Questions can be asked live or on Twitter if you mention me: @JoeSco77
Here’s the Twitter for Educator’s: A Beginner’s Guide that I emailed around to folks last week, if you want to use it as a reference:
Questions can be asked live or on Twitter if you mention me: @JoeSco77
Here’s the Twitter for Educator’s: A Beginner’s Guide that I emailed around to folks last week, if you want to use it as a reference:
As I write this, I’m sitting in the barber shop in my town waiting for a haircut. It’s Saturday morning and it has been quite a busy week at school.
I’m not in school now, but I would like to reach out to students at my school to engage them in a discussion about what it takes to be a responsible member of this “flat” global society.
Part of my job as Assistant Principal at North Attleboro High School is to enforce the code of conduct. This is a document that was created by a whole range of stakeholders in our community–I’m not sure how long ago–and approved by the School Committee, which is board of citizens elected by folks in the town to oversee the entire school system.
Sometime, students who are sent to me for breaking a rule in the code of conduct tell me that they disagree with a rule or that they don’t see the purpose behind that rule. Much of my job is explaining why the rule is necessary. Sometimes I agree that the rule, as written is outdated; however, my job is to enforce the rules not make them.
They get that in making sure everyone complies with the rules, the school can remain a place that is safe and conducive to learning. They often don’t see their own role in keeping the school environment a place that all students feel safe and comfortable in.
We all want to live in a world that accepts us for who we are, treats us fairly, and allows us to work to our full potential.
When we as citizens become aware of something that makes us feel less safe, or less able to learn, we are required by our social contract to step forward to help rectify that situation.
In school nowadays, students live in a connected world. They often don’t distinguish between friends they have in real life and friends they have on social media. Conversations had on social media are just as important and meaningful as conversations had with people face to face.
When someone says something on social media outside of school, it often impacts the school learning environment, and therefore becomes a school issue.
Sometimes students get themselves in trouble in school for the statements they make outside of school on social media. When I have to discipline these students, I look at that conversation as an opportunity to instruct that student in digital citizenship.
As fully connected members of a digital world, we have to each do our part to ensure that our digital world is free of hatred, threats, intimidation, and harassment. We don’t stand for those things in school and so we will not stand for them in social media.
Digital citizenship is a commitment to be responsible. Each of us in in complete control of the content we create a post online. But it goes farther than that. We are also responsible to call out or report instances of abuse. This isn’t to be “holier than thou,” it’s just so that we can make sure our digital world reflects the values that infuse our physical world. I know the world is not free of hatred, violence, and the like. There is space for freedom of speech. But that speech should not openly threaten, intimidate or otherwise infringe upon the rights of others.
I would love to hear from students. What’s your take on being a responsible digital citizen? Let me know what you think!
Now that I have done the job of Assistant Principal for one whole month now, I felt it was about time to stop and reflect a little. In my first month on the job, I’ve thought of lots of topics to blog about on my ride to and from work, but I haven’t been able to find the energy to sit at the computer and write after 8 pm. My days have been starting early and after we get the kids in bed, I feel wrecked and putting together coherent thought becomes nearly impossible.
I sit down tonight, thanks in large part to a role model and mentor, who I actually never met in person. I’m blogging tonight because George Couros sent me a “gentle nudge” in his latest blog post. That’s part of the beauty of being connected to a worldwide PLN of educators! If you listen closely, you’re bound to find someone whose wisdom inspires you. Even if I haven’t posted many updates to my blog since starting the new job as an AP, I’ve stayed connected on twitter to my PLN and to my mentor and cohort in the #SAVMP program, Alan Sakai, Adam Holman, & Cindy Wallace.
So, here goes. I hope that in sharing these reflections I spark a conversation with any and all who read this. In addition, I want to reach out to the educators at my school and give them some insight into how my thinking informs my actions at school. We are always busy at school and there never seems to be enough time to engage in thoughtful discussion with teachers. This blog is my attempt at doing that.
