"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." WB Yeats
Author: Jeff Nelson
Fife School District
37 years as an educator.
16 years teacher
3 years assistant principal
12 years principal
6 years Assistant Superintendent
BA, Washington State University
MAEd, Washington State University
Previous member of AWSP Legislative Committee
Previous member of UW Tacoma PEAB, Administrative Certification
Established and maintained Fife’s first website for 7 years
Present work includes establishing the first Teaching/Learning/Innovation department in the Fife School District. Examples of responsibilities include: teacher/administrator professional development, assessment, TPEP, curriculum/materials review, 24 credit requirement, technology levy leadership, teacher/administrator bargaining.
Initiatives underway in Fife, as a result of new TLI Department: AVID, OER, Curriculum and Materials reviews, Student Perception Pilot with CSTP, Google Expedition
Cofounder of Educational Internet Communications, LLC. Marketed and sold one of the first online grade checking programs in the US. Consulted with Seattle Educational Internet Company for 2 years.
Talking with some teacher colleagues last week. Relationships with kids was the topic. How do we show kids that we truly care about them? Got me thinking. There are lots of ways. Here are 5.
Always greet kids with a smile. Learned this from one of my favorite teachers. No matter what had been going on in the seconds before he greeted me, the moment he hit me with a big smile and a warm greeting, I knew he cared about me. This reminds me of the idea, “Kids will not long remember what you said, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.”
2. Always take the time and care to learn and pronounce kids’ names correctly. What the heck does it say to a kid when a teacher says, “Whew, that’s a tough one. I’m just going to call you Sam.” Yikes.
3. Go to kids’ events. Seeing a teacher in the stands, at events, means the world to a kid. You also get the bonus of being able to reference the event in number one above. “Man, you were on fire at your concert last night! You nailed that triangle solo!”
4. Apologize and be vulnerable when you know you’re wrong or have screwed up. Kids like teachers that are also human beings. “Ok guys, that was terrible. My fault. I’m sorry. Let’s take another run at that, and I’ll try to be better.” Do you know how much that means to kids?
5. Laugh with kids. Create memories and stories from their time with you in class. Former students, now full blast adults, love to stop me and tell stories from our classes.
Bonus item. Forgiveness > Punishment. Showing grace to a kid when he/she goofed up never, not once, came back to bite me. Deepens trust and respect. When it gets to the point where a kid can’t imagine going sideways in your class, you know that trust, respect, and relationships are rock solid in place. It takes work, but it’s fun work. Eventually you also gain the power of reputation. Don’t take that for granted, but it is nice to have.
Yesterday, during a window of time I try to set aside to read, I read this article. ‘Does Studying Student Data Really Raise Test Scores?’ Good article. Great quote, “Yet understanding students’ weaknesses is only useful if it changes practice. And, to date, evidence suggests that it does not change practice — or student outcomes. Focusing on the problem has likely distracted us from focusing on the solution.”
Again, good article, well researched, well written. With a conclusion that seems like it should floor one. Doing X didn’t change teacher practice.
This shouldn’t floor one.
Let me tell you about one teacher. In this case, she happens to be my wife. 31 years in the classroom. She now works with teachers and technology. She’s absolutely perfect in this role, for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons is that she’s got the experience and expertise to ask, “Yeah, and?” If she isn’t convinced that doing X will result in something being better for kids…then good luck with that. Once she is convinced, then watch out. She’s convinced that kids using technology as a tool, not THE tool, is good for kids. Good for their learning, experiences, growth, and potential.
I saw a great line yesterday from a superintendent’s resume. We see in lots of superintendents’ words, the idea that when kids leave school districts, they are prepared for life, careers, etc. This superintendent used the phrase ‘opportunity ready’. That’s a cool phrase and idea. That’s an idea a professionally skeptical teacher, with an open and growing mind, can use in assessing X. Will doing X, allow kids to be opportunity ready as a result? I also like the goal of being opportunity ready…rather than squeezing out a few more points on a standardized test. Seems more healthy in all regards.
Those of us with the great opportunity to work directly with teachers need to throw, “Yeah, and?” into our own work as well. Everything doesn’t work with everybody. Too many priorities means no priorities.
In our district, we are focus on 3 foundational documents and ideas. One, district strategic goals. Two, our instructional framework. Three, collective teacher efficacy. All 3 of which provide rich answers to Yeah, and? The work is connecting these 3 documents and ideas to rich practice, including, sometimes, changing practice.
