Completing the Square / Leading by Following

On Saturday, September 17, Jill Gough and I were privileged to provide the keynote address for the 2011 Regional T³/MCTM Annual Conference. Conference Director Jennifer Wilson facilitated a wonderfully effective learning opportunity for teachers, administrators, pre-service teachers, college professors, and others.

From the beginning, the program cover-art fascinated Jill and me. The conference theme was “Completing the Square,” and the image pictured a puzzle with a missing piece in the center. To build our keynote address, Jill and I imagined what that missing puzzle piece might be that would truly complete the square. Additionally, we threaded our talk with the idea of Leading by Following.

Believing in the powerful nature of stories, Jill and I told four stories to illuminate some puzzling issues facing educators today:

Puzzle 1: Why do we talk so much of teaching when it’s about LEARNING? Or… “How could they not know this?” [Assessment for Learning]

Puzzle 2: How can we make learning experiences more meaningful? Or… “When are we gonna use this?” [Contextual Learning]

Puzzle 3: Why are teachers and admin “US and THEM” when we all want our students to learn? Or… “You are a fool!” [Learning Partners]

Puzzle 4: Why is teaching an “egg crate culture” when we know learning is social? Or… “WE are smarter than ME.” [Learning Communities]

What do you think the missing piece might be? What completes the square? The following slide deck will lead you on the path that we explored during the keynote. We loved being in this community of learners at Brandon Middle School. It is always a privilege and pleasure to spend time learning with committed and curious educators.

Cross-posted with Jill Gough on her blog, Experiments in Learning by Doing.

Lesson Study, Observation 2.0, Algebra I, Jet Plane

Yesterday, I observed the Algebra I team deliver the lesson “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” They invited me to observe – as principal, as well as a pseudo-member of their team (pseudo only because I do not formally teach the course known as Algebra I). This team has engaged in lesson study before.

When I entered the room, I made an instantaneous decision NOT to observe in the manner I usually do. Typically, I take narrative notes, as I was taught to do in graduate school for educational leadership and supervision. In the moment, I decided to take video notes. Using my Flip camera, I recorded short, approximately-fifteen-second clips of classroom action. After I had three or four clips, I uploaded the videos to my MacBook Pro, and moved the videos into a Keynote slide deck. I titled slides based on the “learning progression” stage of the lesson. Then, I repeated this multi-step process several times. At the end of the class, the Algebra I team had a twenty-three-slide deck of video-embedded resources that they could review for their lesson study concerning “Leaning on a Jet Plane.” The deck was readily available because we share a Dropbox as a team.

Below is a PDF version of the deck – so you will not be able to view the videos. However, this Scribd doc will give you a simplified visual of what we now possess to review as a team – full of video. Now, to continue the fabulous professional practice of Lesson Study!

Valuable Time – Invaluable, Shared Insights

When I first began my role as principal (this current year is my ninth year in this role), I was not systemically connected to the work and learning of the faculty in my care. Ironic maybe, but true. In the ensuing years, I have developed systemic ways to plug into the work and learning of my colleagues. The efforts have resulted in valuable time and invaluable, shared insights.

1. Weekly, I attend at least 25% (1 of 4) of each of the PLC/PLT (professional learning community/team) meetings. Over the course of a year, this provides me with at least 144 hours of time with the teacher teams who explore ways to enhance learning for students and adults alike. I am able to learn side-by-side with those purposefully and collaboratively exploring curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment.

2. I load into my reader the RSS feeds of the blogs from any Junior High faculty member who maintains a blog. What insight into the thinking, questioning, and practicing of my colleagues this provides!

3. I follow my Junior High colleagues on Twitter…if they have an account.

4. Maybe most importantly, I am given the great excuse (“professional responsibility”) to read the goals and self-assessments of the faculty. I do so to prepare for one-on-one or team conferences with each of the 80 Junior High faculty. These conferences provide opportunity for incredible dialogue about that which we are focusing on in our classrooms and learning spaces. These conversations are among my favorite of the year.

Reading goals and preparing for today’s two conferences is what inspired this quick post; reading a few faculty blogs and tweets also contributed to my compelling need to share.

From just these four, integrated, systems approaches to connecting with my faculty team, I am a part of an intricate web of deep thinking, rich inquiry, and innovative practices. I can see connections in people’s work…I can learn of what they are trying and researching to help students…I can be challenged in my own thinking and teaching practices. I can discern how they are using student/course feedback, peer visits, and administrative observations to reflect on their practice and improve their growing professionalism as educators.

‘Tis I who is blessed to be in this web of thinkers, doers, and learners.

Goal Keepers, Part 3 of 3

In this three-part set of posts about goals, I explore the general concept of goal setting and action stepping, and I drill down more specifically into my school’s new vision statement, Learning for Life, as well as my own professional goals for the year, which are a part of my school’s Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) Plan.

In May 2010, I published a post about my student/course feedback from Synergy 8. In the post, I explain that my next Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) endeavor will be to draft and share my 2011-12 Goals and Self-Assessment (G&S-A). As has become my practice, I send my current G&S-A draft to the Junior High Faculty, as well as to the Westminster administration. Because I ask the faculty to share their G&S-A with me, I want to share my G&S-A with the faculty. We are all in this together.

Typically, I share my draft G&S-A document with the faculty in the days approaching our return to school. While my document is not necessarily an exemplar, I do try to model an approach to completing the important process of reflecting and goal setting. And the sharing with each other is a critical step, in my opinion. If we don’t know of each other’s G&S-A, how can we work to make sure that our rafts are pointed in the same direction, traveling in the same river?

