Education

Disney Goes to School

Take a minute and think about quality customer service.  Actually, think about places with which you are familiar that really focus on providing exceptional service and experiences.  I bet you are thinking about maybe a favorite restaurant, or a place of business….or how about the hospitality industry, a hotel or a theme park.  Yep, I thought of those, too.  You know what I don’t normally think about?  Schools.  More personally, my role in school.

We (meaning educators and staff collectively) exist to serve families and strengthen communities.  In fact, we are actually a sort of community hub.  People make decisions to live somewhere based, in many cases, on the school.  We engage with parents, youth, community colleges, local business leaders, city services such as the fire and police departments, the local library, and the list goes on.  The future adults who will live, work and make decisions in our communities in the future are sitting in our classrooms today.   And yet, historically, customer service hasn’t been an area of concentrated training or focus for most of us.  I will admit it wasn’t for me, until this year.

Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 4.19.16 PMI am currently participating in a book study over the book Be Our Guest, which describes Disney’s unparalleled approach to customer service.  My school district has trained all school office staff in customer service and has elevated customer service to a high priority level for all employees.  Since implementing this, I have really noticed a lot of places where, in my day to day duties, I have huge opportunities to create those positive experiences and provide the type of quality customer service that I am learning about to my own “customers”.  Those customers include students, parents, staff members, and district-wide colleagues.  They also include local businesses with which I may have the opportunity to interact.  They include bus drivers and our lunch staff.  Our custodial services, the local boy scouts who use our gym for practice, and even outside trainers who come to work with our staff.  I am on the district PTA Council Board this year and so guess what?  That is another group of “customers” that I get to serve this year.  So I am really focusing on what type of customer service I am providing.  I even made a sign and hung it up in my office so that every day I am reminded of the focus.  It’s very simple, but it works:

Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 4.24.29 PM.png

I won’t lie. There have been moments this year when customer service has been the last thing on my mind.  It’s hard to be 100% in anything, no matter how dedicated you are and I’m not going to always get it right.  As it says in 1 Timothy: “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.”  But even though I am not batting a thousand, I am much more aware. I’m more aware of the opportunities I have to provide great customer service. I’m reflecting more on the actions I take (or mis-take) toward living into that mission.  I’m noticing that “everything speaks”.  Everything.

Walt Disney has a term “Guestology” which he describes as knowing and understanding customers. Kinda reminds me of knowing and understanding students. Nothing happens without a relationship and that is something we school folks understand very well.  He also says that customer service is sometimes “a moving target”.  Boy, we can certainly attest to that! What works for one student (or class, or teacher…or campus) won’t work for the next. Got those state standardized tests all figured out? Don’t even try- that target will definitely move. Here is another quote from Walt Disney:

“Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future.”  – Walt Disney

Sound familiar to anyone? There is a saying in education: “If you don’t like a certain trend don’t worry, it will pass soon enough.”  Sadly, that sometimes does ring true.  But we also know that we have to keep our eyes fixed on the future because these days, we are preparing students for a future that doesn’t even exist yet, but all the tools and advances are there for them to create it themselves and what isn’t there will be soon enough because they’ll create it themselves. And what didn’t exist when I started this post is just one moment, one idea away from being a thing.  That’s how fast we are moving, folks.

It turns out that me and Disney have a whole lot more in common than I might have expected at first glance. In fact, all of us do. Something I am discovering and that (I hope) is making me a better educator, leader and community-building partner.

Thanks, Disney.  Another memorable experience in the books.

 

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Education

What’s Your Why?

One of the first questions that we as educators are often asked is, “Why do you do it?” In fact, at some point each of us has heard something like, “How neat that you get summers off!” or “Wow, you must love having the same breaks as your kids.” The image of public schools, and educators, is often so negatively portrayed in the media and within certain groups that it can be difficult for those outside of public ed to understand why we do what we do.  This year, our Superintendent issued a challenge — for each of us to identify, know, and own our WHY.  My principal and I asked our staff to engage in this same individual process, thinking about and naming their own truth. Defining their why. We then took it a step further, and created our own campus mission – our big belief.

The next day, I thought about my own “why” and began developing my own mission statement. This process was really valuable to me as it led me to uncover truths, identify a few of my purposes, and ultimately, to define my own personal mission statement.

