Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Boost at the Bammys

This past weekend I had the honor of attending the Bammy Award ceremony in Washington, D.C. and words cannot even begin to express how much this experience meant to me. So, I was invited to attend because I was one of five finalists for Elementary School Principal of the Year, which was such an incredible honor considering my company (the likes of Mazza, Hilt and Wejr). In the end, I was selected as Elementary School Principal of the Year (still kind of shocked about that whole idea) and because it happened so early in the ceremony I totally flubbed my two sentence "acceptance speech" that was supposed to be witty, engaging and possibly profound - I don't think I accomplished any of those goals but it was an honor nonetheless.

This was just one small part of the experience for me because being at the Bammys was about so much more. It was an opportunity to meet, see and connect with some of the country's most dedicated and passionate educators! I had a chance to interact with Eric Sheninger, Tom Murray, Joe Mazza, Jimmy Casas, Jeff Zoul, Daisy Dyer Duerr, Bill Krawkower, Dana Sirotiak, Dwight Carter, Chris Lehmann, Pernille Ripp, Joyce Valenzia, Erin Klein, Joan Young, Shannon Miller, Amanda Dykes, Adam Bellow, Paula Naugle, Tom Whitby and Kristen Swanson just to name a few (definitely look them up and follow them on Twitter). I am still in awe thinking about it because each of these people has affected my thinking and practice in some way, shape or form over the last two years. Each of these people has helped me become a better Lead Learner and educator. Each of these people have helped keep me fresh and excited about my profession.

Now, did I get to talk shop with every single one of them? No. Did I get to sit one on one with each of them and have a profound conversation about how we could change the landscape of public education? No. But, I did have a chance to share a meal with some of them (thanks for lunch Jeff). I had a chance to share a joke and laughter with many of them (thank you Paula, Daisy, Jimmy, Gwen, Melissa, Tom, Adam, etc.). I had a chance to discuss some of the things I love about being an educator with several of them (thank you Joe, Dwight, Dana, Tom, Bill, etc.). I had a chance to be in their presence and soak up their passion and enthusiasm. For me, the Bammy Award gathering was an incredible boost! A boost of excitement about being an educator. A boost of energy to take that risk and seek the opportunity to innovate even when it's not easy. A boost of knowledge to question the norm and look at things through a different lens. A boost to remind me that our country is filled with incredible educators who have one goal in mind - doing what is in the best interest of children! Educators who are always willing to share and collaborate. Educators who get excited about trying something new in their space. Educators who look beyond the reform movement that is focused on reducing us all to a number. Educators who are proud to be educators.

Over the last couple of days, there have been concerns expressed about the Bammy Awards experience; there has been disappointment expressed over some of the things said during the ceremony; and there has been a lively exchange on Twitter about whether or not awards should be given. I think this is all great stuff because it challenges us to reflect and deliberate - both are opportunities for growth. 

Will the whole Bammy experience probably improve over time? My guess is yes (my first two suggestions are to make sure that the teacher categories get recognized during the ceremony and that they get some WiFi up in that place)! Could the ceremony be structured differently? I am sure that could be improved too. Should we be giving out awards? I see both sides of that argument. 

In the end, from my humble perspective, I thought the entire Bammy experience was awesome because it wasn't only about the awards (although I am honored to have won one) - it was about being in the same space with some of the most incredible educators in the world. I left Washington D.C. with many new friends, a larger PLN to collaborate with and a renewed excitement for my work as an educator. I got a boost at the Bammys and I hope I can return next year!  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Leadership Should be Shared

During my doctoral studies I have read a lot about the importance of distributed and shared leadership and the importance of those practices within our schools. Distributed leadership is a model that secures staff members' full participation in the school's decision-making processes, promotes powerful and purposeful collaboration and amicable work relations, generates passion for accomplishing common goals, and boosts student and teacher productivity throughout the organization (as described by Natsiopoulou and Giouroukakis in When The Teachers Run the School). This approach to leadership is basically a MUST in the current landscape of public education because the principal is expected to be a transformative leader who successfully manages and balances instructional leadership responsibilities with the countless administrative tasks and expectations. 

When considering the idea of distributed leadership, I immediately think about my own ability to develop leadership skills and abilities in those around me. Do our teachers feel empowered? Do our teachers have opportunities to assume leadership roles? Do any of our teachers want to "grow up" and become administrators? Unfortunately, I recently came to the conclusion that this is a deficit for me as a leader because I couldn't emphatically answer YES to any of the questions above. I don't think I am really good at developing leadership skills in those around me. I am not sure why this is the case but this is an area where I want to improve and grow. So, since I haven't actually mastered how to develop leadership skills in others, these are the I want our teachers to know as I try and achieve this goal... 

