like to play ping-pong or deliver a birthday treat.)

So if our students are bored, or frustrated, or have no direction, what is left for them to do? Find something better, of course. To a child, something “better” may be trying to get a laugh out of classmates. Deciding to draw, read, stare out the window, not raise his hand, go for a bathroom break, take a pencil off of a neighbor’s desk. Throw it at someone.

The good news is, a teacher has all of the power to ensure that child is not bored by providing engagement through challenging, yet appropriate learning activities. A teacher can ensure a child who is feeling frustrated receives meaningful feedback, engages in dialogue about learning, and supports him every step of the way. (Insert smiles… a lot of smiles.) A teacher can provide direction to a student. This does not come in the form of, “Well, it’s March, so we always learn about ecosystems in the fourth grade in March,” but rather helping the child explore content in a way that’s personally relevant, while allowing him to take ownership of passion-driven, student-centered learning opportunities.

This premise isn’t limited to children. If I was bored, frustrated, and had no direction, I’d go off looking for something better to do, too. This is so important for educational leaders to understand. How are we making sure our teachers aren’t bored? Boredom can lead to a sense of complacency, where a teacher feels comfortable delivering the same lessons year in and year out, in the manner in which they’ve always done so. Are any of us okay with that? Simple acts like sitting down with teachers to discuss their future goals, finding out what they’re passionate about, and with which colleagues they would like to collaborate; allowing for Fed-Ex days of discovery and inviting them to explore alternative avenues of learning such as through Twitter and attending #edcamps (was so excited two of our teachers attended #edcampphilly last weekend, with more set to attend #ntcamp this July!); helping them see that the role of educator is far more complex than a person with a teacher’s manual stationed at the front of the room.

Frustration spawns negativity. No one wants to feel frustrated in their work, particularly educators. As principals, we can ensure we are not imposing directives without justification, resources, time, or supportive efforts. Have an open door and ask input from your teachers. Everything we do in our schools should relate back to organization’s shared vision and mission. It should be clearly defined and should drive all decisions.

This year I’ve seen tremendous growth in my teachers’ willingness to relinquish control of instruction and place learning in the hands of their students. I am particularly proud of my Powerful Learning Practice cohort. Their growth and enthusiasm for our action research project and the work they did with our students this year was evident at our culminating event a few weeks ago. It was so nice to see them beam with pride when describing their students’ engagement, connections made, and collaborative activities to the other PLP participants. They’re meeting with our entire faculty today to share their experiences, and I know they’ve been true leaders throughout the year for our staff. Our involvement in PLP asked us to consider the shifts in thinking about education and apply those shifts to our classrooms, and I know this was at times exhausting and overwhelming for our cohort, but we were never bored. The challenge to succeed for our kids kept us going…

Keep your parents and community engaged, as well. We have a very supportive group of parents who contribute daily to our learning. They volunteer in classrooms, help organize assemblies and events, comment on our students’ blogs, and provide much needed care and support to our entire school.

Educators everywhere are beginning to realize that if our public schools are places where students and parents experience boredom and frustration, and the organization lacks direction, people are going to go elsewhere to have their educational needs met. They have already begun doing so.

It’s time to re-engage: our students in their learning, our teachers in their work, our administrators with their visions, and our communities with our schools.


Good reads.

Two things I know: Teachers are busy people. Teachers (should) love learning. Keeping both of these aspects in mind, I wanted to plan to provide the gift of reading to our teachers for Teacher Appreciation Week. I am introduced to so many meaningful titles throughout my online scavenging, and I knew my teachers would appreciate reading one…  many… all of the books I’ve come across.

I asked my Twitter friends what books they’d recommend to my staff… and, as usual, they did not disappoint.

Recommended Reads for Teachers on PhotoPeach

I compiled my tweeps’ results about recommended books on this Google Doc here: PLEASE ADD TO THIS LIST and share with others!

I ended up buying 5 copies each of 7 different titles. I invited my teachers to peruse the selection either individually or with their grade levels teams, and choose a book of interest. I encouraged them to read the book and to generate discussions about the content with their grade level/team peers, then return the books to the specially designated shelves in the library and choose another! I’m looking forward to the conversations sparked by these books throughout the summer and next year!

