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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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Frog and Toad: A [Todo] List Lesson #cpchat #ilchallenge #savmp

Not long ago, I was reading Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel, to my son. You know, the book from the early 70's about, well, a frog and toad who have silly, every day hijinks. While the reading level is a stretch for me sometimes, the stories teach some pretty simple lessons about getting along with others, being a good person, and the life and times of a public school principal.

What, Ed leadership lessons from Frog and Toad? Well, yes, sort of. Read on to find out more.

In one great story, "A List," Toad starts his day like principals the world over...

One morning Toad sat in bed. 
"I have many things to do," he said. 
"I will write them all down on a list so that I can remember them." 
Toad wrote on a piece of paper: A list of things to do today
Lesson 1: Write it down or forget it. There are many systems and styles for keeping track of todo lists. I prefer a web service/app called Toodledo. This powerful todo list has a couple of killer features. First, I can use it on the web and on iPad and on iPhone (I think that other devices are supported, too). Second, after learning about Start Dates from Justin Baeder, I love that with Toodledo, I can set it and forget it (I ought to give George Foreman credit here, yes?). In other words, if tonight, I remember that I must schedule end of year conferences with teachers starting on May 15, I can add a task, give it a May 15 start date, and then forget about it until May 15. As long as I've told ToodleDo to hide future tasks, I am set.

The story goes on:

Then Toad wrote other things on the paper. 
"There," said Toad. "Now my day is all written down."
Lesson 2: You must take the first step. Coming up with a great idea to be organized is useless if you don't actually start.

Toad actually engages in one of my favorite, useless, feel good activities:

Then he wrote: Wake up
"I have done that," said Toad, and he crossed out:  
Wake up
Lesson 2a: No lesson here other than remembering that it is the small things in life that can sometimes make us happy.

Toad continues his day and visits Frog.

"Hello," said Frog.
"Look at my list of things to do," said Toad.
"Oh," said Frog, "that is very nice." 
Toad said, "My list tells me that we will go for a walk."
"All right," said Frog. "I am ready."
Lesson 3: Toad actually uses his todo list! How many times has the principal wondered what to work next. Just look at the list. It is that simple (except, of course, when it is incredibly complicated). There may be a corollary here: others may follow if you ask them to do something that is actually written on your list. Maybe if we show them that it is on a list, they will follow. Maybe.

Later in the story, the wind picked up:

"Help!" cried Toad."My list is blowing away. What will I do without my list?"
"Hurry!" said Frog. "We will run and catch it."
"No!" shouted Toad. "I cannot do that."
"Why not?" asked Frog.
"Because," wailed Toad, "running after my list is not one of the things that I wrote on my list of things to do!"
Lesson 4: Uh-oh! This is not good. Principals need to be flexible and responsive. Our todo lists are useful tools, but really - I can just imagine it: Oh, Principal Fliegelman, please deal with these two fighting students. Sorry, not on my todo list today; I will add them in tomorrow. Of course, a principal can't do that. Just recently, Justin Baeder wrote about this in a blog post: the nature of the principalship and the way we have to handle tasks is different from they way most todo systems and apps are designed. Again, we have to be ready to change course any minute - just part of the job.

Moments later Toad gets stuck.

"I cannot remember any of the things that were on my list of things to do. I will just have to sit here and do nothing," said Toad. Toad sat and did nothing. Frog sat with him.
Lessons 5: The list does not make the principal. In fact, this would be a good place to insert ideas about creating systems to help get through a day or working with a wonderful admin assistant who has the principal well trained. Instead, I will share one last lesson.

Lesson 6: A successful principal will have a Frog to sit with.

So, Toad shows us both the value and the pitfalls of the todo list. This principal, for one, learned a lot.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

School as Leadership Darkroom: Developing Leaders #Savmp

So, for the SAVMP program, the weekly blogging topic (#5, but only my second), that George has assigned is as follows:

"For this week’s topic, I want you to think about how you develop leadership in your buildings/work. How do you promote others to lead? This is important to focus on whether we try to “control” our people, or “unleash” their talents. What are some of the things that you do that make this happen?"
This year, as I have been focusing a bit on growing teacher leadership, I have (re-)learned two lessons about developing leadership.