Regarding the article above. It’s a good thing for teachers to work together, study data, learn where kids are struggling, design learning opportunities for kids, implement those opportunities, review, reflect, enrich, support, and so on. And this work will help kids if the teachers are convinced it will help kids, and are willing to do that which is necessary to help kids, including changing some practice.
I read this amazing post. All of my educator and parent bells started ringing. And actually not in that order. My dad bells were clanging away with great gusto. Trevor is talking about my kids. My own two children.
Two regrets or things I wish I had done differently with my kids when they were younger.
Let them fail more. Get grit. Let them struggle more and get themselves back on their own feet. Life requires it. Both kids got done with college and looked around and kind of said, “Huh. Now what?” Everything had been programmed to go to the next step…except after college. They both have had to figure things out on their own. It’s very hard for this dad to not just try to solve all their problems. I still struggle with that.
Collaboration, creativity, communication critical thinking. I don’t know if it’s bad form to wholesale quote another blogpost, so I apologize in advance. Here’s a chunk from Trevor’s writing and thinking that hammered me. “Young adults struggle with confidence. I wonder if having kids take roughly 112 mandatory high-stakes tests between kindergarten and senior year, tests that only measure a sliver of who you really are and what you’re really capable of, but are the deciding factor for your future, has anything to do with it. I wonder if that has anything to do with skyrocketing anxiety as well?” Wow. I wish I had noticed how little opportunity they had in school to do the essential/soft skills.
I will no longer refer to these skills as soft skills. They are essential. It also turns out, based on my own kids’ experiences, that the work force is dying for employees with these skills. Especially the work ethic one. My kids both have great work ethic. I assume they get that from their mother. They are now 27 and 25 and have great lives going on.
What are we doing in our schools to give kids the opportunity to live, learn, and grow these essential skills? I feel like we are in our district. I do love the challenge is this great line from Trevor, “People struggle to communicate? Well, have we taught them to communicate? Or are they sitting in rows most of the time, not being allowed to talk.”
Every so often a lightening bolt arrives via twitter or a blogpost. In this case it came from both.
Been thinking a bit on a follow up to Ten tips for new teachers. Decided to think about 5 tips for successful principals. 5 gave way to 10 pretty darn quickly.
I spent 15 years as a building administrator, with 3 as a high school assistant principal, 1 of those years simultaneously being a junior high planning principal, and then 12 as a junior high principal. My tips come directly from my experience…and what I learned.
Here they are in no particular order!
Always, and I mean always, look up from what you’re doing when somebody comes into your office. And genuinely attend. Eye contact, interest, enthusiasm, cheerful. I know it can be frustrating sometime to be interrupted, but you are a leader of people. Be available for people instantly.
Appear to be everywhere, attending everything. Not always possible, but just like the power of a teacher attending kid events…same goes for the principal. We respect what we inspect. Your attendance at things speaks to that which you value. Be out and about as often as you can.
3. Try to never hit the gas on a decision, unless it’s a flat out emergency. I found the brake to be a much better pedal. Slow down. Think. Confer with trusted and experienced colleagues. Communicate. Ask questions before big decisions. Or little ones for that matter.
4. Love on your staff. Your staff loves on the kids. They are the people closest to the kids. Take care of them. I strongly suggest having chocolate in your office. It makes a nice reason for people to swing by when you’re in there. I made a point of being in my office early on Monday mornings. Very typical for staff members to swing by before school to share events and/or concerns from the weekend.
5. This one might not fit everybody, but I learned it from a great mentor principal and I believe it. Don’t stand in the spotlight. Let others, especially teachers, stand in the spotlight. You stand next to them and clap.
6. Rest. Relax. Unwind whenever you can. Being a principal is literally a 24/7 job. Phone calls come at all hours. And the 2 a.m. ones are usually horrible. Take good care of yourself.
7. Make it a goal to touch base with every teacher, everyday. Literally run through your school in your mind at the end of the day to see if you spoke with everyone. Not always possible, I get it, but a good goal.
8. Grow your assistant principals with ever increasing leadership roles and responsibilities. We don’t hire assistant principals to be assistant principals forever, we hire them to become principals. It is a principal’s professional responsibility to grow her/his assistant principals.
