Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lead by Example

I have been continuing my learning over the weekend from the comfort of my home (and screaming children) "attending" the Reform Symposium or #RSCON3 online. Well, actually, I only got bits and pieces while chasing my kids, but I will be able to continue my learning when the archived sessions are posted online.

Fortunately, I was able to join in with Akevy Greenblatt's session: "Building A More Positive Relationship between Administrators and Teachers." This session reaffirmed what I know to be important when leading and also made me pause to reflect on my practice.

Here are some of the nuggets I took from Akevy's session:

Lead by example. If you want your teachers to use new technology, then you need to use technology. If you want your teachers to differentiate, then you need to differentiate.
I would think that my teachers would say that I do this, although I know there's always room for improvement. When we bought our first SMARTBoard 3 years ago (a portable at the time) I modeled the use of it in a staff meeting. I have read books with teachers in book studies, learning beside them. When teachers have gone to conferences, I've gone with them to continue learning with them and then ask them what they needed to implement what they learned. When we purchased a new reading assessment, I used it to assess 20 students myself. Since all of my classrooms will be implementing the Daily 5 literacy framework (and eventually Cafe)next year, I am currently teaching a summer school class and teaching with the Daily5/Cafe framework.

Put yourself on the hot seat. This again goes with the previous nugget. Akevy talked about sharing a video taped lesson of his own teaching with his staff. Now that's the hot seat! When I was an instructional coach I also shared a video-taped lesson with staff while they practiced using the new teacher evaluation tool to evaluate me. While it was the hot seat for me (who likes watching/listening to themself, let alone with staff watching too?!), but it was great practice for teachers to learn the new teaching rubric and to put myself out there and build trust with them. It is time for me to put myself on the hotspot as the I just need to figure out when/how. Have any other principals done this? How else have you put yourself on the hot seat?

Talk less, listen more. Show teachers that you value them, their concerns and what they have to say. I have always been a fast paced person and don't feel there's time for "chit chat." Over time, I have learned that this is a weakness and that as the leader, it is essential to take time to build relationships and spend time listening to staff. A couple of books that I have found to be great reads for professional growth in this area are: People First! The School Leader's Guide to Building and Cultivating Relationships with Teachers and Fierce Conversations.

Give teachers freedom, empower them, give them autonomy. Give them the freedom to take risks and try things on their own. This is an area that I hope my teachers would say I do. It is because of allowing a teacher to take a risk that we are now going school-wide with Daily 5 next year. I can't think of a time when I have ever said no to a teacher if they can tell me why their idea is good for student learning.

Ultimately, a teacher-failure is a teacher-failed by his/her principal. This is SO true. As a principal I have had to have some difficult conversations and despite how uncomfortable and hard those conversations are, the only regrets I have ever had is in how long I waited to finally have that conversation. In Fierce Conversations Scott says, "I have not yet witnessed a spontaneous recovery from incompetence." Another quote from Scott that has really struck a chord with me is, "What are you pretending not to know?" It is my job as the leader to provide teachers with the necessary feedback to impact learning.

Don't sugarcoat it! Give candid, evidence-based feedback to teachers and provide robust, follow-up support.
This just piggy backs the above thoughts. When I receive feedback, I don't want it to be sugarcoated, I want real feedback so that I can learn and improve. Susan Scott states, "most people want to hear the truth, even if it is unpalatable" and "There is something within us that responds deeply to people who level with us." We have been taught since we were children "if you don't have anything nice to say then don't say anything at all" so it's only normal to avoid giving someone real, honest feedback. Unfortunately, it does no good for anyone (teachers or students) if we do not give real feedback. In addition to evidence-based feedback, I feel it is necessary to also offer support.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Managing the Teacher Evaluation Process

Teacher evaluations are a necessary component of every administrators job. Managing the teacher evaluation process is quite time consuming for administrators. Recently I recorded a podcast at Eduleadership Radio with Justin Baeder and another guest principal, Chuck Bell. It was a great opportunity to learn about the process in other states and learn some great tips from them as well. You can download the podcast here. This new series of podcasts with Justin Baeder are off to a great start, so I hope you'll join in me in subscribing to them on iTunes to continue learning from other great principals.

As a side note-recording a podcast was more nerve-wracking than I thought! I wonder how many times I said "ummm?"

Monday, July 4, 2011

Using the iPad to Increase my Productivity

Even though there are numerous other blog posts by principals using the iPad, I have said numerous times that my blog is a great place for me to reflect on my practice and seek the feedback of others. I have learned a great deal of iPad tips from other princpals, and I will list those blog posts/helpful sites below. I plan to use this post to explain how I am using my school issued iPad to increase my productivity and spend more time in classrooms (my ULTIMATE goal as a principal).

As basic as it sounds, the top 2 reasons I use the iPad more than anything else are to keep up with emails and my calendar. Since I spend more time out of my office than in it, I am able to quickly read emails while walking the hallway and delete, respond or file for action later. I have a busy schedule (what administrator doesn't) so I love having my calendar right there with me. This year I am planning to switch to google calendar so that my secretary can add to my calendar during the day if I'm out and about.

