Monday, February 28, 2011

From St. Valentine to Julius Caesar 14of14 #14inFeb #idesmar

The 14 in February Blogging Challenge (link below) was such a fantastic success (please check the Feb 14 update post for a list of bloggers who participated (link below)).

I am thrilled that more than one blogger was excited and energized by the challenge. I know that just announcing the challenge got me to write more. Thank you very much to all who were part of the fun (even if you only wrote one post all month, you are awesome).

For me, this challenge was fantastic. I wrote tons this month. I feel like I am beginning to find my voice on this blogging thing.

To follow up on the success of the 14inFeb, I am pleased to announce:

The Ides of March Blogging Challenge

The idea here is pretty obvious, 15 blog posts in the month of March. Come on, you can do it.

Well, even if you can’t, you should try. You see, the only way to write more is to write more.

The hashtag on twitter will be #idesmar. I will be looking for your tweet to announce your blog post as part of the Ides of March Blogging Challenge.

5 Qualities of Leadership from Tao of Leadership by John Heider (14inFeb)

According to legends, Laozi leaves China on hi...Image via WikipediaTao of Leadership, Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching Adapted for a New Age
by John Heider 1985, Paperback, 6th printing, 1990.

I mentioned in a previous post, 4 Paradoxes for Principals from Tao of Leadership (#14inFeb), that I would follow up the 4 Paradoxes for Principals with a discussion of the five themes from the book that jump out at me. To be fair, I will not discuss themes at this point. Instead, I will present to you the Five Qualities of A Principal that Heider and I would like to see in every principal's office. This is different from chapter 67. Three Leadership Qualities; please read on for a brief discussion of that chapter.

Note:  Throughout this piece, I am including Heider's "chapter" numbers and the page numbers. Each chapter is actually only a single page of adaptation. When I quote the text, I frequently quote multiple excerpts from the same page and separate them with quotation marks. Interspersed is also my commentary clearly designated.

Before I get to the Five Qualities of A Principal, I want to share four excerpts from the book that I find poignant, but were neither paradoxes nor single qualities.

"12. Time for Reflection" "When group members have time to reflect, they can see more clearly what is what is essential in themselves and there." (p. 23)

Those few of you who knew me way back in my ETEP days will de shocked to learn that I now value personal reflection (I was so sick of being asked to reflect that I put a mirror into my final portfolio - did not go over well). The time for reflection, especially in a group of people, is hard to come by and not everyone is interested. However, I agree with Heider that reflection allows us to see what is essential.

"39. The Source of Power" "Since all creation is a whole, separateness is an illusion. Like it or not, we are team players. Power comes through cooperation, independence through service, and a greater self through selflessness." (p. 77)

Every principal knows that we are only as good as the team around us. That team includes the teachers, the assistants, the secretaries, the custodians, and the kitchen staff. If you don't believe me, try to get through the day when the kitchen is short staffed - I have my own apron for just such occasions.

There are still so many teachers who believe the opposite of this passage - just leave me alone and let me teach. What prevents some teachers from seeing the value in an open door policy is beyond the scope of this post. Any thoughts?

“67. Three Leadership Qualities” “These three qualities are invaluable to the leader: *Compassion for all creatures *Material simplicity or frugality *A sense of equality or modesty” (p. 133)

In some ways this covers it all: discipline, budget, personnel, group dynamics. Really, though, this passage equates being a good leader with being a good person. I like that.

“68. Opportunities” “Good leadership consists of motivating people to their highest levels by offering them opportunities, not obligations. That is how things happen naturally. Life is an opportunity and not an obligation.” (p. 135)

This fits so well with what we've read in Dan Pink's Drive. Opportunities, not obligations, are similar to giving people autonomy to their best work.

While reading Tao of Leadership, I highlighted a number of passages that are most relevant to educators. Not surprisingly, there are a few leadership qualities that emerged rather quickly. Some of the passages apply to more than one theme so I just picked one. Please argue with my choices in the comments. Taken together, the following leadership qualities describe a wonderful principal.

Silent/Listening, Non-intervening, Humble, Flexible/Yielding, Conscious/Aware

I found it difficult at first and then enlightening to just sit quietly in some committee meetings. Gradually, teachers learned that I wanted to avoid shaping the discussion just by speaking. While that sounds conceited, the reality is that even professional educators will sometimes say what they think the principal wants to hear. If we listen first, more ideas will theirs. I also practice silence when talking with an angry parent. I will let a parent rant and rave for about ten minutes if needed before I begin to shape the conversation.

