Friday, August 28, 2015

10 Supports New Principals Need from Teachers

Master schedule, discipline plans, parent concerns, lesson plans, formative assessment, lunch duty, and RtI.  Every principal is grappling with the fact that starting school successfully is always a challenge, but new principals to the profession or a new school spend the first month not only struggling with these concepts, but how to effectively lead people in the school.  When I first jumped into the principalship, I learned quickly just how little I really knew.  School success is directly related to the leadership ability of the principal, and if the new principal doesn't develop his leadership skill-set immediately, he will lead the campus over the cliff into oblivion.

So what do new principals need to successfully lead their campus?  To be honest, they need leadership from their teachers as much as they need it from their superintendent.  As a new principal, I overcame my leadership deficits by relying on the teachers that I worked with.  By being open and willing to learn from my fellow principal, my superintendent and my teachers, my leadership grew tremendously.

10 Supports Teachers can provide their New Principal Right Now 

New principals need to feel the support from their teachers, and they need to know that they have your support in leading the school.

Being inexperienced and at a new school can be downright overwhelming.  Principals new to the profession need lots of encouragement, especially at the beginning of the year.

We were all inexperienced once, and we looked for support from patient people.  By helping your principal, you actually help yourself.

Principals need the cold hard truth especially if their actions are leading the campus backwards.  Principals who want to improve appreciate it when they receive direct feedback from their teachers.

Teachers aren't the only ones that need expectations.  Principals need them too.  This link will give your principal a great strategy to get their expectations from teachers without asking for them.

Principals need pats on the back just as much as teachers do.  Some of the best recognition I ever received came from teachers who took the time to tell me what a good job I was doing and how my good job helped them. Recognition reinforces effective leadership behaviors.

Inexperienced leaders lead the same way they like to be led and new principals revert to their preferred leadership strategy, but that doesn't always help all people in the building.  Principals need leadership lessons, and the best lessons come from conversations with teachers who want to help their principal get better.

Laughter lightens the load, and principals can be loaded down with lots of stress.  Take time to crack a joke and make your principal laugh.  When they are at their wit's end, remind him or her that it could always be worse, and then insert your favorite joke.

Leaders don't know everything, but they're expected to.  The only way that they can lead the entire organization to excellence is if you provide them with your insight.  Your insight may just be the expertise they are lacking.

Point of View
New leaders always lead from their perspective, not necessarily from the reality of the situation.  Show them your point of view as it helps principals gain the right perspective to lead effectively.

New Principals Need LEADERSHIP Too!!!
You are the key to helping your principal.  Sure, they may not do everything you want them to do, but you can influence them in the right direction.  They will make mistakes, but hey, what principal doesn't make mistakes?  If you want your year to be successful, you owe it to your principal to give him or her your honest feedback and support.  In the end, when they're a better leader, it will make you even better in your classroom.  

Friday, August 21, 2015

Every Kid's Hope for the 1st Day of School

Whether they are on track to the be valedictorian, or they had the worst year ever in school last year, every kid believes this on the first day of school.  If they know with certainty what they want to be, or they are rebelling against everything we want them them to be, every kid is thinking this on the first day of school. The question is this.

Will we recognize it?

On the first day of school every kid, every parent, every teacher and every administrator is anxious and excited.  The first day of school is the first paragraph of a new chapter.  It is the start of a new journey.  Last year was last year, and this year offers new opportunities.  On the first day of school every kid will walk in to your school with this hope.

This will be the Year that I find my Purpose in Life.

Think about it.  Before school started, you dreamed about what the new school year would be like.  Before you knew who your teachers were, you envisioned what they would do for you and your education.  My own children are changing schools this year, and while they are nervous, I hear them talk about how hopeful they are for their new school and their new year.  I hear their excitement about the possibilities that await.  Every kid is thinking the same thing, and those with a history of failure are praying that this year is going to different for them.  The question is this.  

Will we ignore it?

This is the Year that We will Ensure that They find their Purpose in Life

We don't teach content.  We teach kids, and our purpose for the first day of school is to keep the main thing the main thing.  We must ensure that we convey to our students that they are special and that they are going to learn and grow this year.  We must send the message that they can be anything that they want to be, so long as they are willing to work hard, commit to learning, and develop their tenacity. But words alone aren't enough. Kids must hear, see and feel that message through these traits that all of us must possess.
  • Our passion for learning, and how it will help them find their purpose.
  • Our passion for helping every student reach high levels of excellence.
  • Our high expectations for learning, and how we will help all students reach those expectations.
  • Our desire to know our students as individuals and people not names on a roster.
If we can commit to preaching our passion for learning on the first day of school and the days that follow, we will solidify their 1st day of school belief.  However if we fail to embrace kids on the first day of school, their belief that developed all summer long will die a little bit, and each day that follows where we fail to connect with them, it will die a little more until their belief transforms from one of hope to one of apathy.  

On the first day of school, kids will be excited, anxious, scared, apathetic, or angry about school.  These emotions are obvious to average eye, and we must recognize and respond to these behaviors.  But the one thing we must never forget is that every kid, no matter their outward emotion, has the same belief about the first day of school.  Every child is hoping and praying that this will be the year that you and I will look past their history or beyond their intellect and help them reach their ultimate goal, finding their true purpose to life.

