Don’t Underestimate the Quiets

This past year I’ve engaged in frequent conversations with colleagues around the social continuum of extraversion-introversion and how it relates to our staff. Lately, I find myself apologizing for ignoring the needs of introverts in my life, especially teachers who may be overwhelmed by my extraversion. How many times have I barged into a teacher’s classroom at 7:30 in the morning wanting to banter about  the success of the Red Sox the previous night? Or perhaps I suddenly wanted to discuss some pedagogical issue without realizing that this introverted teacher just wants some peace and quiet in order to get ready for the day.

Three things I have learned about introversion which has helped me tremendously:

  • Introverts are not shy. They often just need an environment that is not too stimulating in order to be productive and happy.
  • Introverts receive energy more from within themselves then from outside sources such as this meddling but well intentioned Principal. 
  • A colleague told me recently that I like my job so much because I draw energy from other people – and clearly a school building full of hundreds of people has a copious amount of energy to give. But this is not true for all.

Every week I share both a professional article and a video as part of my blog to staff I call “The Sunday Blast”. The most popular video I’ve shared with my colleagues has been Susan Cain’s TED Talk on “The Power of Introverts” based on her best-selling book Quiet. Please take the time to view:

I’m convinced that an organization benefits from having both introverts and extraverts as part of its structure, especially in a collaborative environment where professional learning communities drive much of the decision making around students and the function of the school itself. I’ve been influenced greatly regarding this continuum by my friend, workshop-mate and self-proclaimed introvert Tony Baldasaro who has written about this topic in an article in Edutopia

As we reflect on the social factors inherent in our schools, we must be aware of the “Quiets” and the power they can bring to a staff. Most importantly, as I have learned, we must simply be aware that “Quiets” exist and their style needs to be honored and appreciated.

Is there a “Quiet” in your life that is misunderstood? Make it a goal to reach out to this colleague appropriately when school gets rolling again. 

9 Books for a Principal’s Summer Reading

 

Books

Summer is a time for reflection for the Principal. Yes, we work throughout the hot months, but the job during July and the first half of August is closer to 40 hours a week, not 70 or 75, and evenings are mostly ours. I have to use this time to catch up on professional reading. Partly for your reading pleasure and more for my own accountability, here’s what on tap for summer 2014:

Improbable Scholars by David Kirp.

This is a story of a school district in New Jersey that over time has done surprisingly well. We’ve heard this story before.  A poor district beating the odds and a researcher-writer (Kirp) coming in to document their success. Reviews are mixed on the book but it was highly recommended by NH Superintendents.

Five Levers to Improve Learning by Tony Frontier and James Rickabaugh

So many of us have been working hard for decades to improve schools and yet, data has shown little systemic growth nation-wide. The authors hope that the the simple adage that we need to work smarter not harder holds true. 

How Teachers Can Turn Data into Action by Daniel R. Venables

The author is a veteran of not just the data wars but also professional learning communities. Venables gives solid advice for teachers on dealing with a life awash with data.

Switch: How To Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

The Heath brothers explore the conflict in our minds between our rational and emotional minds. I started this book when it debuted but never finished it. It is a good companion to David Pink’s work.

The Handbook for Smart School Teams: Revitalizing Best Practices for Collaboration by Anne E. Conzemius and Jan O’Neill

This book riffs off the “SMART” acronym for data driven decision making. It is more of a handbook than a front to back read. 

RTI In the Early Grades by Chris Weber

Chris is a former Principal who understands elementary schools and Response to Intervention or (Instruction as we say in New Hampshire). He’s also part of the Dufour/Solution Tree/PLC cadre. 

Catching Up or Leading the Way by Yong Zhao

While slightly dated (2009) Zhao lays out his perspective that we may be emphasizing standards and standardized tests more than the skills we need to stay competitive in a changing world. Zhao is one of our field’s best thinkers and NHASCD is bringing him in to Concord, NH on April 3, 2015.

Digital Leadership by Eric Sheninger

Eric is everyone’s favorite digital Principal and no one is better known in this area.  Eric is also fortunate to have Yong Zhao compose the forward.

Pathways to the Common Core by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman

Calkins has been the most influential educator in the area of literacy, certainly in the Big Apple and perhaps throughout the country. This book was selected as last year’s #1 educational book on the New York Times Best Seller List. 

If you read any of these, would you please comment here or throw me an email? I’ll refer and review some of these titles in the Fall. I hope you’ll use the next two months to reflect and write about your learning. Read on.

