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Archive for the ‘Principal’ Category

There are a myriad of excuses that follow this string of sentences:  “I am not great at getting into classrooms.   I want to be better at it.  I know it is important.  I know what a difference it makes.

  • It is just too busy at the office.
  • Turning away an angry parent just is not good.
  • If I didn’t have to deal with discipline I could get into rooms more.
  • I teach 75% of the time.
  • Instructional leadership isn’t in my portfolio.
  • I don’t know what to do when I am there.
  • I don’t want to interrupt the learning.  When I go in everything stops!
  • There is just too much paperwork and email to deal with.
  • My staff is not ready for this.”
Image

The VP and I are committed to being part of the fabric of learning.

Not all school administrators share this gripe.  Not all share the excuses either.  Anymore.  Whether you are put off by me calling them excuses or not may say a little about whether your problem lies in logistics or plain old primal fear.  Fear of what you ask?  I suggest the thing that humans fear the most: not belonging.  In this case by invoking conflict or confrontation with the ones that you spend the majority of your time with each day and happen to be leading, the educators in the building.

What do I understand to be logistics issues?  For the most part I understand logistics issues to be one of two things:  Complaints about the uncontrollable or misaligned priorities.   I am obviously simplifying here.  This is a blog post after all and not a book.  Here are some:

What do I understand to be fear issues?  The issue I have heard discussed by colleagues and taken great interest in is the fear of the conversation with a staff member whose classroom you have visited (or not).  This is different from a “difficult conversation” as it is a continual process and not a moment in time.  Some fears may be:

  • How to give feedback.
  • Hurting their “feelings” versus “It is their job”.
  • Ego concerns (yours and theirs).
  • Avoiding an issue for too long.
  • Resting on “they will never change”.
  • Thinking that the conversation will become a snowball of toxicity and thus need be avoided.
  • Having your good intentions be misconstrued.
  • Not having the right language for the dialogue.
  • It is going to be really hard work.
  • What are you pretending not to know?

I ask this question:  If you deem your issue a logistical one and respond by doing some combination of the following:

holding all your calls, telling the office to talk to the Child and Youth Worker if there is an “issue”, telling the secretary that you are not to be disturbed while you are “visiting” Mr. Cowper’s grade 5 classroom, taking an innovative checklist on a clipboard with you etc.

–Have you heightened the anxiety for yourself and those around you or have you increased the likelihood of a successful classroom visit?  I contend the former.  Can you imagine the talk in the school when the world finds out that the Principal put his entire day on hold to visit your classroom?  What started out with your good intentions has now become a fear issue.  Just wait till you get so busy you can’t do this (in your own mind) and you stop the visits.  How do the teachers feel now that got a visit?  What about the ones that didn’t?  I am wondering if you are picking up what I am laying down.  They are all fear issues.  Logistics issues are simply masking your human need to belong to a group.  Sure, sound tough.  Say it out loud:  “I don’t care if they like me or not . . .”  Yes you do.  Saying it doesn’t make it true.  Do not confuse being liked and being respected.  Visiting classrooms and discussing learning does not have to be an event that ends in your acceptance or isolation.  It can simply be the leader you are and the way you lead.  Watch an episode of Undercover Boss.  The CEO usually says something along the lines of “I had no idea . . .”  Why wait to be undercover?  What are you waiting for?

What can we do about it?

As a group of instructional leaders, leaders being compensated to use our emotional intelligence and positional authority through pressure and support, it is our obligation to stop using some variation of the “I need to get better at getting into classrooms” and replace it with a something new, something intentional.

“I love getting into classrooms and have made it a priority to visit classrooms.  I am an important part of the learning fabric of the school.  I do this everyday through dialogue with students first and teachers second.”  If this wordy sentence is too much for you (I’m told all the time I am wordy) just try.  “I am going into classrooms today.”  or “I am getting into classrooms regularly.”

They still use lie detectors in this day and age!

They still use lie detectors in this day and age!

