Monday, October 20, 2014

2 Top Things Teachers Want from Their Principal

In early 2012, I wrote a blog post called "7 Top Things Teachers Want From Their Principal (published on Principal’s POV and on Connected Principals

At the first faculty meeting in August 2011, I asked every staff member to answer, on a notecard, the question, "What do you need from your principal?" I grouped the responses into seven categories:

  • Practical support
  • Technology
  • Special Education
  • Teacher Support
  • Feedback/Availability
  • Communication
  • Miscellaneous Leadership Qualities

I have repeated the notecard activity with the full staff each year since. In subsequent years, I altered the question slightly to "What do you need from the principal improve student learning?" This was a subtle change away from some very practical needs and toward our primary mission of ensuring student learning. The answers changed with the changing question and the changing years. However, as you read this list of the major categories from the last several years, the pattern will be apparent.


  • behavior
  • communication
  • teamwork
  • visibility
  • scheduling


  • Clarity
  • feedback


  • feedback
  • consistency
  • communication (2-way)

Whoa! Did you see that? Over the years, the staff at my school have narrowed their annual feedback to me from seven categories to three. Furthermore, the combo of communication and feedback appears every year (in the years when the exact words did not show up, it is an easy argument that communication and feedback are intimately linked to the ideas that were featured).

Now, you have to understand that I am a little slow. I mean, you'd think that with all of the books on leadership and several years on the job, I would already know that two-way communication/feedback is vital to a smooth running, high performing school. Then again, if it were that easy there wouldn't be so many books (and workshops, seminars, blog posts, webinars, mentoring sessions, and more devoted to the topic).

So, here I am, with incontrovertible proof that what teachers really want from their principal is feedback and good communication.

In my next post, I will explain communicate about the ways I give feedback and the ways I try to improve communication. I may even throw in something about clarity and consistency.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Tech Help #edchat #vted

When I last wrote, I mentioned the lessons I learned way back in 1997 (i.e. Always have a Plan B). This time, I write about another lesson from SummerCore: when you need help, ask someone younger. The idea is that kids are "digital natives" or something like that. Really, it may just be that kids aren't afraid to try things, but more on that in a future post. The advice is sound whatever the rationale behind it. Our students can be quite adept at helping us through our work with technology.

There is a great example of this at my school. I have one teacher who appoints a student to be "Tech Help" for the class. When the SmartBoard stops working correctly or some other problem, the teacher (who is tech competent) just calls for Tech Help, please. The student then comes up and attempts a solution. Most of the time the student is totally able to solve the problem. Surely the teacher has done some prior training; what matters is that works.

In fact, "Tech Help" is a great way to show that this teacher has mastered a piece of the ISTE Standards for Students (NETS-S).

6. Technology operations and concepts Students demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems, and operations.   
a. Understand and use technology systems 
b. Select and use applications effectively and productively 
c. Troubleshoot systems and applications 
d. Transfer current knowledge to learning of new technologies

The teacher could try to solve the problems herself and move on with the lesson (and sometimes she does), but, instead, she lets the students show what they can do.

So, whether she asks for "Tech Help" because the youngsters know more than she or because she wants to give them opportunities does not really matter. What matters is that the teacher is asking the only people younger than her that really matter, the students.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

What's Your Plan B? #vted #edchat

While watching an observation training video, I noticed the teacher accidentally turned off the projector and then did not get it going again for a while. The technology failed (sort of), and the teacher kept on teaching with little disruption to the lesson.
While this shows a fairly strong set of classroom/lesson management skills, it also shows that the tech was not particularly important. As I watched the rest of the lesson, I hoped to see something more than failed Substitution (learn more about Substitution and SAMR).
Setting my critique of the level of technology integration aside, I was reminded of my first edtech lesson from the week-long SummerCore in 1997: always have a plan B. In other words, be prepared in case the technology fails. At the time (and still, unfortunately) tech failed pretty often.

In other other words, if the lesson is only about the tech, it might not be a great lesson.

As for having a plan B, in the fall after that summer course, I was trying an Interactive Slide Lecture (from History Alive). I'd planned to show a slide (not a powerpoint slide, a real slide) and then switch to a graphic organizer on the overhead to model note-taking. In the course of the first 10 minutes, I blew the bulb in the slide projector and then in the overhead. Forget plan B, I needed plan C.

Have you ever needed a plan B during a tech filled lesson? Let's hear about it.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Leadership Day 2014 #leadershipday14

Technology use at my school can best be described as nascent. However, it was a very prolonged labor to get this far. My mostly veteran staff has been reluctant to embrace much in the way of Modification or Redefinition in their use of tech. When I arrived a few years ago, there was little more than some word processing going on. The staff had been scared by a recently-retired tech guy so that they barely touched the five year old laptops they had. The interim principal before I arrived had begun to modernize with a new laptop cart, document cameras in most rooms, and a Smartboard in one room. Slowly, over the these last last three years, the new tech guy and I have added laptops, iPads, and (soon) some chromebooks. We believe that different students at different ages with different tasks need different tools.

With some small exceptions, most of the technology use at my school is very basic substitution with a bit of augmentation thrown in of or good measure. Tech activities like math games on iPads or spelling sentences on google drive offer little new (other than exposure to technology) over their analogue counterparts. We are hoping to get teachers to move their practice by changing small pieces of their tech integration. For example, last year, one teacher started having students type spelling sentences into google drive. Once her students got the hang of it (and we ironed out some tech wrinkles), the tech guy and I pushed the teacher to allow the students to comment on each other's sentences back and forth before students submitted to the teacher. This modified the spelling sentence activity because the students in that class had never shared their sentences with classmates before.

I would love technology use in my school to redefine learning for every student. To get there, we are growing one unit, one level of SAMR, at a time. Just like our children gradually grow and mature, so to is our technology integration.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Time and Priority #SAVMP

Google Calendar is a contact- and time-managem...
Google Calendar is a contact- and time-management web application offered by Google. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Again as part of the SAVMP, George wrote:

As time management is a crucial part of leadership, I would love if others shared some advice on “time management.” I have some big beliefs on time management in schools:
    1. If it is important (priority), you will make time for it.
    2. You should never look at doing more, but doing things better.
    3. For every thing you are willing to “add” to your plate, you need to take something off.
What are some of your thoughts/suggestions on effectively managing your time and the time of others in your school/organization?
Time management, who has time for that? Well, I guess that I do. You see, I have been refining my time management skills for years. Here are a few of my practices, in no particular order, that seem to reap the most benefits.
  1. Everything goes into google calendar.
  2. My administrative assistant does almost all of my scheduling.
  3. Every appointment is set to give me an alert five minutes in advance. My phone beeps for each appointment (as long as I remembered to turn on the volume).
  4. I am learning to say no.
  5. I am learning to stay out of the things that I like, but are not Important. For example, when there is an exciting tech problem, I work hard to stay out of it. The IT/TI guy at school understands, when he starts to go into detail I give him the signal. Since we have talked about this at length, he understsands that this is not an insult - it is the opposite.
  6. Trust others to do their jobs. (See #5 above)
  7. Frequent reviews of my todo list. I can't follow GTD systems, but many of the precepts are helpful.
  8. I schedule things like visiting classrooms so that they happen more. I usually do the things on my calendar.
  9. I get tips and ideas about principal productivity from Justin Baeder at the Principal Center
  10. I spend a fair amount of energy creating and tweaking systems so that I do not have to do everything myself. Fortunately, the admin assistant at my school is awesome. She gets it.
Well, that is all that I have time for on this topic (joke intended ;).

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