Category: Community (ISLLC 4)

A school administrator is an educational leader who promotes the success of all students by collaborating with families and community members, responding to diverse community interests and needs, and mobilizing community resources.

And I Quote: Meeting Teachers In Their Classrooms As A Foundation For Professional Learning

Meeting Learners in Their Space

Professional learning in school communities is unquestionably a complex and challenging concept to attend to. Teachers, like all learners, are wide ranging in their interests, their developmental pathways, their learning styles, and their capacity to engage on any given day and in any given setting. There is no standard that works for everyone (at least I haven’t come across it).

Some adult learners require movement and interaction to stay connected while others prefer to stay put, listen, and take notes. Some want to generate thoughts and ideas through a process of individual and collaborative brainstorming, exploration, and critical thinking, while others prefer to have information delivered to them. Even so, dynamic lecturers can transform the traditional “sit and get” experience into vibrant and engaging opportunities for rich, meaningful, and connected learning, and effective group facilitators can draw enthusiastic participation out of the most reluctant collaborators.

As school administrators and professional learning teams consider reflective systems and structures such as Camburn’s three phase reflective process, Gladwell and DiCamillo’s professional dyads, and/or Purcell’s “post class reflective notes,” we must also consider connected and meaningful content. How do we get at learning that truly drives individual and collaborative progress and effectively impacts student wellbeing and achievement in authentically positive ways?

Of comprehensive school reform (CSR) programs, Camburn warns, “if we wish to develop a fuller understanding of how teachers’ work experiences support the development of their practice, it is useful to look beyond their participation in traditional staff development and consider a broader array of experiences” (p. 464). He further clarifies by suggesting, “knowledge about teaching that is acquired in teachers’ immediate work context (their classrooms and the larger school organization) may be more readily applied than knowledge acquired outside that context” (p. 466). A suggestion that connects directly to the “try it out, mull it over, and critically evaluate it” professional learning triangle he points to as scaffolding for genuine reflective progress.

Individual and/or collaborative reflective practices, employed in real-time and on location can influence professional learning a ways that provide teachers with the autonomy needed to connect in meaningfully with school reform or improvement initiatives, a valued voice along their own learning pathways, and a framework regarding how learning meets application for them and for their unique student population during any given moment in time.

Enlisting connected research and reflecting on outside scenarios and ideas has its place and should not be dismissed as worthwhile for professional learning in school communities. However, school leaders must also consider that the base of any truly connected progress specific to their school community is in fact real-time teaching and learning challenges and triumphs that are also specific to their school community, and that are concurrently transpiring along with the progress. Empowering classroom teachers to drive their own professional learning through reflection on their own experiences can be immensely powerful.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

 

*The foundation of this “And I Quote” post is an article by Eric M. Camburn of the University of Wisconsin-Madison entitled “Embedded Teacher Learning Opportunities as a Site for Reflective Practice: An Exploratory Study,” published in 2010 in the American Journal of Education.

One Thing: In It Together

Spin Around and Fall Down

Would you spin around until you get dizzy and then fall down on a single blade of grass? I would guess not.

Would you spin around until you get dizzy and then fall down on a lawn? If you’re a kid you would. It’s fun, and the lawn, thousands of single blades of grass standing together, would cushion your fall.

When you think of a lawn do you think of thousands of single blades of grass standing together? I don’t. I simply think of lawn; one thing.

My intention here is not to diminish the importance of each individual thing that makes up a whole, but rather to emphasize the fact that it takes every single one of the individual things inside of the whole that they’re in to make the whole whole…holistically, that is.

It’s been said in many ways: It takes a village, a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link, alone we can do so little; together we can do so much, I couldn’t fix your brakes so I made your horn louder, and so on…the list is endless. It’s well understood and appreciated that collaboration and community are essential keys to learning and growth.

While we do get some wonderful down time during the summer, educators spend much of that time thinking about and planning for enhanced practices for the fall.  I say we should do so on the foundation that we’re not alone in our mission to enrich the lives of the students we serve.