Lesson one started about more than one year ago. A teacher, we'll call her Gladys, asked me if she should apply for the newly vacated position of Director of Curriculum for the district. Wow! Sure. Gladys is a great teacher with a fairly wide-ranging teaching experience. She'd proved willing and able to take on some building and district leadership roles. Go for it. But, wait. If Gladys were to go to central office, then she wouldn't be here. Not sure I liked the sound of that. I kept my reservations to myself and encouraged her to apply. More qualified applicants came forward and Gladys did not get the job. We dodged that one - this time.

That brings us to this past June. Upon the sudden departure of another district principal, the superintendent asked what I thought about Gladys becoming principal. Wow! Sure. Gladys is a great teacher with a great attitude and ability to see the big picture. Through the last year, she'd taken on even more of a leadership role in the building. But wait, if Gladys were to go be a principal, then she wouldn't be here. Not sure I liked the sound of that. This time, I shared my reservations. Gladys proved to be the most qualified candidate and got the job. No dodging this time.

A lesson from my old photography days (you know, with film), crept back into my mind. When you develop the negative (the film), it is in service of a positive (the print). Not exactly sure what that means, but the point is clear: when you actively work to develop a teacher into a teacher-leader, sometimes it works really well the teacher-leader wants to become a leader-leader.

The second lesson from the leadership darkroom, you can't always be certain of what will develop once you start processing. Hmm.

With these two lessons, back under my belt, I enter this school year right back at it. I am actively working with a teacher or two to develop their leadership. They may move on or develop into something I don't expect. I can handle that. Both lessons were part of why I loved developing photographs, and both lessons are why I love developing leaders.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Why I Lead... #savmp

Principal Haldane
Principal Haldane (Photo credit: Preus museum)
Three years ago, George Couros started something awesome: Connected Principals. I have been contributing all along and learning tons from reading the other principals. Connected Principals has been a cornerstone of how I share and learn.

So, when George announced the School Administrators Virtual Mentor Program (SAVMP), I jumped in. I have made contact with my "mentees" and this is my first "assignment" from George. The prompt is: "Why I Lead."

Easy, peasy, mac and cheesy.

I lead because I love it. I am a principal because I love it. I love the challenges; I love the excitement; I love the successes; I even love the failures. Ok, maybe I don't love the failures, but they are an important part of the job.

I lead because of students like Johnny (name changed to protect the not-so-innocent). Johnny is one of those kids that drive teachers crazy - can't sit still, can't stay quiet, totally unredeemable. Except of course, that is, until we figured him out a little bit more. An army of school staff tried and failed over three years to figure him out, but finally this past year, we came up with the right plan. Johnny finished the year with many weeks without an office referral. His spring assessments showed tons of growth. Kids like Johnny are why I lead.

I lead because of teachers like Jane (again, name changed to protect the not-so-innocent). Five years ago, Jane, a long time elementary teacher, let everyone know that computers were not worth it, and not for her. Something changed, Jane asked for help from a colleague and got started learning how to use and teach with computers. Today (just a few before she reitres), Jane is the building leader in having kids use technology. She is transforming her teaching in her final years. Teachers like Jane are why I lead.

I lead because I love it.

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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Hire Ground in School Hiring #edchat #savmp

With the school year only a few weeks away, this administrator is finally about to wrap up the process of hiring all the staff I need for the year.

It all started this spring...

Due to changes in grant funding, a para-educator getting a teaching job, and one of my best teachers leaving to become a principal, I found myself finishing the school year in June with three unanticipated openings. Now, many hours later, many resumes later, many interviews later I am just about done. Two candidates have signed on and the last one has a little more work to do to make her final decision.

The process of hiring is time-consuming and one of the most important tasks for a principal.

It starts with creating the ad. In Vermont, most schools use to post jobs and collect resumes.

Aspiring to be a connected principal, I use many of the built-in features of school spring instead of just printing resumes and going old-fashioned route. I let schoolspring manage the process for me wherever possible first by setting up evaluation rounds where, as resumes come in, I evaluate them based on their experience education and other factors.