The first thing I did was brainstorm the types of things that are Assistant Principal-ish.  Who am I assisting? How am I assisting them? If I’m providing a service, who are my customers and what does that service look like? Where are my opportunities to create those big “moments“?

I drew this bubble map:

Screen Shot 2018-08-09 at 11.16.13 AM

Then I started identifying those whom I serve:

Screen Shot 2018-08-09 at 11.27.24 AM

I put “relationships” in the center because I have learned that you can plan to serve and support all day long, but without building relationships you are just sort of shooting in the dark. That is perhaps the best lesson I have learned and for those of you like me who are more “thinkers” than “feel-ers”…please take this advice! You need to make a conscious effort to activate the right hemisphere of your brain and step out of your comfort zone….really work on building great relationships because that is where everything begins.

Okay, back to my process. It didn’t really look this tidy at first. My brainstorm involved thinking about action words like serve, support, lead, develop, build.  Then, I just started putting ideas and actions together into various statements until what I feel in my heart, what inspires me, what jumps out at me and says, “Here! This is You!” came to be.

why1Some of the things I really hold onto are:

My teacher heart

Exhibiting loyalty

Keep confidences

Offer  Seek Out opportunities to serve

Remain a learner

Be present and positive

So with my actions, my inspirations and thinking about my role, here is what finally emerged from the mess:

To build vibrant relationships with all members of my school community so that I can provide significant customer service that supports top-notch teaching and learning every day.

I like this because it is clear, direct, and fairly succinct. In preparing to write our own mission statements, we watched the video below. It really help to narrow my focus:

I am excited about this year and finding ways to “live into” my personal mission statement. It is a great activity for teachers too, and imagine if a class wrote it’s own mission statement! That would create such ownership in students. I think it might even be neat to write a mission statement as a family.  What about you? Have you written a personal mission statement? If so, please share it in the comments below and if not, I hope this reflection inspires you to begin the process.

Wishing all a “wonder-FULL” school year!

Uncategorized

Read Alouds: Every Day, Every Student by Lucretia Brattin

Really love this!

Nerdy Book Club

The importance of reading aloud to every grade level is imperative.  And, it should most definitely be an everyday occurrence.  This duty does not have be fulfilled by the Language Arts teachers.  How awesome is it for the science teacher to read an article from National Geographic or the history teacher to read an article from The Smithsonian.  Better yet, what if they chose popular books from their respective studies and read a section every day.  I can just imagine our history teacher, who is also the speech and debate coach, reading excerpts from Ron Chernow’s Grant.

Making reading seem like the most important element of a class, no matter what the class, is the key to creating successful adults.  I truly believe that.  Even in math, if a student can’t read the directions or understand what the vocabulary is, there is no chance to actually do the math.   Vocabulary…

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Classroom Practices, Education, Leadership, Learning, PLC, PLN, Uncategorized

Big Little Things

LittleThe sign you see here hangs in my living room. It greets me every morning as I stumble past on my way to the kitchen to get the coffee that starts my day. It welcomes me home every evening, that sign. Watches over us as we hang out, watching TV or eating or talking or reading. It hangs there, that sign. Right there it hangs as I start to do a little work or think about the things at school that I didn’t quite have time to do today. Or those big things I have coming up…..Yeah, like that thing. I really have to block off some time for that one tomorrow.

Where does it go, our time? I wonder that a lot. And as I wonder, that sign hangs, still and quiet. Reminding me to slow down. To notice the little things. The little things that hide inside our days, like tiny glass spheres filled with big, magnificent moments that we can only discover if we look for those little things first. And sometimes, when we are super busy or pressed for time and we just don’t stop to think about those little things….well, sometimes we get lucky. Sometimes one of those little things happens by, right smack dab in the middle of something there it is, right in front of us. And then just like that, right before our eyes, we see it. And we see the big, magnificent moment that is hidden right there…hidden just inside that one little thing. This is about one of those big little things.