"5. Equal Treatment" "The light of awareness shines equally on what is pleasant and on what is not pleasant." "Silence is a great source of strength." (p. 9)
"23. Be still" "The leader teaches more through being than through doing, the quality of one's silence conveys more than long speeches." (p. 45)
"28. A Warrior, a Healer, and Tao" "The leader who knows when to listen, when to act and when to withdraw can work effectively with nearly anyone, even with other professionals, group leaders, or therapists, perhaps the most difficult and sophisticated group members. Because the leader is clear, his work is delicate and does not violate anybody's sensibilities." (p. 55)

There are many ways this plays out for a principal as you can see by the variety of quotes I've included. I find that the chapter called Polarities mentions what may be most important to me as a leader. I have learned, the hard way, that once I hand an assignment over to a staff member, I have to be prepared to accept the outcome. If I do not get what I want, it means that I wasn't clear about the work. Other times, this has played out differently. I once had two staff members come tell me that we should form a behavior code for the school. They recruited staff members to steve on a volunteer committee. I decided not to attend the first several meetings. When they finally called me to see what they had accomplished, I was thrilled. While there were some parts of their work that I would have done differently, the only place that I asked for changes related to state law. The result was that they could present the code to the rest of the staff, not as the principal's ideas, but as their ideas.

"2. Polarities." "Any over-determined behavior produces its opposite:" "The leader knows that constant interventions will block the group's process. The leader does not insist that things come out a certain way." (p. 3)
"17. Being a Midwife" "The wise leader does not intervene unnecessarily. The leader's presence is felt, but often te group runs itself." (p. 33)
"43. Gentle Interventions" "Gentle interventions, if they are clear, overcome rigid resistances. If gentleness fails, try yielding or stepping back altogether. When the leader yields, resistances relax. Generally speaking, the leader's consciousness sheds more light on what is happening than any number of interventions or explanations. Few leaders realize how much how little will do." (p. 85)
"45. Appearing Foolish" "Perhaps it looks as if the leader is only sitting there and has no idea of what to do. But it is just this lack of needless intervention that permits the group to grow and be fertile." (p. 89)
"57. Doing Less and Being More" "The fewer the rules the better. Rules reduce freedom and responsibility. Enforcement of rules is coercive and manipulative, which diminishes spontaneity and absorbs group energy." "When the leader practices silence, the group remains focused." "Good leadership consists of doing less and being more." (p. 113)
"60. Don't Stir Things Up" "Run the group delicately, as if you were cooking small fish. As much as possible, allow the group process to emerge naturally. Resist any temptation to instigate issues or elicit emotions which have not appeared on their own." (p. 119)
"64. The Beginning, the Middle, And the End" "Many leaders spoil the work just as it nears completion. They get eager. They get invested in certain outcomes. They become anxious and make mistakes. This is a time for care and consciousness. Don't do too much. Don’t be too helpful. Don’t worry about getting credit for having done something.“ (p. 127)

Humility is not highly valued in our culture these days. I guess that is why real humility is such a powerful leadership skill. (The very fact that I think someone is interested in reading what I have to say is proof that I am not as humble as I could be.)

"9. A Good Group" "The leader does not take all the credit for what happens and has no need for fame. A moderate ego demonstrates wisdom." (p. 17)
"10. Unbiased Leadership" "Learn to lead in a nourishing manner. Learn to lead without being possessive. Learn to be helpful without taking credit. Learn to lead without coercion." (p. 19)
“66. Low and Open” “What we call leadership consists mainly of knowing how to follow. The wise leader stays in the background and facilitates other people’s process.” “Group members genuinely appreciate a leader who facilitates their lives rather than promoting some personal agenda. Because the leader is open, any issue can be raised. Because the leader has no position to defend and shows no favoritism, no one feels slighted; no one wishes to quarrel.” (p. 131)
“71. All the Answers” “The wise leader has learned how painful it is to fake knowledge. Being wise and not wanting the pain, the leader does not indulge in pretending. Anyway, it is a relief to be able to say: ‘I don’t know.’” (p. 141)
“75. Without Greed” “The group will not prosper if the leader grabs the lion’s share of the credit for the good work that has been done. The group will rebel and resist if the leader relies on strict controls in an effort to make things come out a certain way. The group members will become deadened and unresponsive if the leader is critical and harsh.” (p. 149)
“81. The Reward” “The wise leader is not collecting a string of successes. The leader is helping others to find their own success. There is plenty to go around. Sharing success with others is very successful.” (p. 161)

This is not a natural way to act for so many. We are taught to take things head on, tackle issues, act. Chapter 74, see below, is especially interesting in the era of test scores finding their way into teacher and principal evaluations. Do they think that punishing is going to improve learning?

"8. Water" "Consider the leader: the leader works in any setting without complaint, with any person on the floor; the leader acts so that all will benefit and serves well regardless of the rate of pay; the leader speaks simply and honestly and intervenes in order to shed light and create harmony." "Like water, the leader is yielding. Because the leader does not push, the group does not resent or resist." (p. 15)
"63. Encounters" "If you are attacked or criticized, react in a away that will shed light on the event. This is a matter of being centered and of knowing that an encounter is a dance and not a threat to your ego or existence. Tell the truth." (p. 125)
“74. Judge and Jury” “It is not the leader’s role to play judge and jury, to punish people for ‘bad’ behavior. In the first place, punishment does not effectively control behavior. But even if punishment did work, what leader would dare use fear as a teaching method? The wise leader knows that there are natural consequences for every act. The task is to shed light on these natural consequences, not to attack the behavior itself. If the leader tries to take the place of nature and act as judge and jury, the best you can expect is a crude imitation of a very subtle process. At the very least, the leader will discover that the instrument of justice cuts both ways. Punishing others is punishing work.” (p. 147)

I wrote last June about taking the pulse of the school, What Are Your Vital Signs. I addition to meeting with people to hear about what is going on, walking through the school is best way to become conscious of what is going on. Some call it management by walking around. Most principals will admit they do knot get out of their office enough. Listening, walking around, asking questions, do what it takes to be aware of the people in your school.

