Saturday, July 18, 2015

What my brother has taught me

Tonight I celebrated my only sibling, my brother's birthday, he will be 41 in a few short days.  He is my older brother, and he has Down Syndrome.  My mom and dad tell me that about age 5 I realized he was unique and I began to take on the role of the big brother in many situations.  Growing up we were always together, playing sports, vacations, going to park, and arguing over car seats.  Pretty normal stuff for two brothers.  As a matter of fact nothing was different until we were around other people that were not our immediate family.  In all situations I learned so much from him and about me.

Perseverance/grit -  Such trendy words in academics, but my brother figured this out very early on.  He was not going to be held back as the perception that he could not achieve would lend you to believe.  He was stubborn enough to figure out most of what he needed and occasionally asked for help.  He mostly though, wanted to do everything himself.  I just watched him continuously struggle  until he got the level of success that was achievable for him.

Willingness to Fight - There were so many instances growing up where my brother and I would be in a situation on a playground or other area where people would make comments, looks, or in some cases physically harass my brother.  Many times it was older kids and not knowing any better I would get in fights with them.  They mad me so angry and I felt I had no other choice.  I usually lost, but at least I felt like we took away from the exchange a feeling of not backing down.

Patience - Because my brother was so stubborn and at times needed more time to complete tasks, he and I both had to be patient with each other.  I had to be patient as to not do everything for him, and he needed to be patient not to get frustrated and yell at me for telling him to hurry up.  Going through this cycle almost every day for more than a decade showed me that people need to have experiences for themselves to feel accomplishment and we need to give them the time to find successes.

Positive outlook on life - I don't ever think I saw my brother depressed.  He certainly got upset, threw a tantrum, and refused to comply (many times), but it was always short lived.  He showed me what it means to have short memory about the negative and look forward to better times ahead.  He taught me that the moment is the moment, and when possible the future looks better, try to get there as soon as possible.

Happy 41st Birthday Bro! You have taught me more than any other individual I have ever come in contact with.  I can not thank you enough, although I know you don't want or need that.  You just want to be my brother and I feel the same way.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Difficult Conversations The Backbone Of Leadership

I have talked to many leaders of schools over the past 10.5 years as an administrator, both locally and globally.  All the struggles they face with staff come down to one issue.  Here it what they say:  "They (the staff) don't get it, their thinking is off, they don't have the right attitude, or their mindset is not in the right place."  I hear other admins complaints about this all the time.  "If the staff could just change their attitude or feelings about something, things would be so much easier."

I generally agree, it would be easier if everyone was motivated to improve all the time and always make decisions with the student being the center of that decision.  I leave the conversation with these peers with the same question each time.  How do we improve this?  Is it acceptable to define a problem, understand the problem, and then not do anything?  My simple answer is NO, act on your feelings.  It is your job as a leader to act and address these concerns, it is also the only fair thing to do on so many levels.

Not doing something at this moment when your feelings are all telling you to do something is the definition of ineffective leadership.  In these cases the problem is clear, there needs to be an understanding about expectations and attitudes towards some particular outcome or way of thinking.

We are human so we solve problems in a social setting, by talking, listening, and then thinking before we repeat the cycle.  Why do so many leaders not understand this very basic concept?  As a young administrator at 27 years old working in a middle school where I was challenged every day by all sorts of factors, I found it easy to say to myself, "I will talk to that staff member tomorrow".  All the while knowing fully well that after sleeping on it, the emotion would be gone and I would not be able to motivate myself to have that conversation.  So status quo was maintained and negative or ineffective attitudes were not changed and everyone was left without a leader that they needed.  The staff needed more than someone to care for them, appreciate them, and support them, where I was pretty good.  That was not good enough and I fell short.