This is the part of the job that has surprised me the most. My first few days, I found it tedious to have to constantly refer to the code of conduct to make sure I matched appropriate consequences to the infraction. This is always an issue, but what I have enjoyed is the discussion with students as I am giving out discipline. I like that I get a chance to establish a relationship with each student who enters my office. I try to see the person behind the behavior and I try to listen to what’s prompting them to break rules. I’ve already had to deal with some difficult situations, but I’ve tried to remain non-judgmental and supportive of the student. I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone with parents and they too have been appreciative of my approach. The challenge that I face is how to remain supportive of students who keep making the same mistakes. As a father, I occasionally find that my kids play tug-of-war with my last thread of patience, and I might lose my temper now and again. As an AP, I must be a zen master and always maintain a reserve of patience so that students see me as trustworthy and fair. I feel like writing this blog helps me do that.
I have been zeroing in on my own student learning goals and professional practice goals that will be in my own evaluation. I am slowly trying to develop a network with educators in my building through face-to-face conversations and through social media like Twitter and Edmodo. I’ve started a Twitter hashtag (#naedcon) that I hope educators in my district will use to share ideas and curate information that inspires innovation. I have to be patient and persistent in pushing this hashtag as I try to engage with the educators who currently use social media and set my sights on getting people to start using social media for classroom and professional development uses. I’ve reserved a domain name in edmodo as another way to connect and engage with teachers in my new school. This will hopefully allow me to stay current on the kind of work students are doing in classroom across our school, even if right now, I’m still just connecting with teachers and haven’t yet gained access into the classroom groups that teachers have set up. I first want to make sure that teachers and students are comfortable with visitors in their online spaces.
I was inspired by Justin Baeder’s Instructional Leadership Challenge and I started the school year off by doing at least five walk-throughs a day. While I don’t get a chance to write up at least one observation per day, I have been steadily visiting five to ten classrooms a day just to pop in and say hello to teachers and students. I still would like to spend an hour a day doing walk-throughs of at least ten minutes each, just to get a better sense of the pedagogy in the building. So far, teachers have been very welcoming and I’ve appreciated the spirit of collegiality that exists in the building.
I have implemented the Franklin-Covey organizational system to help me prioritize tasks, schedule weekly and daily. I’m not a guru at it yet, but I can feel that prioritizing and scheduling are becoming more of a second nature. This is aspect of the job is a big shift from being in the classroom where time was a constant and was always very predictable. I’ve learned so far that you can never control time; rather you can only seek to budget it among the relationships and tasks that require your attention.
Even though I had to sacrifice a portion of my weekend time to work–I didn’t get to read my kids a bedtime story tonight as I hastened in vain to finish this post–I feel that spending time with family renews my spirit, even as it depletes my energy. I constantly remind myself that my kids are my big picture that I have to be the kind of dad I want to be today in each moment. There is no delaying on this. When I come home and my brain feels like jello, I have to follow the prime rule of improvisation and just say yes when my son asks if I want to throw the football around or my daughter asks if we can go get an ice cream. Actors who study improvisation will tell you that when you accept an offer, you open the scene up to unlimited possibility. When you stay connected to your scene partners and say yes to every invitation, the scene becomes a thing of beauty that is bigger than the individual actors.
As I enter my second month on the job as an assistant principal, I take stock in wonders of improvisation. Even though my to do list is lengthy and my time between appointments is tight, I have to revel in the unlimited possibility for improvisation in this job. As the improvisational actor knows, you have to think on your toes, stay connected to your partners, and, above all, always accept what is offered. I chose the diagram above because those tenets apply just as well to being a good educator. As I look forward to my second month on the job, I’m ready to suspend judgement, let go of my agenda, listen in order to receive, build on what I receive, make my colleagues look brilliant, and serve the bigger picture.
Are you with me?