Then, I select the best of the group (three to five candidates usually) and let SchoolSpring do the work of setting up interviews. I have to choose dates and times, but then SchoolSpring sends emails to the candidates. The day before the interview, I make sure that the team has seen the resumes and knows the schedule.

The team, what team? Well, I rarely interview alone. You see, I truly believe in collaborative decision-making. I have seen the power of the group in making better hiring decisions than I would have alone. So, I gather a tem to interview.

My interview process pretty typical. I usually add my favorite question, "What are you reading these days?" Or, "What is your favorite book?" I am fascinated by the range of answers. Some candidates think I am asking about professional reading. Others gush about the latest best seller. Last year, one candidate blushed, stammered, and said, "Fifty Shades of Grey." Two women on the team blushed too and admitted they were reading it too. I hired her.

The are many things to look for when hiring teachers and paraprofessionals, but I have one characteristic that outweighs everything else: attitude. I've written about attitude before (here and here.)

I am not willing to hire even the most brilliant skilled teacher if I detect a bad attitude. This is how I maintain the hire ground.

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Near-Total Brain Replacement, Evernote. The Digital Principal, Part 3

In November, I gave a presentation (resources to be found here) to a packed room row at Vermont Fest,


(For the rest of the introduction and a summary of the first two parts of the presentation, please read part ONE and part TWO.)

So, here is part THREE of my three part summary.

Evernote has eaten my brain. That must be why they chose an elephant for a mascot - elephants love brains. Wait, no. Elephants never forget; that's why they chose the long-nosed pachyderm.

Anyway, Evernote has become my brain, not eaten my brain. I've written about Evernote twice before: "Evernote is Becoming My Brain" and "Evernote for Notes Everywhere." As you can see, this brain replacement has been a long time coming (and a longer time needed, I am told).

It all started back when I started teaching. It must have been the 3000 significant decisions a day or something because my memory starters to go. Then, I had children and became an administrator - kaboom - my memory was shot (at least I think that is when it all started).

Anyway, most of my readers will understand that there is far too much for most of to remember without help. Over the years, I have tried pads of paper, three-ring binders, spiral notebooks, composition books, Palm's notes, Mac stickie notes, and finally Evernote.

To make a long story short, I now use Evernote for nearly everything. I keep a notebook for each staff member, each class, many students, each major area of my job (curriculum, data, assessment, facilities, special education, PBIS, and technology just to name a few). All told, I have about 83 school-related notebooks. Within each notebook there are from one to 79 notes. I have a lot to keep track of.

The thing that I like best about Evernote is the fact that my notes are synchronized among every device I use. Evernote works on iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, the web, Linux, and probably more. Evernote does not yet work on my toaster - if only Steve Jobs were still around.

One last feature of Evernote that is so useful: integration. Notability, I mentioned it in the last blog post, can send notes right to Evernote. Google Drive can as well. I really cool new tool for Evernote is the Powerbot extension for Chrome. Powerbot connects Evernote to gmail and gcal. I love the meeting minutes template that Powerbot creates in Evernote for each appointment in my calendar. I am still figuring out how to really use Powerbot, but I am very impressed so far.

So, with a device in my hands at all times, Evernote has become my brain. Thank goodness that I have finally have a brain that never forgets.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Wicked Cool Evidence Gathering. The Digital Principal, Part 2

In November, I gave a presentation (the presentation resources are to be found here) to a packed room row at Vermont Fest, the fall conference of Vita-Learn (Vermont Information Technology Association for the Advancement of Learning - VITA-Learn).


(For the rest of the introduction and a summary of the first part of the presentation, please read part ONE.)

So, here is part TWO of my three part summary.

My presentation continued with an explanation of my system for teacher evaluation. This is always a hot topic with principals. We are forever evaluating teachers. There are pre-observation meetings, observations, and post-observation meetings. We give volumes of feedback, but does it usually actually improve learning? Maybe. So much of the feedback we give is our observation married to our knowledge of our evaluation model (my district uses Charlotte Danielson's Framework for Teaching, there are so many good ones out there).