Three simple questions are helping me remember that while unique and important, I’m but a blade of grass within the lush, green, thriving, & cushiony, lawn that is the school community in which I serve:

  1. How will my practice invoke & demonstrate value for partnerships with the teachers I serve?
  2. How will my practice invoke & demonstrate value for partnerships with the parents I serve?
  3. How will my practice invoke & demonstrate value for partnerships with the students I serve?

How will yours? Don’t attempt to go it alone. Be a strong link but a link none the less.  Value the chain. Take pride in the state of the lawn. Plan for collaboration. Be intentional about it. The learning and the lives of all involved will be enhanced.

Now go spin around on until you get dizzy and then fall down laughing (preferably on something soft).

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

Principal Note to Self: Thought Bubble Compassion

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We live and work in an eventful and complex world. One of the most important things I force myself to remember on a daily basis is that not everything is a crisis. Ironically, one of the most important things that I’ve been learning to understand on daily basis is that some things are.   More importantly I’m learning to realize that everyone has his or her own stuff going on. I don’t always get to know when there’s a crisis at hand because I’m not always involved in it; thankfully so.

What I do know is that just like me everyone I know is complicated and significant. In fact, I’m quite sure that the ones I don’t know are too. Knowing this along with having significant limitations in the area of mind reading makes compassion an amazingly effective leadership tool for me. When I successfully access my capacity for compassion things seem to work out well (with regard to relationship building and positive progress). When I don’t, they tend not to (with regard to the same).

Like you I’m exceedingly busy all the time. Also like you I’m tired and stretched thin much of the time (hazards of the educational leadership/husband and father gig). In order to consistently remember about compassion in the middle of the mix I have to practice intentionality.

Recently I came across the thought bubble as a great reminder. You know, the thought bubble. It’s a graphic literary device used to indicate thinking and consequently suggest the things that someone is thinking about. Cartoonists draw it above the heads of their characters like a cloud with a bubble tail.

I was recently talking to a partner at school about this. She mentioned seeing a training video in which people were walking around a hospital with thought bubbles above them. Unlike observers in real-time, viewers of this video could see the content of people’s thoughts. Some of the featured people were worried about loved ones in various states of critical medical need while others were concerned about grocery lists. There was even a dog in the video thinking about where he hid that elusive bone. The point of the video is the same as the point of this post. Simply put, everyone has stuff…specifically and often times uniquely important to him or her.

Sometimes we don’t talk about that stuff. In fact, I would venture a guess that most of the time we don’t talk about that stuff. Some of it is pretty personal. Some of it seems beside the point in professional context. Many people decide work through their own stuff while trying hard not to let it impact their professional lives; a legitimate practice. Regardless, it’s there.

Compassionate leadership doesn’t require knowing the content of the thought bubbles belonging to those you serve and those you partner with, but I would argue that consistently remembering that those thought bubbles exist is important. I would further argue (much like many who’ve considered leadership and learning from a theory-to-application paradigm before me) that when we’re thoughtful about individuals’ situations and worldviews we’re better equipped to communicate information and focus on solutions while avoiding the potential relationship and organizational hazards of challenge or ego-based messaging.

If you don’t have your own practice already, give it a shot. Picture thought bubbles above everyone’s head. Don’t worry about what’s in them; just know that they’re there. Think about what’s in your own. Understanding that while it’s more than likely yours is different from anyone else’s it’s also more than likely that everyone else’s matters to him or her much the same way that yours matters to you.

Remember that we’re each as complicated and significant as one another. Understand that while everything is not a crisis, some things are. Realize that we don’t get to know every detail driving the energy of those we serve and partner with. Consider that simply framing our individual and internal thoughts in a context of “important stuff” might be useful in the areas of leadership and learning.

Live. Learn. Lead.

Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Culturally Competent Schools: A Focus On Learning About What We Don’t Know

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This past week I facilitated a workshop called “Exploring Culturally Competent Schools.” I came equipped with some thoughts and ideas, a bit of experience working through those and ideas in practice and in reflection, and lots of questions that continue to drive my development along an intentional path toward the target of cultural competency as an educational leader.

I began the session with an activity that came to me from a colleague who had recently attended a shared leadership conference. At the conference there was extensive dialogue about the power of story sharing. It turns out that in this overly-busy, lighting-fast world, taking that time share our stories with each other is an excellent way to get to know one another. Furthermore, it seems that the time spent engaged in intentional relationship building through the sharing of stories has potential to save us loads of time on the back end by perpetuating genuine and positive individual and collective progress. Who would have thought?

Educators work in a business of relationships. I can’t think of a more important piece of the educational puzzle than forming and maintaining genuine, collaborative relationships with all stakeholders. Through my focused work on the subject, I’m coming to understand cultural competency in education through the acronym ARC. The idea that we must move through awareness and responsiveness in order to get to sustained cultural competency is coming increasingly clear with each step along the path. Also, I’m coming to understand that we must be consistently asking ourselves some essential questions.

In what ways do we drive the development of partnerships with all stakeholders, including and especially students, in our schools? How do we dig at deep and meaningful connections in and outside of our classrooms? What relationships or communication challenges are we facing at the moment? Can we anticipate other related challenges down the road? If so, how might we adapt? What collaboration triumphs have we experienced? My experience, albeit relatively limited, tells me that open sharing of stories consistently enhances dialogue surrounding each of these, and other related questions. What questions might you ask yourself to dig at your cultural competency ARC?

Among the many rich discussion points that emerged at the workshop last week was the idea that we all have complex lives, rich with both personal and professional experiences actively contributing to our individual and unique worldviews. Indelibly linked to the Culturally Competent Schools dialogue is that it would take a lifetime of completely transparent and unencumbered dialogue to truly understand the complexities that contribute holistically to any persons’ worldview, and then another lifetime of the same to link those complexities to their outcomes. In other words, there’s a ton that we don’t know about one another. Even so, we often mistake our inlaid assumptions for real-time and accurate knowledge.

What happens when we maximize time spent on unfolding the stories that connect our experiences to our worldviews? What happens when we listen with intent and compassion? What happens when we’re purposeful with targeted efforts to preempt even some of the academic, social, and emotional challenges that lean on bias and misunderstandings as fuel? What happens when we truly take the time to get to know one another?

The next time you find yourself frustrated with confusing or convoluted communication highlighting an assumptive path, consider the ARC of Cultural Competency, and consider that digging into understanding through the sharing of stories could serve to enhance situational and long-term learning outcomes for everyone involved.

Bottom line…get to know people, it might just be the best way to serve them with genuine compassion.

Live. Learn. Lead.

Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

 

Good Thing It’s Not Pointy or Spiky: The Importance of Well Wishes

Some people think about ants as pests and annoyances. My son’s think about them as potential friends. Sure, an ant is capable of ruining a perfectly good picnic or giving you the creepy crawlies, but as you know, beauty…and as it turns out, friendship, is in the eye of the beholder.

Yesterday morning my five-year-old noticed and ant in the bathroom. Actually, we’ve been noticing ants in the bathroom for the past week or so. Springtime in Michigan means that the ants are waking up. So, in the tradition of little kids all over the world and throughout history, my boys have taken to naming our tiny little friends. In particular they’ve named two. One is “Pointy” and the other is “Spiky.” Frankly, I can’t tell the little fellas apart or even be certain that they are who they claim to be in any given moment, but we all know that adults are not nearly as adept as such things as children are.

These ants are almost too small to be seen by the naked eye, so I’m not sure were the names Pointy and Spiky came from. I think that there were some assumptions involved. That being said, my five-year-old has a mealworm named “Whoopsie” and a beetle named, “Silly” at school. Who knows the method to his madness? In any case, Pointy and Spiky have become daily references in the Berg house.

