School’s Out — Now What?

Take a deep breath, fellow educators.  Most of you have completed your school year in the last few days.  I know some of us have a few more weeks to work, others have report cards to do, and maybe even some school days left.  At some point, there are summer days ahead for you to relax, recharge, and refresh. Moments with friends and family await as you enjoy time away from school.

But…before you go into full summer mode, I encourage you to do these 3 things.  This will help you end the year with an exclamation mark and not a comma.

1. ReflectHead back into your empty classroom or office for no more than an hour.  Put two pieces of paper in front of you.  On one write “celebrations” and on the other “challenges.”  Now is a perfect time, since the demands of students and parents are gone but memories of the school year are still fresh.  This exercise may make you laugh, cry, or just provide quality time for thought.  Indownload.jpg today’s society, we are too often forced to move from one thing to the next and we miss such an important step, reflection.  Write on each page, as much as you need to, and stick it in your desk.  Come back and view them in August to bring you additional perspective.

2. Show appreciation – Over the course of this school year, I’m sure several people had a profound impact on you.  Those could have been students, staff, or parents.  At times, they may have been an ear to listen, offered words download.jpgof advice, led your professional learning, or just been there as support.  Send a text, write an email, or a hand-written note to those people if you have not yet done so.

3. Plan forward – Grab a sticky note and write down an idea or two.  I’m talking about those innovative ideas that you’ve kicked around for awhile but for some reason just haven’t been able to make them happen.  Write those down and take them home with you.  Put that sticky note somewhere you will see it every now and then.  I want you to have it in the back of your mind so you can continue to ponder the obstacles and work through them mentally.  We always have a couple of amazing ideas floating around that we just need to keep thinking through.

 Finally, thank you.  Thank you for committing this past year to the greatest profession there is.

My Social Media Tips for Educators

6 years ago, I had virtually no social media presence.  Oh, how the times have changed. Twitter came first for me in 2011, school web pages next, and then finally Facebook in 2016.  I now manage 3 Facebook accounts, a school website page, a blog page, and two Twitter accounts. Over that time, I’ve picked up a few hints that I think can be helpful to fellow educators.

1. If your school district has a social media policy, know it and follow it.  This overrides anything written below.download.jpg

2. Promote your classroom, school, and school district.  I feel like educators have an obligation to do so.  Social media allows us to share the positives happening in our schools each and every day.  The rest of the media tells their side of school all the time so why wouldn’t those actually in school each and every day, tell theirs?  Get over the “I don’t want to brag” perspective and share all the positives you can.

3. Have your personal account open to others.  Don’t block them.  I know that my perspective on this tip is not the common one.  George Couros once told me, “if you are going put something on your personal account you don’t want certain others to see, maybe you shouldn’t be putting it on there.”  Leave your twitter account open, accept Facebook requests from parents, and share the story of education along with what you post personally.  Those interested are going to find ways to get information about you anyway, why not let it be what YOU choose?  This also goes hand in hand with #2.   If you are telling a great story to your 113 followers, it’s not going to have a very big impact.download-1.jpg

4. Use Twitter as your “professional learning network.”  It is my quickest and easiest go-to for quick information, ideas from peers, and numerous resources.  Build your network and knowledge base with proper follows.  The lack of doing so is the #1 social media error I often see with young educators.

5. Stay away from these types of posts:

  • “I can’t wait for spring break”
  • Posts that hint to disagreement with colleagues, administrators, the district
  • “This year is almost over.  Thank God, my students are crazy”
  • “I can’t believe it’s only Monday.  What a week it’s going to be”
  • Countdowns of any kind.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring, end of the year

Even if the sentiment is genuine at the moment, it’s not what parents want to hear or the picture you want to paint.  It’s also no professional.  I don’t want my child to be in a classroom where the teacher sends the message on social media that they are on “easy street” the last 2 weeks as they countdown to the last day.  It sends the wrong message for yourself, your school, the district, and our profession.

