Questioning the Status Quo

I’ve always questioned the status quo as far back as my first year of teaching. There was an abundance of negative talk about the administration, other teachers, and how students were unprepared for learning. Most of it occurred in the faculty lounge, and I soon abandoned that room because the negative atmosphere affected me and my attempts to maintain a positive outlook. 

 

As a new teacher, it’s tough to be surrounded by teachers who don’t want professional development or complain about new initiatives. For me, the greatest challenge was feeling like an outsider. Negative attitudes don’t build community and make it very challenging many teachers and for the principal to build collective efficacy among staff.

 

Negative attitudes and unproductive teaching practices can be powerful; they can take hold of a school’s culture, spread like a virus, and affect teaching and students’ learning.  Once I became a principal, I made a commitment to work diligently to stop practices that have continued so long.  Some teachers accept them as tradition or offer rationales such as: “We’ve always done it that way here.” or It’s worked for me, it should be good enough now.” The question that begs answering is, What are these practices and how can we can we stop them?  

 

No doubt, they need to go. To accomplish this means raising your awareness of practices that make no sense.  It won’t happen after one try. Entrenched ideas, like those listed below, require vigilance on your part. Don’t give up. When you address them, Always. Remain. Positive. To maintain a positive stance, I’ve included a section called “Changeover” which offers suggestions for transforming negative practices in your school to positives.

Resistance to Change: Resisting change runs a wide gamut. It can be refusing to adopt research-based best practices, being unwilling to try collaborative learning, refusing to integrate technology, attending professional learning in body but not in mind and spirit. Beliefs and statements among staff enable you to spot resistance. Listen for comments such as, “This, too, shall pass,” or “It was good enough for me, it should be good enough for these students.” Some staff have feelings of entitlement: “Families love me so I can do what I want.”

Changeover: Extend invitations to teachers to participate in learning that can bring meaningful changes to teaching practices. Accepting an invitation means a teacher has made a commitment. Have those involved in change bring artifacts and lesson results to team and department meetings and share. Enthusiasm and good news can spread; give yourself and your staff the gift of time.

Unconditional Defenders: Some staff members feel that the principal needs to defend them to a parent or central office administrator even if the teacher’s actions are indefensible. When a staff member makes an egregious error, you need to take positive action. This might make you unpopular, but as you work to support the person, you can transform this attitude.

Changeover: First, take the time to listen to the staff member and those affected by his or her actions. Help the staff person understand the mistake and discuss ways to avoid repeating it. Be part of the reflective process through meaningful conversations and show staff what kind of support helps them grow and improve.

The Count Down Mentality: In many schools, at the end of the first day, you can hear staff say, “Only 179 school days left.” Some teachers even keep a countdown calendar. This creates a mindset among staff that teaching is a job, not a calling.

Changeover: First, if you hear these comments, start a conversation immediately. Make it known that everyone is at your school to help and support children’s learning and emotional wellbeing. Revisit this mindset at team and department meetings. Invite teachers to share how they have helped move a child forward and continually point out how the teachers sharing illustrates why we come to work each day.

Too Much Tolerance: Beware of condoning unprofessional behaviors among staff and central office administrators in order to cultivate an alliance. If doing this is against your beliefs and values, then you will confuse staff because they won’t know what you truly stand for and value. Moreover, if your words and actions change with each situation, you give staff the license to do the same.

Changeover:  Take a deep look at yourself and have an in-the-head, reflective conversation. Make sure you understand what you believe and value as a principal and avoid compromising these beliefs. Always keep in mind why you are a principal—to advocate for and support children and their teachers.

Unprofessional Dress: If your school has a dress code for staff and students, then both groups need to follow it. A teacher not following the dress code will have difficulty discussing a breach of dress code with a student. Also, staff should care how they present themselves to students and colleagues.

Changeover:  Find out why a staff member continually ignores the school’s dress code. Set aside time to meet and have conversations about this.  Help the person see how his actions affect the morale of other staff members and students. Then, make it clear that part of the job is abiding by the dress code with a goal to look professionally appropriate for students and staff.

Excuses, Excuses: Some staff always have a reason for being late to bus or recess duty, or for not standing in the hall when classes change. This outlook can prevent staff from embracing a growth mindset as they rationalize their decisions, attitudes, and behaviors.

Changeover: Keep a list of excuses made and then discuss the list with the teacher. Help him or her understand how not appearing or being tardy for school duty, affects the entire school community. For change to occur, you will have to help a person understand the whys.

Closing Thoughts

The practices I’ve discussed need to stop because each one hurts students and your school community. My challenge to you is to be part of the solution by taking the time to have meaningful, honest, and supportive conversations with staff to help them understand why a practice, behavior, or words aren’t acceptable.  Your students, teachers, and school community deserve it.

Check out our podcast on things that need to go in education!