Managing May Stress

Ogun

Taken by Bill: Ogunquit, Maine 5-25-14

Like many of you in education, I’m managing stress these days. I call this the Merry Month of May with my tongue firmly in my cheek. This month and into June, there is hiring to be finished, schedules to formulate, students and teachers to be placed, and more.

Keep in mind that stress is not a bad thing…if we didn’t have some stress, we would never get up in the morning, and I wouldn’t have cut my lawn today or taken out the trash. I am blessed to rarely get sick from stress, but man, I do get headaches – ask our school nurse. There is a certain level of physical affects that we accept from stress. It’s made more difficult for all of us due to the nature of our school calendar that contain moments of great relief and great pressure. But it’s important that we take the edge off our anxiety as much as possible.

Granted, I don’t have a clue about stress compared with many of my teachers who are raising small children or others who are taking care of elderly parents. I have neither. But I know that there are certain simple rules that apply to all of us. And there are no surprises here:

1. Get enough sleep. (Or as much as possible). I can’t think of anything more important. If I’m working on school stuff at night, I have to do something different for at least 30 minutes before bed. Lately, I’ve been watching old episodes of West Wing or reading something that’s non-education related in order to move my heart rate down and frankly, keep school thoughts out of my head. Otherwise, I’m thinking and planning at 11 PM instead of slowly getting into the REM cycle. Also…what are you eating and drinking right before bed? I can’t even touch caffeine or sugar within hours of bedtime. That will always keep me up.

2. Exercise. I have noticed that I am calmer and more focused on the evenings when I’ve been able to head to the gym before I head home. With the good weather, my wife and I (and whatever assorted child happens to be around) often go for a walk around the lake.

3. Having fun. There are many of my staff who care about me (thank you) and one mantra I hear loud and clear is the need for me to get away from the computer and simply do something fun. I am convinced that the mental diversion makes us so much more productive. We see it in our own students, don’t we?

Do you have any ideas? Love to share them while the merry month of May wraps up.

The Power of Quality Principals

 

Steve etc

 

The Queens University of Charlotte Educational Leadership Program has developed an interesting infographic that you can embed on your website and share with others. The collective information presents an optimistic view of Principals:

85% of teachers believe that their Principal is doing an excellent or “pretty good” job. 

That’s up 12 points from 1986. Part of this positivity may come from the fact that many school administrators are seen as supporting their teachers against the incursion of federal or state mandates, heavier standardized testing, and often Superintendents and School Boards that like to impose edicts that teachers consider inappropriate. 

For those Principals that are rated highly…

40% of teachers stated increased collaboration time and 42% stated greater opportuneness for professional development as reasons their Principals are “excellent”.

This is heartening as teacher collaboration and PD are two important factors in increasing student achievement over time. We know that the through research of Professional Learning Communities, the more that teachers remain connected, the greater students benefit. 

Effective Principals account for 25% of a school’s impact on student performance gains while teachers account for 33%.

It’s difficult to quantify a building administrator’s role in school improvement. But much has been written about the importance of Principal continuity. In this infographic it is stated that:

High achieving schools are 50% more likely to have the same Principal for six or more years. This is 71% more likely in high poverty schools.

Of course, the purpose of the Queens University work is to highlight not only the influence a Principal can have but to bring more into the field (and into their education leadership program). They claim that:

There will be nearly 90,000 Principal job openings by 2020 – that’s a 10% projected demand growth over 10 years. There are nearly nine applicants for every opening.

 

While our colleges and universities keep on turning out plenty of teachers, clearly more than our state can support, (especially in the elementary world), it is difficult to find qualified administrators from our pool of veteran teachers. As I consider a world without Bill Carozza as Principal in my school, nothing would please me more than to leave the building leadership in the hands of a Harold Martin colleague upon my departure. While I would never claim I work more hours than my teachers – check our parking lot on the weekends – it is a more scattered position with a crazy “variety” of tasks and responsibilities. Admittedly, the skill set is different than a classroom teacher’s but there are still an adequate supply of qualified candidates out there. It’s a matter of convincing educators that this is a viable and valuable job and perhaps…an adventure.  

Five Reasons Why NAEP is Still Relevant

Dc

I arrived in D.C. just in time for the Cherry Blossoms 

Recently, I was honored to be appointed to a national Principal’s Panel to look at the future development of The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), otherwise known as the Nation’s Report Card. Ten Principals from across the country met on April 12 at a downtown hotel on Capitol Hill and we were reacquainted with many details regarding NAEP. 

