Saturday, June 30, 2012

Embrace, Adapt, and Enhance the Change

Yesterday, I said good-bye to the building that I was charged with leading for the past four years (I said good-bye to its occupants, our students, faculty, and staff, a little more than a week ago). It was not an easy thing to do, because I grew to enjoy being at this school more with each day that I was there. This school has excellent students and families, outstanding teachers who work hard to improve learning for all of their students, and a caring staff that goes above and beyond to make the school a great place to be everyday. I found myself taking a few extra walks through the halls and classrooms this past week, even though each was empty. Aside from its dedicated occupants, the facility itself was well designed and has been well maintained over the past 57 years, which certainly adds to its appeal. Although it wasn't easy to say good-bye, change is coming for both me and this school.

For me, I'll be moving to another K-5 building within the school district. The school I'm moving to is quite different regarding student demographics (more diverse regarding ethnicity and socioeconomic status) and size (smaller) from the school I've been at the past four years. I look forward to the new experiences and challenges that I will face in this different setting, as well as the opportunity to determine whether my leadership approach will be successful at another school. I certainly hope so. As for my former school, a quality principal is on her way, and I know she's eager to continue to move the school forward and build on its past achievements. I know the dedicated faculty and staff are looking forward to the change as well.

My new assignment has brought about some change for many individuals. I've embraced this new assignment, I look forward to adapting to the new setting, and I'm especially looking forward to enhancing this school to improve learning for all of its students. The students and families, faculty, and staff at my new school should expect nothing less.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Professionalism is Appreciated...Everywhere?

Although the real intent of this blog is to present evidence based education practices to improve learning for all students, I'm going to discuss a personal situation with this post. A few days ago, I was transferred within my school district from the position of principal at one K-5 school to another. The transfer takes effect August 27, 2012, so I still have some time to tie up loose ends and get our current school in shape for the start of another school year.

I developed great relationships at this school over the past four years with our students, their families, and of course with our staff. I had an especially strong connection with our fifth graders who just left us for middle school, because they were young second graders when my tenure as principal began in 2008 at this school. The connections I made with many staff members, along with their comments to me over the past few days, has caused me to reflect on my role as principal and to think about the influence of school leaders. 

Throughout my time as a principal, I've tried to lead from a professional orientation. That is, I treat people as professionals, I trust them to do what is best for their students, I provide them with as much autonomy as possible while still following district policy, regulations, and mandates, and I lend a helping hand whenever needed or asked for. The kind words that many of our staff members shared with me over the past few days confirms to me that this leadership approach helped to make many of them better teachers. Rarely did I direct any of them regarding specific actions to take in a particular situation or for an individual student. Rather, I helped them to find the answers on their own, and the overwhelming majority seemed to appreciate this approach. 

This anecdote is specific to the situation at this school and far from generalizable, however, leadership from a professional orientation seemed to improve student learning in our school. I'm curious, though, so please share your thoughts if you've experienced a school where professionalism was not appreciated and the staff yearned for a more directive leader.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Wrap-Up, Reflect, and Plan to Improve

The school year is winding down for us this week. I enjoy this time of year for several reasons, especially because come Friday, our teachers will have some time to begin to reflect, relax, and recharge for the next school year. They've worked hard this school year, and they've taught their students the value of hard-work and effort. It has also been a very rewarding year for us, and I appreciate all that our faculty and staff do for our students. Our students continue to grow and learn through the years they spend with us, and I know these dedicated professionals will keep our students' achievements trending upward.

Another reason I look forward to this time of year is because I have some time as a principal to wrap-up, reflect, and plan to improve. I continue to hear the words of Prof. Bill Garner, from my days as a doctoral student at Rutgers, in my head, "You need to take the time to read, think, and write." Prof. Garner regularly delivered this message to us and stressed its importance to becoming a practitioner-scholar. Not only did these words hold true throughout my graduate studies, but they are also crucial to my performance as a principal. Luckily, as educators, we're afforded the time to engage in these practices, and for me, there is no better time than the summer.

As I begin to wrap-up the current school year, it leads me to reflect on my performance during the past 10 months. I think about things that worked well for us, as well as those things that didn't go so well. I also think more about those evidence based school level variables that may improve achievement, variables such as professionalism, trust, efficacy, and academic emphasis. I examine everything we do and look for ways to improve each of these variables so we can improve learning for all of our students. Most of the evidence for improving student learning from a leadership orientation lies within each of these variables. Therefore, my plan to improve our school for the next academic year includes reading the scholarly literature to learn more about the evidence for optimizing school conditions to improve student learning.

How do you use the summer to improve your performance for the next school year? Please join the discussion and share your plans and thoughts.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dads, Hard Work, & Effort

I've been reading Mindset by Carol Dweck and studying more about her and her work over the past few months. To summarize her work, Prof. Dweck suggests that most people have either a fixed or growth mindset. Those with a fixed mindset hold beliefs that talent and innate ability direct one's path in life, while those with a growth mindset work hard and persevere to overcome challenges to set their own course. Much of Prof. Dweck's work explores how individuals who hold the growth mindset challenge themselves, work hard, and put forth whatever effort it takes to succeed at any particular endeavor.

