Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Reflection: The Reality

One of my beliefs is that reflection builds profound understanding.  I love reflection.  I love to stop, pause, breathe, think, write, and wonder.  I thrive on pondering and tinkering and thinking of the what ifs.  I think that is the spark that causes real change, when you really think deeply about something and jot a few words on a sticky note or a Whataburger receipt.
Except I don’t do it enough.  We all say we reflect.  I mean, we really want to.

But things happen.  Someone pulls the fire alarm or a parent causes a stir in the front office or you have to make 4,538 more decisions today than you made yesterday.  Your brain fatigues, and the last thing you want to do is ponder and reflect. You just need a really quiet, dark place to take a nap, but it’s only 9:30 a.m., and you are the principal.  

One of my staff members gave me a journal at the end of the school year and suggested I use it to capture the awesome and not so awesome things which happen each day.  I am usually a little too scatterbrained to keep up with a daily entry of things, but I made a goal to at least fill the thing out twice per week during this school year, partly because I could turn it into a book called Things You Would Not Believe Happen at School, and partly because I believe that reflection builds profound understanding.  

It’s pretty awesome to look back, even to last month (because I can’t really even remember what happened last week, let alone last month) and see that what I was afraid of or what I was worried about had been resolved or didn’t matter as much as it did in the moment.  Looking at the good things is even better and will lift your spirits and give you hope for a better day tomorrow.

Join me in reflection for three minutes a couple of times per week to stop, breathe, write and wonder.  It’s good for the soul.   

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Vulnerability in Praise

It amazes me the amount of positive praise one receives at the end of the school year.  The end of an era.  Why do we wait until the end of an era to make public our deep, visceral thoughts and insights?

When eulogizing someone, we remember the amazing things that someone accomplished during their life, but do we tell them these rememberings during their life?  Do they know what kind of a difference they have made in the lives of others?  Do they know why people followed their lead?  Do they know how one little phrase they uttered stuck with someone for ten years?  Do they know why they are your friend?

Why not?  Why don't we make this a priority?
Praising someone creates a need to expose your thoughts feelings.  It takes a great deal of vulnerability.

I received a beautiful email message from one of my teachers who reached down into their soul to write the following to me upon my bittersweet announcement of my new position at a new campus:
"Thank you for being a teacher and a mentor.
Thanks for being an administrator who actively encourages and models teaching strategies.
Thanks for making us feel like individuals and feel like we are irreplaceable.    
Thanks for finding the good in your staff.
Thanks for setting the bar high. 
Thanks for your presence and support at events such as Science Olympiad.
Thanks for offering opportunities to grow professionally (I wish I would have taken advantage of aspiring administrators). 
And most importantly, thanks for making this the best place for teachers to work and for students to learn.    
Congratulations on your new adventure!"

Let go of the notion that praise should be done a certain way.  Receiving this message caused me to remember certain conversations and situations which I shared with this teacher.  It is specific and follows the journey of my time at the campus.  Receiving even one of these statements would have been magical, but to receive all of them was surreal.

Don't let vulnerability weigh you down.  It takes time to let others know your innermost thoughts, and it takes an ability to be "okay" with vulnerability.  It can be like telling someone you love them when you don't know if they are going to say it back.  Sometimes saying "it" is more important than the reaction.  All the time, "it" is worth saying to the recipient.  This teacher bared their soul in the messages which were carefully written, and I am forever thankful for the honesty and openness contained within.

Devote time. Create time.  Lean into the feeling of vulnerability enough to tell people around you what an impact they have on your life.  Tell your kids how much they mean to you,  Tell people why you trust them, why they matter, and what about their life you admire.  You may think it is going to take too much time to create just the right message, but when you speak from the heart it is the right message every time.

Take the time to be open and vulnerable with your praise.  It is worth every ounce of courage you summon, and it creates a new, deeper connection to those around you.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Journey to Understanding

I was recently having a conversation with several teachers in conflict, and I had the realization that teaching philosophy was the deeply embedded factor in the disagreements. The expectations and clarity needed to be reset, and so I started my Journey.  

My ELA Instructional Coach and I sat down to capture our own written, standard, non-negotiable philosophy for our campus for deep and meaningful reading and writing learning.  We pondered teaching strategies and structures, reminisced about the good things that worked when we were English teachers, separated the doable from the dead, and enjoyed molding our vision together.

After we were finished, I was left questioning what kids wanted in all of this, how they would feel about our vision, and what their vision held. I led my IC down to the 7th grade hallway and gathered 5 kids to start that conversation.

