Cringe much?

It is you!

If you have been teaching or principaling for a decent amount of time, say at least 7 years, when you reflect on your first year or two, do you cringe a little? Is it fair to say that if you don’t cringe a little, you may not have grown and learned very much? If, in year 7, you are in lockstep with your practices, skills, and thinking from year 1, that’s a problem. Somebody really pushy might say that if you are in lockstep with your practices, skills, and thinking from last year, that might be a problem.

I cringe. In both contexts, especially the teacher context. Middle school teacher for 16 years, principal for 12. Lots of stuff I would want to tell that young, barely 22 year old teacher, in his spiffy Miami Vice yellow jeans and flipped up collar. That kid probably wouldn’t have listened, he was so cocky.

Here’s the excuse.

I taught and principaled by gut and instinct. More so as a teacher. Pretty much zip followed me out of my college time into the classroom. And the professional preparation for this young teacher, at the time, was, “Here’s your classroom, your key, and plan book, see you in June.” So with that solid professional preparation in place, I strolled into a classroom of 14 year olds, and was off and flailing. I got better as time went along, but not even close to my potential.

Here’s the excuse.

I didn’t read, nor have offered or shared with me, one darn thing. I don’t think once in the 16 years. How about that?

Are we doing better now? I sure think so.

Here’s are recent examples.

Last week, we had a professional learning day, with two sessions hosted by central office leadership. First, was a session led by Denise Daniels, our new Executive Director of Equity and Inclusion. Her session was called, ‘Creating Your Culture’. We held the learning via Zoom, which one might assume would be problematic. It was not. It was helpful. It was like everybody in one big room, with multiple ways to share. Either by flat talking, or by adding to the chat. People were present, engaged, and vulnerable. It was an amazing session, led by a gifted, passionate, and experienced leader.

During the session, one of our middle school teachers, John Garrett, shared the impact the book Not Light, But Fire by Matthew R. Kay had on him as a teacher and learner. So….I bought it and am on chapter two. Chapter one hooked me big time. Lots a great conversation about establishing a culture in a classroom for conversation. Not assuming that one’s classroom is a ‘safe space’ because one has simply announced that it is a ‘safe space’. There’s ongoing work that must happen to make it a potential ‘safe space’.

Among the cool things in the above example is the fact that Mr. Garrett, as a teacher, is offering up a resource to his colleagues. That simple and generous act is already miles ahead of what I experienced as a new teacher.

Our second session of learning, for our K-5 teachers, was hosted by Dr. Lindsay Lombardo, our new Director of Curriculum and Instruction. Dr. Lombardo led us through work called, “K-5: Addressing Unfinished Learning in Reading: An Overview.” It is safe to say that this learning landed huge. And there’s evidence to that effect. Teachers had the opportunity to share feed back, and close to 80 of them have already done so. Not just positive feedback but earnest requests for more learning.

It’s a goal of our TLI department, that in 7 years, or next year, or next week, or today, our educators will look at learning during this time and recognize professional growth.

With no cringing.

Perfunctory.

This week, our TLI department started a conversation around the recently updated guidance from the Washington Office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) around Student Growth Goals.

About ten years ago, our state commenced a new evaluation model for educators, with an emphasis on professional growth, based on an instructional framework. Our district selected the University of Washington’s Center for Educational Leadership’s 5D model. One of the requirements of the evaluation model was to include student growth as a component.

OPSI, working with educators, has updated the guidance around Student Growth Goals.

They explain, “It has been ten years since Washington’s Teacher and Principal Evaluation Program (TPEP) began with a small cadre of pilot districts from around the state. The last decade has provided opportunities to hone evaluation practices to better support educator growth. It has also allowed for drift from the original intent of growing teaching practice; regarding Student Growth Goals this has led, in some schools and districts, to a singular focus on assessment scores. When this process becomes perfunctory, we lose a critical tool for more deeply understanding our students, their learning, and how we must respond as educators.

Any writing that includes the word ‘perfunctory’ grabs my full attention. Adjective: (of an action or gesture) carried out with a minimum of effort or reflection.

Ouch. And even ouchier? It’s true. And good on OSPI for calling it out.

The new guidance leans into identifying critical standards in learning, opportunities for students to draw from their own academic and personal experiences to make learning meaning, student voice and engagement, student and family feedback.

All of this feels familiar, hopeful, and powerful for kids and educators. And districts have a whole year to learn about Student Growth Goals. Some schools or teachers may pilot the Student Growth Goal process.

Some may think that these changes are small steps. Small steps can add up.

Found this this week.

A counter to ‘perfunctory’ can be a big change, achieved by seemingly small steps.

Here we go!

What’s your why? And then what?

My Why.

My multitalented colleague, Elaine Smith, recently captured our first TLI (Teaching-Learning-Innovation) department meeting in her excellent blogpost. She described the two questions each member of the department might ask her/himself at the end of a day. A very cool idea we stole from Jason Kennedy. I personally love the idea for a number of reasons. It’s good to reflect at the end of the day. It’s good to have challenging questions to prompt reflection. Good questions and honest answers can create accountability. Personal and professional accountability.

