November 9, 2009

Trying to Gain Insight

I have been doing some additional reading over the past month.  After having a staff meeting where I felt myself becoming upset with what felt like a lack of motivation from my staff to take on a little professional development in the form of a book read, I decided maybe I needed to brush up on controlling my emotions when dealing with setbacks.  I may have been judging myself harshly as I had no one tell me they noticed it or that they felt pressured but still I knew how I was feeling and it was time to do something about that.  After all, my wife is often telling me that I am a little too passionate about my job.  So I did a little research online and found a book that looked like a good resource for me and my problem.  When I went to the website, the company also had a quick quiz you could take to see how you rated yourself in certain leadership situations.  It opened my eyes to some things and made me be a little more reflective than I planned to that day.

The first book I found was called "Crucial Conversations" and after only a couple of chapters it has already given me some sage advice.  It has also provided me with strategies that I have already begun to implement with my staff.  I also ordered a set of Audio CD's of the book "Influencer."  Again loaded with some very good advice on how to use proven strategies to influence people to change habits and beliefs.  Don't by the books if you are looking for a step by step procedure for making everyone agree with you, or if you think it is written just for principals.  These were written with business leaders in mind for the most part, but the research and methods shared within are valuable to all, even parents.  What you have to remember is to take the concept and figure it if and how it could work for you.  They will also help you to believe that almost any challenge can be addressed and overcome if you just look for the right strategies to apply.

I decided to implement one of the strategies pretty promptly.  The idea was called motivational interviewing.  After thinking about it a little I considered it a chance for me to improve myself and address some building concerns.  Of course the idea is that by letting staff have a chance to air concerns, share what is working, discuss progress, where additional training or support may help and share areas for my improvement, then I have a better chance to gain insight into my staff's thoughts, views and perceptions.  I think I will also try to tabulate the results of the interviews and then share them with the whole staff.  Some may be surprised how the majority of staff responded.                                                            

The state test is finally over and now we are starting our first report cards.  While it had a few technological kinks along the way, the new report card system is going to be a fantastic addition to our elementary program and I have to give the credit to the teachers that worked so hard to come up with a unified system of how things should be reported. A common and more unified grading scale, similar templates.  It's just so much better it is hard to even compare.  Veterans Day is coming up, followed by Thanksgiving and then a quick run to Christmas (or Winter Break if you are looking for the PC term).  Time is flying by!

October 5, 2009

State testing and traditions.....hmmmm?

Wasted a bunch of time (and paper) today printing off practice tests so that students could prepare for the high stakes (but practically worthless) WKCE exam.  A test that sets the bar so low that if a student is identified as proficient you may still have to be concerned that your child could fail classes and not score well enough on the ACT or SAT to get into college.

There is talk that Wisconsin will finally create a new state test.  Hopefully a computerized test that will return results to schools within a couple of weeks.  A test that stays consistent so you can see student growth and compare apples to apples.  Of course there are those folks that also would like to keep the test the same.  They want the test to stay focused on a state approved curriculum.  What the heck for?  What is so special about Badgers, Lead mining, Governor Dodge, Dolly Madison and all of the other local garbage that we need to test to see if our students learned it.  And why does it need to be tested?  does it make you ready for a job in Wisconsin?  You need skills to be ready for a job in the 21st century, not localized facts about the history of a quirky state....and yes, I am from this quirky state.  Some folks just have trouble letting go of tradition I guess.

October 3, 2009

September Down, lots done.....Lots to Go!

Wow! The first month of school blew by quickly. It is October already and while it seems to have gone quickly it is hard to believe all that we have accomplished as well. MAP Testing is over and we have finished our first attempt at AIMSweb benchmarking. Looking forward to the additional data on student achievement. I am hopeful that this will help us greatly in the implementation of our RTI model. Compass Learning is up and running and it looks like it will be a great tool for the students and reinforces the importance of our MAP testing. We invested in the online version of the Everyday Math games suite. Unfortunately all of this added technology has slightly slowed our network and completely overrun our IT director.

The new schedule we created has had some bonuses (collaborative planning time) but it has some setbacks as well (the Sp Ed teachers and aides seem stretched). We have our new report cards almost all ready to go and they look so much better than what we used to have going parents may just go into shock over the change. Why they will be implemented this year, we will have to wait until next year to try to switch to a Trimester reporting calendar. The Trimester will line up much better with our MAP Testing periods. This way teachers will be able to report on student progress with the help of our MAP data, AIMSweb benchmarking, and curricular coursework.

