November 8, 2018

So you want to be an admin...the Principal's Perspective

I asked my good friend Thomas Fuhrman to provide the insight of a current principal on what it is like on that journey towards becoming an administrator. Thomas looks into personal experience and relates it to YOUR future journey. This is definitely worthwhile for aspiring admins as well as the veteran.

Enjoy!

MS


Why? Sharing and Caring

When posed with the notion that others want to be education administrators and Mick Shuran’s prompting to share something on the topic, three major ideas popped into my mind about my journey to this role and decision to persevere in it.

Why?
For every person who anticipates or even aspires to be in educational administration, I would pose the quick response for which Simon Sinek has become such a spokesperson lately: 




However, I would pose the question in a mirror to mirror sense that must continually look at the image reflected to determine the “why” underlying the “why.” Think of the child who inquisitively and perhaps somewhat obnoxiously fires a barrage of “whys” in an adult’s direction, seeking multiple layers of justification for some inquiry. In other words, the conversation may begin, “Why do you want to be a principal?” to which the person responds, “I want to make a difference.” The next question might be, “Why do you want to make a difference?” To which the person responds, “I remember what an impact my high school principal made on me.” Again, the question leads to, “Why did that principal’s model matter?” Certainly, this could go on and on until it seems to lead away from one’s central purpose or reason for the aspiration, but it is critically important to establish the “why” so that it can overcome the “hows” and “whats” that will inevitably pose seemingly insurmountable challenges without a clear sense of “why.” Furthermore, if you can’t find your “why,” you will continually struggle to bring others to a sense of “why” to which they can subscribe with your leadership. Furthermore, there is a clear difference between wavering in one’s conviction and changing one’s perspective. If your “why” changes, make sure that it is led by conviction, not by political agendas or influences that lead you away from the heart of your initial purpose.

My “why” begins with a purpose greater than my own, a purpose driven by my faith in Jesus Christ and God’s will for my life to be involved in the lives of others as a servant. As I was serving in the capacity of high school English teacher in a school and position that I loved, I realized that I desired to have an impact on children’s lives when they were younger. I prayed that God would somehow answer this prayer, and within a month, I was responding to a tweet seeking an elementary school principal.


I knew that this and the resulting position were an answer to prayer, and my “why” was reinforced. Though I have been in other principal roles since taking this initial principal position, I have continued to hold onto the “why” that first catapulted me into education administration. I like to hold the mirror of meaning before myself frequently to learn a continually deeper “why” which evolves each day with the realization of greater purpose that God has for me. This keeps me in humble recognition that though the waves of education may come crashing upon me, I can ride them without a sense of overwhelming failure even when they crash on my plans or ideas. Within this vein, it is important to me that I fill “the right role” for which I am appointed, not just “any” principal position. My “why” is grounded in my being the right “fit” as a school leader for the school where I am supposed to be, not just the qualified candidate for some school somewhere.

As a caveat, if your “why” includes any of the following, I would discourage you from considering or continuing your path towards educational administration:

-        A cozier, more commodious office
-        Greater sense of authority over others
-        The opportunity to fix everything that is wrong with education
-        Less concern over specific students by removing yourself from the classroom
-        Popularity as a school leader
-        A higher salary without additional time commitments

I would like to reinforce that each of these delusions of grandeur sometimes associated with educational administration has the wrong motives associated with it for leadership, and each further reveals unrealistic expectations that are too often a general caricature of principalship in our popular entertainment media which is far from the reality of daily life as a school administrator, expectations for self-focus rather than school community focus. 

Rather than dealing with each of these individually or other related, misaligned myths about principalship, consider the other two words that have become the essential “hows” for the “why” that makes a difference in the lives of a school community.

How? Sharing
Especially notable in the expectations for Tennessee educational administrators is the mention of “shared leadership.” Though some may have experienced or even admired seemingly autocratic rule by principals in the past, this is neither the norm nor the desired leadership model for an educational administrator today. Sharing leadership requires some very vulnerable practices, namely seeking authentic feedback and trusting others to act in accordance with a unified “why.” It requires the patience that not all leadership operates on a continuum that brings forth expected outcomes within anticipated timelines. Sharing leadership means not only sharing responsibilities but also sharing accountability for some actions for which you aren’t directly involved, but for which your school family is. Sharing requires us to consider other perspectives before forming our own, sharing experiences with others in order to better empathize with their respective perspectives. Sharing, in short, requires humility, whether intentionally sought after or brought upon by the conditions of situations common to complex relationships among school family members. It is imperative that one is prepared to be humble in circumstances in which integrity is the greatest goal and that everyone should have an opportunity to play a part.

