Monday, September 8, 2014

5 Questions You Should Ask Your Principal

Recently Mike and I both read and enjoyed a blog post from George Couros on “5 Questions You Should Ask Your Principal.” We thought we would respond to these questions for this week’s newsletter. Each question provides opportunities for further discussion and we invite you to talk more with both of us about leadership and our vision for RMS.

1.  What are some ways that you connect with your school community? (Fostering Effective Relationships)
I try to be active in many of the different layers of our community. For me, this begins with being aware, present and listening. This might take the form of increasing visibility in the school through classroom visits, time in the halls and common areas, participation in clubs and school activities, attending performances and games, engaging through social media, and attending community events. As an example, I’ve made some wonderful connections by choosing to run in the school neighborhoods. Out on the run I end up meeting and talking with parents and community members. While the conversation might be brief, the connection is established. (Mike)

Similarly to Mike, I think it is important to be present in students’ and staffs’ daily lives.  For me that means throughout the day finding ways to observe and talk with students and staff about their interests and experience(s) at RMS.  Social media has also given me a way to make connections with members of our community that aren’t always present in our school building, and a way to share my daily experience at RMS with our larger community. (Amanda)

2. What are some areas of teaching and learning that you can lead in the school? (Instructional Leadership)
One aspect of teaching and learning that I feel I can effectively lead and engage in relates to my experience as a teacher of the inquiry process. I am a big believer in student-directed learning and exploration. As a science teacher, I spent some time at the beginning of the year introducing tools and techniques. From that point forward, students were free to use these tools to experiment and test their ideas both related to the content of the day and also on whatever area of science, tech or engineering they might find interesting. The result was a classroom experience that extended well beyond the walls of my room and a sense of discovery that was constantly surprising us. I think creating experiences like this are crucial to helping students see the connections between our content areas and also provide practice with skills that will serve our students well in whatever direction they might go. (Mike)

My past experience working as a technology integrationist helped me develop technology skills, but I think more importantly it shaped my views about collaborative teaching relationships and student-centered learning.  As a tech integrator I was fortunate to be able to sit in on classes and learn from my peers.  Observing teachers and participating in team meetings and committees helped me find access points to talk with teachers about connections between teachers, across our curriculum, and ways I felt I could support them in areas they had expressed interest, but were hesitant to try on their own. This simple act of providing support in planning, teaching, and being present in another teacher’s room, for many teachers, gave them the courage to try new things and often to let students be more involved in the design of their classroom experience. (Amanda)

3.  What are you hoping teaching and learning looks like in your school and how do you communicate that vision? (Embodying Visionary Leadership)
I hope that our teaching and learning is structured in a way that provides our students with avenues to engage in real self-awareness of who they are as a student in that particular moment, and that we provide avenues for students and staff to build productive collaborative relationships.  Whatever shape instruction takes, I think the most important aspect of teaching and learning is that students and staff are able to continue to develop or be turned on to areas they want to explore.  

I plan to communicate my vision through the conversations and experiences I have with staff around supporting them in their goals, but also in observations from visiting their classes.  I try to model self-awareness, reflection and continuous growth through my use of social media like my blog and Twitter and in participating in professional development.  These tools and opportunities help me stay focused on sharing what I believe about teaching and learning and areas I continue to explore. (Amanda)

I would agree with Amanda, especially with respect to the importance of creating opportunities for students to work collaboratively to solve and explore real-world problems. When this work is student-directed, teacher supported, even better. Further, I think it is important that students see and experience us learning alongside them. All educators talk about being life-long learners, when this is visible the energy is contagious. I also think that a diversity of learning experiences, teaching style and preferences, and curricular experiences are a crucial piece of what learning looks like in an effective middle school. To that end, our program is designed specifically to allow and encourage multiple paths for learning. Our students are able to play a part in designing their learning experience and as a result, engagement goes up.