6. Finally, more for young educators than anyone else, don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your superintendent to see.  Your social media presence is essentially an online portfolio.  It will be the first thing prospective employers check, probably right in front of you while you walk in for the first interview.  You get to control what their first impression is.  You get to pick if that first image is you bonging a beer or you working with a group of students as their student teacher. Sooner rather than later, understand and embrace that.

 

Dealing with Challenging Parent Situations

Unhappy.  Furious.  Angry.  Frustrated.  Confused.

There are so many jobs that dealing with unhappy customers is one of the most challenging things people have to do.  It’s really no different in education.  When I talk to my colleagues and peers in this profession, those interactions can sometimes be the hardest part of our job.

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Over the past 19 years, as a teacher, coach, and principal, I’ve had just about every experience imaginable with parents.  I’ve had to try to make a situation right when we had been in the wrong.  Other times, I felt like we had done everything we needed to and I disagree strongly with the thinking the parent.  Sometimes, I’ve handled myself appropriately and dealt with the situation the very best I could.  Other times, my emotions and passion got the best of me and I’ve said or done things I wanted to take back.  All of those experiences have helped me develop a process that I now go to when challenging parent situations arise.

Over the past few years as a principal, this has been extremely helpful and allowed me to find a positive resolution in just about every challenging situation.

1. Initial response — quick but brief

This one is really situation dependent as the problem can be brought to you in various ways.  Let’s play out the scenario where you get an email or phone call.  If you are sent something via email that speaks to a potential issue, answer it immediately whether it’s late at night, weekend, whenever.  Same for a phone call.  Make an initial contact quickly. First, thank them for contacting you and let them know you take the situation seriously. By thanking them, you set the tone that you are accessible, here to help, not getting defensive and a problem solver.  By letting them know it’s important to you, they know the issue has your attention.  Tell them you need to gather information and give them a timeline in which you will respond.  Buy time so you can gather information, think, consult others, and process.  A quick response, but brief.

2. Be prepared

Prior to contacting the parent back, write down a summary of all of your notes and have them in front of you.  How you contact them really depends on the parent and your comfort level.  The method of communication depends on the parent.  It truly can be better to do some via email, depending on how you and/or the parent may handle the situation in person.  I always default to person, then phone, followed by email, but that can depend on the parent.

3. Shut up  

Even though you are prepared, start the conversation with questions such as, “can you tell me a little more about” or “what else have you found since we first spoke?”  Don’t go into the details of your investigation at this time.  Save it.  Things may have changed since the initial contact.  Find out what is really still at the top of their list and allow them a chance to talk.  Just listen and take notes.  A parent feeling heard is half of the battle.

4. Ask questions

As you take notes, think about follow-up questions that will allow you to dig through the layers of the situation.  If it’s in person, taking notes also shows your level of focus and attention for the issue.  Sometimes, the parent has a lot on their heart/mind and by asking a few questions, you can peel back the layers and get down to the core of the issue.  By listening, taking notes, and asking questions, you have likely changed how their challenging disputes have been handled in the past and that puts them into a more positive mindset.  That will pay off once you get to step 5.

5. It’s time to act

Start by paraphrasing their thinking and summarizing what seems to be their biggest issue(s).  Then, share the facts you’ve gathered.  Use the actual words from students, parents or teachers.  State the exact words and components that are clear and not able to be disputed.  When that has been agreed upon, share your thinking in a professional and non-judgemental way.  I often will share that I have put a lot of thinking into the decision, consulted others, saw it from their point of view, and looked at past practice.  I then share my decision and what will be happening next.  Find an area to yield or compromise, no matter what or how small it might be, even if it’s in an area that is not at the heart of the matter.