I sat down at the desk just inside her classroom, paper and pen in hand as I prepared to take notes and capture data for this teacher’s annual evaluation. As I observed, this teacher let students know that for this particular activity, they would be using nonfiction text. That they would be selecting their own text from the stack of books and magazines that had been placed on the back table. Stacks and piles about all kinds of things, written at all kinds of levels. The students were to use their strategy for selecting a “just right” book and to find one that appealed to them, one that sparked their interest. And then off they went, these excited kids. Off they went to rummage through the piles looking, searching, hoping to find that one interesting book … that “just right” book…that book that fits them.  And then…..he found it. I watched as this student grabbed up a book, opened and scanned the pages to make sure it wasn’t too easy or too hard and then….once he discovered that this book was indeed just right for him, he clutched it to his chest and headed back to his desk, just to the right of where I sat. And as he walked toward his desk, clutching that book, I heard that teacher call after him, “Did you find one you liked?” As he excitedly held it up that teacher smiled and said, “Ah, yes! Wonderful! I thought of you as I was picking that one out.”

And as he turned back around to sit at his desk, I saw his face. And his whole face was smiling. Smiling because he had found a book on a favorite topic. Smiling because that book was just right for him, which meant he could take it.  Smiling, because his teacher had specifically thought of him when choosing that book to bring to the table for this ordinary lesson, on this ordinary day. Smiling, because his teacher had thought of him, period.

In the midst of the day, the life, the 20 other kids. In that moment, that “I thought of you when I did that” moment….his teacher didn’t just pick a book. His teacher picked a book for him. His teacher had said, “You matter”.  “You are important”. “You are unique”. “I know you”. “I love you”.

This teacher did much more than just choose a book. And that, I have a feeling, was the real reason behind that smile….that big, can’t hide it smile that was on his face as he returned to his seat and dove right into that book.  His book.  Chosen for him.

I think we educators have the greatest job in the world. We are surrounded by big opportunities that like to hide themselves inside all our little moments. And these moments, they move quickly. They weave in and out of our classrooms, up and down the halls, around and around our days like those fast moving hands that circle the clocks on our walls. The clocks that count off those little moments, one by one. Around and around they go, minute by minute. Hour by hour. Sometimes, we get so caught up in how fast those hands move past those little moments. In all those things we have to do, all those things our kids must accomplish and yes, indeed. Those moments do move fast. Time marches on and we march with it. We are stretched thin by big things like curriculum and TEKS and STAAR testing and standards and PLCs and parent conferences and meetings and … well, you know the rest. We have such. little. time. to accomplish all that we must accomplish. To make sure that which is supposed to happen, happens. Those moments go by so fast and there are so many things and… we just don’t have time. We just don’t have time, with all the big things on our plates, we just don’t have time to make sure they all happen. There just isn’t time.

Or … is there?

“Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you will look back and realize they were the big things.”

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Teaching vs. Learning

In the following question, fill in the blank with your own content example, such as simplifying fractions.

Screen Shot 2017-09-29 at 10.29.15 AMHold the space for that idea as we go along.

This is an idea that I have been thinking about over the last few days. When I think to myself, “It’s my job to teach ___”, the focus just naturally lands on me, the teacher.  How am I going to teach it? What resources am I going to use? But, when I shift my thinking to, “It is my job to ensure that each student learns _____“, ahhh, did you see how the focus changed? I suddenly start thinking about what each student needs, rather than what I need or what resources I might like to use. It is a subtle shift, one you might not even notice right away. But when I follow the shift, when I am planning a lesson with the guiding focus being what each student needs to master the concept, I start thinking about my students–not my classroom, not my students as a group, but  individual learners. I open myself up to variety; to differentiation.  I am giving myself permission to be creative. My focus could be on where each student lines up against the standard. What it is not on are the resources. It is also not on high stakes tests. One of the most difficult shifts to make for teachers is to take refocus the lens from the teacher to the student. This recentering of thought helps with that. While reading and exploring this idea, I ran across something similar to the quote below and it sums it up perfectly:

Our job is not to teach the grade level standards. Our job is to ensure that each student masters the grade level standards. There is a big difference between those two things. 

