Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Collective Wisdom

September seems to provoke lots of open dialogue on the topic of professional development and professional learning. In some circles, "PD" seems to have become a four-letter-word.

You don't have to be in the education field long before you can speak in detail about "the worst PD" you've ever experienced. It's a sad phenomenon that flies in the face of the many prevailing positive things happening in our classrooms, our schools, and in public education. But why?

A few themes associated in historically "bad PD":

A laser-light focus on...proving you were there. This includes signing in, signing out, and collecting a piece of paper that shows you attended.

One presenter, one voice, one clicker.
This expert generally stands at the front of the room and uses a power point presentation for the better part of seven hours, while attendees sit, trying to resist daydreaming...or checking email.

A binder full of "really important papers". Historically, these papers wind up in a file folder, a file cabinet, the circular file, or a binder. Binders wind up on a bookshelf, never to be touched again, collecting dust and taking up space.

A one-size-fits-all desired outcome.
"We need to do this, so we get that."

And...a burning essential question for the recipients:
What's for lunch? (And will there be cookies?)

Now for the PD purists out there, rest assured not every PD, every training, or every workshop is bad PD. The intent here is not to knock traditional PD. Rather, I'd like to to challenge readers to find a way to make your next PD session relevant and one that exceeds typical expectations.

But how? Well, I'd suggest you begin by attending an edcamp!

On Saturday, October 1, Edcamp Long Island returns for the third year. We expect 700 attendees. As one of the founding team members, I'm proud to be associated with a group of people like this who value a movement like this, a movement that's about one thing only: learning.

You may think you can see where this is headed next - a sales pitch to attend an edcamp. Now I could easily sell it, and before you know it, you'd be registered for Edcamp Long Island. Your life would be forever changed. You'd be spreading the word, telling others about it, inviting them to join you next year.

instead I'd like to issue a challenge: to exchange your traditional PD mindset for a Professional Learning (PL) mindset.

The difference? Collective wisdom.

Let's be honest. For those of us who have been around long enough to see how we've "done school", traditional PD is likely here to stay. So rather than try to change it or become frustrated, why not try to change how you interact with it...and at it?

How to Embrace Collective Wisdom:

Before your next organized learning experience, be it professional learning at edcamp or the more traditional professional development option, here are five things to consider.

DO begin with the end in mind. Remain firmly anchored in results. Heading into a day of learning, set some desired outcomes for yourself. Keep in mind, it's not about the devices as much as it is about what they can accomplish. Technology encompasses a wide array of tools - for designing rigorous lessons, fostering meaningful engagement, and high-impact formative assessment to inform teaching and learning.

DON'T make it about your devices. If you are a connected educator, you'll likely have an iPhone, an iPad, and a Chromebook ready for action. But don't fall prey to looking down at a screen instead of looking up, looking around, and engaging fully in face-to-face meaningful dialogue.

DO approach learning with an open mind. Be ready to try something new and to consider how it may fit into what you're already doing. For example, three years ago, I struggled with the idea of fostering high-impact school-home and home school communication. So I connected with people who value this priority and are even also challenged by this. Because I gave myself the space to admit this is an area in which I struggled, I learned more about how others perceive this struggle, modified suggested practices to match what works in my school community, and I graciously accepted the resources and support shared. And I remained patient, as I anticipated the positive results that followed. These conversations, in a room full of people, created these conditions for collective impact.

DON'T make it about trying to do everything. You will encounter lots of amazing people who do lots of incredible things. Keep in mind, however, that we are each members of a unique school culture, with varying District priorities, and avenues of opportunity. We can find strength in celebrating our differences and our similarities, because having a value for learning is universal.

DO remember that everyone has something to learn and something to contribute. We are all at varying stages of learning, of growth, and of progress in our relative personal-professional pathways. With this in mind, sit at lunch with someone you've just met, grab a cup of coffee together, or catch up at the last session. Stay connected by phone, email, Twitter, Voxer, and Google Hangouts. You will find the people you meet at events like Edcamp Long Island also frequent other more "traditional" local and national events. This is where the collective wisdom lives, grows, and thrives - in our ongoing interactions.

DON'T make it about who you want to meet. If you're attending an edcamp, you're likely, on some level, a connected educator. This mindset will naturally afford opportunities to interact with some of the best and brightest educators in the field. These are innovators and learners, who are passionate, knowledgeable, and you will find, extremely generous with their time and attention. Getting caught up in a game of "who's who" may lead to feeling unfulfilled.

DO treat yourself to some quiet low-tech or (no-tech) reflection time in the hours and days that follow. Jot down your takeaways and a "to-do list". Include things you can test out in your classroom or your school on Monday. Add to your list things you'll talk to colleagues about this week. Add to your list things you'll meet with your Principal about this month, or your Central Office supervisors this quarter. Create a wish list for yourself to revisit this year. Just do it.

DON'T make one day of learning...about a single day of learning. Remember, it's an incremental process, not an isolated event. Don't leave your learning where you found it. Take it with you. Share it. Celebrate it.

DO remember: It's about one thing and one thing only: learning. And best of all, it's happening right alongside others who share the same priority.

This post is dedicated to my friend, mentor, and 2016 Principal of the Year, Dr. Donald Gately and our Edcamp Long Island Team. 

Read Don's most recent blog post, entitled "Edcamp is the Better Way": https://dfgately.wordpress.com/2016/09/26/about-professional-development-edcamp-is-the-better-way/.

Hope to see you on Saturday, October 1 for Edcamp Long Island: http://edcampli.weebly.com/

In the summer of 2014, I took a leap of faith and started a blog called Learning Leadership...

In the summer of 2016, I have eagerly taken another leap of faith - involving a blogging project through the BAM Radio Network.

Thank you for reading 26 Days of Learning Leadership. Comments and feedback are welcomed and appreciated.

26 Days of Learning Leadership
Day 1: Accountability
Day 2: BRAVO

Monday, September 12, 2016


This post also ran as a Review in MiddleWeb on 12/29/16.

Do you remember your administrative internship? While I don't recall the day-to-day tasks with any level of specificity, I'll never forget that this was when I first realized the importance of strong mentors. While my sponsoring mentor played a significant role in shaping the leader I was learning to become, he also had a way of modeling why it's important to seek out every opportunity to grow as a leader. 

In one particular instance, he and I were responsible for initiating a new program in our school district. The outside liaison for that program was not necessarily who I expected. He was an accomplished former coach and teacher, who went on to become the principal, and eventually superintendent of a large school district. He had a physically imposing presence with a deep baritone voice. In this next phase of his career, he chose to work in an organization responsible for introducing formal education to three and four-year old children and their families, through Universal Pre-Kindergarten.  

Connecting with this unlikely mentor was well-timed, because I distinctly recall questioning my decision to leave the classroom for school administration. I regularly woke up in the middle of the night, wondering if I had what it took to be a school leader. 

Over the course of the program planning sessions, my mentor consistently sought ways to bring me and this veteran administrator together. My mentor saw my struggle and knew I needed to listen to the wisdom of others to shape my decision.

We held countless meetings on programming logistics, budgeting, communications, among other items, and my mentor brought me to the point of asking a question I had been wrestling with on my own: 

What does it take it be a successful school leader?

It took quite some time for me to muster the courage to ask, mostly for fear of hearing an answer that would disqualify me from ever becoming a success.

The answer from this hulking presence, was one I will not soon forget. He looked me in the eyes and said:

"Anyone can run a school, sign paperwork, and manage a budget. But school leadership is about one thing, and one thing only: RELATIONSHIPS. If you make that your focus, every day, you will be a successful administrator. It ALL comes down to RELATIONSHIPS".

Ten summers later, now a seasoned administrator myself, I read BRAVO Principal written by Sandra Harris. The acronym BRAVO, which stands for Building Relationships with Actions that Value Others, took me back to the moment I asked that question, and got an answer that remains with me each day.

According to Harris, BRAVO Principals do 8 things:

Establish trust.
They model and celebrate the vision of a learning organization, centering first and foremost on the success of all students. They provide time and space for collaboration, trusting teachers to determine, with one another, what this looks like. Rather than use power to force decisions, they empower teachers to work collaboratively to make decisions, that keep students at the center of the school vision. BRAVO Principals give away power and in turn, earn trust.  

Support others.
Regular and ongoing reflection on just how personal our profession is, BRAVO Principals value the notion that being visible and present in the lives of others is directly correlated with investing in the emotional accounts of others. Making themselves available, having a sensitivity to how communication is processed, using tools to "meet communities where they are", and opening and encouraging strong lines of two-way communication are all marks of a BRAVO Principal.  

Respect others.
Simply put, BRAVO Principals make kindness the centerpiece to their actions, even when there's a need to confront behaviors that don't align with the school culture. They recognize the role creativity plays in arriving at difficult decisions in challenging times involving students, staff, and community. And they place a premium on working together in the spirit of continual growth and improvement.

Demonstrate cultural responsiveness.
BRAVO Principals confront their beliefs about themselves, value diversity, and challenge assumptions and mental models. They strive to build a community that fosters a sense of belonging, through their actions. And they fearlessly engage in challenging conversations. BRAVO Principals recognize that school is a place to practice leadership that transcends the school walls. 

Challenge the imagination.
Leadership isn't often credited for being creative. However, school leaders who embrace solving problems or alleviating concerns before they become problems reap the benefits of what results: relationships. While change is a constant in education, it's also one of our greatest challenges, because it is so highly personal and personalized. BRAVO Principals focus on planning, listening, resolving conflicts, and embracing "next steps" together for the sake of growth, they model making decisions in the best interests of students.

Nurture achievement.
BRAVO Principals are focused on leading the learning, nurturing achievement, and supporting educators' risk-taking in pursuit of high standards. Being willing to push outer limits on taking instructional risks is a quality that BRAVO Principals embody in their every action, recognizing that modeling risk-taking raises questions that challenge the status quo.

Demonstrate courage.
Leadership is not about being perfect; it's about being a work-in-progress who strives for forward motion and continual improvement. By modeling this relentless pursuit of progress with integrity, BRAVO Principals are true to themselves and in turn, are true to the vision of building a culture that's centered on what's best for each student and his or her success.  

Make the world a better place.
Leadership is about serving others in a learning community. Leaders who embrace this honor not only serve students and a school community, but their actions become their impact. The results of when school leaders focus on trust, support, respect, cultural responsiveness, creativity, achievement, and courage is what becomes their legacy. 

In this time of increasing unprecedented demands on schools, it's easy to abandon things that do not yield immediate tangible results. However, the best school leaders realize that attention to the human details involved in our work is what will become the catalyst for positive outcomes, for our students. The book BRAVO Principal, and it's reflection questions and support exercises is an effective resources for keeping school leaders centered on what matters most to promote the success of each of our students in our learning organizations. 
In the summer of 2014, I took a leap of faith and started a blog called Learning Leadership...

In the summer of 2016, I have eagerly taken another leap of faith - involving a blogging project through the BAM Radio Network.

Thank you for reading 26 Days of Learning Leadership. Comments and feedback are welcomed and appreciated.

26 Days of Learning Leadership
Day 1: Accountability