Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Professional Learning--Eye Opening Experience or Energy Draining In-Service?

Professional development, in-service days, educational training.  Whatever you may call it--does it invoke excitement or dread?  If your PD days are mandatory "sit and get" sessions that don't appeal to you (and how could they?!?!) what if professional learning was more like a curated experience?  What if it was a well-planned excursion that allowed for personal choices, casual conversations and unique perspectives? 

Our district recently had an administrative professional learning day that included principals and central office leaders.  Instead of sitting in the board room for a meeting or learning through a webinar, we had a day-long experience that would help to guide our thinking as we planned for the next school year. 

There were no sessions.  No scheduled agenda.  No Power Point.  Instead, it was a series of experiences that promoted team collaboration and personal reflection with a small community flair.

Prior to this day, our team read The Starbucks Experience. (If you haven't read this one, I highly recommend it.  There are so many educational connections and insight into how we serve our students, teachers, and communities.) The book focuses on the 5 Principles that guide the company through their successful domination of the coffee industry.  The principles don't really have much to do with coffee and are applicable to any field. 

To explore these principles in more depth, we visited a local main street with neighborhood shops and restaurants.  We met that morning at (who guessed it?) Starbucks where we talked with a manager as she told us about her experience with the company.  She shared small ways that Starbucks pays attention to its customers and builds on relationships with one another.

Our learning experience continued as we strolled down the street and visited a family-owned bakery, chatting with the owner and his son about the connections they have with their customers and the importance of knowing what matters to them.  They shared stories of how they have maintained tradition while also moving forward with the changes times, adding new technologies to a 50-year old neighborhood favorite.

Next we visited a newer restaurant where the chef/owner talked about the ways his business has overcome challenges in the last year.  He recognized obstacles in his way, but worked to find creative solutions to them.  He urged us to take time to listen to get to the heart of any problems.

Our last stop was at a long-standing restaurant where we dined with a 40-year veteran of public education.  She shared the history of the community with us and talked about ways that she moved up through the ranks to become one of the first female superintendents in the area.  She pointed out the importance of knowing your community and looking for ways to partner with them to embrace new ideas during times of change.

Here we also talked with the restaurant manager about the idea of being in the business of serving people--which we often forget in education. She made connections with the way that her work aligns with the work of our school system. We have many visitors come through our doors each day (parents, grandparents, students, teachers, paraprofessionals, therapists, community leaders) just as she has diverse customers who come to her restaurant.  Each one may be seeking something different, but it is our responsibility to greet them all, welcome them in, and give them what they need. 

Much like Starbucks, we need to make personal connections with our customers.  In our ongoing efforts to move forward and be future-ready, we must remember to honor traditions, as the bakery owners have done.  We will face obstacles as the chef/owner of the new restaurant, but by listening and understanding the issues we can find success as he has.  Reflecting with our veteran educator, we have to remind ourselves that we are in the business of teaching. Teaching students.  We have to make learning personal for them, developing sincere connections, and helping them to overcome obstacles.

While our day of learning could've been spent in a workshop being lectured on leadership skills or listening to an educational speaker, instead we built connections among our team in an unexpected way-- eating, talking, and hearing the experiences of different people, which ultimately allowed us to reflect on our ability to be better school leaders. 

Things to Consider:
How might this learning experience change the way we plan professional learning for teachers?
How can we rethink what learning looks like? for teachers and students?
What opportunities to we have to reflect on education as a service and make changes to ensure that we are serving those that enter our schools?

Saturday, July 1, 2017

5 Phrases We Must Ban in Education

Image result for the most dangerous phrase we've always done it this way

A couple weeks ago, I tweeted out this picture.  It's is a phrase that I feel represents a huge barrier to positive educational change.  Apparently, it really resonated with people, as I received hundreds of likes, re-tweets, and comments.  This got me thinking about other phrases that get in the way of our progress in schools.  Many phrases damage the culture in ways that are challenging to repair.

So, here are the 5 phrases that I believe we must ban in education if we are going to provide positive, future-ready schools for our students.

1. "My kids can't do that."

A group of teachers are learning about a new initiative that requires student independence and a well-managed classroom when I overheard one teacher blurt out this negative phrase--"Oh, my kids can't do that.  They're just not ready."  Her attitude pained me as I thought about the students in her class that probably missed out on so many opportunities.  As school leaders, we need to fill our schools with educators that have a Can-Do attitude while also finding ways to support those who don't hold positive beliefs about young learners.

(And I'm pretty sure we should just get rid of the word "can't" altogether.)

2.  "If I wait long enough this (Fill in the blank---trend, administrator, parent) will go away."
When we wait for something uncomfortable to go away, we are wasting valuable time--time that we could be devoting to our students.  You know the type I'm talking about.  The educator who balks at a faculty meeting because he thinks "Eh, in a year or two this principal will be gone.  I'll just wait him out."

Ugh!  I hope you don't have many of these individuals in your schools, as they can put a real damper on things.  Make the positive so loud that they just can't stand it.  Once they see how an optimistic outlook can impact a school, perhaps they will reconsider.

3.  "He's way too far behind to ever catch up with the others."
We've all encountered struggling learners.  We worry about them when we aren't at school.  In class, we give them all we've got to ensure they their needs are being met, but some teachers see the impossible rather than the possible.  Yes, there are students who are far behind, but it is our responsibility to help them "catch up" in any way we can. You never know what small nudge a student may need that will allow them to have an educational breakthrough. 

4.  "I don't know why they didn't get it.  I covered it!"
How many times have you heard this one?  A teacher gives a mid-term and half of the students bombed it--but they assure you that they covered all the material. 

Our students learn in different ways and at different rates.  Are we designing instruction that will allow them to access the content?  Are we providing engaging opportunities to learn the concepts?  Allocating time for practice and feedback?  If a student didn't learn it the way we taught it, then we need to be self-reflective enough to recognize that we may need to go back to the drawing board. 

5.  "We've always done it this way."

It is easy to get into a rut--we've all been there.  We keep plugging along doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.  This happens in our classrooms, schools, and districts.  Don't stay stuck!  Sometimes we have to stop, reflect and consider if this way is the best for our students.  If it's not effective, then stop doing it that way.

There are probably more phrases in education that get under your skin.  What are your pet peeves?  How do you counteract them in your school?  How do we rise above these (and other) challenges to create positive schools that support teacher growth and student learning?