Sunday, February 8, 2015

PD - For One and For All

Today I had a couch day...thick with a chest cold I slept, watched some Netflix and read through the #denapalooza twitter stream.  I love the way we can all participate in free PD via social media.  I have always been a proponent of PD for all.  This is the act that makes the team stronger and builds success into the very structure of the school or team.  When we roll out a new idea or tool, we commit to ongoing PD for the year to ensure that the learning goes deep and the practice is well embedded in our classrooms.

This past summer I had the good fortune to be invited to the DEN SUMMER INSTITUTE - PRINCIPAL'S SUMMIT.   However, reflecting on my visit with #DENSI2014  I am reminded me that we need to also address the needs of our early adopters and staff champions.  Id the good fortune to be invited to the DEN SUMMER INSTITUTE - PRINCIPAL'S SUMMIT  While this may not be a new idea to many, it was refreshed for me the necessity of this practice in addition to team wide PD.  When our staff champion becomes more skilled and inspired, s/he returns to our team and spreads that energy throughout the rest of the early adopters.  

As the LC arrived at DENSI2014 I watched each member embrace, catch up and then start sharing ideas and things that they had done since last seeing each other.  As Educational Leaders we need to know our team and know their passions and strengths.  Allow the expert to become more expert so that they are in a better position to share and strengthen the entire team.  When staff with similar strengths and language/understanding come together, they are already in stronger position as they do not need to start from zero.  Their sharing and learning commences quickly because: a) they are already on a similar level of conversation and b) they are excited to share their trials with an enthusiastic audience.  

On the flip side I also noted a few folks who were sharing about their flops.  A level of comfort and security was noticeable as there was also no hesitation in this sharing either.  Each of the staff champions in the DEN were recharging and learning from the first day.  If school teams had sent the teachers who were in need of convincing or who were “just not getting it” the DEN would not have had the same power that it holds.  

The team I work with is excellent and is comprised of many strong and intelligent members, even a few Denstars.  We are always committed to  meaningful school wide PD topics.  I think that I will be speaking with each of them about their  specific passions and strongest skills.  We will be making a list of topics to be on the look out for as I seek to provide strengthening and reenergizing experiences for each of them.

I think this applies to district wide PD initiatives as well.  When a ‘big gun’ is brought in to present to teachers from a number of schools, we need to balance opportunities that, using a sports analogy, strengthen the bench alongside those that strengthen the stars.  

Perhaps this is what we all need to consider next time an important Professional Development opportunity comes around.

My 28 minutes are up today - thanks for reading.  #28daysofwriting

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Cultured Pearls - #28daysofwriting

Many people equate pearls with value.  We see this in fashion and in wisdom.  Originally pearls were found by chance, created in the amazing biology of the oyster as it organically responded to injury by excreting a substance known as nacre.  In the modern day, pearls are now grown in farms.  The process is still organic as farmers insert a ’seed’ particle into the oyster to start the nacre secreting process.  Pearl production has dramatically increased with this infusion tactic.
  Like the oyster and the pearl, many schools in the past were magical when opened; people found beauty inside an amazing school culture. Unfortunately, like the oyster and the pearl, some schools were opened to find nothing of value.
School culture is a hot topic in the Twitterverse these days. Many connected educators are posting their thoughts and feelings, their practices and wishes.  While I agree that school culture is a multifaceted gem, reflecting off students, teachers, support staff, and families, today I will write about the role of the principal.  It is the role I am most familiar with.
The principal is like the pearl farmer in that s/he is the person with the power to insert the ‘seed’ into the school in which they work, the team that they lead,  the community they support.
I suggest two ‘culturing’ tools for principals.   They are fairly simple to use and yet can create remarkable pearls of value. I like to call this creating the conditions.
The first tool is called TALK and LISTEN.  Too often we enter a new setting and do one or the other!  I like to think that we need to sit and hear from all team members while we determine what the needs of the school are.  By ASKING QUESTIONS and LISTENING THROUGH THE ANSWERS we can assess the real needs that our teams, students and families tell us.  Let people have a voice but don’t be afraid to direct what you are talking about.  Ask questions, direct conversations, drive the direction of the talking.  A few ways this can be done might include common professional development, book studies, or posting a discussion topic for the day.  Develop a practice of engaging at least one conversation a day with the team...but don’t talk to the same people every time, if you want to harvest many pearls you need to seed many oysters!
The second tool is also a basic one called WALK THE TALK.  As the principal it is imperative that modelling happens.  People need to see you outside of your office, in a different hallway, and at different times of the day.  This can be very challenging when you are inundated with demands from the Board Office or professional organizations.  Staff also need to see that you are investing in the same things that you expect of them.  Read the book for the book study, participate in a PLC, develop and connect with a global PLN.
I had the fortune this past week of having a principal from another school ask if he could tour the school I am at.  He heard me speak in the fall.  I gladly accepted his request, even joked that he was coming to see that I was being honest with my stories and examples of school culture!  What happened was really encouraging and rewarding.  In a blog post about his visit @csgamble made note of little things that our team does - things that I hadn’t really thought of but reflect the richness of a strong school culture.  You can read his blog here.  I left Chris with a comment about time.  This cool, amazing, high powered team didn’t develop overnight.  We have worked together for seven years now and as the principal I have tried my best to insert small practices into the environment that  are reaping pearls of great value today.  
My 28 minutes are up - thanks for reading.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Language is least that is what we have been told.

Language is the key to letting people know what you mean, what you expect and what you hope will happen.  Finding a common language is the first step in moving all parts of your organization in the same direction.  But what does 'common language' mean in a school setting? 

Common language between all members?
Common language of instruction?
Common language for assessment?
Common language for discipline?
Common language of action?

I have encountered a number of leaders who have not been clear and decisive about the language that they use or that should be used in their organizations.  In my experience I have found that establishing a common language for all team members is a very powerful driver for the mission of the group.  At our monthly staff meetings there is an opportunity for our team to connect and establish a common language for literacy instruction through all grade levels.  This is an opportunity for all staff - teachers, administrators and support staff to share and develop our common language.  This translates into an advantage for our students and families as they move through the school; they will spend less time learning a new ‘language’ each September.  It provides a sharpening of instructional time for everyone.

In the area of literacy instruction, our team has found the work of Regie Routman to be a useful framework to have vertical conversations which lead to common beliefs and common language.  The work of Gail Boushey and Joan Moser has helped our team develop common practice for our students as well.  We have found that our students respond well to these common elements as they move through the grades at the school.  They do not seem to stress when we speak about 'stamina' and our teachers appreciate the infusion of the 'OLM' across their lessons.

In regard to discipline, by sharing a common language, our students will be able to know what is expected behaviour in all areas of the school.  We are working at removing the variability that so many of us met in our own school experiences as we moved between classrooms.  I’m not suggesting that we remove individuality from the classrooms of our schools but I am suggesting that we come to an agreement around the use of our words and the meaning of our words.

As an educational leader I need to continue to create opportunities for our team to understand what the expectations around common language are as well as guide the definition of that language.  Our team will become stronger, our teaching will become sharper and our students will become more successful.