Must mean something.

Well into my 38th year in our district, I’ve learned some things. I’m pleased to say that I have also unlearned some things. Learn, unlearn, relearn.

One of the things I’ve learned is that if an idea is still banging around in my head, I still have more to think about. It just keeps bugging me. That must mean something.

Here’s an example.

My last blogpost had me thinking about kids finding representation of themselves in books in libraries.

Now I’m thinking about the 12 years of my career where I was the principal at our junior high school.

The picture below is of a group of junior high kids. These kids are now seniors.

The wondering I have, based upon the thinking I had in the last blogpost, is could each of these kids find books in our library in which they see themselves represented? And further, how long would it take?

Just kids.

I know why this image hit me so hard. I have a nephew with special needs. His sister though reminded us all that he’s just fine. He doesn’t need to be ‘cured’. What would help him is for other around him to know that he’s just fine. Probably one of the happiest human beings I know. Want to know how to treat him? Watch his sister. She treats him like a loved sibling, with a smidge of extra love and patience.

She’s a just kid and he’s just a kid.

Here’s something you may not know.

If you have never worked in schools, you may not know about the restorative necessity of the holiday break. Teachers pour all of their all into kids, getting relationships and learning in place and growing. And it’s work. And then there’s ‘these days’.

They’ve not only, as usual, earned this time to rest, connect with family and loved ones, but this time is important so they can continue, with renewed energy and focus, when the new year begins.

Thank you teachers for all you do!

Could Have Heard a Pin Drop

Been having lots and lots of conversations about kids and schools lately. Turns out that kids being away from in-person school for 18 months has repercussions. Behaviors that schools haven’t seen before….they’re seeing. Not most kids, not the majority of kids, but enough to make school a different place.

So what to do? Here’s one thing. Gather up a group of kids and talk with them. Make clear expectations. Remind them that they are loved. And that they are loved enough to be held to reasonable expectations.

This picture is of two of our building leaders having that conversation with kids. A principal and a teacher. Mark Robinson and Andy Michel. I happened to be in the building at the time, and sat in the back and listened. The message was delivered and heard. You could have heard a pin drop. When gifted educators talk with passion, share compassion, and show their hearts, kids listen.

I checked in with the teacher a couple days after the meeting. Notice any improvement? His direct answer, “Attitudes improved overall. Students spent an entire period brainstorming solutions in small groups.”

Step by step, we’ll rebuild school culture and climate. Conversation by conversation. Kid by kid.

The Power of Positive Words.

Thank you @SicotteDanielle

One of my favorite things about learning via Twitter is the seemingly simple ideas that show up every day. The quote above illustrates a beauty. As we continue to work with kids coming through the pandemic, the ideas that help kids are the ones into which we lean. This idea can be implemented today, yesterday, tomorrow, or next week.

And it can be implemented with grown ups too. Imagine asking teachers to write down the words they need to hear on tough days, collecting them, then returning them as needed. Bam!

Hey! Do this. It will help kids and teachers.

Coming back to school this fall, we all had smiles under our masks. Big hopes for ‘normal’. Even though our guts told us it would be the ‘next normal’. Not entirely the same, but probably close. Right?

Nope. Turns out having kids and teachers apart for over a year created a lot of muck. And it’s muck through which we are still wading. Probably will be longer than we thought. One of our principals now refers to this time as the ‘Letdown of the Fall.’

Step one for us. Rebuild Teacher Agency. From Leading the Rebound, by Fisher/Frey/Smith/Hattie, the ‘reality’ is that ‘many (perhaps most) teachers no longer see the relationship between their efforts and the impact they have.’ The recommendation is ‘to make the link between effort and outcome explicit to rebuild teacher agency.’ So we’re working on that.

And then Emma Pass drops this bomb.

Holy cow. Ponder that elegant and seemingly simple idea. Ponder all the slick ways it can address ‘no longer seeing the relationship between their efforts and the impact they have.’ Parents and kids LOVE to hear good news from teachers about kids. Teachers will and are hearing back from parents and kids about the impact of positive and specific messages.

We’re rebuilding a lot of things. This idea is one heck of a tool. Thank you Emma!

Breathe in. Breathe Out. Lean on others.

Kids.

I remember around year 4 or 5 as a principal. I really thought I had made a huge mistake leaving the classroom. It seemed like every ounce of negative energy on the planet was colliding in my office. I distinctly remember saying to two of my best friends in the business, “Man. This is brutal. I don’t know if I can do this anymore.”

