What Being a Principal Means to Me

October is “National Principals Month.”  It probably always has been, but I never noticed. As I was scrolling through Twitter the other day, for some reason, I finally took notice. There was a short article about the role of a principal and the types of impact they can have on a school. I tend to have reflective moments out of the blue, not always spurred upon by a powerful moment or event. This was one of those times. It wasn’t hard to do, but it was really fun. It made me think, ponder, question, smile, and laugh. 

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I love to promote the profession of education. I’m pretty open about sharing my thoughts and feelings as it relates to the work that takes place in our schools on a daily basis. I wanted to share what I ended up writing down about what it means to me to be a principal. I hope fellow principals can take a moment to reflect and write, teachers will take a moment to read and see if I’m hitting my mark, and parents will know more about my beliefs.

  • Being a principal means I get to be a leader. I love to LEAD. I love to shape, craft, and mold a team full of different individuals towards a common purpose.
  • Being a principal means I get to impact students, hundreds, and thousands of students.  That is the ultimate motivator…impact the lives of kids. 
  • Being a principal means I will work to remove the barriers that teachers encounter so they can do what do best, which is teach.
  • Being a principal means I get to develop relationships with families in the community where I work and live.images.jpg

That leads me to a couple goals. Simple to write, but remarkably hard to attain. I’ve never shared these with anyone before.  If I’m doing these two things, I’m extending a positive impact on as many lives as possible.

1. I want to impact as many lives as I can during my time as a principal.

2. I want teachers who have worked with me to list me as the best principal they’ve ever worked with. Why should teachers settle for any less? #ChaseIt

That’s what being a principal means to me.  Basically, everything.

 

 

 

 

Innovation in Education — What if…

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow” – Pollard

That quote goes underneath my electronic signature for every email I send.  Part of the reason is due to my desire to uncover what is next, to make life better for students and teachers, and to collaborate with others to develop impactful ideas.  It seems like I always have some swimming around in my brain.images.jpg
What if…

  • Our elementary school was open from 7 am – 7 pm each day, served 3 meals for students and families, and provided extra curricular options as well
  • Each school, by law, in the state of Michigan, had a mental health professional designated to support the mental health needs of students and families
  • Report cards didn’t exist.  Students traveled from year to year with their data binder and the emphasis was on growth, not proficiency
  • Students and their families could decide on school hours that worked for them. Some students could come 7-1, others 12-6, whatever worked best for the schedule and the needs of the family and the student
  • There were no grade levels.  Students entered a school building and were placed and moved with students of similar social/emotional and academic skills
  • Each intermediate school district worked with the local districts (all, not some) to coordinate community/business partnerships that allowed students at all levels real-world professional experiences
  • Students, even in elementary school, had various schedules based on interests and levels of academic progress
  • Each student had one hour of their day designed to explore their interests which may lie inside or outside of the curriculum standards.  The teacher simply worked as a facilitator and resource to that exploration
  • Entire districts and states made the move to adopt a balanced calendar, which is clearly best for kids

I could go on and on.  How can we rethink some past practices and adjust them to better our educational system?  On the flip side, those of you reading this could find details and reasons why my ideas wouldn’t work.  That is where innovation is put to the test.  No idea is stamped for approval upon its inception.  Too often, the reasons not to outweigh the desire to overcome those obstacles and thinking is shut down or rejected.  In other instances, people think to be innovative the idea has to be immediately earth shattering.  Not true.  Innovation is simply a new idea or method.  Don’t think your idea is too small or won’t have a profound impact.  You’d be amazed at what something can grow into and the effect it can have on our educational system if you take that chance and don’t wilt at the first sign of pushback.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” still exists.  Some things are great just how they are.  But some need to be tinkered with and others need a complete overhaul.download.jpg

So, what am I going to do about it?  Well, I am going to continue to push the envelope of innovation.  I will keep presenting ideas, creatively trying to solve problems and to rethink past practices.  But, for the short-term, I need to start somewhere.  Here are the three places I want to start and focus on for the 2017-2018 school year. 

  1. Differentiated professional development for teachers – I’m excited about the plan we have at Jamestown to develop small group professional learning communities based on teacher choice, educational impact, and personal growth plans.  The hope is for the principal to mimic the type of gradual release structures we expect of teachers and to move away from so much whole group time.  There will be reading of research, lab classrooms, discussion, reflection, and teacher exploration.  I hope we have groups working simultaneously on topics such as questioning, innovation, how to #TeachLikeAPirate, collaborative strategies, growth mindset, learning targets, and much more!
  2. “Genius Hour” for students –  http://www.geniushour.com/ – Other schools have this up and running and all I hear is the benefit for students.  Need to find a way to make this a reality at our school
  3. “Innovation Station” for educators – My idea here is to create a professional learning network of people who get together and just talk about innovative ideas in education.  It would be a group from various districts, in different roles, including a wide variety of thinkers, and would meet with essentially no agenda other than to share and develop innovative ideas.