One of the most significant features of sharing (in terms of leadership and responsibility) for me is a release of the burden of always having to be right (or assumed so). Many seek leadership to have the answers that they don’t have, and fairly enough, when the answers aren’t correct or problems can’t be solved, the leaders face the greatest scrutiny. By surrounding myself with innovative people and problem solvers, I can share in the struggle to solve the inevitable problems and face adversity with resources well beyond what are in my toolbox. Sharing is not only the right thing to do; it is imperative to the healthy functioning of a school. In every principal role I have held, I have relied on an amazing cast of characters around me who demonstrate amazing ingenuity in areas in which I am an utter buffoon. In the Shakespearean play As You Like It, Jaques reminds us that “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.” Without tapping into their expertise and experiences, I could never
accomplish what too often is attributed to me. If you struggle with sharing, know that going into
school administration, and be ready to learn how, or know that you won’t be a good fit as a
school administrator. In short, be ready to play “many parts” and play the supporting role just as
often as the leading role.

How? Caring
Sharing can’t happen without a profound commitment to caring. At my current school, we commit to the motto: “Let’s prove we care!” We don’t want to merely pay lip service to caring, but we want to be held accountable to “proving” that we care. Caring is expressed in learning student and family names and greeting them daily with a smile, in preparing lessons that engage and enrich students’ education, and in follow-up calls to parents and school community partners to come up with creative solutions to life’s difficult situations. This year, we have expressed our school philosophy in the following (included in our student handbook):

We care about…

Safety. It is critical to a child’s learning that he or she feels safe at school.

Wellness. Health and physical fitness significantly impact children’s development.

Attendance. Students need consistency in their routines and progression of learning.

Academics. Developing academic skills  and critical thinking drives lifelong learning.

Character. Students should make informed choices and respect one another.

Equity. ALL students should be supported based on their respective individual needs.

Opportunity. Students benefit from multiple diverse experiences.


Caring often means sacrificing comfortable conditions for the sake of constructive solutions. Mantras without action are moot and generally turn one into a figurehead without substance; I have found that part of caring as a principal is investing in one’s school, investing time and money, yes, but also investing one’s energy and attention to listen, to respond, and to admit when I am wrong. Caring is validating others’ perspectives and seeking opportunities to empathize when doing so is possible and sincerely understanding when empathy is beyond my capacity. I can’t relate to everyone’s exact situation, but by caring, I can enter into a relationship in which I am willing to listen and understand before responding.

Caring ultimately means persevering through challenges and setting goals to improve situations for all students and families. This is exhausting work, and I am far from meeting the expectations I have set for myself in this area, but I want to continually act with integrity to always empower our JWES family. Caring also means recognizing when to exercise your sense of humor to reduce tension in a situation or to act with grave concern to be sensitive to the serious nature of someone’s tragedy or loss. Caring means taking a pie in the face when a child works exceptionally hard at a fundraiser to raise funds for the school. Caring means holding back tears when meeting with a colleague when his or her tears are too much to bear or crying along with him or her because you know just how he or she feels. Caring means running a mile with students while wearing a mascot costume to encourage the students at the back to keep going. Caring means commitment and longsuffering. I don’t want to live in the past or the future, but I want to consider both in helping those around me to grow and achieve more every day. Caring is intimately woven into my “why,” and I can’t imagine any significant meaning in my role without it. Caring can’t happen effectively without the concerted efforts of those around us committed it, and caring is far less likely to happen if it isn’t embraced, encouraged, and perpetuated by school leadership.

The Journey
My journey as a school administrator is an ever-changing puzzle of acronyms, legislative actions, curricular adjustments, and various other commonly identified features on the edges; however, the central pieces of the puzzle are people and the relationships that form the basis for my “why”: sharing in the journey of educating our youth and families through loving and caring relationships which never neglect the potential that we all have to contribute to our world. I encourage others to think about why you are starting your administrator journey before ever jumping into the driver’s seat, to be ready to respond to navigation along the route, and to change direction, as long as it allows you to arrive at your intended destination with your invaluable passengers. Also, be willing to allow other qualified passengers to spend some time behind the wheel with your support.

Thomas could be in this photo...it has not been confirmed.


Hey, I hope you liked this post. If you are new to this post or interested in exploring this topic even more...
to read the last post "So you want to be an admin...the director of school's perspective."

Stay tuned for the next post "So you want to be an admin...the aspiring admin."
MS
 

November 1, 2018

So you want to be an Admin...The Director's Perspective


Just as I promised, thoughts on becoming an admin from someone else other than me. This one is coming from Tullahoma City School's former Director, now Professor Dan Lawson. Enjoy!
MS


Ironic, but Mick asked for my thoughts with a due date of 11/1...my first day out of office! And I clearly understood why he asked me...like a cockroach, I am first and foremost a survivor...Surely no Zombie apocalypse, and no nuclear blast, but thirty years as a superintendent with great leadership teams around me that accomplished great things is a legacy that I'll gladly accept.

I think Bennis and Nanus were on point as they advised that most leaders are (my words) just a little smarter than the average person that they lead.  NO that's not heresy, in fact in my case it may be charitable. You will all punch that Yogi Bear ticket because you are willing to read and thoughtfully consider your path.  I can tell already, you're a little bit smarter than the average bear... 