And then a mentor reminded me that these days would pass. Probably not fast enough, but they would. Breathe in. Breathe out. Lean on others. And the days passed and I found joy in being a principal again.

Hey principals. You are doing amazing work. Hang in there. Breathe in. Breathe out. Lean on others. You are making kids’ lives better.

Kids and Teachers. More Than Ever

More than ever.

A comment from a principal is still banging around in my head. The Letdown of the Fall. Expectation vs. Reality.

So we go to work. Taking care of ourselves and each other as adults. Learning about Teacher Agency. Recommitting to Collective Teacher Efficacy. Investing in student and teacher support.

And being the adults to which kids are drawn. Even with masks. I know it’s not that simple, but I see it at all of our schools, everyday. Kids and teachers doing kids and teacher stuff. And usually you don’t have to see a smile to know there’s a smile under a mask. You can see it in the eyes. You can hear laughter. You can observe teachers in the halls, laughing with each other, greeting kids with the special, insider fun comments that all teachers and kids know from something funny that happened in class.

We control what we can control. And we can control how we we treat each other, which in turn impacts how our students are doing.

Principal Just Blew My Mind

Last week, we met with the principals and assistant principals as part of ongoing professional learning conversations. It has easily been over a year since we’ve been able to have such in-person and focused conversations, that didn’t involve COVID details. This was pure teaching, learning, leading, sharing, growing, and so forth.

This particular conversation centered on Leading the Rebound by Fisher, Frey, Smith, and Hattie. A monster resource for leaders. We leaned into and discussed ‘Teacher Agency’. The belief that what they do matters.

Great book, highly recommended!

We’ve had ongoing professional learning conversations with principals for years. The general expectation was that the principal would carry the conversations back to the building and share with her/his assistant principal(s).

This year, for a variety of good reasons, we decided to add mirror PL sessions for assistant principals. Mirror in the sense that the morning meeting with principals would be exactly replicated in the afternoon session with assistant principals. The conversations in both gatherings were healthy, honest, and engaging. The two meetings had, in my opinion, a different feel. That’s a topic for a later blogpost.

The principals were ‘strongly encouraged’ to gather with their assistant principal(s) at some point in the following week or two to share learnings, ideas, etc. In fact, one of the final items at each PL session was the task of writing down one action item to be used back in the building, with the idea being that the principal and assistant principal(s) would share with each other and use the sharing as the source of a professional conversation about how to better and better support teachers.

And then this happened.

I was with Mark Robinson, the principal at our junior high. We were discussing all of the above. He and his assistant principal, Chris Lezcano, had already talked through the learning sessions. That they had already done this did not surprise me. I know for a fact that the importance of collaborative professional learning conversations between building leaders in the same building is a top priority for them. They are the only admins in that building. Being on the same page is important. Anyway, Mark pointed to a section of his whiteboard where he and Chris had been thinking about things that had affected ‘teacher agency’ at the junior high. And one of the things they had written down blew my mind.

The Letdown of the Fall.

Wait. What? The Letdown of the Fall? The full return of kids to school, back to ‘normal’? A Letdown? What the heck?

I think by nature, successful educators tend to be positive outlook people. The idea of getting kids back in school was so exciting. Teachers being able to engage with kids directly, rather than through a screen, or in some cases, a blank screen, was a wonderful prospect. Sports, assemblies, spirit weeks. Sure there are masks requirements, distancing, testing, isolation rooms, sub challenges…..and….so….on.

Turns out that those things still have weight. Of course they do. We have returned. We haven’t returned to ‘normal’. We use the phrase ‘next normal’. Not ‘new normal’. ‘Next’. And next still has challenges. Daily, hourly, ongoing. Challenges.

So these two leaders found, discussed, and surfaced a challenge to teacher agency we had not discussed, but certainly requires discussion. The steps in the Teacher Agency section of the book are still perfect and make sense in rebuilding or reaffirming Teacher Agency. They will allow leaders to address Teacher Agency, including the Letdown of the Fall.

The most important part of all of this? That two busy building administrators made the time to talk, share, support, and grow together. Of course there’s not enough time to do anything most of the time. But if we don’t make the time to have these conversations, we are literally saying, “Everything else is more important than talking with my direct colleague building leader about how we can better and better support teachers.” And that just ain’t true.

The Letdown of the Fall will turn into the Rise of the Spring, after the Work of the Winter.

Thank Mark.