"14. Knowing What is Happening" "When you do not understand what a person is saying, do not grasp for every word. Give up your efforts. Become silent inside and listen with your deepest self." "Listen quietly rather than listening hard." "So attend to what is happening now." (p. 27)
"20. Traditional Wisdom" "The highly educated leader tends to respond in terms of one theoretical model or another. It is better simply to respond directly to what is happening here and now." (p. 39)
"38. Potent Leadership" "Leaders who lose touch with what is happening cannot act spontaneously, so they try to do what they think is right. If that fails, the often try coercion. But the wise leader who loses the sense of immediacy becomes quiet and lets all effort go until a sense of clarity and consciousness returns." (p. 75)
"47. Here and Now" "By staying present and aware of what is happening, the leader can do less yet achieve more." (p. 93)
"56. The Leader's Integrity" "The wise leader knows that the true nature of events cannot be captured in words. So why pretend? Confusing jargon is one sure sign of a leader who does not know how things happen." "The leader's integrity is not idealistic. It rests on a pragmatic knowledge of how things work." (p. 111)

If you have not read the Tao of Leadership, please do. I have barely scratched the surface. In fact, I was remiss in my initial post not to link to a previous Connected Principals post by Mark Hardeman post and a scribd document of the Ripple Effect posted by David Truss.

Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Cross-posted to Connected Principals

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Classroom Management: Engagement, Procedures, and Respect (#14inFeb)

Handshakephoto © 2008 Jeff McNeill | more info (via: Wylio)
While I was at NTCamp in Burlington, MA yesterday, I led a conversation about classroom management. In a blog post yesterday, I mentioned that “I framed the initial part of the discussion with the following three words: engagement, procedures, and respect.“ These are certainly not my own, original ideas. Nor were these ideas profoundly new for the group. 

There is so much written on classroom management that I will say only a little here. I am a devotee of the Wongs’ The First day of School. While it presents as applicable to elementary school, I know that many of the ideas work in any grade. My two favorite ideas from the book are about seat work and procedures.

Seat work, bell work, DO NOW, Primetime…whatever you choose to call it, it helps. The simple idea is that there is an assignment written on the board that the students are to begin as soon as they walk into the room. It needs to be something simple that can be done with no explanation. I used Primetime either to recall the previous day’s main idea or to prime the pumps for the new activity. I often had students write a few sentences in the style of short answer/open response test questions (in Massachusetts, the Open Response questions on the state test are universally the lowest scoring questions). Sometimes, I counted the Primetime for a quiz grade, but usually it was written directly into the Student Notebook (actually the ISN, Interactive Student Notebook from History Alive! but more on that in the future).

The Wongs also taught me to be explicit about procedures. I took to this like a duck to water. I love to create systems and plan things out. So, I  set about making a list of every student procedure that I would teach over the course of the school year. Most, I taught in the first few days and weeks of the school year. Some I waited to teach until needed. Almost all of the procedures required period re-teaching. When I work with a teacher who is struggling with classroom management, I almost always notice that the teacher does not have a consistent, easy way to quiet the room. So simple to fix. The quieting signal can be almost anything. The trick is to be explicit with the students about what the signal is for and exactly what they should do when they see or hear it (I recommend the signal be multi-modal). Then, use that signal and nothing else - ever.

Finally, I also want to mention a classroom management practice that I learned at a History Alive training: shake each student’s hand on the way into class. Recently I read somewhere about a teacher who looks each student in the eye on their way in. Either way, or some other, the personal check-in with each student can often head off a difficult class. Totally worth the time it takes. Also, principals love that teachers are then in the hall during passing time.

There is much more to good classroom management, but these are the ideas that I start with when I work with a teacher who needs help.

Please offer your own favorite classroom management tips in the comments.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

NT Camp Burlington (#14inFeb)

Today, the education unconference movement made its Massachusetts debut with NTCamp held at Burlington High School. Although the crowd was small, I learned much and had great conversations.

First, like any conference that comes out of my twitter PLN, it was great to see so many familiar faces: Patrick Larkin, Andy Marcinek, Lyn Hilt, Eric Juli, Dan Callahan, Kathy Brophy, Elizabeth Peterson, Karen Janowski.

Second, it was great to meet a few new teachers who are really passionate about teaching and improving their craft.

