Adopt this philosophy and you will live long in the land. Great leaders know the difference and how to achieve it.
One can apply this philosophy to any team, organization, group, family, etc. Today, let’s apply it to the discipline philosophy of a school. When the goal is simply to get kids to follow the rules in the handbook a specific culture is created. It is a culture of law. Teachers spend their time nagging students to stop chewing gum, tuck in their shirts, get in line, and hush up. The nature of the teacher/student relationship becomes authoritative and diametrically opposed to the alternative…
When the goal is to connect with kids, take a keen interest, love them and meet them where they are in life, a different type of culture is created. It is a culture of relationship. There are still high expectations and standards of behavior, but the difference can be found in how the kids respond to those leading them. Life as an educator is significantly more fun and fulfilling when we strive to build relationships rather than submission. We have a huge opportunity to influence lives when we build a culture of commitment. When we enforce a culture a compliance, we might be able to keep students in line for a brief period of time, but we lose our influence.
I’m feeling good about my new blog and recent posts. I want to take a minute to clarify a few housekeeping items…
1. I have started several blogs over the years, but most didn’t last longer than a few posts. So far, I feel like this new blog is a win. Thanks for those who have retweeted or given enthusiastic feedback. It keeps me going. Really.
2. I was intending, and even in the process of planning, a relaunch of this blog when Bo Adams (@boadams1) shared the idea of the 60-60-60 Challenge with me. From his own blog, here is the challenge…
“I will post 60 ideas for educational change in the form of “what if” questions, I will do so for 60 days straight, and I will constrain my posts to around 60 words each (and maybe an image, an embedded TED talk, etc.).”
3. I have already lost the challenge. Though I have blogged consecutively for 7 days now, I have far surpassed 60 words and not every post is about ideas for educational change. (Guess I should’ve read the challenge more carefully.)
4. I’m okay with that. I have renamed the hashtag attached to this 60 day experience (thanks @scitechyedu – Mary Cantwell!) simply #60Challenge. My goal is to blog consecutively for 60 days with a minimum of 60 characters and no constraints on my topics, format, or amount of media attached. (I’m already at 205 words in this post. yikes!)
Thanks for reading! Please continue to follow and to share.
Be the first one off the blocks “Swimmers take your mark. Bang!” Any swimmer will tell you that in a race, every detail matters. The start, the turn, the position of your body are all critical to keeping the edge you need to win a close one. Swimmers are fanatics. We shave our arms, legs, and heads just to shave one second of our fastest time. Your first and best chance to win a race is to be the first one off the blocks and into the water. It takes a lot of practice, planning, and preparation to be ready for this moment. It lasts less than one second. If you false start, you get disqualified. If you hesitate, you’ve lost. You must be ready to seize the earliest opportunity to win.
Your goggles will come off. Don’t panic After my embarrassing failure in the 100 IM, I learned how to dive in so that my goggles were less likely to come off upon entry. In subsequent races, I became adept at pulling the goggles down around my neck, ripping them up off my head, and even breathing with my mouth half obstructed. Despite vigilant preparation, unexpected moments still occur. You must be able to remain calm and adapt quickly.
At MU, Coach Clark had a bucket of goggles that were painted with opaque, black paint. We learned how to count our strokes and swim without sight. He had us practice on Sunday nights. With the lights out. I knew precisely how many strokes it took to get across 25 yards of water with my eyes closed. Eleven.
Finish strong As a coach, I hammered this into the hearts and minds of my swimmers. The end of the race is when we are most tired. I trained myself and others to push hardest at precisely this moment. Get there first. Put your head down and don’t even think about turning your head to take a breath. Leave it in the pool. Picture swimming beyond the wall 10 yards through the concrete. Coach Clark used to say, “Swim past the pain.”
Be coachable After winning county, I couldn’t fathom that I had more to learn about swimming. Coach Clark showed me I was wrong. As cliche as it sounds, I truly learned that hard work pays off. I adopted the belief that growth beyond what you can imagine is possible. You have to be open to what others can teach you from their wisdom and experience if you want to be the best. Seek wisdom. Seek mentors.
Be a Coach
The scales are balanced between my fulfillment as a swimmer vs. swim coach. I wouldn’t be good at one without the other. I learned as much in my role as coach as I did swimming. Sharing your unique knowledge and skills is a gift.Teach others. Celebrate when they surpass you.
