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Speaking Thoughtfully: A Wise Old Turtle’s Lessons In Leadership and Learning

Do you ever find yourself collapsed on the couch after bathing, reading to, singing with, and then getting three rambunctious kids to sleep?  If you do, have you ever found yourself in that position while “Kung Fu Panda” is playing on the television that you’re staring at?  Hey…me too!  In fact, that was the case with me last night.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Have you seen this gem of a movie?  If you haven’t, I recommend that you do.  It’s a good one.

While I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite character, I have to admit that Master Oogway is one chill turtle.  In the clip below he offers Master Shifu some sage advice that really hits home with me, and he does so in just about the calmest and most confident way imaginable.  He doesn’t offer explanations, he just makes statements, and he leaves the processing to his student.  It’s almost as if he believes that no matter what he says, Master Shifu will have to process it in his own way, and in his own time; a fascinating idea for an educational leader, a parent, and a reflective learner to consider.

If you can work past the idea that I’m referring to suggestions made by an anthropomorphic amphibian, you might see that both Master Oogway’s words and the way in which they’re delivered have much to offer us all in the way of leadership and learning lessons.  His calm, intentional, and suggestive tone is just enough to implant the seeds of growth in Master Shifu’s mind.  Even though Master Shifu doesn’t seem terribly receptive at the moment, Mater Oogway says stuff like: Nothing Is Impossible, One Often Meets His Destiny On The Path He Takes To Avoid It, When Your Mind Is Agitated It Is Difficult To See, But When You Allow It To Settle…The Answer Becomes Clear.

His objective doesn’t seem to be complete or instant understanding for immediate application, but to make a contribution to the body of knowledge and experience that will guide his student’s growth along whatever path it develops.

To that end, I won’t take this reflection any further, but instead I’ll suggest that you would be well served by taking a few minutes to listen to and carefully watch the master at work.  I’d love to hear your take on it.  Enjoy.

Live. Learn. Lead.

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.

Teachers & Support Staff…Amazing People!

I couldn’t be more excited to be quickly approaching the first days of this new school year! Believe me, I’ve really been enjoying every moment of a truly magical summer.  The weather in Michigan has been glorious…talk about making up for a rather intense winter (not that Mother Nature owes us Michiganders anything).  Plenty of sun for hanging by the pool, plenty of rain for watering our lawns and gardens, plenty of soft breezes and shady spots under elm trees for cooling us down.  It’s been a perfect mix.  I actually can’t remember such a nice summer in recent history.

But there’s something about the start of a new school year that just gets that tingly excitement going in the belly of an educator.  The smell of a new notebook, the feel of a canvas backpack, the neatness of a freshly stocked pencil case, and the sight of classrooms coming to form under the thoughtful supervision of the amazing teachers who bring them to life!

I am a principal for the first time.  My plan is to be a principal for a long time, and if all goes well, right here at Meadow Brook Elementary School!  For now though…this is the first time that I’m going to experience all of the wonders of the start of a new school year as a principal.  I’m totally geeked (and arguably somewhat OF a total geek – but I can live with that)!  It’s a new and thrilling lens through which to engage in this process.

So far, I’ve been doing a lot of organizing, both of thing and of ideas.  I’m getting files in place, working on a range of communications, finalizing placements and schedules, and touching base with various stakeholders.  I’ve had the good fortune of running into a few parents and students over the past month, and a colleague and I have lined up two “story time” events at the local book store.  We did the first one in July…it was a blast!  Lots of families came, we each read a book (I read “Rufus Goes to School” by Kim Griswell [author] and Valerie Gorbachev [illustrator] – I highly recommend it), we got to see some of the amazing teachers from our schools, and people hung around eating cookies and chatting.  We’re looking forward to round 2 in a few weeks.

So, all is well and good.  Things are moving right along.  I’ve been feeling productive and getting excited, and then yesterday it became really real!  Yesterday some teachers came into the building to do some prep!  I can’t tell you what a treat it was for me to be able to spend some time with these amazing individuals.  It called to mind the incredible work they do, the deep passion and commitment they each have for/to student achievement, and the unending motivation that drives them to give everything day in and day out.  Teachers are truly amazing people to be around!