Why is this important? If we limit our role to that of teaching content instead of teaching kids, our approach narrows. What about the students who don’t reach mastery after we have taught it? We most likely are thinking about this group after the lesson. We are thinking about reteaching and intervention. And don’t get me wrong, those are definitely strong practices that we embrace for good reason. But I also believe that the best intervention is strong Tier 1 instruction. How might things change if we plan instruction for the middle and for those to the left of center? What about the students who have mastered the skill before we have taught it? How can we plan instruction for those students who are to the right of center? If I am honest, I did little to plan instruction for the group to the right of center. My main planning hit center. My intervention came as a post-teaching action. But nowadays, with our limited time and the scope of concepts on our curriculum plates, post-teaching is in many cases too late.

Carol Tomlinson does a wonderful job of casting light on the subject of individual student need and responsive teaching. In the video below, she discusses how the learning experience happening in our classroom can feel very different for every student sitting in front of us:

Okay, so put into action, what might this type of approach require? Pre-teaching? Could we maybe design “lesson-embedded” differentated tasks where student self-assessment could drive the path their instruction takes? How can we accomplish that? Could students begin work in the middle, and then shift left or right based on continual assessment of where they are at points during the lesson? What could that look like? We have Learning Targets in place now and we have students evaluating where they are in the the trajectory of hitting that target. How or where could that fit in this approach? I know a lot of teachers are using Google classroom. How can you incorprate the ideas above in that manner? What about a flipped approach? Ambitious ideas require creative thinking and planning. I don’t know how to achieve this complex goal. But I do think it is an interesting goal–a goal  worth giving thought to (and… blog space) .

I often encourage teachers to take a similar approach to classroom management. Rather than thinking about which consequeces to impose, shift the idea to “What does this student need in order to start (or stop) doing ____”? That approach almost always changes our response. A student continues to lose her assignments. Why is this happening? Does she have trouble with organization? Will keeping her in from recess improve her organizational skills? Or might we need to provide a scaffold to help her be more successful? This is central to our implementation of restorative practices on my campus. It’s a different approach–one that takes the focus off of consequences and places it instead on student needs. It shifts our response and helps us charts a new course. A course that gets students to mastery. And at the end of the day, that is our goal.

What about cultural proficiency? Where/how does that fall? I am doing some online exploring as I grapple with the conceptual shift from teaching to learning and how I can best support that shift as an administrator. I have collected some great resources on differentiating and on lesson design that is focused on this concept. Here is a great place to start; to give structure to the ideas. Here is another; focused on culurally responsive learning. And another–this one on Responsive Teaching. I encourage you to consider, explore, and tinker around with the idea of shifting our instructional design from teaching to learning, and the impact that might have on teachers and on students.

When we start thinking and planning from this shift in focus, our reactions and approaches change. In the words of one of my past mentors, when our actions are driven by student need, we are not going to go wrong very often.

 

 

Classroom Practices, Education, Leadership, Learning, PLC, PLN, Uncategorized

Putting PLCs Into Practice

Putting Professional Learning Communities Into Practice on an Elementary Campus

*Note: This post includes downloadable templates and videos of some artifacts I created, feel free to use anything you see!

img_2589This year, we are focusing on PLC work. Focusing, as in, starting them up. Yes, we have had PLC time on the calendar. Yes, our teachers have “met” during that time. But would I say we had strong Professional Learning Communities engaged in purposeful PLC-ish type work? Work that drove our instruction and informed our practice as a learning organization? No. And I don’t feel ashamed telling you that. For one thing, I know every educator on my campus would agree. But most importantly, because I believe that if you want to grow and improve in anything, you have to call it like it is. So this year, we took on the task of designing and establishing a vision and framework for supporting PLC work on our campus. To say this was a big, heavy goal would be an understatement. In this post, I am going to reflect on what we have done so far, and where we hope to go on this first leg of our PLC journey.

Developing our Vision

The first thing that my principal and I did was decide on what impactful PLC work would look like for us. We consulted many resources. Our district PLC framework was the guiding focus. It establishes the 3 district PLC principles and some ideas that might fall within each. We consulted  books, web resources, journals, people and blog posts  which helped tighten up our ideas and inform our processes. Our amazing Director of Professional Learning, Shawna Miller, provided our staff with an introductory PLC training to get us up and going. Finally, we dropped into the #atplc (All Things PLC) weekly Twitter chat where we were able to deepen our understanding of PLC work from some amazing educators. Chats focus on what works, what doesn’t, and latest ideas / trends / practices that are building capacity in educators and administrators. FYI: This chat happens every Thursday at 8:00 pm central time, and is facilitated by Solution Tree. Here is an archive of these chats.