Happy 1st Day of School

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Transforming Busy Work into Purpose-Driven Learning

Nothing frustrates students more than mastering a concept and then being given more of the same work to do. Once students master the learning for the day, what they do next will either kill their passion for learning or inspire them to learn at higher levels than ever before. As educators our job is to create real learning that transforms mundane busy-work into purpose-driven learning. 

From Mundane to Meaning

“Meaning drives motivation for any learner.” (Ferriter. P 3).  In Bill Ferriter’s book, “CreatingPurpose-Driven Experiences” (CLICK HERE), he illustrates how authentic learning experiences push kids far beyond the limits of a traditional curriculum.  But more than that he illustrates that “succeeding at meaningful work depends on mastering competencies that modern employers are looking for”.  That means that the 4 C’s must be embedded in our students' work:  Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity.

In Ferriter’s class, his students extend their learning by using project-based learning (PBL) as tool for doing meaningful work that matters beyond the classroom.  In his classroom, he leverages the 4 C’s to create PBLs that have real-world connection, academic rigor, structured collaboration, student-driven environment, and multi-faceted assessments.  In other words, the work that his students do is a learning/service project that serves a two-fold purpose:  helping people glocally while helping students individually.


One project that Ferriter’s class used was microlending.  Microlending is “making small loans designed to extend independence to people living in poverty”.  Ferriter showed his students the statistics about global poverty. Then he showed the kids how Kiva could address this issue, and finally, he challenged students in groups of five to brainstorm a plan to take action.  To date, his students have made “75 loans totaling over $25,000 to people in over 60 countries”.


Another example of purpose-driven learning that Ferriter’s students engaged in this year was leverage the use of blogging to raise awareness.  His 2nd period class began a debate over the NYC mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and his efforts to ban sugar in drinks over a specific quantity in the city.  From there the #SugarKills blog began.  Instead of just debating the topic, which is a great extension activity, the students were challenged to use their information for a bigger purpose, awareness.  The students wrote about the effects of obesity. They shared health statistics and made it their personal mission to educate the word about making healthy choices.  The great thing about this great example of PBL is that the kids didn’t think of it as project-based or learning.  “The elements of high quality project-based learning mean little to the #sugarkills gang, however.  They aren’t interested in academic rigor, structured collaboration or multifaceted assessment.  They only care about doing work that matters.” (Ferriter. P 46)

What will your kids do this year?

If we want all kids to learn far beyond the learning objectives, we must stop settling for keeping them busy or simply engaged. The pathway to authentic learning lies first in engaging kids, and then in creating purpose driven learning projects that inspire, motivate, and ultimately empower every kid to pursue his purpose in life. After all, that is the ultimate goal of any type of learning, to transform kids from consumers of knowledge into game-changers.

Friday, August 7, 2015

#GrowthMindset: Failure TO Learn vs. Failure FOR Learning

Why do we demonize failure?  I just don't understand it.  He failed.  She failed.  We failed. They failed.  No matter who failed, the perpetual perception is that the failure is a loser.  When I think about how we all respond to students and teachers when they fail, I wonder how much irreparable damage our mindsets and reactions to failure cause to them.

Failure TO Learn vs. Failure FOR Learning
There are two ways that we can respond to failure.  Either we can blame the student and assume no responsibility for the child's inability to perform, or we can accept the fact that failure in its purest form is the First Attempt In Learning (FAIL).  Failure is never permanent unless we give up on the kid who is failing.  Below is a table that whipped up to help us all determine whether or not we have a fixed mindset regarding failure (Failure TO Learn) or a growth mindset (Failure FOR Learning).  Take a moment and assess your self.

Failure TO Learn Mindset
Failure FOR Learning Mindset
He didn’t learn the material.
What can I do differently FOR him to help him learn the material next time?
He did not pass.
How much progress did he make from the last test or assignment?
He is always been behind.
What can I do differently to catch him up?
He can’t keep up with the class.
What preteaching and extra time can I give him to help him stay caught up?
He doesn’t have the work ethic for my class.
What can I do differently to teach him how to stay organized and engaged?
He can’t do anything.
What strengths does he possess?
He can’t behave.
When does he consistently act appropriately and how can I leverage that behavior in a constructive manner?
He won’t try for me.
What can I do to reestablish a meaningful relationship for learning with him?
He won’t stay focused.
What is his preferred learning style and am I teaching to that style?

If you look at the left column, the focus is on the kid and what he can't do, but the column on the right is all about what the kid can do and how we can help him do it.  I don't know many people that started riding a bicycle on a half-pipe ramp.  In fact, I don't know anyone who started riding a bike without a little help from someone experienced. To overcome failure, someone helped us get the skill.  Someone helped us become proficient.  That someone was a teacher who lead the way and never gave up on us.

How Can We Respond to Failure FOR Learning
So where did you end up on the table?  If we are honest with ourselves, we have said or thought some of the fixed mindset statements at one point in our careers, and that's ok so long as we are committed to turning our own mental limitations into opportunities for growth.  We are all human, which means we are all fallible.  In other words, failure is in our DNA, but accepting failure as a permanent condition doesn't have to be.

I came across this tweet from the ISTE conference conference a few months back, and it flipped another switch on my journey down the growth mindset pathway.    I think if we could step back and redefine learning for what it really is, we would come to the conclusion that learning is not a proficiency but failure in progress.

I hope you will avoid the failure to learn mindset and embrace failure FOR what it really is, learning in action.

The Freedom to Fail rubric by Andrew Miller