What is NAEP? 

It’s a national test given in all 50 states to random students in Grades 4, 8, and 12. There are a number of disciplines tested including math, reading, science, writing, the arts, civics, economics, geography, US history and beginning in 2014, technology and engineering literacy. Frankly, as expressed in my meeting, NAEP is a complicated venture. Click here to get the full scoop.

The US Department of Education, which is ultimately responsible for the assessment, is scrambling a bit as they are witnessing the advent of the Common Core State Standards, the closest thing we have had to a national curriculum, and the resulting Smarter Balanced or PARCC assessments that are now being piloted throughout the country for official implementation in the spring of 2015. 

Yet, NAEP is still relevant to students, educators, and parents:

1. NAEP is still a solid method to hold states accountable for their students’ academic progress.

The 2009 study of states and their cut points demonstrated a real discrepancy in how each state defines “proficient”. Certain states were performing much lower than others but this was not discovered until NAEP results were released. Kudos to the state of Tennessee, for example, for accepting the truth of the data and making changes. 

2. NAEP tests in areas other than ELA and math.

While NAEP will never be a tool to drive instruction for teachers or even give assessment guidance for schools or districts, it can provide data on non-Common Core (or Child Left Behind) subjects.

3. Common Core testing is “untested” while NAEP has existed since 1969.

Simply put, NAEP has longitudinal data for 45 years that is valuable in determining trends. 

4. NAEP makes it easy for your school.

While this may not last forever, the NAEP team currently brings in their own laptops (soon to be Windows tablets), sets everything up, administers the assessment, then breaks everything down and goes home. Outside of corralling the kids together and some scheduling, schools have to do very little work. All the while, they use an internal wifi network that will not tax your school’s technology. 

5. NAEP disseminates valuable educational and demographic information not found anywhere else.

Students and teachers fill out questionnaires that yield important information such as:

  • From students: demographic characteristics, experiences and support that exist in the classroom.
  • From teachers and administrators: training data, instructional practices, school policies, specific information from ELL or special education students.

I was encouraged by the professional and friendly nature of the USDOE staff. In a world where student assessment has perhaps taken up too high a percentage of student time (You don’t fatten the calf by weighing it), NAEP is one program that should continue.

From Old School To Bold School

9 Cs


A slide straight from Will Richardson’s  NHASCD workshop on  April 4, 2014

The ease of rhyme in Will Richardson’s workshop title (old to bold) doesn’t diminish the difficulty of Will’s challenge for all of us in education. In 2014, we are faced with pressures from many directions creating enormous inertia against doing the right thing. We live in a land of compromise where we have to be satisfied with partial wins. For example, Common Core is probably better than what we had for standards, but most of us aren’t crazy about the way it rolled out. And, isn’t it irritating how the educational behemoths are profiting from Common Core? We also know that poverty is still the greatest impediment in student achievement, but most of us feel powerless to influence the broken government to fix this. 

Will spoke last Friday as part of NHASCD’s workshop series in Concord, NH. He presented to his choir, a solid crowd indeed, but compared to more conventional speakers we have had such as Lucy Calkins and Grant Wiggins, it was disappointing more district leaders weren’t present. Meeting local, state, and federal requirements and staying out of trouble is a priority for all of us and boldness takes a back seat.

A major theme throughout the day was the traditional education that his two children are receiving, much to Will’s chagrin. (I wonder why he hasn’t considered taking them out of their school…which ironically is the one he used to teach at.) He was careful to not criticize the teachers themselves; in his estimation, it’s the system that is at fault. As he mentioned to me before the conference, it’s leadership that makes the difference in becoming bold. That’s just not happening where he is. 

Abundance

His simple but compelling argument is that due to “abundance” (see graphic above) we are faced with a new set of challenges:

Do we stick with the traditional areas of content, knowledge, and information or move forward to Will’s Big 9?

Creativity: The Common Core gets this. It’s no longer what we know, especially since information is almost entirely ubiquitous and nestled online. The goal for our students is to establish a routine of creation – the ability to make the world a better place because we have the skills to gather information and mold our content knowledge and skills into something constructive. Daniel Pink’s research also backs up the motivating nature of creativity. As he quotes from his book Drive:

“The ultimate freedom for creative groups is the freedom to experiment with new ideas. Some skeptics insist that innovation is expensive. In the long run, innovation is cheap. Mediocrity is expensive—and autonomy can be the antidote.”   Tom Kelley, General Manager, IDEO.

