Tag Archives: Leadership

Where Am I Leading?

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As a passionate learner and teacher, I deeply embrace the power and import of being reflective. Additionally, I am a veracious consumer of pedagogical, developmental, and psychological (child and culture focused) content which I love sharing, discussing, and “wrestling with” with my team.   The combinations of these two characteristics leads to a fairly steady flow of reflective dialogues with teachers about curriculum and instruction, relationship building and connections, and personal growth plans and goals.  These continued interactions, combined with tangible shifts in student assignments, activities, and learning, give my insight and feedback as to how my leadership is impacting the school. But how do I really know?

The impetus for this post came, when I was reading a reflection one of our teachers posted as part of their personal professional development plan focusing on Eportfolios. While I am only one piece of the administrative team she refers to, I could not help but reflect personally on how my impact and my vision was being heard and/or actualized.

“Over the past several years, the overarching culture of the school seems to have been in transition. As subject area teams re-evaluate curriculum content and delivery methods, the administrative team is directing the “ship” to navigate new waters that are project based, student centered, and technologically advanced. Pappas’ Taxonomy of Reflection reminds that each of us, at all levels, must be engaged in the reflective process for the effectiveness of meta-cognition to guide us. We must be constantly stepping back to evaluate and assess whether what WE’RE doing is providing effective learning experiences and opportunities. Dr. Arthur Ellis, in his outstanding lecture on reflective learning, reminds us that modeling the behavior is more critical than implementation in the classroom. Ellis provides excellent strategies for teachers to begin transitioning from grade-based assessments to opportunities for regular engagement with meta-cognition. Perhaps the most valuable “side-effect” of reflection is setting up opportunities for low-achievers to become self-motivated high-achievers. The psychological make-up of our students is much too complex to simply categorize them into Dweck’s “Mindsets” and hope to change their outlook. Parental pressures for higher education based on test results and grades, developmental differences, anxiety levels all impact a student’s ability to have a growth mindset. Reflective strategies, however, enable us to get a foothold, especially in the middle grade years when the expectations for success become significantly more stringent.”

Wow…There is a lot in the short paragraph that causes me to reflect.

Culture

I believe that enhancing and caring for the culture in which our teachers, students, and community interact is one of the most essential tasks I am faced with.  It is also one that is closest to my heart.  I ardently strive to facilitate and foster a culture that: enables passionate teachers to feel support and appreciated so they are free to share their passion, creativity, and professionalism with students, colleagues and parents;  creates a safe place where failure is recognized as a meaningful tool in the learning process; is made of members who are committed to modeling learning for students through their own continued professional growth; and, embraces dissenting opinions as great sources for data on alternative perspectives.  Over the past 4 years I have met with teachers individually multiple times a year for “check-in” meetings with the hopes of addressing some of these cultural beliefs and ideals.  Additionally we have brought in wonderful educators to share and learn with the administrative team and full faculty team on the topic of culture as well as creating our own learning experiences on these topics.  Faculty meetings have transitioned from factual transmissions of administrative minutia into learning sessions with thought provoking and often intentionally controversial issues being discussed openly to improve mutual understanding and connection. One of the key concepts that the school has endorsed to facilitate the safe space for dissention in these meetings and in our culture is a  Nondiscussables policy.

“Nondiscussables are subjects sufficiently important that they are talked about frequently but are so laden with anxiety and fearfulness that these conversations take place only in the parking lot, the rest rooms, the playground, the car pool, or the dinner table at home. Fear abounds that open discussion of these incendiary issues—at a faculty meeting, for example—will cause a meltdown. The nondiscussable is the elephant in the living room. Everyone knows that this huge pachyderm is there, right between the sofa and the fireplace, but we go on mopping and dusting and vacuuming around it as if it did not exist. The health of a school is inversely proportional to the number of nondiscussables,” (Roland Barth The Culture Builder via John D’Auria MASCD Conference December 1, 2011).”

I am not naive to the fact that nondiscussables still exist and will always exist in any culture where more than one person works, but by engaging in this agreement, far more of these are brought forward to the table where mutual perspective awareness can be reached if not mutual agreement.

