As kids are leaving the classroom.

A message to students as they leave a classroom.

Saw a tweet from Zac Bauermaster last week. The image above was a part of the message. Got me thinking.

Thinking about upcoming professional learning sessions. Of any kind. Or any upcoming meeting. I’m wondering:

What would our message be for our students as they leave our classrooms?

Be safe!

Make good choices!

See you tomorrow!

You matter so much to me!

Ask questions!

Be curious!

Be somebody’s friend!

I’ll miss you until you come back!

Did we laugh today?

Did we learn today?

Don’t underestimate kids.

We have opened 3 new buildings in our district over the last 3 years. A new middle school, a new elementary school, and a new high school STEAM Center. Science, technology, arts, math. Not actual steam like the Titanic.

One of the cool things that happens when a district opens new schools, is people like to come visit. And we love to host and share and show off. So yesterday, we were joined by the Fife City Manager, the Mayor, and a City Council member.

We walked around the building, pointed out features, answered questions, and generally enjoyed the entire event. We decided to pop into a 5th grade teacher’s classroom. The people popping in were the mayor, our superintendent, and yours truly.


The teacher immediately introduced all of us and asked the kids if they had any questions of the mayor. Bear in mind, there was no preparation for this event, and the kids are 11.

Here are a few of the questions they tossed at the mayor.

 “What is happening on 12th St. in Fife, over at the bottom of Fife Heights?”

“How did you feel when you won your first election?  What about the next one?”  

“What kinds of things do you do as mayor?”

Of course the mayor did a fantastic job answering the questions, and one of the things that I really appreciated was that she answered the questions as she would have with adults. Clear answers that the kids understood. The Q/A could have continued for awhile, but we needed to move along.

As we left, I was struck by the visit. Kids are great. Teachers are great. This particular teacher is a complete pro. She has built a classroom environment where 3 visitors come in, kids are not phased, she gives the kids the opportunity to engage as they see fit, and the kids absolutely nail it.

For any who fret about kids, school, teachers, education, civics; yesterday was a solid piece of evidence that we’re in good hands.

As we gathered to end our tour, the council member asked the principal how the city could best support the school. The answer had nothing to do with money. The answer was to continue to be a part of the school’s community, come read to kids, visit classrooms, expose the kids to as many different kinds of people, doing as many different kinds of jobs as we can find.

The kids will become adults, become voters, become teachers, principals, mayors, council members, and today was a step in their young lives into their futures, as citizens.

ChatGPT-Please remain calm.

We have a whole bunch of talented and passionate educators around our district. One of them is a gentleman named Keith Hannah. The list of Keith’s accomplishments and accolades would fill an entire blogpost. Trust me on this, Keith knows his business. His current title is K-12 Instructional Technology Facilitator. As with all of us in our small district, that title is the very tip of the iceberg in terms of what Keith carries on his shoulders.

So I like to use Twitter. And I’m seeing a lot of teeth grinding about ChatGPT. Kids are going to cheat. It’s the end of writing and thinking as we know it. Mankind will come to a close. And so forth.

Probably not.

Here’s part of Keith’s direct message about ChatGPT to our teachers. Note the calm.

“If you haven’t already become aware of ChatGPT – a form of artificial intelligence (AI) trained to provide natural language answers to questions on virtually anything and everything – even solve math problems and write essays incapable of currently being detected by plagiarism detectors like TurnItIn and Classroom Originality Reports – consider this your introduction to ChatGPT. I have spent the last week or so pouring over different resources addressing issues ChatGPT brings along with its potential role as a change agent in education. My “ChatGPT travels” have left me thinking about how this particular form of AI, which can seem a little nefarious or scary at first, may actually enact positive, transformative change.

Without question, ChatGPT and other forms of AI are disruptors to education. What’s more, they are only going to become more sophisticated over time. The first thing we need to pause and remember is that education has always faced technology disruptors…calculators, Google searches, and Wikipedia to name a few…and yet found meaningful ways to leverage these disrupters for educational value. The very idea that students can simply provide the interface with a prompt or question, and *POOF* an essay appears before their very eyes fills many-a-writing instructor with a certain sense of dread. Before we waste too much time worrying, however, I want to pass along a resource that many of you may find a measure of comfort in.

Click HERE to check out what I feel is probably the most comprehensive yet time-sensitive, thought-provoking, and solutions oriented resources I came across in my exploration of ChatGPT.”