Crossing the finish line.

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user iman Khalili

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

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

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

These are my take-aways:

On happiness:

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

On accountability:

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

On homework:

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

On passion-based learning:

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

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

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

The president of my parent-teacher organization approached me about the film and asked if I thought it would be beneficial for her to view. I agreed it would be, and she is taking a group of our parents to see the film in a few weeks. I wonder how this movie’s message will cause them to view their roles differently?
One of my colleague principals had a chance to view the film, and I feel it’s important for us to share our thoughts with the rest of our administrative team. I wonder how this movie’s message will cause them to view their roles differently?

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

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

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

A new year to rise above.

A new year. What awaits you in 2011? Many of us will resolve to set goals, both professional and personal, and execute plans to achieve them. Others will welcome the adventures of each brand new day with no particular plan for doing so, except to follow their intuitions, make decisions based on what they feel, and allow past experiences to guide them.

I think goals are important, but I’m not a fan of yearly resolutions. Maybe I failed to follow through on many of them in my life. Maybe I become just a tad cynical when I see the gym filled with new members in January and can’t seem to locate those same faces in the crowd in March. I rather like Jeff Delp’s plan of attack: Every Day a New Year. Each day, set a few goals for yourself. And then accomplish them. Pretty simple.

When we were growing up, every New Year’s Eve my father made us write down where we’d be in life in 1, 5, 10, 20 years, and we’d seal each year’s predictions in an envelope and read them only when that year arrived. For me, this exercise was absolute torture. I nailed some of the professional predictions- I’d be a teacher. I’d be a principal. Some of my personal goals went unattained, as they do for many of us. I’d continue to ask, Why do we have to do this? What is the point?

The point, that I’ve only recently come to realize, wasn’t to make us feel as though we didn’t accomplish all that we’d set out to accomplish. The point was for us to dig within ourselves and imagine what we wanted our lives to be and believe wholeheartedly that we could bring those dreams to fruition. It was a simple exercise that caused us to step out of our current reality, envision an ideal future, and reflect upon how, and if, we could make those visions a reality.

2010 was an interesting, change-filled year for me. Had I been asked last New Year’s Eve to write down what my life would be like on 1-1-11, I am fairly certain my predictions would only be about 27% accurate. Life is funny that way.

I am putting my faith in the resolution above: to rise above the little things. At work and at home we’re going to get hit every which way with the unexpected. There will be attempts to derail us. Whether your goals or your intuition (or both) guide you, may 2011 be the year that you achieve all that you set out to achieve, and may you be happy doing so!

It's automatic.

CC licensed photo shared by inane_ramblings
CC licensed photo shared by inane_ramblings

The other day I stopped my car at a 4-way, stop signed intersection. (Really, truly stopped, not one of those I-bet-if-a-cop-was-watching-me-right-now-I’d-get-ticketed-slow-rolling-pauses.)

I glanced to the right, saw another car had arrived a few seconds before I did, so I paused to allow that car to proceed before I moved ahead.

I’ve done this probably one bazillion times in my driving life. For whatever reason, this time I reflected on how truly remarkable it is that this process, this act of allowing a driver to your right to make the first move at an intersection, came to be automatic in my driving repertoire. Yield to the right.

I don’t much think about it. I just do it.

What processes have become automatic to us as educators? Which of these processes benefit student learning? Which detract from it?

I pondered these lists of automatics…..

Automatic (and they shouldn’t be)

Screen shot 2010-12-22 at 7.51.24 PM

Automatic (and they should be)

Screen shot 2010-12-22 at 7.51.08 PMIn rereading Blink, I began to appreciate the skill of being able to assess a situation at first glance, and with a certain gut instinct and an ingrained set of background knowledge and experiences, make an important decision in an instant. As administrators, we’re presented with a seemingly endless stream of conflicts and situations that need resolutions. Some of them are solved in an instant. Others require patience, evaluating all facets of the problem, and involving other stakeholders in the decision-making process.

The skill, then, is not necessarily being able to solve problems in an instant, but being able to differentiate among which situations require a more thought-out solution and those that can be solved in a cinch. Automatically.

