Blogging Heads 15 Tips

Recently, my head of school suggested that he was almost ready to take a leap and start blogging. He just needed a little nudge. Hopefully this post will help.

Here are just a few tips:

1) Decide on purpose: to share what you’ve read both to teachers and parents, to share resources, to highlight your school, to be reflective and tell stories about the realities of school life, for personal professional development, to take a risk, to learn, etc.

2) Keep it related to education. – I’ve heard that nobody wants to read about what you had for lunch (unless of course it somehow relates to school).

3) Not everyone will like what you have to say (or care) – that’s okay, some will.

4) Keep it professional: don’t name anyone unless they don’t mind; I’ve learned that “transparency” is not the same thing as “say anything”; if you mention another school, do so because you like what they’re doing;

5) It’s okay to comment on issues and write your opinions: some issues are going to cause disagreement – that’s good, as long as the discourse is civil

6) First, read some other blogs written by Heads and Principals: Here are a few suggestions of Independent School Heads to start (there are other independent school blogging Heads and plenty of great public school ones that I’ll share another time):

21k12 (I like palindromes) – by Jonathan Martin: Head of School at St. Gregory’s in Tuscon
Peak Experiences - by Michael Ebling: Head of PK to 9th grade Summit School in Winston-Salem
Compass Point - by Josie Holford: Head of Poughkeepskie Day School

These three hosted a session called “Blogging Heads” at the last NAIS conference in DC, which I followed remotely. You can read a summary of their panel discussion here.

7) You don’t have to write every day.

8. It’s a way to responsibly model an authentic medium that many of our students will or already use.

9) You may reach people well beyond our own school community.

10) Think of it as a discipline that motivates you: for some that’s running, gardening, knitting, volunteering – do it because you want to

11) Like those other disciplines mentioned above, don’t do it for extrinsic rewards. The intrinsic rewards should be good enough.

12) Don’t always expect comments or replies.

13) Don’t expect all your teachers to blog. Do encourage them to be reflective about their practice – whatever form that may be. Blogging is not part of a teacher’s job. It’s just one of many ways to share.

14) Realize that sometimes, you have to stop, and even though you set out to write 15 tips, sometimes 14 will do.

A nudge was asked for. The  book Nudge is a book about the psychology of choices.

The philosophy called libertarian paternalism is what the authors of the book say works best in designing choice architecture.
I’m just a teacher who likes to think about education and share what I’m thinking: I’m not a philosopher, psychologist, or even a Head of School. To blog or not to blog? I’ll keep you posted.

Connecting Through Storytelling

At the TEDxEastsidePrep event I attended last week, there was one speaker told a very compelling story. Marcus Brotherton is an author, journalist, and, according to his speaker profile, an adventure motorcyclist.

He began talking about an earlier experience where, due to certain circumstances, he had to share a house with a crotchety 72-year old WWII vet for a landlord. It wasn’t until years later, when he had an assignment interviewing other WWII vets for his research, that he began to understand and reflect on what his landlord had taught him and perhaps why the old man behaved the way he did. Brotherton began to learn about developing empathy. He asked this question: How does one teach taking yourself beyond one’s self? Brotherton listed three things to develop:

  1. Invite people to tell their stories.
  2. Imagine the world through other people’s eyes.
  3. Suspend judgement.
With many education leaders talking about the brewing change upon us, and the challenges that lie ahead if we don’t adapt, Brotherton reminded us of what I think is the most important element in education – the connection between a student and teacher (that teacher may be another student, a parent, or anyone willing to make that connection). Brotherton also demonstrated very well that storytelling is a very effective way to do this. Empathy is a 21st Century Skill. Our students need to develop it, and so do we. I’m still working on mine.
The TEDx event was driven by inquiry and asked the following essential questions:

What could education look like in the next 5-20 years? What paths must we follow to develop engaged citizens in a digitized age?

  • What assumptions about our current education systems no longer hold based on new capabilities, new insights and new developments in the fields of brain and behavioral research?
  • What essential attributes must remain in future incarnations of our education system to be successful?

I think we know which question this speaker addressed.

