Friday, November 1, 2013

Connected Educator Month: Find Your Voice

Photo Credit:
October 2013 was Connected Educator Month.  Twitter Chats referenced it, the hashtag #ce13 was popular, people reflected on the idea of being a connected educator, and @arneduncan even moderated a chat for #edtechchat at the end of the month!  The official website: was, and is, full of lots of information to help anyone become a more connected educator.  Questions such as: "How do you stay connected", " Why is it important to be a connected educator", and "What does it mean to be a connected educator" were discussed throughout the month.  Though I very much enjoy participating in Twitter chats and have come to greatly value the PLN that I have created, I must be honest: it wasn't until the end of October that I began to truly reflect on this phenomenon of Connected Educator Month.  So with the turn of the calendar page to a new month, I felt it appropriate to pause and consider what #ce13 has meant and will continue to mean for me.  I have to warn you, this is a longer entry so be prepared...

Let me first point out that while I have been in education for over 20 years, I have only been a truly connected educator for about 7 months.  That in and of itself is a rather staggering fact in my opinion.  How can I claim to be an educator yet only have found my way to collaboration on a consistent basis in the last several months?  One question that has been considered in chats this past month is "what does it mean to be a connected educator" and many answers have centered around the idea of collaboration.  Collaboration is something that I have been good about "in spurts" as I have become more comfortable in the classroom.  I recall my early years as a teacher and being afraid to discuss anything that I was doing with other teachers.  Why?  Well, the primary reasons for my fear stemmed from
1. not wanting to open myself up to criticism--what if my lesson wasn't "good enough"?
2. fear of someone "stealing" my idea--I worked hard on that lesson so why should I just "give it away"?

It was only after I had been teaching 5+ years that I began to feel confident enough in my skills and abilities to actually reach out to fellow teachers for anything beyond test question ideas!  Seriously?!  What a waste of time and energy over the years as I constantly reinvented the wheel!  And the best time to collaborate would have been those early years when you feel like you are just barely able to doggy-paddle in the shallow end.  Unfortunately collaboration was the last thing discussed in my Credential Program so I and many other new teachers missed out on some wonderful opportunities.

 However, the benefits of being a Connected Educator did not begin, or end, with my realization that collaborating "locally" with teachers on my campus was a good thing.  The benefits of being a connected educator really hit home for me in the last week of October with two back-to-back events:

October 25 and 26 were the dates of Fall CUE 2013.  It had been through chance that I was able to attend the annual CUE conference last March (thank you @DianaParadise1).  It was such an amazing experience, I knew I had to find a way to attend  FallCUE.  Fortunately for me, it was held outside of Napa CA.  In addition, I had gotten brave and proposed two sessions with a co-worker.  Both proposals were accepted so we were able to attend the conference for free (not including food and lodging).  WHAT?!?!  I was presenting to my peers.  No pressure there!  Isn't it funny how as educators we are often more comfortable presenting to kids that we are to their parents or our peers?  I can honestly say that through my constant dialogue on Twitter with people around the country, I have built my confidence.  Presenting at a conference seemed a lot less scary than it would have seemed a few years ago.  The experience was so positive, I have submitted proposals to the annual CUE conference as well as Lead3.0 which is just for Administrators.

October 28 was a historical date in education because that was the day that Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, moderated a Twitter chat.  The chat itself (#edtechchat) is one that I rarely participate in because it happens at 8 pm EST which is 5 pm PST, thus nearly impossible for a California mom.  However, on October 28 I made a point of participating to the best of my ability because I believed that this was important.  It isn't often that someone in a position of such authority is able to give the masses a voice.   @shieldsmolly has a fantastic reflection on the event here:  I agree with her key points 100% and particularly want to echo her first point that Arne Duncan's presence in the chat meant more than his actual participation.  It was a crazy chat with 1401 participants from all 50 states.  There were over 300 tweets per minute registered to the hashtag for the duration of the chat and the activity continued at an admirable pace for quite a while after the chat as well.  The archives are daunting at 131 pages but well worth the time to peruse if you want to learn from great educators around the country, and around the world.  You can find the archives here:

