It brings everything into clearer focus and allows us to see the what’s really important through the noise. When someone is fighting for their life, someone you know and respect, the way they conduct themselves has a powerful effect on your own approach to life.
I am speaking of Rick Dufour, former Principal, Superintendent, and with his wife Becky, easily the foremost proponents of Professional Learning Communities and much of what makes up good practice in today’s educational research and practice. Like many of you, I’ve had the chance to spend time with the Dufours and I know not only their professionalism but the kindness they show toward all.
About a year ago in October 2014, Rick was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, though he had never smoked a cigarette in his life. In fact, Rick is generally a very healthy man; I remember seeing him early on the mornings of his conferences at the Grappone Center in Concord, New Hampshire in his workout clothes having just had a early morning run. But now, Rick is clearly running a race for his life. He is aggressively fighting to at least extend his life, even as he is praying for a cure.
I write about Rick because he has been documenting his travails on the well known blog Caring Bridge, a non-profit site that allows those with life threatening illnesses to articulate their thoughts. What he has to say about his wife, his illness, and the blessings he has received in his life, has to be read.
I first found out about his illness from his wife Becky after our NHASCD Executive Director Susan Copely wrote to her. This is from November 16, 2014:
Thanks for reaching out. Unfortunately, we are facing some big challenges. Rick was recently diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer…for a person who’s never smoked a day in his life, the diagnosis came as a complete shock to us and his doctors. We went to Sloan Kettering for surgery in early October, but they were unable to complete the surgery – the cancer had spread too far, but the spread had not been detected on previous CT & PET scans. Bottom line, Rick is still healing from the surgery and he started chemo on Friday. If you’d like to know more, you can register to receive email updates from Rick and me on the following site: http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/rickdufour/journal
Please give our best to the rest of the great folks at NHASCD,
Rick is actually doing quite well at the moment. He speaks and travels regularly, he still plays plenty of tennis, one of his favorite pastimes, and most of all, he is enjoying life with his “chemosabe” Becky.
Instead of quoting Rick’s words from the blog, I encourage you to register at Rick’s site and you’ll have a chance to read some of the most poignant words you’ve read in a long time.
It was painfully obvious as I talked with Kindergarten students that they already had an impression of the Principal on the second day of school. I did not even know their names yet. I’ve had no chance to interact with them. Yet, they saw me as the man they don’t want to see. The old stereotypes remained. As long as they were good boys and girls, they wouldn’t be seeing the Principal in his nefarious office.
I should be used to this by now, but it occurred to me that they were taught this ahead of time perhaps by parents, the media, legend, or older siblings. How do I want to be seen by the students?
- As an adult who is always there to help and cares. I may not be able to solve every problem but I know where the resources are. I’m a good listener and while far from perfect, I know school is not easy for many students. I hope a smile and friendly face can help change a day for a student in a bad place. I also show that I care about students by challenging them to think deeply and persevere in their quest for learning and growing skills.
- As a teacher. When a student does make a poor behavioral choice, it gives me the opportunity to teach them a better route to travel. I can also teach students that controlling the center of the chess board from the beginning of the game often leads to victory.
- As a person who loves to learn. In my words and actions, I need to display that I love to read, play with math, research, and use technology to solve problems. I’m not an ogre on the one hand or a playful clown on the other. Our primary pursuit in schools is academic and I need to model how enjoyable learning really is.
I am heartened by the knowledge that most students will have a different impression of me and their future school administrators after a year or two of knowing me.
I have just three bullets up top…can you add to the list?
I have been blessed to have many opportunities to learn from colleagues throughout the country. Last week I concluded the latest meeting of the standing committee of Principals for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). In the midst of numerous assessments impacting our schools, NAEP is one of the oldest and most respected, having begun in 1969. It is the only nationwide assessment sponsored by our government and funded by our tax dollars. I wrote more about NAEP after my first committee meeting in April 2014.
NAEP is working hard to stay relevant especially in the midst of an information world that is rapidly changing. While educators have been able to access national educational statistics from NCES for many years, our current thinking is that developing mobile apps might be useful.