Check out my book, The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook

Naming Strengths is Like an Extra Shot of Espresso

 

By Gravity Goldberg

Let’s face it. By 1:00 pm a third of us are wishing for a diet coke, a third want a Macchiato, and another third want a power nap. Being the kind of teacher who plans purposefully, patiently meets students where they are, and keeps up to date with the latest tips and research can be exhausting. Of course there are also the unplanned events that claim our attention like parent emails, unexpected meetings, and the social interactions that seep into our classrooms and fill it with peer drama and mediation. While that caffeine and sugar boost give us a quick fix it also leaves us jittery, rounder around the waist, and crashing later in the day. This led me in search of other, healthier, and more sustainable ways to get that much needed energy boost.

By looking at the research from positive psychology and sociology I found that one of the best things we can do for us and our students is to focus on building from strengths. It turns out that we train our brains to look for whatever we think matters most. If we believe that focusing on strengths is important we will begin to look for them and then find them everywhere with every student. On the other hand, when we look for what is not working, we can also find that everywhere. The biggest difference is that strengths make us feel good and when we feel good we are happier, more energized and more successful teachers.

Every day I sit with a reader and ask him about his process. I get curious about what this particular reader thinks about, notices, and does as he reads. I really listen. Then I allow myself to be impressed by what he already knows how to do. By focusing on a reader’s strengths I fill up on positivity that can’t help but give me a boost.
After noticing a strength I explain it to the reader so he can also relish in the hard work that is paying off. While giving the feedback I really take in his change in facial expression and demeanor. The toothy grins, the rosy glow, all show me just how much the reader feels his pride. His pride gives me even more of an energy boost. Finally, I sneak peeks at the reader for the rest of the day, and enjoy the energy ripples of communicating to students what they already do so well.

Of course this does not mean I only reinforce strengths when I confer, as I also teach students strategies, but the teaching comes second. At first I had to train myself to look for what the reader could do so I could build from strengths. I put sticky notes on my conferring clipboard to remind myself of my intention. After a few weeks of daily practice it became more natural and now it is automatic.

Think this is all fluff, like whipped cream atop a latte? Think again—
this positivity practice makes a difference. The next day, and the next day after that, you see its impact on the reader. In psychology, they call it the helper’s high. In teaching, I’m thinking of it as a double shot of positive feedback that gives each of us a needed boost.

Click here to learn more about Gravity!

Follow Gravity Goldberg on Twitter @drgravityg

We love Mindsets and Moods By Gravity Goldberg! Check it out!

The Reading Teacher – Invest in Teachers

“Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.” This Japanese proverb supports what Richard Allington’s research explains: It’s teachers who make a difference in children’s learning. Yet, schools invest mega-dollars in programs—basal reading programs. computer reading programs with scripted guides that tell teachers what to say and how students should reply. The notion of a quick fix to transform students into proficient and advanced readers maintains its allure to many school districts around the country.

We need to let go of the search for the magic bullet that quickly turns every student into a successful and motivated learner. The solution resides in every school: teachers. Invest in teachers and make ongoing professional study at the building level the core strategy for supporting all students. This is not the quick fix school districts yearn for; this is an investment that works.

 Investing in teachers also means giving them the materials needed to reach students at diverse instructional reading levels: class libraries with 1,000 to 2,000 books for independent reading and book rooms that have five to six copies of the finest literature relating to the topics in units of studies across the curriculum—all at instructional reading levels that represent the school’s student population. Take careful note: having the best books available for students won’t matter unless teachers receive the training that enables them to use resources to meet students’ needs.

Pre-service Training

        While attending college, it’s crucial to learn the way you will be teaching your students. Instead of lecturing, teachers collaborate, experience project based learning, genius hour, guided reading, differentiating instruction, and explore how to use technology to enhance learning. In addition, college education curriculum should prepare teachers to manage a classroom of diverse learners as well as how to actively involve students in their learning. For you to work in a rapidly changing world, professional study needs to continue in schools where you teach.

Ongoing Professional Learning

        One-shot workshops don’t have lasting power, even when they are from outstanding educators. They can inspire teachers and administrators to reflect on change, but without follow-up, they tend to fizzle and soon are forgotten.  So, to make the most of an inspirational, active learning workshop, it’s important for administrators and literacy coaches to keep the conversation going and provide the support needed to change and adjust instruction. It also means that administrators need to attend workshops that you attend. The suggestions that follow maintain a focus on PD.        

Faculty and Team Meetings: You and colleagues learn using professional materials in ways their students will learn. You collaborate, have meaningful conversations, raise questions, share ways you could integrate technology, write about your reading and ask: How can I use the information in this article to support my students?

Google Docs: Administrators, reading specialists, and teachers can take turns posting a professional article once each month on Google Docs. This is an excellent way to enlarge your theory of how children learn, best practices, and twenty-first century skills: collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, and technology. You and other staff members respond on Google Docs with a comment, question, or connection to classroom practices. Observing Colleagues: By observing a colleague, you can learn about class management, motivation, engagement, and how experiences foster creativity and collaboration. Finding the time to do this is always an issue. I suggest that school administrators step up and cover a class to make this happen. It’s important to follow up an observation of a colleague teaching with a conversation to offer feedback, pose questions, and clarify understandings.