I started teaching back in 1992 as a substitute. I had graduated college the year before and I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with my Bachelors in English. I fancied myself a writer and applied to grad school for creative writing, only to face rejection. I got a full-time job in a local company to pay the bills and I waited for something to happen. Nothing really opened up and I found myself missing being in school, being in a learning environment. I put my paperwork in with the School Board of Broward County, FL to become a sub. I had an agreement with my boss to allow me to take a day off once a week to explore teaching as a sub. It was exciting from the get go. I would be called at 5 in the morning and offered an assignment in any of the high or middle schools in the county. I couldn’t be picky. They would call and expect me to accept the position, otherwise I would run the risk if not being called again. One of the jobs was at a middle school run by more former 7th grade science teacher who had “moved up” to become a principal. I always remembered him fondly because he was the kind of teacher that was very personable and he got students interested in science by being supportive and not jamming content down our throats. I still remember being encouraged by Mr. Friedman to explore how crystals grow and it became my science fair presentation.
I subbed a couple of days for Mr Friedman and soon called me down to ask if I’d be interested in filling in for a teacher who would be out for a long-term illness. I agreed and took the position and said good-bye to the other job. Just like that
I was teaching an 8th grade business course. I didn’t know much about business but the classroom was equipped with a dozen or so PCs and so we focused in keyboarding, writing business letters, and doing simple spreadsheets. Because we were doing lots of hands on activities in which students were building very concrete skills, the students behaved well and it became fun for all of us.
Because I solved a problem for Mr. Friedman and seemed to be good at directing groups of 8th graders through skill-based activities, he encouraged me to apply for a position that would be opening up mid-year due to a maternity leave. I followed his advice and was hired as a 7th grade Language Arts teacher. Just like that, I was now responsible for 150 seventh grade students. Even though the numbers were intimidating, I felt capable thanks to my degree in English, a supportive team of teachers, an encouraging principal, and an expert mentor. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with teaching. Nova Middle was a great place to start my career.
But the key to my story comes a year into this job. I was 23 years old and still had dreams of seeing the world. When an opportunity arose for me to go to live in Italy thanks to friends I had made while working summers at a sports camp in Switzerland, I began to consider leaving this wonderful job for a year. My dilemma was that I didn’t want to seem ungrateful to the team that had taken me in and given me so much encouragement and support. I didn’t know who to talk to about this idea. I second-guessed myself, thinking that maybe I was just running away from hard work. My parents were quite happy that I was earning good money and paying off my student loans, and I couldn’t see a scenario in which they would support what would have seemed like a rash, fool-hardy decision. I was stuck.
After keeping quiet about this wacky idea for a month or so, I decided that I needed to get some advice from someone I trusted. During a prep period, I walked down to have a chat with Steve Friedman. I told him that I needed his advice and that I had an opportunity to follow my dreams in Italy. I had once again secured the summer job in Switzerland and then I was thinking of taking over the lease on an apartment that a friend was vacating in Bologna in September. I understood that this was not a decision to take lightly and I needed to know from him if I should banish this crazy thought and continue to do what is practical.
So Steve’s job as principal required him to make decisions to ensure that all students had highly qualified and prepared teachers and to maintain the culture of excellence at the school. He also was in charge of leading teachers in growing professionally. He had to answer to a community of parents who demanded highly skilled and professional teachers. He had already invested quite a bit of time and human resources into helping me establish roots at his school. I could understand how he would see the issue through the lens of manager and advise me to count my blessings and stay put. But Steve wasn’t just a manager. He was a leader. He looked me in the eye, smiled, and, understanding how much this opportunity meant to me personally, told me that he thought I should do it. As he went through his reasons–that I was young, already a good teacher, with a whole career ahead of me, and that I could get a teaching job anywhere I chose–I felt the confidence within me welling up. For the first time in my professional life, I felt empowered, capable of doing great, difficult things. So, with the full support of my principal and former 7th grade science teacher, I took what would end up being one of the most important decisions of my life. I resigned my teaching position.
I lead today because education is about people. All people have things in common but each us deserves to be treated as an individual. Every individual is unique, like a crystal. What works for one, doesn’t work for all. A leader has to have the courage to make decisions that are in the best interest of the individual student or employee, even if that decision causes the organization a little discomfort.
