Sunday, April 22, 2018

Presentation of Impact: Generating a User's Manual

From February 2017 through October 2017, I was a member of Cohort 1, of the Margaret Waddington Leadership Initiative (MWLI), a collaborative effort of the Center for Creative Leadership and the Vermont Principal's Association. This piece is adapted from the reflective writing I produced about the MWLI.

The Presentation of Impact caught me by surprise; I totally forgot about it until I arrived at the October session. I remember sitting there thinking that I was screwed – although, I would score very high on the Fliegelman Procrastination Scale. I have often put things off until the deadline only to produce some of my best work. In the hour or two before dinner, I remember thinking that I will find a way to put this all together in time for the next day. Since I know that not preparing at all was a bad idea, I spent part of that evening going through the documents I’d collected at the various MWLI sessions. I decided to put my money where mouth is and tell a story (so many workshops over the last few years have emphasized using stories as a vehicle for delivering the message). I told the story a couple of months earlier when I presented my Owner’s Manual to my staff (much more about that later). When the time came, my group chose to sit in the small game room in the basement of the resort. The comfy chairs and relaxed atmosphere was just what we needed. Each of presented our impact statements. I went last and knocked it out of the park. My small group even clapped for me. Here, to the best of my recollection is most of my story:
When we moved into our 200 year old farmhouse, we bought a big chest freezer. Then we decided we needed a generator. I figured it would be no problem to get this thing started. So I put some oil in, and I put some gas in. Then I pulled the cord, and then I pulled the cord again. Then I pulled the cord again and nothing happened. Growing frustrated I wondered if the thing were broken. My wife handed me the owner's manual for the generator. Interesting idea; read the owner’s manual. Well, I used the owner's manual to follow the directions. I put the choke in the right place and turned on the switch. Then I pulled the cord and the generator started right up.
After the July Waddington session, I knew that I had to share what I’d learned about my leadership with my staff. I struggled throughout August to figure out the best way to share all this information during in-service. A couple days before in-service began, I came across a Blog about writing your own user’s manual. It was clear to me right away what I had to do. So I took the Waddington instruments, took notes on each item, and created the first draft of my user's manual. This first draft of the manual was long and very detailed. I realized that there were things missing that weren't covered in Waddington and things from Waddington that I didn't need to share in detail. Then it hit me, Mel, my mentor, had mentioned that I over-communicate, use too many words, and don't keep it simple enough. So, I pared down the user's manual, leaving it much shorter. I did keep the original work at the end in case anybody wanted to read it.

I went on after that to describe the process I went through of setting and revising my key leadership challenge. I also spoke about how I was already using that work to improve my school and my leadership (much of that is detailed further in this paper).

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Silver Buckshot, Positive climate at BCS

Creating a positive school climate cannot be done with a silver bullet. There is no one thing, that if we just implement, will “fix” a school’s climate. We can’t go to School Speciality and order the positive climate silver bullet.

Instead, creating and nurturing a positive school climate requires a Silver Buckshot approach. A wide variety of small strategies that together add up to positive school climate.

Here is most of what we do to ensure our school climate gets more positive every day:

Whole School Efforts (Tier I)
  • Bear Cave: Weekly Whole School Meeting
  • Daily Morning Meeting in each classroom (Responsive Classroom style)
  • DENS: Doesn’t Everyone Need Support. Small group, like advisory, six students from K-8 with one staff member, 15 minutes each week
  • Recognition and celebrations of meeting the school wide expectations, PBIS. We use a system of links to hand to the students. Then we fill a tube with spheres to track milestones around the building. We celebrate when the use is halfway and completely full.
  • Positive Postcards home. We are working on making sure that every family gets some positive words from the school/teacher.
  • Teachers eating lunch with students
  • CLAWS, Community Leaders Advising With Support. A scheduled time for students to share their thoughts about the school.
  • Social/Emotional Learning
    • Second Step
    • Teachings Kids to Thrive book study

For students who demonstrate some kind of need (Tier II/III)
  • Increased counseling. From 0.0 FTE two years ago to 0.6 FTE now
  • Student Support Supervisor/Para to work with students when they are sent out of class. Create behavior support plans
  • PAWS: Positive Action With Support, a Check-in, check-out intervention
  • Thorough investigation and reaction to reports of bullying and harassment
  • Track some classroom-level discipline data in addition to office discipline referrals

    • Staff raffles
    • Woohoo! Board in Staff Room to share kudos or ideas
    • Wellness Champions bringing staff wellness to the forefront
    • Chocolate at every FLT/Faculty Meeting 
    • Sleuth Leadership Team: shared decision making
    • Transparency and honesty
    • Principal visibility: classroom visits of every teacher several times each month
    • Improving communication

    Silver Buckshot references
    I did not come up with the phrase “silver buckshot.” I heard it mentioned on a podcast sometime in January 2018, but I cannot figure out which one (I listen to a couple dozen shows during my commute). So, as much as I’d like to give credit for the phrase, I cannot. I was able to find a reference to the phrase “silver buckshot” all the way back to 2000 in an article about cockroach control. More common usage seems to start with a 2006 climate article from Bill McKibben.

    A “Silver Buckshot” Guide to Cockroach Control
    By: LT Daniel Szumlas, Ph.D.
    Date Posted: January 22, 2000

    Welcome to the Climate Crisis
    By: Bill McKibben
    Date Posted: May 27, 2006

    Wednesday, March 14, 2018

    Key Leadership Challenge

    From February 2017 through October 2017, I was a member of Cohort 1, of the Margaret Waddington Leadership Initiative (MWLI), a collaborative effort of the Center for Creative Leadership and the Vermont Principal's Association. This piece is adapted from the reflective writing I produced about the MWLI.