As a principal, I know that I will be wearing many hats on a daily basis, and serving in multiple capacities throughout the year.  One of the things I’m most excited about this year is to serve as a partner to the phenomenal Meadow Brook teaching and support staff.  I’m excited to continuing building the great connections that we’ve begun establishing.  I know that our collaboration and partnership will lead to incredible learning and growth for all involved – especially the students that we serve!

Yesterday, at the building, I ran in to a few veteran classroom teachers, a relatively new classroom teacher who will be working with our first grade team during a maternity leave, a veteran a ASD teacher, and a dedicated paraprofessional.  All of these people were in the building a month before school starts because they’re committed to, and passionate about the work they do.  They are each already thinking about what they can do to enhance the lives of their students.  I suspect they don’t stop thinking about it.  In fact, I know they don’t.

Teachers are 24/7 – 365 thinkers.  Yesterday, some were organizing, some were generating materials and constructing displays, some were looking to have conversations about next steps, and some just came to say “hello” and check things out.  All were thinking about how they can make our school community better.  I’m not a mind reader, but I’ve met many teachers, and I know that the switch never turns off!  It was great to see them, it was great to chat, it was great to share their excitement & enthusiasm!

Teachers and support staff are the primary links that our students have to their individual and collective learning and growth they experiences each year.  These incredible people plan, implement, and adapt instruction to meet the needs of an extremely diverse population of learners.  They tirelessly work to refine their skills and strategies.  They give of themselves without limits.  They do the “heavy lifting” with pride & humility!  As a building principal I truly appreciate their work & dedication, and I believe it’s essential that they know it.  I’ve been brainstorming some thoughts and ideas about how I can express my appreciation throughout the year.

Here are some:

Being a partner in learning & growth by spending quality time in and outside of classrooms, engaging and processing through connected, ongoing, and authentic dialogue.

Supporting ideas and initiatives by distributing leadership in appropriate ways and encouraging autonomy.

Setting & maintaining high expectations through shared planning, consistent modeling, and the celebration of achievement at every turn.

Listening with an open mind and an open heart.

Seeking opportunities to connect and develop a true depth of understanding through conversations and collaboration.

Recognizing & appreciating the growth process by forgiving myself and others when we slip and/or fall, and concentrating on temporary failures as boons for long term successes.

Putting people first with a focus on relationships.

Using social media to highlight & globally connect around the incredible work of the teachers and support staff in my building.

Spending more time in front of my desk then behind it.

Saying, “Thank you,” and meaning it!

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Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Got Joy? Find, Collect, & Communicate it.

I’m frequently asked how I have time to engage in the volume of reflective writing that I do, given everything else going on in my life.  Typically, someone who has just as much or more going on in his/her life asks me.  In fact that’s always the case.  Actually, I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t have as much or more going on in his/her life as I do.  Seems like the way life is.  Maybe it’s just the circle of busy learners, parents, educators, and other dedicated, hard working professionals that I run in.  Regardless, my answer remains the same: reflective writing is one of the things I have going on.  It’s an essential part of the mix that I could not do without.

Reflective writing is one of the primary activities that perpetuate positive progress in my life, both personal and professional.  It’s among other essential activities, processes, and ideas that combine to make me whole.  How do I have time to breath?  How do I have time to eat?  How do I have time to sleep?  I’m not sure.  I simply do, and in fact, in order to function, I must.

I feel the same way about Joy.  Joy is as essential an ingredient in my positive progress as reflective writing or anything else (maybe even more essential).  I believe with conviction that it has a powerful positive impact on others as well.

I view joy as a sort of container in which many other ingredients live.  In my mind (and in my life), Joy is something like a smoothie.  There might be bananas, blueberries, yogurt, milk, protein powder, and whatever else inside, but when it’s blended well, they each become part of one thing…the smoothie.  For a smoothie to exist, all of what’s inside of it has to exist too.  One cool thing about smoothies is that there are many kinds.  In fact, smoothies can be personalized in just about any way you can think of.  What would you put in a smoothie?

