leadership

Bringing More Google to Schools

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I believe in “Google” schools. I want more schools to be “Google” schools.  When I think of a “Google” school, I am thinking beyond the world of Apps for Education.  Rather, I want my school and the schools of my children, to be filled with educators who would be equally at home working at Google.

It is no surprise that Google often ranks at the top of innovative companies in the world. It also frequently tops the list of companies that most college graduates want to work for.  Yes, the compensation that these top companies offer is undoubtedly attractive. In this respect, the world of education can’t and shouldn’t try to compete.  But there are some things that Google considers when hiring that we in education should try to emulate.

The first is “smarts”.  Being smart is important at Google just like it is in education and many other professions. But at Google, being smart is not enough.  Intellectual curiosity is considered even more important and is something they look for when hiring.  Think about it in the context of education.  The phrase “Life long learners” commonly appears in the Mission and Vision Statements of schools around the world. Yet how often is the idea of intellectual curiosity factored into hiring?

Quite naturally, Google wants every person they hire to be good at what they do –  be it coding, networking, marketing, or finance.  Schools are no different.  Kindergarten teachers need to be as good at what they do as a Middle School drama, or an IB Calculus teacher.  But a clear difference lies in the fact that Google expects everyone to be a leader.  They actively seek out people who will take control of a situation instead of waiting to be lead.  According to Tony Wagner, Google has a bias towards action.  They want their employees to always be asking the important question, “How can I make things better?”  In other words, If you see something is broken … fix it!

I like the Google mindset because it is what I think we need more of in schools. You can never have too many people working together to make the world a better place.  I think at its core, schools need to be incubators of intellectual curiosity, places where everyone is teaching and everyone is learning.  Schools benefit by being populated by professionals who lead without necessarily having the positional power. I guess that is why I am fascinated by the work of Dana Watt’s and her research into “Disruptive Leadership in the International Schools”.

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“Excellence is not an act, but a habit.”

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Sydney Crosby, Rory McIlroy, Rafeal Nadal, Lindsey Vonn, Dr. Atul Gawande, Itzhak Perlman, and Usain Bolt share a number of commonalities. Each has reached the upper echelon of their chosen profession — be it sports, music, or medicine.  Yet, despite being at the pinnacle of their individual professions, recognized as true models of excellence, they each also have a coach.

As an educator, my professional practice has been shifting away from the traditional paradigm of a teacher, to become more of an instructional coach for the students who bound into school each day.  As an educator, much of my day is spent offering and developing specific, targeted, and deliberate practice / feedback so that students can develop the depth and breadth of abilities they will require for future success.  Simply, learners improve by working on what they are not good at.

I would like to see more of an instructional coaching model help improve my professional practice, shape the growth and development of my profession, and ultimately strengthen student learning.  Teaching and learning is simply too complex to be able to be successful in isolation.  Without another set of eyes, offering a different perspective, people are unable to achieve and maintain their personal best.  The idea that once you graduate, from something like middle school, high school, university, driver’s ed, or cooking school, that you no longer require instruction, is simply outdated.

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As an educator, I know that I will always have something to work on.  As a professional, I recognize that each of my colleagues will always have something to work on.  As an educational leader, I will always value the role coaching contributes to the journey of continuous improvement.  As the husband of a learning coach, I see the importance of letting teacher’s, like students, take ownership for learning and choose their individualized path; be it keeping a mini-lesson truly mini, developing improved questioning, making better use of assessment data, organizing better collaborative meetings, or adopting new classroom management strategies.  The list is and should be, truly endless.

I see coaching being an essential role of every school administrator.  The most effective learning leaders are those who observe, judge, and help facilitate professional learning.  They enable their colleagues to become more competent; to move through the four stages of competence.

It’s certainly true that some background knowledge and expertise is important to be an effective coach, but the best players do not necessarily make the best coaches.  The great violinist, Itzhak Perlman is a case in point.  His wife is his coach.  Coaches don’t need to know it all.

“She is an extra ear.” She’d tell him if a passage was too fast or too tight or too mechanical—if there was something that needed fixing. Sometimes she has had to puzzle out what might be wrong, asking another expert to describe what she heard as he played”.

Gehry Excellence

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It is in this context that I find myself wondering, how do principals and headmasters stay at their best?  I think looking to the world of sports, medicine and the model that already exists in education, offers great opportunity. Instructional coaches are becoming increasingly common in our schools.  Perhaps it is time that formal educational leaders tap into the potential that coaching offers to further support their work.

To close, I wanted to leave you with one of my favourite quotations. It’s one of the values that my family emphasized while I was growing up and is one that I hope to impart in my three sons, and the kids who I work with every day.

“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence is not an act, but a habit.”

I’ve never really known who originated the quote, but according to a recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy, it’s attributed to one of the great Greek philosophers.  Thanks to coaches like Maggie Moon, Pam Harper, Justin Medved, and Tom Baker, I know that coaching helps ensure that the work you do is your personal best, helps a school strive towards excellence,  and helps improve student learning.

LEARNING … It’s What We Do

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For the past few months, work has been a little busier than usual.  We have been busy wrapping things up at the end of one accreditation cycle and launching into a new accreditation process — Excellence by Design.  Although things have been busy, I find the accreditation work very engaging and worthwhile.  I think it is because I always enjoy the collaboration and thinking about the potential that our learning community holds.  I believe it is important to recognize where we are, celebrate our wonderful accomplishments, and start to envision where we want to be.  The accreditation process has certainly provided me with a tremendous amount of food for thought.

Recently, friends who work in other professions were sharing what was happening in their work and personal lives. Both also happened to be in the midst of some sort of accreditation / self-evaluation process similar to ISO 20000 certification.  I was struck by the similarities of purpose, process, and importance of  accreditation in their work.  I was also surprised by the ease and simplicity with which they could clearly communicate the work that they do, be it producing a good or providing a service.  Both shared the great lengths that are taken in their professions to establish a simple, common understanding of what they do. It was central to their growth, development, and how they monitored the quality of their work.

So, I found myself wondering, what is it that we do in schools?  Do we have a common understanding of what we offer our children, their families, and the greater community?  My guess is that if I asked this question to my colleagues, LEARNING would likely be a top response.  But do we have a common understanding of what it means to learn? Could every member of my school community share the simple, common understanding with a parent or colleague?  Would we be able to consistently identify learning throughout the grade levels and across the curriculum? I must admit I am not so sure.

I believe that International School Bangkok offers some great ideas for helping develop a simple, common understanding of what they offer the members of their community.  A simple, clear and concise Mission and Vision Statement is a great place to start.

MISSION
To be a model of excellence for educating students for success in the world community.
VISION
Through outstanding teaching in a nurturing environment,  ISB inspires students to:
  • achieve their academic and personal potential
  • be passionate, reflective learners,
  • becoming caring, global citizens

There is tremendous power in being able to simplify a complex idea and I believe that International School Bangkok does a particularly good job at it.  However, what I find most impressive is that as a community, they have established a common understanding of “learning” and what it looks like.

Learning is the primary focus of our school and we recognize learning as a life-long adventure.  We value meaningful learning where students construct enduring understanding by developing and applying knowledge, skills, and attitudes.  Increased understanding is evidenced by students who:
  • Explain its relevance
  • Describe how it connects to or conflicts with prior learning
  • Communicate it effectively to others
  • Generalize and apply it effectively to new situations
  • Reflect critically on their own and other’s learning
  • Ask questions to extend learning
  • Create meaningful solutions

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If learning is an essential component of any school, why do more schools not have a definition of learning at the heart of their Mission and Vision statements?  It is  these documents that help shape and provide direction for a school and its improvement plan.  In the world of education, just like the world of business, having a shared, common understanding is essential for establishing a cycle of continuous growth.  ISB’s definition of learning provides an essential framework for collaboration, a tool for monitoring the quality of student learning, and a means of adjusting professional practice because stakeholders are looking at things through a shared, critical lens.

First Impressions

Originally Posted November 2011

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I just finished reading SWAY: The Irresitable Pull of Irrational Behaviour.  A friend and colleague who recommended the book described it as the opposite of Gladwell’s BLINK.  It is a fascinating book that examines the pull of irrational behaviour.

The authors of SWAY, Ori and Rom Bronfman, share an interesting study about the draft rankings of NBA players and their resulting professional careers.  It turns out that scoring points, rebounding, blocking or stealing shots does not impact the playing time or even the career lengths of NBA players as much as draft order does.  In essence, “once a player is tagged as a ‘low pick’, most coaches let that diagnosis cloud their entire perception of him.” (p.71-72).  We all have a tendency to label ideas, things, or people on the basis of our first impressions, and find it difficult to change our perceptions once they have been established.  In essence, we are inclined to see what we want to see, expect to see, and what seems to reinforce our opinion.

As an educator, this is a big concern.  I don’t want to have any pre-conceptions concerning my students.  I know that it will interfere with my work in support of their learning.  I make conscious efforts to avoid having a fixed opinion of my students.  Perfect, I am not.  But I know that I am doing well simply because I continue to challenge myself, ask questions, look at things from multiple perspectives, use multiple sources of evidence, and remain flexible.
As a colleague, I know I can do better.  I need to do a better job of managing my diagnosis bias.  Like most professionals, I have an opinion of my colleagues, mainly based on first impressions, limited evidence or perspectives.  Regretfully, I have certainly not been as flexible with my colleagues as I have with my students.  I am striving to challenge myself to re-think my first impressions, to ask questions that will challenge or highlight my own personal bias.

As an inspiring administrator, monitoring diagnosis bias, is of keen personal and professional interest.  I am equally confident in saying that I have benefitted from, and been restricted by, the bias of administrators that I have worked with.  I have witnessed colleagues who struggled to overcome this bias. As an educational leader, your bias has an enormous impact on the culture of your community, and ultimately on the quality of the teaching and learning in your school.  Do the first impressions you make of people help or hinder your efforts as a learning leader?  Are they empowering or limiting?

As educators, we need to avoid the pitfalls of the NBA coaches. But how can we do it?  I think the best place is to simply try.  Be meta-cognitive.  Be flexible.  Be reflective.  How often do you change your first impressions?  Challenge yourself to look at things with different lenses.  I think if you do, like the Houston Rockets, you will be able to recognize the talents of individuals that may have gone unrecognized or under appreciated.  And like the Houston Rockets, you are likely to find your own Shane Battier, your own superstar.

Leadership Lessons @ The GAP

Originally Posted May 2011

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Shopping, ugh!  It is not one of my preferred pass times, but my wife likes to shop.  Living in Saudi Arabia, this means I am her wing man and chauffeur for outings to the mall.  While waiting patiently in our local GAP franchise, I had the chance to sit and think.  I spent my time reflecting on the great professional learning experiences that I have had since my last post in February.  Over the past few months I completed an elementary math specialist course, attended a leadership seminar at Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the NESA conference in Bangkok, Thailand.  It has certainly been a wonderful period of professional learning.

So, while mulling over some big ideas and reflecting on my practices and beliefs, I started to recognize that educational leaders have a lot in common with their khaki clad brethren.  Leadership, and change in particular, is a retail experience.  In order to establish an effective culture, change a culture, motivate a group, or shift a school, it requires “face to face” experiences, personal attention.  The staff at the GAP offer great leadership lessons.  Not only do they attend to the requests of shoppers (How can I help you? Let me know if I can get any specific.), they provide individualized feedback (That’s a great color on you! Those pants are a great fit!), and offer new perspectives (Did you see the new cotton tees?).  They make their customers feel valued.  They are out and about in the store, roaming the floor meeting customers, building personal connections, seeing how they can help.  Sometimes they are very active,  while at other times they step back, let individuals shop, and help out when required.

Come to think of it, as the educational leader in my classroom, I do this already.  My roles is that of a guide, helping guide differentiated student learning, providing individualized feedback, and offering new perspectives and ideas.  Effective teachers don’t hide behind their desk.  They are out and about, roaming the classroom, monitoring learning, engaging students, sometimes providing direct active assistance, or from a short distance allowing students to explore and build their own understanding.

I’m drawn to leaders who exemplify what’s best about the GAP’s sales staff.  As an aspiring principal, I want to be an educational leader who lives outside the office, who helps propel student learning by recognizing and supporting the needs of individuals.  If I want to encourage a change or implement a new initiative, I need to build relationships, make personal connections, and communicate clearly.  To accomplish this, I need to be present in classrooms, hallways, the cafeteria, yard, and faculty lounge; talking, listening, observing, and helping out … just like the best teachers and the people at The GAP.

“Is that clear Mr. Bender?”

Originally Posted February 2011

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Earlier today, I participated in one of our weekly PG&D (Professional Growth & Development) afternoons at Saudi Armaco Schools.  It was a productive time spent collaboratively building understanding of the Words Their Way program.  Time, planning, and effort had obviously been well spent by Jen, our literacy coach, to set the stage for a productive meeting. Tables of treats were organized to help boost our groups energy at the end of a work day and near the end of the work week in Saudi Arabia.  A protocol was selected to help facilitate collaboration and focus our dialogue.  I liked this.  I’m a big fan of protocols!!  Group members were assigned different roles within the process and everyone was expected to, and did, contribute.  After working through the protocol with my team, the reporters from each grade level team (k-5) shared out their findings.

Our collaborative time was well spent as we worked to better understand the Words Their Way program.   A great many ideas and themes emerged that will be helpful in moving forward.  So did a number of “big picture” questions …

Why are we implementing this program?
What do we hope to accomplish?
How will this benefit our learners?

I love these types of questions for a number of reasons, but mainly because they demonstrate that my colleagues care about students and student learning. These questions could easily be interpreted as resistance to change, colleagues reluctant to try something new or move in a different direction.  However, from a leadership prospective, I like the questions because they provide me with additional insight into next steps.

At the moment, I am in the middle of reading Switch, Chip & Dan Heath’s book about change.  One point that they highlight is that what is perceived as resistance is often a result of a lack of clarity.  People need crystal clear directions.  Think about it.  A doctor can’t just say to a patient that they need to loose weight, and expect success.  So doctor’s clearly layout the need for change with metrics and outline a plan for success … changes to diet, lifestyle, and specific goals with repeated check-ups to monitor progress.

So when asking teachers to adopt a new program or undergo a change of any sort, think about clarity, especially when faced with resistance.  A friend Dana also reminded me this week to take a moment to check your Vision?  Has the rationale for any change been clearly identified and communicated?  How has clarity been achieved around the intended goal and the benefits to student learning?  Is there anything else that can be done to add clarity? Maybe there’s something we can learn from Principal Richard Vernon, in the  The Breakfast Club.

Start With Teachers

Originally Posted February 2011

I believe that schools are great places, filled with great people, and great learning; but in the complex world of the

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21st century, that’s simply not enough.  Our students deserve better than simply maintaining the status quo.  As a profession, we have a responsibility of becoming “better”.  What does it take to become better?  According to Atul Gawande, it simply “takes a willingness to try”. But where do you start?  What do you try?

I think that Schmoker and Marzano convincingly say, start with the teachers.  Their work clearly links the quality of a teacher with student learning and success.  A year with an ineffective teacher greatly inhibits student learning and achievement.  Two successive years of ineffective instruction is debilitating.  In contrast, a year with a highly effective teacher is very powerful and two successive years with highly effective teachers enables student learning and achievement to soar.  So, what do you do?

You start by being a learning leader.  You start by being a teacher.  I think that everyone in education aspires to be the “highly effective” teachers.  People always want to do their best.  No one wants to be the “ineffective teacher”.  However, like the students in our classrooms and people in every profession, there are varying decrees of competence and excellence.  So where do you start? What do you try?

You start with the positive assumption that teachers are doing the best they can with what they know, and begin to expand the depth and breadth of their knowledge. People are comfortable sticking to what they know and what they know works.  It’s human nature.  Why reinvent the wheel?  So show them something new, something alternative, something better. Show them that “new wheel”!  Share a favourite book. author, website, blog, podcast or resource. It’s unreasonable to expect students to learn something new unless we have shared it with them.  Why should teachers be any different?  Show your colleagues a better possibility and they will more likely to attempt a new instructional practice rather than stick with the familiar and known.

Get teachers working together.  Today’s world is too complex to manage by yourself.  Schools and the work of educators, is no different.  Build schedules that allow for easy collaboration. Include training and staff development on collaboration.  Cooperation is easy.  Collaboration is hard work. People need to know how to participate in a collaborative group, they need to know how to produce an agenda, to come to a decision and communicate it,  to understand the difference between dialogue and discussion.  The work of Robert Garmston with the Center for Adaptive Schools is a great place to start.  Start modeling the use of protocols when working with small and large groups, and gradually begin training the early adapters and informal leaders in your community on their use and purpose.  If you do, Critical Friends Group training will soon follow.

Start getting rid of shared drives, servers, Rubicon Atlas, and cluttered email In boxes.  Begin using Google’s Education Apps in your school.  There are incredible tools at your finger tips, so get exploring.  Google Docs and Google Calendar are simple and effective tools for getting people to work together collaboratively.  Imagine teams of teachers meeting together to purposefully discuss and share ideas about student learning. Tools like Google Docs are great for collaboratively building agendas, sharing nuts and bolts, and keeping the minutes from a meeting at everyone’s finger tips, their true power is in the ability of teams to craft Essential Questions and Enduring Understandings together, to build units of study or collections of shared resources together, and reflect on student learning at anytime, from anywhere.

Be a role model.  Get out of the office.  Get out of the meeting and into the classrooms and hallways.  Make it an uncompromising priority.  Actions speak louder than words.  As the learning leader in your school, start talking to students about learning.  Start talking to teachers about learning.  Engage in these conversations daily. If you do, students and teachers will take notice.  Fiedlwork Education’s “Looking For Learning” has excellent resources and ideas for building this reflective practice.  Soon teachers, students, and all community members will see that learning is the priority, not teaching.  They will see how they are expected to interact with each other.  They will be more likely to visit each other’s classrooms.  We know that providing students with exemplars is an effective instructional practice.  So why not do it with your faculty?  Get your teachers learning from the best, by seeing the best!

If students are the most important people in your school and their learning is the central focus, then what are you doing to make it better?  All you need to do is try.

Monday Musings #18 – Effective Communication

Originally Posted January 2011

For the past few summers, I’ve been attending week long workshops in Miami at the Principal’s Training Center.

Communication

Each workshop has been incredibly rewarding, interesting, and enriching.  I also find myself making new friends and building a list of colleagues I hope to have the opportunity of working with at some point in the future.

Dan Kerr, the Middle School Vice-Principal at the Shanghai Community International School, is one of these great leaders.  Throughout the year, Dan has graciously included me in “Monday Musings”, a weekly email to his colleagues relating to a variety of educational thoughts, ideas, articles, or podcasts.  In Saudi Arabia, Monday marks the middle of the work week, and I find myself looking forward to hearing what Dan has to share.  As a teacher, leader, collaborator, and community member, Dan’s message on communication is essential reading.  Here’s what Dan shared with his faculty this week ….

After spending the last few weeks reflecting on the mistakes that I’ve made over the last few months, and the many “do-over” moments that I wish I had back, I have come to an interesting conclusion. Almost every single issue, problem, regret, and misstep that I can think of could have easily been avoided had I communicated more effectively. So this week I want to talk about the benefits and beauty of…………….. Effective Communication.

    The truly interesting part of this realization is that in many instances I actually thought I had communicated effectively. The problem was that I was making assumptions and taking things for granted, which in a large school like ours, having to deal with students, faculty, parents and the surrounding community, becomes problematic. Just having said the words, or sent an E-mail, or relied on someone else to deliver some news isn’t enough………..the magic lies in the follow up and the feedback! 

    The other part to this that is often overlooked, is that effective communication is a two way street. Not only is it important to say what we really need to say clearly and concisely, we also need to speak up when we don’t understand or feel confused. Listening is very underrated in my opinion and a skill that needs to be taken seriously. I know of a few schools that have spent a large portion of their PD budget on Active Listening consultants, or workshops that focus on pausing, paraphrasing, presuming positive intent, and strategies that allow you to really HEAR what someone is saying.
    
     Miscommunication has many facets and can strike in a number of different ways. Think of the messages we send out with our body language or the tone of our voice. Communicating effectively is a full time job that encompasses all that we do, in every aspect of our lives. Just think of the problems and stress that we all could have avoided had we been a little bit better at communicating with each other. 

    There’s another part to this as well, that for me is the most essential. The old adage, “It’s not WHAT you say, but HOW you say it!” I read a wonderful quote the other day by Carl Buechner that says, “they may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” A goal of mine for second semester is to become a better communicator and I am challenging you all to take a good look at how well you communicate with your students, your colleagues or the parent community. I think if we look deeply enough we can all find ways to improve, and together we can make our school a better place for everyone. Have a fantastic week and remember to be great for your students and to effectively communicate with each other!

    Quote of the Week………..

The problem with communication is the illusion that is has occurred.   – George Bernard Shaw

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How Does Your Garden Grow?

How Does Your Garden Grow?

As a leader in my classroom, I am keenly aware of the culture I want to establish and build throughout the year.  I know that it is my responsibility to make this happen, much like my back yard garden.  At the moment, my backyard garden is in a bit of disrepair. Nothing is doing particularly well.  In moving to Saudi Arabia and settling into a new house, it keeps falling to the bottom of the to do list.   I  know that it is not doing well because I’ve been neglectful.  I’ve provided minimal care, done little to help the garden grow.  I am certainly getting out of my garden what I put into it.  Very little.  I am proud to say that this isn’t the case for the culture in my classroom.  Establishing and then maintaining a learning focused, positive classroom culture has been extremely hard work.  It is flourishing because of the constant attention and persistent effort that I devote to it through recognition, relationships, resources, rewards, and rituals.  In thinking about leadership, I recognize that these principles are easily applicable to a principal’s efforts to develop a culture within their school community or even within smaller collaborative groups.

People inherently crave recognition and positive reinforcement.  It’s the reason why schools are filled with gold stars, Student of the Week, and Honor Rolls.  So as a leader, how to do you routinely recognize what is valued in your community? Do you routinely drop a small note in an email or mail box?  Do you regularly laud and applaud the great people and learning that is taking place, both privately and publicly? There are innumerable forms of recognition.  What is important is that you be specific about what you observed and student learning.

Recognition certainly helps build relationships.  In the ever changing landscape of education in the 21st century, the relationships necessary for effective  collaboration is a key to success. So, as the educational leader in your school, how do you build relationships with and between the colleagues you are working with?  Do you begin meetings with opportunities for people to meet and greet?  Do your routine forms of communication include personal details so that faculty can learn about each other?  Is wandering part of your daily routine?  Wandering the halls, classrooms, yard, and lunchroom has tremendous virtues.    Not only does it enable you to develop relationships, but it also provides you with the opportunity to  encourage collaboration and connect different community members with each other.

The reality of teaching is that no one enters the profession because of the end of year bonuses and plush perks.  But like teachers who use stickers, pencils, and recommendations to help motivate students, principals can harness resources at their disposal for a similar effect with their faculty.  Passing along professional resources is an easy step.  It might simply be a book, an article, or even a website, but their is great power in sharing.  Using deli.ci.ous to building a collective library of learning links is inexpensive tool.  Share your time.  Use it to take a moment to drop off a new resource to a teacher you know might find it of interest or cover a class so that a teacher can attend a particular PD session.  Arrange for your teachers to visit other innovative teachers or schools in your area.  Pass along any invitations or tickets that you might receive.    Connect teachers and classrooms with the greater community … a local historian, athlete, or charity that can support learning.  In the same way that the kindergarten student who proudly leaves school with a pencil they received for their birthday helps contribute to a positive learning environment, by being creative about sharing resources, leaders can achieve similar results in their school.

Recognition and rewards are closely tied together.  Rewards need not be expensive or extravagant.  What is important is that rewards are used to motivate and cultivate a positive culture. Offer Starbucks cards to the first three faculty to submit their report cards.  When interest, energy or enthusiasm drops during a long PD session or difficult faculty meeting take 5 to raffle off a movie pass, potted plant, or even a “Get Out of Recess Duty” pass.  Order subscriptions for the faculty lounge or professional library.  Food is always a hit.  This might be healthy snack during parent conferences, holidays treats in mailboxes, or even little cupcakes to celebrate a colleagues birthday.  Place a bouquet of flowers or potted plant in the office or faculty lounge and then raffle it off or award it to a winner at the end of the day.  LIttle rewards can help brighten the day of just one person or the whole community.  Either way, rewards are a powerful tool in helping a principal develop, maintain or change the culture of their school.

Rituals are an essential piece of a community and of culture. They slowly bring community members together through shared experiences.  Repeated celebrations brings new and old faces in a school together.  They become something that a group of teachers remembers and look forward to.  What do you do to build rituals in your community?  How do you welcome new community members or say good-bye to departing ones?  Do you recognize important milestones like birthdays and other personal celebrations with cakes, flowers, or cards?  What do you to to recognize professional accomplishments?  How do you begin or end meetings …. with sharing, reflection, a reading, or food?  The business world goes to great length to build community identity with bar-b-cues, family picnics, charitable work, or sporting teams (softball, bowling, curling, etc.).  Do you?

As a classroom, team or school leader, you can help develop the culture you desire.  With a little effort, you can establish a positive morale, build strong personal and professional relationships, while highlighting the values of your community.  What gets recognized and rewarded, is what get’s done.

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I Love My ELMO

ELMO

Many kids, like my 6 year old son, have a favourite stuffed animal that they bring to bed with them every night.  His favourite is a cuddly little fellow from Seasame Street, named Elmo.  He doesn’t laugh when tickled and is beginning to look worn around the edges, but Elmo does bring a lot of comfort and happiness to my eldest son.  Quite simply, he loves Elmo.

Apparently, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree because I too am in love with ELMO.  However, mine isn’t red, fuzzy, or cuddly.  I don’t take it to bed with, nor would I want to.  My ELMO is white, shinny, and new.  It sits on my desk in my classroom, next to my computer.  In simple terms, my ELMO is a document camera.  In reality, it is much more than that.  It is a transformative piece of technology that shifted my professional practice and dramatically improved student learning.

For much of the past decade I have worked at the International School Bangkok (ISB) in an environment that continually sought out and supported innovative educational practices.  ISB is a rich learning environment in many ways.  SMARTBoards, scanners, FLIP cameras, digital microscopes, laptop carts, VoiceThreads, wikis, and blogs are integral parts of the learning environment.  However, it’s the people who are truly the source of its wealth.  I consider myself to have been extremely fortunate to have worked along side wonderful colleagues like Dennis Harter, Tara Ethridge, Kim Cofino, and Jeff Utecht, and many others.  Each exemplified ISB’s ideal of 21st Century Learning — creative, collaborative, flexible, tenacious, etc.  Although they were each extremely helpful when technology needed an introduction, explanation, or went awry, the technology was not the focus.  Connectedness and collective knowledge was.  By making their thinking visible, each contributed in their own way to my professional and personal transformation.

This is why I love ELMO.  More than interactive whiteboards, laptops, wikis, blogs or any other piece of technology, my ELMO helps foster 21st Century Learning.  Throughout the day, regardless of subject area or interest, it helps make the group’s thinking visible.  In Math, a variety of possible solutions are shared and discussed.  In writing, author’s can quickly share the process they used to develop an idea.  The mystery of your peers’ thinking disappears and understanding improves.  We learn together, from each other.  In doing so, ELMO has helped improve the levels of collaboration.  It is an invaluable tool for collecting real time feedback, for providing exemplars, and modeling thinking and tenacity.  Accountable talk is an important part of inquiry based learning and ELMO is a piece of technology that does a wonderful job of facilitating our collaborative inquiry.  As a teacher, document cameras, like my current ELMO, have helped me focus on student learning rather than my teaching.  When combined with interactive whiteboards, the impact of a document camera is multiplied ten fold.   More than any other piece of technology, document cameras have truly transformed my daily professional practice and helping develop 21st century learners.