Consider these numbers on the growth of mobile use.
- In 2007, there were 400 million global mobile users compared to 1.1 billion desktop users.
- In 2013, the lines intersected.
- In 2015, mobile users far outpaced desktop users.
Our Internet habits have been reshaped to reflect what I call the couch effect. Scores of us utilize relaxation time to browse on our smartphones or tablets, often in conjunction with other media and sometimes in the presence of family and friends. For example, sports fans often use their devices in conjunction with game watching to enhance the experience with sports data and gain commentary from fans and experts on social media. This year I grabbed my iPhone a number of times to call up my Twitter feed and gain the latest information on a Red Sox injury I just witnessed on the tube.
Granted, anyone interested in how New Hampshire Asian boys scored on NAEP compared with African-American girls in New York would certainly qualify as a full fledged educational geek. But if the app could highlight facts that really could change practice, much like NEAP’s Twitter feed, perhaps these national education statistics might prove useful.
If a NAEP app was developed for educators, what would you like to see as major features?
While on a much needed vacation yesterday in Vermont, the discussion at lunch with one of my nephews centered on the dual role any leader has in keeping the “trains running on time” and finding the time and energy to move the vision forward simultaneously.
Excellent leaders can do both but too many of us lean heavily on the managerial side of our jobs. Why is that? The train schedule is relatively fixed and solutions to trains being late are not usually complex. We can check off many managerial tasks quickly and we know the satisfying feeling one has by checking off to-dos.
On the other hand, non-managerial tasks are usually significantly more elaborate in scope and more indeterminent to complete. Often a leader has to rally colleagues while dipping into vision related undertakings and as such, there is greater risk.
Early on in my administrative career I was introduced to the Knoster Change Model which was first introduced at a TASH conference in 1991. It’s been resurrected as an important leadership document in our district recently:
Knoster’s premise is that the six categories of Vision, Consensus, Skills, Incentives, Resources, and Action Plan all need to be present in order for complex change to occur successfully. Perhaps most interesting is his speculation (column far right) of the change result if one of the categories is not present during the process.
CONFUSION RESULTING FROM A LACK OF VISION
This is so typical in schools. Hard working leaders want to implement programs and change the world. But the staff does not understand why they are pushing forward without vision.
SABOTAGE RESULTING FROM A LACK OF CONSENSUS
A leader cannot assume they have the power to push through change without gaining a consensus of their faculty. This does not mean 100% approval of course…it does mean setting the vision strongly enough and having enough hallway and informal conversations to win hearts and change minds.
ANXIETY RESULTING FROM A LACK OF SKILL DEVELOPMENT
Imagine being thrown into an athletic competition without having the skills to compete. You may have a vision for what brought you to the game and the resources to place you squarely in the contest. But without having developed the necessary skills you will be wrapped in anxiety and your performance will suffer. An abundance of anxiety is a certain method of crashing an initiative.
RESISTANCE RESULTING FROM A LACK OF INCENTIVE
A lack of incentive is a tricky concept. Surely the groundbreaking work of Daniel Pink and his book Drive highlights the inadequacy of monetary incentives. While we can’t be sure exactly what Knoster was thinking, I would surmise that without the promise of a healthy level of self-determination as an incentive for change, teachers will resist.
FRUSTRATION RESULTING FROM A LACK OF RESOURCES
A lack of resources is not just change on a shoe-string budget. Not creating time to work on complex change can be equally challenging.
RUNNING THE TREADMILL AS A RESULT OF NO ACTION PLAN
Great leadership energy, gobs of money, and a supurb vision is not enough without a cogent action plan that is shared with all and easily understood.
Have any of you implemented the Knoster model to any degree of fidelity? Love to hear your comments.