Similarly, there are many kinds of joy.  Joy doesn’t necessarily mean jumping up and down, screeching with excitement, and wearing an uncontrollable perma-smile that starts at one ear and ends at the other.  Certainly, that sounds joyful, but again, it’s just one kind of joy.  It’s the “over the moon, psyched out of your mind, can’t contain your enthusiasm” kind of joy.  It’s a good one.  There’s also the “serene, sipping a cup of coffee at a campsite early in the morning when everyone else is asleep, watching the sun come up over the lake” kind.  There’s the “slightly scary but awe-inspiring becoming a dad for the first time” kind.  There’s lot’s of kinds; to many to list; to many to know.

There are loud kinds and there are quiet kinds, there are fast kinds and there are slow kinds, there are gigantic kinds and there are tiny kinds.  There are all kinds of kinds.  We share and can identify with some of the kinds, and then there are those kinds that will forever be unique to certain people.  Each individual has some of his/her own kinds.  And while one person may not recognize why a kind works for someone else, each kind is just as meaningful and important as the next.  I don’t like strawberries in my smoothies but I know people who do.  In fact, I know people who love strawberries in their smoothies.

As a parent and an educational leader I think that a good step in perpetuating cultures of positive progress (a common goal among the group) is to find, collect, and communicate the joy that exists all around you.  It truly is everywhere.  Parents get it from things like watching their kids grow, kids get it from things like playing, reading, and pretending, and teachers get it from things like learning, collaborating, and even finding brief moments to relax (occasionally).  Where do you find it?

My advice is to think about that, and to work hard at putting different kinds of joy ingredients together as frequently as possible.  There are so many ways you could approach it.  How about a joy ingredients bulletin board in your classroom or in the front hallway of your school?  Kids, teachers, parents, and anyone else who feel so moved could write, post pictures, display art, or communicate the kinds of joy they feel in various other ways.

How about compiling classroom joy cookbook?  You could work with your students on their conceptualizations of joy and have them identify and submit some of their joy ingredients every time they feel some joy?  You could build some great joy recipes recipes, and then…you could use those recipes to design an intentional, connected, and enhanced culture of joy over the course of the year.

I’m certain that you can think of dozens of other ways to identify and celebrate joy in our school community and in your home.  My suggestion is that simply by doing so you will promote and perpetuate a joyful culture of positive progress.  People will feel better, learn better, and be better, which is good for kids…and as we all know, that’s the intended outcome of everything we do!

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

Inspire…If Only One

Wow what an incredible day and a truly inspirational experience at the Culture of Learning Chat to Action conference in Swartz Creek Michigan!  I’m thrilled to have met and joined up with this incredible group of educational leaders, thinkers, and doers!  From the first moments of this wonderful conference I was fired up!  The information was great, but I have to report that the primary source of inspiration for me was the energy.   It was awesome and true to form that the organizers, the speakers, the presenters, and the participants created and sustained a palpable culture of learning.  There was singing, there was dancing, there was silliness, there was laughter, and there was fun.  It was made clear that we would learn by taking risks, and that through those risks, laden as risks are with the potential for challenges and even failure, that we would continue to move forward in a positive direction no matter what…and we did!

First I went to Garnet Hillman’s session on Standards Based Learning.  Talk about energized and informed!  Garnet did an incredible job of bringing me up to speed on a concept that I knew very little about, and that I’m now inspired to explore further. By the way if you don’t follow Garnet on Twitter and read her blog you should start right away (@garnet_hillman & garnethillman.com).  After the morning session I enjoyed further inspiration from the various chats, speakers, and interactions with many Twitter PLNpals who I rarely, or never get to see in person.  It was great getting together with this group!

As lunch approach I began getting growing excited my session.  I was on at 1:10pm.  My topic was blogging through a framework of intentional reflection as a mechanism for ongoing learning and growth.  I was psyched!  It’s something that I’m passionate about.  It’s something that I believe in.  It’s something that I love to share with anyone who wants to share it!  I set up my tech, I visualize, I ran through the slides and thought again about my content, and I waited with excited anticipation.