I started the day by sitting on a Connected Principals panel with Patrick, Lyn, and Eric. We talked about social media and administrators connecting with new teachers. I think this was my first panel discussion. During most of the panel discussions that I have witnessed, it seems that every member of the panel feels compelled to weigh in on every question - even if they have nothing new to add. I decided not to do that. Since there were only a few questions, I made sure to sit out for one. I could have said something (I always have something to say). I just didn’t.

Once the panel ended it was time for the first session. I chose a session about lesson planning. It was led by a fifth year teacher and his teammate who has been teaching for only a few weeks. We had a great discussion about planning and teaching and students. I found it hard to resist the urge to try to answer every question, and there were two new teachers there who hardly spoke at first. Finally, someone asked one of them a direct question. These two teachers had a lot to say and a lot to ask. I stopped talking (for a while, at least).

I knew that I’d be able to start talking again when the second session started because I signed up to lead it. I chose to have a discussion about classroom management. I framed the initial part of the discussion with the following three words: engagement, procedures, and respect. I will write a blog post about this really soon. Anyway, after talking about this for a few minutes, the conversation began to shift into the realities of discipline in an urban, poor, ninth grade class filled with immigrants. We were out of my comfort zone and area of “expertise.” The conversation was fantastic, though. Turns out, it was the same two new teachers from the first session. These are two to watch, filled with ideas and passion.

Lunch followed and was long and conversation filled. Tasty food, too.

For the third session, I chose a conversation about the three ways to get people on board with social media in schools. Very interesting conversation with a variety of opinions in a small group. I think the two new teachers from the morning were stalking me.

The last session a smackdown. There were three resources mentioned that I am interested in exploring:

All told, it was a fun day. Like all edcamp-type events, I learned. Most important though, I connected.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Organization: Evernote Is Becoming My Brain (#14inFeb)

Head of an elephantphoto © 2010 flowcomm | more info (via: Wylio)
Back in June 2010, I wrote about how I use Evernote to stay organized. Here is how I organized my notebooks at the time:

My main notebooks are:
  • !School (exclamation point puts on the top of the list),
  • Archive (general and more that two years old),
  • Clips (temporary storage of emailed items or those sent from web browser),
  • FY09,
  • FY10 (no longer needed items from this year),
  • Personal,
  • Principal Ideas (websites, tidbits, etc about leadership),
  • Receipts (from the web),
  • Staff,
  • Students.

Months later, let me tell you how my use of Evernote had changed.

First of all, I am using Evernote way more than I ever did before. I decided a few months ago to consolidate as many different services as I could into Evernote. This way, I have far fewer places to look for my stuff. I stuck with Evernote even though so many folks have been singing the praises of simplenote because I already have so much invested in Evernote. Since I won an iPad, I use Evernote even more because it is so much easier to create on it than on the iPhone.

I also totally updated my notebook structure. At some point this fall, Evernote began to allow for nested notebooks on the Mac version. Cool. They do not yet support nested notebooks everywhere else (i.e. iPad, iPhone, or web). Anyway, although I love to organize my files and notes, I vacillate between lots of topical notebooks and fewer more general notebooks wth lots of tags and searches. Right now I am somewhere in between.

So, here is my current notebook structure ( '-' signifies a nested notebook)
  • !Clips (default notebook, emptied regularly)
  • !Drafts (all sorts of fragments and ideas for future writing)
  • Blog (an archive of the articles in my blog)
  • Bookmarks (relevant to personal interests)
    • Shared bookmarks (to share with staff)
  • Computer Stuff (tips, help files, product reviews)
  • Ed Stuff (all manner of articles from RSS, conference notes, PDF scans)
    • Bullying/Behavior
    • Leadership (mostly theoretical stuff)
    • Marshall Memo (my last school had a subscription. Very good resource.)
    • Principal (mostly practical info and ideas)
    • Teaching (pedagogy, assessment, instruction, learning)
    • Web 2.0 Learning
    • Spofford (all of the notebooks from that school)
    • Personal
      • Family
      • Household
    • Music (PDFs of trumpet sheet music)
    • Receipts (mostly from web purchases, some scanned)
    • Reference (i.e. Barber Shop schedule, a photo of the coffee can that I can never remember while in the store)
    As you can see, I have greatly expanded the number of notebooks. Also, I got rid of the archive by moving the old information back into the notebooks from whence they came. In the fall, I will bring back the separate notebooks for staff and students.

    If you are looking for a way to take notes and store all sorts of information, you can't go wrong with Evernote.

    Do you use Evernote? What is your most unusual way to use Evernote? What do you like better and why? This is what the comments are for. Thanks.

    4 Paradoxes for Principals from Tao of Leadership (#14inFeb)

    Lao Tzu, traditionally the author of the Tao T...Image via Wikipedia
    Tao of Leadership, Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching Adapted for a New Age
    by John Heider 1985, Paperback, 6th printing, 1990.