Communicating and developing a vision for teaching and learning is a collaborative exercise. The principal of a school should facilitate the opportunities with all of the stakeholders in our organization that allow us to discuss, refine, and develop our learning environment. In addition, I have the responsibility to ensure that each and every student in our school receives the very best from each of us. (Mike)

4. How do you build leadership in your school? (Developing Leadership Capacity)
Building leadership in our school begins by thinking about what it means to be a leader. If we collectively believe that anyone can lead and that making those opportunities available is important that we are off to a great start. With staff, we hope to engage everyone in efforts to distribute leadership and decision-making across the school. We are fortunate to have an incredibly talented and passionate team. It makes good sense to trust the people we work with to lead where they have a passion. In many ways, one of the best ways to support leadership in the building is for each of us to reflect on how we can be a great follower (for me, this can be more difficult).

In addition, I think examining how we can continue to promote student leadership in the building is important work for us to consider. Our students are passionate about making their school the best it can be. Further, they have great ideas and are willing to do the work to get us there. What are the structures and opportunities that we can put in place to further their leadership at RMS? Lets talk about this and see what might be possible! (Mike)

I think it is important to invest time in getting to know people, and through these relationships, situations will arise where we can make connections between people and opportunities.  Having an understanding of the skills and passions of our staff can also shape our focus towards areas where we can draw on the talents of our staff to lead the RMS community.  It is also important that staff feel that supported by Mike and I so they feel comfortable and encouraged to present us with their own ideas about ways they can contribute to leadership at RMS. (Amanda)

5. What will be your “fingerprints” on this building after you leave? (Creating Sustainable Change)
I strongly believe in the value of real collaborative relationships.  I am excited by our challenge to look at how we can develop a system of peer observation and feedback in a way that can foster conversation about why we do what we do here at RMS.  Through these conversations I think there is an opportunity to consider how we can structure our teaching and learning experiences to best meet the goals of our RMS community. (Amanda)

Some of the great books on leadership emphasize the importance of what they call “Level 5 Leadership.” “Good to Great” by Jim Collins and “The Moral Imperative of School Leadership” by Michael Fullen are two examples. Both authors emphasize the idea that if a leader is effective in any organization they can step out of the picture and the moving parts continue to function and even thrive. For this to happen, a tremendous amount of work and effort needs to be put in to building capacity and expertise within the organization. Individuals need to be empowered to make and effect change that benefits our students. Collectively, everyone in the organization needs to have a shared vision for the future. I hope that at whatever point I leave RMS I will be able to do so with confidence in the continued success and positive collaborative culture of what is a truly great school. Terry Thompson so wonderfully described where we have come from. I think we will continue to be on a path full of opportunity, growth and excellence. Truly, an exciting time to be at RMS. (Mike)

Friday, August 29, 2014

First Week @RMSHanover

I can't believe my first week @RMSHanover is over.  I vividly remember my first visit to RMS last year.  When I came home from participating in Instructional Rounds, I said to my family, "I want to be a part of that school someday."  I didn't know I would be fortunate enough to achieve this goal so soon, but I am grateful for this opportunity to be a part of the RMS community.

This week was a flurry of new faces and visiting classes.  The pace of a middle school is constant motion and while it is important to continue to move forward, if I am not careful I will not take time to be mindful of working on the goals I set for this year.  I have a creative office space that looks out into a busy hallway.  From my desk I can watch students as they are passing through the hallways, but they can also see into my office.  I love the design, for when I am in my office I am still immersed in the energy of the students.  Starting next week, I am going to challenge myself to post a goal of mine for the week on my whiteboard as a reminder to focus my work towards my goals.  Posting my goals will also hold me accountable and hopefully maybe even encourage a conversation with the students about my goals.

We encouraged all of our students to take a moment at the beginning of this year to write a goal of theirs on a post-it note that we would then display in the cafeteria for the first few weeks of school.  The idea is that it is important to take a moment to acknowledge a beginning and to set goals.  The purpose of the goal wall is to help keep the goals present for the students, but also as a way for students to see what others might be working towards.  Our hope is that these visual goals can be a way to engage students and staff in conversation about different interests and focuses in our first few weeks at RMS. I heard great feedback from teachers this week that they enjoyed talking with their students about their goals.  My hope is that students will take time to read each other's goals and consider their role in working toward their own goal, but also how they might work within our RMS community to help others reach their goals. I would like to revisit these goals in a few weeks and do a reflection activity with the students.  I'll post a follow-up to this blog.