Making a commitment to do something new requires us to change the words we use.  The actions we take stem from the words we use.  The words we use are a result of our thinking.  Our thinking is who we are.    Our bodies defy us when we lie.  It is practically impossible to fool our physical selves with words.  They still use lie detectors in this day and age!  Thus you stop committing and resort back to “I am not great at…”  (in which case you never will be.) or some other passive statement devoid of intention.    The other result is that your physical body responds to your new intentional statements.  You visit the classrooms.  You engage in critical and constructive dialogue.  Your actions are full of purpose and conviction.   Your statements on learning in the school are more authentic, informed and certainly more intentional.

There are a number of things to do to get better at the feedback portion of the visit.  First stop thinking of it as feedback.  It is a dialogue.  Feedback says–“I am the wise Principal and you will learn from me.”  This stance is less growth and more fixed in Mindset.  Just engage in dialogue.  Ask the teachers to “Talk more about that.” Eventually staff will ask for “feedback” and that is your cue to start calling it that; this is the invitation that says your EiQ (emotional intelligence quotient) is high with this individual.  Engage in professional learning about Critical Friends Groups or Cognitive Coaching.  Understand what Habits of Mind are and use them.  The work you are involved in requires a great deal of understanding about working with adult learners.  The work you are engaged in requires more Emotional Intelligence than you already have.  Exercise it more and it will grow.  Pressure your district or association to help prepare you for working with adult learners, ask for coaching workshops, emotional intelligence work or sessions on professional dialogue with teachers.  Give your needs a voice in your district as there are others with the same needs.  Start a critical friends group or an administrative learning team.  Practise giving each other warm and cool feedback on authentic work you provide.  Avoid comments that speak to the person and not the work.  (These last few comments deserve a blog post on their own.)

Do you need a starting point for working with and talking to the adults in your building that are in charge of student learning?

Stop saying “should” and “but” when in a dialogue with another or with yourself.  When you stop saying these words your mind will eventually stop thinking in these terms.  You replace should with action as “shoulds” only delay the action.  It will take you awhile to find replacements for these words.  There is a way around the words and not the feeling they invoke.  You are trying to get away from the feeling they invoke so new thinking is going to be needed and not simply new words like “however” and “did you think about doing it this way?”

Getting into classrooms is important and non-urgent.  It is the chance to be a visible member of the learning fabric.  It is a chance to remind yourself why you do this good work.  It is a chance to connect with the professional educators in the building, to dialogue, laugh and even cry.  It is the only way any of your vision work will have credibility with the students, staff and parents of the school.  Your positional power is not nearly enough to be an instructional leader.

Portions of this blog post were written while rocking out to Imaginary Cities and Bahamas!

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A video that was inspired by @Johnwink90 ‘s 136 character tweet.

On Saturday, July 18, I participated in #satchat.  I had some time while the kids were playing Plants versus Zombies (the “Cowper Game App of the Summer!”).   I had a coffee and my partner was reading beside me.  I figured….why not.  The topic of the day was “Back to School” and leading us was @DCulberhouse.  I knew that the majority of the educators were West Coasties and I was interested in their take on Back to School.  Of course there were many other participants from all over North America.  Until the spammers got ahold of the hashtag things were going great.  Of course the infiltration of spammers has nothing to do with the good people leading or participating in #satchat.  On the contrary.  The fact that we were trending a topic on a Saturday morning across the continent (and warranted the most inappropriate spam) speaks volumes about the quality of the 140 character content.

As @dougpete explains in What does Twitter for PD Mean; Twitter can be a launching pad:


The best learning for me happens when the conversation takes off and doesn’t necessarily stay in the social media.  I like following the links – take me to news reports, research, forums, wikis, and blogs where the meaty stuff resides.  You don’t get the full monty 140 characters at a time but like the library card catalogue, it should be there to tease and inform you about where the good stuff is.

After reading @dougpete’s blog entry and considering many conversations with incredible learning leaders like @kellypower and @globeandtims I continue to rehash the essential question:  Is Twitter a Professional Learning tool?