    The Tao of Leadership is an adaptation of the writings of Lao Tzu to make Taoism accessible and more easily applied to leaders of all sorts. Principals and others in education will recognize many of the concepts as we have been writing and talking about them for years. While the book looks like an easy read due to the amount of white space and the large number of illustrations, each page/chapter is densely packed with ideas. Although I was able to begin to see patterns emerge while reading, I needed a fair amount of reflection and processing to really digest the book.

    Note:  Throughout this piece, I am including Heider's "chapter" numbers and the page numbers. Each chapter is actually only a single page of adaptation. When I quote the text, I frequently quote multiple excerpts from the same page and separate them with quotation marks. Interspersed is also my commentary clearly designated.

    Heider's application of Taoism to leadership brings out four paradoxes that every principal faces.

    "7. Selflessness" "The wise leader, knowing this [that true self-interest teaches selflessness], keeps egocentricity in check and by doing so becomes even more effective." "Enlightened leadership is service, not selfishness. The leader grows more and lasts longer by placing the well-being of all above the well-being of self alone." "Paradox: By being selfless, the leader enhances self." (p. 13)

    One of my favorite things to do is walk around the building in the afternoon before Back to School Night and ask teachers what i can do to help them get ready. In my first year as principal, I asked this one teacher, who looked a bit harried, she very sheepishly responded that she still needed to make copies of a handout for the parents. When I said I would take that copying and any other copying she needed, she seemed overwhelmed with joy. It was no big deal for me, five minutes of copying. In any case, helping this teacher was far better than fretting over my first speech to the parents. By helping the teacher, we all benefitted.

    "22. The Paradox of Letting Go" "This is the wisdom of the feminine: let go in order to achieve. The wise leader demonstrates this." (p. 43)

    I know a few people who cannot let go. I once worked for a principal who kept grudges against anyone who spoke up. I vowed early on in career that I would not do that. In the classroom, I made sure that I followed up tough student discipline interactions with something positive as soon as I could. I did not want the student to think that I only thought of the bad behavior. Once I became a principal, I tried to practice the same. It took a lot more energy to convince the adults that I could move on quickly. I made it my practice to create positive interactions with any staff with whom I had a tough interaction. I wrote thank you notes, I asked about their weekend or the remodeling, or I observed a lesson and gave positive feedback. I did what I could to show that I still valued that person. I let go of my negativity towards that person.

    "29. The Paradox of Pushing" "The leader who tries to control the group through force does not understand group process. Force will cost you the support of the members." "The wise leader stays centered and grounded and uses the least force required to act effectively. The leader avoids egocentricity and emphasizes being rather than doing." (p. 57)

    What an important lesson for a principal. In some environments force might work really well; not with teachers. Most teachers will comply in the short run, sure. If the teachers are not fully invested in a decision, they are likely to revert back as soon as the pressure is off. Instead, the school leader needs to find the right angle of approach and gently nudge. Finding the right amount of force to be effective is tricky especially when the ego surges. I found that an effective way to balance was to ask a confidant for a reality check - am I doing the right thing or just trying to assert my power (funny cause I really had so little power).

    “78. Soft and Strong” "The wise leader knows that yielding overcomes resistances, and gentleness melts rigid defenses. The leader does not fight the forces of the group’s energy, but flows and yields and absorbs and lets go. A leader must endure a great deal of abuse. If the leader were not like water, the leader would break. The ability to be soft makes the leader a leader. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.” (p. 155)

    "What is soft is strong." This might possibly be the most difficult paradox to overcome for many leaders. I'd guess that most principals are Type A, ENTJ personalities. We are used to using high energy to accomplish our goals. It has worked for us in so many settings. The principalship is different and requires us to adapt.

    In a future post, I will explore several themes that arise when applying Taoism to leadership.

    cross posted to Connected Principals

    Monday, February 21, 2011

    The OODA Loop. Do you do it? (#14inFeb 8/14)

    While I was at EdCamp Kansas City in early November, I attended a session with John Carver and Shannon Miller from Van Meter, Iowa, about leading change. John spoke a bunch about his efforts as he leads his district to the vision of Think, Lead, Serve and 1:1 computers.

    At one point, John mentioned OODA: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. He mentioned that OODA comes originally from submarine commanders. The idea is that once your course is set, you must regularly — based on observations — make a decision to determine if you are still on the best course. If not, you must act, or adjust course. It is a constant process often called an OODA Loop.

    In his role as superintendent of the schools in Van Meter, John puts this into practice by keeping his district's vision statement visible in his office. He said that he refers to it while thinking and talking about pending decisions. In this way, he can keep Van Meter constantly moving toward their goals.

    OODA has application on the school and classroom level as well. While he did not use the phrase explicitly, Jonathan Martin, at Connected Principals, describes the dynamic of and uses the language of OODA when he writes, "School may stink for too many students, but we can correct course if we educators become the change we seek, becoming, truly and authentically, the learners we want our students to become: purposeful experimenters and innovators, digital creators and producers, professional colleagues and effective collaborators, and life-long learners."