6. Reflect together / Finalize it 

At that point, most parents will offer some feedback or their own thoughts on your decision.  If not, ask for it.  This is often where I share with the parent the differences in the role of a principal and a parent.  I relate my experiences as a parent and let them know how it enables me to see it from their point of view.  Sharing that perspective helps bring the human element further into the discussion.  If there are still parts that are in conflict, either choose to address those further or verbally agree to disagree.  But state that out loud.

Those 6 steps have really helped me walk through challenging situations.  I hope there are a couple of pieces in there that can help you in future dilemmas!

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3 PD Models to Support Teachers

One of my passions is creating new models for professional development for the teaching staff in our school.  I started down this path as a principal four years ago when I realized that a “one size fits all” approach to staff meetings and early release days was not supporting the needs of my learners.  In addition, I was not utilizing the teaching strategies and methods that I was expecting out of teachers.  Since then, I’ve implemented two of these models and am working to implement a third.  This post will share the structure of three models for targeted, small group, differentiated, professional development plan, for an individual building’s teaching staff.

My hope in sharing is there may be something that educators can take from this and apply to their work.  All of my colleagues already have thoughtful PD planned for their teaching staff throughout the year.  My goal isn’t to change that, but to float other ideas and plans out there which may impact their thinking.  I know all districts have different professional development calendars.  Principals have different amounts of independence in the PD they provide.  In some districts, a principal may have 100% discretion on the content of their staff meetings while in another, that may be entirely dictated by the district office. 

My hunch is that there are components of these models that you are already doing.  If you have ideas that could be added to my plans, please let me know!  Part of the purpose of my blog is to expand my professional learning network and learn from your ideas.  If you have questions regarding the logistics or implementation of these plans, feel free to let me know.

1. Plan #1 – My first attempt. Not perfect, a little simplistic, messy, but I knew that I had to start somewhere.

* I surveyed the staff to find the instructional areas in which they most wanted to grow.  Three areas stood out, the teacher as the facilitator of learning, adaptive schools collaborative strategies, and student talk.  I grouped individual teachers into one of those three categories.

* We had our instructional coach, the curriculum director, and myself each lead learning for a small group of teachers in and area they felt confident in leading.  In districts where those may not be options, I would choose teaching staff who volunteered to lead that learning.

* Each group chose a book, article, or author to anchor their work in.  Time was spent reading, researching, and discussing.  That allowed all group members to have a similar knowledge base regarding the content.

* I committed to using every other staff meeting or PD time to focus in their small groups.  There were other initiatives (building and district) that also required attention. Using at least half of our time was key as it would’ve been easy to push this aside completely.  The small group leaders planned reflected together. Information was shared between the 3 groups on a google doc.  We culminated the year by whole group sharing out during a final staff meeting.

* Staff feedback was that they appreciated the choice, ownership, and focus on their learning.  A challenge was getting a clear picture of what other groups were working on.

2. Plan #2 – A second year was more building-based and with greater consistency.  What was unique here is that we didn’t choose an instructional focus area.  Our goal was simply “supporting students to become better people.”

* We chose that building focus area based on instructional rounds data, teacher feedback, and some of my thinking.

* Staff received consistent feedback in this area during our three instructional rounds visits as well as teacher evaluation.  This allowed us to tie in school improvement pieces.

* I committed to devoting some amount of time (this varied from 10 minutes to 60 minutes) at each and every staff meeting to our building area of focus.

* About mid-year, we broke into small groupings to discuss, plan, and work towards our goal.  Those small groups were initiated based on teacher thinking.  Teachers led each of those small groups (positive behavior planning, student goal setting, lessons) as I worked with them to plan and develop pieces to support our goal.

* Staff appreciated having one primary focus for the entire building, but small groups branching off to work on specific pieces together.  Great collaboration and targeted work.  A challenge was not as much teacher choice or differentiation.