They also really needed a leader that would address those things with their colleagues that needed to be addressed so that they could work in an environment that was both progressive and moving towards positive change. They needed someone with a backbone at times to know that although difficult conversations were hard, they actually showed a level of support way beyond any thank you note.  These conversations with staff about their "feelings/attitude" on something are powerful not only for the staff member you are talking too, but also all the other staff members that want to have this conversation with this person themselves, but are not in the position to do so.

This might be the single most important leadership skill to possess.  To feel comfortable with the uncomfortable.  Be professional in times of great stress and anguish as you challenge someone else's thoughts about a topic, practice, or mindset.  This is the hardest part of being an administrator for me, but also the most important.  It is now after 10 years the part of my job I enjoy the most!  Don't get confused, I don't invite problems, but when they are present, I do enjoy working through them and finding a common understanding and pathway for improvement.  I have embraced the uncomfortable. I know that because of professional relationships that have been built going from uncomfortable to comfortable through the process of talking, listening, and thinking is possible.  It is not hard, but you have to be motivated to act, that is the key.  Sleep on it if you need to, but commit to acting, and not half way acting.  Go into this exchange knowing full well that your expectations need to be explicit, clear, and from a place of doing what is best for the school.

There have been so many people that have helped me get to this point, and I don't want to call anyone out in this post, but they know who they are.  I thank them dearly for helping me understand that to be an effective leader having difficult conversations when necessary are the backbone of leadership.  Nothing more and nothing less.  From there it is all hard work and commitment to that work.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Lesson Plans will be Platforms - 21st Century Planning

I spent last week at ISTE and realize that there is a lot of talk about mindset, use of technology, student choice, creation, and a million other ideas all speaking to how we should think.  I struggled to find a lot of examples of what we should do.  Edubabble got in the way of steps to design lessons, which is what teachers, coaches, and admins really need.

This past year in Colonial with "Power of WE" meaning, admins, teachers, district office personnel, and Shawn Smith from Modern Teacher spent 4 separate days doing instructional rounds with a focus on tasks and how we can improve planning/feedback to make the classroom an environment that is centered on time, place, path, and pace.

We were learning together and this work continued with the coaches in my building as we try to refine this process and calibrate our thinking.  This work is going to continue as we try to expand our group to get teachers involved in this formative and important work.

Below is a simple powtoon as to what we settled on after these initial rounds. This work was then flushed out with +Tara Amsterdam +Tom Gavin +Laura Bossert +Peter Leida +Lori Duerr and +Shawn Smith.  It was a team approach with Laura being our conduit to put in content and deliver the lessons to her class.  Her role was most important and she lived up to and exceeded our expectations.  The powtoon will explain crudely the process.  The longer video is more comprehensive as it shows you the thinking and steps to go from standards to 21st century lesson/unit.  It is not project based learning, it is standards based learning with projects being the evidence of student understanding.


powtoon of the steps to 21st century lesson.

  • Create a lesson within framework of time, place, path, and pace. 
  • Start with a standard and work backwards.
  • Use blooms/cognitive growth targets to make sure tasks are rigorous and student thinking is pushed.
  • Deciding on the output to prove mastery of the standards.
  • Layer in scaffolding so students at all levels can access content and tasks where appropriate for them. 
  • Putting in tasks to make sure all students eventually have to show mastery of the standards.
  • Finally, giving students choice with help of technology to allow them to show this mastery. 
The video below is a recording of a meeting we had as a debrief to show the process that was used to get to this level of complexity in unit creation with student examples.  The video is 18 minutes long, but I wanted to make sure this explanation was really comprehensive as a roadmap for others to use.

If you want to see this all in action you can join us for a day on October 16th.  Site Link below with details:

Colonial Technology site visit October

This was definitely a team approach by +Laura Bossert and +Tara Amsterdam championing the work and deserve all the credit!  

To be clear we use +Schoology as our learning management system and this work could not have been done without this technology tool.  The students in her class all had access to devices, which is important for his level of work.  If you have any questions be sure to reach out.  We need to get past "why" we should do this work and try to figure out "how" to do this work.  This is an example of that process.