When the time came I stood at the door to greet people.  One after the next they walked past.  Many of them said hello, many of them made reference to my blog and told me how much they enjoy reading it.  There was a tremendous amount of sincere enthusiasm over the work I’m doing.  I was humbled, flattered, and thrilled to hear it.  Sill, they continued walking.  As the start time approached, I noticed that only about ten or so people had stopped.  Not what I had visualized.  My initial thought was, “it’s not going to be easy to fire up a large room filled with only ten or so people.”  My second thought was, “What does easy have to do with learning and growth?” Nothing.

I did have to regroup though.  I panicked a bit.  When I present to lots of people there are always at least a few who absorb and appreiciate what I’m getting at, and even if it’s only a few, that “getting it” provides me with a workable energy.  What if no one got it?  What if I couldn’t fire them up?  What if I bored them to death?  Ironically one segment of my presentation today was about how life ain’t easy, and how through a commitment to intentional reflection we can face that lack of ease in ways that perpetuate learning and growth.  I knew that regardless of numbers, we could enhance each other’s lives and drive positive progress over the course of the next hour.  I knew it, and while this is slightly uncomfortable to admit, I was having trouble working with it at first.  I was nervous.  In those first few moments I couldn’t quite embrace the incredible opportunity I was facing (something I’m working on through a commitment to reflection as a mechanism for ongoing learning and growth:).

My thoughts uncontrollably turned again to, “How the heck am I going to fire up only ten or so people in this big room?”  I’m sure it was written on my face, I’m sure it was evident in my voice, and I’m guessing that the beads of sweat rolling down my brow didn’t help.  I didn’t recognize myself for a minute.  Where was the passion?  Where was the confidence?  Where was the belief that every moment holds limitless opportunities for inspiration?  I wasn’t going to inspire anyone gripped with nerves and distracted from my purpose.

But wait, here’s the rub, here’s the learning, and here’s the wonderful part of such experiences…I was being faced with a challenge, and I love challenges!  Suddenly, I snapped out of it and realized that this was actually an opportunity for me to model exactly the concept that I was about to suggest to my ten or so colleagues.  I turned to the nice folks sitting quietly at the big round tables in that gigantic room.  While they didn’t physically fill the space quite like I might have hoped, they certainly filled it with a collective eagerness to learn!  I knew for sure that someone would be inspired before the end of this hour, even if that someone was going to have to be me!

I’m happy to report that I was inspired!  I was inspired by the enthusiastic and insightful participation of the incredible educators who shared their hour with me.  One piece of my reflective process that I walk them through this afternoon is the importance I place on recognizing connections in each moment of my life, and then working hard to integrate those connections into my reflective practices through a lens of my priorities and core values (my reflective foundation).  Today the ten or so of us brainstormed some connections to leadership and learning as related to some moments that I had captured.  Below are some of the moments and inspired leadership and learning ideas that came out of that portion of today’s session.

BOY WITH A BUG WATCH:

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Learning does not need to be boring.

Tools can make learning more interesting.

You can learn something by looking closely at anything.

We are each fascinated by things that interest us.

We should each take time to see things from multiple perspectives.

MARCHING IN THE RAIN:

Rain

There can be happiness even in the rain.

It’s fun to take a natural shower.

It doesn’t matter if you get wet.

Embrace your climate whatever it brings.

Not all days are sunny.

Not everyone will always approve of what you’re doing.

SLEEPING IN A SWING:

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Kids can literally play themselves to exhaustion.

Sometimes we all need a break.

Being in a comfortable place is comfortable.

One reason that play can be so tiring is the growth it perpetuates.

HOT DOG CLIMBING STAIRS:

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Sometimes role-playing can help kids take risks.

Pretending is fun and a good way to learn.

We don’t always mind when the attention is on us.

It’s okay to be very enthusiastic about something.

READING DURING RECESS:

Reading Furing

Books are open doors to our imagination.

Following the crowd is not always the best thing.

Educators must make space/opportunity for introverts.

Our highest priorities are not going to be interrupted.

So there it is, just some of the inspiration that came out a situation that initially struck me as challenging almost beyond repair.  In hindsight, it couldn’t have happened any other way, and I’m glad it didn’t.  It reminds me that if only one person leaves any given experience inspired, that experience is well worth while…even if the only one is me!  Later, after attending an inspiring session led by the incomparable teacher/writer/ed leader, Starr Sackstien (a must follow/read @mssackstein & starsackstein.com), Starr reminded me that if only ten or so students showed up on a snow day, we would still work to facilitate and engage in an inspirational day of learning.  Indeed!