I have found a few new books to read for personal improvement, but I would recommend them to almost any leader. As a matter of fact I would even encourage teachers to read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck. The other two are Crucial Conversations and Influencer. Another audiobook I have enjoyed and benefitted from is "The Big Moo" which was written by about 30 authors and is getting at making whatever you do remarkable. Check em out!

August 4, 2009

Back in the Office

Ahhhh August! Well vacation is over and I am back in the office now. Title Budgets to work on and ARRA funds to play with (really wish I was able to decide what to do with them) and a few other odds and ends to get ready for the start of school.

I have my team of teachers ready to take to the PLC's at Work conference down in Lincolnshire. I am looking for great conversations and some serious planning for our substantial collaborative planning time that we will have this year. I am hoping that we will come back with a mission to work on common formative assessments and how we can use our current assessments to improve learning and instruction.

On a down note, I lost a great staff member today. While she was new, she had a great energy, fantastic attitude, reflective, and fearless to try new things. She was a go getter, as my high school coaches used to say, and I will miss her positive attitude as well as her support. Still, I wish her luck in her new job in Florida and want her to kow she will be missed.

July 10, 2009

Wife's B-day today! We are getting together with some co-worker friends tonight. Looking forward to some good conversation with some great teachers and my wife's principal who I love to share stories with.

Also been looking forward to the PLC's at Work conference coming up in August. I am taking 4 staff from my building and I think they are going to love it. Three days with Richard, Rebecca and Robert learning to do "Whatever it Takes" and becoming a true collaborative learning community.

July 9, 2009

Been thinking of all of the changes we will be instituting this year. Very exciting...but also a little nervous as I want the implementation to go smoothly. The staff worked hard to create a schedule that allowed for a dedicated reading block, time for an intervention team to come in and assist each grade level (K-4), and blocks of time for collaboration.

We have also found some excellent tools to help us improve student performance. Compass Learning to go along with our MAP testing, AIMSweb to act as a data management tool, a normed benchmarking tool and as a progress monitoring tool as we begin to implement our RtI model. It all shapes up to be a very exciting year. I know that we also want to focus our efforts to become a true PLC and shape that collaborative time into a data focused session that allows us to discover various areas of improvement either in instruction delivery or in needed interventions for specific students.

After reading TurnAround Schools I also want to make sure that we put our vision statement in writing as well as our collaboration procedures, followed by the staff signing the agreements. I thought this was an excellent idea. This is of course, not so I can hold staff accountable, but so that they can hold each other accountable.

Moving on to a new book today. It came highly recommended from an old admin mentor I worked with. "Compelling Conversations connecting leadership to student achievement" by Thomasina D. Piercy looks to be a great read about approaching the serious conversations that need to take place in a school seeting. Conversations between staff and administrators and conversations amongst grade level teams.

These type of conversations already take place at highly effective schools. While I am the leader of a very good school, we are still not doing what it takes to become a top notch school that ensures the success of all of its students. Where I am lucky is that I have a staff that desires nothing but the best for its students and almost all are willing to try whatever it takes to get there. What we will have to start working on is following the steps taken by these exceptional schools and making it a common practice in our building. It is comforting to feel that I know it will happen.

July 8, 2009

I just finished reading TurnAround Schools today! Excellent book by Damon Lopez and Jeff King. Damon was featured in "Whatever It Takes" by the 3 R's and I had the chance to meet him at a SPARK conference in Milwaukee back in May. Great guy with a great message...All kids can succeed no matter their personal life circumstances. Poor, single parent, homeless, only meals at school, none of these are excuses for Damon or his staff. Jeff King and he have created simple rules to establish what separates average collaboration, average data assessment and average interventions from exceptional practices that make these strategies more successful for all students. Highly recommended and it is an easy and short read.

July 7, 2009

Getting Started

I have been having various conversations with friends and colleagues and have determined that I needed a place to share my views. If for no other reason than to release some of the thoughts going through my head so that I can sleep at night. That and I was hoping to get some input and new ideas from all of those out there in the blogosphere that are interested in the same thing as I. Making education the most respected job in the world. Well, at least move it up into the top 3.