Critical Thinking: As an Elementary/Middle School teacher in the 80s and 90s, I heard critical thinking often as a goal for our students. I’m not sure how well we did it. Most of us still relied on lower levels of Bloom’s or Level 1 activities within Webb’s Depth of Knowledge as the common regimen. This has to finally change.

Collaboration: While infinitely more tiring and rarely more effective, a lecture or teacher-directed lesson is certainly safer and controlling for one’s classroom. But without collaboration with each other and on a variety of tools, we are cheating our students out of the skills they will need to be successful long after their P-12 experience is over. 

Communication: Web 2.0 has allowed this to be nearly immediate and pervasive. Our job is to guide our youngsters in communicating with the vastness of an abundant world. 

Computing: The days of having to write HTML code are gone. Yet, there are many computer skills students need despite their “digital native” status, including researching, parsing content, and ethical standards, those included within the NETS Standards for students

Connections: We worry about our children’s digital footprint, and rightly so. But as Wesley Fryer says, when it comes to the Internet, we simply have to teach kids “how to swim”. Being in the water can be deadly but with the proper training, swimming can be one of the healthiest activities we can engage in. Same with our technological resources. 

Continual Learning: Lots of lessons here. First, teachers have to be the lead learners and show that example to their students. Second, as Will often states, learning really happens 24/7. Here’s one of my favorite Richardson quotes I use in workshops all of the time:

“This is a very challenging moment for educators. Our children are headed for a much more networked existence, one that allows for learning to occur 24, 7, 365, one that renders physical space much less important for learning, one that will challenge the relevance of classrooms as currently envisioned, and one that challenges our roles as teachers and adult learners.” Will Richardson.

Change Mindset: Carol Dweck’s book Mindset quickly became a must read in the education field. Will we choose a fixed mindset or a growth mindset to rule our life? Clearly, a growth mindset allows us to take risks and embrace challenges

Curiosity: Will talks about our society’s adverse reaction to failure which often leads to a lack of curiosity. In his words:

Too few schools are incubators of curious and creative learners given their cultures of standardization, fear, and tradition. No doubt, external pressures exist that drive that culture. But if there ever was a time to shift gears, this is it. 

Overwhelmed yet? Will ended the workshop smartly with a call to all of us to start small and plan for whatever changes we can make fairly quickly in our classrooms, schools, and districts. Which of the Big 9 motivate you to change what’s happening in your educational world?

Using Omnifocus…but Be Careful Who’s Lurking

OF
 
 
OmniFocus’s iPhone interface
 
In an era of high expectations for all educators, having a handle on productivity is becoming increasingly critical. Balancing home and work responsibilities, managing emails, delegating tasks, planning projects, and not forgetting minutiae is immensely challenging.
 
Mostly out of necessity, I became a student of productivity. The job of Principal is not necessarily more difficult than other positions in our field but it is very scattered in terms of projects and to-dos. Years ago I looked toward technology as a way to cope with the ever increasing demands of the job. One of the linchpins of my workflow became OmniFocus (OF), a productivity management program – sort of a to-do list on steroids, and years ago I became a beta tester. OF is the leader in the field, one of the most expensive solutions, and it is only on the Mac platform and not web based. Thus, it has its limitations. However, after trying Things, Wunderlist, ToodleDo, Nozbe, and Remember the Milk, I settled on OF and I now use it on my MacBook Air, iPhone and iPad. In looking at my productivity tools over the last five years (and my blog post from 2-15-09), OF is only one of two apps that survived in my “Top 10”. 
 
In a future post, I will explain why OF is the best program for school administrators. In the meantime, one of the Internet’s primary proponents of OF is the two man productivity team at Asian Efficiency who expound on why they feel OF is the best program in its genre. My advice is to give one of the above mentioned programs a try and see your productivity increase or invest your money in OF. Also, check out my slides from last year’s presentation at IntegratED in Portland, Oregon on Productivity for School Leaders. 
 
As I was getting in the productivity weeds with a fellow OF user, we were surprised that the CEO of the Omni Group, Ken Case responded to our discussion as it got a tad critical:
 
Ken Case
 
You see, @felixc and I were whining a bit about the lack of a web interface and the time it is taking for OF2 to come out. To be sure, we are fanboys of OF, but one has to be careful.. the CEO may be lurking. 
 
Give your laptop, smartphone, and/or tablet a chance to make you more productive. Love to hear how it goes.