Posts tagged Collaboration
Posts tagged Collaboration
One of the hardest decisions I ever made occurred when I decided to give up my post as a fifth grade teacher to pursue a position as a school administrator. The decision was so difficult because I love teaching - still do. As a teacher I felt like I made a difference with the group of students that I called my class. I left the classroom for a variety of reasons, but first and foremost was the feeling of frustration I had when I felt I could have a larger impact on students and others than was allowed or available in my role as a teacher. There are days when my decision to leave the classroom haunts me. Because although I know that I have an impact on a whole school of children and adults as a principal, I don’t have that up close and personal impact that I had when I was a teacher of 30 students. Today, was an amazing day and I felt at the end of it, that the impact that I had a hand in was one of creative collaboration in its pursest form. I have had this feeling several times already this summer as I have met with my staff and developed Educator Development Goals for our corporation’s new evaluation tool.
Our school corporation, like all around our state and most across the country, are in the midst of revamped, upgraded, and performance/outcome-based evaluation changes. Our corporation’s evaluation system is aptly titled, “Educator Development and Evaluation Tool” because the focus is not on ‘gotcha’s’, rather on the development of educators to be the best they can be to help students. Our system has three parts: An evaluation rubric (tied to classroom teaching performance with data gathered from observations), student learning objectives (tied to student performance on a variety of standardized and corporation created assessments), and the Educator Development Goals (a personal/professional and a school-wide focus goal). The creative collaboration I have had this summer with teachers has been in the creation of these SMART goals that will guide professional growth and in the process, student outcomes.
Since the last day of school, I have been meeting with teachers to collaborate on goals. Summer breaks have been both rightfully and also unjustly the cause of finger-pointing criticism by many in the public and private sector. For years, teachers have been accused of going home for the summer on the final day of school and picking up in the same place the following August as they did each August before. This accusation assumes that educators go home each summer, vacation, relax, and do nothing to improve themselves, their craft, or the curriculum they teach. For some teachers, this may be a fair and accurate generalization. But for many, summers are filled with workshops, projects, curriculum designing, book reading, planning sessions, game-creation, classroom environment overhauls, etc. Summers are busy for teachers. The Educator Development Goals allow for a systematic way to validate and encourage continuous teacher development and growth.
My meetings with teachers have centered on several fronts: learning the new SMART Goal (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound) format, narrowing focus so the goal is not too encompassing, then crafting the goal and the rubric-bound outcome in a way that shows the teacher has developed and grown. The meetings have been creative and collaborative in nature. Teachers reflect inward toward their teaching, their student outcomes, and their practices then ask, ”What do I need to learn/how do I need to grow so I improve my craft as a teacher?” or “What do I need to change about my instruction to help students improve?” Then the process of writing the SMART Goal and crafting the 4 point rubric begins. Here is where the creative collaboration comes into play.
You see in this day and age of high-stakes testing and higher-stakes evaluations, teachers and principals need a collaborative, trusting effort more than ever toward each other. Teachers need to feel they will be treated fairly and receive honest feedback from their principals. Principals need to know that teachers are working to improve and to do whatever they can to raise student achievement. As a principal, I saw this kind of trust as I sat down with each teacher and with each teacher group that I have met with on my staff thus far. Today was no exception.
I began my mornimg with a meeting at Panera with a teacher from my building and one from another. The meeting took about two hours as we wrestled with technology issues. Each teacher narrowed his/her focus toward goals that they had ownership in, but were both rigorous and fair. I then journeyed across town to the deck of another teacher in my building. There, sitting around a table eating chicken salad sandwiches and drinking iced tea, three more teachers completed their goals. This group almost completes my entire staff’s efforts toward goal setting. They have given up their time this summer to develop these goals so that, like me, when school begins in August, our focus can be where it needs to be: on the children.
I am excited tonight but not surprised. I have witnessed great effort before from my staff. However, I felt validated today that I had a hand in something great today and all this month. I have worked with teachers from my staff and from some others as well, to guide their focus toward continuous improvement. As I mentioned in the opening, I am haunted at times by the fact that I left the classroom to enter administration. Today, and all this month, however, I have been validated that my time being part of the creative collaboration of goal-writing is not only impactful, but has helped ease some burdens I carry administratively with this new tool, and some of the same from my teachers as well. Creative Collaboration has been the name of the game this month. Today was just another shining example of the impact educators can have when they sit down, have honest reflection, push themselves to improve, and think first and foremost about the impact their actions and growth can have on children. It has been a great day!