Meaningful Conversations

I am still digesting an incredible evening of ideas thoughtful discourse on public education from a diverse panel of advocates for public school and change at Seattle University (Part of their Conversations in Education series). Each made one articulate point after the other. While their views all differed slightly, they were all passionate, and there were clear common themes that came through. The panel included the following people: Chester Finn, Kati Haycock, Tyrone Howard, Reverend Al Sharpton, Denise Pope, and Nicholas Hanauer.

The discussion was moderated by Joseph W. Scott (professor of Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Washington – and husband of one of my favorite profs at Seattle U.) He first asked each member to answer this question: Name the top two things on your list that you think is preventing achievement in public education.

Kati Haycock began and mentioned that we do not demand enough of our students. She also said we need to act on what we know. We know early childhood education makes a difference. Chester Finn mentioned that the state standards are too low, at least the Common Core curriculum seems to be better, he suggested, but warned that it only exists in math and reading and then reminded us again that the curricula is week. Tyrone Howard and Al Sharpton talked about the “New Racisim” which is saying to a child of color or poverty, “I understand your situation, so you don’t need to care as much, nor do I.” We need to become more comfortable talking about race and how education is not serving a significant part of the population. Denise Pope also agreed that our standards were too low, but particularly on authentic real-life skills. She mentioned that now we have doctors, who have aced every standardized test imaginable who cannot diagnose something because it doesn’t look “exactly like it does in the textbook!” She said there’s serious disengagement in school and kids are not healthy (both mentally and physically) – basically, she said (and I’m paraphrasing because I didn’t record it), “The curriculum is extremely broad, but about an inch deep and kids cannot think for themselves, collaborate in healthy ways.” Nick Hanauer (whose children I have taught), talked about bureaucracy, politics, and the need to distribute money equitably.

They were then asked to name one remedy they thought would work. It basically came down to proper distribution of funds, and shave away layers of bureaucracy.

Kati said, you cannot teach from a textbook – you need people who know HOW to teach, and you need to talk honestly and act.

Chester said we need to look at governance and strip away layers and have more leadership at all levels – not something that is hierarchical.

Tyrone said, use data and get effective teachers on board, incentivize them to go out to needy areas, include parents in the discussion, identify teachers that aren’t doing their jobs, try to remediate, if that fails – they should choose another profession.

Denise really spoke to the need for a strong Social / Emotional curriculum, and that the work kids need to do should be authentic, like the work we do. How many timed tests have you done lately? It’s like if my boss gathered all of us and gave us a timed test and those who didn’t score above a certain amount were fired. Many kids face high stakes testing daily, and we’re sending the wrong message to them. She said, kids need to know the value of being wrong, receiving redemption and leraning from it.

Nick spoke about allocating funds strategically and equitably and supporting legislators that support education. He gave concrete examples, like supporting arts programs in schools, and subject specialists. He also talked about the need to support early childhood education and all day kindergarten programs in public education.

Rev Al said, to change the culture, we have to create the culture, and to do that we have to have active engagement.

Active community engagement was on everybody’s list.

That was just the first part of the evening. There were three, but I couldn’t possibly try to summarize it all in one post, so I’m going to leave it there for tonight. I went with four colleagues, and I know one more who went separately. I just wish we could have had more people there , parents, board members, other leaders. It was an incredible and inspiring evening full of people modeling what they believe, taking action, and engaging in meaningful conversation.

Learning from New Teachers

When I was asked several years ago to serve on one of the boards at the College of Education at Seattle University, there was only one possible response I could give, “Of course!” While the courses varied when I went to grad school there several years ago, one thing that the college stayed true to was their commitment to service, diversity, and social justice.

I just returned from one of my favorite meetings there, because I have the privilege to be part of a team with other board members and professors to assess the portfolios of graduate candidates. It’s one of my favorite evenings because I get to see other passionate teachers who take their scholarship and learning seriously, I get to see others go through a very rigorous and reflective process, but most of all I get to learn from all these educators who are committed to growth, learning, and becoming better at their craft.

I’m about half-way through my career as an educator, but there is so much to learn from new teachers. The world they have grown up in is significantly different from the one I grew up in, and they have expertise in areas that I don’t. Sure, experience counts for a lot, but only if you’re still willing to learn and grow.