Well, in this particular instance,:

  1. I participated in the chat on Saturday with a group of like-minded educators passionate about learning and opening the school year (from all over North America).
  2. I learned of a myriad of ways other leaders are handling logistical issues that are ever-present in the first weeks of school.
  3. I grabbed a few nuggets of wisdom that resonated with me.
  4. I learned of many ideas, best practises and innovations for having a successful Back to School Night.
  5. I learned of one Principal (@JohnWink90) making “How To” videos for his parents and community.
  6. I made the committment to “give it a go” (thanks for the lingo @jessmcculloch) myself with an iPad, iMovie and our Eastwood Eagles YouTube account.
  7. I filmed the entire video using my own children and a few adult helpers as “actors” on the very same day.
  8. I then sent the video to three individuals (@avivaloca being one), I have never met face to face, for their perspective and assistance (as well as an administrator in a neighbouring district.)
  9. I also sent the video to two Vice Principals in my district for their perspective and assistance.
  10. Finally I uploaded the video to our school blog and mailed it directly to our faculty (we have some new faces)

I have captured the moment I got the idea with this image:

This endeavour involved professionals, learning, technology tools, acting (doing) and reflecting.  I will undoubtedly get feedback from the community, other school leaders and the kids.  Granted there is not a direct impact on student achievement.  I still believe firmly that the reason I engaged in the entire process was because I am a member of an ever-expanding professional learning network through Twitter.  Again, in this instance the power of social media lead to deeper learning experiences.

For me Twitter has not been the best professional learning I have ever engaged in.  I believe that saying this is hyperbole.  On the contrary I have had some incredibly moving learning experiences with one, two or three people in a room making dialogue over work, learning, dilemmas or successes of our profession.  These are the professional learning experiences that have been the most riveting and influential.  Funny thing is. . . without Twitter I may not have had the opportunity to have these conversations with the likes of those mentioned above (not to mention the 34 #UnPlugd12 -ers from last weekend!).  Twitter has turned me on to some individuals who have led me to question, bolster, appreciate, act on and essentially change my perspective on just about everything I have learned to this point.

Thanks good sir.  I hope it helps our school community this September.  I am going to have some fun filming a trailer for this academic year next!

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During my 4 day institute on Critical Friends Groups in Alpharetta, Georgia we continually referred to our “gingerbread man”.  On day one we started our “Opening Moves” with the construction of gingerbread men that carried a number of our notions, perspectives, thoughts into our intense 4 days of learning work.  Each area on the cardboard cut out represented thoughts that we had.

  1. The head was a place to write things that are annoyances to us or things that “drove us crazy.” 
  2. The chest or heart was a place to locate those things that you loved. 
  3. The stomach area was for things that gave you indigestion.
  4. The hands were a place to indicate something you endeavoured to let go of during the institute and something you brought to the table.
  5. Each leg represented a place to write a reason you came to the institute and something you hope to take away with you.

During each day of the institute participants took their “gingy” in hand and reported out about one of the items on the surface.

On day one I shared that “something I love as a father is the noises Gavin makes (all be them rude sometimes) when he is really enjoying food that I prepare for him, especially when I cook him homemade tomato sauce for his penne.

Out of that sharing came this audioboo when I returned home and made Gav a tomato sandwich:

[gigya src=”http://boos.audioboo.fm/swf/fullsize_player.swf” flashvars=”mp3=http%3A%2F%2Faudioboo.fm%2Fboos%2F884642-the-noises-gavin-makes-when-he-likes-my-food.mp3%3Fsource%3Dwordpress&mp3Author=Cowpernicus&mp3LinkURL=http%3A%2F%2Faudioboo.fm%2Fboos%2F884642-the-noises-gavin-makes-when-he-likes-my-food&mp3Time=03.46pm+14+Jul+2012&mp3Title=The+noises+Gavin+makes+when+he+likes+my+food.” width=”400″ height=”160″ allowFullScreen=”true” wmode=”transparent”]

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iSEE through Learning: information Safety, Ethics and Etiquette through Learning

I am working with a number of teachers to support the integration of technology into a Project Based Learning environment. As the Principal time is of the essence. I have blocked out two periods a week to work with a group of 13 students in grades 5 and 6 to support their learning on ancient civilizations. We have a fundamental question: What civilization provided the best innovations that impact our current civilization. The teachers started by using the work of Garfield Gini-Newman on critical thinking.

