Educators: You Can’t Possibly Do it All

Sometimes as I sit down to write certain posts I wonder if what I’m about to write really impacts others or if it’s just me. Writing this was one of those instances. Let me share a couple examples to see if you can connect with this thought process at all.

* You are a teacher and a friend who teaches in a different district tells you about an amazing thing they are doing in their classroom that you hadn’t considered

* You are a coach who reads on social media how another coach is building program consistency with a certain practice structure for teams of all levels

* As a principal, you are at a conference and the presenter shares with you a method for building staff culture. You consider yourself competent in that area but there idea is above and beyond something you’ve ever considereddownload.jpg

What’s Wrong with That?

So, what’s the problem? You are hearing new ideas that impact and expand your thinking. Twitter or Facebook gives more options to consider for your classroom or school. Educators are often friends with educators in other districts and that allows for a great exchange of thinking. Educators attend workshops or conferences to hear experts in various areas. Those should all be good things, right? Shouldn’t that allow us to grow in our work? Yes, but. Yes, but I think there can also be a downside. I’ve certainly have felt it before and want to share that in this post. 

 

Seeing, listening, and talking about different ideas has turned into a challenge for me as a varsity basketball coach, teacher, principal, and even a parent. Social media has made it even more difficult. As your professional network grows, the possibility to hear all the amazing things happening in other schools grows as well.

Here’s the Challenge

The challenge is that you can’t do it all. You especially can’t do it all at the same time. When I hear something another educator is doing that is really good, it brings out a couple different feelings and I’ll share those honestly. Part of me feels insufficient and that I’m not good enough at my job for the parents, students, and teachers of our school. Part of me wonders what I hadn’t thought of it. I do think how awesome it is that others are positively being impacted. I wonder if and how the idea might fit into what we are currently doing. I’ve also made the mistake or hearing an idea somewhere and going back to immediately implemented it. That has often failed. As your network grows and the scope of social media grows, there are more and more opportunities for this to happen to educators.   

My Advice

1. Be confident in what you are doing. I don’t think this has to do with insecurity but instead knowing what you believe in and how it impacts your current practice. What you’ve developed has been well-planned, thoughtful, and successful for a reason. Know that the base, the foundation, is strong. Understand that we all have our strengths and growth areas as educators. The person who shared the program you haven’t implemented is likely not doing something you are doing well. The confidence in ourselves allows us to accurately self-assess and know we have those clear strengths. 

2. Be reflective and willing to grow. Always be on the look-out for something that can improve the educational expereince for parents, students, and staff. Never think you know it all or can’t possibly improve more. Being open to new ideas doesn’t mean criticizing yourself for not implementing it already nor does it mean you have to develop each one you hear into a new initiative.

3. Implement changes carefully. Go slow. Collaborate with others. Consider how many new initiatives you currently are introducing. Think about how a new idea might or might not fit with the current focuses in your school or classroom. Keep a list of potential ideas or journal and put them into a short, medium, or long-term timeline for implementation.

This is coming from the guy who loves the term #ChaseIt and is obsessed with the journey and process of trying to be great at anything. Don’t beat yourself up for not doing it all. Remember the power of growth mindset and the strength of “not yet.” However, trying to do everything at once or feeling insufficient for not having it all going right now gets your further away from greatness, not closer to it.

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How Players Act on the Basketball Court Matters…A Lot

Most of you know that I’ve spent the last 20 years on the basketball sidelines as a coach.  That has been at the youth level, 18 seasons at the varsity level, and helping out at the college level.  Over that 20 years, I’ve noticed a lot of trends.  One of the worst trends is the behavior and actions of players on the court.  Not how they play, but how they act while they play.

During the last couple of weeks, I have attended around 20 basketball games at all levels.  I’ve been to 5th-grade boys basketball, freshmen girls basketball, varsity boys and girls state tournament games, MSU clinching the B1G regular season title, and Ferris State winning the GLIAC tournament championship.  When it comes to on-court behavior, at all levels, I’ve seen a little bit of everything.