Our guiding focus is on our students and our teachers. What is the work we need to focus on in order to drive high-level achievement at our campus? How could PLCs transform us from a community of learners into a campus-wide learning organization, made up of student and adult learners, focused on a shared vision and common goals?  Those were the type questions that drove our dialogue and from which our PLC development began to take shape.

Screen Shot 2017-09-28 at 2.28.10 PMPLC Campus Handbook 

Following those ideas and conversations, I sat down to create our campus PLC Handbook. The purpose was to give our staff (and us) a structure for beginning this process. My principal and I are both big proponents of teacher autonomy and we try to be mindful of creating space for teachers to be self-directed. But sometimes, our teachers want a structured system in which to operate as they begin, explore, and get a feel for something new.

Our PLC Handbook is purposefully brief because we are just beginning and the last thing we want to do is make it bigger and more complicated than it has to be. The handbook briefly outlines our purpose and vision for campus PLC teams. We then define six “Focus Areas” which establish the type of work that will be done in the meetings. These six areas fit very nicely into our district PLC Framework and it’s three driving components. Within each Focus Area, I gave some examples of the type of work teachers might be doing. I also included resources that would help facilitate that work.  You can see the six areas by looking at our PLC handbook, linked above. We feel these areas provide the most opportunity for growth and meaningful work on our campus and also reflect both the strength and needs of our staff and students. You can see where each of the six areas would fall under the district PLC principles of Collaborative Culture, Focus on Learning, and Results Driven.

Using Current Resources
My district provided me with the opportunity to go through training sessions with School Reform Initiative last year and I learned about some great protocals which school communities can use to accomplish various tasks. I realized those protocals would be very helpful if embedded in our new PLC system! And to be very transparent, although I loved this training and saw the benefit, I had yet to use any of it with the staff. So I grabbed my manual from the shelf, read back through my notes and the resources within, and then for each Focus Area I identified protocals that would best support the work and facilitate meaningful dialogue. I really enjoyed being able to line up PLC focus area tasks with these protocols. At this point, we started to see something really great taking shape. Not only were we mapping out our PLC vision, but also we were making purposeful use of tools that we already had by embedding them within the system. At the end of the handbook I tossed in a few resources that might be helpful for teachers, such as the master schedule, school calendar, rubrics,  norm development tools,  agenda and minutes template, and ideas for potential PLC roles and responsibilities.

Each team has a binder. The tabs are:

  • Handbook
  • Minutes & Agenda
  • Collaborative Culture
  • Focus on Learning
  • Results Driven
  • RtI
  • Admin
  • Resources

As you can see, I chose to use the 3 district PLC principles rather than our 6 campus Focus Areas. I did that because we want our staff to be see how our campus work with PLCs fits within the district’s overarching framework and to be fluent in that framework. I also put together an admin PLC binder for myself and my principal.  Here are a couple of videos that I made to give you a quick tour of a PLC team binder and an admin team binder.

 

Time To Meet

The next thing I did was to create a schedule for our PLC meetings. My principal developed a master schedule which allows teachers one extra planning period every other week– students go to “Shine” time with our wonderful fine arts staff. So for example, week one PLCs are: Tuesday Kinder, Wednesday 1st grade, Thursday 2nd grade. The following week, PLCs are Tuesday 3rd grade, Wednesday 4th, and Thursday 5th. And then the two week cycle starts over. Monday and Friday is an additional planning for our Fine Arts team as they develop relevant and engaging learning experiences for our students’ Shine Time and to engage in their own PLC meetings. We feel it is very important to carve out time in the master schedule for this important work.

Screen Shot 2017-09-28 at 2.26.00 PMPlanning the Meetings

Here was a tricky situation: We want to create space for teacher autonomy and grade level empowerment. We want teams to be in charge of their own learning and their own PLC tasks based on needs they identify. Teachers are professionals and they know their students best. But we also know that our teachers sometimes need more of a structure in the beginning so that they get a feel for each focus area and the work we are going to be doing. Additionally, we wanted to model some of the protocals for them so that they could use them comfortably. So we decided that for the first semester, we would identify the focus area and task ahead of time. By Christmas break, our teachers will most if not all of our 6 focus areas and a few protocals as well. So in developing the PLC calendar, our first semester is mostly already planned; after that, PLC teams will decide which Focus Area they need to work in each time. We are acting as facilitators now, but with the goal of slowly moving toward teacher ownership — we will be there to listen, support, ask questions…but teachers will be planning and running their own meetings. We were very purposeful in mapping out the PLC calendar so that it flows with campus and district calendars — for example, when district benchmarks are given, the following PLC week would be a great opportunity to engage with data and intervention, and so forth.