Below I have included a letter to parents that I wrote in order to invite them to participate with their child.

Dear Parents and Guardians,

I am working closely with Mrs. Mundy, Mrs. Deters and Mrs. Chartier to help support your child’s learning in social studies, science and literacy. Specifically I am working on incorporating the use of web 2.0 tools to track, engage and record our learning.

What is web 2.0?

Web 2.0 is the term that is being used by educators all over the globe to describe the use of the internet to create content and place it in the public forum for use, manipulation and creation. In other words it is a creative process for showing your learning that others can use to show their learning.

Web 2.0 has a myriad of online applications that can be used to generate content creatively. Some examples of web 2.0 tools are:

Social Media Applications: Twitter, Facebook, texting
Content Creation Applications: Blogging, YouTube, AudioBoo
Networking Applications: Skype, Google+, email

It is my intention to work with your child on learning the important lessons of safety, ethics and etiquette in this ever changing learning environment. For example, our first lesson was: “If we wouldn’t say it in the classroom, we won’t say it on Web 2.0” There are many lessons and learning opportunities that will arise from our work in this environment. It is my intention to help protect our children by teaching them with the tools instead of assuming they are protected by banning the tools for learning.

If you don’t already please follow the many web 2.0 elements of school life at Eastwood. We have many blogs, a Facebook account, Twitter feeds, Audioboo account and Youtube Account. These accounts will connect to the work your child is doing and is a way for you to share in the learning. I am going to host a parent night in May so stay tuned.

I also included this poster, that hangs in all classrooms, to illustrate our work with students to understand the role that BYOD plays in our student learning.

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My son has been whispering I’m sorry from the wing back lounge chair for almost 30 minutes. At least I hope that is what he is whispering. Could be he is still repeating that I didn’t buy him a lego set. This might be the largest Starbucks I’ve been too besides Seattle’s flagship. Yet I’ve only seen the first 10 feet. I havent even ordered my triple venti latte yet. This is something as, I admit, I am addicted. No, instead I am using this time to help my son learn a lesson about being grateful.

He entered LEGOLAND in Chicago bouncing and giggling. He left all snot and lower lip. What started as “take my picture, take a picture of that spider, take a picture of the hippo.” Ended as “I didnt get a lego set! I wanted a lego set.” His heart rate was 114 going in and 114 comin out. (I checked with my Azumio app.) Mine, a duldrum 41. We are sometimes “out of sync.”

Remaining calm in the face of such acrimonious dialogue is a skill I did not learn from my father. I am sure generation Xers can relate. My dad did not reason or coddle. You with me so far. While my Dad cultivated my philosophy of high expectations and trust above all else it is my life and skills as an educator that have most certainly saved me as a parent. For instance, I have written this entire post during “the episode” as my daughter calls them. I distance myself from the behaviour, refuse to own negative energy and resist fully the temptation to take events like this personally. The last element being the hardest as Gavin is my flesh and blood.

“You just don’t like me, that is why you didn’t get me legos or a birthday present.” You see he even makes stuff up to try and engage me. Not happening. At this point in the timeout I am surprised the barista hasn’t charged us for the bazillion Starbucks napkins Gavin has used to wipe his nose.

This relationship, between parenting and teaching, is the most important aspect of my life as a father. I share this everyday with students, parents and teachers. It is the one aspect of my personal life that I cannot seperate from my work life. In Loco Parentis or in this case In Parentis.

I got an apology. I got a hug. More than that Gavin figured it all out when he saw me typing on my iPhone.

“Are you writing this all down Daddy?”

“Yes Gavin.” I replied stoically.

“For everyone to read Daddy.”

“Yes Gav. For everyone to read and learn from our mistakes and our work.”

“I love you Daddy. Sorry.”

It seems Gavin has my desire to help others too.