I’d love to hear your automatics and your reflections on how they impact your daily practice and student learning opportunities. A holiday break is upon us, and I hope to be able to find the time to reflect upon the things that I do daily, automatically, and decide how my priorities need to be better aligned to serve students. How should I more wisely spend my time? How can I better support my teachers? How can I work more collaboratively with my administrative team members? How can I promote student autonomy in the learning experiences we design?

If the willingness to improve doesn’t become automatic for us, we won’t yield for that integral reflection, and we deserve to be ticketed.

It's about people.


Yesterday I spent a considerable amount of time renaming my Google Reader feeds. While I’ve come to recognize many of the titles in my Reader, I did not often associate the blog title with the person behind the virtual pen.

I didn’t like that.

I love scouring these feeds for inspiration. Educators (and students!) from all over the world post their ideas, stories, projects, what they’re reading, and what influences their practices. Their words jumpstart my professional drive and often make my heart swell with admiration for the work with children these educators do.

Computers don’t compose blog posts. People do.

I read a lot of “About” pages and learned more about these blog writers than I ever knew before. And to be honest… if I couldn’t find an author’s name via the blog or a link to Twitter, I re-evaluated keeping the feed in my Reader.

I more closely relate to this

Screen shot 2010-10-11 at 6.48.59 AM

than this

Screen shot 2010-10-11 at 12.00.25 AM

At our school we host events like Moms and Muffins and Dads and Donuts -healthy, I know 🙂 -because there is nothing more gratifying than having hundreds of people packed into your gymnasium, engaging in conversations about loving our kids.

1:1 programs, iPads in the classrooms, Smartboards… schools are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into the latest and greatest technologies for their classrooms and student/teacher use. Without quality professional development with connections to learning, are the investments worth it?

Technology/curriculum/standards/programs/policies don’t ensure our children learn. People do.

We’re embarking on a year-long professional development series this week with our elementary teachers focusing on “the shift” in teaching and learning and how we can utilize various technologies to help students delve more deeply into their learning experiences. I will be working with teachers that teach in my building, but also those from two other elementary schools within the district. Teachers in our cohort have been asked to complete some prerequisite activities before our meeting this week, one of which was to watch Shift Happens: 3.0 and reflect upon its contents. Their comments were quite impressive. While some expressed anxiety about potentially becoming buried in an avalanche of new technologies and others were concerned that we will “never catch up,” this insightful reflection reminded me of how the tools are just a small part of what we need to bring to our students:

I think that one of the major implications of “the shift” is that students need guidance and practice in developing strategies to acquire, analyze, and act on the information and communication opportunities that are available through technology so that they will be prepared for whatever technology, tasks, and challenges they will eventually face in their careers. -jhixson

Can technology do this? No.

People can.

You and I can. We can.

Remember that people, and relationships, come first when our shared goal is to provide the best possible learning experiences for students.  Sustainable leadership will only result when people come first.

Go team!


The title of our staff’s latest shared Google presentation was, “Go Team Brecknock!” I’m not sure what compelled me to name it that, but I think it’s because the first hour of our morning (before we provided teachers with sweet freedom to collaborate with their grade level peers for the remainder of the day), our discussions focused on the “state of our school,” an overall look at some data trends, where we are, where we need to go, and how we’re going to get there. We are a team, working toward the collective goal of improving learning experiences for all children.

No single person can move a school, therefore team dynamics become critical. We modeled our own professional learning community work after DuFour’s model. One of the “big ideas” of Dufour’s PLC is A Culture of Collaboration:

Educators who are building a professional learning community recognize that they must work together to achieve their collective purpose of learning for all. Therefore, they create structures to promote a collaborative culture…. For teachers to participate in such a powerful process, the school must ensure that everyone belongs to a team that focuses on student learning. Each team must have time to meet during the workday and throughout the school year. Teams must focus their efforts on crucial questions related to learning and generate products that reflect that focus,   such as lists of essential outcomes, different kind of assessment, analyses of student achievement, and strategies for improving results. Teams must develop norms or protocols to clarify expectations regarding roles, responsibilities, and relationships among team members. Teams must adopt student achievement goals linked with school and district goals. –What is a professional learning community? (DuFour, 2004)

What makes a strong team? What makes a dysfunctional team? I’ve seen both in action, and I’ve been part of both. As administrators we need to recognize the characteristics of effective teacher teams so we can build capacity within them, strengthening the organization as a whole. To further extend this collaborative power for learning, teachers can and should incorporate team-building and team problem-solving activities into their classrooms with students.