My aha-moment, my big take-away for #ce13, came during the #edtechchat when I answered the question of what it means to be connected with a simple idea: "It means that I can have a voice."  Having a voice is what everyone wants.  It is what we strive to instill in our students. It is what we want in every aspect of our lives that we feel passionate about.  Connected educators ARE passionate.  That's why they are reaching out in the first place.  They want to improve their craft for their benefit, but more importantly for the benefit of their students.  The voice of educators has been all but silenced with NCLB, SATs, ACTs, STAR, CAHSEE, etc. (fill in your local/state high-stakes test acronym).  As the government, often aided by large corporations, has tried to "get a handle" on education in America, those closest to the issues have been overlooked.  Twitter, blogging, and the internet have all become vehicles that are allowing educators to regain their voice and make it heard.

I certainly didn't expect a direct reply from Arne Duncan during the chat but my thoughts are forever recorded in the archives and other educators have commented on my ideas.  My presentations at Fall CUE  were well received and the conversations have continued this past week with people who attended one of our sessions and want more information.  I have submitted proposals to two other conferences and am confident some of my proposals will be accepted because I know there is value in what I am passionate about.  I have co-founded a Twitter chat (#edleadchat) with two #eduawesome educators: @murriettahector and @PrincipalDurham.  Our chats on Monday nights are a forum to discuss some big issues with education leaders around the country.   It is humbling to have the opportunity to share with people around the globe on any number of topics and find that not only are there like-minded individuals out there but that your thoughts are valued and respected.  There is power in that because as educators find their voice and connect with other like-minded educators, there is much good that can, and will, come from that collaboration.

So,  connect all year long.  Find your voice and use it for good.  Our students are counting on us doing just that.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Have it Your Way...Personalizing Professional Development

This week we had our first "official"--as in calendared so you MUST participate--Professional Development opportunity.  Let me first clarify that the calendar was something I inherited and the system of scheduling PD is, as I am aware, starting to go the way of VHS tapes.  Be that as it may, the day was on the calendar so I had to do something.  Oh.  I have to plan an afternoon (only 2 hours were officially designated for PD as the morning was dedicated to National Testing Day) that is meaningful and valued by all departments?  Really?  O.K.  Time to implement some of those "Best Practices" that I have been hearing about and talking about with my Twitter PLN.  This blog is my chance to reflect on how the day was organized and start to plan for any changes that should be implemented before our next PD day (that one is in the Spring).

Step 1: Information Gathering  My thoughts, very early on, were that 2 hours were in no way sufficient to bring in some outstanding presenter that could facilitate a conversation on CCSS or cool apps or best practices for BYOD.  In addition, all of the data out there now suggests that this format is a colossal waste of resources--both financial and time.  So, what to do?  Well, I began by posing to my Curriculum Council (made up of department and program area heads) the idea of each department/area having the chance to shape the 2 hours themselves.  WHAT?!?!  We get to choose what is most useful to use?  Seriously?  I then created a Google Doc that was shared with the group and they all input what their department was going to use the 2 hours for.

Step 2: The Day The day arrived and with rare exception, every person, every department, every individual who interfaces with the students either in the classroom or through a program area was engaged in an activity that fit their needs.  Some examples of what happened: the Math Department turned to two experts among their own ranks and worked on creating a Google Form for class surveys and learning how to use Geometers Sketchpad that has applications at all levels.  The VPA Department worked with our Webmaster to plan an update to their web page.  The Science Department worked in small groups based on content to discuss pacing, planning, and appropriate technology incorporation. The Social Science Department spent time discussing the teaching of historiography and are going to attend a lecture on the subject later this year.  The English Department reviewed all of their texts to determine the functionality and purpose as well as had a serious discussion about the overall goals of the curriculum moving forward to determine which books stayed and which ones would be replaced.