Thanks to Steve Friedman I went to Italy. Thanks to Steve Friedman I stayed in the profession for my entire life so far. Thanks to Steve Friedman I learned how to trust my instincts. Thanks to Steve Friedman I learned how to trust in leadership.
Lots of career teachers look at technology with a curious fear. They would like to try out a new technology in the classroom, but they fear not being in control or being the expert that their students, parents, and evaluators expect them to be. We who have been teaching 10+ years might look with a bit of fascinated envy at our newer colleagues as they seamlessly integrate the latest and greatest apps and websites that the internet has to offer into their teaching routines. We mistakingly think that those newer colleagues were born so skilled and that we missed the boat. This is not the case. It is never too late learn and if you don’t believe that then, well perhaps you should take that sabbatical leave that you have been thinking about and get yourself enrolled in a good graduate program.
Remember when iTunes was new and all the rage? The icon spoke to people of my generation who had painstakingly collected our music on CDs. The wizards at apple had to concoct an incredible potion to get us to use iTunes, first by allowing us to rip our CDs into the player, and then enticing us to purchase new music from their store. Because my first Apple product was my school issued laptop, I experimented with iTunes on my work computer. I invested hours of my nights and weekends, probably procrastinating reading & grading the piles of student essays that weigh heavily on the minds of English teachers everywhere, ripping my music CDs into the application.
Looking back, I never thought that doing this would make me any kind of innovator in the classroom. As a matter of fact, I probably considered myself a bit of a slacker for doing this instead of using the school-issued laptop to do something more “productive.” I did it because I loved music and I wanted to be able to listen to any song in my collection during passing time, during advisory period, during my preps, or before/after school. It was a completely selfish move.
But in looking out for myself and experimenting with a new technology, I began to feel more confident with other applications on my mac and I began to open myself up to my students so they could get to know me better. Giving my students the chance to see and hear my own personal music collection, they found ways to connect with me and began to see me as someone more like themselves. My students used to hurry to my classroom well before the late bell so they could listen to the song I would be playing, and eventually, I would let them peruse my collection and choose the songs that they wanted to hear. Because of this little bit of personal use of the work machine, I saw one of my early classroom management problems–getting kids in their seats and ready to learn at the start of the period–melt away.
I had one really close call with my administration early on. It was the after advisory period when our schedule permitted students a ten minute passing time to get to their third class on Fridays. The year was 2004 and it was my second year at Newton South. I had survived the first year, but the second year is key because in Massachusetts a new teacher has three years to attain Professional Teacher Status. I had just finished teaching two blocks in a row of rambunctuous freshmen and after advisory, I hurried down the hall to refill my cup with some hot coffee that I knew I would need for my most rambuctuous classes which was on their way to me after advisory. During advisory, I had allowed my students to choose songs from my laptop-based iTunes and pip them through the little speaker in the overhead LCD projector. (Yes, I was fortunate to work in a district that invested in early in the kinds of technologies that we all take for granted now, but I assure you, then, the overhead projectors served mostly as high tech chalkboards.) Because advisory was a very well-behaved group of about 11 students, I was very comfortable allowing them to listen to my music while they relaxed for the 15-minute period. When I said goodbye to them, one of my favorite songs was on, so I just let it play, at a pretty good level of volume, as I walked out coffee cup in hand. I thought I could beat my next class back. My rookie mistake was thinking that there would be fresh coffee in the communal pot by the end of second period. Of course, it was empty, so I had to make a new one, which took up most of passing time. I waited and poured myself a fresh cup and walked back down the hall to my room. As I got within earshot of my room, I heard music blasting from my room. Next time, I resolved to shut down iTunes before leaving class during passing time. As I entered my room with about a ten seconds to spare in passing time, my third period class was in full attendance and not one of them was seated. My class looked like a mall on Saturday afternoon, with freshmen being freshmen in all their vocal splendor. I made a beeline to my laptop and quickly killed iTunes, as I cursed myself for loading The Cult on my work computer. Turning to face my class, all of whom are out of their seats talking, I notice that there are two people seated near the back of the room–my principal and his guest for the day, the superintendent of schools. Gulp. Don’t lose your cool I tell myself. It’s not the students’ fault that the room is so disorderly, it is entirely mine, so I’ve got to rectify that immediately. As the bell sounded, I sat calmly at my usual place in front of the room, smiled, and asked my students to take their seats and come to order. I’m not sure if any of them noticed the visitors, maybe they did, but I like to think of this story as my discovery of my teaching mojo, because they all did exactly what I asked them and within about eight seconds, I was beginning my lesson. My students continued to wow me with their focus and their enthusiasm for our subject, which was a new unit on writing a literary analysis paper on Romeo and Juliet, which we had just spend the last six weeks studying. About half-way through the period, satisfied with what they came to see, my visitors quietly exited the room. The following school year, I was granted PTS and I had the superintendent’s son in my class!