    I would bet that Jonathan, like John Carver and me, keeps his school's or his personal vision on the wall of his office. At my last principal position, I kept my core values of leadership on the bulletin board behind the work table in my office. It was right where I could see it during most meetings. The same language is posted prominently on this blog, "Do what’s best for children. It’s all about relationships. Process and participation matter." In my next office, I will add the rest of my core ideas, "Learning:All children can learn and be successful. Community: Safety, Respect, and Learning." I keep these words, my "target," to use OODA language, in sight to act as a constant reminder for those times when I or others need it.

    I will never be captain of a submarine (there, I said it. I feel better.) I can learn from the submariners to figure out where I am (orient), to use the available data (observe) to make the best decision I can (decide), and to implement that decision (act). I can keep my sights on my target and guide my school to be better. Then, I can do it all over again.

    OODA - Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. Do you use the OODA Loop to make decisions? Is your target clear to you and everyone around you? Do you secretly want to be a submarine captain?

    Cross posted on Connected Principals.

    Image credits
    I created the OODA Loop with neu.Draw ( on iPad

    Monday, February 14, 2011

    #14inFeb Blogging Challenge Update

    Well, here we are: the 14 in February Blogging Challenge at the halfway point, February 14.

    First some important business, there were no reminders to get ready for valentine's day. I am disappointed in you all; I thought my hints in the first 14inFeb post would generate at least one remnder. Just so you know, I did not forget. I made something for my wife, and she loved it. So there.

    Now down to the real reason I am writing this blog post. I figured today was a perfect time for an update on the 14inFeb challenge.

    On February 1, only one day after announcing the challenge, I mentioned that eleven people said they would participate. As of today, I count fifteen bloggers. I have listed their names with a link to their blog. There is a pretty wide variety of Educators here; we have some teachers and some administrators. One blogger here has already reached fourteen posts - I hope she keeps on blogging. Some others are not necessarily on pace to reach fourteen. Who really cares, as long as I get to read more education blogs. So, I resisted the urge to count the number of posts that each has in order to keep this from becoming competitive.

    Some bloggers who said they will (or might) participate

    I have had a blast reading what these folks have to say. I have e-met several new folks and even feel like I am becoming e-friends with one.

    In fact, the 14 in February Blogging Challenge feels so successful that I am already planning the March follow up.

    Happy Valentine's Day.

    Sunday, February 13, 2011

    A Tale of Two Portraits (#14inFeb)

    Twice during my career a student has given me a portrait of me. The two stories are very different, but connect in one important way that I will reveal at the end.

    This first "portrait" was created in 1999 by my student Jimmy and his father Jim. Jimmy was in my 7th grade honors-math social studies class (the last year that students at that school were leveled and traveled by math class). Jimmy was one of the smartest students I had that first year teaching public school. He was smart enough to know that his father would do anything to ensure that Jimmy had whatever he needed to succeed. Jimmy was also a very eager student who either actually got my warped humor or knew enough to pretend (either way works for me). Jimmy made me a few things during the year (I still have them all), but this portrait is my favorite. Jim Sr. worked in the print shop of the vocational school in town and loved to have his students make things for Jimmy's teachers. We all got great content-themed writing pads with our names on them for Christmas (I still have some of these left too).

    Jim and Jimmy both loved that I tried to bring some technology into my teaching (not previously done at that school due to complete lack of equipment). Since I was able to score some discarded computers and a printer (Mac LC 575 and an Apple ImageWriter), I could actually have students do some activities on the computer or at least type and print some assignments. I also gave out my email address to students and parents (it was on my class website, too). Well, James began to email me with questions, comments, stories about Jimmy. Jimmy also emailed from his father’s account. We made a good connection.

    In January of Jimmy’s eighth grade year (we were still in touch as he was in my History Day Club), Jimmy and Jim created the tiger illustration using Photoshop and emailed it to me.

    The story behind this second portrait is much simpler. At one of my assistant principal jobs, we held a year-end banquet in the library after the students left for the summer. Well, one of the years, the shelves near the tables of food were lined with staff portraits painted by seventh graders. Each student took the yearbook photo of a staff member and created a work of art. I was getting my food and most of the way through the line (and rather exhausted after 180 days with nearly 1000 7th and 8th graders) when one of the teachers told me she thought my portrait was the best. A bunch of others agreed. Well, I had to see it. I was amazed. I didn’t even know someone had painted my portrait. In fact, I didn’t even know who the student/Artist was. This student that I did not know made a portrait of me that is far better looking than the real me.

    So, how do these two stories connect. I was planning on coming up with a deep, philosophical way to connect the two. Since, I couldn’t do that, I will conclude this tale of two portraits with a simple idea:

    Kids are awesome!

    Friday, February 11, 2011

    The Telephone: It's All About Relationships (#14infeb)

    In honor of Alexander Graham Bell's 164 birthday, here is a little tale about the telephone.