Project Based, Student Centered

I am a huge proponent of the academic, social, and potential leadership benefits that project based (and social action based) learning present.

“In Project Based Learning (PBL), students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. While allowing for some degree of student “voice and choice,” rigorous projects are carefully planned, managed, and assessed to help students learn key academic content, practice 21st Century Skills (such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking), and create high-quality, authentic products & presentations,” (Project Based Learning for the 21st Century, BIE)”

Offering students’ opportunities to practice creativity, public speaking and time management skills in the solo and group projects are most often larger long term benefits than the content on which the project is based.  By incorporating these skills in a format that often allows for student choice of presentation style and tool, student interests and talents are engaged and thus so are the students.

Group projects encompass a set of learning goals and skills of their own.  While these can be difficult for some students based on the same nondiscussables and culture pieces mentioned above, as well as the maturity and developmental stages of the children engaged in them, they are important opportunities for students to practice collaboration.   Very few of the projects and/or activities that I do in my adult life are done solitarily, and I believe this is likely the case for most adults.  It is therefore essential that we help students navigate the potential discomforts, potential inequities, and potential communication barriers that exist in collaborative projects.

and Technologically Advanced

The goal MUST always remain the learning.  Just yesterday I was discussing with a teacher his deliberation regarding incorporating more technology into his lessons.  He said that each year he want to include more tech, and so he makes a list of the positives and negatives that would occur from incorporating more tech into a given unit.  He said, “The issue is that, what has been working for the past four years is working, and I know I will have to substitute something out to incorporate more tech in.”  He is correct.  All choices come with an opportunity cost and all instructional decisions reflect decision on other directions we chose not to follow.  Unfortunately, he is correct as well on the idea of substitution, as this will be the case the first year he makes the choice to integrate.  That being said, the focus must be the learning.  If the integration will unlock the possibility for greater, deeper, more meaningful learning, then substitution is just a phase that we must go through in integrating the technology to unlock this more permanent learning.

Our students are immersed in an ever more digital environment.  It is no longer there future; it is there present.  Harnessing the increased engagement, increased depth of understanding, and increased potential to connect and gain feedback from authentic and global audiences is essential for schools.  This by no means advocates for elimination of books in the library and classroom, time spent outside playing in the dirt, the amazing learning that can be facilitated by a teacher sitting on the floor and reading a book with his/her class community.  Tech is not the answer. Learning is.

Mindset

The last two years we have be sharing Carol Dweck’s amazing work on Mindset with our teachers, parents, and students.

“Much of who you are on a day-to-day basis comes from your mindset. Your mindset is the view you have of your qualities and characteristics – where they come from and whether they can change.

These following two mindsets represent the extreme ends on either side of a spectrum.

A fixed mindset comes from the belief that your qualities are carved in stone – who you are is who you are, period. Characteristics such as intelligence, personality, and creativity are fixed traits, rather than something that can be developed.

A growth mindset comes from the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through effort. Yes, people differ greatly – in aptitude, talents, interests, or temperaments – but everyone can change and grow through application and experience,” (Mindset, Carol Dweck Link).

While as a society, I feel we so readily fall in to comments that enhance and continue the fixed mindset by drawing attention to results over process (“nice game” “beautiful art” “good boy”…etc), I clearly see the amazing benefit that can come from process oriented feedback that enhances the growth mindset.  Recognizing the better positioning that a goalie had in a soccer game, the use of contrasting colors in a piece of art, or the way a student incorporated more complex sentences into their writing offers a student feedback on their strategies which has the potential for far greater impact on their successive attempts at that particular endeavor.

But philosophical agreement about the approach and benefit are not the challenge.  How do you shift to a process oriented feedback system in a results oriented student, parental, collegiate and corporate world?  I understand the dilemma the teacher raises in her reflection.  The interesting, though not surprising, result of embracing a growth mindset, in which the learning and the process are the focus, is that the results wind up being better.  Students who are less concerned about grades and more concerned about knowing and growing wind up performing better on the same assessments that those with fixed mindsets are perseverating on.

Where Am I Leading?

