Because Counting Our Blessings Just Isn't Enough

Posts tagged ‘Educational Leadership’

A World Made Of Stories

The World is Made of Stories Not Atoms

Muriel Rukeyser

cc licensed image shared by flickr user paperbackwriter

cc licensed image shared by flickr user paperbackwriter

It’s been more than three months since I’ve written in this blog; the longest stretch away since I began blogging. I suppose there are many reasons, prominently among them is the reality that professionally I had been standing between two stories.  At the end of June I left a position as Lower School Principal, which I had held for thirteen years. At the beginning of August, I began a position as Head of School at a school serving students from pre-school through eighth grade.

On one of the last days at my previous position, my Head of School there asked me what I would miss most. It was a thoughtful question, which I realized I couldn’t yet answer. “I don’t know yet,” I said honestly. “I suppose I’ll recognize what I miss once I’m gone.” Perhaps it’s at heart the uncertainty of transition, what I will miss and what I will inherit, that has left me so quiet.

When I began my position in my previous school my daughter, now entering her senior year of high school, was in a four year old pre-K program and my son, now beginning high school, had just begun a two year old program.  I dreamed of leading our school to offer the quality and community I, as a young mother and idealistic educator, dreamed of for my own children. Today my daughter aspires to become an elementary school teacher and my son aspires to become a high school history teacher. Regardless of where their professional and personal life paths take them, I now dream of leading the type of school in which I would be proud for my own children to teach; a school in which each teacher can make the maximum contribution, building on her or his strengths to empower students to maximize their own talents, interests, and abilities. It is a collaborative and embracing vision, constantly evolving through ongoing appreciative inquiry into the strengths of our school, our community, each of our professionals, and each of our students. It is not my story; but rather our story.

In my high school yearbook, the quote beneath my picture is from Muriel Rukeyeser and reads: The World is Made of Stories Not Atoms. I found the quote, in my pre-google high school days, in a writers’ journal filled with inspiring quotes and blank pages. At the time, I didn’t know who Muriel Rukeyeser was, and didn’t take the time to go to the public library and find out. I just loved the quote. Today with a google search, it takes seconds to learn about Muriel Rukeyser; an American poet and political activist, best known for her poems about equality, feminism, social justice, and Judaism. She was a more appropriate choice for me as a high school senior than I imagined. Like her equality, feminism, social justice, and Judaism were central to my life. I appreciated poetry and dreamed of becoming a novelist.

I still love stories, yet I no longer write fiction. I love emerging stories, the stories that are written not primarily with words, but more significantly, with actions. I remember a friend of mine in middle school sharing that she thought of her life as a movie. The idea has remained with me all these years. With time, the image of life as a movie, or as a story, has become more nuanced and interesting for me. Today, as an educator, I strive to view school as multiple stories happening simultaneously, with each student the star of her or his own story and each teacher and me playing supporting roles in all of the stories. It’s a humbling exercise, and of course I can’t truly see students’ stories through their own eyes, nor focus with the emphasis I would like on my role in each and every story. But trying helps me be a better educator.

Why We Need Principals

There are questions that resonate, holding our imaginations and keeping us wondering. There are questions that activate our learning, causing us to reflect and helping us to grow.

Do We Need Principals? asked  Josh Stumpenhorst in a blog post last May.

Do We Need (Great) Principals? responded George Couros replying to a question with a question in a blog post published shortly thereafter.

Recently Josh Stumpenhorst may have answered his own question with another post, this time an affirmation rather than a question:  We Need Leaders #cpchat.

Once overcoming my initial defensiveness at the very thought that principals might not be needed, I began to ponder a number of related questions. Do we need principals? Do we need great principals? What makes a principal great? Do we need leaders? Do we need great leaders? What makes a leader great? As a principal and soon to be Head of School, I don’t ask these questions to be provocative, but instead to honestly assess how to design my role in order to make a meaningful impact.