What a gift that I can follow today’s work with a connected reflection.  I truly appreciate the opportunity have been involved in this incredible event, and I’m writing now as an extenuation of the culture of learning that we all worked hard to create today.  As I focused on in my session, I am wholeheartedly committed to intentional reflection as a mechanism for learning and growth, and today’s experience is a real-time example of why.  Looking forward to next year’s conference and many #COLchat sessions in between (Monday nights from 9-10pm eastern)!

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

Keep Reaching…Even Stuff That Seems Far Away Can Be Achieved

Life is filled with highs, lows, and all kinds of in-betweens along the spectrum of growth and achievement.  I remember watching my four-year-old in the pool last summer (he was a three-year-old at the time, because that’s how aging works – three one summer, four the next).  He refused to blow bubbles, he wouldn’t put his face in the water, he shuttered at the thought of floating on his belly or his back, and he didn’t seem to understand the importance of water safety, or the fun of safe water play.  Kids!

One of his friends was a veritable fish at the time.  I swear I saw gills on the kid.  Another three-year-old, splishin’ and a-splashin’, diving down to retrieve rocks from the bottom of the pool, pretending to be a whale by blowing water out of his mouth while floating on his back, jumping and diving around, and making it look easy.  Show off!  O.k., maybe I’m being a bit harsh.  I know the little guppy wasn’t actually showing off, he was simply swimming, and he was doing so because he was equipped and ready.   I don’t know why he was equipped and ready, and I don’t know why my child wasn’t, but that’s what was going on.  That’s what we were working with.

Tangentially speaking (but still with a leadership/learning bent) this was a good opportunity for me to celebrate someone else’s success through a lens of “not quite there yet” regarding me and mine.  Well, “not even close” might describe it more accurately, but that’s beside the point, and it may have even served to enhance the growth experience.  Envy can diminish and/or decelerate growth.  It tends to shift energy and focus away from the positive, it fights with optimism, and in many cases it produces a yucky feeling (scientifically speaking).

We are each built a bit differently from one another.  Some folks come to some things naturally, while other folks take their time and tread more complex pathaways to those same things.  However, what I need to remember as a dad and an educational leader is that both pathways (and a multitude of other ones) are legitimate and effective.  My little guy wasn’t ready to swim last summer, but he sure is now!  Yesterday at the pool, he and I were jumping up and down in the deep end.  He was taking humongous, sustaining breaths so that he could bounce off the bottom, and even blow bubbles in the process.  We were wearing goggles so that we could see one another.  We were giving each other under-water high fives and nose kisses before surfacing with uproarious laughter and pangs of joy.

At one point the kid swallowed a huge gulp of pool water while taking a snort up the nose simultaneously.  I didn’t know what would happen next.  Would he suffer a diminished ability to enjoy and understand that water is fun (and safe) when you’re comfortable in it?  Would he want to get out of the pool immediately?  Would he cry and ask for his mommy?  Would he revert?  Any were possible….none happened.  The little trooper shook it off and went back for more!  Granted, this kid has been taking weekly swimming lessons through the winter, but why not?  That’s what it took for him.  And therein lies a bulk of this reflective message:

Do what it takes to make stuff happen.

Understand that people learn, develop, and progress at unique and varied rates (even you).

Reach out in many directions if the original direction doesn’t get you to where you’re trying to go.

Understand that while some ends are far away, none are impossibly far away.

Don’t give up.

In education, persistence and fortitude can go a long way, especially when coupled with faith and compassion.  By faith I mean the knowledge that things we can’t quite reach or fully understand in this moment are possible in the next moment, even against all odds.   By compassion I mean a deep and genuine caring for yourself, those you serve, those who serve you, and the goal of positive learning and growth for all involved.  Sticking to it is a means to great ends, in and outside of the classroom, while working to deliver information and develop skills, and in fostering healthy and collaborative relationships.