There were lots of other things going on, I just wanted to highlight some to help you see that there was a lot of great stuff happening on campus that NEVER would have been possible if I had mandated everyone appear for a 2 hour training session on some fairly generic topic.

Step 3: The Follow-Up This is happening in a few ways.  First, everyone had to submit an Exit Ticket.  This Exit Ticket is going into their file and when we meet at the end of the year to review their year, this will be part of our conversation.

The Second piece of follow-up was a survey that I asked everyone to complete.  As I write this, about 50% of the faculty/staff have submitted their responses and the feedback is overwhelmingly positive so I count that as a "Win".

However, there is always room to improve and that is why I opted to blog about this experience. So, what have I learned from this go-around that I will build on moving forward?  The answer is quite a bit!

1. I provided lunch for everyone and that was huge so food stays.

2. A couple of people felt that I did not communicate clearly about the expectations.  In retrospect, I didn't because I communicated directly with Department Chairs and expected that they were communicating with their members.  Next time, I will clearly communicate the same message to everyone and not rely on a "middle man (or woman)".

3. Even with sending out the Exit Ticket in advance to allow departments to plan appropriately for their time, some areas did not engage in what I would consider appropriate and meaningful PD.  This is always a risk, I have now learned.  My problem is that I assumed everyone would be professional about this and pursue appropriate activities.  Thus, the next time it is their choice, I will provide guidelines for what is and is not appropriate for the time period and then follow-up with those areas that still don't seem to have the idea of what they are to be doing.  The fact that I will be sitting down with everyone in the Spring and revisiting this as part of our discussion may or may not help to set the tone for next year.

4. Someone made a great suggestion of having some sort of "closure" to the day.  Now, I am not quite sure how I would do this as several people were off campus.  However, I think there is value in that suggestions and so I am going to figure out a way to either bring closure to the day or allow everyone to share out shortly after the event . For example, perhaps we schedule the faculty meeting the next day and time is allotted for everyone to report out.  There is not only value, but great energy and excitement, in hearing what your colleagues are working on.

5. There were several people who felt there was more value in a group activity for PD rather than having an individualized approach.  Yes, there can be value in bringing everyone together to hear the same message on certain topics.  However, the majority of respondents preferred the individualized option.  Thus, I will consider looking at some sort of hybrid next time.  But that comes with a caveat (or two): first, a large group activity would only happen if we have a full day of PD scheduled.  Secondly, the group would be no more than 1 hour and would focus on mission and overall school goals.  Now, the second point might change but for now, that is the only focus I can see as being appropriate for teachers, counselors and program areas to all hear.

If you have pursued an more individualized approach to PD, I would love to hear your thoughts on how I structured our day as well as any ideas you have gleaned from your past experiences.  Meaningful PD is one of the most important gifts I can give my faculty.  I will continue to search for the right balance to ensure that everyone comes away feeling that they benefitted and will be better able to practice their craft as a result.  Because as you and I know, when the adults on a campus feel empowered and confident about what they do, the students have a better experience.  And that is an outcome that we can all agree on.

So hold the pickles, hold the lettuce...and have it your way!

Photo credit:

Sunday, September 29, 2013

It's Not Your Parent's Classroom Anymore

There has been a lot of chatter lately in the Twittersphere and at conferences about two ideas that seem to be slowly gaining traction in education: 
1. Project Based Learning (PBL)--and you might as well include 20% Time in that conversation, and 
2. the notion of schools being THE best place to allow our students to fail.  
I have been ruminating on both of these concepts a lot the past few months.  In this post I am going to attempt to tackle both succinctly and intelligently

Let's start with the first one: PBL/20% Time.  finally came to the realization that this is the way to approach learning at all grades.  And it only took my 7 year old and a talking bus to help me realize this.  After all, I'm a history teacher by trade so how exactly does one teach the French Revolution or the writing of the U.S. Constitution or the origins of civilization or the causes of WWI as a project?  I know that all you PBL evangelists are moaning at the notion that it has taken me so long to convert and for that I apologize.   But I at last understand and fully embrace the reality that in this day and age of Google and the internet I don't have to teach any of that because students can search that information and have the answer in a matter of seconds.  Education has to take learning to the next level.  Period.  