When I am walking through classrooms, I have just used the Notes app on the iPad to quickly type feedback to teachers and email them. We do not have wifi throughout our building, but I could still use the email feature and have this sync when I went near the wifi hotspot. I also emailed these to myself and kept them all in a folder for teacher feedback. So here's what you would actually see me doing when I'm making rounds-when I enter a classroom I would open up a new note and start typing "Dear Ms. Carson, When I visited your classroom..." I will either type one handed (I'm getting good at that) while in the classroom or wait until I get in the hallway if any students seem distracted by what I'm doing. Then I email the teacher the note right away. Then I open my Simple Goals app (see below) and tap on my classroom walkthroughs goal to add another one for the week. Then I go to my clipboard (here's when I need a suggestion) to find my teacher spreadsheet and write the date of my walk through. I still do this because I like to visually see who I haven't been to yet. I would love any app suggestions to still do this and get rid of my clipboard!

I have just begun to use Evernote in place of the Notes app. Since Evernote is a web based virtual cabinet, I love that I can access my notes on my iPad, iPod, or desktop. When typing up teacher feedback, I can also add a "tag" so it will organize my notes by teacher instead of having them all within one of my email folders. The only problem I've found is that when I email the note to a teacher, it goes straight to their junk mail file thanks to our web filter, so I don't think I can use this for my walk throughs.

I keep track of my daily goals with the app "Simple Goals." This is a simple free app that just lets you keep a running total of goals for each week. This is where I keep track of the number of classroom walkthroughs, 1:1 discussions with staff, if I leave my office with a clean desk, and if I exercise (that one is usually a low number!)

I used to be the queen of post-it notes of to-do lists each day, but I have now been using the app "Get it Done." What I love about this app is that I can organize To Do folders and categorize them by when they're do. It is easier on my eyes/brain to just see the list of what I need to do for the day and not my entire list of EVERYTHING! Every time I remember something I need to do, I just add it in there, put a date on it and add it to a special group/folder if I need to. Some of the group/folders I've had running for to-do lists include: staff evaluations, summer school preparation, To Learn, etc.

Those are the main apps I use each day, but I do also utilize the following apps:
-Twitter (only can use this at home, no twitter access at school)
-Google docs
-Google Reader
-App Shopper (I love seeing when apps are down in price or FREE!)
-Various news apps
-Kindle (I also love that this syncs with the kindle reader on my iPod)
-PowerSchool shortcut (this is our student information system)

The Complete List of iPad Tips, Tricks and Tutorials

10 Ways to Work Smarter on Your iPad

iPad Resources for Administrators

Blog posts by other principals:
The 21st Century Principal

A Principal's Reflections

Sunday, July 3, 2011

My #1 Recommended Resource

I have been asked to share my favorite resource (and why) with a class of pre-service administrators. The answer to that question is easy for me...twitter. For those of you who do not know what twitter is yet, you have been missing out. Check out this post if you want to know what you’ve been missing out on. Just last week a principal said to me, “isn’t twitter for celebrities?” Sure, twitter is for celebrities and you can use it to follow celebrities if you choose to, but what administrator has time to follow celebrities?

Being a principal (or serving in any administrative position) is a lonely job. As a teacher I enjoyed collaborating with my team and found it easy to collaborate with other teachers. My grade level met almost daily for planning, to discuss benchmark assessment results, bounce ideas off of each other or to just enjoy each others’ company at lunch time. Now as an elementary principal (of the ONLY elementary school in a small district and with no Assistant Principal) I go through my day with no job-alike colleague to connect with. I’ll be quite honest and admit that I didn’t even think I would make it through my first year... until I found twitter half way through that year.

I have developed my own personal Professional Learning Network (PLN) through twitter. I continue my learning every day by reading blog posts, news articles or new research that other professionals “tweet” each day. I can tweet a question and get replies from other administrators almost instantly. Someone recently tweeted the quote “great leaders learn from their mistakes, brilliant leaders learn from other mistakes.” The only way to learn from others is if you are connected. Many of the educators in my PLN are transparent about their learning in their blogs online. Here are just a couple of examples: The Principal of Change and A Principal's Reflections Blogging provides a means to reflect on your practice in a public way to gain feedback from others. At first I was very hesitant about publicly posting my reflections that could be ready by my staff, school board members or parents...but I got over that. I benefit so much from reading others’ blogs, that I now blog too (I am just not that great at keeping up with it).

By following other professionals on twitter I can learn from what they tweet from conferences that I don’t attend. I didn’t attend ASCD, ISTE, or The Sisters’ Daily 5 conferences but I followed others who did and was fortunate to learn from what they tweeted throughout their day of learning. There are also regularly scheduled “chats” each week to get involved in. While I’m sitting at home in my pajamas I can participate in dialogue with others each week for the #cpchat (Connected Principals), #teachchat, #ntchat (learning how to support new teachers), and #edchat (see the links below to find a list of all regularly scheduled chats).

I have made close enough connections with some of the administrators on twitter that I have been fortunate to be able to call on them for help when I need it. There have been a few times when I’ve sent an email during the school day asking for help with something (because twitter is blocked in our building) or spent some late nights in real time chat discussing a current problem in my building and seeking advice (that is not tweetable).

As educators, we must teach students to become lifelong learners. Teachers need to model their love for reading and learning in the classroom. Principals need to model this for their staff. If YOU are not continuously learning and growing as a professional, then the majority of your staff will not either. If you are not going to continue learning, then do not become a principal!

There are many great resources online to learn how to get started on twitter:
Twitter 101 Video
Twitter 102 Video
K-3 Teachers guide to Twitter
10 Steps for Educators new to twitter
List of all education related chats on Twitter