We identified PLC Leads for each grade level (a grade level teacher). Those leads will be attending School Reform Initiative training so that they are comfortable leading protocals. They keep the team binder and manage materials. If we need to send something out (such as an article or maybe set of data) for the team to engage with in a future PLC meeting, we will send it to the PLC Lead. We are really excited about the opportunity to develop teacher leadership skills through this experience!

Reflections After Round One

Our first round of PLCs just concluded today on my campus and it was so incredible to feel the excitement as we kick off this new system! We made sure to plan the first activity for development of roles and norms, as this will help set the tone for future meetings. The teams did an outstanding job and everyone was involved and eager to establish their framework and norms. Based on the conversations I observed in these first meetings, I know that some incredible work and dialogue is going to be taking place on our campus through these grade level PLC teams.  I can’t wait to see how their work will impact the experiences our students have, and the high level of learning at which we all will be operating.

If you are currently engaged in PLC meetings at your campus, I would love to hear how you have designed and supported them! If you are just starting out like us, feel free to use any of the resources provided here, and please connect with me @Fearless_Teach so we can swap ideas, insights and feedback!

Classroom Practices, Education, Leadership, Learning, PLN, Uncategorized

Building Strong Supports

nails2As the 2017-18 school year begins, I have been thinking about the idea of serving others. I wear many hats and each day finds me responding to the needs of many different people.  I am fortunate in that I get to work with students, parents, teachers and staff, fellow administrators, district personnel and community members — all with a common goal of building an incredible and productive school year – of building futures. What an awesome gift we have of being a part of such a magnificent journey!  But that also means that on some days we are all sdpread pretty thin. I begin each day with the goal of serving others, but if I’m honest I will tell you that I often fall short. I can serve some of the people, some of the time, but it is a challenge to be consistent in that with all stakeholders, day in and day out.

I had the idea of “serving others” in my mind as I sat down and wrote out my goals for the upcoming school year. This year, my goals include:

  • Getting into classrooms daily
  • Attending PLC meetings regularly
  • Giving consistent and effective feedback to teachers
  • Analyzing/reflecting on classroom data frequently
  • Making a few positive calls home to parents daily

I started thinking about what type of impact I can make if I work hard toward meeting these goals.  By getting into classrooms daily and giving consistent feedback to teachers, I am supporting students and teachers. I am also supporting the campus mission and district vision for each student. By reflecting on data, I am supporting campus needs, goals and decisions going forward as they relate to student achievement. By making regular contact with parents, I am supporting my campus’ core values and through my attendance at PLC meetings I can help to support the learning and teaching environment.

What I noticed when I wrote this out, is that the word “support” comes up again and again. I realized that “serving others” does not just fasten itself to my job, to anyone’s job, without the nails of support. It takes a consistent mental focus on goals, along with the flexibility to adapt to the ongoing needs of others, in order to support the learning organization and ultimately serve an entire community of learners.

I am reminded of a quote by Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt: “People don’t want a quarter inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole.” Taken a step further, it isn’t the hole they are after, either. It’s an end result. This past month I moved and during the fixing up of my new house, I drilled a hole in my bathroom. But I didn’t want a drill or a hole. I wanted a shelf.

When applying this same thought to our roles this year, we can say that our daily tasks, everything from meetings to bus duty to classroom visits, these things are the “nails” that will help build our capacity to support and ultimately to serve, our campuses and districts. To serve our communities.

I am excited about the upcoming year and I have a renewed appreciation for the many hats I wear – because I know that each one serves a very important purpose.  Each act, each function of my job, will be another nail of support in my overarching desire to serve others and build a strong school  year.

I wish you all a wonderful year as you, too, strive to support, serve others and build strong futures.