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I also, however, believe that those effective leaders work to develop a level of emotional intelligence that will allow them tremendous portability. Or as I'm inclined to share with others, "...sufficient EQ to go from the pulpit to the pool hall."  You get my drift.  An effective 2019 model leader can't and won't know all she needs to succeed.  But she can certainly surround herself with skilled practitioners to accomplish the variety of tasks required.  

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So much for philosophy, how did I serve as a superintendent that long and what can others learn from the scars and bruises I earned?

1) One can study swimming, watch swimmers, and visit with swimmers about how they decided to jump into the pool.  All of that is great, but at some point in time, you have to commit to jumping in. Here's the rub, most are successful at the present level and hesitate to risk stability to access that first position.  No easy way around this one, If you are going to lead you are placing yourself in "harms way." I tell prospective superintendents that nearly all are ready to move that first time, but as a superintendent, you have to know that you may move the first time on your terms and the second on others terms.

2) Focus on the mission at hand not the happiness of the team. Too many are inclined to have an idea that the team effect is enhanced by their happiness and underestimate the value of success in completion of a task or responsibility.  If your focus is on team happiness instead of effect and mission you then negotiate all decisions around that as your priority.  Don't. 

3) Know yourself.  Yeah, it would be easy to go with a "to thine own self..." but I've got a better one. When I started thinking about leading schools and districts, I studied a great educator named John Goodlad.  This quote truly has been my guiding star for decades. "If the experience of "doing school" destroys children's spirit to learn, their sense of wonder, their curiosity about the world, and their willingness to care for the human condition have we succeeded as educators, no matter how well our students do on standardized tests?" Goodlad in that quote captured the essence of priority and JOY in the educational experience.  Truly NOT counter to the point above ...JOY matters to me and JOY is under my control as a leader. 

4) Develop thick skin while keeping a soft heart. If you can keep business, business and glean ideas and solutions from the most detestable sources, that's a win.  But too often if we don't like one thing about someone we turn off everything.  You are giving away too much when you can't accept ideas from those that you find generally disagreeable. If your heart is focused on a rubric, the letter on the report card or some "heat map" on a data dashboard, try to find some position where you are managing things instead of leading people.  No disrespect, but both you and your team are in for a miserable existence if your heart is not focused on SERVING the people you are blessed to lead.

5) Embrace and learn from your errors.  You will make them...and the more you try to accomplish and the harder you push, the more inclined you are to err. The first error is a learning experience and the second becomes a choice.  NO one expects perfection. But they do expect character, competence, and chemistry as you lead with joy. So if you're ready, lose those floaties and jump in the pool.    


Dr. Dan Lawson
Lee University
twitter: 1danlawson

October 12, 2018

So you want to be an Admin...what NOT to do


In case you just joined us, this is a multi-part series on becoming a school administrator. You can certainly start here but I would recommend also looking at the 80/20 Rule and the preparation. You never know, you may get some good tips from those.

For this part, let's talk about  what you SHOULD NOT DO when you become an administrator.

Disclaimer...I am not saying I have done all of these things, I am just pretty observant. 

You should NOT...Change things right away
That is unless you were hired to fire a bunch of people. I hope not, that would be a crappy beginning to a career! Most of the time, things will be pretty smooth when you get to where you are going. If not, you still need to hesitate when making major changes. My suggestion...learn your people, learn the school's stories, work on culture and atmosphere. Leave the lunch schedule ALONE!

You should NOT...Be Mean
Why in the world would you do that anyways?? I have seen people get into different positions and feel like they need to immediately exert their authority. This is not necessary...see the first suggestion. Work on the culture and you will never have to be mean.

You should NOT...Gossip
I had a wise principal once tell me "it will feel weird when you walk by the teacher's lounge and know they are talking about you." At any given time, this could very well be true. You are not always going to be their favorite and that is ok. With that being said...do not get involved in ANY of the gossip. It will never work in your favor. Focus on...yeah you guessed, the culture and only spread positive, uplifting vibes.

You should NOT...Show Favorites
This one is hard because there are some who are hard to like. But, it is important to refrain from showing your feelings either way. Now, let me get this straight though. If you have a teacher ROCKIN IT...keep giving them attention, give them resources because everyone else will recognize they are kicking butt. You will get accused of showing favorites but with those superstars, it might be worth it.

You should NOT...Take all of the Glory
Give the Glory, take the blame that is what I always heard. Do not worry, you will get your time to shine. Plus, if your school is doing great or if certain teachers are getting recognized, that is a reflection on YOU! Likewise, if things are crappy it is also going to come back on you.

You should NOT...Be Inflexible
I heard one administrator tell me once "Semper Gumby" simply meaning Always Flexible. You better be flexible because no two days will look alike. And like the great Dr. Petzko always told us..."You are only as good as your Plan B."