A fire was lit anew a few years ago when I read the books, Mindset by Carol Dweck and Drive by Daniel Pink. Perhaps my motivation to grow as a teacher has been a little intense at times, but it is who I am. Having worked tonight with such talented, committed, and passionate new teachers, I have a renewed sense of urgency to learn from the expertise of our young and able teachers.

It’s a tough economic time to be a young teacher, but listening to these teachers talk about what they will take away from grad school and bring back to their students and classrooms reignites my optimism in education.

What Can One Little Person Do?

A couple of days before our spring break, our whole school went to Seward Park (a large Seattle park) as we had done for the past three years to steward a portion that we had committed to. Many teachers and I agree that it is one of our favorite days (even though this year it was very cold, muddy, and wet), as it brings the school together as a community to take responsibility in our civic duties. In the past, we had been charged of a few duties including the removal of invasive species, but this year there were no more to remove. I would definitely call that measurable progress. Our sole job was to plant and mulch trees for the future of the park. The kids enjoyed nature walks, outdoor games, and of course tree planting. Although, my favorite part of that day comes at the end, when the entire school forms a bucket brigade to deliver mulch from the main park road to the region of the park where trucks simply can’t get to. If you want a scene of a whole school working together with a common goal – the image of kindergarteners to fifth graders continuously handing each other buckets of mulch with teachers, administrators, and parents interspersed throughout that chain, is a very good example of one.

What I love about service learning is the ability for kids to see that one little person can indeed make an impact in the world (we had a coin drive for solar cookers in Chad earlier in the year – an idea from our fifth graders), or even in their own city. We also go to a local organization to help package food for those in need, not to mention the various ways kids help around their classroom and campus.

The planting of trees struck a chord with me as our Kinder and 2nd grade classes attended the Seattle Children’s Theatre’s production of The Man Who Planted Trees today. It’s a great story (albeit fabricated) about how one person can make a positive impact in the world. The Seattle Times was enchanted in their review. So was a parent in her parent review from Seattle’s Child magazine.

When we got back to class today, some children asked if were a true story, I read them the afterword to the book, which admits that its protagonist was in fact a work of fiction. I’m sure Oprah would have fun with this story. I also mentioned, however, that there are still plenty of examples of people who make a difference with the small but powerfully positive things they do. Jane Goodall, is one living example. Harriet Tubman another example from history. Then I then tried to link the play they attended to their own experience of planting trees a few weeks ago in the park as well as the recent planting they did in their school garden plot. I could physically see the bodies of many of the kids change taking pride in what they had done a few weeks ago.

Sometimes these coincidences just happen. This field trip was booked almost a year ago, with no idea what date we would get, whether the show would be any good, or how well it would tie in with our school’s theme of sustainability. While the story is magnificent, the book is a little dry for second graders. The Puppet State Theatre Company from Edinburgh that brought this production to Seattle, had the children hanging on every word. Aside being a wonderful piece of theater, being able to connect this story with the work the kids did a just before break was a really nice serendipitous teaching moment..

There’s a nice  service learning article  that appeared in the connected principals blog a couple of weeks ago that echo some of what I’ve said here.

Kids can have such a positive impact with the little things they do, I feel very lucky to be part of a school that gives them many opportunities to do so.

Kahn – Flipping the Classroom

Of the TED talks given last week, this is the one of the ones I was anticipating the most. Human interaction is crucial to learning, but that interaction is just part of it. Can a robot or youtube video do my job? Only if I stand in front of the class the whole time and lecture. Sure, listening is an action, but doing something more interactive like student-student or student-teacher is a much more valuable use of their time. I had a few colleagues come back from the NAIS conference recently and really liked Sal Kahn both as a speaker and what he had to say. It really shifts the paradigm of traditional schooling, but as an educator, it also makes sense in many ways. I still need to explore Kahn Academy’s website and materials more thoroughly, but after this talk, I’m convinced I really need to. Best of all, it’s all free!

Go Dog Go!

Last week, in celebration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday, our class read his book, Oh the Thinks You can Think. It’s a great book about unleashing your imagination and the unlimited possibilities that are all there in your mind. What’s even greater is the story of Dr. Seuss’ persistance (and luck) in publishing his first book which I first learned from a book a colleague gave me titled, Everything I Needed to Know, I Learned from a Children’s Book written by Anita Silvey. I was reminded of Dr. Seuss’ story on her blog: Children’s Book-A-Day.

