Sunday, August 30, 2015

Iterate, Iterate, Iterate!

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As we finish week two, I feel like our ship is ready to jump to warp speed for the school year.  Only I am not sure that all of the supports are in place to allow for the jump.   I feel like Scotty in the Engine Room saying we need more power or the engines won't hold for warp speed (my sci-fi alter-ego).  And then I had the opportunity to talk to some of our new parents about what we do at Notre Dame.  This conversation--for which I was joined by my colleague Rebecca Girard, who among other things is our Ed Tech Instigator--reminded me of Carol Dweck's work and the idea of a Growth Mindset.  And suddenly, I was looking at the fact that the "ship" is ready to make the jump to warp speed (or FTL as it is known in the current sci-fi shows) without all the supports fully in place as my own opportunity to model Growth Mindset.  How perfect!

As educators we constantly are talking about the idea of FAIL = First Attempt in Learning, and that being Life Long Learners is the goal rather than regurgitating information for a test, and the need for authentic learning and authentic audiences and... You can fill in this litany with your own school language, motto, etc.  But how often do we as the adults fully model ALL that we talk about?  I know that I don't.  I am great at sharing my learning.  And I am always giving pep-talks to the students about taking risks and seeing what they can learn from the fails.  But publicly calling attention to my own fails?  Not very often at all.  So this recent conversation has allowed me to revisit the past two weeks through a different lens.

There are a number of projects in various states of "done".  This is certainly not the ideal because my office is a direct support to the teachers.  If I am not ensuring full support to them in the classroom, will they feel that I care?  That I deliver on what I say?  That the deadlines I impose matter?  My initial answer to all of those questions is a resounding "NO!"  I am frantic about meeting deadlines.  It is how I can show support to the teachers, right?  Well, perhaps not.  It is one way, but not the only way.

So, with five significant projects all still "in progress", I am going to hit the ground Monday with a new plan.  I am reassessing what the data tells me about the projects that aren't yet done.  I am going to have more conversations with those involved in completing the projects as well as those affected by the projects.  It might be that I have the priority list all wrong. There might be some road-blocks that haven't been shared with me affecting some of the projects.

If I don't ask, I won't know!  And with more information, I can do a number of things.  I can:
1. readjust my expectations
2. more clearly communicate with faculty, students, and parents
3. find new/different solutions to help move the projects along

All of this will be helpful, and it models the idea of iterating, responding to setbacks and adjusting.  Flexibility and  patience are challenging for me when I want to give the teachers what they want to do their jobs.  But these past two weeks are a reminder to me that I never stop learning and I need to continue to work on "walking the walk".

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Informing the Year Ahead

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Wow!  It has certainly been a week.  But isn't the first week of the year always a little hectic?  No
matter how well you plan over the summer, you never quite know how things will go once you add the students and staff.  This year was no different.  In reflecting on the week, I noticed a few points that I feel are going to inform my year and help me to be a better administrator.

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1. Lesson one: flexibility and patience! Technology will always start off a little rocky so don't expect it to go smoothly!   We had so many IT issues I was ready to just hand out paper and pencils
and call it a day.  But the faculty kept plugging along and the more I communicated with them, the easier it got.  By Friday, most of the challenges had been smoothed out.  We still have some big issues to tackle in the coming weeks in order to get everything up to full speed but I was very pleased with the progress and the patience exhibited by all.
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2. Lesson two: untether!  I spent more time out and about this first week than I did in entire months
last year.  No Office Days this year are a goal but I was pleasantly surprised at how simple it was to just get out.  Despite the numerous bits that had to be addressed, I found I was more effective "on the road" so to speak with just my phone, than I was in my office.  And bonus: faculty saw me and could get questions answered or have an ear to listen to their challenges with no effort on their part.  That definitely helped put them at ease and, I think, helped to diffuse some potential bombs.

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3. Lesson three: acknowledgement!  Everyone, no matter who they are, want to be recognized. While I am SUPER bad with names (in the classroom, I would warn the students that they would be lucky if I knew their names by Halloween!), I am REALLY good with faces.  So I made it a point to greet students and when appropriate, reference an interaction we might have had earlier in the week.  It's easy for me to call the adults by name and I try to say hello to every one every day.  Way back in my undergrad days, my Business Management prof called that "Howdy Rounds".  Some undisclosed number of years later, that lesson is still with me.  But it's the students that I want to focus on this year (it's what I wrote about last week).  While I didn't connect with all 450 girls last week, I did connect with many and I look forward to adding to their numbers as the year goes on.

So here's to week one in the books.  And here is to some lessons that I can move forward with this year.  I hope that you had a great first week and would love to hear what your take-aways are that will inform your year ahead.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sponge Bob and School

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The first day of school is upon us.  And I have been so busy trying to get summer projects completed, I really haven't had much time to reflect on the first day.  So today I made it a point to really think about the message I want to send. To this end,  my inspiration has come from my son.  You see, in addition to Monday being the first day of school for our students, it is also his birthday.  Every year he gives me a theme and I create a cake for him.  This year he asked for Sponge Bob.  Oh Boy!  Well, I pulled off a decent cake to give homage to Bikini Bottom but as I worked on it, I thought a lot about the draw of this crazy show to kids.