    My first year as a principal I had a problem common among new principals: I was overwhelmed with the volume of calls to return. I was falling further behind all the time. I was prioritizing the issue that was right in front of me involving students or teachers. I was putting out fires and learning the school. I thought I was keeping up with it all.

    In the spring of that year, the search committee that had first interviewed me reconvened to give me feedback about the first few months of my principalship. Fortunately, there was lots of positive news. However, among the more critical feedback was the feeling that I was not responsive to parents.
    Some heard complaints that I never returned calls or that by the time I finally got to them, the issue was passé.

    Ouch. This was not the way I wanted things to be. For a few minutes, I looked about for someone to blame. While I could find fault in others for a couple of specific instances, it became clear to me that I had not made responding to parents enough of a priority in my daily workflow. Once I properly placed the blame at my own feet, I had to figure out how to fix it.

    Over the next several months and into the next school year, I worked out a system with the secretary* that reversed the problem enough that the end of year survey showed no problem for year two.

    First, the secretary would screen calls to try to determine the real urgency. She would also ask if the parent had spoken with the teacher yet. If not, the secretary would ask the parent to contact the teacher first about the issue. Some parents had talked with the teacher, while a few convinced the secretary that they had.

    Next, the secretary would email me with the subject line starting in "Call:" followed by the name and phone number (for more on how I use email to manage todos, read this). We used only the email system for low to medium priority return calls. If the secretary felt that the call was more important, she would email and either speak with me or leave a written message in a special spot on my desk.

    So far, this system was essentially what hadn't been working. So, I added into the mix a change in mindset: Every call deserves a reply right away.

    Since the workload or pace of the day had not lessened, I also started asking the secretary to make some return calls. Now, please don't think that I had the secretary do my work for me. I would ask her to call the parent and do what she needed to make sure the parent knew I would take the time to listen. So, the secretary would assess from the tone of the parent which of the following was enough. One, just the word that I knew of the call and promised to return it soon. Two, a scheduled return call. The secretary accessed my calendar and put in the phone call as an appointment for me. Three, skip the phone and get a face-to-face meeting scheduled.

    With this return call made by the secretary, the parent knew that I was going to give the time needed. The parent knew that the call was important to the principal. Many invitations to a meeting were declined; the parents would say the issue wasn't that important. Whatever the response, the parent usually hung up satisfied for the time being.

    There were some variations on this system. In some cases, the secretary would just skip right to the meeting without giving me the initial message. This was usually a stroke of genius as the secretary was far better tuned to emotions than I. In other situations, I would ask the secretary to skip right to the meeting because I knew enough of the situation. I also sometimes asked the secretary not to return the call at all. Instead, I would go speak with the teacher and ask her to call first. In most cases, the parent really didn't want to speak with the principal, the parent just wanted resolution.

    There were a few drawbacks to this system. Not everyone was satisfied having to wait; they expected the principal to available to them at all times. Also, this increased the workload on the secretary. Finally, there were a couple of times where I got the email, but just did not call back in a timely manner - a couple of times, but far less than before.

    All told, I am pleased to have gotten the situation under control by making sure that parents felt like I was listening and that I cared; we benefitted from a stronger relationship.

    And after all, it's all about relationships.

    *For purposes of anonymity and due to multiple personnel involved in secretarial tasks, I am using the term "the secretary" to describe the actions of at least three different people in two different roles over three different years.

    Cross posted to Connected Principals

    Wednesday, February 9, 2011

    Carefully Used Data Can Lead to Positive Change (#14inFeb)

    It all started in a year when we really began to gather and analyze reading data about students. We weren't test-crazy, but we asked for a lot of data from teachers. Some at the school were none too keen on using data to make decisions. Some thought it was too impersonal and took the teacher out of the picture.

    Anyway, part of the work was to create a data wall initially showing reading level (Fountas and Pinnell) for any student receiving regular education or special education reading support. For the most part, our models included in class support from tutors or special ed assistants and pull out services from the reading specialist or special education teacher. The data went up on the wall in two phases. First the students receiving regular ed support, later the special ed support.

    Well, when I looked at the reading levels for the special education students, I was shocked. There were four of five students in the same special education pull-out group reading solidly on grade level. That's right, they were being pulled out and were reading on grade level!

    When I sat with the special ed coordinator, and I asked why keep them in pull-out reading if they are reading on grade level? Were we educating these kids in the least restrictive environment?

    We talked for a long time about what this means. We talked about each student and studied their IEPs. We talked about the individual stories that led to pull-out reading services. We strategized about how to work with parents who might be reluctant to sign an IEP that did not have pull-out reading.

    Most excitingly, we talked about how we could have fewer pull-out sections and move more special ed teachers back into regular ed classrooms to co-teach or work with students during reader's workshop. This model was working well for several students, it was time to expand it. While planning for the next school year, we worked on including more students for both reading and math. We found ways to use our special ed teachers in the regular ed classrooms. We began to change services at IEP meetings. We made it work.

    While we did not convince everyone in the building that careful use of data could be a good thing, we made progress. We made a positive change for several students.