So what do my son and a talking bus have to do with my epiphany?  Simple: every day my son brings home worksheets for homework.  We all did, right?  His approach: just get them done and move on to play time.  Does he actually retain anything from these worksheets beyond the need to use "good" (I use that term loosely!) penmanship  and be sure to put his name at the top?  In a word, "NO".  So why have I supported this?  Quite simply, because that is the way I learned, so clearly that is the way he will learn.  

Well, guess son DOESN'T learn that way.  He actually has learning differences and every week I see a little more of his enthusiasm for learning being squashed due to this very thoughtless (yes, I will be that harsh) method of instruction.  So, enter the talking bus.  There is a bus that is just beginning a tour of catholic schools around the country.  It is sponsored by Notre Dame University.  And the bus has a Twitter handle (you can check it out for yourself: @theACEbus).  So what if my son's class was following the bus and they began to learn some math, geography, history and science based on the bus route and Tweets?  The bus could tweet the cost of gas (or the class could tweet the bus and ask) and they could chart the prices.  They could then discuss why gas prices might vary from place to place.  They could look at the next stop on the bus itinerary and predict the cost of gas in that city.  Older students could learn word problems by finding out the speed and the next destination and then check their calculations against Google maps.  They could then engage in discussions about why their time calculation may or may not match that of Google maps.  

Here are some ideas that could work for any elementary grade: How about learning about the state the bus is in?  Learning the map of the US by following the route?  What about planning alternate routes for the bus and talking about why students designed that particular route?  They could learn about the seasons in different parts of the country, or the customs of different regions that are based on the ethnicities of the groups who first populated that region.  The possibilities seem endless.  

Then, the students can build on these fun conversations (which are learning in disguise) and identify what they are most inspired by to then propose their own 20% project to pursue for that quarter or semester.  Maybe it has to do with learning their family history or answering the question: "If I could visit anywhere in the country, it would be...", or perhaps they want to develop a new mode of transportation (flying cars anyone?), or...  Kids have a great number of questions that they would just love to answer if given the chance.  

Now, I realize that talking buses don't come along every day but there are many ways to simulate something about picking a college or pro sports team to track when they are on the road, or look at the routes traveled by produce grown locally vs. produce that is trucked in from other states or even other countries.  These are just a few ideas.  But you can see how this would be so much more interesting than doing worksheets every day.  And at the end of the day, if my son had to continue his learning because tomorrow he is reporting back to the class on how long it takes grapes (one of his favorite fruits) to reach his table from Argentina when they are sold in our supermarket out of season, I guarantee he would be MUCH more excited about that than filling out a problem worksheet.  

So this leads me to the second half of my musings: failure.  We make a big deal about ensuring that students master material so that they don't earn the dreaded "F" on an assignment or assessment.  And we make a point to tell students that we don't "give" grades, they "earn" them.  Wow!  How is that for a mood killer?  A student tries their best based on their understanding of your expectations and all you can say is "F"?!  Well, news flash: in the "big bad world" you go through a process of trial and error.  You solicit feedback from your team, you get a result that you don't like and you go back to the drawing board.  Your boss doesn't give you an "F", your boss tells you to solve the problem.  

We are not preparing our students for the "real world" when they are so fearful of failure that they become paralyzed by and indifferent to the actual process of learning.  Students need to be willing to keep trying until they find an answer that solves the problem.  Teachers need to be willing to let go of "one right answer" and both model and encourage creative problem solving.  If I was in the classroom this year, that would mean very few multiple choice tests (only in my AP class because, well, let's face it,  it is going to be a long time before ETS and the College Board realizes that facts do NOT need to be tested any more) and more open-ended assessments that are NOT timed tests.  How often do any of us as adults face a situation where we have a set amount of time to solve a problem with no resources other than what is stored in our brain and a #2 pencil? NEVER.  So why do we still insist on following this protocol at school?  I am really quite dumfounded by the whole thing the more I think about just how archaic and out of touch the school room is with reality.  Yet I am willing to bet that every single educational institution promises it's parents, students and communities that their graduates will be "ready for the world".  Really?