You should NOT...Assume YOU have all of the Answers
It does not matter how many years of experience you have or how many degrees you have completed, you WILL NOT have all of the answers. Do not be afraid to pick up the phone, send out an email or even tweet someone. It has been mentioned before, build your professional learning network (PLN) and do not be afraid to use it. It could save the moment, your day or even your career...ASK SOMEONE.

I do not normally focus on the negative side of anything, I am a naturally an optimistic type of guy. But, as a school administrator, some of these things can really get you off to a rough start. Obviously these are not all of them but a great start nonetheless. If these tidbits of advice are too simplicistic and you feel you can navigate this on your own...GO FOR IT! But, word of warning, you better be TOUGH.

I am going to keep this topic rolling for a few more weeks. I have some GREAT guest posts coming...stay tuned for perspectives from a current principal, a long-time director of schools and an aspiring school administrator. It should be fun!!

MS


September 27, 2018

So you want to be an admin...the preparation

People ask me on a regular basis...

"What should I do if I want to be a school administrator?"

I always respond, "other than run...!" Just kidding...well maybe not, I guess there is some truth to that. There is a reason I say that it is because you need to be careful what you wish for. I remember thinking, no schedule, every day is a new day...those are the very things that can wear you down. In all reality, it is probably not what you think. I am definitely not trying to discourage but get ready for a world different than you are used to.

If I have not scared you off, then GOOD. Much like teaching, being an administrator is a calling and it is hard to run from anyways.


So...if you want to start exploring the idea of becoming an administrator, here are some ideas to get you started.

1. Find a mentor
This is HUGE! You need to find someone who is good at what they do, someone you look up to and someone who is willing to be of assistance. I got lucky pretty early and landed a great mentor. And, it is ok to have several too. I did. In fact, connections are important and you should seek the advice of more than one person. In today's world that is super easy, just get on Twitter and see for yourself.

2. Get the appropriate schooling, certification, etc
Self-explanatory...in most states you need the appropriate license or certification to even become an assistant principal. Sometimes that is not the case but ultimately you will need the credentials. For the most part, those credentials will involve some extra time in a university setting and most of the result in a Masters degree or higher. Good news though, there are more and more reputable programs offering these options online. My advice, look around and go for what works for you both academically and the wallet.

3. Build a PLN - include future admins and current admins and even leaders outside of education
Even before you take steps towards becoming an admin, you should be building your Professional Learning Network (PLN). I had great experiences and learned a ton in my graduate programs BUT I also made connections that I still interact with today. Also, since becoming active on Twitter, I have made some great connections outside of my district, my city and even my state. These valuable connections (some of whom I have actually met) can and will play an active role in your career, now and in the future.

4. Get on Twitter
I think I have said this a number of times. In fact, if you know me or have heard me speak, then you know this ALWAYS comes up. Right now, Twitter is the best platform for me in regards to professional development. I have participated in Twitter Chats that last an hour that have been more beneficial than a three day conference. How's that for saving time and money?? Plus, I have built some strong professional and personal relationships on Twitter that have been more valuable than I can even explain in a blog post. If you do not have an account, get one and follow me. If you have an account, get back on it and follow me. Ask questions, lurk, follow people who you find interesting and when you are ready, jump on one of those chats.

5. Start thinking like a teacher and a principal
This one is difficult. One of the bits of advice I give to future admins getting ready to take the license test is..."don't answer the questions like a teacher." That is NOT a knock on teachers but simply an indication that the roles require different perspectives and answers. Have you ever wondered why your principal did something a certain way? When you become one, it will probably make more sense. Your "vision" as a principal is different than that of a teacher. Not that one is better or right, it is simply a different viewpoint. Trust me on this one. Start paying attention to the admins around you and look and how and why they make decisions a certain way. And, if you have a mentor, ask them why they do the things they do...they won't mind.

6. Take on leadership roles, not only to prove yourself but to LEARN
Yes, you may have to work the prom or the yearly beauty pageant but I promise, in the long run you will get something out of it. You learn how to interact with people. You learn how to assign tasks. You also learn how to deal with people who do not agree with you and also may be extremely angry with you. Believe it or not, there is a skill with those situations. Any leadership role is going to be helpful. Be sure to volunteer for a variety of those roles to get a variety of experiences.

7. Let someone know you are interested...preferably someone who might hire you.
My first year as a teacher, I told my Director of Schools, "I want to do what you do." He laughed and said the same thing I said earlier...run while you can. I know he was joking for the most part but I also know that he took it seriously and from that point on, he mentally put me on his list of potential future admins. Several years down the road I got that opportunity and guess who put me there...you guessed it!


If you do not let people know of your intentions, then it is likely that it will be a missed opportunity in the future.

So there you go...seven important tips. There are tons more that will benefit you but those seven can get you a good start. Remember, being an admin is NOT for the faint of heart but if you truly want it, then go for it!