My wife has a very keen observation that she makes many times that goes something like this, “The world is made up of many little communities.” They are everywhere from the communities the happen in a workplace, the communities that form on bleachers as parents follow their child in a sporting event, the community you find at church, the community you find in the morning at a coffee shop or breakfast eatery, the community you find at a bingo parlor, etc. You get the idea. I recently had the privilege to spend time with my stepson Alex and a community of film-makers who overtook our house and that of two other friends to film for four days scences from his latest short film “Finding Franklin”.
What an absolutely cool experience it was for me to be part of this creative community of film-makers. The group was high energy, polite, hilarious, at times riddled with drama, collaborative, grateful, hardworking, and most of all - creative. I love and am impressed with creativity when I see it. And I saw it in full force over the past week. It was very cool.
I learned a lot about how movies are made and how important each person on this skeleton crew of 20 is to the overall picture. It makes me think how large a crew must be on a Hollywood Motion Picture - I will never look at the credits at the end of a movie the same.
This community of film-makers were thrown together for 8 straight days and became a family. We often hear distress calls about the limitations of our youth. I don’t buy it. What I witnessed over the past few days makes me not only encouraged but excited. These young adults were focused on recycling. They said “Please” and “Thank You”. They worked hard - ending many evenings after midnight and getting back up early to start again. They were caring of youngsters who served as extras. They were kind to the dogs that were at the homes of two of the sets. They were grateful for any food offered them. They were creative, collaborative, problem solving, and focused.
It is interesting what happens when you observe the nuances of a community. My hats off to Alex, Dustin, Amanda, Brian, Chloe, Chloe, Joseph, Mary, Erik, Joey, Paul, Paige, Jen, Scotty, Chad, Arabella, and others. They were a creative community of film-makers who not only accomplished their task at hand, but showed me once again the brilliance that lies ahead in our future.
What is in your professional library? I have two book shelves in my office. One holds children’s books and one holds professional literature. I looked up the other day and thought, “I need to re-read some of those books. They have a lot of good stuff inside.” Todd Whitaker’s books are very helpful, Seth Godin, Robert Marzano, Mike Schmoker, Barry Lane, and others are there staring me in the face each day - offering me reference if needed to overcome an obstacle or to find a solution.
What is in your professional library? If you are a teacher, your library should include information that heightens your craft. If you are a principal, your library must include books about teaching craft, communication, educational philosophy, and even marketing. I find that my library is beginning to extend beyond the book shelves in my office and in my home. I find that my library includes EBooks on my Nook, links I receive from my Professional Learning Network (PLN) from Twitter, and blogs I find on Tumblr. I have written before about the fact that sometimes I love to read a book on my Nook and other times I love to hold a book in my hand, and when finished - hand it off to someone else.
My professional library contains mostly books that I have read, but I admit there are a few whose bindings haven’t been creased. The books have changed as well. I used to find it necessary (in my mind) to leave the book in pristine condition after reading it. Not any more. Now I write in it, I stick Post-it Notes inside, and I dog-ear the heck out of the book. Because I figure, if I need to find the value-gained again, it’s at my finger tips. I also figure that someone who wants to borrow the book will just have to cope.
I remember when I taught fifth grade that I entered the profession with a philosophy. Five years later, it had changed, and when I left the profession, it had changed again. I find the same thing happening in my role as a principal. I find that through experiences and time, my philosphy grows and evolves. I also find that I gain insight from others that share their world in books from my professional library.
As professionals, educators must constantly evolve and grow. This requires a non-stagnant approach: One that includes many perspectives and much time in thoughtful insight. Whether you are reading an EBook, holding a paperback, reading a blog, or following a link from a Twitter Feed, your professional library is important and helps define not only yourself as a professional, but the course you set for children. What is in your professional library?
I love learning. I am slowly becoming a different type of learner. While I love to read and to sift through the latest book in my library or on my Nook, I am slowly becoming more like students in the 21st century who learn using multi-media.