And as for making sure students learn what they are "supposed" to learn.  Aren't our students supposed to ultimately learn how to interpret information, draw conclusions, think critically, and be able to express their conclusions succinctly?  Any authentic (I use "authentic" instead of "creative" because I feel that  creative implies something a bit unusual and I do not believe that I am discussing anything unusual, but rather what should be the new norm) approach to learning will definitely accomplish this.  Students will learn the skills of reading, writing and arithmetic along the way, not because they have to, but because they WANT to and NEED to in order to solve their problems. The "three R's" become embedded in the learning rather than distinct subjects taught out of context.

The solution is daunting as it requires reprogramming teachers, teacher credential programs, state education offices, national tests, our parent communities, and our students.  But, we know that every journey begins with a single step and I believe that if enough of us are willing to take that first step at our own institutions, perhaps before my son graduates from college we will have accomplished that change.  And that would be a pretty awesome accomplishment.  So spread the word, begin to plan your innovation and take your first step.  Our students are counting on us.

Photo credit:

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The End of the One-Room Schoolhouse

I was reminded that good coaching is not about dynamic coaches serving as heroic educators, but rather stems from the simple habits of connecting teachers to resources and asking them reflective questions.  ~Shane Safire  July, 2008

This week has consisted of a lot of coaching.  I know that last week I reflected on coaching.  However, I think our Monday #edleadchat topic on coaching and observing kept this topic in the forefront of my mind.  That coupled with a number of issues on campus related to new teachers seems to have forced my hand to circle back to this topic once again.

I was not able to observe as many classrooms as I would have liked this week.  But the ones I did get into provided a real range of experiences and helped me to really think about the reflective process.  I realized that it isn't enough to observe a classroom and pen a few notes of gratitude and "way to go-s" for each teacher.  There were some real opportunities for growth in most of the classes I observed and that was not just in rooms with new teachers.  In addition, I have found the new teachers begging for feedback and direction while the veteran teachers have been rather indifferent to feedback.  After all, some of them have been teaching much longer than I!  

So this week I took a new tact with my comments.  Every note opened with a thank you and highlighted a few of the points that I thought were really good from the portion of the lesson that I saw. 

Then I jumped into the shallow end with floaties.  

I posed a question about what I saw that I didn't fully understand because it isn't my content area or because I had missed the opening/ending of the lesson.  With the question, I invited the person to share some times with me that would be good to actually talk about my question, allowing the teacher face-to-face time to teach me.  As teachers have been only too eager to share their wisdom with me, I have been able to open up some doors for some great dialogue about approaches, and given the teachers a chance to reflect on their practice.

This is definitely a much softer approach than a formal evaluation with a list of mandated improvements before contracts are issued.  And not every teacher responds immediately to my request for a F2F.  But overall, the teachers who I have had the opportunity to chat with have been much more receptive to the conversation and suggestions than they ever were to formal feedback.  

The "downside" is that conversations take time (but as I said last week, this is the heart of my job so I don't consider time to chat with my colleagues about our craft a true downside) and the change is slow.  The "upside" however, is that I feel I am building a team and since the changes are generally presented as a menu of options, the teachers have a choice in what they will adopt.  I don't really care which of the menu options they choose because I make sure that every option I suggest will improve, rather than maintain, their craft.

Any sports coach will probably tell you that coaching takes time but the results are priceless.  I realize that this is a long-term process but I want to be part of a strong team so am looking to invest the time and effort. Fortunately for all of us, we are well beyond the one-room school house where the teacher was a lone-wolf, hoping to get through each day with more need for individualized instruction than most of us ever have to contend with, and no colleagues to share, plan, or commiserate with.  