MS

Stay tuned for the next So you want to be an admin...If you missed the last one, click HERE.

September 8, 2018

So You Want to be a School Admin...The 80/20 Rule...

Tim Ferriss (one of my favorite authors and podcaster), talks about this concept called Pareto's Principle. According to Brian Tracy, leadership blogger, Pareto's Principle was named after its founder, Vilfredo Pareto back in the late 19th century.

Simply put...

20% of your time (or resources, or money, etc) result in 80% of the outcome. So conversely that means 80% of what you do only results in 20% of the outcome. It works in sports, business, money etc. In case you want to see that in action, check out this article from Forbes.

Borrowed diagram from siimland.com

Think about that in your everyday life and see if it applies. How many times do we spend 80% of our time on something that only has a 20% affect on our lives or workplace.

Both Ferriss and Tracy talk about looking at your to do lists. If you have 10 things on your list, chances are only 2 of them are really worthy of spending a large amount of time. Your daily routine can become more efficient by really focusing on those things that deserve the majority of your time.

As a school leader (especially when I was a principal) I found that a GREAT DEAL of my time was spent putting out fires, dealing with paperwork, sitting in meetings, etc. I can promise you that I was not always efficient. Just because I was busy, did not mean that what I was doing was effective or had the most impact for my school.

Sound familiar?

Many times we equate being busy with productivity but I bet if we examine ourselves using the Pareto Principle, we may realize that is not necessarily accurate.

So what do we do?

1. Keep a simple activity log just for one week just to see what you are actually doing. I am almost afraid to do this because I am sure I will be mad at myself when I see how much time I spend on email.

2. Prioritize your "to-do" lists. Keep the 80/20 rule in mind and really focus on those top few. That doesn't mean ignore everything else but make you spend time on what is going to have the biggest impact.

3. Recognize that you will NEVER get everything done. The list will always grow. In my experiences I have always received satisfaction from marking things off of my list. But, I found myself adding things to my list just so I could mark them off easily. I know, weird right?

4. Learn to say no to some things.  This is a hard one for me too. It is ok to say no. It is not rude, disrespectful or a sign you are not a team player. Sometimes you can get really bogged down in other people's priorities. Therefore your priorities suffer.

5. Avoid negativity like the plague. Negativity can easily slow down your progress. It can also creep in and become 80% of your day. Do you know people who have a negativity cloud around them 80% of the day, or more? Ugh....

Using the 80/20 rule can be beneficial to some, others it may drive them crazy. The key is, every leader has to determine what works for them.

Stay tuned for more tips for your journey to becoming a school administrator.

MS

August 17, 2018

The New Gig...

I got a new gig.

I was not unhappy with my old gig. In fact, I will always be a part of my old gig and of course all of my people were extremely supportive when I left.

I had an opportunity, an opportunity to grow and be a part of something really cool. A new journey for me and a new journey for them as well.

This summer I started my new role as the Director of Instruction at Manchester City Schools in Manchester, Tennessee (Ever hear of Bonnaroo??). I am excited for me but I am also excited for MCS (not bragging, I promise), not because I am this great leader who knows all...my colleagues can vouch for that for sure. Manchester City Schools is getting an exciting, energetic school leader who sees all of the great things happening at MCS as well as the huge potential that it has to offer.



So far, I am learning my role(s) and meeting as many people as possible. My plan is to visit ALL of the schools as often as possible. I get excited when I think about observing great teachers and seeing the positive things that are happening. Here are some of the cool things I have seen so far...


















As my journey continues, here are the things I want to focus on.

1. Making sure I follow and share the vision of the superintendent of schools and the school system. This is extremely important to me. I know I will have ideas to share but I also need to respect the current culture and get to know the people and the stories first. There is a HUGE benefit in simply observing.

2. I need to be visible. I want the teachers, staff and kids to know who I am and feel that I am approachable. I want to learn names and visit classrooms. When I see kids, I want to them to recognize me instead of saying, "Who is that tall, bald guy?"

3. Helping to market Manchester City Schools is also important to me. Too often schools and school systems sit back and let other people tell their stories. Unfortunately those stories do not usually align with what we want told. So, we have to take control and be the chief storytellers of our district. I want to be a storyteller for Manchester City Schools. I want to help spread the positive and innovative things happening in our district.

Oh, by the way, you can follow #MCSUnited on any of our social media platforms. And...you can follow me HERE.

4. I want to share as much as possible. Despite what my preschool teacher said (my preschool teacher was my mom), I really do like to share with others. When I see something innovative I share it. When I see something that can benefit kids, teachers or other admins, I share it. When I see something that grasps my attention (which is sometimes difficult) I share it in case it might grasp someone else's attention. So, I plan on sharing whether that is through blogging, social media or even face-to-face presentations.

As you might be able to tell, the new gig is going great! My transition could not have been smoother and I have been welcomed with open arms. Sure, I miss my Tullahoma City Schools folks, but it is always great to become part another community, especially this one.

