In Need of Wellness

 

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 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.

Nepal Needs Help

 

Nepal

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.

Different Kinds of Data

 

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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.

Major takeaways:

  • 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?

Blogging and Tweeting from the ASCD Annual Conference 2015

 

Houston ASCD

After a crazy winter in New England, Houston green looks great.  

I’ve been blessed to attend the ASCD National Convention nearly every year since 1996 thanks to my school districts and NHASCD who have supported me greatly through the years… and of course, my wonderful family who bids farewell for a few days every March. I am here in Houston for the 2015 Conference and starting this post on the shuttle bus at 6:45 AM on Saturday the 21st. 

As it is truly an honor to attend the Convention annually, I like to give back as much as I can. I’ll be live tweeting (@wcarozza and @nhascd) and blogging.  I’ll share notes of great sessions when I can and tweet out the link. I’d love to communicate with you via blog comments or Twitter during or after the conference. 

In the meantime, don’t forget about what our local NHASCD Affiliate can offer. We have Yong Zhao (who is speaking here in Houston) coming to the Grappone Center in Concord, NH on April 3. He is a rock star in our field. Love to see you there…and hey, you don’t have to travel to Houston to see him!

The Facebook Quandary

 

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A couple of weeks ago I received a post on my Facebook timeline from one of my mother’s good friends back in St. Louis. She was sending along best wishes given the crazy amount of snow we’ve received in a very short period of time. Now, my mother has been gone for two and a half decades and I still miss her greatly, so it’s heartwarming that her friend still thinks of me. It’s wonderful to see the friend’s name on my alerts as it reminds me of the 60s and 70s with my Mom. 

There’s much to like about Facebook, still the king of social media. In addition to joyful reminders of days gone by, I am friends with scores of former students from my classroom days and I get to pore over their joys and successes and read their accounts of what they remember from my classroom long ago. (Now there’s probably a research project there.) On Facebook I see vacation pictures of family members and close friends while laughing at the latest exploits of my Goddaughter as she navigates the world of toddler-hood. 

But there’s some silly stuff too.  My calendar is set to document the birthdays of all of my 460 Facebook “friends” and I often receive notices of many whom I have never heard of. Of course, why are they my “friends” anyway? I must have confirmed their “friendship” at some point. 

There’s also plenty of unsettling pieces of Facebook. There’s criticism of people I care about on Facebook by persons with little knowledge of the facts. There’s post by “friends” of mind that have alarming points of view that I don’t want to be associated with. 

It really is a quandary. Your thoughts?

Yong Zhao Coming to NH on April 3

 

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We live in an age of “Getting Things Done”, which is actually a philosophy espoused by productivity guru David Allen. Just in the last three days on this “Winter Vacation”, I have prepared for the Smarter Balanced assessment by watching a multi-hour webinar, planned for an upcoming district workshop surrounding the Common Core, and prepared for a School Board presentation on data use in Hopkinton.

I haven’t had time to think deeply about the road we’re traveling in our field, although I have the words of an old friend and fellow administrator who wrote in an email this week: “the SBA (Smarter Balanced Assessment) is scary inappropriate for young kids… we have lost our way…just one man’s humble opinion.”

School administrators…we tend to be good “guys” who don’t rock the boat too much and want the best for everyone. We think out of the box when we can while staying cautious enough to follow the directives of our superiors and our federal and state departments of education. But I would encourage you to take at least one day out of your routine and the preparation for the SBA and everything else that may be necessary but not necessarily fruitful. 

We are fortunate that Yong Zhao is flying across our continent to be with us in New Hampshire on Friday, April 3, 2015, 9 AM at the Grappone Center in Concord, NH. Zhao has a perspective that almost no one has, certainly in our area. He was born, as he says, in “one of the most ordinary villages in China”. His boyhood country does score the highest on international assessments such as the PISA. Yet, Zhao admits that while the authoritarian educational system in Shanghai may support high test scores, it does not generate a culture of innovation, critical thinking and creativity in their schools. He is wary that the US is heading down the same road. 

“The education we need is actually quite simply “follow the child.” We need an education that enhances individual strengths, follows children’s passions and fosters their social-emotional development. We do not need an authoritarian education that aims to fix children’s deficits according to externally prescribed standards.” (http://nyti.ms/1Gwdp6Q)

To register for the conference, head to the NHASCD website. I look forward to seeing you on April 3 for a chance to think big and care about the future as much as we care about the details of the present. 

Tough Conversations

 

Tough conversations

  

A teacher who has known me for many years, knows that I appreciate my job because of the energy I receive every day from teachers and students. Yes, Sunday night is not always easy on the soul but once I’m in the building on Monday morning, all is well. I avoid my office as much as possible during school time and work the job in classrooms and hallways. 

It doesn’t hurt my allegiance to the job that many members of our staff have been together for years and those that have been recently hired have melded in nicely with the family. Truly, it is all about relationships. 

Yet, in our job as building administrators, there are times when we can’t avoid the tough conversations. Good people make mistakes. Conflict can happen when perspective and personalities collide. That’s the time the Principal needs to step in and take the conflict head on. Rick Dufour has stated that Principals should confront those individuals who are not committed to the values of their team or professional learning community:

They are willing to use their authority to break down the walls of educator isolation and create new norms of collaboration and collective responsibility for student learning.

But when you’re in the midst of the conflict with people you care about, having tough conversations is one of the hardest parts of the job. I have not always done it well, but here are some things I’ve learned:

1. Eat the frog

Productivity expert Brian Tracy says that we should tackle our most difficult and important task first thing every morning. The concept is that if we can “eat the frog”, everything else will seem easy. Don’t wait for the day to go by. Procrastinating may result in your “deciding” not to tackle the issue at all. And, the conflict may fester if you wait too long to intervene. 

2. Prepare for results

I prepare bullet points for every tough conversation I have in person or on the phone. There is a natural tendency to lighten the exchange with your colleague so if you don’t plan for the result you want, you simply won’t get there.

3. Lead with the punchline 

The tendency is to begin a difficult chat with small talk to lighten the load. Writing in the Harvard Business ReviewPeter Bregman suggests that leading with the tough news will ensure that the recipient will hear the constructive criticism with clarity. 

4. Listen as much as you can

If you want the colleague to change a habit or behavior and be personally reflective, they need to know that you care about their improvement. Validate whatever response they may have…if it’s valid of course. But listen either way. 

5. Take good notes. 

A tough conversation might take unexpected twists and turns. Be sure that the meeting is documented accurately.

6. Follow up (both right after and set date for next meeting)

Long term success is based on at least a second follow-up meeting to reinforce your message. Set a date for that meeting before the first meeting is complete.  

7. Assume good intentions

Most people want to do well at their job and truly care about professionalism. Let good intentions be the default unless you know otherwise.

 

There is great satisfaction in caring boldness and seeing progress as the result of these tough conversations.