9. Know when it’s time to move on. Figure out what your professional and personal signals, symptoms, or inklings might be when it’s time for you to think about turning the reins over to someone else. Nothing is sadder than a principal who has run out of juice and can’t bring it everyday. Well maybe a teacher in that situation is close.
10. Always tell your school’s story as often and in as many ways as you can. If you don’t do it, who will?
11. 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.
We have great principals in our district. I’d LOVE to hear each of their ten tips to be a successful principal! I wonder what our teachers would list as ten tips for a successful principal? I wonder if there would be overlap? I wonder what our superintendent, deputy superintendent, and Director of HR might say? All were principals.
Last week I was chatting with my old buddy Kevin Johnson. Kevin is our Director of Technology and a gifted educator. Kevin and I have been in the education racket for almost 70 years combined. We were discussing a situation that comes up way too often out in the world. We’ll be talking with someone, and a sentence will begin with, “Kids these days…’. We about lose our minds. Well I do. Kevin is known for his calm demeanor. I am not.
Here’s a sentence for you. Kids these days are great. They daily show grace and compassion towards others. Daily. They hold the door open for people. They say thank you. They shake your hand, while looking you in the eye. They’re enthusiastic and cheerful.
I’ve written on this subject before. As sure as the sun is going to rise, talks about the fact that every generation takes its turn lamenting the sorry state of the young people.
Don’t be that guy.
I was walking with a colleague who had retired some years before. A colleague who had worked in schools for 30+ years. He threw out the dread sentence. Kids these days. It was not pretty and I feel bad. Basically I challenged him to not be that guy. He knows better. Kids didn’t all of a sudden become horrible as soon as he retired.
Principals, how do you refer to the school at which you work? Or the staff with whom you work?
My school or our school? My teachers or our teachers?
Teachers, how do you refer to your classroom? My classroom or our classroom?
We have a couple of good phrases in our district, and in our schools. For example, #togetherweRfife is our district’s main hashtag. The capital R stands for relationships. This idea is very ‘our’ vs. ‘my’. At our middle school, they talk a lot about “we’re all in this together”. We, together.
Do you have a reaction when a principal says, “I was working with my teachers at my school last week.”
I do. There seems something patriarchal, some big fat line between a principal and teachers with that statement. My teachers.
“Last week our amazing educators were working on mastery experiences in classrooms. We have learned that mastery experiences are the best way to develop a collective sense of efficacy. It was wonderful work that will have a huge impact on our kids.”
That sounds and feels better. At least it does to me.
“The illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” (Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning, by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani)
Thinking about our students and the world and time ahead for them. Revisited the great book by Spencer and Juiliani, with that awesome quote above. Reminds me of another idea. Teaching doesn’t automatically mean taught. Listening isn’t learning. And once learned…sometimes it needs to be unlearned and relearned. Communication and transportation, for example. Getting items from the store. Virtually anything, given the pace of change. What was learned 2o years ago…needs to be unlearned and relearned in many cases. I used to use the rotary phone to call my friend Greg every night to do our algebra homework. Kids now use Google Hangouts to virtually meet, share, discuss, and learn. In junior high, I used to use the payphone, with a quarter, to call my parents, let the phone ring twice, and hangup, so they would come pick me up from wrestling practice. Now…my kids text.
What have you unlearned and relearned lately? I bet more than you imagine!
Sitting at home, enjoying the last day of vacation, I began to ponder the topic for my Monday morning blogpost. As usual, I didn’t have a great idea right off the bat. But as usual, something popped up that just smacked me in the head. And the smacking this time came from the majority of our principals, as they were sending out their weekly messages to staff and parents. I was overwhelmed by their thoughtful, insightful, and motivational writing; gearing everybody up for the return to school.
I thought I’d share some of their words.
The principal at Endeavour Intermediate School, grades 2-5, is Amy Mittelstaedt. Amy’s message to her staff is here. She wrote beautifully about opportunity. She talks about what she is reading and what she is learning as a result of her reading. Powerful message and powerful professional learning modeling!
“The passage I’m sharing with you is something that resonated with me and I thought that I would share as I am reflecting, learning and growing in my professional and personal goal setting for the upcoming 2020 year.
The following is from the book, (Relentless, 2019, p. 32, Author, Hamish Brewer).
“You get to choose your attitude. You own it. Your attitude is your responsibility –no one else’s. Before you go through the doors of your school each morning, think about the opportunity that you have each and every day — the reason why you wanted to be a leader and educator. If you are not thinking about the opportunity, then you are focused on the obligation of a j-o-b, and that is where average lives. If you are leading and teaching for opportunity, you are on fire!”