Late bloomers should not be underestimated or counted out Sometimes they go the farthest.
Since the summer of 1983, swimming has been a huge part of my life. The pool was located beyond the woods at the end of our neighborhood cul-de-sac. My first official lessons were at Leafmore Creek Park.
Two summers later I joined the swim team as a wide-eyed newcomer. Most kids my age joined the swim several years earlier. I had some natural ability and a lot of fun at the pool, but I cried when the coach put me in the 100 IM (Individual Medley – one lap of each stroke) because I was not confident about swimming butterfly or the distance of four laps.
The coach and my parents gave me a pep talk and convinced me to get in the race. They saw potential in me that I did not yet see. I choked on my goggles and they had to pull me out midway through the first lap. It was embarrassing, but I didn’t quit.
In 1993, I was hired as an assistant coach. I joined Dynamo and committed to life as a ‘year round’ swimmer. In 1994, I was the fastest 15 & over in Dekalb County in 50 yard freestyle and 50 yard breaststroke at the championship meet. I was a late bloomer.
I continued swimming in college at Marymount University my freshman year. Coach Clark completely changed my stroke technique and I became much faster. I broke 3 individual school records and 4 relay records. After one year, I transferred to UGA and my career as a swimmer was over. My career as a swim coach was just beginning.
I coached the Leafmore Dolphins from 1993 to 1999. Our team was undefeated 5-0 in 1999, a feat that had not been accomplished at Leafmore in 30 years. The last time the Leafmore Dolphins were undefeated was in 1969. They were coached by another UGA graduate, Phil Houston, my Dad.
I returned to coach the Dolphins from 2006 to 2009. Once again, the team was undefeated 5-0. Leading the swim team at Leafmore was my favorite job.
Swimming led to many great opportunities including the chance to volunteer at the 1996 Olympics where I had full access to the pool deck and met some incredible athletes and people.
Why should teachers solicit feedback from their students at the end of the semester?
The answer is simple. Growth.
Our team and our school promote this practice in our five year strategic plan as well as the standards of professional excellence by which we coach and evaluate our teachers.
Seek feedback and measure attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs of students about their work and contribution within the classroom environment. -iPlan17
We also highly value the idea and posture of Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset. (For more on this concept, see post #6 of the #60-60-60Challenge tomorrow.)
Here are some key thoughts for educators and teams to consider…
Students should be invited to reflect and share feedback about their learning in each class at the end of each semester.
Teachers participate in writing the survey questions.
Phrase questions to elicit specific, constructive feedback.
Discard destructive comments and personal attacks or matters of personal taste vs. good practice. (ex: Kids may not like the practice of a daily essential question, but if done properly, it is good practice and should be continued.)
Pay attention to patterns of consistent, recurring comments.
Pay attention to comments that describe specific behavior.
Filter every comment through the perspective that kids are honest, yet they are still kids.
What has caused you to grow the most in your field? What are your thoughts and experiences with end of course student surveys?
Last summer our leadership team read The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni and the quote below has stuck with me ever since. I will confess, I have not been as strongly committed to this ideal as I feel I should be.
“The team you belong to must come ahead of the team you lead: this is putting team results (e.g., organizational needs) ahead of individual agendas (e.g., the team or division you lead).” – Patrick Lencioni
I love the people I work with. I love my team and my teammates. I feel a close connection with the team I lead because that is where I spend most of my time and energy in a typical week. I want to see this continue. We have big plans ahead. Yet at the same time…
I would like to demonstrate and develop a greater commitment to the team of division heads and the leadership council to which I belong. I would like to break down silos. I want to be a unit rather than a collection of individuals. I would like to see the potential of a group of incredibly committed and high-performing people fully unleashed.
To quote Michael Jackson, I’m starting with the man in the mirror. Yes, I just said that.
Here are 3 ways I plan to move in the direction of being a better teammate…
* Be more disciplined and effective in managing my time – so I have more time to…
* Be selfless and willing to help others – and simply be available and engaging to…
* Foster relationships by taking a greater personal interest – Life in a school is very busy. Life at my school is extremely busy. Weeks go by and though I may meet with the team I lead daily, I often do not see other teammates until the next leadership council meeting. Even when I see them, I feel that I don’t have a clear sense of what they are struggling with/working on and how I could help them. We are each doing our own thing, even though we are each working towards a common mission. We can improve our alignment, communication, commitment, and thus our impact.
