Saturday, April 20, 2013

We Need Leaders #cpchat


Whether fair or not, I have been cast as the anti-administrator teacher. It is a role I accept; yet my perspective on things is always changing. I stand by my original posts on the matter and truly don’t think we need administrators as they currently function in most schools. It has been my experience with administrators I have worked for and with that there are two kinds of administrators. There are those that are administrators and those that are leaders. There is a clear distinction between the two and they both have a profoundly different impact on their schools.

Leaders inspire rather than require
A true leader inspires the teachers in their building to do great things. They know how to motivate and that motivation often comes from building trust and a sense of community within a school. The truly effective leaders know the role culture plays in inspiring growth and improvement in a school. They do not speak in terms of requirements and forced initiatives. While there is an element of required pieces within a public school system, a true leader inspires their staff beyond just putting their feet to the fire of mandates.

Leaders are visible
Another aspect of a leader is their physical presence in the building. How often do teachers see them in the halls and in their classrooms? How often do the students see them in school and after school events? Regardless of if it is just a drop in to say good morning, leaders understand that they need to be seen by their staff and students daily and in some cases more than once a day. A leader does not hole up in their office for days on end. If students or parents would have trouble picking the building administrators out in lineup they are not an effective building leader.

Leaders focus on kids not adults
This should come as a no brainer, but clearly is not for many. A leader makes building decisions based on what is best for the kids not for the adults. Yes, the needs of the adults in the building are crucial for creating a positive school culture. However, those needs should come secondary to those of the children we are entrusted to teach. Leaders need to have their decisions guided by the best learning outcomes for students rather than being guided by a pack staff members angling for self-interests.

Leaders are transparent
There are no secrets and no hidden agendas in the office of a leader. They involve every member of their staff in the decision making process not just a select privileged few. While small group or teams may be selected to represent the staff by way of department heads or team leaders, the entire staff is aware and informed about all building decisions. Leaders honor confidentiality but don’t allow secrecy to breed division and distrust among their staff.

Leaders are teachers
Leaders should be teachers within the building at every chance they can get. This can be teaching a class when a sub doesn’t get called in or supervising a club for students. School leaders that teach are the best models for the teachers in their buildings. They are the most credible and are able to stay grounded in the classroom and with the most important part of the school, which are the students.

Leaders love their school
Some of the most effective school leaders I have ever encountered speak with such passion and love for their schools. By school I mean they love everything from the building itself to the people inside and the surrounding community. They care that their building looks great and take pride in having people visit. Rather than rushing home after the last bell, they stay to watch the students perform, play and compete and stand there proudly watching and celebrating. True leaders feel like the parent of a tremendous family and their unconditional love is obvious and contagious.

In full disclosure, I am not administrator nor do I play one on television. However, I have worked with and discussed this idea of the building administrator’s role with literally thousands of people around the country. There are great school leaders out there in schools but I fear they might be in the minority. I still believe we do not need traditional administrators but desperately need school leaders. If you find yourself working for a great administrator be sure to tell them you appreciate them. If you don’t…send them this post…but leave my name off. J

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Takeaways and Questions #futurenow


Last week I had the pleasure of attending a Discovery Education event in Silver Spring, Maryland. The event was titled “Future@Now” and had a host of people sharing stories about how to push some important conversations in education and technology. Many of the conversations were fantastic and I know I will be unpacking and reflecting for many weeks to come. However, I wanted to put down some of my initial three takeaways and three questions from the action packed day.

Takeaway One: Kids are the best voices we have in our battle for education reform.

Our first speaker of the day was Mary Moss Wirt, a 3rd grade student from Cary Elementary School in North Carolina. First of all, I give her all the credit in the world for standing up and speaking in front of a room full of adults. Wow. Her message was short and to the point. She wants teachers to be teaching her the way she learns best…not the way in which her teachers learned best. This is simple yet important to remember.

Takeaway Two: Textbook companies have a stranglehold on school budgets.

Roberto Carvalho spoke passionately about changes in education and many things he was doing in his home school district. However, one of the most poignant things that stuck out to me was how he quite simply called out the textbook publishing companies for the monopoly they have on school resources. So many of our school districts are literally sinking millions of dollars into textbooks that are mostly outdated by the time they hit a student’s desk. In this economic climate, this makes no sense and needs to change.

Takeaway Three: Corporations can be our friends.

This is not going to be the most popular takeaway but it is a reality. There are companies and non-profits out there that want to invest in our students and in public education. Yes, we can argue that they have a selfish interest. They want to create future employees. How is that a bad thing though? One example was the company Siemens who was represented on the corporate panel at the event. The individual that spoke addressed that his company invests money in STEM education in schools and hosts events and provides grants for classes/schools. Now, he freely admitted there is some hope that these students would come and work for his company. However, if they don’t he was ok with it because it will increase the quality of STEM-minded people in the world. Sure we can question their motives but if the end result is better resources and access for our kids, how is that all bad?

Question One: Why are our politicians incapable of anything more than rhetoric?

This question does speak for itself. However, we had the chance to listen to not only a congressman but also a member of the US Department of Education. Both individually spoke passionately about the need for change. Yet, still we sit with no action being taken to actually improve education in our country. Some might argue the Common Core standards would be evidence of that but if those are good remains to be seen… Where is truly thoughtful conversation about teaching and learning happening at the national or even state level, especially in the area of technology integration?

Question Two: Why are we obsessed with bringing everything to scale?

Several of the speakers over the course of the day were talking about bringing various classrooms and building initiatives to scale. The superintendent panel mentioned this notion several times and I am not sure I am comfortable with that. Yes, there are some basic fundamental beliefs that we need to bring to scale in public education. However, I am not sure the procedures put in place in Miami, FL are going to be relevant in rural IL. Too often we are trying to find a blanket program that will work in all contexts but I am not sure that is possible. Regional and local context is everything. What works in your school may not work in mine. Should we be so focused on bringing things to scale or worry more about scaling down to individual students?

Question Three: Why do we think we need to provide equality of technology in classrooms?

I see this in many schools and even in my own school district. When one teacher gets a Smartboard, we feel that we need to put one in every classroom. If we give the math department clickers we feel we need to get the other departments them as well so as not to make them feel left out. Many thousands and millions of budgetary resources are wasted putting technology into classrooms and with teachers that don’t need/want it. Why not have teachers who want the tech apply for it or at least have a conversation about how it will be used? Then at least you know the technology will be used and money can be saved for other projects and resources. 

This is the first of many posts about this event as I continue to delve into my notes and reflect on the amazing lineup of speakers and panels.