We have the opportunity to collaborate F2F on our campuses, as well as via social media with teachers around the world.  I want every teacher to be able to take advantage of these opportunities.  However, as all leaders know, you must model expected/desired behavior.  Thus, if I talk teaching with the teachers, eventually they will talk teaching with each other.  That has happened on a small scale at our school for years.  I want to ramp it up considerably this year.

 If I could spend my time coaching and never again engage in a formal evaluation I would be only too happy.  I know formal evaluations have their place but hopefully enough coaching will have taken place prior to that day to allow even that experience to be one of excitement and welcome dialogue.

Photo credit:

Friday, September 6, 2013

Benchwarmers Don't Win the Game

This week I feel as though I began my real work: observing and coaching.  It was a great experience and I referred to it as my "play time" rather than walkthrough time.  Why?  Because in just 4 days it has become my favorite part of my day.  I was in 20 different rooms this week.  I saw different subjects, different methodologies, different grade levels.  It was so exciting!  The benefits I found this week include:

  • no "canned" lessons because I just showed up in peoples rooms rather than scheduling a formal visit
  • I would spend only about 10 minutes in each room so I was able to see so much more teaching and learning in a short period of time
  • the students were only too happy to fill me in if I had questions
  • because it was more informal, I felt as though I was really seeing the "true" nature of the teacher at work
  • I was able to provide timely feedback via email and this (and here is the truly awesome part) led to conversations between colleagues and between me and the faculty
I had no idea walkthroughs could be so much fun!

But it isn't just about getting out of the office to avoid the emails and voice mails.  There is a significant purpose to visiting classrooms: coaching.  This was what I knew I had to do, what teachers expected me to do.  However, I was completely unprepared for the faculty response to my process.  

Let me back up a minute and explain the system that has been in place since time immemorial (well, maybe not quite that long but it probably feels like it to the veteran teachers!): every year you were scheduled to be observed by one of two people: the Associate Principal or the Instructional Observer.  As the "observee", you were to review three different forms and select the area that you would like your observation to focus on.  A meeting was then set when you would sit down with the observer and you would discuss what you wanted them to focus on, schedule a time for the observation and then review the lesson you would be teaching.  The observer would come in for anywhere from 40-80 minutes (we are on a block schedule) and then after the observation, the observer would contact you when they had written up their notes, the two of you would schedule another time to meet, the observation would be reviewed, any corrections would be made and then you would receive a copy for your file.  This is an incredibly enriching process when you have something specific that you want to improve on.  However, it can turn into a very labor-intensive process, the feedback is not very timely (often a 2 week gap could exist between the observation and receiving the feedback) and you didn't always see authentic instruction and learning.

So, this new system that I have implemented this year is a rather radical departure from the tradition. However, it has been quite well received this year by veteran and new faculty alike.  They appreciate the immediate feedback and are already informing me of changes they are implementing based on my observations!  WOW!  A coach--because that is really what my function is in this capacity--can't ask for a better response.  Now, don't get me wrong, I have seen the entire spectrum of teaching in my 20 visits this week.  But I work to provide constructive feedback that is accompanied by real ideas that can be implemented.  I have also made sure to provide a selection of suggestions, not just one (no "my way or the highway" here) and also make sure I point out the good things that I see before making suggestions.

It is important to me that I get out to classrooms every day.  It is important that I hit different times of the day.  It is important to me that I provide timely feedback.  Why are these things important to me? (A professor of mine from my credentialing program would have called these three my "non-negotiables")  Here is why:
  • It is important that I am visible every day to teachers, students and staff.  I can't stay hidden behind my computer or there will be no respect for my office and I will quickly lose touch with what is happening on my campus
  • We all know that high schoolers are very different animals at 8:00 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. so I need to be sure to visit different blocks each day to get a feel for the changing mood and also better see what the teachers are dealing with from the same kids at different times of the day.  This will only help to inform my observations and allow me to provide more meaningful feedback
  • If I can give teachers feedback within 24 hours, they will still remember the lesson and what they did in that particular class.  This will then give them relevant data upon which to build and improve their practice.  It also allows them an opportunity to adjust future lessons in that unit if necessary.  The process is then meaningful, not something to check off your "to-do" list.  And, most importantly, if it is meaningful and relevant, then it is useful and will lead to improvement.