Don’t be afraid.  Don’t be afraid to look foolish, to present an idea, or to share something with your unique perspective.  Your idea could be the beginning of something great for one student, one classroom, one school, one district, or even bigger.  Our students need us to consistently refine, adjust, create, and push ideas forward.  Innovation is at your fingertips and on the tip of your tongue.  Just jump in and explore the world of “what if’s.”

Hold the Door, Son

Two different events happened over the last week that had me thinking.

The first happened as my 10-year-old son and I were exiting a local golf course pro shop. He went out of his way to stop and hold the door for a couple walking in.  He did it kind of naturally and I was able to see it.  I gave him a quick fist bump and thanked him for thinking of others.

A few days later, the two of us were on our way into a gas station and a man was following behind us.  He was carrying some cans to turn in for deposit.  My son was behind me and had the chance to hold the door for the gentlemen, but didn’t.  I didn’t think much of it, other than I was disappointed, as we were in a hurry and I didn’t say anything.graduation-future-SB.jpg

Today, that had me thinking.  Why did he choose to do it one time and not the other? Had I appropriately modeled and positively reinforced it enough?  But above and beyond that, why was it so important to me?  Out of all the things we worry about and focus on as a parent, what is it about holding a door for a complete stranger that is so important to me?

I did some research.  I wanted to find out more about holding the door for others.  As usual, there was way more than I needed.  I found out that around the 1600’s doors were often held for women and that was more due to the wardrobe they had on.  I’m not going to get too far into the chivalry aspect, although I’ll take any chance I can get to teach my son to respect women.  I learned that some people think 14 feet is the appropriate length away from the door that you should offer to hold it for someone.  OK, all of that was more than I needed.

It’s so important for me because the kid (or adult for that matter) who holds the door carries the mindset I want the kids at my home, and the 340 kids at our school, to have at all times.

  • It’s the mindset of always thinking about helping others
  • It’s the mindset that I’m a very small part of this big Earth
  • It’s saying to someone, without saying anything, you matter to me and even though I don’t know you, I’ll do something to help you
  • It’s the mindset that small things matter, especially if done over and over
  • It’s the giving mindset, instead of the taking

So, what next?  Well, instead of giving my son positive affirmation for whether or not he catches a touchdown or gets a sack this weekend, I’ll do a better job focusing on something under his control.  Something that positively impacts others.  I’ll do a better job of letting him know why it’s important to me and needs to be important to him.  I will also model it as consistently as possible.  As parents, we want all kinds of things for our kids.  Right now, I just want my son to be the kid who always holds the door.download-1.jpg

A Message to Parents – Assume Positive Intentions

As we start the 2017-2018 school year, educators know more than ever the importance of the “triangle of stakeholders.” download.pngWhen the student, school, and parent are working together and supporting each other, the chances for student success significantly increase. Towards that end, I have a quick message for parents as they send their child off to school this year.

                                                Assume Positive Intentions

I promise you that the parent and the school have the EXACT same goal for your child and that is for them to be as successful as possible. As a parent, head into the school year with that understanding. The school is not “out to get your child” nor are they “playing politics.” Have the mindset of assuming positive intentions. Assume the educators in your child’s school are in the profession for all the right reasons. Assume that they will do what is right and ethical as often as they possibly can. images.jpg

As a parent, there will be times this year when that mindset it tested. A few hypotheticals that might lead to that:

  • Your child comes home says they are being bullied and no one is doing anything about it
  • The teacher “yelled at me”
  •  Your child says there is a field trip tomorrow they didn’t know about
  • Enough homework to last a month comes home on a Tuesday night
  • Your child says the principal punished the entire class for the actions of one student

My guess is most parents have experienced one or more of those situations. download.pngI’m not saying the school is always right or you shouldn’t investigate further. That’s not the message at all. Just consider all the alternatives, while assuming positive intentions, prior to picking up that phone or firing off that angry email. Consider your child may have shared part of the story with you. That could be intentional or unintentional. Consider there may be another side to the story. Consider the rest of the matter still needs to be investigated.  Once you have gone through that process, contact the school, ask questions, share what you know, and do so in a professional and respectful manner. Allow yourself to be fully informed and then part of the problem-solving process that may need to take place. If there is a reason to be upset or concerned at that point, you have done your due diligence.