Every situation is a bit different.  You might find peace and partnership with one person by way of some fundamental small talk, while others might need regular celebrations, consistent encouragement, while still others could simply need to be left alone for a while.  There are people who thrive on space and time to process.

The point is that educational leaders should be reaching for the sky with every effort.  We can’t afford to give up on any ideas, and we certainly can’t afford to give up on any people.  We do have to adapt when and where it’s called for, but we’ve got to press forward with the understanding that our energy is a powerful piece of the effort, achievement, and yes…the joy puzzle in our community.  When done well, with authenticity and an undying commitment to forward progress/collective growth, reaching for the sky can be a wonderful motivator and a effective developmental model/tool.

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

The Fine Art Of Tongue Biting

There you sit, listening to a friend, a colleague, a loved one…someone saying something that may or may not be terribly important to you at the moment, something that you may or may not be interested in, something that you may or may not feel you have time to listen to.  Maybe you have ten other things on your mind.  Maybe you simply don’t agree with the content or the delivery of the ‘something’ that you’re listening to.  Maybe you were interrupted from something else.  Maybe you were in the middle of some very important task or thought when you were ripped away by an invitation to join the someone in the other room, or excitedly asked to “listen to this,” or better yet, maybe the someone who you’re faced with listening to simply started talking without any warning.

If you can relate to this scenario, you’re likely to have reached varied junctures along a spectrum of visceral reactivity when it happens, possibly ranging from somewhere in the neighborhood of slight irritation to concurrent with blood-curdling fury.  Your eye might twitch, your toes might curl, and/or you might find yourself scratching places on your arm that didn’t itch only moments ago.  What is happening here?  Is there truly some kind of assault on your wellbeing underway?  Are you under attack?  Is this someone maniacal in his/her efforts to derail your productivity, spoil your mood, wreck your day, diminish your effectiveness, or otherwise stop you from doing the very important things that were so recently being used as test subjects for a veritable study on procrastination?  Or, is he/she trying to connect with you?  While biting your tongue is traditionally known as an act that prevents people from saying things they might later regret, as I progress within my journey in educational leadership I find it helpful to think of tongue biting (in moments such as cited above) as a reminder of what is actually very important…relationships…with people.

Think about your favorite educational leader.  Think about the teacher or principal who influenced you the most.  Project back to the one who made you feel comfortable at school and helped you understand it as a joyful place.  Imagine the person in your educational life who inspired you to reach for and exceed your potential.  Was that person too busy to listen, even when you were rambling on?  I rarely hear people talk about great leaders by referencing their productivity, their ability to maximize time by facilitating really short and to the point conversations, or their uncanny efficiency.  Most of the stories I hear about inspirational leadership go something like this:  He always makes me feel so important, or she cares so deeply about everyone she knows, or he loves to hear about my day…even when it’s boring, or I can turn to her for anything.  Etcetera.

In my opinion, the key to the fine art of tongue biting is that the bite is simply a reminder.  Bite…release, and then upon releasing…engage.  I would suggest that if you’re doing it right, you ‘re not stopping yourself from interrupting, your reminding yourself that you care about what someone is saying, no mater who that someone is.  Inspirational leaders tend to actually care about everyone that they serve, and by “actually,” I mean they tend to do it with authenticity.  Pretending to care doesn’t work.  It doesn’t work because it doesn’t convince people that you do, not really, not permanently…and it doesn’t convince you.  It’s authentic expressions of true caring that help people understand what they mean to one another.  Careful and compassionate listening is a wonderful way to show people that you truly value them, and if you do, it comes off in just that way.

I’m reflecting on this today because the end of the school year is an especially fast paced, busy time for us in educational leadership.  There’s so much going on.  I’ve found myself short with people I care about on multiple occasions over the past few weeks.  No good.  Of course, we are human beings, we work with human beings, and we have to get things done.  We do have to be hyper-organized, we can’t afford anything but productivity, and we really must be diligent in the crossing of T’s and the dotting of I’s.  However, we also have to remember that those things are not the problem of the people we serve, in or outside of school.  I think that we are also well served to remember this very important fact about most everyone in our lives: they’re busy too.