During the course of the year, if I am doing the work in the best way possible, I will keep my G&S-A in front of my view, and I will revisit and revise my goal as necessary. My goal is a work in progress – a dynamic path and pace setter, not a static document submitted-and-forgotten simply to complete a requirement.

So, in the below Scribd window, I am sharing my current draft of my 2011-12 Goals and Self-Assessment:

Additionally, this year I spent more time than usual reviewing my goals and feedback from every year that I have served as Junior High principal – since 2003. Consequently, I had the idea to organize many of those materials into a resource matrix with “everything” in one place. You can find this resource matrix here, if you are interested. I have some follow-up work to do to make the resource complete, but at least I have started! By organizing all of these materials in such a matrix, I think it visually demonstrates how all of the pieces are parts of one whole, integrated system. It’s all supposed to work together, as a whole.

Of course, I welcome any and all feedback on my developing Goals and Self-Assessment. If you have comments to share, I encourage you to do so. Various perspectives and viewpoints can only help me to understand my own goal better…and how my goal can work with the system of faculty goals to achieve our Learning for Life vision. All perspectives – faculty, administration, student, parent, other educators, etc. – are welcomed. Together, we can be great goal keepers.

A Postscript on Sharing Goals

According to this three-minute, Derek Sivers TED talk, “Keep your goals to yourself,” we run the risk of under-working on our goal when we share it with others and experience any satisfaction from doing so and mistakenly feeling that our goal is “done.” I disagree that we should keep our goals to ourselves, and I briefly explain above the main reasons why goal sharing is a good practice in my opinion. However, I understand Sivers’ bigger idea that the real work with our goals comes in the action steps and the dogged determination to follow through on our action steps and to achieve our goal. By sharing my goal, and by reviewing the Junior High faculty goals and “operationalizing” their connections, I hope that we will all positively hold each other accountable – for the good work of acting on the action steps and accomplishing our goals. I need your help and support, and I feel accountable to you all. So, I share my goal, and I look forward to the start-of-school conversations about our goals. Let’s get working – together. Our kids deserve our best, collaborative work! It’s about learning…for life!

Goal Keepers, Part 2 of 3

In this three-part set of posts about goals, I explore the general concept of goal setting and action stepping, and I drill down more specifically into my school’s new vision statement, Learning for Life, as well as my own professional goals for the year, which are a part of my school’s Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) Plan.

Recently, after completing our 2010 SACS-SAIS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – Southern Association of Independent Schools) self-study, and during engagement with our ongoing strategic planning as a school, a faculty-administration committee drafted our new vision statement, Learning for Life. In late Spring of 2011, the Westminster board, administration, and faculty overwhelmingly endorsed the new vision statement. A copy of the document can be accessed below via Scribd, and you can read a recent Westminster Magazine article about the vision here (see President’s Remarks on pages 2-3 and Cover Story on pages 6-11 of the pdf).

In a nutshell, I am thrilled about the Learning for Life vision statement! In 2011-12, I will be excited to pursue deeper understanding and implementation of such pedagogical practices as project-based learning and problem-based learning (PBL), integrated studies, and balanced assessment. I am charged up, full of creative tension, to explore schedules and spaces that promote deep learning; to work with my colleagues, students, and parents in learning teams; and to connect globally with the countless “teachers” who can help us achieve our vision.

On the ground, with sleeves rolled up, how are we going to achieve our vision, Learning for Life? Among a multitude of efforts aimed to make our vision our new current reality, I believe a community full of creative tension lies at the center. All of the people I work with want to do our best to enhance learning – what a great trait to possess at the outset and all along the way! To close the gap between our existing current reality and our new vision, we at Westminster have our developing Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) Plan to help structure our paths, our undertakings, and our desire to improve and enhance learning. The plan has five, integrated and interwoven parts:

  • Goals and Self-Assessment
  • Peer Visits and Observations
  • Administrative Observations
  • Student Course Feedback
  • Feedback from Duties “Outside the Classroom”

During the development of our FAAR plan, a colleague and I made the following video to help explain the philosophical underpinnings of our professional learning framework.

In essence, our FAAR Plan encourages us, as faculty and administration – WE, not “us” and “them” – to set goals that are going to help us learn how to educate in increasingly enhanced ways while pursuing our collective vision as a school. The other four component pieces of the FAAR Plan are supposed to work as a system, in conjunction with our goals and self-assessment, to provide us with feedback (like that reflective mirror and our biological feedback systems mentioned in “Goal Keepers, Part 1 of 3”) which helps us see if our creative tension is steering us to reaching and achieving our goals and vision. From the feedback, if we realize our actions are not steering us closer to our vision, we can adjust course and re-direct our paths.

If you are a reader from Westminster’s faculty and administration, I hope you will carefully reflect during your self-assessment process and establish a primary goal which will motivate you, and all of us, to strive for and achieve the elements of our Learning for Life vision. What’s more, I hope you will utilize your feedback pieces as a whole system to collect and analyze the data which can come back to you from self and others in order to signal how “on target” our efforts and actions are to achieving our vision. Engaging with the FAAR Plan can be so much more than “jumping through bureaucratic hoops.” Engaging with the FAAR Plan can systematize and coordinate our individual efforts into collaborative actions that result in a realized vision – a vision for the best learning that we can provide for ourselves and our student learners.

What matters most is the mindset with which we take on this challenge! What is your mindset going to be? Will you employ a growth mindset? Will you engage with our professional learning plan in such ways that you are energized with creative tension? Will you collaborate with others so that we can work as a team to take on this exciting and invigorating journey as educators and as learners?

I hope you will! I hope you will help me stay focused as both a leader and as a participant team member. It’s about what’s best for our students! It’s about learning!