If you try to follow #eportfolios on twitter, you may be disappointed. When you search and view samples of ePortfolios on the internet, you will find several schools with templates and beginnings. You won’t find many quality ones in the grade levels proceeding college. At least I haven’t yet. Many of them appear more like resumes than an instrument that not only documents learning but accelerates it, too.
This summer, our team is designing an ePortfolio for students spanning Preschool through Grade 12. The team consists of representatives from Preschool, Lower School, Middle School, and Upper School working together to create one cohesive platform. It will look a little different at each level to meet the needs of the students. For example, Preschoolers will require greater teacher assistance to curate, reflect, and upload their demonstrations of learning while Upper School students will possess greater autonomy.
Regardless of age, what is the purpose of student ePortfolios? Why do they exist? Why should they exist?
As a Workspace…
1. Document Student Learning – At a national level (and elsewhere), when we hear about the state of education, we hear about test scores. There are so many better and alternative ways to measure student growth and performance. ePortfolios lend themselves to constructed learning by design. The status quo for assessing student learning is and has been selected response learning (ex: multiple choice questions, give me four choices and I will select one. this tends to require little critical or creative thinking). Schools must employ a comprehensive and balanced approach to assessments. Teachers must design more units and assessments that encourage and require students to construct a unique and original response.
2. Accelerate Student Learning – Students who actively engage in their learning not only retain more knowledge but develop higher order thinking skills. Are we only force feeding content and standards? When do students get to choose their own learning path and pursue unique interests? An ePortfolio must include student reflection. It must include feedback from peers, teachers, parents, and external experts. It is a way to engage the greater community and inspire others to deeper learning or new discoveries.
As a Showcase…
3. Serve as a Discussion Starter for Student Led Parent Conferences – Have you ever wondered why parent teacher conferences often exclude the most important party; the student? Sometimes, it is more appropriate for the adults to meet, but I think we miss an opportunity to not only include the student in the conference, but to ask them to lead it. As they lead, students should leverage their e-portfolio as the starting point to showcase their learning and even highlight their areas of struggle, too.
4. Serve as a Discussion Starter for College Acceptance/Interviews – What does the SAT measure? And why do we care? Why do we put so much weight and emphasis on a limited tool with a narrow frame. How do we measure creativity? Ethical decision making? As a Director of Admissions, I relied on a comprehensive approach that included standardized test scores, but we did not hang our hat on them at the exclusion of other gauges including the required items (transcripts, interviews, application questions, writing samples, recommendations) and the un-required touch points (every interaction was a chance to get to know an applicant, to ask questions, observe behavior, and communicate an expectation. many team members were included in the interactions.) It takes more time to be thorough and relational. It is simply easier to pin it all on a test taken on a Saturday morning. Kinda lazy yet convenient. And a money making machine, too. I’d like to see more authentic measures begin to take over.
What other purposes can you think of for a student ePortfolio? Also, what questions do you have? Please share.
Organizing and improving all of the goals, events, reflections, feedback, ideas, touch points, and priorities that occur in the life of a school from year to year is like drinking from a fire hose. I am constantly seeking out new ways to be more effective and efficient at managing and leading. This Spring I had a breakthrough.
In the summer of 2005, I took a week long course at Oglethorpe University through the College Board for certification to teach AP World History. The instructor was Larry Treadwell. I will never forget him. In one week, my approach to teaching was reshaped. It was a defining moment in my career as an educator.
Mr. Treadwell unchained me from the textbook and empowered me to rely primarily on primary sources. “A document a day makes the DQB okay.” He gave me permission to have ridiculously high standards for my students. I took an entire legal pad worth of notes. I retyped them the next week and shared them with my teammate Elliott Rountree (a master AP teacher, Academic Team coach, entrepreneur (ACE Quiz Bowl Camps), and Jeopardy contestant.
There were countless ideas and strategies that I experimented with and adopted that year (my first year as an AP teacher will make for a good future post – it was a year of tremendous professional and personal growth). And then there was one simple idea: George.