As the big guy was getting ready to flush yesterday morning he called out, “Oh no…there’s an ant in the toilet!” His brother came rushing into the bathroom.  There they stood, two brothers, concerned about their tiny friend. They looked into the toiled, they looked at each other, they looked into the toilet, they looked at each other, they looked into the toilet, and then finally, with a huge sigh of relief, the big guy said, “Oh good, it’s not Pointy or Spiky.” Still looking into the toiled the little guy followed suit by saying “Oh good.” Then, with cleared consciences, they flushed. Pointy and Spiky live on.

A few days ago I was talking with some administrative colleagues about leadership. During that conversation the concept of relationships wove its way through every point. The fact is, while the world of education can occasionally feel somewhat isolating, none of us are ever alone as we work to enhance our abilities to provide a high-quality education for each of our students. We truly are in this together! My sons’ concern for Pointing and Spiky reminded me that when it comes to learning and growth, every relationship matters.

School communities are diverse and dynamic places. Serving them well requires genuine collaboration. In my experience, the healthiest of collaborative relationships are sustained in large part by well wishes. Like my sons and their unlikely bathroom-dwelling ant friends, authentically hoping that good things come to those you spend your time with perpetuates positive progress and trust…even, and especially in challenging times. Sounds simply…but then again, some of the most important stuff is.

So thank you for sharing in my reflections today.  Whether we’ve interacted with one another or you’re simply blog surfing…I wish you well!

Live. Learn. Lead.

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Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Thankful Thursday #3: Not Forgetting The Relationship Part

This afternoon my district did a wonderful thing.  We had a meeting.  I know what you’re thinking, lots of districts have lots of meetings all the time.  Indeed, but I’ve never been to a meeting like this one before.

This meeting was led by a group of people who’ve been teaming on shared leadership initiatives for some time now.  Some of those people are our district’s union leadership and some of those people are members of our district’s administrative cabinet.  The group spent some time in Maryland this fall studying an existing model of shared leadership.  They spent an intense four or so days with one another.  By “with one another” I mean to say that they were together day and night for the entire time.  They ate together, they worked together, they walked together, and they traveled together.  During that trip they spent just about every minute together with a group of people?  You get to know one another.

When you spend every moment together, working with one another on common goals, thinking and planning, reflecting, formatting next steps, reaching out in new and innovative directions, and digging into actions that match your individual and collective core values, you run the risk of getting to know one another very well.  Isn’t that how stakeholders in any given school community spend their time?  Turns out getting to know one another very well is really good for organizational health and wellbeing.  In other words, relationships really do matter.

I was talking with Liz Schroeck after the meeting.  Liz is one of the facilitators, a union leader, and a wonderful third grade teacher in my building.  She was on the “together every moment” trip this fall.  She experienced the existing Maryland model first hand.  She understands and firmly believes in the power of genuine relationship building.  I brought up the idea of how fast paced our days are at school.  We talked about some of the challenges involved in slowing down to focus on the relationship part when we’re running around trying to do lots of important things simultaneously.  She reminded me that there’s a balance and that the relationship building process takes time and patience.  Good point!

This meeting was yet another example of the faith that our district’s leadership has in the power of positive partnerships.  Our superintendent, Dr. Shaner, is constantly reiterating that we are, “in the business of hope and inspiration.”  What a cool testament to that notion that a group of teachers and administrators feels comfortable enough to spend their time working on getting larger groups of teachers and administrators together for learning, growth, and collaborative development.  And what a cool testament to the authenticity of that group’s mission that Liz would remind me of the balance that needs to be struck.

I missed Thankful Thursday this week.  It was a goofy one with two snow days, and I got thrown off a bit.  How fortuitous that I had an opportunity to be involved in something today that I’m truly grateful for.  I deeply appreciate the incredible district that I work in and the wonderful people who I work with.  I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to a part of an organization whose core values speak so clearly about the value that we place on the people who make up our organization.