Clapping the kids out on the last day of school
Summer is a bonus for school administrators. We are given the gift of time to accomplish tasks that simply cannot be completed during the school year commotion. But with adrenaline flowing out of our bodies by the end of June, we have to be careful to make the most of our more flexible time. Here are 10 tips to best use the summer months:
I encourage teachers to find time after a lesson or when the day is done to take 15 minutes and reflect. What worked in my lessons and what would I change? Sadly, I rarely find time myself to meditate on the value of what I accomplished during a day, but I can use the summer to reflect. As one way to reflect, I would encourage you to develop a blog for the first time. I have some hints for you on finding time to blog, 5 ways to increase hits on your blog posts, and 5 reasons educators should blog.
2. Become Paperless
I went nearly 100% digital a few years ago and this was an organizational game changer. To have every document I need at my fingertips via Evernote on the web, laptop, tablet, and smartphone, is not only peace of mind but pushes me into a higher level of productivity. I have scores of examples just in the last week…just yesterday, the Fire Chief was in to do the annual inspection. The Department recently moved their offices and he could not find last year’s inspection document. It took me less than a minute to call up the doc and print it out. Here are some of my previous thoughts on going paperless.
How many professional books, magazines, or digital books do you have stacked on your nightstand waiting to be consumed? Once the day is done at 5 PM, assuming you do not have a night meeting, how many of us (after checking email and planning for the following day) have time to read? But, we do have time in the summer if we can remain disciplined. We need to read in order to reflect. We have to feed our intellect as change will not happen in our schools unless we add substance to our own vision. We can’t possibly grow the vision of our schools without formulating the vision first in our own spirit. As food nourishes our body, the printed word nurtures our understanding. It’s a year old, but this is an example of my professional reading from last year.
Given the hectic nature of our jobs, it is critical that we develop a work flow for efficiency. Summer is the best time to develop good productivity habits. The best known productivity expert at the moment is David Allen, the creator of Getting Things Done (GTD). The philosophy is supported by strong task management tasks such as Omnifocus, Remember the Milk, or Evernote. In fact, you can check out my workshop resources on Evernote, here.
5. Review of Data
Summer is the time to review a year’s worth of academic data. Perhaps even more crucial is developing a solid system on how to collect and warehouse the data you collect so that it can be easily accessed by teachers and data teams. We developed a tool using Google Docs we call the Kid Grid which allows us to share data on all students with just the right educators. Our PLC leaders can add and sort data easily with this method.
6. Meet with Staff
As part of our teacher’s CBA in my district, teachers are required to spend a day in the summer planning their professional learning for the upcoming school year as well as meet with their Principal. This is the perfect time to talk informally about the year to come as well as reflect on the year past.
7. Inspect Your School for Safety
There are certain late afternoon days in the summer when I’ll wander the building alone and view things I won’t normally notice in the heat of the school year. Yesterday I wanted to ensure that all of our downstairs windows had pull down shades for safety purposes in a lockdown. I’ll look for egress issues around doors and of course, I’ll check the playground equipment for obvious problems. It was a summer day years ago that I decided to plan a few minutes a day during the school year to walk the perimeter of the building, ensuring that each door is locked and observe anything out of place.
8. Hone Your Communications System
Is anything more important for success than how effectively we communicate with our staff and the community? Summer is the time to adjust the web site, your parent email list procedure, and your regular communication with the staff. It was in the summertime years ago when I developed the Sunday Blast, a weekly blog post to my staff.
9. Reconnect with Your Administrative Colleagues
While your teacher colleagues are in and out of your building, your fellow district administrators share your summer schedule. Reach out to have lunch with them and discuss the issues you didn’t have time to chat about during the school year.
Vacation doesn’t just mean working from home or even taking day trips. If at all possible, clearing the mind might mean getting away from anyone who knows you outside of your family. It is also crucial to reconnect with the family that supports your crazy schedule for 9-10 months during the year.
I’m sure you can add to this list. Any other summer tips?