This weekend, I finished reading Poke the Box, by Seth Godin which is a book about taking initiative. It’s a book that basically says you have to do more than simply think thinks. It says you have to ship your product. It’s simple message reminded me more of P.D. Eastman’s book, Go Dog Go! which sums up the message nicely: Go! In Eastman’s book, he also shows that by putting yourself out there, you have a pretty big chance of being criticized and failing. If you don’t takes those risks, however, you won’t succeed.

“Do you like my hat?” says one dog to another throughout the book.

“I do not!” replies the other dog. This doesn’t stop the dog who asked the question from redesigning her hat over and over again. She takes the initiative to keep innovating. By the end of the book, he likes her hat. So Silvey is right. Everything you need to know, you can learn from a children’s book.

What prevents a lot of us from taking initiative? According to Godin: the fear of failing is one part of it. As educators, we want to instill the value of failing to learn in our kids. How can we do this without being risk takers ourselves? We can’t be completely foolish, or course, but as Godin puts it, we can’t wait for permission either.

TED talks are all about people who take initiative. The TED 2011 conference took place last week. While I look forward to learning about some of this year’s ideas when this year’s talks get posted, there are many talks being given in a TED movement called TEDx. These are independently organized events for those who think they have ‘ideas worth spreading.’ TEDxNYED took place yesterday featuring a diverse group of speakers. Its theme was: Empowering Innovation in Education. You could stream the all-day event live or view some of it later. There were a lot of calls to transform education using technology to engage the learner. The views varied among the speakers I watched, but one thing  they all seemed to be saying resonated with me having read Godin’s book: We need to engage our kids to take initiative, and to do that, we have to do so ourselves. There were a lot of people who suggested a flaw in the TEDx talks saying that they were all lectures. Godin would say to those people, start your own TED talk and make it more interactive. Don’t wait for someone else to make it happen.

Our school’s values statement includes: “We foster resilience and expect all to search and find, to fail and learn, to risk and succeed in a changing world.” According to Godin, taking initiative is an intentional act. We can schedule it. In fact, we’re trying this at our school. Wednesday March 23, after school, our faculty are all going to “start something.” Whatever that something is, I’m excited to find out what they did that afternoon. Poke The Box is a quick and good read.

I’ll end with this quote taken from Daniel Pink’s (author of Drive and a Whole New Mindreview of Poke the Box:

“Indeed, the message of this book is so profoundly simple and so simply profound, I can encapsulate it in a single word.

Go.

Don’t cogitate. Don’t ruminate. Don’t plan on getting started or wait for permission to begin.

Go.”

 

CCL – Are Roman Numerals Obsolete

I’m not sure who still uses Roman numerals. I learned them when I was in elementary school. I remember seeing them at the end of movie credits growing up, but that’s long gone. They’re still on the clock tower that houses Big Ben in London, but I suppose one could tell the time on a clock without numbers anyway. I haven’t even worn a watch in the past 5 years. Where else are Roman numerals used. I also thought of using the word sestercentennial in the title of this post, but it’s my 250th post, not the 250th anniversary of my first post.

We’re going to start learning about Ancient Egypt in my class, and I was trying to figure out what exactly the objective would be when we learned about the Ancient Egyptian numerals. It led me to think about when a certain tradition or practice ends and is replaced by something else, in essence, change.

The world is changing rapidly, but is education keeping up? We just had a week off for mid-winter break, and it’s given me time to pause and reflect about a lot of things. This week also gave me the time to figure out how twitter worked, and how it could help me stay apprised and connected of what was going on in the world without cluttering my inbox or remembering to check the various blogs I like. With twitter, I was able to follow two of my colleagues (since they tweeted) among many others I didn’t know who were eager to share what they learned at the NAIS conference last week. Even though I was unable to attend this conference in person as I did last year, being able to follow it gave me the renewed energy and optimism that I had after last year’s event. I don’t know why I hesitated to use twitter. It took thousands of years for Ancient Egyptian numerals to be replaced, but these days, companies that were once on the cutting edge seem to fade before one even figures out how to use it.