As I sit here on Friday evening, I am exhausted from this first week, but more importantly I am exhilarated.  This week I was able to meet some incredibly talented and kind students, connect with passionate and creative teachers and staff, and work with and learn from our considerate and forward-thinking principal @mlepene.  I am very lucky to be a member of the RMS community.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Understanding the Principalship with @jaynicholsfnesu (Class #1)

Today I traveled to Colchester, VT, for my first in a year-long series of classes titled, Understanding the Principalship taught by the Superintendent of Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union, Jay Nichols.  I am particularly interested in this course as this is my first year in an administrative role, and I am looking forward to developing relationships with other new and veteran principals whom I know I will learn so much from this year.

At the start of class we were asked to identify some of our hopes for this course in relationship to school leadership and challenges.  Here are some of my thoughts:

  • I hope to gain more exposure to supervision and evaluation models/methods
  • Ideas and examples on how to foster strong relationships in our school and our larger community
  • Tips and suggestions on how to have productive conversations
  • Ways to work with students and staff in viewing discipline as a learning opportunity

Some great resources that were mentioned today:
What Great Principals Do Differently by Todd Whittaker10 Minute In-Service by Todd WhittakerLeadership Wired Blog by John Maxwell
and we'll be reading Leaders of Learning by Richard DuFour and Robert J. Marzano

Each month I'll travel to Colchester to meet with this group to discuss different areas of the Principal position, and we will have the opportunity to hear from experts in various fields relating to education and leadership.  Next month, Vermont Secretary of Education, Rebecca Holcombe, will visit our group.  This course will provide me with peer supports, resources, inspiration, and a chance each month to take a moment to process and reflect on our work at RMS.  I will continue to add my thoughts and reflections here on this blog.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Connecting with @InnovativeEd on our 1:1

Thanks to Marty's initiative, last week we traveled to Burlington to meet with John and Penny from UVM's Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education.  The Tarrant Institute has formed partnerships with schools to promote technology integration in middle schools-perfect for us! 

We spent two hours sharing our experience last year with our iPad 1:1 in the 8th grade, the successes, the challenges, and our hopes for this year.  As I am new to RMS, and didn't experience the 1:1 last year, getting a chance to dig into the details of the program was so helpful.  I was able to gain a sense of where I, as an administrator with Mike, can offer support this year.

Below are a few notes that I took that Marty, Mike and I will discuss when we debrief next week.

1) They encouraged us to revisit our teaming structure.  They pointed to many examples and research that shows effective teaming should be in much smaller groups than we currently operate.

2) They fully support the idea of a parent advisory committee, and also encouraged us to think of more ways to involve parents and the community, examples: family media contract, student-run tech sessions for parents and community members, involving parents on teams (I am sure there were more but these were the big ones for me).

3) More PD time.  They cited numerous studies that show that initiatives need at least 60 hours before real change will happen.  They shared their PD framework that they've used with other 1:1 rollouts.

They also suggested we look at participating in their their Middle Grades Institute next summer as this might be a great opportunity for some of our teams.

​There was much more, but these were some of the highlights that stuck out for me.  Thankfully, Penny and John offered to continue to serve as a resource for us as we move into year two.  

I'll continue to post on this blog as we move into our second year of our iPad 1:1 in the 8th grade.

Follow Tarrant on Twitter: @innovativeEd

Monday, July 28, 2014

Here We Go...

This summer I've been spending time getting to know RMS bit by bit.  It has been a nice entry during the summer as it has given me time to process new information, try things out, make mistakes, explore our building, meet new people, and to talk with Mike about our ideas for the school year. But August is right around the corner. I am starting to see school supplies take over local stores-the new school year is coming quickly.

We've been working on the to-dos like summer mailings and schedules, but we've also had some great conversations about our goals for the year.  I am posting my personal goals here because I have found that it is helpful to interact with a larger community about my goals. By making them visible I will have opportunities to engage in conversations with a wider audience, find support, and make connections with others trying to achieve a similar purpose.

My goals this year:
1) I will develop collaborative relationships with RMS students, staff, parents and the community.
2) I will help construct a peer observation/feedback system.
3) I will use data to find ways we can grow and change to better meet the needs of our students, staff, parents, and community.

I look forward to using these goals as guideposts for my work this year.  I welcome feedback as we begin our new relationship.