Teachers as Readers Groups: When the principal suggests organizing groups that read and discuss a professional book the group chooses, and the school purchases the books for the group, it tells teachers, “The principal and this school community value professional learning.”  Best, if principals invite you to volunteer to participate, as you will have to commit extra time. If the principal organizes groups twice a year, teachers will eventually join one–and the principal should also join one.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Take Advantage of Twitter: Encourage the entire school staff to open a twitter account and become active on this social network platform. Twitter offers interactions with educators and writers around the country and world. Learning occurs when you explore articles suggested in tweets, comment on these, and reflect on thought-provoking quotes that occur daily. Ask a question about teaching on twitter, and you’ll receive several thoughtful replies.

Partnerships: Encourage teachers to form a partnership with a colleague they trust.  Teacher partnerships hold myriad possibilities: discuss the kind of feedback to offer a student, learn more about project-based learning and genius hour, share ideas and uses of technology, professional articles, read aloud texts. There are no limits on what partners can share, learn together, and discuss.

Closing Thoughts

Nothing can replace you, the teacher, in the classroom.  That’s why ongoing professional development at the building level is so important. Unlike computers and robots, when you possess deep knowledge about how children learn, you can process students’ actions, words, and written work and provide feedback that moves each child forward. Moreover, you have a heart and emotional center that enables you to build students’ self-efficacy, self-confidence, motivation, and engagement in learning because students feel your respect and trust, your hopes and goals, as they experience your investment in their progress.  

Learn more from a great book by Laura, Read-Talk-Write

Leading Social Media and Your School Brand

Social media can help your school communicate better.  In this post, I am sharing tips and suggestions to give you some answers on the what, how, and why of social media in your school or division. What follows is a path and plan to consider as you create new ways to communicate and tell your story.

Basic Guidelines for Social Media:

Limit who has log-in access to any social media account

  • I suggest limiting who has log-in access to any social media account. Two or three staff who have access to a school Twitter or Instagram account is my recommendation. If one is out, another can still send information out.
  • Don’t give more than one responsibility to the same person. Consider dividing up who manages each account.
  • Focus on one initiative at a time- I suggest starting with Twitter

 

Establish guidelines for posting frequency such as:

  • At least 3 tweets each day
  • At least 2 Facebook posts per day
  • At least 3 Instagram Images per day
  • At least 1 video per month

 

Establish an understanding of exactly what you promote and communicate on social media- Control your message.

  • Balance of activities- Academic, Extra-Curricular etc…
  • Make sure you promote all aspects of your school and division
  • Communicate support and pride for other schools within your division

 

“You tell our story or someone else will” Eric Sheninger

Great advice as the best people to tell the story are those creating and living the story!

 

Communicating your school and division brand:

  • Everything you send out through social media should communicate what your school and division value.  
  • Posts and images should convey excitement, energy, and enthusiasm about your school, staff, students, and division.
  • Communication should always generate exciting buzz about your school, staff, students, and division.
  • Staff can promote social media through email signature, hashtags, retweets, and likes.
  • Register hashtags for your school and division. These make it easier for the community to find and follow your content as well as providing topics.
  • Promote our Vision and mission of your school and Division

Twitter Tips:

  • A school Twitter account is different than a personal/professional Twitter account- its purpose is to push information out.
    • Every tweet in your feed (not just those you post) represents your school.
  • Limit who has access, the school principal should be the main person running Twitter.
  • Do not follow many people and only after tracking what they post for a stretch of time.
  • Re-tweet from other schools in your division.
  • Mention other schools in your Tweets from your division. This can be done when you post or if you re-tweet from another school or your division
  • Mention your superintendent if he or she is on Twitter to further promote and communicate exciting goings-on in your school.

 

Facebook Tips:

  • Designate a staff member to populate content.
  • Establish a staff member who monitors Facebook daily
  • Posts should have images and videos accompanying text whenever possible.
  • Facebook is an excellent platform to share images and video of all the exciting learning happening in your school.
  • A standard of at least two posts per day will assist in keeping parents and the community engaged.
  • Moderate comments made by others.

 

Instagram Tips:

  • Use hashtags and create your own hashtags to label images and help to help them show in searches.
  • Motivational quotes are great to post and a great way to introduce Instagram.
  • Pictures of events and learning activities from your school are also ideal for Instagram

 

Video Tips:

  • Wear clothing that makes you feel good about yourself
  • Watch your body language — everyone else will
  • Smile with your eyes
  • Use your hands
  • Use your natural voice
  • Pacing matters
  • Many students like being on video and my experience is parents like to hear from the principal through this medium too.  But, it takes some practice to create a good product.

 

I encourage you and your team to use social media to build your unique school brand and to better communicate with families and your community.  Take the time to integrate at least one new strategy that enhances your public relations by meeting your stakeholders where they are.  My suggestion is to start with Twitter and expand using my list. Social media is an additional way for you to create an appreciation for your school, students, and staff.  People all over the world enjoy and appreciate the power of story.  Social media is another way for you to tell your story. Never underestimate the power of your stories.

Connect with me on Twitter @ERobbPrincipal

The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook By me! (Evan Robb)