By assuming positive intentions, your positive relationship with the school will immediately be focused on your child. There will be less time spent on being adversarial and more time spent on getting to solutions and the support your child may need. When the student knows that the school and parent have high levels of communication and speak positively of each other, they understand that everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction.  download.jpg

 

My Plan to Combat Teacher Burnout and Stress

OK, I get it.  July is an odd time for a blog post on teacher burnout and stress.  However, the summer months are a great time for thinking, reflection, and planning for the upcoming year.  As someone who has maintained for 20 years that education is the best profession in the world, I’m troubled by much of what I’ve seen recently regarding teacher burnout and stress.  In the past month, I have read 8-10 articles or papers on the increase of teacher burnout and reasons for those leaving the profession.  In addition, some educators made the choice to post their resignation letter online, allowing me to get a deeper look into the sources of their frustration.  

Why is this so important to me?  download-1.jpgBecause I NEED our team. If we are going to become the best school in the world (which should be the goal of every school) they are going to take us there.  The students and parents at our school NEED this team.  It’s important to me because I care about them as people.  As the leader of our school, how the job impacts their life and emotional well-being matters to me.  It matters a lot.

Michigan State University education expert Alyssa Hadley Dunn recently led a trio of studies looking into teacher burnout and stress.  In an article by the MSU School of Education Dunn states, “The reasons teachers are leaving the profession has little to do with the reasons most frequently touted by education reformers, such as pay or student behavior.  Rather, teachers are leaving largely because oppressive policies and practices are affecting their working conditions and beliefs about themselves and education.”  

As I read through those resignation letters recently, a handful of issues stood out.  Those were a negative school climate, loss of autonomy, a focus on standardized test scores, punitive teacher evaluation systems, and a lack of teacher’s voice during the implementation of policies.

What I haven’t read very much are plans to combat these issues.  Sure, I did a google search and found an article here and there.  But that’s not enough.  I take a great deal of pride in the relationships I develop with my staff and ensuring that I care about them as people first, employees second.  Because of that, I felt the need to develop a road map, a game plan, to at least feel like I have a structured and cohesive plan to limit burnout and download.jpgstress at OUR school.  I looked at the release of the MSU data, other articles on burnout and stress, and several resignation letters.  While I have done some of these things in the past, a systematic plan on paper will allow it to not fall off my radar or come and go.

THE PLAN

1. I need to survey the staff.  Instead of guessing on their levels of stress and burnout, I need to compile personalized data.  Each state, district, building, grade level, and individual teacher is different.  When I’ve done that in the past, it’s provided me with important information.  I will share the survey data back with staff, share my plans to counteract the challenges, solicit advice from my building management team, and then check back in at least twice during the year.  Combining this survey with the one our staff does of my work twice a year will give me important feedback.

2. Make people feel valued each and every day, not just during “teacher appreciation week” or on their birthday.  Do all the little things day in and day out to make sure they feel valued.  It starts with developing the personal relationship with teachers and getting if-youre-really-that-important-make-people-feel-valued.jpgto know them personally and professionally.  That promotes an open line of communication which improves culture and trust.  Helping staff feel valued includes small things like writing a handwritten letter to each of them during the summer, doing something kind just because, stopping in for regular gratitude walks with feedback, highlighting their work on social media and with key stakeholders, and consistently telling them they are a valued and important member of the staff.  Maybe most important is knowing when adversity has struck and then reaching out to see how I can help.

3. Use the structures we have in place to make sure teacher’s voice is important in school decision-making.  I need to collaborate with our building management team, grade level reps, and school improvement teams on major initiatives which teachers need to have a voice in.  We have developed a shared vision as a staff.  I need to consistently make sure staff feels like our work is aligned with the vision and they have a substantial voice. Professional development plans need to be individualized and our staff needs to feel TeacherStress.jpgthat time is valuable.  Teacher observations, their purpose, and how the staff feels they are going must be discussed.  When I have ideas, those groups will be brought to the table so I can get teacher thinking, ideas, and feedback.  While every decision is not meant to be collaborative, teacher perspective must be considered in each instance.

4. Compile a list of 10 activities/strategies that will reinforce the “person first, employee second” message that staff gets from me.  I need to emphasize what Debbie McFalone told me about education, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”  Putting in place those activities will ensure that action follows words and does so consistently.  Here is a couple from my list.

  • Each time a staff member has something come up with their family, I will respond with an understanding message and the #FamilyFirst hashtag.  That branding will reinforce a belief of mine and remind staff of the value we place on family
  • Putting the “life balance” quote on the door of each staff member during the year
  • Periodically in my weekly update sharing the ideas, I incorporate to reduce stress and maintain the balance between work and family
  • Reminding staff, especially in the spring, that our #1 goal isn’t test scores.  It is and will always be supporting students to become better people

I’m not reinventing the wheel here.  Nor am I calling others to action.  It has always been a passion of mine to help teachers be the absolute best they can be, but I can do better.  I know that following this plan can be my small part of helping with teacher burnout and stress in OUR school and allowing our teachers to do what they do best…to teach.