Last night I attended the New Hampshire Excellence in Education Awards, known informally as the “EDies”. The event is corporately sponsored by McDonalds and various educational companies, while co-sponsored by our local colleges and universities and our state’s professional organizations (such as NHASCD). These diverse organizations pick yearly winners to represent the “best” in our field. We pack a very large room at the largest hotel in Southern New Hampshire, have a great dinner, and we listen to short speeches delivered by nervous educators. The event’s Master of Ceremonies is Fred Bramante, a well known former Chair of the State Board of Education, successful entrepreneur, and one-time candidate for Governor.
Not everyone is comfortable accepting recognition as our field generally transcends individual feats. While popular media loves to exalt the omnipotent teacher (Mr. Holland’s Opus, Dead Poet’s Society, Stand and Deliver) or the uber-dedicated and absurdly tough Principal (Lean on Me, The Principal), the reality is that our field is primarily a team sport. When we accept accolades we can picture scores of educators who are easily equal to our accomplishments.
On a national level, the Bammy Awards have been recently created to identify and acknowledge “the extraordinary work being done across the entire education field every day”. Since the nominating and voting is completed online, the early winners were a list of educators with Twitter followers above 10,000 . But the governing board and intent and purpose appear pure, so I hold out hope that the Bammys will celebrate in the proper way as the years continue. The greatest danger is that we create rock stars of our teachers and administrators.
Nearly 10 years ago Rick and Becky Dufour and colleagues wrote in Learning By Doing that we should make…
“regular public recognition of specific collaborative efforts, accomplished tasks, achieved goals, team learning, continuous improvement, and support for student learning remind staff of their collective commitment…”
They also emphasized that celebrating as a team is invaluable as anyone who has played a team sport knows:
“Make teams the focus of recognition and celebration. Take every opportunity to acknowledge the efforts and accomplishments of teams.” (Dufour, Dufour, Eaker, Many 2006.)
So, let’s continue the awards. The recognition is good for our profession and is likely to spread good will for all of us. But the more we celebrate our local successes, the stronger our schools become, especially when we celebrate as a team.
I am saddened to hear tonight of the passing of the inimitable Grant Wiggins, which occurred yesterday according to tweets from his wife and daughter as well as from this post from ASCD.
Grant is one of the most influential educators I have learned from in my 30 year career. I had the honor of meeting him a number of times in my involvement with NHASCD as we brought him in as a speaker often through the years. Of course, he is best known as the author of Understanding My Design with his good friend and colleague Jay McTighe. But he was also an expert on assessment as his book Educative Assessment changed the way many of us looked at formative assessment.
Despite being a modern day John Dewey for many of us, he was always kind and considerate, never leaning on his renown. Every learner in his workshops was equally important. At our conferences he willingly took his lunchtime to dine with our NHASCD Student Chapter pre-service teachers. When I interviewed him for our newsletter or simply chatted during a break, he would speak more about his son’s rock band and what guitars Grant himself loved to play. I think he was more excited about his own band (and his son’s) than even his educational work.
He and Jay moved easily with the times. Grant was able to integrate the great work of UbD and link it with the advent of the Common Core State Standards without missing a beat…and without it appearing that he was simply profiting on trends. Their book Schooling By Design took the ideas of UbD and applied them to a school or district curriculum model.
Lately, his blog became a major mouthpiece for his views. His last post from May 25 (just two days before his death) was a response to a Washington Post article on reading comprehension which he disagreed with. In typical Grant fashion, he always did extensive research before writing.
Recently I had a conversation over dinner with fellow NHASCD Board Member and QED Foundation‘s Kim Carter all about Grant’s contribution to our own careers. We talked about how practical his work was while maintaining a theoretical base and legitimacy. While Grant could be esoteric, he was always a teacher first and laser focused on improving instruction.
We’re going to miss you Grant.
The view from Great Bay, Seacoast New Hampshire – my hike this weekend
Yesterday was a rare day for me. I did less than one hour of “work” and spent much of my day engaged in relaxing activities and enjoying my family. I must confess that I love Memorial Day weekend, mostly from my memories of my father and appreciation for him and the millions of other men and women who fought for our freedom. But I also love the ability to stay up late on Sunday night, knowing that I can sleep in on Monday.