    A major component of the MWLI is the Key Leadership Challenge. The KLC is meant to give each principal a focus for the work in the program.

    My Key Leadership Challenge has taken a few different forms during my time in the program. When I enrolled and listened to the webinar, I was thinking about student behavior and staff culture. We were having a pretty rough year in terms of discipline in the middle school. I was spending huge amounts of time supervising a new, struggling teacher. I wasn’t sure of the language, but I was pretty clear that my KLC would focus there.
    By the end of February, it was clear that things had begun to change. A look at our discipline data shows that we were entering a quiet phase. My work with the struggling teacher had shifted completely from a combination of suggestion and building on reflection to a strategy of direction. I had to tell the teacher how to relate to students and how to handle discipline. With some new approaches in place, the behavior problems settled down. I realized that it was easy to direct a struggling teacher. My struggle was with the veteran teachers.

    Most of the veteran teachers at BCS last year were pretty solid teachers. They each faced challenges, but those were pretty subtle. I found that I was having a hard time approaching those teachers with concrete suggestions for improvement. I was also not getting to the good conversations where teachers identify areas of growth.

    When I got to North Carolina, I framed my KLC as:
    How might I improve the practice of good teachers to increase student engagement in learning and to meet the needs of students through social emotional learning.

    I tried too hard to connect this to my school vision (the ideas of engagement in learning and social-emotional learning). Feedback from colleagues was as muddled as my statement. Most of the comments were focused on how to improve the social climate of the school. I left North Carolina a little bit dubious of the benefits of the program; I didn’t feel like I had a good direction. While I wanted to blame others, I knew the reason was that I didn’t focus enough on my key leadership challenge.

    In July, I had the opportunity to work on my KLC again. I learned from the assessments that “I would benefit from listening to those who are better at clarifying the problem to solve.” So, without meaning to, I worked in a small group of principals with somewhat similar challenges. Through our work together, we wrote a new KLC that we all decided to use. It was broader and more focused than my original.
    Create systems to expand or enhance teachers’ capacity to engage all students.
    These systems would include:
    • Having teachers act as accountability partners for each other
    • Creating an inventory of teacher strengths
    • Setting and meeting a goal of 2-hours each day in classrooms
    • Creating my own coaching model to use with teachers
    I left the July session charged and ready to implement these new systems.

    As reality and planning for in-service in August began to seep into my consciousness, I realized that I had some other systems work to implement first. I took a step back from accountability partners to strengthening the teams in the building. First, I agreed to rearrange the Faculty Learning Time and merge it with our building PLCs. For this to work, we spent a bunch of time in the fall on team building activities. I introduced my User’s Manual as a device for the PLCs to work on norm setting. The idea was for each person to think about how they operate, then for each team to write norms that might honor those needs. The feedback from teachers was positive and the work showed it. Throughout the fall, we devoted time to learning and problem solving in our PLCs.

    Now that the Waddington program is over, I have reviewed my KLC a few times without changing it again. I still seek to build systems for teachers to expand or enhance their capacity to engage all students. I have altered some of the particulars to match reality, but my focus has not changed.

    For a CCL book on the topic see this page.

    Wednesday, February 28, 2018

    Direction, Alignment, and Commitment

    From February 2017 through October 2017, I was a member of Cohort 1, of the Margaret Waddington Leadership Initiative (MWLI), a collaborative effort of the Center for Creative Leadership and the Vermont Principal's Association. This piece is adapted from the reflective writing I produced about the MWLI.

    A couple of years ago, I finally heard the feedback that I needed to set a vision, or Direction, for my old school. It was time; I was finally able to feel confident setting a vision. My last year at that school was filled with my struggles to Align the staff and the programs to the vision. I knew then, and now have the words for the idea, that I did not have the Commitment of others to make this vision a reality. 

    Fast forward a couple of years and things are different. At my current position, I’d planned to set a vision for the school after my first full year (and a process of much listening and observing). The craziest thing happened – Brownington Central School was totally ready and waiting for a vision to be set before Christmas. I had to double check my assumptions, and the staff confirmed that they were ready. So, I launched the Brownington Bridge to the Future. This Direction is to use Social-Emotional Learning and Student Engagement in Learning to lead all of our efforts. Since it already fit with our mission statement, it was an easy sell. I think that the staff was pretty well Committed to this, so that leaves only Alignment to worry about. That will be my role as supervisor – make sure that we stay aligned to the direction.

    A CCL book on DAC can be found here.

    Tuesday, February 27, 2018

    SBI for Feedback

    From February 2017 through October 2017, I was a member of Cohort 1, of the Margaret Waddington Leadership Initiative (MWLI), a collaborative effort of the Center for Creative Leadership and the Vermont Principal's Association. This piece is adapted from the reflective writing I produced about the MWLI.

    I really like the simple, straightforward approach to feedback that is SBI. Tell the person the Situation about which I want to comment, tell them the Behavior I noticed, and then tell them the Impact the behavior had. I struggle with how to put the impact onto students instead of on me for feedback that is not about interpersonal behavior. CCL teaches that the impact can be about me or others present. Since it can include “work outcomes” I guess that I can use it with teachers. 
    Here is an imaginary example (I have been using this with real teachers and worry that I would break confidentiality and trust with a real example):
    Mrs. Jones, earlier during 6th grade social studies, when you told the students that they can choose the way they would be assessed, they got excited about this project in a way I haven't seen from them.
    While this example seems a little stilted, the lesson learned is to be specific about the situation, the behavior and the impact when giving feedback.

    Related Article
    Feedback You Can Fathom