Saturday, January 29, 2011

Where's the Fun in That?

A learning environment without fun is like a garden without soil. No matter how much fertilizer and water we give the plants, they won't take root.

When I was a teacher, education was fun. My lessons were fun, my students learned while having fun, and I had fun with my colleagues. I'm afraid that I might be losing my ability to have fun at school and that scares me.

There's an enormous amount of responsibility that comes with educating students and it requires a degree of seriousness, but I don't want to lose the fun in education. The best lessons I taught, and when most learning usually took place, involved elements of fun. Those activities are the ones students remember for the rest of their lives.

Teachers do such a great job of combining curriculum with fun. I'm blessed to see it every day and I hope I was half the teacher I have the honor of working with on a daily basis. However, the teachers need a fun environment too.

I believe in setting goals so here is my new goal: I will make learning fun for everyone at school.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I'm Not Racing

My three daughters, all under the age of seven, like to race wherever we're going and no matter what activity they're racing to at the time. When it's time to get ready for bed they race to be the first one to brush her teeth, get her PJ's on, and get in her bed. Each girl has her own personality and ways of dealing with this nightly competition. The middle daughter always wants to win. Always. Cries when she doesn't and taunts when she does and I'm sure she gets that behavior from her mother! I've noticed something recently though. The moment she realizes she isn't going to win she says, "I'm not racing." I thought about her today during our district-wide Professional Development.

We had the opportunity to hear Dr. Tammy Hefelbower speak about several education issues as they relate to our work: determining essential standards, creating 4 point scale work, developing assessments, and how we grade students. After her presentation in the morning (and a hurried lunch), all teachers met as grade levels and/or departments followed by building-level meetings.

It was a great day for all teachers who came with an open mind and a desire to improve. During the grade-level meetings, I facilitated the third grade teacher group. It was powerful listening to the teachers describe how each of the 14 elementary schools were carrying out the district's vision and goals. Some schools were more advanced than others while some schools seemed to be in the 'crawling' stage. My school is somewhere in the middle.

When we came together for our building-level meeting it was great to hear what my staff members had learned, unlearned, or relearned from their individual conversations. During our discussions a few teachers voiced their concern about our building not being as far along in the process as others while some teachers explained that we are farther along than most schools. It made me think of my daughter who says, "I'm not racing." This is a good point for all schools who are embarking on district-wide initiatives requiring paradigm shifts.

As educators it's important for us to do the work correctly, not quickly. Here is my mantra for the second semester: We're not racing!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Teachers As Leaders: Smaller Schools Can Have a Large Advantage

Working at a small school in a big district has brought some challenges, but it also has produced unexpected opportunities I neglected to see. Our district is working on several fronts: Professional Learning Communities, Response to Intervention, Marzano 4-point grading scale work, The Daily 5 literacy, curriculum mapping, and district/school-wide scheduling.

These professional development opportunities each require 4-6 days out of the classroom. Ask any teacher, that's a lot of time to be out of their classroom so these days had better be meaningful and produce positive results. So far, the PD has not disappointed! When you work in a large school, you have several teachers who can help share the load. When you work in a small school, the burden is carried by few.

The unexpected opportunity showed itself as I was compiling a list of all PD dates and which teachers would be attending. The list included every district-level committee, its members, and meeting dates. As I reviewed the list I noticed that EVERY teacher at my school volunteered to be on at least one committee, and several teachers are members of two or three. I want to say that again in case you overlooked it. They volunteered. They weren't forced. They recognized the need for leaders and they seized the opportunity.

A large part of the committee members' responsibility is to bring the new information back to their respective schools and share with the other staff members. My teachers are attending these PD days and coming back as strong leaders. As members of two or three committees they have the chance to see more of the district's 'big picture' and they come back to school with a clearer district vision and goal.

My teachers are effective and striving to become better all the time. That's not because of anything I've done. That comes from within each individual teacher. They possess the desire to become better and my job is to encourage their leadership and provide opportunities for growth.

Teachers are leaders at our school and I couldn't be more proud of the work they're doing!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Ask Me How My Day Was?

You never know what the day will bring when you're in a school building.  In general, most days are very similar, or at least the schedule remains constant.  The small details are the ones that are never the same.  Each day presents new challenges.  Here's a short timeline of my day:

6:00 a.m.  Wake up and get ready for work
6:45 a.m.  Wake up three daughters and get them ready for school, pre-school, and daycare
7:00 a.m.  Get in the car and drive to work
7:45 a.m.  In the office preparing for a grade-level meeting
8:00 a.m.  Grade-level meeting digging into literacy groups and RTI
8:20 a.m.  Secretary calls me out of meeting for an urgent phone call
8:22 a.m.  Parent phone call
8:30 a.m.  Second parent phone call
8:40 a.m.  Phone...still
8:45 a.m.  Off the phone because I have important things to do right now...greet the students getting off the bus
9:00 a.m.  Morning announcements
9:15 a.m.  Served papers for student custody issue
9:20 a.m.  Classroom walk-throughs
12:00 p.m.  2 students get sick in cafeteria
12:25 p.m.  Picked up dog poo on playground (during my recess duty)
12:30 p.m.  More students trying to find something gross for me to pick up
2:00 p.m.  Teacher conference
2:30 p.m.  Parent phone calls and staff Thank You note
3:15 p.m.  Greet students as they get on the bus to go home
3:30 p.m.  PLC Coaches meeting
4:15 p.m.  Drive home and make 2 parent phone calls on the way
5:00 p.m.  Hug and kiss my three daughters and my wife
7:00 p.m.  Church
8:30 p.m.  Get three girls ready for bed and read 'just one more story'
8:45 p.m.  Talk to my wife about her day as a 6th grade teacher
9:00 p.m.  School work so I can be better tomorrow than I was today
12:00 a.m.  (hopefully) Get some sleep
Start it all over again tomorrow at 6:00 a.m.


Sunday, January 2, 2011

5 Things To Do Today

1.  Reach out to parents. As educators, the majority of our parent communication comes after a student has done something wrong. We seldom contact parents simply to talk about their child's academic progress. Today, contact a parent for positive reasons.

2.  Get out of the office. Too many days go by without getting into classrooms to see student learning in action. Classrooms represent the life blood of our schools and administrators need to know what's going on. When visiting classrooms, be an active participant. Schedule your visit in advance and let the teacher know that you would like to help. Lead a small group, read to the class, or simply walk around and help as needed. One of my greatest rewards as an administrator is working with the students. Today, get out of the office.

3.  Observe a colleague. Teachers rarely have the opportunity to observe their colleagues and this needs changed. Administrators must make it a priority in their school. I'll be the first to admit that I am lacking in this area. Today, arrange your schedule to cover a class so teachers can observe each other in action.

4.  Write a thank you note. Let's be honest, we all like to be acknowledged for our hard work. Your staff members need to be acknowledged too. Don't just think about your teachers. Include your support staff, bus drivers, food service workers, parent volunteers, community members, and anyone who has a role in your school. Today, write a thank you note.

5.  Share your ideas. Too often teachers become islands working in the sea of education. A professional learning community (PLC) or professional learning network (PLN) will help build a bridge between the islands. Sharing your work and ideas with colleagues expands your educational repertoire and helps you grow as a leader. Today, share something.