In what ways do relationships and relationship building make a difference in your life?  What role do the people in your school community play for one another?  Where is there room for growth?

Live. Learn. Lead.

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Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Trust Me: Building Partnerships in the School Community

I’m continuously working hard to build my capacity as a leader and a learner.  I feel strongly that the two go hand in hand.  Over the past couple of years I’ve been on an incredible journey that began with my transition from the classroom into the assistant principal’s office; I wasn’t called down…I was hired.

In fact, the process of being hired for that job catalyzed a paradigm shift for me…one that had been on the cusp of happening.  I knew what direction I wanted to head in, I had a clear vision of the impact I was looking to make, and I was hopeful to find a school community who’s stakeholders would invite me to join them with that direction and vision in mind.  Six weeks of an interview process forced me to dig just about as deep as I ever have.  The authenticity with which the Rochester community listened, prompted, and processed my candidacy left me know choice but to bring myself back to the basics and begin to build from there.

I’ve since integrated that work into all areas of my life.  Consequently, I’ve been engaged in the breaking down of my philosophy and my practice as an educator, a husband, and a father.  I firmly believe that integration has enhanced my ability to affect positive progress as each, separately and simultaneously.  Also, after consistently framing my efforts at learning and growth through this integrated lens for the past couple of years I continue along the path almost as a matter of habit.

Breaking myself down through critical reflection and processing hasn’t always been easy, in fact it’s uncomfortable and unpleasant at times.  However, through the challenges and triumphs I’ve realized with great clarity that it’s also a highly effective practice for me.  Holding myself up to a mirror built upon my core values (static and developing) also holds me accountable to the same.

To that end I’ve adopted multiple tools and strategies for consistent reflective practice, not the least of which has been my focus on regular reflective writing and the sharing of that writing as a learning and leadership boggler.  I often feel like a kid in a candy store.  The learning has been intense and exciting.  With every passing day I discover new inputs that make my eyes widen and my mouth water for more.

As I moved from the assistant principal to the principal role this past summer, I was thrilled to be able to reflect on the partnerships that had been so easy to building in the wonderful district who’s stakeholders invited me in.  One of Rochester Community Schools’ defining characteristics is that from top to bottom, from front to back, and form inside to out, I have not met a single person who seems anything less that eager and excited about collaboration.  It’s an extremely community-centric community.

Our central office leadership has been involved in my learning and growth every step along the way.   Through modeling, expressions of support and encouragement, and a clearly demonstrated value for shared leadership, my supervisors are building the kind of culture that I am aiming for at the building level.  With their example and my reflective learning in mind I’ve narrowed my developmental goal to the building of partnerships that perpetuate joyful teaching and learning.  I plan to maintain that goal indefinitely and regularly seek pathways to growth and indicators of achievement to celebrate along the way.

One of those pathways has been a research focus on building partnerships with the concepts of trust, buy-in, and shared leadership at the heart.  Through a reflective self-study I’m seeking meaningful progress.  I recently reached out to the faculty I serve for critical feedback.  I worked hard to provide anonymity in an effort to maximize comfort and generate authentic feedback.  I presented my request in the form of an activity that I called “Frankly.”  Each faculty member was given a sheet of paper with the following prompt:

“Frankly”

A Gift to Seth

I know that asking for a gift is typically considered taboo.  However, now that we’ve been together for over a month I would greatly appreciate it if you could thoughtfully write down some ideas and insights that you think might help me reach and exceed my potential as a building principal.  In short, I’m asking for some critical feedback…and I’d greatly appreciate it if you give it to me straight.  I’m hoping that the anonymity of this structure will provide a platform for each of you to express yourself candidly.  When you finish, please fold the paper in half from top to bottom, then once more from side to side, and them it in the bowl.  Thank you in advance!

