Category: Culture (ISLLC 2)

A school administrator is an educational leader who promotes the success of all students by advocating, nurturing, and sustaining a school culture and instructional program conducive to student learning and staff professional growth.

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.

That’s Not Rain, It’s Rice.

Kids as Innovators

I was driving home from a great science museum with two of my four children this afternoon. We were in exploration mode. We saw dinosaur bones, we touched what Mastodon fur “probably felt like,” we watched live bats turn from tiny squirrel-looking things into enormous flying beasts with a simple spreading of their awesome wings, and we even spent some time with Big Bird and Elmo exploring the stars in a cozy little planetarium.

As I drove it began to rain. It was a freezing rain. I called my mother-in-law who was at home with the other two kids to let her know about the road conditions so that she could decide if she was going to make the trek back to her house or stick around at ours for bit. Evidently my six-year-old heard me talking about the rain because after I hung up the phone he commented, “That’s not rain dad.”

I asked, “Oh, what is it?” I got excited about the potential for a states-of-matter conversation with the little wise guy.

Instead, without a smirk or any other indication of sarcasm he confidently replied, “It’s rice.”

Was it the exploration mode? Was it the imagination? Was it the world-view of a six-year-old? Was it rice? Who knows?

What I do know is that each adult I know seems to have a bit of the kid who would suggest rice over frozen rain still kicking inside of him or her. It’s out inner-innovators. How in touch we are with that bit differs, but I don’t think it can ever completely go away.

What’s more, I would argue that that bit is mostly responsible to the “ovation” part of innovation. The part where we get super excited about an out-of-the-box idea; the part where a wave of chills runs up our spines at the thought of one of our crazy thoughts coming to life. Pablo Picasso said something about all children being artists and about the trick not being becoming one as an adult but remaining one. Could innovation, exploration, and the thrill of discovery work the same way? Aren’t all kids up for an adventure of the mind? Shouldn’t all adults be?

School communities are filled with outlandish ideas that are actually awesome. All organizations are. Effective organizational leadership encourages people to latch on the “what if’s.” It’s not always easy because it usually involves taking risks, and it more that occasionally involves moments that in which people hear cries like, “failure!”

In order to genuinely promote and nurture positive progress in teaching and learning school leadership must find ways to help those we serve get excited about hearing the “failure” cry. We must support our incredible colleagues, our enthusiastic parent partners, and our brilliant students as they learn to find comfort in the word “failure,” realizing that it means they’ve tried, understanding that it means they’ve stretched, valuing that it means they’ve believed in and trusted their inner-innovators.

We must be the nurturers of outrageous ideas because we know that they’re the ones with the greatest growth potential. We know that the only failures worth scoffing at are the failures to try and to press on through life’s challenges.

My son is kid. As a kid, he felt comfortable speaking his mind. Without hesitation he was ok with starting from rice. Eventually, on his own, he released the “r” part and told me that he could see that they were little ice balls melting on the windshield. By the time we got home he had come to the conclusion that the streets were slippery and that this was like snow but a bit different.

It’s usually not the initial light bulb that gets made; it’s some incarnation of the crazy idea. It’s a different form of the thought that pops into our heads when we’re inspired. The “can do,” aspect has to be there though. The “ovation” is critical. The part where everyone feels comfortable cheering about possibilities, even and especially the outlandish ones?

What if we stopped assigning homework? What if we only graded tasks that were meant to verify a student’s understanding of a thing and not those meant not to develop that understanding? What if we searched for ways to let kids play all day long while they learn? What if we found ways to let kids play all day long so they learn?

I don’t have the answers, but I do feel strongly that anyone seeking to enhance teaching and learning should be comfortable exploring any pathways that come to mind. Of course we should explore in safe ways. We can’t simply shift our practices on whims. However, if we view ourselves and those we serve as innovators, if we collectively appreciate the failed attempts that initiate and promote achievement, and if we lead in ways that support the child-like exploration of thoughts and ideas, then we just might be on course for some amazing discoveries that could otherwise be put down simultaneously with the loss of our inner-innovators.