3. Plan #3This is where my passion, research, thinking, and most updated planning currently resides.  I’m excited about continuing to read, talk with colleagues, and refine this into something most impactful for teachers in the future.  This is a past blog post that conveys the main components of this plan that I hope to implement in the future.

https://andrewgsecor.com/2017/03/02/differentiated-pd-for-teachers-in-a-one-year-plan/

My purpose is simply to offer teachers an experience similar to what they provide students in the classroom.  I hope to offer them a choice in their learning, with strategies that fit their learning style, while ensuring that it is targeted and aligned to our focus as a school.

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I Can Help

Every once in a while, I stray from my normal topics of education and leadership.  Today is one of those days.  A few Sunday’s ago in church, a question was posed that I’ve been kicking around for the last couple weeks.

“From Where Will My Help Come?”

I know there are people who are out there who are suffering right now.  Some are probably even people that I know.  You likely know the quote, “everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”  I don’t want to go another minute without offering my help.  This post is as simple of a one as I will ever make.

That offer is extended to whoever may think they need it.  Whatever, whenever, however, for whatever reason, no questions asked.  I can help.  No judgment.  Listening, advice, coaching, intervention, you name it.  I may not be able to solve, make go away, or eliminate. But, I can help.  That doesn’t mean fix or solve, but to partner with you to offer support.

I’m not a doctor.  I’m not a counselor.  I’m not a psychiatrist.  I’m not a pastor.  I’m not a social worker.  I’m just a guy who cares.  Someone who has been through his fair share of adversity and believes part of the reason that happened was so that I could be put in a position to help others.  It doesn’t mean I can fix everything.  But everyone in a tough spot needs to take the first step and I’m willing to assist with that.  I can help.  My help might just be directing you to a support person.  Maybe it’s a pastor, a word of prayer with God, or even something you’ve never considered.  

Too many times I have seen people suffer.  Too many times I wondered if I’d have offered help or helped the situation, something bad could’ve been prevented.  Enough of that.  Enough of me thinking I’m not qualified to offer help.  If you are reading this and need help, let me know.  If you are reading this and know of someone who needs help, let me know.  I can help.

“From where will my help come?”  From me.  I can help.

 

 

 

 

 

Differentiated PD for Teachers in a One Year Plan

One of my passions and goals for improving in the future is the structure in which I plan for and implement professional development for teachers at our school.  By PD I mean staff meetings, data dialogues, early release times, etc.  I feel like the timing is perfect based on the implementation of new teacher evaluation laws, models, and plans. At times in the past, the instructional delivery and strategies I’ve used with staff have not matched what I expect out of them in the classroom, especially when it comes to whole group structure.  Sure, we break into small groups and I use Adaptive Schools strategies. But it’s not tailored to teacher needs as much as it should be and there is not enough teacher ownership.  While I’ve improved in this area, it has been a work in progress.  images.jpg

I had to think differently and rely less on past practice and more on what possibilities there were.  I told myself that this was the time to be innovative and creative.  Evaluation and staff meetings CAN go hand in hand, teachers CAN use those structures as a growth model, but it’s up to me to come up with an individualized plan. After working closely with the 5D+ model for a few years, great people at MASSP, talking with talented educators all over the state, and experimenting with different structures as a principal, I have what I think is a really good model moving forward.

Here is the model, with some brief details.  I will use 5D+ as the evaluation tool in this example, but I believe it could work with any of the models.  

  1. Self-Assess in 5D+Teacher completes a self-assessment to start the year
  1. Focus area/goal setting conversation in 5D+ with principalWith the self-assessment as an anchor, the teacher and building principal collaboratively decide upon areas of focus for the school year
  • At this time, the building principal would create small group cohorts, in collaboration with teaching staff, based on common focus areas.