My two end of the day questions are, “What did I do today to encourage/inspire educator learning?” and “What did I do today to support students?” I stick by, and do actually think about, those questions at the end of the day.

Our team did themselves proud with the far reaching and challenging questions each put forward.

And then there’s one of Elaine’s questions.

“Did the time spent today match my why?”

Huh. How about them apples? Lots and lots of educators spend a lot of quality time thinking about why they do what they do. Their why. This is a great thing to do. I’ve seen really poignant and meaningful answers to the question, “What is your why?” Good stuff.

Elaine jacks that idea up 9 notches. We get busy. We do a lot of things every day. Everybody does. But what a challenging, honest, and abrupt question to ponder at the end of a busy day. Did any or some or none of all you just did today match up with your purported ‘why’? Whoa.

If the answer is no and if the answer is no a lot, is your why real? Do you need to adjust your why? Or do you really need to take a hard look at your time spent each day. Those are good questions too.

So as I often do, I want to thank Elaine for challenging me. Again. And you’re welcome for allowing me to challenge you.

Does the time you spent today match your why?

Hey…psst…it ain’t about tiktok….

So the latest entry in the world about which we can gnash our teeth about ‘kids these days’ is tiktok. Want to see how a great leader is addressing this latest version of ‘dumb stuff that some kids do’?

Here you go. Thank you Dr. Daniel!

#notoverhere #besthashtagoftheday

Obviously when kids are causing literal damage to their school, that is unacceptable. Full stop.

But to think that getting rid of an app is the solution is foolish. There will be 17 new apps tomorrow. Dr. Daniel’s leaning into kids as family, loving them, building and strengthening bonds and relationships, is a great way to go. Probably the best way to go.

Mildly related, fidget spinners? Remember the tremor in the force about those? I actually wrote about those too.

In neither case is the thing actually about the thing. The thing is about kids. And grownups. And those two things together deciding that doing unacceptable things won’t fly in this place where we care for each other. Relationships, trust, acceptance, and love are at such a place that a kid can’t imagine letting the people down who have built those relationships in the first place.

We’re good at that. Building relationships, trust, acceptance, and love are our foundational work.

#thatswhatwedooverhere

End of the day questions.

Image

Saw this cool tweet from Jason Kennedy yesterday. Really grabbed my attention. I’ve shared the idea with our TLI and principal teams.

Previously I wrote about the post-it notes we may leave around for ourselves. This feels different. More reflective.

As a principal, I used to, at the end of the day, run over the building in my mind to see if I had touched base with every teacher, every day. Not always possible to achieve, but an important goal to me.

Jason’s two reflective questions, “What did you do today to promote student learning?” and “What did you do today to support teachers?” are excellent! I would put those in front of literally everybody who supports teachers, which is everybody who is not a teacher. I am wondering if I can come up with any other 2 questions for myself that have more impact than those two. Different impact? More aligned to my role impact? Maybe not, but I might lean into the idea, with the first question, of changing ‘student’ to ‘educator’. I might change the verb.

“What did I do today to encourage/inspire educator learning?”

A concern I have, wholly based on my own personal and professional experiences, is that it’s sometimes too easy to stop learning and growing as a professional, which can have a real negative impacts on kids.

And then, I might flip the 2nd one around.

“What did I do today to support students?”

Yep. Those will be my two. The 2nd one, “What did I do today to support students?”, I suspect will most often be answered by thinking about Jason’s 2nd question. “What did I do today to support teachers?” Kind of a nice circle of thinking, questioning, and accountability.

I’m looking forward to hearing from some of my colleagues about their two end of the day questions!

Simple words.

One of my favorite quotes from Abraham Lincoln:

“He can compress the most words into the smallest ideas of any man I ever met.”

A professional, and frankly personal goal of mine, is to not be the guy Lincoln was referencing. In fact, in my earlier years, my dad once said to me, “Jeff, you should take every opportunity you can to keep your mouth shut.” Not too much subtlety in that statement. And of course, he was and is right. Got to keep working on that one.

Saw a tweet earlier this week from Monte Syrie. Included this picture:

Simple words.

How absolutely great are those simple words? Three words that convey such a huge message. Sort of the opposite of Lincoln’s statement. The most ideas in the smallest words.

As we go about the important work of getting a new school year underway, as we are establishing the roots of relationships with kids, we should continue to be aware of our words. Any teacher with any length of tenure will know that her/his words will echo for decades. For good or ill. Make a kid’s day. Break a kid’s day. Potentially send a kid’s life on a wholly different path…for good or ill.

#myroommessage is a great hashtag and “I trust you” are wonderful, simple words that directly speak to a kid’s heart. For good.

Together.

Together We are Fife. Fife We are Together

Started year 38 as an educator in the same district I started year one in 1984. Couldn’t possibly be a more different start. Or was it really that different? Might depend on how I view things.

That idea reminds me of this picture from the front of our brand new, beautiful Fife Elementary School. Does it read ‘Together We Are Fife’ or “Fife We are Together’? It sure does.