As I sit and type this post it’s ricing cats and dogs outside. Makes me want to create and umbrella from egg roll wrappers. Maybe I will.

Live. Learn. Lead.

Dream Big. Work Hard. Press On.

Changing Minds: Respecting “Second Order Change” Stress

I’ve been looking at something all wrong.  It might seem that’s a problem, but in this case I’m thrilled.  In fact, I’m feeling a significant wave of relief.  Looking at something all wrong was a problem until I realized that I was looking at it all wrong, which really just happened about two hours ago.  Now that it has happened, I can adjust the way that I’m looking at it, which is happening even as I writing this reflection.  That’s why I’m thrilled.

I am now just over halfway through my first year as a building principal.  That means a couple of things.  It means that the honeymoon is officially over (or at the very least coming to an end).  Stakeholders are getting to know me in pretty significant ways and I’m getting to know them as well.  The “Howdy!” and “How do you do?” has morphed into “Where are we?” and “Where are we headed?”  It’s good.  I feel like partnerships are solidifying in significant ways, and that the change inherent in new leadership normalizing.  The key however is that is remains overt change, and it will for some time.

I earnestly believe that things are going quite well, it’s just tonight I was reminded tonight that change is change…good, bad, or otherwise.  Parents and students are reporting positive experiences, more and more teachers are expressing deepened understandings of my vision and making connection from it to their own, for the most part we are being patient with one another as we all work diligently toward ongoing progress, and we’re doing a wonderful job of giving each other the space and time we need to learn and grow.  There have certainly been bumps on the road, but all paths are leading lead to a focus on teaching and learning and a solid commitment to student’s wellbeing and achievement.

The thing that I’ve been looking at all wrong is my understanding of the significance that “second order change” has on stress levels and ongoing challenges.  I’ve all but dismissed it.  My community is already experiencing “first order change” change.  Me.  I’m new.  Even if it’s good (and hope that at least some of it is) it’s stressful.  So, anything else is “second order change.”  Any committee, any idea, and program, and suggestion that things might be different tomorrow, is additionally stressful.  It’s extremely reasonable that additionally stressful things would be accompanied buy additional stress.

I won’t stop making every decision that I believe to be good for the children I serve, but I can understand, and more importantly, respect the significant discomfort driven by “second order change.”  It’s not bad and it’s not wrong.  It’s an organic part of the growth process.

I believe that intentionally respecting it will help me better support and encourage those experiencing it.  I now have a deeper understanding that people are going to be emotional, concerned, and even uncertain as we move forward together, but I also understand that maintaining our focus and keeping the “together” part in mind will help us stay on target for continued excellence in education!

Live. Learn. Lead.

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Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Like A Family: Doing What Needs to be Done at School

One of the great things about working in a school community is that there’s truly no shortage of faceable challenges.  That is to say, lots of exciting stuff is happening all of the time, and when we put our heads together we always seem to move through that exciting stuff and come out smiling on the other side (no matter how exciting it seems while were in it).

With a focus on the wellbeing and achievement of our students, educators celebrate the challenges that come our way.  We’re innately drawn to problem finding and solving.  We love to dig around until we see and understand what needs to be done, and then we love rolling up our sleeves to work hard until it gets done!

Today my wonderful secretary said something that I’ll never forget.  In the face of some atypical challenges that came streaming in long before the bell even considered ringing, she looked at the group of us who were working feverishly to consider all possible solutions, and she calmly said, “Well, I guess we’ll just do it like a family…whatever needs to be done.”

Each of us stopped for just a moment, we looked at her, we looked at each other, a visceral wave of joy surged through my body, and then I smiled.  I do what I can to stay calm in moments of veritable commotion, but I have to admit that my blood pressure was raising a bit this morning.  Her lucid and immeasurably important comment was just the antidote I needed.  No suggestion could have been more poignant.  Just hearing it spoken refocused me.

I remembered that it was going to get done.  I remembered that we were going to land on workable solutions.  I remembered that the amazing team of educators and support staff with whom I work always pulls through each and every challenge into positive progress for everyone involved.  I also remembered that because the remarkable Meadow Brook staff bands together like a big old family caring for one another’s children each day, the students we serve aren’t aware of the challenges we face…only the passion we have for learning and growth.