I just learned how to use Google Docs by signing onto YouTube, watching two videos: one 15 minutes long and one 8 minutes long and then experimenting. I received the idea to use Google Docs for the file I wanted to share on Twitter from a colleague in a nearby school corporation who is quite the expert on Twitter. I received the encouragement and feedback to see if my efforts were paying off from a colleague in my school corporation who is also a Twitter follower. Interestingly, we were texting back and forth while I tried, failed, tried again, and then finally succeeded.
It is interesting that learners today are learning differently. I also realized how much free and useful information is out there ready for you if you just seek it on YouTube. A year ago I would have tried to seek someone who knew how to use the tool I wanted to learn about and then try to connect for one or several sit down sessions. Less and less is this the way to go. When you look at YouTube and Wikipedia, they are just a few of the free sources of strong content that people are happy to share on the Internet.
My adventure with Google Docs this evening was a bit of a victory for me. I learned something I wanted to learn by collaborating and using the resources around me. Tonight, as I lay my head on my pillow, I will feel a bit of satisfaction, a bit of confidence, and a bit smarter. It’s nice to learn and even nicer to know you can do it yourself with a bit of perserverance, a bit of support, and a bit of initiative. Thank you, YouTube and Google Docs for affirming me tonight as a learner.
I recently was at the car dealership’s service department when I took a picture of this bowl that shows all the foreign objects that have been taken out of tires. These cause flat tires. This led me to think, “What Flattens Your Tire?” and “What Inflates Your Tire?” I gave it some thought, and here is what I came up with:
What Flattens My Tire?
1. Negativity. I am by nature a positive person and try very hard to express this in my daily interactions with others. It really bothers me when I spend time with people who always find fault and the negative angle to a situation. We all have moments of negativity, but those that don’t check themselves and allow negativity to consume them, flatten my tire.
2. Dishonesty. Tell the truth. Accept the truth. Be trustworthy. It’s hard sometimes to deal with the truth, but dishonesty flattens my tire.
3. Small World. The world is a big place with many different pieces, facets, and angles. It flattens my tire when people don’t realize there is a big picture.
4. Idleness. The world is ever-changing and there are many things that require action. Idleness in terms of learning and growing flattens my tire.
5. Lock-Step: There is a certain comfort in finding a routine and a pattern to life. However, those individuals who find a pattern and follow that pattern in a lock-step fashion without adapting to new situations flatten my tire.
What Inflates Your Tire?
1. Positive People. The Little Engine That Could said, “I think I can.” Those individuals who lead their life in this fashion, inflates my tire.
2. Honest. I appreciate honesty. I know that one thing that many teachers teach their students is, “You can have nothing in this world, but you can be honest.” I find this to be true. Honesty inflates my tire.
3. Awareness. The world extends beyond one’s nose. I appreciate people who are aware of others, are aware of their surroundings, and are aware of the Big Picture. People who have awareness inflate my tire.
4. Lifelong Learners. I love learners. I love people who are lifelong learners. Lifelong learners inflate my tire.
5. Creativity. I appreciate people who are creative. I appreciate creative ideas, creative solutions, and creative problem solvers. Creativity inflates my tire.
I have started a new collaboration with my students. They are recommending books for me to read and I am kind of getting into it. This collaboration began with Isaac told me, “I read the Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan and it changed my life as a reader forever. Interesting. I had to read a book that would change a fifth grader’s life as a reader forever. So, I said, “Go check it out of the library in my name.” Little did I know that it was 500+ pages. But it was interesting. It taught a lot about Egyptian mythology. Even though I am not particularly a cat person, I enjoyed Bast, the Goddess of Cats the best. This genre is not my favorite, but the book held my interest and I did become exposed to several Egyptian Gods and Goddesses along the way. What was the coolest was the dialogue with Isaac: “Mr. Pinto, how far are you in the book?” “Do you like it?” “Isaac, I’m at this point in the book. This character is kind of creepy.” Riordan has written several more books. My goal is not to read the entire series, but to get a flavor. These students would not have been exposed to this information most likely had it not been for the book.
Next, it was Drew’s turn. He recommended The Lightning Thief again by Rick Riordan. This is the first in the Percy Jackson series and deals with Greek Gods and Goddesses. Again, this is not my favorite genre, but I have enjoyed the dialogue. What I am amazed with has been how engrossed the students are in the characters and how much they know plot lines. Drew was no different. He seemed genuinely excited by my progress through the book. He also was a walking encyclopedia of Greek Mythology knowledge. Fascinating to me. I finished this book and again enjoyed my time with the book and with Drew.