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I had the great opportunity to work with a classroom teacher most recently.  Sure, you say, that is what Principals do.  This was different.  It was like undercover boss.  I co-planned and co-taught with the teacher.  This experience was different.  Together the teacher and I hurried through some plans to delivery a background knowledge lesson on Making Connections.  This was uncharted territory for both of us.  What the teacher expressed as intimidation I expressed as anxiety.  We were in this boat together!

The interesting piece here is the result.  Prior to working together the teacher, very honestly, articulated that she was quite intimidated by the thought that I was making qualitative judgements about her teaching along the way and that I may not respect her as a teacher when the lesson is through.  I expressed the very same fear and was able to recognize that it was our ego talking.  Post teaching the exact opposite was quite clear.  I, very honestly, articulated the exact opposite of her initial fear.  I respected and valued the work this teacher was doing 10 fold now that I had got into the trenches with her.  Her willingness to team with the Principal, her ability to voice concern, her ability to reflect and her acceptance of coaching along the way all worked together to strengthen my qualitative judgements of her abilities as a “Learn Maker”.

Something did come out of this for me.  I realized, with her help, that I ask a great deal of questions.  I have reflected on this much.  Many of my colleagues and teachers alike would suggest that was my job!  “You are supposed to ask the questions!  If you don’t who will?”  I can hear them say.  This idea has not helped me reflect on why I ask the questions.   Ah-Ha moment!  Instead a fellow teacher hearing our debrief after the day was through commented, “Sir, you ask questions like a Gatling Gun!”  We all laughed.  I reflected.  Do I ask questions to get them where I want them?  Do I ask questions to get them to think deeper?  Do I ask questions as a tacit effort to move them?  or…….Do I ask questions to allow them to find their own way.

Print Your Own Gatling Gun Colouring Page if you too are reflecting on your questioning technique!

I followed my experience up with a Skype call to a genius.  A member of my larger PLN is a facilitation leader and thought leader on Protocols and Critical Friends Groups.  I needed help.  I understand that just by virtue of exploring my questioning techniques and motives I am headed up the right path.  I have two resources that I can put into my “arsenal” to help me gain insight on my practise.  I have a protocol that I will use in a PLC setting with my instructional coach to help my learning become more public (Focus Point-School Reform Initiative) and The Pocket Guide to Probing Questions is a reference that I will use to guide my reflection on my “Gatling Gun” like questioning quality.

The experience was a rich one.  The follow-up plan for the student work and achievement has already begun with the teacher I worked with.  My continued work on providing teachers valuable feedback through a coaching stance is causing serious self-reflection about what school administrators can do to take the focus teacher instructional improvements for student achievement improvements to the next level.

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I have embarked on a major project as part of my NSDC Academy Class of 2011.  I am working with 20 other elementary administrators like myself in some ways and very different in some ways.  We are engaging and learning together with a critical friend from another jurisdiction on the continent.  Our critical friend is a fellow learner, administrator and a skilled facilitator of adult professional learning.  The goal of my work is to enhance, develop or initiate the facilitative leader in all of us.  We are building on leadership skills that we all have.  We are building on the facilitative skills that lie in the realm of pressure and support.  We are working in the realm of relationships and protocols for engagement.  We are working so we may harness the true power and expertise of our teachers for improved student achievement.

First things first.  I am using technology to engage with my counterparts.  Using Twitter, Blogs, YouTube, Wikis and Google proved to be far to complex for many of my colleagues.  The learning curve was simply too steep for many.  I went to the one stop shop for professional educators:  The School Improvement Networks, PD360.  This on demand professional learning experience is tailored for educators.  It combines almost all the components of the above mentioned network tools in one place.  There are limitations however.

I look forward to updating this blog entry regularly as it will serve as my journal for my work with colleagues.  So far…14 of 22 have signed in for the first time.  Not bad.  We have two different physical meetings scheduled including our first….how to….coming up soon.  In all we will be working through protocols for PLCs from the School Reform Initiative and Michael Fullan’s newest Motion Leadership.

There is work to be done.  I am doing the work alongside my friends and colleagues.  I am engaged in and implementing the learning simultaneously.  Exciting and tiring.  Our kids are worth it.

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