Today I’m extremely thankful for my wonderful secretary who was so eloquently able to put our work into such a positive perspective with only a few words spoken at just the right time.  I’m thankful for a staff who, with unwavering patience and professionalism, rolls with the challenges we face, a parent group who trusts our expertise and collective ability to care for and educate their children, and a student body who comes joyfully to school each day excited about the learning process.  Our school is not without its challenges, but we are indeed like a family, and together we will most certainly continue get it done!

Live. Learn. Lead.

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Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

It’s All Good: Fostering Excitement for Positive Progress in School

Today a student approached me and said, “I had a good day I art!”

I replied, “Way to go!”

Then, with a huge smile on his face we gave me a fist bump and walked away.  He was exited.  He was proud.  Unsolicited, he was reporting positive progress.

I suppose that I could have read this interaction in a number of ways.  Maybe he spends his days thinking about how he can impress me with good behavior and success reports.  This happens to be a student with whom all of the adults in his life (including me) have been engaged in a targeted effort to understand and address some relatively unique challenges that he’s facing.  He could have been looking for ways to show me that he’s taking responsibility for his learning.  But that would be giving me (and the other adults in his life) a lot of credit.  Maybe our praise isn’t always on his mind (although the concept seems decent fodder for a future reflection).

No, what I’d rather believe is that he could have simply been excited about the positive progress he was reporting.  Even if the thinking about, the planning for, and the reporting of “good” news itself had something to do with the excitement, it could have been ultimately intrinsic, or at least a catalyst to internal satisfaction.

I know a great teacher named Bill Cecil (Best Year Ever: Winning Strategies to Thrive in Today’s Classroom) who talks about “setting the table.”  He insists that it almost doesn’t matter how kids experience the feeling of success initially, just that they do.  He believes that feeling it leaves them wanting more.  So do I.  Maybe this particular student had been building an understanding of what it feels like to have a “good” day and was compelled to share his excitement over that achievement.

In my experience, people (big and small ones) like to do good, to feel good, and to share good.  At the risk of sounding naive, I would like to think that this student found an opportunity to share the “good” that he had done along with the “good” that he was feeling.  Which reminds me that as as an elementary school principal I should be doing all I can to drive a culture in which that kind of sharing is celebrated.  Just a simple “way to go” and a fist bump spread his excitement to me.  I was energized.  I was proud.  I wanted to share.  I’m sharing now.  It feels good!

So, feel good, do good, and share good.  Model the triad to those you serve and embed the practice in your school culture.  Celebrate when others do the same.  People will catch on, it will spread, and most importantly, students will have enhanced opportunities to understand what an incredible impact “good” can have on their motivation and excitement for learning.  I you’re not already, at least give it a try…you might like it.  Even if you don’t, remember that with regard to exploring pathways toward enhanced learning, it’s all good!

Live. Learn. Lead.

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Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Honk: A Focus on Authentic Connections with Students

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Kids could play all day long. Maybe adults should let them.

 

A few nights ago I woke to my one-and-a-half-year-old-daughter shouting, “Mommy…Mommy!”  I figured that she meant, “Daddy…Daddy!” so I peeled my eyes open and engaged in the ceremonial wait to determine if this was a call to action or a false alarm.  It was a call to action.  My forty-year-old body reminded me that it doesn’t appreciate lying down for a few hours before attempting to stand up again.  I moaned and I groaned (a science and a art), I pulled my self out of bed, and I zombie-walked to the kid’s room (embedding every Lego, puzzle piece, and Matchbox car in the bottom of foot along the way).

There she was.  An angel.  She was standing in her sleep sac, looking up at me with those big blue eyes through a tangle mess of matted hair, arms outstretched, and low and behold, the aches and pains melted away.  I was going to get to rock and snuggle.  What could be better than that!?

I lifted her out of the crib, rounded up the necessary accouterments (three little animal-themed “lovies”, a water bottle, and whatever tiny board book she brought to bed last night), and I carried her to the rocking chair.  We settled in, I gave her a squeeze and a kiss on the head, and then I naively closed my eyes and let my head fall against the back of the chair.  I was ready for a bit of a nap.