The real feedback that might be useful is the observations themselves, the direct evidence, the "proof." So, I have created borrowed stolen this method of writing feedback and combining it with photographic evidence. I learned of this at the first EdCamp Vermont in April, 2012, from Mike Berry (Mike actually gave this idea to a room full of us).

The way it works is simple. On my iPad, I write notes in Notability. Taking advantage of the iPad's camera, I shoot a few pictures of the scene. I try to take a photo of something I think worthy of comment. While I am writing, I am also thinking. Sometimes, I change the pen color and add a question or a highlight.
I end up with a page or two of hand-written notes with photos.

The secret to making this work for formal observations is the bottom of the page (not visible on the slide here. Instead, click here for the resources and find the sample observation pdf). The text from Danielson's domains 2 & 3 is there with room to make specific claims. Usually, as the observation goes on, I begin to take what I've seen and write about it in the Danielson section. At the end of the observation, I review those parts of Danielson that are blank to try to remember something seen that could fit well.

I usually sit in the room for five minutes after the lesson ends to wrap this up. Then, I send the the whole thing as pdf to the teacher. Right then, on the spot. By the time we have a post-observation meeting, the teacher has already had a chance to read my notes and main points of feedback. We can spend the time talking.

The system is quick, easy, and techy. Using Notability and iPad along with Danielson, meets the contract and my need to an easy to use system. 

Wicked cool.
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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Lightening-Fast Teacher Feedback. The Digital Principal, Part 1 (#vted #edchat #cpchat)

In November, I gave a presentation (the presentation resources are to be found here) to a packed room row at Vermont Fest, the fall conference of Vita-Learn (Vermont Information Technology Association for the Advancement of Learning - VITA-Learn). I was given the Friday afternoon slot only after the original presenter backed out. The small, dedicated demented mildly interested crowd was obviously drawn in by my work-of-art presentation description.

D. "The Digital Principal"
Want to know how you can REALLY use that iPad you got to make being a principal a tiny bit easier? Looking for other ways to be a Digital Principal? Bring your pad and your questions. We will talk about using your iPad for lightning-fast teacher feedback, wicked cool evidence gathering, and near-total brain replacement. As a bonus, we will cover "Twitter and Blogs: The Principal's Free CAGS."
Regardless of the low turnout, I know deep in my heart that much of the world is, in fact, interested in what I had to say that fateful November afternoon. So, here is part one of my three part summary.

The first part of the presentation was subtitled, "Lightning-fast Teacher Feedback," and described my system for giving, well, lighting fast teacher feedback. The first slide from that section sets the stage.

We all know, as instructional leaders, that giving meaningful feedback to teachers is both one of the most important tasks and one of the hardest to get to regularly. I have gotten better at actually being in classrooms on a frequent basis (still not enough, though). My problem is that I struggle to turn those visits into meaningful conversation about learning (This short pdf article from Kim Marshall summarizes this well). Even in a small school, there are millions of competing tugs on my time. So, while I do not meet Marshall's ideals, I have come up with a system that goes at least part way. E-mail. A decent runner-up to face-to-face conversation.

The trick with any system for principals is to make it totally simple to use (what does that say about us?). Over the last several years, I have been working and tweaking a system so that it finally does just what I want it to do.

I created a google form that I can fill out in the room, the hall, or my office from nearly any device out there. I agave settled on a very simple form that uses these three prompts: "I noticed," "The students were," and "A question to consider." The idea here is not data gathering, it is conversation prompting. Then, when I hit submit, the form puts my completed sentences together into a full email to the teacher. Literally, I can email within seconds of leaving the room. The feedback is instantaneous, dare I say, lighting-fast.

The piece that finally made this work after trying for so many years was the script that I came across a few months ago. There is a great tutorial video from that shows how to find and install the scripts a form you've already created.

My experience so far has been pretty good with this system. Seem teachers reply to every email, some rarely do. Some emails have led to great conversations, others, not so much. My unscientific survey suggests that the feedback emails that have generated the most conversation about teaching and learning have been those with the best questions to consider. In other words, when I give quality feedback, most teachers want to talk about it. hhmmm.

That's it for lightening-fast teacher feedback. Please leave some regular-speed blogging principal feedback in the comments section. Thanks.