My 2017 MEMSPA Experience

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Each year at the “MEMSPA” state conference I go back to my room on Thursday night and take some time to really think about the first two days of the conference. The time allows me to process, ponder, reflect, and prioritize all that has been presented to me and all I’ve considered. There are a lot of thoughts to be sorted out. One of the things that stood out to me is the last few days is that I need to take more risks. I need to trust my gut and my instincts. One way to do that immediately is to be transparent and share my learning from this week that I normally keep to myself or share with selected others. I could write pages as I was influenced by so many and heard so many great things, but I wanted to hit on some big takeaways. I broke it down into 4 categories, made me think, things that inspired me, need to improve and things to implement ASAP.

Made me think – Right when I thought I was gaining ground on technology, this conference helped me realize that there are other options to think about. We need to consider increasing the use of technology in our school to include such options as Voxer, Mentimeter, Facebook Live, YouTube channel for parents to view instruction, Seesaw, and green screens. The team from Saline and their session on flexible seating made me realize it might be time to go with a big move and not just a few small moves. Conversations with Ken See, Scott Haid, and Kim VanAntwerp were so thought-provoking. We sat down to talk about one thing, but I left thinking about a dozen others. I greatly valued their perspective and time. Desk on wheels? How about a temporary office in the hallway or in a grade level wing? Something I want to think more about. Dan Butler and Allyson Apsey made me think about something I thought was a strength of mine, staff relationships. Their very specific ideas about how to improve in that area is going to be on the forefront of my mind during the drive home tomorrow.

Inspired – Regardless of content, when someone has crazy levels of passion about something in education, that inspires me. The two stories that Ben Gilpin told in his session about how went above and beyond to be there for his teachers inspired me.    Listening to Paul Liabenow talk about his passion for people inspired me. When I listened to Mike Domagalski talk about #MEMSPAChat, I got fired up. Jon Wennstrom and Allyson Apsey inspired me with how genuine they were and with their risk-taking. When I think there is something that is too out of the box for me to do, I think of the risks they take for the betterment of their teachers and students, and it inspires me to take another step. The professionalism and poise of our MEMSPA president, Jeremy Patterson, with all the hats he wears and responsibilities he has, inspires me. 

Need to Improve – Dr. Steve Constantino’s message was a bit of a slap in the face, but in a good way. My mindset surrounding engaging families needs to change. It’s not about events, it’s about process. It’s not about the percentage of families that come, it’s about who doesn’t. As he says, “we are really good at engaging families who are already engaged.” At Jamestown, we need to continue the work we’ve started with building relationships with our families that are least likely to become engaged.  By going above and beyond to build that relationship and trust, we can better find out how the partnership is best constructed. My session with Arina Bokas and a tablemate (can’t believe I missed his name) who shared some great thoughts cemented home those next steps in parent engagement. I also need to be less focused on my phone at work. Yes, there are times where communication comes to me that needs to be addressed right away, but it doesn’t need to happen at the expense of an interaction I may miss. I will get better at that.  

Implementation TimeThere are a few things that can go into effect right away. Something as specific as communication that is “Dear Families” instead of “Parents/Guardians” is a simple, yet important change to make. Continuing the work of our differentiated PD for teachers needs to happen and Marie DeGroot and I have some great ideas about how to keep improving it. Our staff needs to continue to partner with other schools and districts for lab classroom experiences that have mutual benefits. It’s a piece missing from our educational system and I just can’t figure out why. Finally, we always hear about building culture and relationships. The difference this week was the number of specific strategies that I learned to do just that. I will start two of them tomorrow and I can’t wait to see their impact.  

Make no mistake, this conference is full of learning. It’s a ton of information, processing, and collaboration.  For me, it’s not about refreshing or rejuvenating, it’s about GROWING. If I’m going to spend a couple days out of the building, I have to get better, immediately. I’m beyond excited to think, learn, and collaborate even further to see how these ideas can impact Jamestown students and staff.

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