That’s when I felt the tiny dot of the tip of her index finger on the much less tiny dot of the tip of my nose, and that’s when I heard my angel of a daughter gleefully exclaim, “Honk!”  Foiled again!  So, we played “Honk” for a few minutes, giggled some, snuggled a bit more, and then we both returned to sleep in our own beds for the next few hours.

She wasn’t scared of the dark or rattled by a bad dream, she wanted to play, she wanted some one on one time, and she wanted my undivided attention.  It reminded me of a few important things regarding my work as an elementary school principal:

– My students generally seem more comfortable, responsive, and motivated to partner with me on learning when I actively seek to build meaningful relationships with each of them.

– It seems truly important that I work hard at knowing each of my students’ names, calling them by their respective names consistently, and actively engaging in enthusiastic dialogue with each of them as often as opportunities present (brief or extended).

– When I’m successful at spending more of my time in classrooms, cafeterias, and on playgrounds, than in meetings and offices, the culture of my school community seems enhanced and increasingly focused on positive progress surrounding teaching and learning.

– My favorite part of this job is the part where I get to be with the people I serve.  The more I can focus on that part, the more joy I experience in my professional life. Furthermore, I would argue that increasing joy enhances my capacity to lead well.

As an educational leader it’s important for me to always remember that kids want and need to be seen, heard, and valued.  In fact, it’s arguably the bottom line of everything that we’re trying to do at school.  Given the countless hours I spend reading about and reflecting on leadership and learning, I love that my one-year-old-daughter and a late night game of “Honk” are the things that keep me grounded in learning, growth, and an authentic mission-focused paradigm.  Go figure!  Go “Honk!”

Live.  Learn.  Lead.

Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

A Joyful Return: Making the Most of Starts and Stops

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Finding joy for learning and growth in every moment causes every moment to be meaningful.

 

In previous posts I’ve articulated my thoughts about the wonderful starts and stops that come along with public education.  One of the great things about being an educator or a student is that we have various opportunities during the course of each school year to refresh, renew, and reset, by leaving our classrooms every once in a while and catching up with family, friends, and even ourselves.  For a few special days and even weeks we get to lounge around and not think about schedules, systems, or structures.

I would argue that we need these breaks to stay fresh.  Another thing about being an educator or a student is that we push ourselves to the brink of our capacity in between these breaks.  In doing so, it truly feels wonderful to take a breath every now and again.

With all of the wonderfulness that comes along with being able to rest in this way, I’ve had an interesting feeling creeping into my belly over the past few days.  It’s not been a feeling of nervousness or stress.  It’s been a feeling of excitement!  Sure, I would love to have more time to spend with my incredible wife and kids, and the thought that the five o’clock alarm is going to be ringing in my ears really soon doesn’t exactly thrill me, but I absolutely love my job, I love my school community, and I feel truly blessed to get to be a part of the amazingness that is Meadow Brook Elementary!

As I think about the fact that this break is coming to a close, and that Monday brings the start of another chapter of hard work, exhilarating challenges, and collaborative learning, I’m as motivated as ever to do great things for the students, the teachers, and the parents that I serve.  I’m as motivated as ever to do great things for myself.  And when I don’t hit the mark of greatness (which happens occasionally as a matter of course), I am as motivated as ever to forgive myself, process thoughtfully, find meaningful solutions to real trials, and to mover forward joyfully with positive progress.

Lots of people are coming back to school on Monday.  I believe that an overt attitude of enthusiasm coupled with patience and compassion for the varied emotions that will no doubt be present in every school community, is a viable combination for transitional comfort.

No matter your role, as you go back to your school communities next week I wish you every bit of joy that comes along with the fulfilling work we do.  May energized and meaningful learning and growth accompany your return…and may you never lose sight that you have the power to make it happen!

Live. Learn. Lead.

Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Some Ideas to Build Partnerships in my School Community

Bullet Points and Highlights.  I can drone on for hours without skipping a beat.  I can do the same on a piece of paper.  As I work to refine my written communication skills I’m focused in large part on being simultaneously thorough and concise.