So, it’s not enough to hold back from shouting, “for goodness sake…give it rest,” with a quick bite of my tongue during frustrated or distracted moments that could otherwise be filled with authentic and meaningful connections.  The tongue biting should remind me that I actually do care…because I do.  If used properly, the fine art of tongue biting can be a quick energy shifter, diminishing frustrated distractedness and enhancing meaningful connections.  The next time you find yourself wishing someone that care about would “stop talking already,” try it.  If you turn to thinking, “I’m glad to be a part of this person’s life,” or “how cool that he/she feels comfortable confiding in me,” than maybe it’s for you.  If you don’t, than maybe it’s not.  Either way, it’s an easy experiment that could pay dividends in the areas of learning, growth, and even joy.

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Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

Ready…Tech…Go!: Scaffolding Tech Integration

Ready…Tech…Go! 

An Early Start & Vertical Integration of K-12 Tech Skills & Understandings

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was thrilled to walk into the computer lab last Friday to find Mrs. Fishers’ kindergarteners developing their understanding of technology tools while exercising their creativity and working on reading comprehension. These kids are five and six-years-old and they’re already very independent when it comes to many basic technology tasks.  It led me to think about my three-year-old who thinks that our T.V. is broken because it’s not touch screen sensitive.  Occasionally I find him tapping on it in consternation, confused about why no menu is appearing.  Given the dizzying rate of technological innovation, imagine what his kids will be confused about, “Why won’t this hologram answer me?!”  The point is that technology has become very much an essential part of today’s students’ daily life from a very young age.

I’m fortunate to be able to spend my time planning, working, and talking with k-12 teachers at all grade levels.  This work has afforded me a deepened understanding of vertical integration.  In most content areas progressive instruction is overt.  We learn to read so that we are eventually able to read to learn.  We scaffold mathematical problem solving with basic math skills.  Social Studies becomes a study of global issues out of critical thinking about our families, our homes, and our neighborhoods.  While we do have guidelines for technology learning across the grades, I wonder if the fast passed evolution of incredible tech resources sometimes deters us from our developmental course.  Do basic tech skills have to be learned in order, or are these digital natives better of weathering the ongoing storm of innovation as it comes?

As I joined Mrs. Fisher’s students in their work I saw some cool stuff.  Some of them were working in a program called KidPix (http://tinyurl.com/b3k5qpt).  They were creating some wonderfully expressive art, and they loved every minute of it.  When I talked to Mrs. Fisher I learned that her primary interest in using the program was to help student become familiar with, and comfortable using the navigation menu.  How cool (not to mention brilliant).  She had them engaged work that they loved, and unbeknownst to them, they were practicing essential tech skills. It makes sense that kindergarteners should build proficiency by having lots of practice working with menus so that it becomes natural and commonplace.  How much time will they be spending navigating through menus as they move forward with their academic, work, and social lives?  Lots.

Here are five things this Mrs. Fisher’s wonderful lesson helped me think about:

  1. Tech doesn’t teach.  So, teachers have to know tech, stay current with Ed. Tech innovations, and understand what is developmentally appropriate for the age groups with whom they work.
  2. Great teachers are meticulous about purpose.  Deciding what tools to use, and why, is an essential aspect of lesson design.
  3. Cross-curricular learning is important.  It makes sense to practice reading comprehension skills while collaborating on a social studies project.  How about math and science?  Or art?  Where can we help students think critically about connections?
  4. There are lots of great tools that can simulate relevant situations while minimizing exposure and risk.  Second graders can practice digital citizenship skills on a password protected Moodle course.  Seven year olds can learn about digital communication without having a Facebook page.  What are we doing to scaffold essential Digital Age skills?
  5. When students love what they’re working on they tend to be engaged in it.  What are you’re students interested in?  What tools to they like to work with?

 

365 Lessons: #34 A Great Partnership Can Make Complex Challenges Seem Less Complex

365 Lessons

(Critical Thinking About What The World Is Teaching Me Every Day)

#34 A Great Partnership Can Make Complex Challenges Seem Less Complex

[Lesson Break Down]

Life ain’t easy.  In fact, as wonderful as it can be, it’s downright complex and intensely challenging at times.  The right partnerships can make that complexity and those challenges easier to manage.