What an opportunity!

MS

By the way, if you want to start reading my series on personalized learning, click here. 







August 8, 2018

My Thoughts on Personalized Learning...the Adult Learner

Here is a thought...

We talk about personalized learning or differentiation for our students, what about the adults?

How many times have you sat in a training and thought to yourself, "I'm not sure this applies to me?"

Several years ago I attended a Future Ready Summit in St. Louis. The experience was great! I made some connections, learned some cool stuff and even revisited Twitter (which I now love).

The Future Ready Pledge is pretty specific and asks schools districts to really focus on key components to make sure they are future ready and are producing future ready students. The one component that stuck with me most was the concept of personalized professional learning opportunities.

I copied this straight from the Future Ready website:


"...Access to professional learning experiences that are personal and authentic." That simple statement says a great deal. Personal and authentic, what does that mean?

To me, it is pretty simple. If an educator feels the need to increase his or her knowledge in the areas of blended learning, using Google tools in the classroom or teaching fluency to elementary students, then that educator should be able to get those opportunities. Some may need guidance in getting those opportunities but others may end up finding them on their own. Either way is ok, as long as the educators are constantly improving themselves. The administrator's role in this is to help the educators find their needs and then the find the resources to make it happen. 

The administrator needs to be doing this as well. Personalized learning opportunities are not limited to the teachers. 

Personal and Authentic...

Just the other day, Kyle Hamstra sent out this tweet...

As you can see, the same idea comes out of his thoughts as well.

Personal and Authentic...

So, the question is What do I do next?

Whether through a needs assessment, some kind of inventory, your past year's evaluation or even you gut...find one or two areas you want to improve on and get after it. Talk to your colleagues or administrator, find someone who is doing something you want to get better at or simply Google what you are looking for. 

That's it.

If you are lucky enough to be in a district that tailors PD around the needs of the individual, then you will not need to go far. Just ask around for resources and get better at those areas you want to strengthen. 

If you are part of a "sit and get" culture and want to create professional learning opportunities that are personal and authentic, a good place to start is Twitter. Build a connection with people and just look. The FREE professional learning is there and it will be both personal and authentic. Like it was said above, you do not have to wait around for someone to find that PD for you. 

One of my most valuable professional learning tools is my Professional Learning Network (PLN). I cannot tell you how many hours of FREE PD I have received just by interacting with my people on Twitter. You can be a part of a structured Twitter Chat or simply lurk to see what is going on in the world. You can gain from both but beware, lurking can lead to distraction...you know, funny cat or dog videos. 

Also understand it does not have to be Twitter and it may ultimately be a different platform but right now, that is what works. There plenty of other platforms and methods. Find what works for YOU. If you think you want to try Twitter,  follow ME and you can get an idea of what it looks like.

Word of warning, do not try to do too much at once. Focus on one or two areas, get good at it and then you can try new things. If you try too many things at once you may become mediocre at a bunch of different things. Instead, you really want to be GREAT at a couple.

Should you avoid whole-group PD? No, or course not! Do not get me wrong, whole-group PD can be beneficial, just like whole group lessons with students. But, do not rely on that as your only source of learning. Spend some time finding out what you are passionate about or what you want to get better at (or both) and come up with a plan to make your professional learning...

Personal and Authentic.

Let me know if you get stuck, I will lead you in the right direction.

Mick

By the way, if you missed the previous posts on My Thoughts on Personalized Learning, just click HERE.





July 31, 2018

All about Mick



Below I have created an interactive Google Slide, where YOU can click on images that have links. Each link takes you somewhere that is somehow connected to me. Start off by clicking My Philosophy on Education (you can read it first if you like). There will be a short video, then simply follow the purple arrows and click away. The last thing you see will be my contact info. 

Happy clicking!
MS

March 7, 2018

My Thoughts on Personalized Learning Part 3...The Admins' Role

What does a classroom that focuses on personalized learning look like?

Is it straight rows, neat papers, organized...just like in the picture below??


I bet you thought I was going to say NO!!

Well, I'm not because, depending on the situation that could be what a classroom that focuses on personalized learning looks like.

I have been in many, many classrooms over the years and they have all looked a little different. Of course I have seen some neat and tidy like the one above. And, I have seen some with desks pushed up against the walls and poster board projects on the ceiling (yes, I did that).

The point is, I am not sure there is a distinct look of a personalized learning classroom. One has to dig a little deeper to see what is going on.

Take for instance, this classroom...


I see desks lined up in rows but the students aren't. Is personalized learning occurring?

What about this one??


Or this one?


Well my fellow administrators (and teachers for that matter), I can assure you that yes, personalized learning is taking place in all of those photographs. How do I know?

I watched...

listened...

participated...

asked questions...

As an administrator are you doing those things? Do you see personalized learning in your classrooms? If not, what do you do to encourage it?