When I began as Meadow Brook Principal about fifteen weeks ago I was committed to effective communication.  Every piece of feedback I’ve received since that time has pointed to the fact that my staff wants the same (effective communication…from me).  They want to know what’s going on, they want to know my understanding of and vision for what’s going on, and they want to have consistent access to that information.  Turns out however, that they don’t want to hear or read me droning on.  They want it quick, and the fact is that’s all they have time for.

So instead of the lengthy diatribes that I specialize in, I’ve begun to send my messaging to teachers under the subject line “Bullet Points and Highlights.”  I throw down anywhere from five to ten bullet points with anywhere from one to five (or so) sentences each.  Then I highlight one key sentence or phrase from within each bullet point.  The idea is that folks can choose to read thoroughly or do a guided skim.   I’m not quite where I’d like to be with it…still learning and finding my concise voice, but I’m on the path.

Reflection and Anticipation.  This one is for parents.  The feedback I’ve received from this group of stakeholders is that they want to hear about and get to know my story.  I interact with teachers and students all day long but there are many parents with whom I’ve had little time to chat informally.  In lots of cases, my reflective writing is the best way for the parents I serve to get to know who I am, what I stand for, how I think about leadership and learning, and where I am in own growth and development.

This structure is less refined than the Bullet Points and Highlights at the moment (still working out the kinks).  Basically I take a few paragraphs to articulate my thoughts on how things have been going and a few more to point out some things that I’m looking forward to in the coming weeks.  As it’s developing I find it to be a good companion to the Week at a Glance that we send out listing upcoming dates and events.  I typically link specific and connected blog posts to this piece, and I invite parents to join me on my reflective learning journey at Berg’s Eye View.

MBuilt.  This is the Meadow Brook unified instructional leadership team and it’s just what it sounds like.  We’re headed into our sixth week of implementation and things seem to be going well.  Teachers want to be listened to, heard, and valued…and they should be!  I lead a building filled with incredible educators.  My vision for MBuilt is that it will unfold into an increasingly effective vehicle for genuine collaboration on the positive progress of our school community.   We’re currently in the process of digging into a collective vision and making sense of how we intend to operate as partners in teaching and learning.  I’m incredibly excited about our progress, and so far I’ve walked out of each meeting totally energized!

SOE (pt).  The School of Excellence (parent team) is a volunteer group and open to anyone who wants to join at any time.  Like MBuilt, attendees are welcome to come to as many or as few meetings as they can.  It’s literally a place for me to get together with a group of parents every other week to discuss the important issues of the day.  Our first meeting happened on Friday of last week.  We spent most of our time discussing ideas for enhancing our culture of sanitation and hand washing.  As you can imagine, with allergies and the potential for sharing illnesses with one another at school, this is a critical issue to stay on top of.  We made significant progress and are getting ready to bring some ideas for implementation to our teachers.  I’m thrilled to be working hand in hand with Meadow Brook parents in this way and I’m looking forward to nurturing the initiative as it develops over time.

SBS Classroom Visits.  Visibility and accessibly were both deeply connected to data that I’ve been collecting from my staff with regard to what they need from me.  Side by Side Classroom Visits are opportunities for me to work together with teachers and students while managing some of the other tasks that are required of me through each school day.  Have you ever sat at the dining room table with your spouse or at a coffee shop with a friend, working on different tasks but engaged in conversation and productively sharing time with one another?

I have a twenty-minute SBS schedule into my calendar each week with each classroom.  Teachers get my digital calendar at the beginning of each week so they know when to expect me.  They’ve been very flexible when unavoidable urgencies have pulled me away or prevented me from coming.  During an SBS I’m not observing or evaluating, I’m simply working side by side with learners in the classroom.  It has its pros and its cons, but so far I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and I’ve received tremendously positive feedback from teachers and students.