I was specific about the folding because I wanted to do all I could to make sure that I wouldn’t be able to distinguish one from another.  I left the room.  Admittedly, I was a bit nervous, but I was excited too.  I intended the activity as an opportunity for me to see my own practice through multiple other lenses (those of people I’m working to build trusting partnerships with).  I knew that I would have to temper my pride.  My hope was that I would get some real critical feedback and that I would be mature enough to process it with humility, authenticity, and true eye on leadership and learning.

The feedback came.  Some of it stung and some of it reaffirmed my direction.  All of it was meaningful.  Initially, I planned to publish the feedback in list form.  However, I’ve since thought better of that plan with confidentiality in mind.  Alternatively, as I process the data I’ll communicate with my faculty to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable publication options.  I would like to share specifics in the hopes that others on intentional learning and leadership pathways might benefit.

In the meantime, without quoting any of the responses, the following are some broad strokes from the data that have already given me cause to adapt my practice, in some cases resulting in the integration of adapted systems and structures.

– I know that I’m trustworthy, but it’s impossible for those I serve to truly know the same without the development of genuine relationships.  That takes time, patience, authenticity, and transparency.

– Follow through is critical to progress.  Those I serve must know that I am going to do what I say.

– Messaging should be concise.  Educators are busy people who don’t have time to linger.

– It takes time for people to feel comfortable being honest and open.  I need to show my faculty that they’re safe in every interaction.

– People need to vent.  I must foster a culture where frustrations can be processed in professional ways.

– Solutions are key to progress.  Ongoing dialogue that has no end can halt progress.  Decisiveness is an important attribute of effective leadership.

– Feedback is only meaningful when it can be heard.  There is a balance between critical and compassionate.

– There is little more important in trusting collaboration than support.  My faculty must know that I support them in their practice and in their growth.

– Everything that educators do boils down to teaching and learning as the two relate to student wellbeing and achievement…that must come through at all times.

– Perception is reality.  My faculty must know that the ship is being steered with intention at all times.

Stay tuned for more reflective processing as I use this data in my efforts to build trusting partnerships with all stakeholders in my school community.  I would love to hear any connected thoughts or idea in the comments section below.  Your input is very much welcome and appreciated!

Live. Learn. Lead.

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Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

My Kids, Your Kids, Our Kids – The School Family

It all seems to start with my kids these days.  I think it’s because the little guys (and gal) are at the center of my life right now.  It makes sense that so much of my reflective growth comes from lessons that I’m learning from and with them.  Regardless, they are truly wonderful partners in collaborative learning and growth.  In fact, it’s all they ever do!  They’re amazing.  If you spend any amount of time with children you know that they’re constantly looking at the world through an explorer’s lens.  “Bright eyed and bushy tailed” is an understatement; and boy do they love to share it!

I had the opportunity to guest teach for a few classes yesterday afternoon.  I took my second-graders on a leaf hunt so that we could do crayon leaf-rubbings as scaffolding for some integrated art/literacy learning.  I’ll admit that a stroll around the grounds on a beautiful autumn afternoon may have been my primary inspiration for planning that particular lesson, but we did get to the art/literacy part too:).  Anyway, these amazing little ones never disappoint in the enthusiastic and joyful exploration department!

“Look at the leaf I found…it’s shaped like a dinosaur!”

“Why are some so big and some so small?”

“This one’s dry but it’s floating in a puddle!”

“Mr. Berg, look what I found!”

“Mr. Berg, guess what I did!”

“Mr. Berg, watch this!”

And so on.  So excited to learn.  So excited to share.  So excited!  Kids are great partners in learning and growth.

Just before we were closing down shop for the weekend one of my parent partners gifted me with the words, “Thank you for caring so much and being so involved in (my child’s) progress.”

I was honored and humbled, and a realization swept over me like the blustery wind outside – all of the kids belong to all of us.  It all starts and ends with the little ones in mind.  Every one of us gives everything we have day in and day out, with the expectation that each of them will be happy, safe, and successful.