In search of insight, I turned to the research of John Hattie, whose investigation of more than 900 meta-analyses represents the largest collection of evidence based research into what actually works in schools. Citing a meta-analysis conducted in 2008 by Robinson, Lloyd, and Rowe of 22 studies including 2,833 principals, Hattie defines three distinct types of school leadership: transformational leadership, instructional leadership, and learning leadership.

Transformational Leadership, according to Hattie is “inspiring teachers to new levels of energy and commitment towards a common mission, which develops the school’s capacity to work together to overcome challenges and reach ambitious goals, and then to ensure that teachers have time to conduct their teaching.” To me, this sounds quite good: inspiration, new levels of energy and commitment, a common mission, collaboration to reach ambitious goals, and respect for teaching time. And yet, Hattie reports that the impact of transformational leadership on student achievement is a mere 0.11, less than anticipated with no intervention at all.

Instructional Leadership, according to Hattie, occurs among school leaders who “attend to the quality and impact of all in the school on student learning, ensure that disruption to learning is minimized, have high expectations of teachers for their students, visit classrooms, and are concerned with interpreting evidence about the quality and nature of learning in the school.” To me, this also sounds quite good: a focus on student learning, high expectations, presence in classrooms, and attention to evidence about the quality of learning. And yet, Hattie found that the impact of instructional leadership was 0.42, barely above the 0.4 mark one could expect without any intervention.

Learning Leadership, according to Hattie, is leadership that emphasizes student and adult learning and occurs when leaders promote and participate in teacher learning through such approaches as providing coaching over an extended time, data teams, a focus on how students learn subject matter content, and enabling teachers to work collaboratively to plan and monitor lessons based on evidence about how students learn. (see Bausmith & Barry, 2011) In distinction to the minimal impact of transformational and instructional leadership, Hattie found the impact of learning leadership to be an impressive .84, placing learning leadership as among the most significant positive impacts on quality of student learning in schools. (Hattie, John (2012-03-15). Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning (Kindle Locations 3889-3892). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition.)

Interestingly, Hattie’s insights are not only for principals, our building leaders, but also for teachers, our classroom leaders. Just as John Hattie found a dramatic .84 impact when principals serve as learning leaders, he found the very same dramatic .84 impact when teachers serve as activators of student learning through offering feedback, accessing thinking, supporting challenging goals, and monitoring learning. Alternatively, he found a mere .17 effect size on student learning, less than anticipated with no intervention, when teachers act as facilitators of learning through problem based learning, simulations and gaming, and individualized instruction. (Michael Fullan, Presentation at the 2012 ISTE conference)

Perhaps the roles of principals and teachers, or at least the roles of great principals and great teachers, are not so different after all.

Trained as a transformational leader in the 1990’s, and serving in the mission-driven independent school world in which leaders are expected to inspire teachers toward a common mission, I have undergone a transformation myself in the past several years now striving to be a true learning leader. Hattie’s research, combined with my own experience, has led me to embrace two key ingredients necessary for greatness in principals, teachers, and students alike: coaching and collaboration.

Do we need principals? Of course we do. But, not the principals we may have imagined; not the disciplinarians and schedulers, not the visionaries, and not even the instructional leaders. We need principals who coach and are coached, who support teachers to look at student work together, and who humbly join mind and heart with teachers and students in the sacred task of learning.

Dreams From The Dojang

Dreams from the Dojang:
On Less Teaching, More Feedback, and Goals of Consequence

First published in Mr Brett’ Clark’s Education Dreamer: 12 Days of Dreaming Series

I am in training to become a martial artist.
In this goal I will face many challenges.
I dedicate myself to face them with honor, respect, and modesty.
I pledge that on this journey not only will I train my body to be strong, agile and flexible but
I will focus on being a Taekwondo practitioner with self-control desire and discipline.
These ideals and all aspects of my training are my responsibility to learn.
Student Oath, Master P.L. Edwards, Exceptional Taekwondo Center, White Plains, N.Y

Black Belt photo

Some of my best professional learning happens at the Taekwondo Dojang. As I train, I learn – not only about martial arts, but also about education, or more accurately, about learning. I’m not the strongest, the most agile or the most flexible – not by a long shot. Most of the other students are younger and more physically fit than I. Yet, with perseverance and good humor, I have earned my black belt. I have learned.