This resource provides you with the following:

  • An explanation of ChatGPT
  • Potential implications for education
  • How to teach tomorrow in the face of ChatGPT
  • Ways to use this as a tool for teaching/learning
  • An exploration of blocking or banning ChatGPT
  • And, for the curious, additional resources to learn more

My favorite line of reasoning in the above? “education has always faced technology disruptors…calculators, Google searches, and Wikipedia to name a few…and yet found meaningful ways to leverage these disrupters for educational value.

I’m hearing about districts that are ‘banning’ ChatGPT. Not sure how that would work unless we’re taking kids’ computers out of their homes. How about we follow Keith’s advice and see how we can best leverage the power of this brand new tool? It ain’t going anywhere. Let’s use it.

Like Keith suggests.

200th blogpost.

On March 29, 2016, trying to practice what I was preaching, I wrote a blogpost for the first time. It’s not a particularly scintillating post. But it did serve a purpose. It started me on a writing journey, as a professional challenge, that has paid off many and many times over.

For example, a career path changing event is described on May 12, 2016 after I read Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, for the first time. In fact, George’s writing had such an impact on me, I wrote about it 4 days later.

I’ve had the change to meet with George several times, including bringing him to our district to keynote a learning session with our entire district staff. Suffice it to say, he nailed it.

It’s interesting to see the top 3 most viewed posts. I would only have guessed one of them. The top one is Midvale School For the Gifted. That dude has been viewed 14,277 times. I’m going to guess it must be found via a Far Side search as much as anything else. Number two on the hit parade is Distracted because of a device? That one weighs in with 5090 views. I would have not guessed the top two at all. I would have guessed that the third one, was going to be the top one. I’m especially proud of this one. Ten tips for new teachers! 1872 views. I’m especially proud because my favorite job in my now 39th year, was when I was a classroom teacher. 16 years with middle school kids. My strongest and most permanent memories of a career are centered during those years. I got married and we had our kids during those years. Just so formative. I’m proud that I will never have a job longer than my 16 years as a classroom teacher. I worked with amazing people during those years. Our middle school had an all star staff and two of my favorite people in the world, Dave Hockman and Kirk Dodge, were integral to any success I’ve had, and we carried each other during tough times.

What have I learned over 200 blogposts? Several things. First, when you think you are done learning, you need to make a change. You should only be done learning when you are ready to be done living. I’ve written about my embarrassing statements regarding knowing everything. I think the best statement came in this the blogpost Ten tips to be a successful principal, from one principal. I added an 11th tip. “I lied about ten. Just thought of a huge one that I can’t neglect, and I don’t want to delete any of the above. Number 11 tip for a successful principal is to continue to grow and learn. A real sign that it’s time to move on is when you think, “I know it all, seen it all, and can’t learn anything else. I’m full.” I speak from painful personal and professional experience.”

Second, the more you learn, the more you need to learn. And more importantly, the more you learn, the more you need to unlearn. So many things I look back on and cringe. Dr. Maya Angelou sets me straight.

Third, we’re in the people business. Big people, little people, medium people. Everything else is second to that, and every role in a district stands in support of the most important role, the teacher. Period.

And finally, by far the most retweeted image and message I have from these 200 blogs is this one:


We can take things very seriously in education and often we absolutely have to do so. However, some of my most special memories come from having fun with my friends and kids at school. Watching kids watch the grownups have fun, and knowing the impact that was having on them…and on the school climate, made it feel like we were playing with house money. We were being paid to have fun, enjoy ourselves, and work with students. Everyone should be so lucky to have that in a job, not to mention a career.

So, number 200 is this one. As Jed Bartlet says all the time in The West Wing, “What’s next?”

201.

Not a typical day at work.

First, I love my job, the people with whom I work, the work we do, and our district. I enjoy just about everyday.

Then there was today. WASA (Washington Association of School Administrators) hosted its Winter Conference. The conference was entirely virtual. Lots of organizations host conferences, and hosting them virtually isn’t big news these days.

But.

Our learning today featured 3 speakers, each of whom challenged me and us in ways that were remarkable. The speakers were Tim Shriver, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Marc Brackett.

The bulk of the conversation was focused on relationships, mental health, and their impact on students’ learning.

Here are a couple of slides that grabbed me, among all the slides that grabbed me:

Also words. Words that I want to remember and from which we can launch and continue our work.

“The human relationship is the foundation of the learning relationship.” -Tim Shriver

“What kind of normal do we want to get back to?” Sir Ken Robinson

Dr. Rita Walkers ABCs. A: assume you can help B: be a good listener C: Cancel judgement

And we heard from a student named Micah. Micah asked Tim Shriver questions via a communication device. His questions were profound and moving. As were’s Tim’s thoughtful responses. One of Tim’s responses had a group of 154 leaders in tears. What has he learned from Special Olympic athletes?