      3. Fall “Lab Classroom” – To begin the learning in this area, the small group would observe this instructional practice in a classroom at their school hosted by a peer.  The principal would facilitate this process.  (more about lab classroom: http://bit.ly/1IT44sF)

  1. Small group reading, researching, learning in staff meetings and other PD – With support of the building principal, staff members read articles, watch videos, and research information regarding their topic that will support them as learners

 

  1. Mid-Year evaluation meeting with principal – Reflection on progress in the area of focus and supports/changes needed for the second half of the year
  1. Spring “Lab Classroom”A second opportunity to see a peer in your instructional focus area.  It could be the same classroom or a different one
  1. Tape a classroom video or host a peer visit in focus areaThis may be the biggest and most uncomfortable step for some.  This can happen with one partner and have no involvement from the building principal.  It is a way to show the application of all the learning from over the course of the year
  1. Reflective small group conversationThe group gets back together to share their learning over the course of the year and the impacts it has had on their practice and student learning
  1. End of the year meeting with principalSummary conversation regarding the area of focus, evidence of growth, and next steps

The emphasis of this model is on growth.  Growth through collaboration, transparency, small group and individualized learning, trust, feedback, teachers learning from teachers, research, application, and teacher ownership.  All of those components live in this plan.

I think the model can be duplicated in any school at any level. If you would like more detailed information or I can answer any questions, just let me know.  It’s a topic I’m passionate about and would love to share!

Often my blog posts say “consider this,” “think about this,” or “I have an idea.”  Not this time.  This is something I strongly believe you need to find a way to do.imgres.png

 

Something Education Could Improve

I’ve promoted public education on this blog, as well as my Facebook and Twitter pages.  I readily share articles such as this http://huff.to/2lcMg4G.  I am 100% sure of each and every reason that public education is better than it’s ever been and relish the opportunity to engage in a debate with others on that very topic.  However, the profession is far from perfect.

But creating, discussing, supporting, and implementing innovative ideas is not a strength of our profession.imgres.jpg

I believe there are 3 primary reasons why this is the case.

1. Lack of structure supporting innovation Networking across the country, state, districts, and even within districts is limited.  There are pockets.  You see collaborative groups at the ISD and in professional organizations such as MEMSPA and MASSP.  Twitter is an amazing place to form a professional learning network.  I’ve gained so much from all of those three structures.  However, it’s not very often that innovation is a topic.  I haven’t been in a lot of conversations about what is new, different, unique, and slightly risky that others are doing.  I’ve never been asked, “what are you doing in your school that no one else is doing?”  We are often talking about policies, teaching and learning, regulations, curriculum, evaluation, and other important topics.  I’m talking about brainstorming, building on the thinking of each other, and the creation of new and innovative ideas.  Happening, but limited.

2. Risk taking is not promoted – I have been so fortunate to work for great people during my time in education.  Great principals and mostly great superintendents.  They have shaped me into who I am, mentored me, and helped me to grow and improve as a leader. But even those fantastic educators didn’t often ask me to try something new, be cutting edge, or to think in a different way than I had thought in the past.  Since I have been an administrator, it has not been a strength of mine either.    

3. It’s not part of our fabricWith a good friend that works at Google and a brother in finance in Manhattan, I can safely say this is an area where we should follow the path of the business world.  Their livelihood is built on coming up with what is next before the company across the street does.  That innovation and creativity drive their business.  Yes, it’s comfortable to do things that have always worked.  If someone across the hall is using a certain strategy, we often use the same.  If the elementary school down the street has a certain method, the one we are using is probably similar.  Dave Burgess would say that educators have the inner spirit to innovate.  The desire to be the true educator we were meant to be.  However, we can be held back by how our peers perceive us.  Pockets of action research existing in a school is a good thing.  That doesn’t mean we throw out all that has made us successful.  That’s not the message at all.  The point is to keep doing those things while always pressing forward and creating what is next, and great, in education.

I feel like I can help with all 3 of those in my current role in education.  This is a new mission that I am on and hope others will join me.  It’s not about a shortage of talented educators with ideas.  We need to create the time and place to put talented educators into rooms for no other reason than to share innovative thinking and ideas to improve education.