My successes are a direct result of a learning environment with less teaching, more feedback, a focus on core values, and a plethora of meaningful learning activities, serving both as practice and then as formative assessments that demonstrate to me progress toward my own goals. Some of my goals are significant (to become a martial artist); others are of ultimate consequence (to strive for excellence in all areas of my life), while many are small and specific (i.e. to turn my hip more to extend my reach in a kick.) Achieving my goals involves much more feedback than teaching and the responsibility for learning is entirely my own, although I benefit both from the skilled coaching of the master instructors and from the collegial support of the other students. It’s a learning environment I dream about for our K-12 schools.

Less teaching; more feedback, recommendations offered by Grant Wiggins in Seven Keys to Effective Feedback sounds simple on the surface, yet I believe represents an educational paradigm shift of potentially seismic proportions. Indeed, Everything you know about curriculum may be wrong. Really., Wiggins declares in his blog. He advocates a focus, not only on content knowledge, but rather on learning to perform in the world and even more, on learning “not just to know things – but to be a different person – more mature, more wise, more self-disciplined, more effective, and more productive in the broadest sense.” Performing well trumps content knowledge and striving to fulfill core values and make a positive impact is ultimately what performing well entails.

The shift to a focus on less teaching and more feedback grounded in core values will require thoughtful reflection. Synthesizing more than 900 educational meta-analyses, researcher John Hattie has found the average effect size of feedback to be a remarkable 0.79, which is twice the average effect of all other schooling effects. Indeed, Hattie found feedback to be among the top ten influences on achievement. But there is a caveat. While feedback is among the most powerful influences on how people learn, its effects vary considerably. (Hattie, John. Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition)

To give effective feedback, we’ll need to understand what effective feedback is and what effective feedback is not. The insight may surprise. Feedback, according to Grant Wiggins in Seven Keys to Effective Feedback, isn’t grades for students. It isn’t evaluations for professionals. It isn’t praise. It isn’t constructive critique. It isn’t advice. Rather, “feedback is information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal.”

I am dreaming of a K-12 educational system that functions more like the Dojang with less teaching, more feedback, and goals of consequence. The journey toward fulfilling that dream will not be easy. Much will shift and change. Yet, at the same time much will remain the same.

We’ll need to envision education anew – shifting our focus from teaching to learning; from curriculum to feedback on practice; from standards to core values. These shifts will require us to think differently about potential ways of utilizing learning spaces, schedules, personnel, student groupings, and technology in order to improve the quality of learning. The possibilities are limited only by our imaginations and will require collaborative, creative exploration and dreaming.

We’ll need at the same time to consider what must not change, but instead remain grounded in enduring core values. It will be vital to set goals of ultimate consequence connected to our core values and to identify clearly many specific benchmarks along the way to these aspirational goals. The journey will stretch us beyond standards and move us from a primary focus on what students need to know, or even on what students need to be able to do, to an emphasis on who students are becoming – individuals of character and moral grounding prepared to strive to make a positive impact in their communities and in the broader society.

I am dreaming of less teaching, more feedback, goals of consequence, and the society children who emerge from such an educational system will together be able to create. I invite you to dream with me and share your perspectives on ways of moving forward.

On Favorites – Edublog Award Nominations 2012

I don’t often have favorites. At times I wish I did: a favorite color, a favorite season, a favorite holiday, a favorite movie, a favorite book, or a favorite food. I imagine there is a comfort in favorites, something to turn to that is familiar and beloved. Yet, I relish in variety, option, and possibility, finding it virtually impossible to choose a favorite of anything. And so, true to form, I struggle with the edublog awards. Should I sit it out; not nominate and not vote as there are so many who are worthy? Or might there be value in participation, however imperfect?

