Very nice New Year wish for rekindled hope by Scott Rocco.
As I was running yesterday morning through the woods, I reflected on how grateful I am to work on a team where there is a strong spirit of collaboration. We are in our self-study year for our NEASC accreditation cycle and we are lucky to have many classroom teachers stepping up to chair the many committee posts that are needed to complete the self-study report. Teachers have their hands full with their primary roles in the classroom. When they volunteer to help out on initiatives that impact the whole building, they are also inadvertently taking on leadership roles, or building leadership capacity. Leadership capacity is vital to affecting positive school change as the more people who participate in the discussion of how to improve our practices inside and outside the classroom, the more authentic the change will be. When more stakeholders participate in the discussion and in the ideas that spring from that discussion, the more vital and necessary the work becomes. When all of us who work in schools bring the mindset of “how can I help to make this a better school?” we contribute to building leadership capacity.
School leaders should try to foster leadership capacity in their staff by encouraging collaborative problem solving and sharing best practices. As teachers improve their classroom practices through reflective collaboration with colleagues, they can turn their focus to addressing building-wide issues. Leaders cannot mandate the solutions to persistent or pervasive problems. They have to rely on building the culture of leadership capacity that allows for addressing problems on the grassroots level.
Looking back at my own career, I see that I developed most of the skills I utilize every day in my role as an assistant principal when I was a teacher. I was fortunate enough to work in a school where leadership was shared and teachers were empowered to take responsibly for making progressive change. When enough people agreed on identifying a problem, they would partner with administration and develop a plan of action to address the issue. The actions didn’t always immediately work, but at least people were on board with the effort.
When stakeholders invest in the effort of school change, their actions make them invested in the school. I would not have gone into leadership, if I didn’t feel that leadership was already something I was doing as an invested teacher. I am grateful to the leaders with whom I have worked because they built leadership capacity in me by giving me a seat at the table where issues were discussed and plans were made to address the issues.
Who has encouraged you to take on leadership capacity?
I started this blog when I was a classroom teacher trying to grow student engagement by opening a window into my classroom for parents and the world to see. High school parents often don’t get much response from their teenagers when they ask, “so what did you learn about in school today?” My blog was a way of letting parents see the tools we were using in class, read some of the discussions we were having and view the projects that students created. The response to the blog among parents was very warm.
Now that I’ve moved into the role of AP, I don’t have a single classroom. I view my new role more as a teacher of a larger classroom. It’s very exciting getting the chance to visit many classroom and witness the learning that is taking place.
I now think of this blog as a place to start discussions around big ideas that impact teaching and learning. While it is a challenge to write about issues of pedagogy that I witness inside the classroom that can be consumed and digested by a variety of stakeholders and not just teachers, I also like to write about my ideas for implementing new ideas in my current role.
I was just lurking in on a Sunday Twitter chat called #APchat and they were discussing the importance of getting parents and students connected to the brand. To build a strong school identity, the school’s story cannot only be authored by a single solitary individual. Lots of school leaders write about the happenings in their schools for the consumption of the community as a way to break to ice and allow stakeholders a view inside. This is a good place to start. But once stakeholders are used to reading the leader’s views of the school, they would benefit even more from hearing directly from students. School publications are great for this purpose. When our students act as ambassadors for the school by writing or speaking about the quality experiences they are having, the stakeholders who read or hear this can begin to feel a deeper connection to the school brand.
When students offer testimonials to the wonderful product that the school offers, parents, teachers and community members will take stock in the organization. As the testimonials roll in, especially from a wide cross-section of the school, stakeholders, realizing that the organization is working effectively, become loyal to the brand.
For this reason, I am working this year on a blog that tells the story of the student experience at our school, in the voice of our students. My goal is to invite a wide variety of students to become storytellers, writing about a transformative experience.
If you have any ideas about how I can get students involved in this blog as writers, I’d love to hear your comments.
If you are a student and you’d like to share a transformative experience that you’ve had at your own school, please add a comment with a link, if you have a blog.
If you don’t have a blog and would like to be a guest contributor here at teachingcontext, please leave me a message. I would love that!
If you are a student or a parent at NAHS and you would like to contribute a post to our new school blog that I’m building this year (called therocketsredglare), please email me and let me know what you’d like to write about.
We become loyal to the brands we love when we have good experiences with the product. When we speak out in praise of the brand, we can get others excited about the brand as well.
Schools too need to utilize the power of stakeholder testimonials.
As we ease into Labor Day weekend, many educators, who have not started school this week, have already begun the mental preparations necessary for the start of the school year. This is the weekend when we try to cram in all the fun activities that we enjoyed doing over the summer one last time! As technology becomes more entrenched in our practice, we’ve already started using our devices to get school work done from home, often multitasking as we spend time with friends and family. I myself have just said goodnight to my kids and as they drifted off to sleep, I logged into our school website to upload one or two docs that just got emailed to me from my teammates. My instinct is to bang those things out now so I can relax later. I have to be mindful of the trap that this thinking may set for myself. Whenever we put off leisure time to tick off a few more lines of our to-do list, we are squandering precious time that could be devoted to being present with our loved ones, to enjoying a hobby that keeps us youthful, to exercising, or even to just having some much needed solitude. While being effective at my job brings me great satisfaction, I must also keep in mind that my family, my tech hobbies like keeping this blog, my running, and my reading for pleasure bring me immeasurable satisfaction as well. As we begin another school year, we educators must remember to “sharpen the saw,” that is, keep ourselves sharp by paying attention to the things that make us whole.