A proactive culture of honesty and transparency is not a culture of bliss.  It means progressing from all is good, to a non-stop process of making learning, environment and yourself better each tomorrow.  I welcome the challenges that tomorrow will bring as I know they will be lessons for my own learning, and I hope that my personal growth contributes to the team, school, and community.

 

 

 

Six weeks down. Life to go.

Adams

 

Six weeks ago I left for The Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston. As I left to attend this conference I brought with me a confidence in the excellent learning institution that I am a part of.  I brought a sense of pride about our excellent teachers who never stop learning and who are eager for new methods and tools to increase student learning and connection.  I brought an appreciation for the building, facilities, and tool rich environment that we get to immerse ourselves and our students in on a daily basis. Lastly, I brought a feeling of personal satisfaction at being able to help lead such an institution.

4 Days in Boston exposed to some amazing thinkers, mind stretching ideas, and passionate practitioners changed my thinking about much of my “luggage.”  In order to offer our students more opportunities to connect their learning to in-field experts; to be participatory citizens as opposed to learning about it; to engage, collaborate, and create content for an ever growing global knowledge base, It became clear to me, there were certainly areas for growth and the majority of that started with me.

I came home feeling the weight of responsibility and opportunity.

I created a Blog

One of my greatest aspirations for myself, my teachers, and my students is to be reflective.  As such I have tasked myself with blogging twice a week.  I have to admit that this feels a bit daunting.  At the same time, I think it is essential to set aside time to reflect on our experiences.  As all of our perspectives are unique, and therefore the way we experience an experience is specific to our selves, I truly value the ability to reflect and share my own interpretation, and I want to model and encourage my teachers and students to do the same.

The hours of blogging and the many, many hours of setting up, playing with, and changing features of my blog have paid instant dividends.   Our kindergarten and Mechina (kindergarten prep) classes all have blogs.  And our Mechina students all have blogs of their own.   My own time spent working with this tool has better equipped me to make suggestions and assist my team as they too explore these possibilities.

I tweet

I tweet a lot.  I find it to be the tool with the highest density of quality resources, ideas, and people to strengthen my PLN.

I tweet when I have something to share: When there is a topic that I am passionate about (school culture, character education, math education, professional development…etc) and I believe that I may have a resource or an idea that may be of value to another practitioner, I tweet.

I tweet when I have an interest: Just last night I enjoyed a role reversal as I got to play the student on an excellent #5thchat.  @flyonthewall, @paulsolarz, and many others shared the inspiring ways they are incorporating genius hour/passion projects in to their classrooms.  I enjoyed the role of eager student probing for greater knowledge about philosophy, expectations, and outcomes for the projects.

I tweet in my role as match maker: Attempting to deliver the content that I see across my feed to the people in my school who will best appreciate and best incorporate it is one of the essential roles I feel I now play.  A quick tour across the lower and middle school building will show bulletin boards, classroom organizations, and lessons that were generated or inspired by resources that I have been able to push out to specific targeted people.

We tweet for community: All teachers are using grade level hashtags to document and share the excitement of the learning.  This enables parents, grandparents, and loved one to share in the joy and feel a part of the journey.  Additionally it enables us to connect our students and their work with others in our global community, and potentially with experts, authors, and organizations that will further the learning.

I continue to…

Hopefully the end to this sentence is reflect, learn, and grow. A week after returning from Boston, I concluded one of my first posts about the why and how to get started with twitter with the following:

“Finally, to all new and experienced teachers and collaborators in the pool, I thank you.  Thank you for the sharing that you have offered me as I have newly explored the potential of this tool, and thank you for the sharing that you will offer to me and all of my team in the coming weeks, months, and years.”

Still seems right.

 

 

 

Twitter: Moving from Communication to Connection

Teacher: So, I have been reading tweets and of course tweeting some stuff myself. I wanted to know if you are looking for quantity or quality in terms of our tweets. Meaning—is it beneficial for us to tweet something if it is not explained well or if the picture is unclear.