As a coach, I want to develop all of my teachers, veterans and newbies alike.  I do not want to hire benchwarmers.  That does no favors to the students or to our school community in general.  While it takes time to develop elite athletes, I fully believe that I am working with a whole building full of them.  It is my job to make sure that each teacher gets what they need to become that elite teacher.  And if I have elite teachers in every classroom at every period of the day, how can our students not win?

Photo from

Friday, August 30, 2013

Finding Simplicity...

As I reflect on the arrival of another Friday, I am amazed at the "normalcy" of this new job.  Let me explain...

Months ago when my promotion was announced, I received a lot of congratulatory messages.  I also received a lot of advice about how this job was going to be tough but that I could handle it. During the summer, I began to wonder on both already know that I spent days purging the office that I was moving into.  As I embarked on that process, I found that I was getting rid of items I had no idea were attached to my office and job responsibilities!  Hmmm, COULD I handle this job?  If all these "extras" were part of the title, the the toughest hurdle for me would be the time management needed to address the endless minutiae.

Fast-forward to the end of this week.  Week 3 of school for us.  I have had numerous faculty and parents compliment me on the job that I am doing and that has given me pause.  Because to be honest, I don't feel that I have done much at all.  I have made a few decisions, given some parent presentations, spoken to parents and students about their questions and concerns.  And I have been in classrooms, in the hallways, in offices, talking to faculty and staff.  Wishing them a great day, asking about a project or new lesson.  Sitting in on classes.  Asking students about a particular lesson.  None of this, to me, seems unusual, challenging or out of the ordinary.  However, to the faculty and staff here it appears to be extra-ordinary and very welcome.

And that minutiae that I excavated during the summer?  Well, as it turns out much of that never belonged in the office anyway!  Turns out my predecessor was not always timely in getting rid of old items.  So getting rid of what I did was allowing me to simplify the scope of my office.  I highly recommend that to anyone.  Simplicity is best.  It is the easiest way to prioritize.  If you identify and address the boulders, the pebbles seem to find their way to a resolution without any effort at all.

So, as I conclude this week, I am appreciative of the relative simplicity of my job.  I am appreciative of the support of parents, students, faculty, staff, and my fellow Administrators.  I have quickly come to realize that as with any relationship, it is not in the "wow" moments--which come very infrequently--but in the simple moments that the job is done.

So as you head into this wonderful and welcomed 3-day respite, savor the simple moments for they will be the ones upon which your relationships are built and your effectiveness as a leader is measured.

Photo courtesy of the view from my office.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Only 35 More Fridays to Go...

So make the most of this and every Friday!

That was how I started my email to the faculty for today.  As the first week of school draws to a close I learned two very important lessons (IMO):

1. There is more in my "to learn" bucket right now than there is in my "I know this!" bucket  and

2. What I know doesn't matter so much as how I handle what comes across my desk

My second point is going to be critical as the "I'm new to this office" excuse will only last for so long.  In the mean time, I feel I worked hard to set a great tone with faculty, staff, parents and students this week.  I was out of my office more than I was in it.  I was in classrooms, directing students, answering questions for parents, solving problems, sharing ideas, listening to concerns.

There were questions asked for which I honestly had no answer.  I had to say so.  That is pretty humbling.  But no one seemed to mind.  Perhaps because I was honest?  Perhaps because it was a human response?  I am not sure.  But I do know that at the end of the day, and at the end of the week, at least at the end of this first week, I had far more people telling me how grateful they were for what I was doing and telling me that it was o.k. to not have an answer.  Wow!  I wonder if I ever told a student that it was o.k. that they didn't have an answer.  Probably not.  This is an important point to remember as I will have many students in my office in the coming months and I am willing to bet that at least a few of them will not have an answer to a question I will ask them.

