“Hey, let’s send Bo a quick video of what we’ve been white-boarding!” #IdeasWorthSpreading

For years, we have been working in the Junior High to “tear down the walls” that define the typical egg-crate culture of schools. As a faculty PLC, among other techniques, we have used Twitter, peer visits, instructional rounds, lesson study, job-embedded/regular team meetings, “FedEx Days,” and “campfire storytelling.” Every time we share, a connection-point on a virtual spider web gets planted. From these nodes of stickiness, more connections have the potential of being formed.

I am blessed with an amazing faculty and staff of 82 people; I am blessed to be among them, and I am blessed to be one of them. I am blessed to lead and serve with them.

This week, a new blessing occurred. Two Science 6 teachers met during an “off-day” during exam week to do some planning for the new learning challenge they are developing around global climate change. THEY SENT ME A VIDEO SUMMARY OF THEIR MORNING! The video and the email exchange are embedded below (with permission from the teachers).

I was so excited to get this unsolicited piece of campfire storytelling! I could see and hear Alison and Brenda in their actual voice with facial cues. I love the excitement and energy in their dialogue and countenances. I love that they are taking risks and trying new things. I love that they are willing to share.

For some brief moments, they seemed tentative about sharing this beyond just me. They wondered if they should “spiff it up.” I love it “un-spiffed!” Un-spiffed is spontaneous and tool-like. The video does not need to be production-perfect…it is, instead, process-perfect. They used a tool to share in a more personal way, and they helped me learn and share in their moments of planning. What a gift. What a perfect gift.

From: Alison George
Date: Wed, 14 Dec 2011 10:51
To: Bo Adams
Subject: 6th grade update

Working hard all morning, just wanted to share what we accomplished

From: Bo Adams
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2011 05:33
To: Alison George, Brenda Cobler
Subject: Re: 6th grade update

I LOVE THE VIDEO! I LOVE THE VIDEO! Thank you for “including me” in your planning by sharing a short summary of what you’ve been diligently working on! What a gift to be able to see and hear your brainstorming in your actual voice.

May I PLEASE post this to my blog and write about how much I loved receiving such a clip? May I share with Jill for an upcoming faculty-meeting share?


From: Alison George
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2011 09:48
To: Bo Adams
Subject: Re: 6th grade update

Sure, are you actually considering showing the video in the faculty meeting? (we might want to spiff it up with some actual class footage if so)  We just did this on the fly and didn’t think it would be shown to the entire faculty.

From: Bo Adams
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2011 10:20
To: Alison George, Brenda Cobler
Subject: Re: 6th grade update

If you don’t want me to use it for mtg or blog, I will honor your wishes, of course. However, PLEASE DO NOT “spiff it up.” I love it as it is! You two used a technology to communicate with me and include me and inform me. You innovated, instead of sending me a bullet-list or a voice mail. You made it Web 2.0! It is beautiful and “perfect” in my opinion!

From: Alison George
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2011 11:08
To: Bo Adams
Cc: Brenda Cobler
Subject: Re: 6th grade update

Ok go ahead and use it, we love to be perfect!

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.

JH 2.11

At the opening Junior High School faculty meeting, I shared that I would be referring to us (internally) as “JH 2.11.” Like version software, such as OS 10.6 or Windows 7, the Junior High School is adopting an internal nomenclature that will help us remember that we are striving to improve and grow. The “former version” was a strong product, but we can make it better. We can learn from our experience, we can enhance features and programs, we can grow and get better.

I first played with this “JH 2.11” idea during my spring 2011 sabbatical. While I served my sabbatical, I interned at Unboundary, a strategic design studio here in Atlanta, GA. At the company, they were deliberately working to move from Unboundary 6.0 to Unboundary 6.5. They talked about the business in this manner. Consequently, the culture was dynamic, not static. There was a fundamental understanding that the company would grow and improve to the next version of itself. Unboundary would learn from experience and get better. Simply being “Unboundary” was not good enough, and simply being the “Junior High School” is not good enough. A static name can unintentionally imply that the work of the company is static. A dynamic name generates a creative tension that can motivate a team to strive for closing a gap by walking a path of kaizen – continuous improvement.

What are the keys to embarking on such a walk of kaizen? In brief, the critical key is living in the growth mindset. More specifically, though, I recently read two blog posts from colleagues spread across the country – linked with me primarily through open social media. In these two posts, I think @L_Hilt and @jonathanemartin have hit upon some superb specifics about growing in our versions in an Education 2.0 world.

Out with Professional Development, In with Professional Learning (@L_Hilt)

Become an “Eeel:” The 17 E’s of Electronic Education Leadership Excellence: Leadership Day 2011 (Hat tip to Tom Peters)

In our Westminster school motto, from Luke 2:52, we read, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” May we strive to grow similarly.

Big Rocks First!

I love the classic camp devotional (that’s where I saw it first, at least) involving someone trying to fill a glass jar with sand, small rocks, and big rocks.

During round #1, the person pours the sand in the jar. Then he tries to get the small rocks and big rocks to fit. They don’t fit!

During round #2, the person puts in the big rocks first, then the small rocks, then the sand. IT ALL FITS!

Here…watch for yourself…

For the last few years, I have committed to putting in the big rocks first…for my typical weekly schedule. As a principal, so many different tasks and needs arise. My day can get filled with sand, and the big rocks get crowded out. However, if I schedule in the big rocks, then the sand – which is still important stuff – can fill in around the big rocks. Here’s what my “glass jar” looks like…

Of course, life requires some flexibility and adaptability. But first loading the big rocks helps ensure that major tasks get tended to and accomplished!

What are the big rocks in your work? Are you scheduling guaranteed space for them?

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!