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“Google Has Me Thinking”

As usual, George Couros has written or posted something that really has me thinking. If you haven’t read the Innovators Mindset, get it on the list.  If you don’t follow him on Twitter, do so right away. If you are not on Twitter, please buy a passport into this century and crawl out from under that rock.download.jpg George consistently posts something that tests my current beliefs and has me questioning my role as an educator.  Today, on Twitter, Geroge posted this article from Inc. titled “5 Unusual Facts About Google’s Odd (and Wildly Successful) Management Practices”  https://www.inc.com/marcel-schwantes/5-inside-secrets-from-googles-unusual-management-p.html.

I had heard each of the practices before. The 5th practice always sticks out to me and today it really made me stop and think.  The 5th practice is: 

“When hiring, G.P.A’s and test scores don’t matter”

OK, I get that Google isn’t the be all, end all, and we shouldn’t transform all we do to fit the pattern of one company. I do think that as educators we need to constantly be looking at how the world is changing and we owe it to our students to adjust with the times. We are no longer preparing students for jobs on assembly lines or working in solitary cubicles.  I think we need to ask ourselves some questions as educators based on that thought and the quote that went with it, 

Relying heavily on data crunching, Bock told The New York Times a few years back that G.P.A.’s and test scores are worthless as a criteria for hiring, unless you’re an entry-level grad. They found that they don’t predict anything.  As Bock tells The Times, “after two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school, because the skills you download-1.pngrequired in college are very different. You’re also fundamentally a different person. You learn and grow, you think about things differently.” Consequently, it’s not uncommon to find 14 percent of some Google teams made up of people who’ve never attended college.

There are times where I think the world of education can learn a lot from the business world. It doesn’t mean that grades don’t matter.  It doesn’t mean that earning a high G.P.A. is irrelevant. It does mean we should consider and question why Google would have this mindset. Here were the questions I immediately posed to myself:

1. How do we as educators balance the focus on curriculum and the process of learning for students? I think our focus is too often “preparing a student for the next grade” when growing a lifelong learner who understands and enjoys the learning process comes secondary.

2. Am I doing my part of preparing students for what exists beyond high school/college?

3.  What is our duty as educators? With so many outcomes and goals, how do we continue to adjust to a moving target?

That led me back to my core, my beliefs, and what must take priority. If I had to go to battle for the 3 things I wanted a student to leave our school with, they would be:

1. Help students to become better people. This will be #1.  Always. Help populate the Earth with better humans. Nothing is more important

2. Create collaborative problem solvers

3. Cultivate lifelong learning with an emphasis on an ability to reflect, persist, and adjust during the learning process

The beauty of a Sunday in July.  George and Google really had me thinking.  I reflected.  I thought.  I grew.  

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How a Principal Impacts Instruction

As I reread the Handbook of Instructional Leadership by Blase and Blase, I remembered one of the things that made me enjoy my first read. It made me reflect on how I was impacting instruction in the school where I was the principal.

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This time around, it made me physically write down the different ways I work to impact instruction within OUR school. All educators could come up with a pretty detailed list. My challenge was to whittle it down to the five I felt were the most impactful. I would guess that if ten principals completed the exercise, we might get ten different lists. That is OK. We emphasize different components. Here is what I settled on.

1. 5D+ Teacher Evaluation – A growth model. Collaborative. Based on focus areas and reinforced by coaching. Supporting each teacher with specific feedback in a model built on trust, collaboration, and growth.

2. Staff Professional DevelopmentAll staff meetings, early releases, late starts, in-services, and other designated times are spent on teaching and learning. You can say whatever words you want, but how you allot your time is the message staff gets about what is important. If you spend it talking about teaching and learning, the message is clear.

3. Differentiated/Small Group PD There are times where one size fits all staff PD is appropriate. However, that’s not how we ask our teachers to teach.  I feel like an area that I can continue to grow in is to better differentiate our staff meeting time to fit the needs of our staff. My plan for next year increases this: andrewgsecor.com/…/differentiated-pd-for-teachers-in-a-one-year-plan

4. Grade Level / PLCTeachers learning from and with other teachers.  As powerful PD as there is.  Sometimes, I just need to stay out of the way.  Other times I need to help plan, co-facilitate or reflect.  We add to this by incorporating “lab classrooms” and “data dialogues.”  Structures that further promote teacher to teacher collaboration.

5. Teacher to Teacher Collaboration I’m talking about the kind that takes place when the principal isn’t looking.  I think the trust and transparency the principal creates impacts this, but this is really how willing individual teachers are willing to go to work with each other.

Now, you’d actually have to ask my staff to see if the perception of how I impact instruction in OUR school is the reality!  But I certainly hope so.

I’d love to hear what other principals would say are in their top 5. It would also be great to hear from teachers on what they consider to be the top 5 factors in their school. Thank you for sharing and helping me continue to grow as an educator!