What struck me was the undeniable friendship between Sponge Bob and Patrick.  They do goofy things together, they back each other up, they have disagreements, they reconcile, they have adventures, they laugh.  A lot.  And it struck me that this sort of unconditional friendship is exactly what I want for our students.  There is so much in the news about kids not feeling as though they "fit in", being bullied, ostracized, made fun of.  That is not the world that I want our students entering, creating, or sustaining on our campus.  Rather, I want our students to feel that someone has their back, someone gets them, someone will laugh with them, someone will give them a hug when they are sad, someone will cheer them on when they take risks, someone will celebrate with them when they achieve.

I have people like this in my life.  Some of them encouraged me this past week with great messages:

Everyone deserves this kind of encouragement every day.  So as the new school year dawns, this is my goal: find ways every day to let people know that someone cares about them and will support them.  I am going to add this student dimension to my focus points for my walk-abouts.  This way while I am connecting with teachers and letting them know that they matter by visiting their classes and having meaningful conversations about their lessons, I can also spend time with students and let them know that they matter.  

Last year I spent a lot of time focusing on the adults.  Thanks to my son, I realize that I need to more actively engage the students as well.  I am lucky to work with a group of adults who do put students first.  But I personally am feeling pushed to do more.  I work with lots of students when they are struggling academically.  But what about before that struggle?  And what about the students who never have to come to my office?  I need to take a more proactive role this year.

So here is to the start of another amazing school year.  To conversations, friendships, laughter, challenges, failures, achievements.  And here is to the students that make it possible for us to have such great opportunities year after year.  We are truly blessed as educators.  

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Strength for the Journey
Strength for the Journey is one of my all-time favorite worship songs.  It was written by Michael John Piorier and the lyrics really sum up my reflections from this past summer.

This summer was a lesson in humility and patience.  Traditionally summer is a time to set new goals for learning, improving, tinkering, and rest in order to prepare and rejuvenate for the year ahead.  Summer is a time to reset, take the long view, recalibrate, tackle larger projects.  All of these were part of my to-do list.  Now that we are a few days away from welcoming students back to school I see that the path this summer was far different from my vision.  And in the end, I am grateful for the challenges and hard work that came with the different path because I believe that our school is in a much stronger place than if the summer had adhered to  the path I mapped out.

The typical list of summer conferences that I like to attend did not happen due to a variety of reasons.  In addition, I was tethered very close to home diligently looking for the right people to add to our staff (the last one just accepted yesterday, the day of New Hire Orientation--nothing like cutting it close!)  Thus, PD this summer relied heavily on reading.  In reviewing some of the titles that I read, I see how well a few of them tie together and unknowingly strengthened me this summer for the journey I undertook.

Redeeming Administration by Ann M. Garrido is a wonderful read for anyone in leadership and I envision drawing upon many of it's lessons this year.  Another of my favorites from this summer is Exploiting Chaos by Jeremy Gutsche.  These two reads really helped crystalize the "why" of my crazy summer journey.
In Garrido's book, she speaks in the first chapter about the importance of Administrators creating "an environment where life can flourish." (17)  As leaders, if we do not take the time to find the right faculty and staff for our sites, then life can't flourish.  Students are not given the freedom to explore because they aren't challenged, or they don't feel safe or welcomed or recognized.  A poor environment does not encourage life to flourish.  In the same way, if we mis-hire, the adult who is not a right fit for the community also can not flourish.  They are nervous, stressed, overwhelmed.  Again, if they don't feel comfortable then they can't flourish.  It is a lose-lose, and something that we really can't afford when dealing with kids.  So, while it took all summer to complete the hiring process, when put into the context of creating a community that allows life to flourish, I am grateful that it took so long.  The new cohort of faculty and staff is AMAZING and I can't wait to see them and their students grow this year.
Another aspect of schools that encourages life to flourish--or not--is the actual curriculum.  And here is where Garrido and Gutsche intersect.  Part of Garrido's book overlays the story of a Catholic Saint with the chapter focus.  Chapter one is all about vision and the saint that she chose is a saint named Angela Merici, a Catholic educator in 15th century Italy and foundress of the Ursuline order, well known for it's work on the North American frontier during the early years of the United States.  The line that resonated with me about Merici's life was that she was "open to allowing her work to evolve, not insisting that her own ideas be preserved for generations." (24)  I wish to superimpose this idea with a theme from Gutsche's book that actually comes from Stanford's dSchool: Nothing is precious.  As leaders, there can be a tendency to get so attached to our ideas, visions, goals, that we can't let go of them when something better presents itself or when flaws are identified.  However, modern leadership requires great flexibility and agility.  This summer, in addition to hiring a small stable of new educators, an
opportunity presented itself  to make some bold changes in one department where the curriculum had become staid.  It was (and is) a great risk that the Admin team took to decide to completely renovate and re-imagine the department.  Quite honestly, some of the faculty departures allowed us to be a bit bolder than had they not left.  The challenge to fill three spots in the department was a bit daunting.  But then we flexed our thinking, took note of the idea that "nothing is precious" and dove in to re-imagining.  The result will play out this year and we are extremely excited about the potential.  Yes, there will be challenges but we are implementing a growth mindset here and being willing to fail a bit to learn and grow.  Had we stuck with the "that's the way we've always done it" mentality, or had I been insistent that my summer path was THE summer path, this would not have come about.

So as summer winds down and the excitement and energy of a new year approaches, I look back and see that there was a vision greater than my own at work here.  I have opened the door a bit wider to challenge, I am re-focusing on the larger picture, I am less fearful of what appears to be chaos, and I know that there are many people on the journey with me.  Here's to a great school year!