I mentioned before that I have had experience in every level from PreK to higher education. It wasn't until I was a principal at an elementary school that I really started seeing the benefits of this type of learning.

So Admins...what is YOUR role?

1. Share - Find articles, videos, podcasts, etc that talk about personalized learning and then share. You do not have to be specific or share with certain teachers, although you may have a good idea of who would be successful with certain techniques or strategies. But, keep it simple...just share.

2. Suggest - Talk to your teachers and mention certain things that YOU have seen or heard of and start collaborating on ways it can be implemented in the classroom. Obviously this is easier for folks who want to try things but it is possible for others as well.

3. Freedom - provide leave time, cover classes, get subs...whatever it takes to allow teachers to observe other teachers. You can start in the school and then expand outside of the school if necessary. Technology has allowed for easy observation, especially if teachers are willing to record their activities.

4. Support - Continue to provide resources for meeting the needs of that teacher. Allow for an environment in which mistakes are ok.

5. Promote - If someone is using these techniques and is successful, allow them to present to others their successes (and failures for that matter). Be positive about those who try different personalized learning strategies and show enthusiasm. We all know enthusiasm is contagious.

That is it. Pretty simple.

Understand that not everyone is going to be willing to attempt personalized learning in their classrooms (they should). But, build on those who are curious and those who are enthusiastic. Who knows, the ones who are not excited, may actually be converted when they see the successes.

MS


February 14, 2018

My Thoughts on P.L. (part 2)...5 Tips to Get Started

If you want to skip ahead and get to my strategies, I totally understand. But, you may get a glimpse inside my head if you stick around for a few paragraphs...there is always a chance that could be entertaining.



The past two school years I have been on a personalized learning kick. I want you to understand though that it did not start in a classroom. This madness in my head started with my own personalized learning. I started looking into how I could personalize MY professional development so that it benefits me and my school directly. Then I started thinking about how I could spread this to my colleagues and teachers. I am still working on that by the way. But, it made me think back to how it could work with kids too.

If you have not read the previous post on personalized learning, click HERE, this may make more sense.

Rewind back to my elementary principal days when I recognized that there was a possibility that my high school students could not read. Yes, you read that correctly...I recognized as an elementary principal that my high school students may not have been able to read. That is not to put the blame on any prior teachers but realize that our viewpoint in middle and high is getting them through the content, making sure we cover ALL of the standards and preparing them for the end of the year assessment (that we never get back on time to help make decisions...).

So, since that time I started tinkering with ideas of what in elementary schools would be beneficial in secondary schools. I realized really quick that there is a BIG difference in preparation. My educational preparation focused a great deal on content...yes, we did focus on presenting content (Thanks, Dr. A. TTU). But, I realized that elementary folks spent a good deal of time on pedagogy. It became apparent that maybe, just maybe the secondary folks needed some additional exposure to pedagogy. The problem is, how do we help encourage educators to gain that knowledge (see below, it might help).

Now I understand that there is a difference in how age groups learn. I can tell you that because I have worked with ALL ages (see Not so scary world of technology to see how high I went...). However, I see the benefit in sharing strategies no matter the age of the learner. Now a disclaimer...I am not a fan of grouping, never have been, never will. BUT, I do believe it can happen within a classroom. It is possible to create "classrooms" within classrooms. I have seen it done AND I have seen it done in secondary classrooms. So it is doable.

Disclaimer number two...I do not have any specific answers on what it looks yet and it may not look like "classrooms within classrooms," but I do have some strategies on how YOU can get started. I think specific topics on what it looks like will be in part 3 or part 4...stay tuned. If you have any great ideas feel free to EMAIL ME or send me a TWEET.

In the meantime, check this out...


My strategies on what to do NOW.

1. Build your Professional Learning Network (PLN) starting now. There are many, many ways to accomplish that. I choose Twitter but that is not the only way. You can create email groups. You can use Facebook, Voxer, Google Plus, follow blogs or even just meet up with teachers at a local restaurant, coffee shop, or donut place (right Julie Davis??). My friends from Chattanooga have a monthly meeting they call #CoffeeEdu where they meet, talk and strategize. I challenge you to do that where you live. When you build this PLN, ask questions. Talk about what works, what does not work and steal as many ideas as you can. Remember, we are all in this together and we are all seeking ways to improve constantly. Your PLN is your go-to group and in many cases, keep you from totally losing your mind.

2. Observe teachers outside of your grade-level, outside of your school...even outside of your district. If you have not done this I highly recommend it. Start small, within your school and pick someone outside of your grade-level or subject level. As you get more comfortable and depending on how much your admin supports leaving school, then you can expand to other schools and other districts...VERY VALUABLE! At my school, I had two teachers start a Pineapple Chart...you can go to the link and see for yourself. It can be a really valuable tool and I highly recommend doing something similar.