The week before our break, our Head of School gave us an article to read titled, “Why a School Doesn’t Run – Or Change – Like a Business.” Written in 2000, many of its points hold true a decade later. The article mentions the difficulty of change for many reasons. The author mentions that while teaching “benefits from regular refreshers and occasional overhauls, it doesn’t demand the kind of continuous updating that, say, law or medicine or high technology do.” A decade ago, I would have agreed with him on this note, but change in education, however slow it may seem to some is inevitable. The difficulties still remain, and school leaders must approach change with clarity, focus, and continuity while respecting educators’ motivation and innovation. The change has to be clear and articulated well. Educators can support change if the ‘why, what, and how’ are addressed. They can support change if it doesn’t mean “do more,” but instead means try doing things differently. Finally, a very important thing he mentions is that educators need to know what won’t change, so they can rely on some continuity.

If the objective of learning about Roman Numerals provides kids with different ways of thinking about numbers, it’s good enough for me and should still be taught. I’m sure our Latin teacher can give me at least X number of other reasons why.

I was going to write about a few articles I read today: George Will had an interesting column about Teach for America. Daniel Pink had a column about detesting the question, “What’s your passion?” Both David Brooks and Paul Krugman have chimed in on what’s going on in Wisconsin as have many others, so I’ll spare boring you with my two cents. You can read the articles by clicking on the links. There’s a lot to write about, but the Oscars are about to start, and I’m sure I’ll have something to else to say soon enough.

 

Leading From the Middle

Last year, after returning from the NAIS conference – a fire of optimism was lit. Change can happen and even though I teach at a wonderful school, we can all do better. But the pace of change is overwhelming for many, and for some too slow. Perhaps then, if we take the baby bear approach, change is happening at the right pace.

I wasn’t able to attend the conference this year in DC, and while there’s nothing like really being there, it’s amazing how one can get a flavor of it by reading blogs and tweets of those who attended. Yes, I finally jumped into this century and am using twitter. Like everything, once you find meaning and purpose for a tool, your motivation to learn will grow.

One session I was interested in was Pat Bassett’s “Leading from the Middle” as I have struggled with wanting to be more involved administratively, but would find it difficult to leave the classroom as that’s currently where my true passion lies. He gave this talk as a keynote to the NAIS Diversity Institute last year and included it in his blog.

So how does a leader make high stakes decisions under the gun? Bassett says this:

  • Insisting that the leader communicate clearly the vision and intent and that he or she has “created the conditions for success.”

  • Dealing with mavericks (so they don’t become renegades).

  • Knowing the importance of the “effect” of a leader and his or her strategy to change mutineers into soldiers.

  • Sensing the difference between what’s critical vs. what’s important.

  • Eschewing satisfaction with one great battle victory, in favor of pursuing to conclusion the next engagement to win the war.

  • Figuring out how strongly to challenge your leader, especially when he or she has never been wrong before.

    So how does one lead from the middle?

  • Informational/Expertise Power: Having the knowledge base and using it. (I know I wouldn’t be able to challenge myself and others in curricular decisions if I didn’t keep reading and learning)

  • Interpersonal/Relational Power: This is something I’m great with the kids I teach, but something I am slowly honing with some of the adults I work with. It’s still an area of growth for me.

  • Associative Power: [Great leaders have] a genius for social networking. [They are] connected — (you need to be the maven, connector, and salesperson all rolled into one) – well, I finally gave twitter a try this mid-winter break, and I have to say, if you’re selective in what you follow (for me it’s education related), those connections happen rapidly. Facebook is good for family and friends, but it isn’t as focused on education. I really don’t need everyone to know what I had for lunch today.

  • So, from Pat Bassett’s talk today, here are some things I took away from others attending:

  • It is important to nurture your followers – it’s about the movement, not you
  • Those in the middle must take risks to lead
  • From the middle you must push your leader to communicate clearly
  • “Be bold about what matters most” a quote from Rob Evans via Raventech who shared a lot of what took place at the conference this week. One of the many ways to attend (albeit virtually)
  • By the way, for someone like me, twitter is extremely useful at working on brevity. 140 characters is not a lot. One has to choose one’s words carefully.