Two years ago, new to the world of connected learning, the lists of nominations for the edublog awards directed me to the very first blogs I followed regularly. Last year although I didn’t nominate, I voted. Sad that I couldn’t vote for more educators making a positive impact on my own learning, I was nonetheless grateful to be introduced to bloggers new to me with whom I continue to learn. This year, I’ve decided to nominate a few educators important in my own journey as a learner. While they are by no means the only educators from whom I learn, they are individuals who regularly offer me valuable insight, perspective, and wisdom.

On October 17th, 2012,  Radical Learners returned after a long hiatus during which Jim Knight was writing his new book  High-Impact Instruction, which I look forward to reading.  Two of his prior books: Instructional Coaching and Unmistakable Impact have made an “unmistakable impact” on my practice as an educational leader, assisting me to incorporate coaching mindsets and skills into my work as a principal. I’m grateful to now be able to learn not only from his valuable books, but also from weekly reflections on his blog, published every Wednesday.

TeacherCast, a place for teachers to help other teachers, takes four of my nominations: best group blog, best educational use of audio/video/visual/podcast, best mobile app, and best educational use of a social network. Just a year and a half old, TeacherCast continues to expand its offerings as a community of practice dedicated to bringing teachers together to learn, share, and dream about what is possible in education.

Described as a blog on globally connected learning, and not educational technology per se, Silvia Tolisano is wise in her use of implementing educational technology, thoughtful in the global connections she facilitates, but even wiser and more thoughtful in her reflections on ways of improving the quality of student learning, often with the creative use of technology.

Inquisitive, creative, humble, energetic, and passionate, Maureen Devlin provides insight into the journey of a master teacher, focused on her own students’ learning while connecting her experiences as a teacher to essential questions facing the field of education more broadly.

“Remember everything. Capture anything. Access anywhere. Find things fast.” The promise of Evernote is fast becoming a reality for me and while it is the app I use most often, replacing any other place for creating or storing information, I feel I have only scratched the surface of this remarkable resource.

Edcamp Leadership, which took place this past July in New Jersey, was an extraordinary learning experience for me, which I wrote about here. Highlights for me included learning with Dr. David Timony and Mike Ritzius, two educational thinkers who have since become important members of my professional learning network.

For a truly generous spirit, I nominate best individual tweeter and lifetime achievement award to Jerry Blumengarten, otherwise known as cybraryman. Jerry Blumengarten has personally selected more than 20,000 relevant educational links from the internet for students, teachers, administrators and parents. On those rare occasions that cybraryman does not have a page on his web site on a topic of educational interest, he is tremendously skilled at connecting educators within his vast network with one another in order to learn and to share.

There are so many more worthy of award from whom I learn frequently. To all, a huge thanks!

Gooooooal!

cc licensed image shared by flickr user Sean MacEntee

cc licensed image shared by flickr user &DC

Gooooooal! declares the sports announcer. Gooooooal! exclaims my jubilant husband. The excitement of my Argentinean spouse as his soccer (or rather football) team scores a goal is contagious.

Gooooool! I cry. Or, at least I do in my mind. The goals I celebrate are different than football goals. They are aspirations.

I am a principal, serving students with a broad range of interests, curiosities, and capabilities; helping them discover themselves as they are in the present and supporting them to embrace the potential in themselves as they are becoming. I am a supervisor, assisting teachers to recognize and build on their current skills, while guiding them to envision themselves as the increasingly skilled activators of student learning they are becoming. I live in a world of imagining the possible.

It’s professional goal setting time at school and I’m so proud I feel almost ready to sing out in celebration: gooooooal!