The power of networks and conferences lies in the elimination of loneliness in a struggle. There are good people everywhere, doing good work, caring for each other, calling out mental health emergencies (90% increase in students seeking mental health support post COVID), and designing solutions to present, hard problems.

Thank you to WASA for an amazing morning, our 3 excellent speakers, and Micah.

A good day at work.

Our Words

Our central office lives in one of our recently retired elementary schools. Lots of kid and teacher echoes in our hallways. I just walked over to see a colleague and was struck by the words we have chosen for our walls. Our daily reminders. Here they are:


I’m proud to work in a place that lives these words and thinks enough of them to commit them to public display.

Here are some of our other words:

Vision: The vision of Fife Public Schools is to be an inclusive and affirming learning organization that inspires achievement and personal growth in all students and prepares them to succeed in college, careers, community and life.

Mission: “The mission of Fife Public Schools is to be equity-focused and committed to success for all, including dismantling barriers for historically marginalized groups. Recognizing, celebrating, and embracing the diversity in our students and staff, we will…”

  • Engage our students in rigorous, culturally responsive experiences that link learning to college, careers, community, and life
  • Foster staff collaboration
  • Provide a safe and supportive environment for all
  • Cultivate collaborative, long-lasting relationships with families/caregivers and strong partnerships with community.

Daily, our educators in the classroom, move young people forward, into their dreams and aspirations. I like that our words reflect that.

#togetherweRfife

Collaboration

We are doing a lot of professional learning around Collective Efficacy. Just wrapped up several learning sessions with our building leadership teams. We studied and discussed the 4 sources of Collective Teacher Efficacy (CTE), and the 5 enabling conditions that can lead to the aforementioned sources. As I’ve mentioned before we are using Leading Collective Efficacy by Jenni Donohoo and Stefani Arzonetti-Hite. We highly recommend this book!

One of the sources of CTE is ‘affective states’. Affective states can be negative or positive. We focused on the positive ones.

Turns out that working together, “collaborations where peers supported each other helped to diminish the effects of negative emotions and heighten the effects of positive emotions on efficacy.”

Our district just published its new ‘Strategic Direction’ document, after an extremely thorough series of listening and input sessions from stakeholders in in our community and district. Our Mission Statement is, “The mission of Fife Public Schools is to be equity-focused and committed to success for all, including dismantling barriers for historically marginalized groups. Recognizing, celebrating, and embracing the diversity in our students and staff, we will…

Two items at this point. First, note the bold all in the mission statement. That is emphasized on purpose. All. Second, what follows the mission statement are 4 bullets, listing our 4 goal areas.

Goal area number two is ‘Foster Staff Collaboration’. The team then identified ‘Pictures of Success’ for each goal area and for students, staff, families/caregivers.

The Pictures of Success for staff include:

  • Staff demonstrate strong collective efficacy with a lens for supporting all learners
  • Staff function as teams rather than groups of individuals
  • Leadership is the shared responsibility of all staff

Our Strategic Direction is just that. Our direction. Our journey. And the path to our journey includes all in our district, an expectation of collaboration, shared leadership, and collective efficacy.

Three student voice ideas.

In the old days, I was a wrestling coach. My colleague and I would routinely attend coaching clinics. We considered it a successful clinic if we came away with one good, useable idea for our team.

The same theory applies to reading excellent books. The book I just finished is Street Data, by @ShaneSafir and @JamilaDugan.

It’s an eye-opener and I definitely recommend it. I haven’t tallied up the great ideas yet, but here are three for sure, all centered on authentic student voice:

First idea. “Equity Learning Walks and Instructional Rounds: Students as Colleagues. If we want to understand the student experience, we need student observers by our side. Invite students to articulate their lenses and questions by asking, ‘What should we be paying attention to when we walk into classrooms?’” Having students not only join educators on school walks, but asking the students to tell educators what to look for. Yowzers!

Second idea. Joint student-teacher professional learning. “One high school in Des Moines, Iowa, decided to try joint student-teacher professional learning. In their first attempt, administrators brought forty-five students into conversation with seventy-two teachers around how to make learning more culturally inclusive and engaging (Superville, 2019). The school’s equity coach worked with the students behind the scenes to prepare them for this opportunity, including dress rehearsals with feedback. The dry run was so successful that soon, nearly one hundred students attended a staff PD to help teachers sharpen their lesson plans and make instruction more relevant.” We have had kids join staff in various formats, but not, to my recollection, ‘official professional learning’. I LOVE this idea.