Next, 39 Clues by Rick Riordan, was the referral by Josh. Are you noticing a theme? Lots of Rick Riordan. This time, the book I read took me with the characters to Russia where I learned about Rasputin and some Russian history. Josh again asked me for my progress and again filled in some clues along the way. I finished this book this morning.
Carson gets a crack at me next; then Evan; then Sarah. I am hoping that a non-Rick Riordan book appears at some point. But I have some great take-aways from these books. First, I read only the books I have not read before. So if someone suggests a book that I have read, I said, “Nope, give me another book or another series.” This I hope branches student thinking, but also forces me to read something new and different. Second, students try to find books that I might like but I also get a feel about what interests them. And, it keeps me present and up with what is popular and what is hot in the world of my elementary readers. Also, it has increased my dialogue with students on an academic front in a way similar to how I would converse with an adult who I offer a book and say, “I think you will enjoy this book.” Finally, this interaction has opened another gate. I am now referring books to students to read. Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick is making its rounds through the fourth and fifth grade. My question, “Do you like it better than Hugo Cabret? If so, why?”
I have always said that one of the highest compliment I can offer someone is to offer them a book and say, “I think you will like this.” It is nice to have this interaction with students. I have learned a lot. And, it is interesting that the books I have read so far are teaching students a lot without them even realizing it.
A pie bird, pie vent, pie whistle, pie funnel, or pie chimney is a hollow ceramic device, traditionally from Europe and shaped like a bird. Pie birds are steam vents that have been placed in the center of fruit and meat pies during cooking since Victorian times.
Pie funnels were used in baking pies and prevent the pie from boiling over in the oven by allowing the steam created when the fruit filling or other contents are cooking to escape from inside the pie. They also supported the pastry crust in the center of the pie, so that it did not sag in the middle, and are hence also known as “crustholders”. Older ovens had more problems with uniform heating, and the pie bird prevented boilover in pie cooking.
The old nursery rhyme, “Sing a Song of Sixpence” came to my mind this weekend when I visited the Feast of the Hunter’s Moon in Lafayette, IN. While there, I came across a potter who was selling pie birds or pie vents. These were used to vent pies during Victorian times as the Wikepedia entry above illustrates. I found two things fascinating about the whole Pie Bird experience:
First, it is obvious that we are never too old to learn. I had no idea what a Pie Bird was until this weekend. Something from so long ago that is both useful and ornamental - quite Victorian, but also a great conversation starter.
Second, isn’t technology an amazing thing? I Googled “Pie Birds” when I got home and learned about them. Then I received this email from a parent who I had purchased one of these for because she always brings me pie. Her curiosity was peaked and she went home and explored some more and shared not only the knowledge, but the picture above.
Our world is definitely flatter and we are more connected than we ever have been. Sometimes it takes something like a Pie Bird - which originated five centuries ago, to bring this to the forefront.
I am sitting at Filter, a coffee shop in Wicker Park, Illinois with my wife, my step son, Alex, and his roommate, Adam. Adam and Alex both attend school in Chicago. Alex: film. Adam: Art and Design. As I sit here, I am drinking in the collaboration and creativity I see all around me. Adam is sketching; Alex is writing; groups are meeting. People are talking; others are reading. Fantastic 80s music is playing. All around me I see collaboration and creativity. Who knows how many of the life changing societal decisions were made in the past over a dinner. As I sit here, I wonder how many of the future movies, novels, works of art, and partnerships will trace their roots to the coffee shops around the country like this one in Wicker Park.
Collaboration and creativity are good. They have a place more than ever in our world. I have read countless stories of international students coming to our country to study but also to try to capture the creativity that our country breeds.
As an elementary principal, I struggle with balancing the rigor of new academic expectations that are stuck at the Knowledge level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. We need this, but we also need a healthy dose of opportunities for our students to create and to collaborate. Without the skills to work together and to take an idea, gather input from multiple sources, change it, and come to consensus, our students are being dealt a dis-service. The Arts are so important. Social studies and scientific thinking are crucial. Our challenge as educators is how to balance the rigors of testing and accountability with the importance of a humanities experience.
I don’t drink coffee so I will continue to sip my hot chocolate and also sip the rich flavors of collaboration and creativity I see at this coffee shop. It is a tasty drink.