ME: This is a great question.  The goal is certainly not one of quantity, but rather quality. And, I would certainly not suggest unclear photo tweeting and/or meaningless tweets.  That being said, it is important to realize we are only in the first phase of our twitter initiative, and we are currently using twitter as a means of documenting and communicating cute or powerful lessons from the classroom.  This certainly does not mean that every tweet needs a picture, as there have been some great tweets without links, photos or attachments.  The next step, and I think the bigger payoff, is when our tweets start to encompass connections.  Connecting a tweet about our students working on a Georgia landform project with another 3rd grade class elsewhere in order to see photos or info about their studies of their own regions and/or connecting our student’s book reports and research papers with authors, organizations, community experts…etc. is the ultimate goal, as this will still serve the first purpose as well as unlock the true learning potential.  Unfortunately I think it requires familiarity with the first before being comfortable enough to move to the second type.  Therefore I do think quantity is relevant even if not most important.

An example of dipping our toe in to phase two, below is the tweet that I just send of a picture that Julie’s kids made using the Wordfoto app.  When I tweeted it, I included @wordfoto (this is the designers handle) and the #kinderchat (this is the kindergarten teacher hashtag).  Though there is certainly no guarantee of making a connection, but the possibility that the designer or another kindergarten teacher will see this and reach out to us to connect with Julie’s class now exists. I am well aware that this may look like a foreign language or feel overwhelming.  I promise that I will assist in making the transition from phase one to phase two.

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Earlier this week I received this email regarding our current twitter initiative.  In drafting my response I realized that there was great value in the interaction. First, I was pleased to even be engaging in such a discussion where we could be discussing evidence of implementation to reflect on future directions.  With our initiative being 3 weeks young, the more than 400 tweets display as much about the amazing culture of learning and innovation amongst our faculty team as the actual tweets and photos show about our wonderful culture of community and love.  That the producers of Davis content on twitter has gone from 5 or 6 to over 60 in 3 weeks is another reinforcement of this.

The process of growing and learning is inherently incremental.  Before we can walk, we crawl (most of us). Before we can program computers, we engage in computers.  Unlocking the learning potential that twitter provides for students and teachers will take a similar incremental approach.  Our daily tweets from all members of our community sharing the great success of our students and teachers is a solid start to this end.  Making the change to include more opportunities for global and “expert” connections for our students is the 2nd phase.  While we are fully engaged in phase 1, I can already see some nice beginnings of the transition to this second phase with references to authors, publishers, and community organizations coming across our hashtags in the past 3 days.

I look forward to building on the momentum of a great first three weeks with this initiative, transitioning more solidly in to a phase of connection, and looking ahead to helping students and teachers find, build, and share with a powerful and meaningful PLN in the 3rd phase.

Inaugural Middle School Leadership Training Institute

 

What is Leadership?

The adage that we are currently raising tomorrow’s leaders is not a phrase whose implications are lost on those of us that that teach or work with young people.  One of the interesting challenges, however, in this goal of leadership development is one of vocabulary.  What does Leadership mean?  Ask two (reflective or thoughtful) people, and you are likely to get different responses.  Ask a room full of reflective and thoughtful educators, and you are likely to get a myriad of responses describing personal characteristics, visionary thinking, intra and inter-personal skills, communication strengths…etc.  While the collective of these definitions are all aspirationally beautiful, they present a number of challenges.

  1. If leadership is such a grand concept that it is only attainable by an individual that has perfect balance (life-balance, not gymnastics) and communication ability and is able to perseverate on grand causes to impact all humanity, then the task of leadership is unattainable for most (if not all) reflective individuals.
  2. If the facilitators for children’s journey to leadership all hold different definitions of what leadership is, how can students progress toward this goal.

With the goal of fostering leadership development, we have created the Middle School Leadership Training Institute (MSLTI).

What is MSLTI?

Everything we know about adolescents points to the fact that if they aren’t involved, empowered, and in leadership roles then they are much less likely to “buy in.” MSLTI will support the 3 leadership organizations (SGA, JL, and SA) in  leadership development and securing leadership opportunities for these students to put the training in to motion.

Student Government Association

Members of the Student Government Association (SGA), selected by peers and faculty through an application process, will play a leadership role in the middle school by providing a voice for the student body and a means of disseminating information from school personnel back to the student body.