What we learned yesterday on our Journey to Understanding:
  • The kids deep down want to write more. Really?!? More!!??! Yes, but very deep down.  
  • They want to experience more group conversation about their books. The "chit-chat" of adult-like book club conversation. Questions and challenges and prove your statement-type conversation.
  • They value picking their own books, but like to be exposed to different genre.
  • They want to talk through scenarios or debate with a group: the "what ifs" and "how comes" and ponderings involved in dissecting literature.
  • Most importantly, they want all kids to get help and to grow, from kids who get A's to kids who get C's as well as those who really struggle.  

It was validating to see their thoughts, hopes and wishes mirror those of our vision.  We are all constantly trying to improve for the better, and talking to kids is such an important checkpoint on the Journey.

Don't forget their voice while on your Journey.  Stop and talk to them; listen and learn from them. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Brick Wall

Texture: Brick Wall Free Stock Photography

Sometimes the problems or roadblocks you encounter on a daily basis are small mounds of dirt.  They might be a rolling hill you can meander around through a meeting of the minds or two.  Sometimes, though, they are like a brick wall which goes on for miles.

Brick walls can be large-scale cultural or academic values discussions and changes in your current system.  The really tough stuff.  The kind of stuff you feel is insurmountable, not possible, because of all of the work you will have to do.

When you are faced with a brick wall situation, it calls for seeds and jackhammers.  One of my Administrators is fantastic at the seed. When working with seeds, one approaches staff members in isolation and has the same conversation, plants the same seed, in each of them.  The plant grows into a small idea within that person.  You need to plant lots of seeds and make small comments or find small quotes or articles from others to water and feed the seed so the idea grows.

Just like the weed in the garden, the seed will take over, and that's the point.  Imagine having planted twenty seeds, and those seeds working their way into the brick wall.  The wall will start to have cracks, parts where the other side shows through.  Places where it starts to crumble.

Enter jackhammer.  The discussion with the whole staff about the seeds and ideas and the why behind    the brick wall coming down.  The look into the other side of the wall and discussion about what it can become.  The benefit to them and for the end result.

Plant seeds and get those walls down.  It takes time, just like gardening and is a bit messy, but the end result is beautiful.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Outside Perspectives

Inviting other leaders into your school building gives such a unique perspective.  They can sense the culture, talk to kids and look with a new lens at your facility.  Feedback is given through the eyes of what incoming parents see or how your campus feels to others.  It is awesome to get a different glimpse of what you have organized and built. 

A big thank you to Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy) and Joy Kelley (@joy_kelley05) for our outside perspective view today. Such great feedback for our campus. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Aspiring Administrators Group

As principals, one of our roles is to grow others.  We are to give people the tools needed to to succeed in their current role or get the next job, or inspire them to think outside the norm.  One of the ways in which I have started to give out tools is to create an Aspiring Administrator group.  This group features:

  • An open invitation to any and all meetings
  • A glimpse into the interviewing and hiring process for APs and Principals
  • Article studies within the meeting structure
  • Facilitation and staff development tools, tricks and tips
  • Inbox activities featuring topics and what-ifs related to discipline, handling of poor teachers, parent interaction, and more
  • An open invitation for our group members to request discussion topics of interest
I started the group last year and had two members from another campus join our group and our discussions.  I am excited to have started in on year two of this structure with additional members.  Our  conversations are rich, deep, and they inspire each other and me to try new things, look seriously at what-ifs, and help each other through internships and interviewing.

How are you inspiring those teachers in your building, some of whom are ready and some of whom don't know they're ready?  Try hosting a few meetings--You'll get just as much out of them as your participants.

Vulnerability & Silent Perspectives

As a principal group, we have been studying about vulnerability in our role as leaders.  I thought of several groups these past two months to whom I have shown vulnerability as I have opened up the campus to our parents and opened up my bag of tricks to my Aspiring Administrator group.

Chalk Talk
Opening yourself up to feedback from parent groups is always a risky, but extremely rewarding, move.  I recently hosted a Principal Coffee where I discussed the district and our campus vision and goals.  I was excited to get to speak with around thirty parents whom I have not necessarily seen around the campus.  I shared our vision which was compiled by parents, teachers and kids throughout the school year last year, and asked for feedback in a format called Chalk Talk.  

In this feedback-seeking method, parents/teachers/students are invited to give written, silent feedback on different ideas, themes, and areas in which you are seeking feedback.  If you want feedback about your campus communication, place the word on the butcher sheet and ask for feedback of any kind.  What you ask for is not only for people to write a comment on the paper, but to keep circulating and add affirmations, additional questions and new ideas on the sheet.  I love this method because you not only get one set of information, but you get to see how many agree, disagree and a few outside the box ideas as well.  

Silent Perspectives
Try the Chalk Talk method with a group, whether it be students, parents, teachers, or principals.  I've participated in several and it is very interesting to see what others place importance upon and what they value.  It gives the facilitator glimpses of different perspectives without starting a verbal complaint session.  It is a great way to ease into vulnerability.