I want to ensure that our teachers feel supported and empowered. 

I want to ensure that our teachers know that taking risks and failing is considered a good thing - go for it! 

I want our teachers to know that if they have an idea, there is always a forum for them to share their ideas and eventually put them into action. 

I want our teachers to know that I trust them. 

I want our teachers to know that there isn't just ONE way to do things and that they can try different things in their spaces. 

I want to ensure that our teachers feel heard, valued and respected.

I want to ensure that our teachers have the opportunity to collaborate - there is power in numbers (in a good way).

I want our teachers to know that I would be honored to "set the stage" for them to assume leadership roles.

I want our teachers to know that I learn from them EVERY SINGLE DAY!

I want our teachers to know they are the true leaders of our space and that our children's growth and development is because of their daily efforts!

In the end, I am not sure if the list above will help me better develop distributed leadership approaches or help develop leadership skills in our various staff members but I do know that it will be one of my goals for this year... share the fun... share the passion... share the leadership!  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Trust: Foundation for Success

Although earning and giving trust can be quite challenging for some people, the bottom line is that no relationship will be successful without trust at the core. We need to trust that our friends and family have our best interest at heart. We need to trust that our significant others accept and support us. We need to trust that our children will make good decisions when we aren't around. Trust is a difficult thing to establish and build because on some levels it require a degree of blind faith until that other person has proven to be trustworthy. Yet, without trust, there will be no progress. No success. No growth. Trust is most definitely a foundational building block.

There is nowhere else this is more true than within an educational community. As the Lead Learner of Cantiague Elementary my primary goal was earning and maintaining the trust of all members of the community. I knew if we were going to be successful as an organization we needed trust at the core. I wanted the students to trust that I would advocate for them regardless of their needs. I wanted the staff to trust that I had their back and would consider their perspectives when making decisions. I wanted the families to know that I would love and take care of their children as if they were my own - our children are our lives. I knew that if we were going to move forward as a community we needed trust at the core. Research shows that social trust amongst all constituent groups in the educational community improves the routine daily work and is a key resource for reform, growth and success.

Although I still have a lot to learn about earning the trust of others, these are some of the things I did to build and earn the respect of each constituent group in our community...

1) I learned everyone's name. The names of each staff members. The names of the people who were important to our staff members (their spouses, children, etc.). The names of each child in our building. The names of as many family members as possible. Knowing someone's name isn't the biggest deal but it allowed me to establish a personal connection with every member of the organization and personal connections are critical to the building of trust. When I am able to greet someone by their first name or inquire about them by using their first name, the complexion of the exchange changes, in an incredibly positive way.

2) I am transparent with every member of our community. Our community knows about my family, my doctoral studies, my taste in music and television shows (Yes, I do watch the Real Housewives of NJ - don't judge me), my passion for technology, Mets and Jets. Our community knows who I am as a person and how I am wired and that is critical because those are the things that shape me as a leader (NOT the Real Housewives - don't worry!). Who we are outside of school influences who we are inside of school and the more people understand about the two the more likely they are to give trust.

3) I use social media and my blog to flatten the walls of our school and let the community in. They see pictures of children working in their book clubs, using manipulatives to solve math problems, playing handball at recess, participating in science experiments and generally having a blast in school. The community sees pictures of our staff engaged during faculty gatherings, classroom activities and various other interactions. The community reads my blog and knows my stance on high stakes testing, my opinion of the current evaluation process in NYS and my thoughts on what makes us a Blue Ribbon School. I use social media and technology to be transparent because without transparency there can be no trust.

4) I try to be fair and consistent every day with every member of the community. I want everyone to know that although I value each individual tremendously, I will deal with situations in a fair way without making them personal. This is key because it lets everyone know that there are no favorites - everyone will be treated fairly and with respect. This has seriously helped me gain the trust of our families because they know that my priority are the children and no one child or family gets special treatment.

5) I lead with my heart because I love what I do and I am incredibly passionate about my work as the Lead Learner of Cantiague. So, I realize that not everyone can or should lead with their heart but what I have found is that people in our community have been giving of their trust to me because they know my heart is invested in our students; my heart is invested in our staff; my heart is invested in our community; my heart is invested in our collective success. 

Although I have not done any formal research on the success of my five steps to building trust as outlined above, I do believe that there is trust at the core of most of my relationships at Cantiague. How do I know you ask? Well, you may not know this if you haven't been in our building but there is a sense of pride that permeates our space – we are, collectively, proud of the work we do for children and we will try anything and everything to affect our students and the community in a positive way. How did we make that happen? With trust, which is at the foundation of our success.