I have been fortunate to have spent the entire school day in several elementary, middle and high school classrooms in the past month. Why do I think this is fortunate?
Because, the fact is, we don’t often have the opportunity to witness a wide variety of teachers and students, in the classroom learning environment, for extended periods… and, it’s incredibly valuable!
I firmly believe that school administrators SHOULD spend as much time in classrooms as is practically possible. It can really help us concretely connect to the WHY of our jobs, it helps us connect to students, it helps us witness exemplary teaching (and, sometimes, not so
exemplary teaching)… in short, it gives us meaningful material to reflect on as we consider what we want our learners to achieve, how we know they are (or, aren’t) achieving that and what we need to do to ensure their success.
We all see with different lenses. This can be one of the greatest strengths for a learning community that is focused on the same questions and issues… as long as we truly consider the entire range of observations that come from our community.
Trust flows from a respect for each other’s ideas and the more we share our learning experiences and ideas with each other the more we can tackle the questions that answer why we are here, why we are educators… it is the same why. We just may have different ways of moving forward on supporting our learners.
We all face challenges. How do we deal with them? Certainly, many challenges can not be compared… but, I know as a parent, I have employed the following strategy: “You think getting that homework done is hard!? How about those poor kids across the road that have no electricity and hardly any materials except for a pencil and paper…”. It’s probably natural to compare the challenges we face with those faced by others (though, we still tend to think that MY challenge is the greater one).
Anyway, I’m a generally positive person and I try to look at the ‘positive side’ of any situation… usually that works well for me but I sometimes set myself up for disappointment when I have an unrealistically positive view.
Here’s a guy that inspires me because he hasn’t let his challenge ‘stop’ him: Nick Vujicic (see video links, below).
In my last post I promised a follow-up on my post that highlighted the “Fair and Balanced” Fox News approach. This one’s a little old now but I really wanted to share it, in case anyone might think I was accusing Fox News of being silly…”‘I wish liberals could leave little kids alone’: Fox anchor’s anger over ‘brainwashing’ in MUPPETS movie as villain’s name is Tex Richman”… Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2069878/Muppets-film-brainwashing-children-rich-says-Fox-News-anchor-Eric-Bolling.html#ixzz1jcPkul32
And… “Fox Accuses ‘The Muppets’ of Brainwashing Kids Against the Rich”.
Anyway, I have a lot of more serious issues I plan on blogging about but I do think it’s important for all of us to stay as fair, balanced and well-informed as possible!
In previous posts I have talked about establishing a collaborative culture focused on learning. I see that one of the roadblocks is shifting practice to one that requires teachers to collaborate also means that teachers must then open themselves up and become vulnerable.
Crucial conversations need to occur… but often don’t, in the interest of not ‘rocking the boat’. Certainly, Kerry Patterson and company did a great job of providing a communication ‘toolkit’ so that we CAN engage in safe, powerful dialogue without hurting feelings and making others angry… but, the fact is, it’s not easy! Making it safe for all collaborators to communicate honestly takes time and the ‘right’ effort in building trust.
Real collaboration just can’t happen if difficult questions aren’t encouraged and explored. One of Rick DuFour’s colleagues, Bill Ferriter, described very well…
I can remember several times where conflict felt like failure to our learning team. We’d have intellectual disagreements about practices and believe that everything we were building was coming to an end. Worse yet, we didn’t have the skills for conflict resolution AND we were fighting against a constant barrage of “be a team player” messages that surround schools… Luckily, we stumbled across a phrase that we drilled into our heads: “Questioning isn’t about the person, it’s about the practice.”
By remembering that simple idea, questioning became safer for those doing the asking and for those being asked… And it worked.
Teachers are so wrapped up in our practices—we own them, we craft them, we believe in them—and in the nobility of our work that being questioned can be one of the most painful and personal “offenses.” It was only when we take the focus off of the person that questioning became safe on our learning team.
Let’s have that crucial dialogue, openly explore and remember, “Questioning isn’t about the person, it’s about the practice.” … we all have room for improvement!
Students in classes, once again. The cycle restarts. Positive energy abounds.
In fact, I’m feeling pretty positive for two main reasons: I’m back in the classroom again… as a teacher, AND despite work being… well… WORK, it’s going pretty smoothly so far. Orientation was short, a bit intense but IMHO went well. I think the core message – what we’re here for as educators – came through loud and clear. Light that fire, encourage those questions, help the students meet learning goals (feedback in the form of formative assessments and trying new strategies, helps) really embrace our role as educators/guides/mentors and COLLABORATE and learn together.
I feel amazingly relaxed for having such a full plate (leading school accreditation, setting up MAP testing, guiding school-wide curriculum work, managing Professional Development for faculty, empowering HODs to facilitate learning on all levels, and teaching that class). I’ve talked about presuming positive intentions – something I regularly remind myself of. An extension of that is establishing positive expectations. To me, that means expectations that are realistic and help us all move forward – learning together. Positive expectations for me and what I can offer – realistically. Positive expectations for my students and what they can achieve. Positive expectations for faculty in what they can achieve.
The start of a new year SHOULD be positive… let’s keep that energy going through the entire year!
I love sites like ThinkExist.com that have random quotes… it’s amazing the direction one can take you! I just saw the following quote on their random quote of the day post:
Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.
~ Howard Aiken (American computer engineer and mathematician 1900-1973)
My first reaction… I laughed! That’s good, I thought. Then, I thought some more… I’m preparing for faculty orientation, starting very soon… no, that’s not so great. I would like to think I have plenty of good ideas… My leadership philosophy (and life philosophy, in general) is NOT, “Ram it down their throats”! Yet, I admit to being frustrated, at times, by what appears to me to be good, common-sensical ideas that aren’t put into practice. The question is, why?
As with so many things (broken record, here…) it all comes down to two essential and inter-related things: trust and communication. My wife (knowing what a sucker I am for ‘Leadership readings’) sent me an article link from Forbes – The 8 Steps to Authentic Leadership. Again! There in black and white – how essential trust is, how linked it is to proactive communication. It takes time, too!
I love this visual summary by Jack Ricchiuto, at Network Weaving:
From Network Weaving - The Trust Equation 1.0!
So, as we head into a new school year, let’s work on that trust thing. Patiently, presuming positive intentions and asking questions (the best ones are difficult ones) that help us all reflect and improve!
Book study completed! Now what?
Point made repeatedly: We really already know
what we SHOULD be doing… .
The phenomenon (to use a relatively neutral descriptor) of the Learning – Doing Gap seems to occur for a variety of reasons (fear, lack of focus, lack of belief in self-efficacy [caused by many other factors], lack of skills/capacity, laziness, confusing talk with action [talking about what we can/should be doing is not
actually doing it], etc.). Personally, I think it really comes down to three things: the willingness of leaders to commit time and effort to a single-minded focus (on student learning); effective communication skills, ability to build trust (and eliminate fear).
The Dufours sure chose an appropriate title – Learning by Doing. That automatically takes care of being action orientated AND building trust (as we learn together we inevitably make mistakes and take risks… by doing that together, we build trust). At the heart of it – there are no shortcuts. We all want a magic
bullet that makes everything better without much effort. It does take effort but it doesn’t need to be an EXTRA effort. The benefits far outweigh the costs when there is a clear focus and you ‘cut-out’ what doesn’t need to be done. Work smarter and more focused, not harder.