A team of researchers from Centre for Innovation in Education from the Queensland University for Technology set out to identify the characteristics of effective school-based teams through the lens of micropolitics. Their findings are relevant for schools and school-based systems dealing with school-based management and similar reforms/restructurings in that they developed a tool to assess and enhance the effectiveness of teams. Critical reflection of team dynamics should include a look at the

  • clarity of the team’s role and objectives
    • competence and credibility of the team members
    • uniformity of members’ values and their commitment to team work
    • interpersonal relationships and communication among members and between members and other staff
    • accessibility of professional development opportunities for the team and for its individual members

    Developing strengths in these dimensions will better establish school teams in that they will be more prepared to engage in decision-making processes, develop better relationships among colleagues, and embrace future possibilities rather than focus on current realities (Cranston, Ehrich, Reugebrink, & Gaven, 2002).

    I am generally pleased with the collaborative efforts my teachers are making. Each team is finding their way… each team member is defining and honing his/her role in that team. One area where we need to develop is in our team leadership/coaching roles. Team leaders were appointed and attended professional development sessions on coaching and adult learning. This experience was not enough to impress upon our teacher leaders the essential components that exemplify a true leader. They need continuous exposure to new ideas, time to conduct peer observation and reflections, and time spent with administration to work at defining and refining the shared vision and goals of the school. Most of all, these team leaders need to extend trust to all members of the team and school, and need to be trusted by all. This aspect requires a lot of work and dedication on everyone’s part.

    Finally, I’d like to share @l_hilt’s Dos & Don’ts of team dynamics….

    • Do seek to act upon that which you can positively change. Don’t be negative and dwell on things you cannot.
    • Do be a giver. Don’t be selfish.
    • Do understand that “the way we’ve always done things” is not necessarily the best way to help students learn. Don’t get sucked into a solitary cave of complacency.
    • Do communicate clearly, accurately, and respectfully. Don’t hide your feelings about a situation or make them known maliciously.
    • Do be open and accepting. Don’t be defensive.
    • Do realize that you are not the most important part of the equation. Don’t forget for one second that the child is.

    They're children.


    Last week an educator who happens to be my current grad class professor impressed upon us the most simple, yet profound realization: “They’re children.”

    Do we sometimes forget that? Do we sometimes focus on the fact that they’re not sitting still…not making direct eye contact with us during a lesson…make lapses in judgment which lead to questionable behaviors…not exerting enough effort on assignments….not studying enough for a test…and the list goes on.

    We are the adults. We chose this profession because, I should sincerely hope, we want to serve as role models in the lives of our students and impact their lives in meaningful ways.

    He said, “Even the 18 year olds, who put on a tough exterior, are children at heart.”

    It’s true. We have to give them our best. We can’t transform into selfish, immature, negative souls just because something doesn’t go our way. Is it going their way? What do they need us to be? Are we doing the very best with the resources, time, and capacity we’re given to help them learn? Day after day? Are we working to better ourselves for them?

    They need us to be strong. They need us to be confident. They need us to take risks and not be afraid of making mistakes. They need us to believe in them on their worst days, and celebrate them on their best days. No one is perfect. No child is perfect. But they’re our children. And they’re the reasons we come to work each and every day.

    Sometimes, in the moments when we believe we’ve reached our breaking points, in the times when we feel as though we’ll never have enough resources or time to make a difference, we need to remember that our children spend 8 hours a day with us, and that it is our charge to help them learn and love to learn. No school is perfect. No one ever has enough “time.” But the time we do have with our students should be cherished. We must dedicate ourselves to accepting the challenges each new day brings, and to do better than we did the day before.

    Why? Because they’re children. And we owe it to them. Every word we say, every action we take, every effort we give to classroom activities is important to them, whether they outwardly display it or not.

    Remember this, each and every day!