    Tuesday, February 8, 2011

    1st Grade Writing. Only a Little Snow! (#14inFeb)

    Writer L. Frank Baum, writing with pen.Image via WikipediaI am still plugging away on the writing project with local first graders. Although with snow days almost every week since mid December, the timing is all off.

    I met with Mrs. Smith's group earlier today for the first time a couple of weeks. It was nice to see that we really have been making progress. Some of the group is about ready to type their writing. Others are making slow progress.

    I am still getting used to dealing with first grade bounciness. Today I tried to ignore some of the silly behavior as long as the student was still focusing some. IT worked for a while. John, who was the silliest turned out to be the farthest along in his writing. He also did a great job listening to direct feedback about his writing. He understood that he had to revise to make it better and fix the spelling errors. Mary also did ok with editing. She caught some of her mistakes while we read her work together, but had missed them when reading alone.

    Here is more details about today's work:
    • John, Mary, and Sally are all finished a first draft of their section of the book (really a section is a paragraph). I have started editing with them.
    • Next week, John, Mary, and Sally will be able to type their sections to be ready for publishing.
    • Steve, who missed some weeks earlier, is almost caught up to John, Mary, and Sally.
    • Danny is writing tons, but needs constant reminders to stick to his topic and not get too creative (it is non-fiction after all).
    • Jane is still very carefully plodding through writing out each of her sentences. Mrs. Smith concurs that Jane works very slowly and carefully.
    • The big question this week was what is going on with Susan. She was almost somber today. She hardly seemed to understand what to do. Susan showed no interest in following Mary's lead like she had previously. Mrs. Smith confirmed that there is something going on and will call mom.

    Thursday, February 3, 2011

    6 Most popular posts of 2010 (#14in Feb)

    So, here it is, the moment you have all been waiting for:

    The Principal's Point of View 6 Most Popular Posts of 2010 (as counted by pageviews). These are listed in order, but I no longer have the count for each post.

    Guskey and Grading: Lots to Think About Mar 21, 2010
    Still popular, this post followed my attendance at a conference where Thomas Guskey spoke about grading and reporting practices. He gave the team from my school a whole new perspective on our style of grading and reporting. Since we already were using a standards-based report card, we focused mostly on the use of zero, percentages, and those compliance items like attendance, participation, behavior in our grades. I am pleased that this post has remained popular as Guskey's work has had a large impact on my thinking.
    Inform, Invite, Perform (and Feed): A Plan to Increase Aug 6, 2010
    While preparing for a job interview where I knew that parental involvement was going to be a topic, I came up with "Inform, Invite, Perform" as a way to frame questions about involvement. While at the interview, I mentioned the phrase and made a joke about it being the title of my next book or blog post. Well, once I said that I had to write the blog post and flesh out the ideas. I guess that it worked as I became a finalist.
    Principal-at-large Or, The Once and Future Principal Oct 6, 2010
    By October, it became clear that I was not going to find a principal position for the current school year. This post tells that story and what my plans are for the year. I will write an update post sometime soon.
    My EdCampKC Resources Nov 7, 2010
    I loved leading a session at my first edcamp, EdCampKC (that's Missouri, folks). Part of the coolness of an unconference is sharing, so I shared. I guess a bunch of people were interested in seeing what I prepared for the session on education reform. I have since revised the presentation and used the other items for EdCampNYC. Take a look, you might find something interesting.
    Can't you just follow your passions on the weekend? Dec 15, 2010
    Passion was a hot topic among educators in December. I jumped on the bandwagon when I overheard part of a conversation while sitting in a coffee shop. It was the right topic at the right time, as I got several comments. Also, I found a really cool picture of a passion flower.
    Forget Value Added Assessment of Teachers - Just Use Snow Dec 27, 2010

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011

    Change is the only constant (#14inFeb)

    Keys To Community, a nine-foot bronze sculptur...Image via WikipediaYesterday, I challenged readers to participate in the 14 in February Blogging Challenge. I am very excited that eleven educators have mentioned that they are up for the challenge.

    I was inspired to create the challenge after attending Educon 2.3 in Philadelphia this past weekend. That wonderful weekend of professional development and networking will give me lots to write about. Since I want to publish something right away and frequently, I will not write a thorough review of my experience. Instead, I will write several small posts discussing something from EduCon. Here it goes.

    At the Friday night panel on innovation, the facilitator started things off with some quotes. Several caught my attention, including this:
    When you're finished changing, you're finished. Ben Franklin
    There is much written about lifelong learning and about change being the only constant. As an educator, this important for obvious reasons. More personally, I find that my thinking and outlook are in constant flux - especially since creating my twitter PLN (e.g. much of what I believe about Effective Leadership has changed in the last couple years). At the same time, many of my ideals have remained the same for years (e.g. my Philosophy of Education has been consistent since 1996).

    The take-away here and from the innovation panel discussion is that change and innovation are necessary in our lives and in our schools. It is the only constant.