But it was a game I attended on Thursday night that compelled me to write something.  The Hudsonville girls basketball team lost to Muskegon in overtime of the regional finals.  It was that electric environment you come to expect in March.  I was talking to my family on the way home and I told them that in my 30 years around the game I’ve never seen a team maintain their composure like the Hudsonville girls did.  It really is the entire team and modeled by head coach Casey Glass, but it really shows in Kasey DeSmit, Arinn King, and Sydney Irish.  In this game, those three were tested physically and emotionally by a strong, physical, and athletic Big Red team.  Not once did I see one of them hang their heads – never disrespected an opponent or an official – not even when their high school careers were coming to a close.  Time and time again this year I looked over to my 14 and 11-year-old children and told them to watch how they act on the court.  Watch how they represent their family, the basketball program, their school, and the community.  I can be a little bit of a maniac on the sidelines.  What I’ve seen over the past couple of weeks has helped me better understand how my players acted when they played and what things I modeled or didn’t model very well.  Those are things you can learn when you sit back and watch a game and aren’t engulfed in it.

I’ve been away from the high school game for a few years but I’m sure it won’t be much longer before I’m back on the sideline in some capacity.  These couple of weeks have helped me to develop a checklist, almost a report card, of how I will want my players to act.  During all of those games, I’ve seen players like Tum Tum Nairn or the Hudsonville girls team showing me just what those characteristics should be.  Here’s my list.
1) Body language

2) Respect for opponents

3) Respect for officials

4) Positive towards teammates

5) Composure and poise during adversity

It’s ironic how things change as you get older.  I used to always tell my kids to watch the best player on the court.  Now I find myself telling them to watch the players on the court who act the best. 

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5 Things All Educators Need to Stop Saying

I probably don’t need the disclaimer that obviously ALL educators don’t say these things, but I will lead with that anyway.  Clearly, not ALL.  However, each of these things I believe cripples our amazing profession a little bit and we would be much better without them.  Here they are and some brief thoughts on how they hinder our work.

1. “That student is low” – Stop labeling kids based on an arbitrary timeline of learning and expectations that have significantly changed over time.  First, is this professional and kind?  If that was your child, is that how you would want others talking about them?  A more accurate phrase might be, “the learning acquisition levels of this student, which are individual and developmentally unique to them, have not yet matched the random timeline and skills we have decided they should have mastered at this time.”

2. “They need to learn that for (or by) the M-STEP” – This one makes me shudder to my core.  Students need to learn for the love of learning.  They need to learn because learning builds on learning and what comes next may depend on what is being learned now. They need to learn it because education is the key to unlock so many doors in their life.  But not because of a standardized test.  Students need to learn your guaranteed and viable curriculum.  I also don’t care if the M-STEP is in April and they learn it in May.  Making sure they learn it for a standardized assessment isn’t my job.  Making sure they learn it, is.  Those two are not the same.

3. “That idea won’t work” – Not all ideas are good ideas.  Not all ideas can come to fruition.  I’m not saying that.  But too often in our profession, I’ve seen close-mindedness shut down a potentially really good idea.  Listen, ask questions, dig deeper, mine out any possible issues and help the person to move the idea forward.  Don’t shut down thinking, explore possibilities.

4. “If we just collaborate we will all do it the same” – Collaboration means to work with someone to produce and create something.  It doesn’t mean we will all agree and it doesn’t mean we will all do everything the same.  Share ideas, discuss, look at all perspectives, and make agreements.  But also allow a district, building, or classroom to have their different takes on it.  Let’s not turn collaboration into compliance.

5. “His learning will increase if he just does his homework” – I think we can all agree on what research says about homework and it’s correlation to student learning.  At parent-teacher conference time of year, we sometimes make a mistake of guaranteeing to parents that increase homework will increase student learning.   Yes, for some students additional independent practice without teacher support can be an asset.  However, let’s not rely on that to have a major impact on student learning. 

We are part of the greatest profession in the world.  I think if we can keep some of these words and phrases out of our vernacular, it can be even better.

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Educators, How Does the Phrase”M-STEP Prep” Make You Feel?