 M2M Meetings.  I haven’t started this yet.  It’s still in development.  It’s a strategy that I’m stealing (and adapting) from the great Ben Gilpin (@bengilpin).  My friend and fellow principal, Ben meets with his entire student body for forty-five minutes each week while his staff has some extra time to plan, collaborate, or do whatever else it is they need to do.  I can’t quite do that, but I can do a scaled back version.

At Meadow Brook our mascot is the Meadow Mouse.  My intention in the new year is to organize a series of grade level meetings between myself and my students in which we can talk “mouse” to “mouse” (M2M) about expectations and progress toward our collective goals.  The idea is that we can address critical issues and collectively celebrate progress while giving teachers a bit of extra time.  The goal is to get an official green light from teachers at MBuilt and put together a schedule ASAP.

It’s all under development.  It’s all driven by the data I’ve been collecting and the reflection I’ve been doing regarding partnerships in my community.  It’s all open for adaptation.

Live. Learn. Lead.

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Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Partnerships are the Path: Some Strategies for Building Effective Partnerships in School Communities

 

I’ve been studying partnerships.  As a first year principal I realized very quickly that leading a school community toward continued and enhanced excellence is not something that I can do alone.  It’s become exceedingly clear that my intention to drive a culture of positive progress though joyful teaching and learning requires comprehensive collaboration among all stakeholders.  The building and sustaining of genuine partnerships seem to be a boon for that mission.

So, partnerships have been my focus.  Over the past fifteen weeks of research, practice, and reflective processing I’ve moved forward, backward, and even sideways.  Though it all, I’ve remained dedicated to my own learning and growth, and to the application of the skills and strategies that I’m picking up along the way.  That dedication continues to strengthen and unfold upon itself as each indicator of progress fills me with increased enthusiasm and assurance that partnerships truly are the path.

As one component of my study I had the privilege of interviewing four of my colleagues who also serve as building principals:  Ben Gilpin (@benjamingilpin), Michele Corbat (@MicheleCorbat), Jim Lalik (@jimlalik), and Tony Sinanis (@TonySinanis).  The individuals in this amazing group range in experience from first year to veteran, and they come with varied and rich backgrounds in educational leadership and intentional partnering.  One of the commonalities among them is that they each have well-recognized and celebrated track records of highly effective collaborative development.  As expected, the insights and ideas that they put forth though this interview series were relevant, practical, and applicable.  The following sections represent my initial reflections on some of those collective insights and ideas.

It’s not always pretty.  There are times when partnerships work extremely well and there are times when internal and external complications challenge the foundation and effectiveness of those partnerships.  During the course of any give school year there are good times and bad.  Sometimes our individual and collective challenges are overt and visible to everyone involved and sometimes they are hidden.

For educational leaders concerned with the ongoing development of partnerships a focus on understanding that which can and can’t be controlled is very powerful.  What is it that we have a choice in?  While we’re not able to wish challenges away, we can decide how to respond to them and how to carry ourselves as we do.  It’s during difficult times that our core values must shine through.  Maintaining a positive attitude, being the constant stabilizing factor (even through perceived chaos), and holding a positive/growth attitude are each critical to influencing a genuine culture of collaboration.

Building trust takes time, effective communication, and a serious commitment to listening.  No matter how genuine a leader is in his/her intentions to be open, trustworthy, and supportive, people are naturally cautious in the beginning of relationships.  All stakeholders in any school community come to the table with a lot a stake.  Students of all ages carry the weight of tremendous expectations for learning, growth, and achievement; parents entrust educators with the most important people in their lives (their children); and regardless of school culture, in some ways teachers have to consider their employment while they interact with leadership through the year.   Real pressures for all involved.

When principals come from other roles in their school communities there can be a history of relationship building that serves them well in efforts to generate trusting partnerships, but even in such situations, the title and the often-perceived evaluative nature of interactions calls for somewhat of a fresh start.  School leaders must work hard to show their stakeholders that they are authentic in striving for effective partnerships.  Therefore, three key ingredients for positive progress in partnerships are patience with the fact that it takes time (years in some cases), reflection and intentionality surrounding communication strategies, and an ever-increasing ability to listening in ways that demonstrate a deep value for the thoughts, ideas, and concerns of others.