Our main goal in the classroom is to increase student engagement. Technology will not do that for us by itself. We have to be ourselves in front of our students. So if you desire to try out a new technology in your classroom this coming school year, I suggest using that technology for your personal use first. Get to know it, get to know what you like about it. Use it and if you begin to like it, bring it into your classroom. Be yourself and don’t worry about not appearing the expert in front of your class. Take a risk and just use it.
You’ve got lots of support all around you and by using that new piece of technology, you may discover more about yourself and your teaching mojo than you ever imagined. Just take the leap.
I hope that by the end of next school year, you’ve also got a collection of new tools and best of all, a bunch of recollections that your next group of students will find endlessly appealing.
I just finished reading a very thoughtful post by David Culberhouseabout how contemporary leaders have to dispense with trying to be everything to all people in their organizations. In schools, it’s much more productive for leaders to be “Lead Learners,” that is to be honest and imperfect rather than guarded and defensive.
Leaders who have the confidence in themselves and trust in their “fellow learners,” or the stakeholders in the school, to approach decision-making as a collaborative and constructive process have a much better chance of effecting a positive, respectful culture than leaders who try to be superman.
As the adults in the building, we need to let down our guards and embrace failure as a natural step in the learning process. Failure is what happens when you try something new. From our first experiences with failure, we reflect on our performance, we make adjustments to our practice, and we try again. If we keep trying, reflecting & adjusting as we go, we learn valuable lessons about resilience and perseverance. As educators, when we model how to approach failure, we create an environment that values grit and determination, both if which are very important life lessons.
I have recently accepted a position on an administrative team with a leader who has such an approach and that made my decision much easier.
When I reflect back on how I have developed the skills that will serve me in my new role of Assistant Principal, I note the role that failure played in my process. Once I made the decision to explore educational leadership as a shift in career, I went back to school and learned the traditional way, from experienced teachers in a graduate program. In that program, I learned a lot of content knowledge, but, happily, I did not fail. When I graduated from the program, I had then somewhat naive belief that I was prepared and ready to become a school administrator. Then I started looking for jobs. In the first year of finishing the Ed. Leadership program, I put out a dozen or so applications and got three interviews. I failed to get a job. So I continued in my role as teacher, I reflected, and found ways to gain new experiences. In the second year, I submitted a couple dozen applications, got eight interviews and was chosen as a finalist at two schools. Alas, I failed in both of those contests. I returned to my job in the classroom, and, as a result of taking a hard look at my performance, I made a few key adjustments to my practice. In particular, I committed to a PLN on Twitter and launched this blog in order to be a productive participant in the fields of Ed. Leadership and Ed. Tech. In this, the third year after finishing an advanced degree, I sent out a few dozen resumes, scored about a dozen interviews, and was named a finalist three times. In each of those three contests, I failed. Each failure hurt a little bit, but I did not allow failure to paralyze me or dampen my desire to continue on toward my goal. I got called to interview at a couple more schools, as the school year was winding down. I kept positive, kept focused, and presented myself honestly, not trying to hide my inexperience or my areas of growth. I made it into the final round at each school. In the end, I selected the school that felt like the best fit for me.
Failure might be uncomfortable. Failure in itself stinks. Failure makes us feel alone and adrift.