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I’ve been trying to get over a lingering head cold for the past few weeks.  It’s the type of thing that wakes me up with sore throats and stuffy sinuses just enough so that I don’t get the sleep I need to shake it.  I feel better during the day and fade fast at night.  My wife is pregnant with our third child.  The first two keep us pretty busy and now that she’s going on thirty weeks the countdown is at hand.  Two nights ago as I sat in the bathroom with hot shower steam clearing my 2-year-old’s croupy lungs at two o’clock in the morning while my wife retrieved and set up a humidifier in his bedroom I thought, “Wow…we have a great partnership going here!”

This past weekend was filled with surprises.  Yesterday I was home sick with both of the boys.  Even when everyone in our house is healthy our lives are a wonderful whirlwind of constant motion.  We love it and we wouldn’t want it any other way, but it is relatively challenging.  I’ve spoken to parents who think that parenting is easy.  Once, I even heard a father refer to his child as “pet rock” with a shrug of his shoulders.  My children are more like pet rock stars!  They wrestle, they shout, they run in circles for what seems like impossible amounts of time, they can turn a perfectly intact room completely upside down in a matter of minutes…boys!

I have tons of respect for single parents.  I honestly don’t know how they do it!  Like parenting, other complex things are made easier and better when the right partnerships are formed and nurtured.  Today I had cause to make the connection between my marriage as an incredible partnership and the incredible partnerships that have served to enhance learning for my students, my colleagues, and me over the years.  The more I learn the more I realize that not nearly enough can be said about effective collaboration as the only option for maximizing growth and achievement.  There’s a reason why clichés are clichés – two heads ARE better than one!

365 Lessons: #3 Artifacts Inspire Critical Thinking And Action

365 Lessons:  #3 Artifacts Inspire Critical Thinking And Action

 

Lesson #3 Break Down 

Artifacts and Objects + Curiosity = Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking + Exploration = Synthesis and Discovery

…Using content related artifacts and objects to stimulate questions, thoughts, and discussion is a great way to get students started on an inquiry project.

  

Dictionary.com defines an artifact as, “any object made by human beings, especially with a view to subsequent use,” and an object as, “a thing, person, or matter to which thought or action is directed.”  I’ve been working to develop a deepened understanding of Project Based Learning with Inquiry and Authentic Social Action in mind.  I’m repeatedly coming across the challenge of encouraging critical thinking and inspiring the desire to take action.  The best results I’ve seen in my own work and the work of my incredible colleagues in BPS is perpetuated by genuine student interest.  When the kids come up with the ideas, the direction, and the plan, they tend to generate and extend an amazing amount of energy for any given project.  Student excitement can become infectious, which often times leads to extended, passionate, and relevant learning.

I was looking thorough the wonderful book Inquiry Circles in Action by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels yesterday.  I came across a section called “Objects and Artifacts” on page 83 in which Harvey and Daniels assert, “Bringing intriguing objects and artifacts into the room adds to our kids’ engagement, teaches them to think, and builds content knowledge.”  It makes sense.  I started to think about artifacts that would get 1st and 2nd graders thinking critically about composting because the amazing Deb Prinde is introducing an inquiry unit to her multiage class next week and she’s invited me to collaborate.

We’ll be doing a lesson on key word searches to kick things off, so I started my exploration with the most obvious key word: “compost.”  That led me to this page http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/education/photos.htm#photos which has some links to a bunch of great art that’s free for educational use.  I wasn’t thrilled with the pictures for our purposes so I grabbed an article about composting and scoured it for some other key words.  If you know anything about composting you might have imagined that I found the greatest word imaginable for engaging 1st grade students.  That word of course is “WORM!”  It’s not an artifact but it is an object.  I think I’m going to bring in some worms to begin with.  Maybe I’ll bring a different object each day for the first week and see if the students can start to make connections.

I’m hoping that even if our explorers don’t initially come to the conclusion that worms help in the composting process, seeing, drawing, writing, and talking about worms in conjunction with four related objects (and artifacts) should set the wheels in motion for quality generation and revision of relevant driving questions and synthesis as information flows in throughout the project.  I’m excited to discover how effective the use of artifacts and objects are going to be in affecting student achievement and attitudes toward learning!