Some of the same stuff from year one to year thirty-eight? The night before the first day, for all educators, I believe, is a rough night. There is a lot of anticipation, nervousness, and excitement the night before. I always slept way better the after the first day, but was also always super tired the second day. More same stuff? Everything is new, clean, shiny, exciting. New relationships that will literally last a lifetime are being formed. Lifelong friends are being introduced. Words are being uttered that will change lives forever. Everybody is a learner. Opening a new elementary school really drives that home! Parent drop off, for example. The learning that occurred from day one to day two is unreal. Kind of a debacle yesterday at a school that was exactly 12 minutes old as parents were dropping off, then one day later, smooth as silk. Everybody learned, adjusted, grew. Nice work!

Different stuff? Let me think some more about that one. The examples in my head might seem different on the surface, but upon reflection, are simply variations on themes. Themes of caring, quality, learning, and safety.

Fife. We are together.

Together. We are Fife.

Same as it ever was. Onward.

Equity In Math.

A year ago, as schools were heading online, educators were redesigning an entire learning system, and a global pandemic was well underway, opportunities to read and write were moved to the back burner, out of sheer necessity.

Through a ton of hard work, thinking, planning, and executing, teachers have done an amazing thing. Kids are learning in new and different ways. In our TLI department, we now have a little time to reengage with reading and writing to learn and lead. Millions of excellent resources. Where to start?

Here’s where. Choosing To See: A Framework for Equity in the Math Classroom by Dr. Pamela Seda and Dr. Kyndall Brown, published by the always excellent Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.

The equity framework focuses on 7 principles, represented by ICUCARE.

  • Include others as experts
  • Be Critically conscious
  • Understand your students
  • Use Culturally relevant curricula
  • Assess, activate, and build on prior knowledge
  • Release control
  • Expect more

If one was ever a teacher of quality, one has ‘teacher guts’. Or ‘teacher alarm bells’. This book engaged both of those reactions for me. Took me about 1/3 of a page to know I was in for challenge, growth, and learning. What I hadn’t anticipated was a wealth of outstanding learning techniques.

Two to share immediately. Both are described in terms of equity in math. I contend they could live in many content areas.

2 Minute Talks: Addresses 4 principles from the equity framework. Assess, activate, and build on prior knowledge, Release Control, Include Others as Experts, and Expect More.

Two Minute Talks

From the book, “…the instructional strategy Two Minute Talks involves pairs of students taking turns telling everything they know about the topic of the day in one minute. This strategy addresses the principle of Assess, Activate, and Build on Prior Knowledge because it reminds students of things they may have forgotten about the topic, and it builds background knowledge for students who didn’t previously have it. Two Minute Talks address Release Control because students get to direct their conversations about the topic by choosing what they want to share, rather than the teacher choosing for them. It addresses Include Others as Experts because students are learning from the expertise of their classmates. Every student knows something about a topic, and they each have the opportunity to share that information with others. It also addresses Expect More because it begins with the premise that all students have some prior knowledge, and it doesn’t allow low-achieving students to opt out. Because every student must talk for at least one minute, no one is let off the hook for engaging with the topic.”

Tiers of Understand Protocol (Joseph Manfre): Addresses the principle of Include Others as Experts.

  • Tier 1: Do–Complete the task
  • Tier 2: Explain the process to complete the task
  • Tier 3: Empathetically explain the thought process used by another student to complete the task.
    • Listen to the other person
    • Try to see how they could be correct–maybe you’re both correct. Math is not fixed, as there are many avenues to arrive at one solution, and solutions can appear in many equivalent forms.
    • If you believe the other person is incorrect, explain how you are correct, and/or how they are incorrect. It is the responsibility of the person with the correct answer to rectify the misunderstanding.

Tier 1 helps students begin the process of developing their own expertise.

In Tier 2, students deepen their own understanding about the problem as they explain to their classmates how they thought about the problem.

Tier 3 is where most of the cognitive work happens. When students have to explain their partner’s thinking, their own understanding is deepened.

Educators who care about kids. Educators who care about equity for kids. Educators who care about continuing to grow and learn. This book is for you.

Educators who are choosing to see. This book is for you.

4 interview questions for kids and teachers. And everybody.

It was just bugging me. Ever have something bug you, especially trying to remember something? It was just outside the edge of my memory. That idea of some cool questions to ask teachers. And then….BOOOM! Found it. From Driven By Data (Paul Banbrick-Santoyo). Questions for a new principal to use when firing up a new job at a new place.

However, I wasn’t looking for the questions for new principals. I was thinking about them in broader terms.

An activity to run with a staff, with a group of kids, with parents, with colleague administrators. Just change the relevant words in the questions. The goal is to find leaders.

Here are the questions.

  1. Who are the people you most admire in the school?
  2. Who are the teachers you look to the most as model teachers?
  3. Who do you work with most closely/trust the most?
  4. Who do you turn to for advice?

The answers to these questions, after asking a good number of people, can give the questioner some very helpful information. And some surprises.