But like most educators, the month of May is a bit like the weeks before April 15 for accountants. Today I have 22 projects listed on my Omnifocus task management program and about 57 to-dos listed for the month of May and June is only a week away.
My reflection on wellness yesterday began with my participation in a research study by my colleague Dr. Kathleen Norris of Plymouth State University. A former Principal herself and now Associate Professor of Educational Leadership, Learning and Curriculum at PSU, Kathleen designed a thoughtful survey and sent it to current Principals, asking us to reflect on the status of our wellness. There were the usual statistical questions in order to desegregate the data, but there were many questions that probed my own level of wellness and the need to support the wellness of those I work with.
Thoughts on wellness:
- There has to be a limit on hours worked before there’s diminishing returns on productivity. Finding that sweet spot has to be a priority for me.
- I have to model wellness. Carrying the Diet Coke from meeting to meeting isn’t a good image. I need to encourage staff to eat well, exercise, and reach out when stress reaches a breaking point.
- It’s easy for me to justify not going to the gym since this month is so busy. But I have to remember that there are short term gains for exercise in the release of endorphins and reduction of stress. It’s all likely to make everything more productive.
The question is if I will heed my own advice. Be well my friends, in this merry month of May.
Courtesy of DZI Foundation (https://dzi.org/)
How different can two lives be while existing on this same earth? Today, while working from home during spring break, I wrote up a teacher observation, added pictures to our school website and answered a ton of email. In the late afternoon, my wife and I strolled around the lake across the street. As I’m starting this blog post, I’m watching the Red Sox and posting pictures of our family trip to the Sox Open House at Fenway Park on Flickr and Facebook.
Meanwhile, tonight there’s a middle aged father in Kathmandu, Nepal escorting his family to the nearest green area away from his home. He wants to avoid any danger from aftershocks. His home is still standing but there are structural cracks due to the recent earthquake. His son, daughter, and wife are hoping for dinner but there’s little food to be found. There’s an overwhelming sense of sadness due to their friends that have died, the historical sites downtown that are demolished and the lack of hope for the future.
Fortunately, there are heroes lending a hand in Nepal including Ben Ayers, the son of my former Superintendent, Dick Ayers. Knowing Ben works in Nepal, I immediately emailed Dick after the earthquake and he replied:
How nice to hear from you and for your thoughtful concern about Ben. Ben is still in Nepal with DZI Foundation and is OK. He is fortunate that all those who with with him are not injured as well although they have had considerable damage to their homes.
In fact, one of my colleagues found this article about Ben, essentially an interview with him about the conditions in Nepal right after the quake.
Ben is the director of the DZI Foundation, an organization working to improve conditions in Nepal. This is an organization you should feel comfortable donating to, and you can do so by clicking on this link. Please help.
Nothing has changed more in our field than the way we assess students in our public schools. Intuition ruled the day back in the 80s when I began in education. We relied largely on our own instincts (which were generally pretty accurate) but we had little quantitative data to back things up. We may have relied more on qualitative data, a trend that we may be losing sight of in modern times. Now…we have numbers. Lots of them.
Sue Brookheart, who has written often on assessment for ASCD, presented this morning on “Different Kinds of Data” at the ASCD Annual Conference in Houston. I just tweeted my notes from the session…(and already 47 people are viewing them). Side note-the growth of positive social media in the years at the Annual ASCD Conference is really amazing.
- With so many assessments, we have to categorize what we do in order to realize the purpose of each assessment. (See graphic above).
- We cannot use our current interim assessments as both formative and summative. Let each category rule the day and serve its own purpose.
- Interim assessments can’t only be used to determine if a student can read or complete basic math…our intuition already tells us that. We have to be committed to using these assessments to disaggregate to sub-skills and determine the real cause behind a lack of progress in a particular area.
- Be very careful with cut points and what is truly proficient or not. Or…let’s not take numbers at face value. This is cliche, but how often in our rush do we not analyze data enough before we use that data to change a child’s instructional program?