Third idea. Students of all ages are perfectly capable of designing and leading lessons. “Imagine inviting your second graders to pair up and rotate leading a community circle once a week. As an English teacher, I designed an instructional routine called Read and Lead to foster student agency and literacy. Students paired up to study a segment of the class text (we were reading Beloved and then Othello at the time) and design an interactive lesson for a small group of peers. Each pair had the opportunity to teach a lesson in which their peers would not only participate but would also provide feedback. It was so much fun, and I watched many a shy learner build moxie and confidence. The process also created a common language around teaching and learning in the classroom.” Again, I know I’ve seen this in pockets, but not as an ongoing concern. A fantastic idea.

So, Street Data, has impacted my thinking in a whole bunch of ways and left a legacy of ideas to implement!

Here’s how a network works.

Our Teaching-Learning-Innovation team is in its second year of learning with the WASA ILN. Lots of letters there. Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA). Instructional Leadership Network (ILN). We are learning with and from leaders around our state. Our two primary learning leaders are Dr. Jenni Donohoo and Dr. Peter DeWitt. Learning leaders is a good way to describe their work with us. So is learning challengers. Here’s a challenge from Peter DeWitt that sticks with me:


In our own shop, we are working with our principals and assistant principals. Our work is centered on Leading Collective Efficacy and our source material is Leading Collective Efficacy by Jenni Donohoo and Stefani Arzonetti Hite. We next meet again with our building leaders in early November. Peter’s challenge has me pondering.

I’m pondering the exact questions Peter posed. Do we all know why we’re learning about CTE? Is there a problem? What is the problem we’re addressing? Do we have the skills to address the problem? And are we, as the PL people, providing what is needed to address the problem?

This is the power of a professional network. Smart, experienced people ask other smart, experienced people questions. Pose challenges, in the context of the focus. And then smart, experienced people reflect, to make sure that the thing is indeed the thing. I think the thing is the thing, but who am I? I need to find out of others see the thing as the thing. The thing, in my opinion, is the loss of a sense of efficacy by some, or a lot, of teachers. That what they do, when they do it, produces the outcome they seek. The past 3 years have provided a fertile environment for efficacy to be diminished. Putting it mildly.

So when we gather to learn together next, with our smart, experienced building leader people, we’re going to lean into Peter’s challenging questions. And we are having that important and powerful conversation because of our work in a professional learning network.

Thanks to WASA, Mike, Chris, Jenni, and Peter!

Ritualize Reflection and Revision

Recently, our superintendent mentioned the book Street Data by Shane Safir and Jamila Dugan. Then at a meeting with people who evaluate assistant principals and principals, the book was mentioned again. Each mention came with glowing reviews. So, I got the book. Put me in the glowing review camp. This blogpost will center on the ritualization of reflection and revision. Given that I’ve highlighted passages on just about every page, this is just where I’m going to start with my personal reflection and learning.

Excellent book.

As I’m assuming with everyone who reads things and thinks about things, I apply my experience. I apply my experience as a teacher, principal, and now assistant superintendent. And oddly enough, as my career rolls along, now in its 39th year, I’m astonished how much I don’t know and need to learn. This book helps me on that learning journey.

Here are just three ideas about the ritualization of reflection and revision. My teacher experience flat tells me how simple and powerful these ideas are, and on the off chance that anybody reads this blog, or reads this book, please consider these three ideas.

The premise. “Centering student voice doesn’t mean we stop giving feedback, but it does mean we shift our role from expert lecturer to expert coach, charged with the cognitive apprenticeship of students. Reflection and revision are two of our strongest tools in this regard and help students at the margins accelerate their skills over time.”

Favorite classroom move/idea number one: Begin a class period with time for students to reflect in writing and/or a turn and talk: What did you learn yesterday that stuck with you? What’s a concept that still feels confusing?

I picture this one in my math classroom. It’s pretty typical to take kid questions at the beginning of a math class. I like this idea better. Reflection and conversation.

Favorite classroom move/idea number two: End each week with a reflection protocol: What did I learn this week? What’s one thing I feel proud about? What’s one thing I’m still struggling with? Have them share their responses in small, ongoing peer groups and close with each student giving the peer to their left or right an appreciation.

Also picture this one in the context of a secondary math classroom. I LOVE the question, “What’s one thing I feel proud about?

Favorite classroom move/idea number two: Provide students with graphic organizers and structured protocols for giving each other feedback on their work. Teach them to sandwich feedback! “What I loved about this piece of work was … One question I had was … One suggestion I have is …”

One of the advantage of being a more senior educator, I was able to teach in a whole bunch of content areas. I love this move/idea in the context of both ELA and Social Studies classes.

I’m about halfway through the book and can’t wait to continue reading, learning, unlearning, and growing!