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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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Rethinking Staff PD #SAVMP

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Promoting Critical Conversations #SVAMP

Conversation (Photo credit: Search Engine People Blog)
Recently, George posed the following questions as part of the SAVMP.
How do you create a culture where  “pushback” is encouraged?
How do you create a team that will give you honest feedback?

These questions shape much of the work that I do as principal. There are so many factors to consider when trying to encourage these critical conversations. What was the culture in the past? How did the previous principals do things? Where are the centers of influence amoung the staff? Who will be honest and forthcoming with the principal?

I believe that things take 2-4 years to become clear to a new principal. During the first few months, there is so much to learn that a principal can only go shallow into the issues. Over time, personalities emerge and things start to become clear. Some staff really do seem to put the needs of the kids above all else - sometimes to their own detriment. The scale slides from there all the way down to those rare staff members who seem to have lost most interest in doing right by kids (I am lucky to have no one like that at my current school).

Much like good teaching, good leadership requires a firm set of principles and a fair amount of differentiation. For example, there are some staff who need little encouragement to come tell me what they think. For others, I may schedule a regular meeting just get them to tell me anything at all. Knowing which strategy to use for which staff member is the key. For some a scheduled meeting is just a setup to miss things; they might need me to come find them on an unscheduled basis if we are going to talk. Again, like a good teacher, I have to solicit and accept feedback in different ways from different people.

A second key factor to promoting critical feedback is being clear about when it is welcome. For years, I have tried to get good at using a decision making matrix like this one that I got from a consultant years ago. There are many variations out there, but the idea is the same. Be explicit about what you want from staff when making decisions. I get better feedback, when I tell people what kind of feedback I am looking for. This even works with editing. I usually tell folks that I am looking for proofreading or content editing or both. Seems to me that most school staff want to know what the principal is looking for.

Decision making styles from the chart are as follows:
Type 1:  Leader announces decision to the team and seeks support but does not ask for any input.
Type 2:  Leader has formulated an opinion about the best alternative for the decision s/he is making, but is testing it with the team to see if s/he is persuaded to rethink it before implementation.
Type 3:   Leader has a decision to make, but does not have an opinion about the best alternative.  S/he is asking the team to provide input and directions to guide decision-making.
Type 4:   This will be the team’s decision.  Leader’s participation and input will be considered along with others, but will not override others’ input.
Type 5:   Leader believes that others are better able to make this decision.  Leader will be a resource and will guide the process, but let the team make the decision without his/her involvement (unless asked) and support their decision.  Leader will ensure that decisions are aligned with policies, strategic direction, legal issues, etc.
Type 6:  Leader acts as if s/he is an outside facilitator. The decision is the team’s.  Leader believes others are better suited to make the decision, but will lead and structure the team’s decision-making process.  Leader will defer to the team’s decision.

It takes time and practice to encourage a school staff to give honest feedback. It is worth it.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Innovation Fork - #SAVMP

For week six of the SAVMP program, we are asked to consider "Roads to Innovation."

One of the questions to consider is: How do you go about creating innovative practices in your schools?

I use a two prong approach to fostering innovation at my school.

Prong one is to share ideas and resources with the staff. In each week's Monday Memo, I share links to interesting sounding tech tips. I sometimes demonstrate a new tool or teaching strategy during staff meetings. Last year, I tried my hand at teaching a class using only new ideas (not particularly successful, but that happens with attempts at innovation). At District PD days, I usually introduce some cool thing that I have been learning about. This first prong is all about sharing information or spreading seeds.

The second prong is where the real action is, sort of. The second prong is to get out of the way. Really, just step aside. Let the teachers do their thing. When a teacher comes to me with a new idea, I listen and offer support. I ask questions when the idea is half-baked. I try to be clear with the teachers that I am asking in order to help them. For some teachers, I say little other than, "Why not?" I often ask the teacher what they want me to do to help. Often, the answer is that they want nothing other than permission. I almost always say yes to a new idea, to an experiment. I am not risk averse. This second prong for creating innovative practice requires that I trust my teachers to be professionals - no problem there.

So, this two-prong approach is not fast, but when it works, change happens - teachers innovate.

I wrote about similar ideas for Leadership Day 2012.

Cross-posted to Connected Principals.

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