Jewish Ritual and Student Life Leadership

Involvement and empowerment is a critical realization when it comes to Jewish activities such as holidays, t’filah, and other Jewish experiences including social action projects. The Jewish Ritual and Student Life Leadership cohort will work with the school rabbi as well as members of the Jewish Studies faculty to help shape these school experiences. They will be seen leading t’filah, sharing Divrei Torah at various functions, and helping to inspire their peers to engage with these special school activities.

Ambassadors

Student Ambassadors will play a crucial role in supporting school events and promoting positive public relations. Students will accompany prospective families on school tours, assist at school events or meetings, and participate in other public relations opportunities.

Inaugural Middle School Leadership Training Institute

MSLTIOver twenty 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students joined members of our administration for the first annual Middle School Leadership Training Institute.  The students first were treated to a talk about leadership from Brian Mand, a Davis Academy parent and community leader, who had them participate in a number of exercises to demonstrate the role of communication, vision, and feedback play in effective leadership.  Next the students explored their own definitions of leadership and reflected on whether they saw themselves as meeting the requirements of leadership under their own definition.  We then watched Drew Dudley’s fabulous TED talk on Everyday Leadership (Link):

“We have all changed someone’s life — usually without even realizing it. In this funny talk, Drew Dudley calls on all of us to celebrate leadership as the everyday act of improving each other’s lives. (Filmed at TEDxToronto.)”

With his powerful words as back drop we broke in to groups to try and come up with a common language for both “what is leadership?” and “Am I a leader?”  The students’ openness and reflection was powerful both for each other and for the facilitators.

The participants then separated into their own leadership area cohorts to further explore SGA, Jewish Life leadership, and Ambassadors training.  Each cohort’s activities further affirmed the importance of their engagement in both facilitating the tasks needed of their position and in shaping the ways they can participate and grow.

Conclusion

It was an amazing start to a year of shared learning and growth.  The students and facilitators all left energized by the shared experience and the tasks ahead.

Back To School Message – Be Brave

Be-Brave1

 

Be Brave Video

Welcome.  Though it seems like only a few days ago that we gathered together to celebrate our 20th anniversary together, it has been a busy a few months getting prepared to welcome you and your children for an amazing 2013-14.  This past summer I had the pleasure of attending a number of inspirational conferences including the Building Learning Communities conference in Boston.  Whenever I attend a conference, my goal is to come away with a new idea and maybe, if I am lucky, identify an educator that I can invite to Davis to share with our student, faculty, or parent community.  For this BLC conference I would have needed to charter a plain to bring back all the inspirational and innovative educators who are impacting their students, schools, and communities.

As I sat down to write this message to you for back to school night I instantly thought of one of these passionate teachers that I have recently connected with, Matt Gomez.  Matt is a kindergarten teacher and runs a one rule classroom. The one rule is “be brave.”

I wish I could put into words how powerful this rule has been in my class but really there is no way to for me to articulate it. Be brave is the perfect theme, motto or “rule” for any class. It helps with friendships, tying shoes, monkey bars, missing Mom, touching worms, tasting new food, etc. Be brave is exactly the type of attitude needed for young kids. Every day they are faced with challenges as they grow up into this big world. If the only thing I teach them is that they can “be brave,” I have succeeded.

Though Matt likely does not have Kehilla, Kavod, Ruach, Chochma or Tzedek displayed on his classroom walls or integrated into his lessons in his public school in Texas, I feel like his one rule and the environment it helps facilitate, embodies the core values that both describe who we are and who we are striving to be.  The message of “be brave” is one that also resonates for us adults.

  • Be brave on the first day of school as you drop your child off for the first day of mechina and kindergarten.
  • Be brave as your child makes mistakes that you hoped they would not make but realize that these mistakes are where meaningful and resonate learning occur.
  • Be brave as your child rapidly progresses to accede your own knowledge in Hebrew, math and/or Shakespeare.
  • Be brave and trust that your child’s teacher is a professional who has your child’s best interests at heart
  • And be brave an be an active participant and partner in the exciting journey that will be the 2013-14 school year.

Christopher Robin may have said it best when he told is honey loving friend: “you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think”

I look forward to sharing many more pieces of my learning from this conference with you through your children’s classroom experience as well as some parent sessions that I will be leading later in the school year.