In honor of Father's Week, I'm calling for dads to model and emphasize these beliefs to instill the growth mindset in their children. Why? Well, Dweck and her colleagues are building a strong base of evidence for the importance of instilling the growth mindset in our children. The beauty of Dweck's conception of the psychology of success lies in one's ability to train his or her mindset for growth. Who better to help our children do this than their dads?

As an elementary school principal, most dads who I speak with want to help their children succeed academically, but they often struggle with how to go about this. I think a great place to start is by cultivating the growth mindset. Explain to your children that hard work and effort will provide a lifetime of opportunities. Model these behaviors for your children to emulate. Let your children know that you are proud of how hard they work and emphasize that successes are more likely to come from sustained efforts than from innate ability.

Dweck's work suggests that cultivating the growth mindset is the key to developing the beliefs that one can become successful with sustained hard work and effort. As dads, let's be sure we instill these beliefs in all of our children.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Kicking Off Father's Week - Increasing Father Involvement in Schools

I know it's called Father's Day, but I'm a proud dad and public school principal who thinks its time we generate greater awareness about the positive role all fathers play in facilitating the transformation of children into hard-working, respectful, growth minded adults. So, I thought I'd kick-off "Father's Week" with a post about increasing father involvement in schools.

In an earlier post, I wrote about the importance of father involvement and how school leaders might facilitate dads becoming more involved in school. As educators, I believe we should not only emphasize parent involvement in general, but we should make a greater press to get more dads involved in school. I don't think many educators would argue that the majority of parent involvement in schools is handled by moms, however, the evidence clearly tells us that we need to connect dads to the academic and social programs in our schools so they can further help their children toward academic and life-long success.

On May 23, 2012, the topic of that evening's #ptchat on Twitter was "Father Engagement", and this chat was certainly informative for me as a dad and elementary school principal. Mike Hall (@strongfathers) initially got me fired up with his tweet about having three to five dad specific activities during the school year. He even began throwing out some data, which I loved, regarding improved science and math achievement in girls who have dads that are more involved at home, school, and in their lives. This led many educators to make suggestions about how to get dads to actually come out to the school. Many of the suggestions involved food and sports, but in the words of Mike Hall, "we OVERTHINK dads. We are talking sports and food instead of how much dads love their kids. Dads come in droves when kids invite." Mike was kind enough to share his step by step program for increasing father involvement in schools. Take a look at it here, because it will certainly get you thinking about how to do this in your community.

As you can see, before we begin inviting a dad to our schools, we need to make sure he is connected to his child, his child's teacher, and the content his child is expected to learn. We know dads love their kids, so we should begin by making a greater press to get dads connected with their child's teacher and the content. This is a great time to begin thinking about how to approach this for the upcoming school year. I'm thinking it might be as simple as having classroom teachers make contact specifically with dads to increase their comfort level and to begin connecting them to the content. Once this is accomplished and dads feel more connected to the academic issues, we can begin planning those dad specific events to get them more connected to our schools. One dad specific event suggested by Tony Sinanis (@Cantiague_Lead) was DARB, Dads As Reading Buddies. I think this has great utility for increasing father involvement in school, especially at the elementary school level.

So, as we embark on Father's Week, please share some thoughts about Mike Hall's program for increasing father involvement in schools, as well as your thoughts about how you plan to get dads more connected to your school.


Friday, June 1, 2012

Teachmeet Nashville 2012

Earlier today, I had the opportunity to participate as a presenter in Teachmeet Nashville 2012, which was a two-day unconference organized by Adam Taylor (@2footgiraffe). Yes, this conference was held in Nashville, and I was in NJ, but with the power of Twitter and Google+, it was possible for me to present at this unconference.

I first learned about Teachmeet Nashville 2012 a few months ago when Adam sent out a tweet looking for presenters. Adam and I exchanged a few tweets, and before long, he had me scheduled to present two sessions. The first was titled iPhone for Administrators, while the second was titled Twitter for Administrators. The iPhone and Twitter have been valuable tools for me as a practicing school administrator. These tools have allowed me to become more efficient, engaged, and connected to improve learning for all of our school's students. So, I embraced the opportunity to share how I've been using the iPhone and Twitter in my daily practice, while hoping to gain valuable insight from those attending my sessions. I adhere to my conception of school leader as the lead learner and saw this as a great opportunity to model my beliefs.

My first presentation about using the iPhone went off without a hitch, however, that wasn't the case for my Twitter session. During the Twitter session, my internet connection went down and by the time I rebooted, the session was over. I even tried to use my iPhone to get back into the Google+ hangout I started to conduct the presentation, but I only had video. Although technology allowed me to present in Nashville while located in NJ, it also failed to allow me to honor my commitment. So, my apologies again to those who took the time to attend my Twitter for Administrators session at Teachmeet Nashville 2012. It never really happened, but I enjoyed the opportunity and look forward to similar ones in the future.