My parents were educators for 30 years and now I’m in my 20th year in the profession. That means I have spent my entire life around educators. Educators of all different positions, in various districts, who carry countless philosophies. Throughout the year, I find myself in conversations with them and I there is one question I like to fire off to see what their stance is. It’s a question that we start to hear more and more around schools this time of year. 

download.pngHow does the phrase “M-STEP prep?” make you feel?

I’m partially asking how they feel about teaching to the big standardized test students in our state take each spring. I’m also asking if they put a higher priority on learning or test performance, as those aren’t always the same thing. I’m kind of asking how much time is spent varying from the curriculum to spend on components in the test that are not in the curriculum. I’m curious as to how much time their school or district spends on M-STEP preparation and what range I find in the responses. I’m also hinting a little bit at what direction they get from those above them and how they feel about it.

More than anything else, I’m asking if the educator is locked in an internal battle regarding the importance of standardized tests in today’s educational world.

The M-STEP matters. Let’s not be foolish. I know that student success on a standardized test shows a snapshot of what a student knows at that moment and that is important. The way the state broadcasts the scores of a district is a large part of how a district is measured. That matters. As a student gets older, their ability to perform on a standardized test means thousands of dollars and acceptance into universities. 

I’m convinced that learning matters more. Students can demonstrate learning in so many more ways than a standardized test can measure. The time spent preparing students to take the test can never be regained. I always wonder what type of new discoveries, questions that could be explored, or important content could have been covered instead of the M-STEP prep. When do we get to a point where what is covered in the curriculum aligns with what is on the test? Are we moving closer or further away from this? 

No right answer. No wrong answer. Just a lot of educators developing, thinking, reflecting, and wrestling with an internal belief system regarding what is best for their students.

So, educators, how does the phrase “M-STEP prep” make you feel?

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My Process for Providing Feedback Using 5D+

images-1.pngThis is my 4th year using the 5D+ teacher evaluation model with staff. I went to all of the training sessions when our district adopted the model. I spent one summer being trained at MASSP so I could go into other districts to train teachers and administrators on the model. Even with that experience, I am learning new things each year as I work to improve the process of supporting teacher growth.

One of the challenging pieces for me has been to come up with a system, a specific process, for giving teachers written feedback. Here are the steps that I am currently using. Step #5 below is what I’m going to expand upon in this post.

1. Approximately 20-minute observation with a running script.

2. Stay in the classroom to code, notice, and wonder.

3. Stay in the classroom to send the teacher an email about next steps in the observation cycle (The first 3 steps usually take me about 45 minutes).

4. The teacher responds to me electronically within 24 hours to my wonderings. I stress to them that their response should take no more than 10-15 minutes to complete.

5. I provide written feedback to the staff member.

6. We meet in person to discuss the observation.

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While all steps hold value in supporting teacher growth, steps #5 and #6 are where the action taken by the administrator can have a significant impact.  I am usually in my office as I complete step #5. Here is what I’m currently doing to provide the teacher with feedback that is most likely to impact their instructional practice.

* Close my office door and block out any interruptions

* Make sure I have the 5D+ instructional framework open and next to me. The vision statements and guiding questions really support my thinking

* I have 4 tabs open on my computer within PIVOT. One is the teacher responses to my wonderings. A second shows the feedback I gave in the previous observation. The third is the teacher’s growth plan and the last is the new feedback I’m about to provide.  I am constantly switching back and forth between those tabs as I decide on what feedback might be in the zone of proximal development for the teacher.

* As far as what I write, here is the format that has worked best for me.

– I thank the teacher for their thinking, reflection, and response

– I share my big takeaways regarding patterns in their overall practice or from this specific lesson. This usually is not tied to their 3-5 areas of focus.

– Finally, I give them 3 pieces of feedback, each tied to an area of focus. Sometimes it’s simply encouraging them to do something that is new to them or they are trying in a new way. It doesn’t always have to be a brand new suggestion or change. Other times it’s a directive and very clear. It could be a question for them to consider or ponder. When I read them back to myself, I always want to be sure they are manageable for the teacher and that I’m able to provide necessary support.