I would argue that there’s no educator or parent in our wonderful school community that doesn’t care about the safety, wellbeing, and achievement of every one of the students we serve.  While the kind words above will ring in my ears and conjure feelings of joy each time they do, I genuinely believe that they could have been directed at any Meadow Brook stakeholder.  “Thank you for caring so much and being so involved in (my child’s) progress,” describes what I see from our faculty and parent partners each day.

I have the greatest job in the world.  I work with a community of people who are deeply dedicated to and engaged in ongoing collaborative learning and growth with one another and our collective children.  In any given moment we each consider every student we serve quite like we would consider children in our own families.   Sure, we all understating the real and important distinctions between the nuclear family, the extended family, and the school family, but in the hallways, in the classrooms, and on the playground of our school, every adult is there for every child, with the same compassion, caring, and kindness that they would extend to their own.  I see it all the time.  Sometimes I feel like an uncle to hundreds.

Our school is more than a workplace…it’s a village.  It’s the village referred to in the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child.”  Again, we have our nuclear families and we have our extended families.  In the past month I have learned that without a doubt, we also have our school family.  With that in my, I offer a deep and sincere ‘thank you’ to my Meadow Brook partners for caring so much and being so involved in our children’s progress!

Live. Lean. Lead.

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Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

A Principal’s Note to Self: Please Stow Your Baggage in the Overhead Compartment

Among the many conversations I had yesterday was one with a kindergartener who had been engaged in some play-gone-wrong at recess.  A group of boys were playing, it became energized, and it ended in some pushing, hitting, and crying.  I see this every day in my very own home (the brothers Berg are especially energized!).  There was no malice, no one was hurt, and it was truly an opportunity for learning, growth, and relationship building.

Anyway, this student was upset enough that he decided to ignore multiple requests from his teacher to join the class as they moved back into the building.  Because of the safety implications therein, I decided to enlist his parents as partners in facing the challenge.  As always, parent partners are invaluable collaborators when it comes to the learning and growth of their children.

After he and I processed a bit on our own, I asked, “Who should I call, mom or dad?”  This clever child thought for a moment, then looked up with all sincerity and replied, “Are those my only two choices?”  I had to smile.  It was a productive interaction that ended in some wonderful progress.

Over the course of the past month I’ve heard countless deli counter references.  “There should be a number-counter outside of your office,” or “Next!”      Now, those references are both humorous and apropos, but they’re also great fodder for serious consideration of important leadership and communication approaches.  If you’re in education, no matter what role you play (student, teacher, parent, admin, etc.) you’re in the business of people, and if you ask me, people in the business of people should focus on…you guessed it…people!

Unlike deli counter practice, educators can’t exactly ask those we serve to “take a number,” nor do we want to.  Whether we’ve come to terms with it or not, I believe that most of us thrive on (and even enjoy) the high-octane, fast paced world in which we work.  We’re energized by the hustle and bustle of school life…it’s exciting!

This is where the overhead compartment comes in.  Each interaction is different.  The daily communication needs of our partners in the classroom, the building, and the community exist along multiple spectrums including: informal to formal, casual to critical, guarded to collaborative, deteriorative to generative, diminutive to empowering, and so on…in all directions.

I leave some conversations feeling as though I’m on top of the world.  I leave others feeling as thought I’ve been knocked down a few rungs.  Some interactions are indicative of positive progress while others produce outcomes that suggest a need for focused repair efforts.  How do we, as parents, students, educators, community leaders, and partners in teaching and learning, move from person to person or group to group without dragging the remnants of each interaction with us?

The fact is, we don’t truly know what energy is needed for productivity in any given situation until we’re engaged in it.  Furthermore, I’m finding that in order to be fully engaged in each, I have to enter each with an open heart, an open mind, and a degree of clarity that would preempt lingering energy, regardless of the nature of that energy.

I have to stow my baggage in an overhead compartment during my travels each day so that I’m holistically available to each person I interact with along my daily journey.  As I frequently note regarding most leadership and learning challenges that are addressed throughout the pages of this blog, the fact that I’m human prevents me from hitting that mark every time, but it’s a focused aim, and in so being, I’m getting better at it each day.