Mr. Treadwell suggested that we get an empty box and label it George. As we created new material and handed out copies (this was pre-Google Docs/paperless classrooms), we were to give a handout to George, too. Thus, at the end of the semester, we would have a copy of our entire work in order, in one place. Simple and genius.
I followed Mr. Treadwell’s instructions and was pleased at the end of the semester to have all of my work for the course in one mostly organized pile. I was then able to develop it, improve it, add to it, delete from it, etc.
This Spring, I adapted and welcomed George to the 21st century. He is now a Google Doc named Gandalf. He is not longer a student in my AP World History classroom who receives handouts. He is now a member of my leadership team who serves as a calendar, curator, and administrative assistant for the rest of our team. Gandalf solves problems.
Interested in having your own Gandalf? Here’s what you do…
1. Create a blank Google Doc and paste all key dates for 2013-2014
2. Go through your endless list of Google Docs (if you’re like me, you receive 2-3 new ones each day from creative team members)
3. Link every single Google Doc to a specific date on the calendar. (ie – Orientation, 1st Pep Rally, Faculty Meetings, etc.)
4. Share the document with your leadership team. Ask them to add their documents by linking them to specific dates.
5. Sit down and review/revise the document with your team to make sure all is included and accurate.
6. As new documents arrive, you must link them into Gandalf or delete them. No stray documents.
Presto! You have just organized your entire upcoming school year in a collaborative way.
* It is a living, organic document whose maintenance is never complete.
Several times I have created blogs with gusto and enthusiasm only to neglect my posting duties after a few posts. Here I go again. This time, however, I hope to break the cycle of neglect thanks to the inspiration of my new friend and teammate, Bo Adams. Also, thanks to another friend and teammate, Mikey Canup for setting up this new blog for me and getting it linked to my longstanding singer/songwriter website domain.
You can read about Bo’s 60-60-60 Challenge and perhaps dare to take part, too. Follow my progress on twitter #60-60-60Challenge.
One of the most untapped and useful resources available to us is the experience, practice, and expertise of the professional colleagues on our own campus. Learning Walk are a fun, inexpensive way to immediately impact your own educational practice. As lifelong learners, we seek professional and personal growth through many avenues including conferences, webinars, articles, in-service workshops, presentations, twitter, blogs, etc. These are all elements of our PLNs (Professional Learning Networks). Learning Walks are another powerful, yet underutilized element. This practice is one key towards establishing a professional learning community. Each teacher is expected to complete one learning walk per semester as part of their professional evaluation, but we encourage you to conduct as many learning walks as you would like/as your schedule permits.
What is a Learning Walk?
A learning walk is one part of a multi-faceted, professional learning approach designed to give educators access to their peers’ expertise in short, focused observations. It is an opportunity to unashamedly borrow or steal the best ideas, strategies, and inspiration from our colleagues next door. It brings down walls.
What are Learning Walk norms?
Learning Walks are not about criticizing the teachers you visit, but rather about growing yourself and seeking to glean insights from the experience and expertise of your colleagues. It’s about you directing your own growth through observation and reflection. You are there to learn.
Plan your walks in advance, put it on your calendar, coordinate with your Head of Grade.
Decide on your specific focus in advance – what are you looking for? (ie – one of the standards of professional excellence or how your vertical team members teach a specific math learning outcome, essential outcomes, assessments, use of technology, etc.). Limit your focus to 1-2 specific practices.
Learning Walks should take 20-30 minutes max. Keep each visit brief – 1-5 minutes in each classroom.
Observe an entire hallway, building, or vertical team, not just one or two people.
Learning Walks may or may not be announced in advance. If unannounced, when you enter, you can say, “I’m on a learning walk – just ignore me.”
If you are being observed, keep teaching. Don’t stop.
Quietly observe and ask students questions – look for student learning.
Take notes on what you discover/learn, especially about your specific focus.
Take a picture. (If you plan to share it on twitter, etc. – make sure it represents the School in a positive light (Be a raving fun publicly).
Within 24 hours, email the teachers with positive, specific praise about something you learned and took away from their practice.
Tweet about what you see – try to share useful, applicable practices to other teachers who follow…
#learningwalk #MVMiddle #MVPSchool (use these hashtags in your tweets so we can all benefit).
Implement something specific that you learned in your own classroom.