I wanted to take the time to share out some of that thinking and process because it did not come to me naturally. Feel free to call (616-340-9254) or email me (andygsecor@gmail.com) if I can ever be of assistance as you provide feedback to teachers. I’ve sat next to administrators as they’ve gone through the process of deciding what feedback to write and how to write it. Administrators have also asked me to sit in or film their post-observation meetings. If you have questions, a wonder, or advice on how you think I could improve my practice, feel free to contact me!

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“Where Does Average Exist in Your School?”

I am currently reading the book, Culturize, by Jimmy Casas. In the book, Casas asks the question, “Where does average exist in your organization?”  I immediately turned that into, “Where does average exist in our school?”

download-1.jpgWhen I read that question, it stopped me for a moment. I put the book down and thought about it. However, that isn’t a “think for ten seconds and respond type of question.” So, I picked the book up and started reading again. A few hours later, I took to Twitter and posted that question as it was still on my mind and I wanted to hear other opinions. Then, I asked it to our staff in a feedback section of my weekly update. Their responses furthered my curiosity. Now, 6 days later, here I am, and it was the first thing I thought about when I woke up this morning.

My thought process traveled two directions as I tackled this question. First, who wants to be average at anything? Is anyone signing up for the “Average Husband Club?” Do we gush with pride when our daughter tells us how average we’ve been as a father? School is no different. We do our best to share our positive stories and then work on the things we know that need to be improved. But in my 20 years in this profession, I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone say, “We are really average at that.” Should we be saying that?  Would it help for the average in a school to be labeled and understood?  Clearly, the thought of being average is not appealing to most schools or people in general.download-1.jpg

The other thought was, can a school really be great at everything? Is that realistic? Is having things that are average, normal? Isn’t there always going to be some average everywhere? Even if you get 20 things going in the right direction and they all seem great, will they stay great? Will any regress to average? I think that accepting something may be average and naming it as average are NOT the same thing.  

Back to the question, “Where does average exist in our school?”  I feel compelled to do something further to investigate this question as it relates to our school, my work, and even our profession. I’m confident in the way our structure is set up to improve average, but more interested to hear what various stakeholder groups feel like average is. In this case, I’m more interested in naming it and that process, than fixing it. 

1. I feel like there is great value in parents, teachers, and students being posed that question and listening to their responses. I am going to do that formally and informally. There is an honesty, transparency, and vulnerability in asking the question which I believe is an important message to convey. In addition, it’s not just about MY perspective. It’s about OUR perspective. I have already started my list, but it may look very different from someone else’s.

2. In the self-evaluation type of process, I’m hoping to come up with a list or patterns where different stakeholder groups believe our school to be average.

3. Share the list openly and honestly. 

I haven’t been in any organization where average wasn’t alive, somewhere, somehow, and for some amount of time. Thank you Mr. Casas, for asking a question that I think holds great depth and power. It’s not one that had been posed to me before but is one that has really made me reflect, think, plan, and act.  I wonder how other teachers would respond to the question or even the thought of the question, “Where does average exist in our school?”

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Educators: What defines success for your school?

Welcome to what may be the shortest blog post ever.  Those who read my posts know that I’m not the type of guy who thinks he knows everything.  At times, I just pose questions to see what type of thinking is out there or to get people to reflect.  Holiday break seemed like a pretty good time to do that.

About 5 months from now, we will be looking back on the 2017-2018 school year.  When looking back in June, how will you know it has been a successful year.  Let me go a step further and ask you to quantify it.  I’ll just pose my questions and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  • How will you define whether or not your school has had a successful year?
  • How many measures will you use?
  • Do staff members agree to all of those factors?
  • How many of the measures are external and how many are internal?
  • How do you report out the level(s) of success that you have attained?

I have a strong belief that we too often allow external groups to evaluate and grade us as schools.  A standardized assessment turned into a color, grade, or number, certainly shouldn’t be the determining factor as that would undersell the valuable work done in schools on a daily basis.  Furthermore, what does someone in Lansing know about the strengths, challenges, and growth areas of the school I work at?  How do they know what our staff is focused on?  School improvement work is valuable and helps to focus our work, but certainly isn’t specific enough to what a school is working towards.  So, what is it?  What factors?  What formula?  What is success and how do you measure it?

I wonder how fellow educators would answer those questions.

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