When we are mindful of the need to detach from work after giving ourselves fully to it for the day, we will be better able to coach our students to adopt this mindset as well. Many students struggle under the weight of expectations and have difficulty knowing when or how to shut off the working mind to save a little mental capacity for family, friends, hobbies, fun, exercise or even just alone time. So as you mentally prepare yourself to re-enter the lives of students, and you spend some time polishing your syllabi this weekend, delineating your expectations for excellence for your students, remember to shut it off and dedicate yourself to the moments you have for yourself. And when those students come through the doors next week, let them know that your high expectations include expecting them to forget about you as their teacher and your subject after a certain time each day. Let them know that you encourage them to dedicate time each week to the art of keeping it all in balance. They will appreciate you and and your class even more if you live by your own example.
We are putting the final items into our suitcases, readying for the flight to Italy, which leaves in a few hours. The kids are excited and we are looking forward to seeing friends and a family and just relaxing.
I am committed to staying off social media for the entire time. We are bringing our devices, but mainly so the kids can play games and watch videos while in transit. I’m looking forward to living in the real world, fully enjoying the moments shared with my family.
I’m disconnecting from work and from my PLN, not because either of the two are disagreeable, but mainly just to enjoy old-school delights, like reading, conversation, and learning something new from the world in front of me.
I would love to hear what you are doing for vacation! Please post a comment or two below!
Looking back at my last year in blogging, I notice that it was a challenge for me to post frequently. This was my first year in a new position so I was learning the ropes in the new school. I also went through a bit of an identity crisis as a blogger. My blog had been kind of an electronic journal of a teacher using tech tools in the classroom. Now that I’m an admin and not in my own classroom everyday, I’ve had to re-envision the blog to help keep me grounded in what I am passionate about: using technology to provide students with rich learning experiences.
Just as educators use summer to recharge their batteries, I’ve started the summer by recommitting to writing more frequent posts.
Today, I’m sharing the five things I’m doing to Reboot, Recharge & Reconnect this summer. I hope this helps you do the same!
1. Reboot the blog
I started by re-reading the tag line and asking myself if this states correctly the purpose of my blog. As I am not a classroom teacher anymore but I am still an educator of around 600 students on my caseload, I refreshed the language to better fit what I want to write about in my new position. I also snapped a selfie in summer attire and updated my gravitar and About page.
2. Sign up for an Edcamp or other PD activity. I live in Massachusetts and it just so happens that summer coincides with the yearly Edcamp Cape Cod.
Edcamps are known as “unconferences” because there is no pre-determined agenda. Just show up, mix and mingle with the creative folk who attend and attend any number of ad-hoc sessions that attendees decide to offer that day. It’s a great place to make face-to-face connections with some of the people in your PLN. If you don’t have a PLN, then it’s a great place to learn about the idea and begin building your own. Here’s a site where you can find an Edcamp near you: edcamp.wikispaces.com
3. Participate an a weekly Twitter chat that is new to you! I am a regular visitor to #satchat, which takes place most Saturdays from 7:30 AM – 8:30 AM EST on Twitter. I’m comfortable there as I am familiar with many of the moderators and participants. Over the summer, I try to explore other chats so that I can engage in discussions with new educators whom I can add to my PLN. It can be refreshing to follow people who are outside your immediate circles. I think it’s professionally sound to do so so that your thinking gets influenced by folks in different disciplines and levels. You can search for a new chat on this fantastic google doc put together by @cybraryman1 to help educators find one another in weekly chats.
4. Read a book. Does this need to be expanded upon? Stop making excuses! Just find a book–for personal preference, for professional edification, or just to escape into a fictional world–and set aside time to just read. You might like to check in with Twitter to see if there’s a book group to chat with about the cool, if that makes it more fun for you. I will recommend @edfocachat, if you are interested in Ed Leadership. The educators who moderate this chat are really smart and very welcoming.
5. Disconnect. At some point in the summer, I try to keep off the internet and social media for a week or so. It’s nice to recall that time in. Your life when you weren’t connected all day, every day. I’m traveling to Italy for two weeks with my family this month and while I tempted to want to document the experience on social media, to keep my friends and family updated or to document it for my kids, I’m committed to enjoying the time away from technology and the quest to keep up. I will use that time to enjoy life in real time with the people in my immediate vicinity. It’s important to remember how to do that! I can always post the photos when I get back! Remember when you’d go away on vacation with several rolls of film and not get to view time vacation photos until months later? We are too spoiled nowadays with the instant gratification that technology provides us. It’s good to get away from that for a little or long while. Just do it!