Alongside the wonderful, “Are those my only two choices” interaction from yesterday, were a couple of fundamentally crucial conversations that led to some shifting for myself and for some of my partners at school.  Nothing terribly intense, but change is a process that requires great patience and is often met with some initial discomfort.  I will need to process those interactions further.  I will have to reflect on them in concentrated to maximize my learning and growth.

As you might guess, I will use my reflective writing practice as a part of that processing.  But, and equally importantly, I needed to not process those interactions right away.  I needed to move on the next.  I would not have been well served to toss the “baggage” from those interactions, but I would also have been remiss to carry it around with me for the rest of the day.  I needed to stow it…and with a focus on effective leadership and communication, stow it I did.  It felt good.  I felt productive.

As always, some of my best learning seems to come from the genuine expression of kids.  I’ve heard it suggested that when we face difficult challenges, we are facing a choice between immediate processing or opportunity loss.  I would suggest that we look at our daily challenges a bit differently.  Reflective processing is critical, but we simply don’t always have time in our busy days to attend to it immediately following any given integration.

The next time you face a challenge that leaves you stuck in processing mode when you really have to move forward, if you’re thinking that you have to stop in your tracks or sacrifice the learning, consider asking yourself, “Are those my only two choices?”  Then consider stowing the baggage in the overhead compartment and retrieving it at the end of the day, or at another time when you can truly give it the attention it deserves without allowing it to become a distractor to the great work you need to engage in with the many other people you serve each day.

Live.  Learn.  Lead.

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

Follow The Amazing Leader: Learning From My Partners

Yesterday I participated in a second summer reading event designed to encourage/model literacy learning, to provide a platform for new and veteran families to get together in anticipation of an exciting school year, and to introduce new school leadership to students and parents in a fun and comfortable way.  The events were conceived, developed, and brought to life by the amazing Kelly Dessey.  Kelly is the principal of Long Meadow Elementary School and therefore one of my administrative partners in Rochester Community Schools (RCS).

This is my second year with RCS.  One of the most impressive and important ideas that comes from our central office team and permeates through every school and every classroom is that idea of teamwork and togetherness.  I’ve been amazed and energized by the level of encouragement and support that consistently comes from all directions.

Each of the twelve other elementary principals has reached out to me multiple times, offering assistance, perpetuating dialogues about teaching and learning, and simply checking in.  As have principals and partners at all levels.  At the end of the day yesterday I was wrapping things up in my office when the phone rang.  It was Debi Fragomeni, our wonderful Assistant Superintendent.  I’m quite certain that Debi’s to-do list is considerably lengthier than mine, but somehow, “call Seth just to see if there’s anything I can do to help,” is on it.  Great modeling, great support, great stuff!

After talking with Debi for a few minutes, I headed out to the summer reading event.  Principal Dessey was there to greet me, snacks were out, parents and students were engaged in a scavenger hunt, and people were strolling around, introducing themselves, and chatting joyfully.  Appropriately, the event was held at our neighborhood Barnes and Noble.  After a crowd formed, Principal Dessy took the mic.  She talked about partnerships in learning, she expressed appreciation and excitement, she shared her passion for reading and for learning, and she welcomed our students and parents with a smile.  We read some stories, engaged in a few fun activities, and shared some thoughts about our collective vision.  Kelly rocked it!

Having partners who go out of their was to perpetuate a district-wide culture of authentic collaboration, who joyfully invite and include one another in the development and implementation of community events, and who overtly go out of their way to support one another, is wonderful.  It’s truly wonderful, and it makes everyone involved better.  As educational leaders, it’s our job to bring out the best in those we serve.  I could not be more excited and appreciative of partners like Kelly and the whole RCS team, who work hard to bring out the best in me!  It’s an example that I intend to learn from and live out as I move along my leadership path.

Live.  Learn.  Lead.

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.