So, we have 35 more Fridays until summer vacation (not counting holidays).  My goal: To make the most of each and every one because at the end of the day, I may not have cleared my "in box" and I may not have known the answer to every question.  But I will know that I did my best and attempted to handle each situation with honesty, compassion, and realism.  And that, to me, is making the most of my day.

Photo from

Friday, July 26, 2013

Swimming in the Deep End

The school year begins in about 3 weeks for us.  I have spent the summer supposedly preparing myself for this new position: Associate Principal.  I dutifully vacated my old post of Social Sciences Chair and attempted to leave the department and its offices more organized and user friendly than when I arrived--the old adage of: "Leave the World a Better Place Than When You Found it" was my mantra as I sifted through literally decades of old text books and files.  I then began to make my new office my "home". Again I sifted through decades of books and files.  At times I wondered if I was making the right decisions.  After all, I've never done this job before so who am I to decide what stays and what goes? Slowly I gained confidence and books from the 1980s and 1990s on teaching methodologies were sent to the recycler, files were digitized, file cabinets removed.  I'm not finished yet (10 boxes and counting still to review) but I feel much better about my "space".

So on to the real preparation:
I need to be sure to be ready to lead.
I need to be ready to build trust with my faculty, our students, our parents, our Board.
I need to be ready to make the tough decisions.

Communication seems like a great place to start but how much is too much? How can I be sure to reach everyone where they are?  And how will I find time to do all that I want to do?  My list is pretty ambitious, I think.

I committed myself in a letter that went out to our parents to Tweeting every week about what is happening on campus.  I have yet to pick up one parent follower.  So, do I not Tweet?  No.  I said I would so I will.  Eventually parents will follow, right?  In the mean time, my solutions is that every couple of weeks I will have to gather the "best of the best" and send out a parent update so that those not on Twitter can keep up with the happenings as well.

I have promised the faculty that they will be visited regularly on walk-throughs.  They are very excited about this opportunity for coaching, growth, and quite frankly, visibility. There are some amazing things happening in our classrooms every day (I use the "our" in the royal sense here because I know that on every campus at any given moment there are amazing things happening).  However, I am the ONLY one on campus that will be doing walk throughs.  My solution here is to schedule regular walk-through time and create a fun sign for my door so that people know I am out and will be back later.

I want to send monthly emails to our faculty about articles and books and websites that I have found that I think might be of interest.

I want to keep up with my PLNs on Twitter.

I will be co-moderating a new chat starting this fall.

I need, for myself, to keep up this blog to allow for reflection.

The solution to these four PD time-grabbers: limit my on-line time, curate articles and sites in Live Binder and Delicious for future sharing, and don't update my blog the same day that I moderate the chat.

I believe that communication, really effective, timely, relevant communication will allow me to do my job more effectively, will allow my teachers to excel in their practice, will allow our students to exceed their expectations and will keep our parents and Board members happy.

Thus the question then is really, not what from my list of goals to keep and what to toss, a la the final exams I found from 1992, but rather, how to best structure my time to ensure that all of these goals get accomplished every week.  That's the "jumping in" part.  So here's to the deep end and swimming, rather than the shallow end and observing.

Photo from:

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Welcome to my blog!  It actually began as an assignment during a CUERockstar camp (I love tech so watch for it popping up here).  However, after some thought, it actually seemed like it could be more than "just another assignment" and here's why...

This is my first year in Administration after 15 years of teaching high school history.  Experience has taught me that the first year of anything is nothing if not an adventure.  Now, those of you who are more seasoned might be saying: "I do not think that word means what you think it means" or "Ha!  That's an understatement!".  My hope is that through my blog, even if no one reads it, I will have the opportunity to reflect on my new position, with all of the ups and downs, and come out on the other end still smiling and looking forward to another year and more adventures.  So thanks for popping in on my journey.  Feel free to leave comments and share your wisdom, your fears, your experiences.  Perhaps we can learn from each other.  Administrators can often be isolated, know that you are welcome here.  So, without further adieu, let the journey begin...

Photo from: