Category Archives: Educational Leadership

10 Easy Ways To Create an Amazing #SchoolCulture as a Principal This Year

Based on a comment I received on my post, “10 Easy Ways To Create an Amazing #ClassroomCulture“, I was asked to write a post about what a principal can do to promote school culture.  Thinking about my own past practice, but also by many that I have been inspired by, here are some simple ideas that could really set the tone for a year.

  1. Be outside and welcome people in the morning. One of the best ways to start the day as a principal is to be at the front of the school (or in a central place) to welcome students and staff every single morning (not just the first day).  Dave Pysyk, principal extraordinaire, was known for welcoming people every single morning at his school. It set an amazing tone for the day and was an immediate investment in people.
  2. Go into classrooms and hang out. One of the things that I truly believe in, is that principals should be in classrooms a lot more than they are currently.  Not just stopping by and saying hi (although this is hugely beneficial), but just spending time and hanging out, observing the environment.  The world is so mobile now, that we are not tethered to an office, so take your laptop, and answer your email or do your “paperwork” in a classroom. Your presence means a lot to the school community.
  3. Make a YouTube video to welcome people back. A great way to greet people back, is to make a quick message like this one from Travis McNaughton on YouTube.  People get to hear your voice and see your face, and sets a different tone than any letter home would.  Or you could be like Tony Sinanis, and create a school newsletter on YouTube with your students.  Awesome way to make connections before families start your school, and continue them after.
  4. Twitter videos to share awesome things happening in classrooms. One of my favourite options on Twitter is using video.  It is a great way to capture quick moments in the classroom and make great teaching and learning go viral in your own community, not just globally. There is no need to wait for the next staff meeting to share awesome ideas happening in your own school when you have access to technology like this.  Former principal Carolyn Cameron told me, that as a principal, you can become one of the best teachers, because you can always see great teachers. Make sure you share what you see with others constantly and consistently.
  5. Learn the names of all students. If a student is ever sent to the office, the worst way to start off a conversation is “what’s your name again?”  Spending time in areas where students convening, and making a huge effort to know the names of your students, makes a huge difference.  It is not easy, but it should be a goal for every principal.
  6. Make a spreadsheet with every staff member’s name and list their strength(s). People that are new to the principal position always ask, “What would you change first?” My answer is always, “nothing”.  The best thing you can do is learn the strength of every staff member in your community, write it down on a spreadsheet, and share that you see that in them.  This reminds principals that people are more likely to move forward when they feel valued.
  7. Fill the halls with pictures of kids that are there right now. Schools spend a lot of time honouring the past (graduation pictures, principal portraits, etc.), but not enough time honouring the present.  Going into schools often, I notice that the ones that really stick out to me, are the ones that have active pictures and media of kids plastered all over the school.  It is a great reminder for all of the students that you are there for them.
  8. Have lunch with students. I am all about having food together.  Having lunch with the principal is such a great way to get to know your students and connect with them.  Sometimes you might do it to find out what kids want from their school, but sometimes it is just about finding out about the kids.  Very simple, yet very powerful.
  9. Call families of colleagues to thank them (Thanks Jimmy Casas). I remember when Jimmy Casas told me about the time he spent calling the parents of his staff, to tell them how awesome their children were. No matter how old we get, we are always somebody’s kid, and parents never get tired of hearing about the accomplishments of those that they have raised.
  10. Treat the school like family. Schools can be tough places to be.  There are lots of emotional ups and downs, and people have shed many tears being a part of a school community.  This is why people need to feel that you will push them, but always have their back.  When schools become like family, what the community can do is absolutely amazing.

One of the elements that is not on the list is to simply be available.  Don’t be the principal that needs an “appointment” to connect with others.  You have the mobility to move around the school in ways that many staff can not, and it is important that you are visible. Amber Teamann is very transparent principal, exhibiting her continuous learning in her role, modelling her willingness to grow for her school community. Patrick Larkin had his desk in the hallway of the high school in which he served as a principal, and it was an awesome reminder of who he was there for. Principals like Sanee Bell, seem to go out of their way to make kids feel like part of their community.

To be a principal is a true blessing. My best advice is to enjoy every minute you can openly, as you see that your joy will become infectious with others.

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Change happens. You can either do it, or it will be done to you.

Someone asked me a question similar to this; “What do we do about kids that are distracted by devices in the classroom?”

My response was, “Maybe we have to be less boring?”

Although this is obviously not that simple or black and white, it is something that we have to think about.

Do not think the expectation only has gone up for teachers in the classroom.  Look around your staff meetings; how many educators (paid to be there) are disinterested?  Sometimes they go to their devices, and sometimes they bring in their marking to get done during that time.  Sometimes they are multitasking, but sometimes they have a singular focus; it’s just not on what is happening in the room.

When I start many of my talks or sessions, I encourage people to go to devices and provide them spaces either through hashtags on Twitter or Google Docs.  This isn’t someone saying, “If you can’t beat them, join them.”  This is understanding that there is an insane amount of opportunity in bringing these devices into the fold to further learning during, after, and sometimes even before the face-to-face learning happens.

Do I believe that people are 100% into my sessions at all times? Nope.

What this is understanding that if I were to teach the way I taught several years ago and ignore what exists in our world now, the problem isn’t solely placed on the learner.  I have to take advantage of these opportunities.

If you teach the way you taught pre-devices, pre-google, and pre-social media, and then introduce devices into the classroom, the majority of us are going to have a hard time staying “engaged”. We have to rethink our teaching.

I do not know much about this Michigan high school that recently banned devices (July 2016) in their classrooms, but my questions would be the following:

  • Tell me about the opportunities you see with your own learning using devices.
  • How have you implemented opportunities for learning with devices in your own professional learning?
  • What opportunities do these devices bring into the classroom that didn’t exist before?

These articles used to really bother me, but what I have learned is that I never know the whole story. There is always more to any article or tweet you read online.  That being said, here is one part that bothered me:

The decision regarding the new cell phone policy was made after several discussions with the high school advisory committee, made up of teachers and support staff, and with the parent advisory committee, Bohl said.

Notice anything missing? Me too.

Change happens.  You can either do it, or it will be done to you.

Either way it will happen and I am doing my best to embrace the former than the latter.

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Somebody, somewhere, is doing the same thing you say you can’t do.

“This doesn’t fit within our infrastructure.”

Have you ever heard that from your IT department? This is a longer way of saying “no”.

Yet in our world today, with shifts happening faster than we can keep up with, this seems to be a response that is no longer acceptable.

For example, let’s say your IT department follows these four questions for making decisions for your organization:

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If we deem this learning as crucial for our students, the “won’t work for infrastructure” comment does not help us move forward. It is a dead end.

The best IT leaders provide options, not obstacles.  Sometimes it will cost you more money, more time, and an adjustment in our thinking and the way we do “business”, but it can always be done.  Again, it is our thinking that will help us move forward, not the technology.

As I always say, somebody, somewhere, is doing the same thing you say you can’t do; they are just finding a way.

“They have to be part of the solution”

As teachers go back into their classrooms preparing for the new school year, many educators spend an inordinate amount of time decorating their classroom.  The will use terms like “our classroom”, yet they will be the only ones who have had the options of what it looked like.  My first year of teaching a fourth grade class, I remember spending a ton of time making little basketballs and placing every student name on one of them outside of the classroom as a way to welcome them.  Imagine if you were a student in my class that year and you hated sports. You were probably thinking, “A year with this guy?!?!?”

I was reminded of this reading this post, “How Teachers Can See Students’ Identities As Learning Strengths“, and in particular, reading this passage about a teacher trying to better understand his own students:

For example, Sirrakos had spent a lot of time and his own money to decorate his science classroom with posters and quotes he hoped would inspire his science students. In a dialogue, one student told him that his class environment was boring. Sirrakos was confused and pointed out all the decorations on the walls meant to liven up the room. His students explained those images represented him, not them. Sirrakos was still confused, but he asked his students to help him fix the problem.

Students started bringing in their own posters, including things they made. The one rule was it had to be related to science in some way. Immediately students were more cheerful. “They have to be part of the solution,” Sirrakos said. “That’s where we talk about having these co-generative plans of action.” In this example, the solution didn’t require a big shift, it only required that Sirrakos recognize he wasn’t achieving the result he thought he was, and be open to students’ owning their classroom space.

Not only would this save you so much more time, but it is so much more meaningful to the students.  This is not simply about choosing what goes on the walls, but seeing the classroom as a reflection of themselves (the learners), not simply the teacher.

I wrote about this last year as well:

What if you wanted to learn the student’s names, you asked them to create their own art to display it on which represents something they love?

Instead of decorating the room with what you think should be on the walls, ask the students what they would like the room to look like, and plan how you could shape and decorate it, over time.

Instead of planning the entire day, why not create opportunities to talk to them and learn about them, and get a feel for what your year, or even the day could look like?

If I really think about how the year started for me as a teacher, it was more about the students to get to know me, than it was about me getting to know them.  There actually should be a balance.  Trust and respect are reciprocal feelings; they are not earned only from one direction.

These little things show students that they are an essential part of our community.  Their voice is needed to create community, ultimately showing them that they do not have to wait to make a difference; they can be leaders today, in our own classrooms.  Empowering them now, will lead them to be the world changers we hope them to be.

Leaders-Today

 

3 Things Education Graduates Should Have Before They Leave University

In 2015, I wrote this post entitled, “3 Things Students Should Have Before They Leave High School“.  Here were the things that were listed:

3 Things Students Should Have

I thought of this post as I was talking to a recent university graduate from the field of education.  As I asked a friend to look at her resume, he right away asked, “Where is her portfolio? Where is her Twitter handle?”. She had neither.

So as we look at post-secondary students graduating from different education programs, if we want these things I have listed (or at least somewhere in the ballpark), are our university programs asking the same things from their graduates?  Isn’t the best way to learn this process through doing it, not hearing about it?

If I was working in a university program, I would hope that these things would be implemented and integrated into programs. Instead of everything being given directly to the professor, would it not be beneficial to share this work with other educators (both new and experienced), while also building their own digital footprint?  One thing I know is that this should not be solely focused on in “educational technology” courses, otherwise only the students in the program would have the opportunity to create this, or solely connect this to learning that is done with only “technology” in mind.  It is something much bigger.

Yet some are concerned that not all educational organizations are looking for these things, so it could be a lot of time for little benefit.  I would adamantly disagree with this.  First of all, students taking time to actively reflect and share their learning is not only beneficial to themselves, but to others as well if it is open.  Secondly, in a world where most people are getting googled for the jobs, this would only strengthen (or at least create) a digital footprint.

Finally, if an employer is not looking for these things, make sure they find them.  At the top of my resume, I can easily place the statement “For full portfolio, check out georgecouros.ca“.  This allows the employer the opportunity to see my portfolio before I get an interview, not ONLY IF I get an interview.

I would love to be able to see a candidates thinking and growth over their time in university.  Would this not be more beneficial than looking solely at a transcript of grades and a diploma?  It might take a lot longer to peruse, but it would help the employer make better decisions on candidates. My belief is that the extra time is worth it.

So if I slightly revamp the above picture, to fit this idea, does this not still make sense?

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If we want our new educators into the profession to think different, they will need to experience something different.  The best way to teach this is to have learned it first.

“EdTech” is a Leadership Position

Spending a lot of time at technology conferences, one thing is evident; there are a ton of sessions on “stuff”.  As I write this post, people are scurrying around to find ways to connect “Pokemon Go” to the classroom.

Sessions like “100 tech tools in 60 minutes”, often dominate these conferences.  So many choices, yet so little time to implement.  We quickly move from one thing to the next, waiting for the next big thing.

Yet many of the participants in these same conferences have positions that are purposely meant to extend past the classroom.  “Tech leads” or “Director of Innovation”, etc., are common titles.

So when you look at those positions…they are much more than the “stuff”. They are about how to help other people move forward.

For every blog post or book you read on technology, you should (at minimum) read an equivalent amount on leadership.  “Cool tools” stay as “cool tools” if we do not think deeply about “why” we use them, and how others will see meaning in them.

So some quick thoughts on how to help others move forward with educational technology:

  1. Don’t just show people tools…discuss the thinking and learn to make a direct connection to deeper learning.
  2. Ask questions more than you give answers. Great leadership starts from where people are at, not where they want them to go.
  3. If you go to a conference, take time to reflect on any tools that you learn and think about where they fit into the bigger picture of your school’s mission or vision.  If you spend 60 minutes in a session learning about a tool, take 60 minutes in that day to think about how to get others to implement.
  4. Streamline…do less, better.  Don’t turn a teacher’s full plate into a full platter.

This quote is relevant.

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If you embrace the above, you will understand this is about a lot more than the “stuff”.

 

Innovating Inside of the Box

I loved this post from Seth Godin’s blog:

The problem with complaining about the system

…is that the system can’t hear you. Only people can.

And the problem is that people in the system are too often swayed to believe that they have no power over the system, that they are merely victims of it, pawns, cogs in a machine bigger than themselves.

Alas, when the system can’t hear you, and those who can believe they have no power, nothing improves.

Systems don’t mistreat us, misrepresent us, waste our resources, govern poorly, support an unfair status quo and generally screw things up–people do.

If we care enough, we can make it change.

In “The Innovator’s Mindset“, one of the ideas that I have shared is the notion of “innovating inside of the box”:

Let’s not kid ourselves. In education, especially the public sector, schools are not overloaded with funding. Innovating in our schools requires a different type of thinking, one that doesn’t focus on ideas that are “outside of the box” but those that allow us to be innovative despite budgetary constraints. In other words, we need to learn to innovate inside the box.

This is not limited to budgetary constraints.  It is in dealing with bad bosses, traditions that may be past their expiration date, policies that seem to trump common sense, or a myriad of other things.  We have a lot more power to create the solutions we need, than we give ourselves credit for.

This is a pretty powerful image.

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If you want to wait for others to make the changes that you see as necessary in education, you might be waiting forever.  It is crucial to do what we can within the “system” or the “box”, but it takes changing our thinking first.

Curious about…?

In Amanda Lang’s book, “The Power Of Why: Simple Questions That Lead to Success”, she talks about the importance of curiosity and it’s connection to intelligence:

Curiosity is, therefore, strongly correlated with intelligence. For instance, one longitudinal study of 1,795 kids measured intelligence and curiosity when they were three years old, and then again eight years later. Researchers found that kids who had been equally intelligent at age three were, at eleven, no longer equal. The ones who’d been more curious at three were now also more intelligent, which isn’t terribly surprising when you consider how curiosity drives the acquisition of knowledge. The more interested and alert and engaged you are, the more you’re likely to learn and retain. In fact, highly curious kids scored a full twelve points higher on IQ tests than less curious kids did.

As I was reading this book, here were two things that came to my mind:

And then…

Ian Hecht shared this tweet with me:

This is getting kids to be “curious about history”, which will definitely help students to flourish in other areas.

You will hear lots of people push the thinking (paraphrased), “Our students shouldn’t ‘do’ math, but try to think like mathematicians.”  I can’t remember where I saw it, but I do remember someone challenging this notion suggesting that a “mathematician”  is not something you become simply because you are trying to think that way.  It takes years of dedication and work to become a “mathematician”, “scientist”, or “writer”.  That made sense to me.  But what if we promoted the notion that we want to encourage kids to become “curious” about these disciplines?  Is this not a step towards that path, while also encouraging students to find their own ways?

Asking questions, not regurgitating answers, is the first step towards innovation and creativity.  Promoting curiosity, and having students thirst for knowledge, no matter the discipline, is a much more powerful path than simply learning the “stuff”.  It ensures that spark is lit long after their time in any single classroom or school.

What if our goal in school was to inspire curiosity, especially, since in many cases, we actually negate it. I believe the learning that could happen would be something that we create tremendous growth both in schools and society.

Innovation starts not by providing answers, but by asking questions.

Fanning the Flame

I never wanted to be a teacher.

I loved school and enjoyed my time there, but my passion was always in sports and coaching. Teaching was a pathway to that love.  In fact, in one of my interviews, I was reluctantly hired because the principal thought I was more interested in coaching than I was teaching.

He was right.

And although I stopped coaching soon after, I started to referee basketball and that became a love for me.  Teaching was my job, but sports were my passion.

In my career now, I connect with people that had known they wanted to be a teacher early on in their childhood.  Their fire was sparked at an early age, but I was never that person.

But then you cross paths people that change your perspective, and some of the leaders that I have encountered in the last ten years or so, saw something in me that I never did.  They found a spark and fanned it into a flame, and gave me the tools to continue to let it burn.  This is why the topic of “leadership” is so important to me.  Those leaders are the reason I am writing today and more passionate about education than I have been any other field in my life.

Yet some of those same people that had that passion from an early age have lost it, and to be honest, it is because of leadership (or lack there of).  I never think that people intentionally try to kill a fire inside of us, but little things that they become unaware of, turn teaching into a “job” for some people, and it no longer becomes a “calling”.  Bottom line, it is a job.  But great leadership can make a job seem like something so much bigger.

So many blog posts and articles talk about “what’s missing” from education, and I rarely see this as an educator problem, but a lack of leadership.  Now if you are reading this and you are thinking “Yeah…my leaders have sucked my love of teaching away”, you need to understand that leadership is about influence, not position.  You can have that same influence on your colleagues, no matter what your job is.

The beautiful think about teaching is that our legacy is defined in what we give and empower others to do, not only in what we do ourselves.  If leadership is truly about how you influence others, isn’t every person in education, in some way, a leader?  Whether you influence kindergarten students, principals, or teachers, you could be the person that sparks and flames that fire in others.  You could also be the person that douses the flame.

As many educators in North America, look to recharge and learn over the summer, remember that you are, and can continue to be, the one that fans that flame in others.  Legacy as an educator and leader, will always be in what you give and empower in others.

fanning the flame

Accelerating Great Teaching and Learning

You are a principal and you have amazing access to see teachers teach, all of the time.  Walking in and out of the classroom, seeing what great teachers do, can make you an amazing teacher, even in the role of the principal.  Great principals take advantage of this.

Yet the process that I have seen shared with many administrators is that they will see something awesome happen in a classroom, and then they will ask the teacher share that practice with others at the next staff meetings.  Sometimes these meetings are two weeks away, sometimes a month, sometimes longer.  You may encourage them to share for ten minutes, but then things come up, and ten minutes, becomes five.  They share that great practice, and we move onto the next thing.

Or you could do this…

See that amazing thing happening in a classroom and ask the teacher if they can share it. Tweet it to a school hashtag using words, images, or a 30 second video.

Amazing practice, shared right now, to everyone.

This creates both a transparency and an urgency for others to move forward.  Still talk and share at your staff days, but this idea is a supplement, not a replacement.

How would we ever expect great practice to become “viral” if we only shared it once every 30 days?

Technology has the ability to amplify and accelerate the amazing things that are happening in your schools. Take advantage.

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