I meet, one on one, with each teacher. I meet as a group with our professional leadership team (myself, assistant principal, psychologist, and admissions director), during which time each of us set a professional goal; a particular area that will support student learning in which to delve deep. These are not necessarily our school-wide goals and strategic plan, although often times they reflect school-wide momentum and effort. These are individual goals; reflecting our unique professional journeys. By no means the whole of our work; our goals nonetheless ground our aspirations, reminding us that professional learning, like learning more broadly, is a process, benefitting from focus, time and dedication.

Some goals our teachers have chosen for themselves include:

  • To develop a broader, more nuanced approach to assessing student learning and to utilize gleanings from those assessments to plan ongoing instruction
  • To create a learning environment in which all students participate actively in both full class and small collaborative group activities
  • To gain greater skill in designing differentiated learning experiences for collaborative and independent student learning 
  • To strengthen relationships with parents utilizing technology and face to face connection 
  • To develop greater comfort and skill in teaching math, including differentiation for strong students
  • To in a serious way collaborate with members of the grade level team in order to support student learning

My own goal is to improve the quality and effectiveness of our supervisory, evaluative, and support processes for teachers.

We’ve only just begun, and many of our teachers are still setting goals. Each goal includes an action plan, supports for meeting the goal, and means by which we will assess success. We will monitor progress throughout the year and evaluate ourselves based on growth.

cc licensed image shared by flickr user carnavalboquense

While proud of our teachers, I worry. Will we be pulled back by the many obstacles constantly present – limited time, limited resources, the priorities of others? Will we be distracted by the crises that inevitably occur? Will we be drained by the pressures to move perhaps too quickly toward our goals, neglecting to reflect, change course as needed, and adapt when necessary?

cc licensed image shared by flickr user Niklas Hellerstedt

 Or will we ponder, embrace support, and consider our course carefully? Will we pace ourselves thoughtfully in order to make meaningful progress over the long haul?  Will we consider multiple approaches toward meeting our goals? Will we remain open to alternative perspectives and approaches? Will we seek to learn from our strengths and successes as well as from our missteps and mistakes?

What advice do you have for us? We welcome your wisdom.

Who’s Afraid of Principals?

Principal's Office

cc licensed photo shared by flickr user ecastro

“Do you know, there are kids who are afraid of principals?” I asked with a smile, turning to the first grade teacher who sat with me and a nervous six year old. We had just finished reassuring this child that we had spoken to him about his behavior on the bus the day before, not because we were angry, but because we were  concerned about his safety. We knew from his mother that he was indeed afraid of principals, so afraid that he convinced his younger sister that she should be terrified of her gentle and caring nursery school director.

The child began to giggle and I turned to him, smiling. “You’re laughing. You must have heard of kids who are afraid of principals.” 

“I’m one of those kids. I’m afraid of principals.” he said emphatically, his eyes widening and his giggles  transforming into a deep belly laugh. The teacher and I burst into genuine laughter right along with him. The teacher then stated what had already become obvious to him; he need not be afraid. He left my office chatting happily with his teacher, having gained newfound trust in me and, I’d venture to say, principals generally.

I imagine he is not alone. I imagine there are not only students, but also teachers in many if not most schools who, if answering honestly might declare, “I’m one of those teachers. I’m afraid of principals.”

As I prepare for upcoming individual conferences with each teacher to discuss professional learning goals, supports, action plans to meet goals, and ways of monitoring, assessing, and celebrating progress, I wonder. As I visit classrooms, offering feedback, compliments, and engaging with learning and teaching, I wonder. As I seek ways of meaningfully showing appreciation, admiration, and respect for teachers, I wonder. How might we hold high expectations, without blame and criticism, but rather with support and mutual accountability for student learning and well-being? How might we transform judgmental evaluation processes, with the potential to be fear-provoking, irrelevant, or both, into a commitment to meaningful professional learning, sharing, and growth?

It’s not only students and teachers who are afraid. Sometimes, principals are afraid as well. Our fear struck me upon reading a recent tweet, with a link to a blog post: I’m Afraid!