Surround yourself with incredible people and give them space to be incredible.  Principals focused on a culture of partnerships recruit and hire well, but they don’t stop there.  They go on to develop and maintain communities in which people feel comfortable letting their talents shine through the multiple roadblocks that often creep inadvertently into organizational structures.  From disconnectedness to control concerns, it can be all to easy to carelessly stifle potential.

Partnerships that lead to capacity building allow for a balance of control and credit.  When the focus of a school community is truly aimed at student achievement and wellbeing it doesn’t matter who comes up with the great ideas and the connected plans, just that they do.   Effective principals make sure that those ideas are heard, and that those plans are implemented without having to be credited.  Trust is a two way street and humility is a critical component of genuine collaboration.

With the above thoughts and idea, here’s a list of some other concepts that you might consider as you work to build genuine partnerships with the stakeholders in your school community:

  • Shared leadership committees
  • Early release time for teacher collaboration
  • 1:1 meetings with individual stakeholders
  • Shared planning/instruction (including with administrators)
  • Town hall style meetings with parent/student groups
  • Collaborative service projects
  • Transparency
  • Opportunity to share personal/professional “stories”
  • Effective digital presence (Twitter, Google Docs, Voxer, etc.)
  • Shared visioning
  • Consistency
  • A learning and growth paradigm
  • Opportunities for critical reflection
  • Awareness by all stakeholders
  • A genuine feeling of togetherness
  • Modeling of process
  • Concise and consistent messaging focused on common values and goals
  • The clear communication of expectations

Live. Learn. Lead.

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Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Maintaining an Attitude of Gratitude

Tuesday wasn’t just the last day of school before a really long weekend.  For me, it was the day that I would get to sit back and watch someone else do my job.  In a sense I’m having an even longer break than the rest of you because on Tuesday one of my incredible fourth graders served as principal-for-the-day!  It was a real treat.

This fine student earned the job by single-handedly generating the highest amount of donations by one student for our very successful fall Fun Run (FYI, principals and PTA boards – the prize seems to be a big motivator).  She was excited, I was excited, the other students and the teachers were excited…it was down right exciting!

We started the day off in a meeting with our PTA president in which we made some very important decisions about upcoming events, we did several classroom visits, we ate lunch in the staff lounge, and we rounded things off with some guest-reading appearances in our kindergarten and first grade classrooms.  It was a busy and productive day.  All told we spent time in more than ten classrooms.  It was cool.

Our principal-for-the day represented herself and our school community extremely well.  I was proud…and then, as I watched her write thank-you notes to the teachers and students that she visited, I was prouder…I might have even been prouder-er (and that’s really proud).

You see, over the course of my time as an educational leader I learned that there are multiple benefits to targeted communication that highlights best practices.  In that vein, I work hard to follow up with teachers and students as quickly after instructional interactions as possible.  I used varied methodology:

Sometimes I simply use words the next time we cross paths…i.e. “That was a great presentations in Social Studies, thanks for letting me listen in!”

Sometimes I take pictures and send them digitally.  I can easily grab some shots of learning in action, highlight and celebrate some key points with a short caption, tweet them out, and then send the tweet to the teacher though e-mail with a celebratory message of gratitude for the incredible learning I experienced.

Sometime I take pictures, send them to myself through e-mail, print them out when I get back to the office, write my note on the back, and put them in teachers’ mailboxes.

Sometimes I simply write and deliver thank-you notes.  That’s what our wonderful principal for the day chose to do (she wrote one for every single group she visited).

One Example

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With each note that she wrote I realized something very important…she was truly grateful!  It’s not that I’m not grateful, it’s just that in the busy world of education it’s easy to get wrapped up in waves of energy.  It’s easy to slide through any given period of time on those waves, just focused on maintaining balance as we’re tossed about.

This genuinely grateful student reminded me that taking the time to seriously focus on the joys of it all is among the most important things that we can do for ourselves and for each other.  Once again, a kid taught me!  And guess what?  I’m grateful for it!  Go figure.

I have so much to be grateful for every day.  Here’s to a Thanksgiving filled with peace and gratitude for all!

Live. Learn. Lead.

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Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.