Mark Beddes is the principal at Surprise Lake Middle School. Mark and his staff are currently occupying half of a school, as their new school is being built right next to the old one. Sounds like a nightmare, middle school kids? Tight quarters? Not at SLMS. Not with Mark and the SLMS Team. They are rockstars. Here’s part of why. Check out Mark’s message to the staff. Again, models his reading and shares! Podcasts, fellow bloggers, avid twitter user. Wow! In his words to his staff, Mark shares and models like crazy!
“Here are some of my favorites I have come across. If you love learning about our profession check out this great article on 2019 education research highlights. If you read just one of the articles linked in here, you won’t regret it! If you prefer a little more personal reflective piece about how education has changed in the last decade, check out this great blog from Katie Martin. If quotes are your thing, check out this post by George Couros. Or, maybe you had a tough break and you just can’t get your mind straight. I know some have had to deal with personal loss, sickness, family issues, or surgeries. This article is for you.”
At our high school, we are fortunate to have Brandon Bakke. The link on Brandon’s name goes to the school Twitter account, because I think Brandon and his team did a brilliant thing. They’ve shared access to that account with a number of people, because a high school always has millions of things going on, and one person can’t be at everything. Although Brandon sure seems to try. Brandon is an absolute marvel as a leader. Clear, decisive, supportive, and always on the go. He is that which successful high schools need. A high school person. He lives, loves, and breathes high school. And he knows he needs to take breather every so often. And he did this last break…and shared that idea with his staff. A hugely important message to all teachers, including high school teachers.
The final principal I’m going to share in this particular blogpost, in the interest of time and space, is Mark Robinson. Mark is the principal at our junior high school. In fact, he’s the principal that took over for me when I moved to the district office. Mark is doing more, different, and better things with the staff and kids than I did. And I couldn’t be more proud of him. Check out this beautiful piece of writing to welcome back his staff. Another leader sharing his learning. Mark is searingly honest, which serves his staff so well. Here’s part of that honesty.
“I also find myself reading any and everything about lessons we’re learning about child development… amount of screen time… how to help teach resilience… how to treat all moments with your kids as special… I warned you. I’ve been a bit wistful.
One of the reasons I find myself enjoying reading is the discomfort difficult discourse creates. When we are honest with ourselves and each other, we create opportunities for growth. Don’t we ask that of our students in the moments we ask them to learn something new or different? For educators, examples include deciding that we will read a book even if it’s not our jam. We will try that new instructional practice even though it’s different from those we have mastered. We will work on tasks that are outside of our comfort zone because we know the act may be important. We will decide NOT to write off that student who has perpetually made our professional life difficult these past few weeks. We will try new things.”
It’s hard to imagine a great school without a great principal. And our good fortune is that we don’t have to imagine. We’ve got ’em.
Thanks all. Our kids’ lives are so much richer because of you.
Consider this idea from Dave Burgess, “I consider it one of the most important parts of my job to constantly expose myself to the high quality thinking of other people. It challenges me, it keeps me current, and it provides me the raw resources necessary for creative alchemy.”
Never apologize for not standing still. Never apologize for reading, thinking, learning, or leading. Our work with and for kids is too important. Too life changing and life saving. Don’t dim your light to make others feel more secure.
We are very lucky to have Mr. Keith Hannah as our District Instructional Technology Facilitator. The fact that he is also a National Board Certified Teacher and an ISTE Digital Citizenship PLN Leader are bonuses for our district, our teachers, and most importantly, our students.
This morning, he sent an email to all of our secondary teachers, inviting them to go on an adventure with him, as he offers this learning opportunity: Bring the World to Your Classroom with Google Expedition. This invitation struck me as the very definition of innovation, as described by George Couros. “I’m defining innovation as a way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from either “invention” (something totally new) or “iteration” (a change of something that already exists), but if it does not meet the idea of “new and better,” it is not innovative.”
Creating opportunities for kids to see and experience vast resources, “From Mount Everest to the Louvre, there are over 900 VR Expeditions in the Expeditions app for you and your class to explore,” is something new and better, it is, by definition, innovative
If you haven’t ever watched kids, or adults for that matter, experience VR or AR Expeditions, do yourself a favor. It is a thrilling experience for all involved!