3. Pick one idea and hone it and own it. Repeat after me...I do not have to try EVERYTHING new and innovative! Don't worry, I am guilty too. I am bad about seeing "shiny" things and wanting to learn as much as I can about it...until I see another "shiny" thing. There is a reason I have a squirrel staring down on me from my desk as a reminder of my ADD tendencies...Look a squirrel! (Thanks Cindy!). Find something cool that you think might work and then try it. Spend some time tweaking it to fit YOUR space and if it does not work...tweak again or find another strategy. There is no harm in punting.



4. Do not be afraid of it not working. This goes along with the above statement. Not everything is going to work for you. If it does not work, that is OK...try again or find something else you are excited about. Do not take it personal and do not give up on being innovative. It took Edison 1000 attempts to get the light bulb right. I am glad he did not give up.

5. Re-evaluate ,when you get better, add another tool to your toolbox. Always re-evaluate what you are using. Do not teach the same material or use the same techniques for your entire career. I am sure those strategies are still effective, but man it probably gets boring for YOU after awhile. If you find a new tool or strategy that is working, keep getting better at it. When you feel comfortable enough, find something new to get better at. The biggest mistake people make is trying to do TOO many things.

6. Repeat steps 1 -5. Probably the most important...repeat as necessary.

That is it, should be simple enough right??

Try it out, let me know and ENJOY!

Tune in next for My Thoughts on Personalized Learning...the Admins' Role.

MS

January 4, 2018

My Thoughts on Personalized Learning - Part 1

What does this...


Have in common with this...


Or maybe this



and this... 



Do not worry, I will tell you...

All of those activities use some type of personalized learning.

Activities such as basketball and football have more in common with the academic world than we would ever have dreamed. Having been a coach, I never really put that into perspective until I was listening to a recent keynote. The speaker made a reference to the method a line coach or a quarterbacks coach may use to prepare his or her players for the upcoming game.  Sure, things are practiced together but where the biggest impact occurs are when the linemen learn with the linemen, the quarterbacks with the quarterbacks or the offense with the offense...you get the idea. 

As a basketball coach I routinely had practices within practices where the post players would work on inside drills and the guards would work on outside drills. Or a combination of posts and guards would work on drills that were relevant to their levels. In fact, we had six goals on our basketball court and unless we were doing whole team drills, all six of those goals were being used. The coaches and players knew what they needed to work on and those specific skills were addressed within the regular practice. We met the players where they were. 

Interesting thing, you know where else I have seen this practice??

Here...




The band folks do it too!! Sure they practice as a whole but a large portion of their preparation occurs within a group of common instruments. We could go on all day about where personalized learning occurs. 

Here is an interesting observation...this simple concept of meeting the "people" where they are, does not always appear in an academic setting. This is especially rare in the secondary and higher education world. When thinking about my preparation for teaching, we did have some instruction on the pedagogical side of things but there was an even larger emphasis on the content side. It is not that secondary people or higher education people are not capable of personalizing. It is just that personalizing instruction is somewhat of a foreign idea, unless of course you were trained as a special education teacher. 


Here is a story that may reinforce my thoughts...because remember, I do not claim to be the guru, nor do I think I am always right...simply my observation.


As a high school social studies teacher, I quickly realized there were students who would always do my work and there were some who would never do my work. I really assumed the ones who did not work were being disrespectful or obviously just did not have the same passion for history like I did. It was FRUSTRATING. 


Fast forward several years when I become a principal at an elementary school. First, here is a disclaimer, before becoming a primary principal, the last time I was in an elementary school was when I was in elementary school. What I discovered after my involvement with reading intervention at the elementary level was, my high school students could not read...at least they could not read at their appropriate grade-level. I had NO IDEA!


Now before you pass judgment, I believe that some of you secondary folks are thinking to yourself..."I had the same experience." It is ok if you did not but I am telling you it was a slap in the face, a wake up call.

Long story short, I realize that if I teach today, my classroom looks completely different than it did when I first started. In fact, I would go so far to say my classroom could potentially look more like an elementary classroom. Yes, my secondary U.S. History classroom would be full of opportunities to learn in work stations, learn with manipulatives, learn at different reading-levels and so on. I would guess that my outcomes would be different and frustration levels would also decrease. 
What my high school history class could potentially look like is an entirely different post...and that post will be coming soon. 


What I have discovered in all of this is that it is no different for adult learners. Our attention-span may be longer (probably not mine) and we may be more mature (that may be a stretch too) but we still have different learning styles, we still learn at different rates. I think that is why I see more and more excitement about EdCamps and Twitter Chats. It allows people to personalize their own learning. 

So...what do we do next?

Simple. Start mining for information on how to personalize learning. Simply Google it and you will find a wealth of information. I also suggest following me on Twitter and other too for that matter. I am always finding and sharing information that could help. So do the people I follow. So, when you do find what you are looking for, start small.  Take steps to improve on one technique and only move forward as you are comfortable. 

For those of you already doing it...share what you know. Get people excited because we all know enthusiasm is contagious!

MS