But failure can also be a very good teacher.
We just have to embrace being in need of instruction, being fallible, being a learner.
Photo Credit: Alex E. Proimos
Dear Colleagues, Students, Parents and Friends,
When I came to Newton back in the fall of 2003, I had no idea that I would enjoy the work so much that ten years would pass in the blink of an eye. I have worked with upwards of 900 capable, charismatic & kind students on a variety of grade and academic levels, reading the great works of literature together and looking within to discover the wisdom of the ages. I have worked alongside a talented, dedicated & selfless cohort of colleagues from whom I have learned much about the craft of teaching and the art of being a teacher. I have partnered with many appreciative, supportive families who have helped me discover what it means to be a positive force in the lives of students inside and outside of the classroom. I have become close friends with many in this community and it is out of my deep appreciation for all of you that I would like to announce that I have recently accepted a position on the leadership team of North Attleborough High School.
What I have always loved about being a teacher is the challenge that you are only as good as how you performed in class today. You can never take anything for granted in teaching. You can’t rest on your laurels. The past is there to examine and learn from, but it will not buy you an easy ride with your current group of students. Each class of students requires a good deal of creativity as you assess their strengths and weaknesses on the fly and do your best to create new contexts within which they will interact with the content. As I have been delightfully engaged in this process as a teacher, I have also been a learner. I have been studying education leadership both formally and informally over the last six years. More recently, I have begun learning from & with an indefatigable group of leaders on social media that has helped prepare for this next step.
Even though I feel prepared, ready and excited to begin the work of helping guide the academic, social-emotional, and extra curricular course of medium-sized suburban high school, I will miss being in the classroom full time. I feel so sentimental at this moment because I realize how lucky I have been to work with such a wonderful lot of students this year especially. If you think I am pandering or just exaggerating, please take a look at the blog posts that students published recently:
Sophomore Global English students wrote reflections on their globalization project.
Junior English students created their own blogs that detail a virtual journey based on the book Into the Wild.
I am so glad that students and their families trusted me as I experimented with integrating technology into the curriculum this year. I encourage all readers of this message to explore the student work linked above and to leave comments for the writers. I would be thrilled if students could experience the thrill of having their work read by a larger audience. I am so proud of each and every one of the students in my sophomore and junior classes. It is no easy task to put yourself out there for the world to read and I hope parents and community members join me in celebrating the accomplishments of these thoughtful young people.
As I move forward in my career, I hope to stay connected with many of you both as colleagues and friends. If you haven’t yet made the leap to Twitter, I urge you to do so, to experience the wonder that comes with engaging in thoughtful discussions with connected educators all over the world. You can follow me by clicking the button to the right of this post. If I don’t see you on Twitter, I hope you follow this blog, connect with me on LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Goodreads, or Instagram. It’s also ok to just keep me in your address book for the occasional email update.
Before signing off, I would like to say a few thank yous to the following people or circles of supporters:
to Charlie Myette for providing me opportunities to grow professionally and for taking time to share your wisdom;
to Brian Baron, Joel Stembridge, & David Fleishman for standing behind me;
to Kirsten Russell for being a world-class teacher, collaborator & upstander;
to my teammates in the morning faculty basketball league for reminding me why I love sports;
to my colleagues in the English Department for allowing me to jettison the whisper rule in the department office;
to Ashley Anderton for making New to South an exceptional experience;
and finally, to Anna, Jo Joe, Michael, & Mariangela for making me laugh at the end of each day and feel like the luckiest guy in town.
As always, I wish you well, I thank you for reading, and I welcome your feedback!
Pilar Quezzaire: Professional with Personality
Exploring current ideas that relate to education, leadership, and life in general.
Engaging in conversation around Education and Leadership
If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking.
One educator's trials with technology in the classroom.
A meandering collection of short fiction
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Thoughts on leadership and education by Tony Baldasaro
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Online courses by Learn it in 5 Creator Mark Barnes
Reflections of an educational learner and leader
Working hard to make sense of it all
One educator's trials with technology in the classroom.