Ron McAllister is a colleague to whom I frequently turn for insight and his words resonate powerfully with me as he poetically states:

I am afraid that I will not inspire my staff.
I am afraid that I will not appreciate them enough.
I am afraid that I will not provide enough support to them.
I am afraid that I will not give specific enough feedback directly linked to improved teaching and learning.
I am afraid that I will not be learning quickly enough to stay current with best practice.

I read Ron’s words with respect for his honesty and with admiration for his aspiration. And, I wonder. What if we reframed our  fears as aspirations?

I aspire to support teachers to find inspiration within themselves. 

I aspire to show appreciation and gratitude to teachers by recognizing contribution and complimenting effort and accomplishment.

I aspire to put a wide variety of supports into place and to trust teachers to choose the supports of greatest value to them. 

I aspire to provide feedback in the form of nonjudgmental observations and questions, specifically linked to teachers’ professional learning goals and evidence of student learning.

I aspire to take in feedback with humility, to remain open to ideas and possibilities, and to continue learning and aspiring. 

How might we transform our fear into creative, energetic aspiration? I welcome your insights.

Why We Love No Office Day

This post was collaboratively written with Jessica Johnson (@principalj) and William King (@wkingbg)

Serious critique deserves serious response. When several educators we respect wondered aloud on twitter about whether No Office Day sends a poor message about administrators, we took their reservations seriously.

Upon further reflection, we still love #NoOfficeDay.

For those not yet familiar with No Office Day, it is a day (or numerous days) on which principals and other school leaders shut our offices down and spend the entire day where learning happens – among our teachers and our students. Here are some of the original #NoOfficeDay principal posts that inspired the rest of us: No Office Day by David Truss, Be There by Lyn Hilt and International No Office Day by David Truss.

Does No Office Day mean we never spend other time out of our office?  Of course not!  Effective principals are typically hard to find in their offices, because they are the “lead learners” of their building and are usually already in classrooms to observe learning.  #NoOfficeDay days are part of more comprehensive approaches by principals to transform our roles from “experts” directing teachers and managing to full participants in learning, focusing the school on a culture of collaboration to support student learning.  It is a day or several days in which principals immerse themselves into teaching in specific grade levels, certain subjects or throughout the building. It is time for principals to keep “in touch” with teaching and learning.

No Office Day is merely one component of a more nuanced tapestry of the role of the principal and the way in which principals and other school leaders engage in learning. We each spend significant time daily in classrooms, not merely “driving by” as walkthroughs have been appropriately critiqued, but reshaping our roles to be more like coaches than evaluators.

It is important to note that while we are out and about all the time many principals still end up spending large amounts of time in the office.  Discipline referrals, parent meetings, scheduling, community partnerships, paperwork,etc.  Some of these efforts are not “busywork” such as meeting with teachers on their professional learning goals and partnering with parents to support their children. Still, we’d be lying if we said we never got caught up in “busywork”.  In some districts, it is more the norm for seasoned administrators to stay in their office and fill the role of manager as compared to instructional leader.  No Office Day allows  the opportunity to light a fire under some of these principals (and central office staff) who haven’t taught a day since leaving the classroom for administration.

We can find No Office Day as more of a celebration of the great things we are doing (coaching, teaching, leading).  Celebrating these things motivates those around us who may be set in their ways and have forgotten what it’s like to be in the trenches.  It’s sad that that’s the case but its true.  Last year many principals and central office staff (including superintendents) got involved and they had a blast.  It really changed some of the mindset of administrators, resulting in regular No Office Days the rest of the year.

While educators that are not principals  may be critical of #NoOfficeDay, we realize that it is sometimes difficult for teachers to understand all the responsibilities that principals take on day to day.  None of us realized how tough administrators have it…until we became one!

Want to read more from other principals on #NoOfficeDay?  You can find their posts here.

Cross Posted on http://www.connectedprincipals.com and principal.blogspot.com

%d bloggers like this: