Connected Principals Posts



Yesterday, I had a conversation with one of our teachers about some new ideas she wanted to share with me about her plans for the coming school year. She shared ways she wanted to create more relevance for her students, give them more ownership, and create a more engaging learning experience in her classroom. Wow! Those are awesome goals.



She had several specific ideas for achieving these aims. So we chatted about them. She was seeking feedback so I made some comments and asked some clarifying questions. I also handed her a book I thought might be helpful as she’s thinking more about where her ideas will lead.



After the conversation, I was reflecting on it. I thought to myself, I wonder if she is more excited or less excited about her ideas after our meeting. Of course, my intention is to generate excitement around new ideas and create a culture of risk-taking and innovation in our school.



But trying to be a good coach, I shared some cautious comments too. While I loved the direction of her ideas, I wanted to interject some wisdom from my experience. I’m not sure how helpful that was. It’s difficult for me not to launch into my own ideas about how I would do such and such. For the most part, I think I avoided that. But the last thing I want is to be a dream killer.



I remember a conversation I had with someone who was a leader in my life. I was sharing some ideas that I was very excited about. My passion was in this area and my energy flowed when talking about the changes I was planning. 



My leader didn’t completely reject the ideas I shared, but every comment seemed laced with caution and barriers. I can remember two words distinctly from that conversation my leader used over and over.



Yeah, but…



Those two little words cut my enthusiasm in half. I didn’t feel energized by our discussion. I felt deflated. Instead of throwing gasoline on my dream, they poured water all over it.



I believe successful organizations are dream building organizations. They tap into people’s passions and create a sense of excitement and enthusiasm in the culture. I guess there are successful organizations that aren’t great at this, but I would venture there are no incredibly, extraordinarily successful organizations that don’t have a dream building culture.





Image source: http://goo.gl/jSxnpQ

And I think this post is challenging for all of us in schools, not just principals or others in formal leadership positions. If you’re a teacher, how does your classroom support students’ own goals and dreams, not just your goals for teaching a subject well? Does your classroom allow students enough freedom and flexibility to pursue things that are important to them?



And when your students share their dreams with you, do you pour gasoline on their dreams or douse them with water?



We’ve all had students share dreams with us that seemed impossible. Or, we felt they didn’t really understand what it takes to achieve the dream. Their actions weren’t lining up behind the words of their dreams. I think we must be very careful about how we show up in these conversations. We have a delicate balance to help build dreams and guide actions. 



Unless someone in our life is about to go off a cliff, I think we should do everything possible to lift them up and speak support and encouragement into their lives.



Jim Carrey was once a struggling young comic from a poor family trying to make it big. He didn’t have much, but he had a dream. And he wouldn’t give up on it. When he was 10-years-old, he even mailed his resume to Carol Burnett. He was bold and audacious believing he would someday entertain millions and make them laugh.



In 1990, he wrote himself a check for $10 million dated Thanksgiving 1995. He placed it in his wallet. At the time, he was broke and struggling to find work as a comic. In the notation on the check, he scribbled ‘for acting services rendered.’ He carried that check with him as a powerful reminder. It was the tangible representation of his dream.



By 1995, he had starred in multiple films, Ace Ventura, Pet Detective and Liar, Liar. He was earning nearly $20 million per movie!



I wonder how many people in Jim Carrey’s life thought his dreams of being a comedian were misguided? I bet there were lots of people who thought he’d never make it. Those people probably doused him with water. But there were probably others who saw something special in him, who threw gasoline on his dreams of being an actor and comedian.





Image source: http://goo.gl/kKYxWA



When we see students or teachers who struggle with apathy, I think it’s often because they’ve given up on their dreams. Everyone must have something to aspire to, something that makes you want to get up in the morning and push forward in life. We need dreams to chase. As educators, we should be that spark of inspiration for both our students and our colleagues. 



When someone shares their dreams with you, how will you respond? Will you be the ‘Yeah, but…’ voice in their life? I would suggest a different response. How about these two little words, instead? 



Yes, and…



1. Yes! You can do it.



2. Yes! I believe in you.



3. Yes! Tell me more about that.



4. Yes! Why is that important to you?



5. Yes! How can I help you?



6. Yes! You are on the right track.



7. Yes! Your dreams matter to me.



If you are going to inspire others in your life to dream big, you can’t get stuck in the where, when, who, and how. Dreams are about what you want and especially why you want it. I feel so guilty about this in parenting my own children. I feel like sometimes my expectations have placed limits on their dreams. Our adult minds are so practical and boring.



But today I am reminded to help those around me dream big, audacious dreams. I don’t want to crush dreams. I want people to be excited about their dreams and not the dreams I have for them.



How will you encourage the dreams of those in your circle of influence? Reflect on who the dream builders were in your life. I want to hear from you. Share a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Read More Does Your School Build Dreams or Crush Them?

Peggy Marston: Veteran teacher, special educator, long time district employee, friend, and free spirit.   Marie Twitchell: Veteran teacher, mother, special educator, supporter, friend, and believer. Gail St. Germain: Office aid, mother, grandmother, multi-tasker, caregiver, friend. This week, I learned…

Continue reading

Read More A Principal's Thoughts… 2016-08-05 08:43:50

My good friend AJ Juliani is about to start a Genius Hour Master Course.  His passion for this topic and his ability to share his enthusiasm has made a significant difference with so many educators. As this is a paid course, you can sign up here, and he is also offering a 20% discount if … [Read more…]

Read More 10 Reasons to Try Genius Hour This School Year

Have you ever heard, or even said, “The bell doesn’t dismiss you. I dismiss you.”  I know I have early on in my career. That line is not about empowerment, let alone engagement. It is strictly about compliance.  More on this in a bit. This snippet of an interview from Gary Vaynerchuk and Larry King, … [Read more…]

Read More “Did you fail school or did school fail you?”





For the past couple of years, our school has worked to create a way of supporting professional learning that is more personally meaningful. We were inspired by the idea of Genius Hour and how that might be relevant for teachers too. What if teachers were able to learn in a way that respected their individuality? What if they pursued their passions? What would that look like? How might that empower teaching and learning in our school?



We are trying to create the most powerful professional learning possible. We realize the importance of learning and growth for each individual. If we want sustainable, meaningful change in our schools, it will only happen when teachers are learning and leading.



From this thinking, we developed a plan for teachers to have greater ownership of their professional development. The idea was for teachers to pursue any learning they wanted so long as they believed it had the potential to improve our bottom line. And for schools, our bottom line is never about profits or shareholders. Our bottom line is about creating powerful learning for students. 



So our message was clear. If it might make learning better for students, then pursue it. If you are passionate about it, then pursue it. That was the challenge. We asked every teacher to write a Personal Learning Plan, to express a general direction for where they were headed. 




The first year I met with every teacher and signed off on the plans. I quickly realized that the meetings were standing in the way of teachers pursuing their goals. In meeting after meeting, I heard questions like “Does this sound okay?” or “Is this what you were looking for?” We were seeking to empower teachers, but the requirement of a meeting and a signature seemed to take away empowerment. 



So last year we didn’t have the meetings or the signatures. We had several activities during our regular staff meetings to brainstorm ideas and share possibilities, and then teachers simply shared their plans through Google Classroom. We wanted to remove the barriers and get to the real work.



So much of the PD of the past felt like jumping through hoops. It wasn’t always relevant to every teacher. It might be exactly what one person needed, but it might not be helpful at all for another. In a sense, it created a culture where professional learning became lifeless. It was just something that was expected and sometimes dreaded. I think some teachers began to view professional development as something that was being done to them instead of something they felt invested in. 



We needed a professional development reboot, one that actually honors how people learn best. These principles work for students, and of course they work for teacher learners too. 



Greater Ownership



The success or failure of each teacher’s plan belongs to the individual. The responsibility for growing personally and professionally ultimately rests with the individual and not the organization. We will provide support and encouragement, but you will get out of your professional learning what you put into it.



If you are taking risks and pushing the envelope, you may experience failure in the short term, but that is okay. Sometimes we learn the most from what doesn’t work. The important thing is to be invested in your own learning. We want it to be authentic and feel personal to you.








Increased Choice



Two years ago we required teachers to write goals that were aligned with certain building goals. We were emphasizing literacy since that is so important across all content areas. And we were about to launch our 1:1 program so we felt it was important to make digital tools a priority. We asked each teacher to line up their goals with the direction we were moving as a building. 



But last year, we removed that requirement too. Most teachers still had goals that were very relevant to literacy or digital tools, but they had the freedom to pursue things that might only be relevant to the learning in their classroom. We trusted our teachers to choose the priorities for their learning plan. What is important to you? What will benefit your students? The choice is yours.



Providing Time



We have built-in time for teachers to collaborate and learn. Every Wednesday morning, school starts at 9:00 a.m. The late start provides time to do this work. But we still have to be very careful it doesn’t fill up with other stuff that leaves little time for personal learning. It’s essential to try to carve out some time to allow teachers to be self-directed learners. However, time should also never be used as an excuse to not be a learner. Everyone has the same number of hours in the day, and learning is not optional for educators. We have to model the ongoing growth and lifelong learning we should seek to inspire in students.








Opportunities for Sharing



We tried to build in some opportunities for sharing Personal Learning Plans throughout the process. However, that is an area we need to continue to develop. It is so important to reflect and share in an ongoing way. Creating the structures for that is one way the school organization can support this process.



While most teachers developed and executed their plans on their own, some teachers elected to work together to create a learning team. We think it’s great to allow the flexibility for teachers to choose to work independently or with others. But either way, sharing with others is essential and not optional.



Near the end of the school year, we facilitated a closing event for the Personal Learning Plans. We randomly assigned teachers to small groups for a time of sharing. Teachers were asked to bring an artifact or product from their work to share. It was a time of celebrating all the good work that was done.



What’s next?



This year as we develop new learning plans, we are going to facilitate several opportunities for teachers to brainstorm and share possibilities. We want to develop more opportunities to support this work and allow staff to encourage one another and build off of each other’s ideas. One activity will be a First Turn/Last Turn structured dialogue. Here’s how it works:



1. Groups of 6 are ideal.

2. The facilitator will ask one group member to share a possibility for their learning plan.

3. In round-robin fashion, each of the other group members will comment on the idea with no cross-talk.

4. The person who initially shared the idea will then close the round by processing his or her thinking about the comments offered by the other group members.



Emphasizing the rule that there be no cross-talk will help keep the discussion focused and on-topic. Follow-up conversations can occur after everyone has a turn in the structured dialogue.



Transformational Ideas



As I mentioned before, the criteria for the learning plan was that it had potential to improve student learning. But maybe we can aim even higher? We want to think bigger and strive to do things that don’t just improve student learning, but that can actually transform student learning. 



It might be helpful for a teacher to learn how to use Powtoon, Twitter, or Glogster, but it could be transformational if the teacher learns how to use these tools to cause students to take more ownership of their learning or to create work for authentic audiences. We want to focus our energy on ideas and learning that has the potential to transform student learning. We want our work to be a game-changer for our students.



Here are a few examples of topics our teachers chose last year for the Personal Learning Plans:

  • The impact of goals and journaling on student motivation
  • Project Based Learning
  • Nonfiction reading with IEP students
  • Genius Hour with emphasis on human rights
  • Formative Assessment strategies
  • Increased choice in demonstrating mastery
  • Using CAD to create designs for 3D printing
  • Developing math tutorials for student to use for review and reinforcement
  • Using technology in choral rehearsals (video, music theory techniques, etc.)
  • Creating “flipped classroom” lessons
  • Increasing student choice in reading to develop passionate readers
I am very proud of the work our teachers have done as part of their Personal Learning Plans. We have already seen new ideas become game-changers for our school. As we continue to practice and refine this process, I believe we will see even more positive results. Ultimately, our efforts to honor teachers as learners and empower individual and collective genius has been meaningful for our school.



How is your school honoring teachers as learners? Do you believe this type of professional development would be helpful in your school? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.



Read More Does Your Professional Development Honor Teachers as Learners?





For the past couple of years, our school has worked to create a way of supporting professional learning that is more personally meaningful. We were inspired by the idea of Genius Hour and how that might be relevant for teachers too. What if teachers were able to learn in a way that respected their individuality? What if they pursued their passions? What would that look like? How might that empower teaching and learning in our school?



We are trying to create the most powerful professional learning possible. We realize the importance of learning and growth for each individual. If we want sustainable, meaningful change in our schools, it will only happen when teachers are learning and leading.



From this thinking, we developed a plan for teachers to have greater ownership of their professional development. The idea was for teachers to pursue any learning they wanted so long as they believed it had the potential to improve our bottom line. And for schools, our bottom line is never about profits or shareholders. Our bottom line is about creating powerful learning for students. 



So our message was clear. If it might make learning better for students, then pursue it. If you are passionate about it, then pursue it. That was the challenge. We asked every teacher to write a Personal Learning Plan, to express a general direction for where they were headed. 




The first year I met with every teacher and signed off on the plans. I quickly realized that the meetings were standing in the way of teachers pursuing their goals. In meeting after meeting, I heard questions like “Does this sound okay?” or “Is this what you were looking for?” We were seeking to empower teachers, but the requirement of a meeting and a signature seemed to take away empowerment. 



So last year we didn’t have the meetings or the signatures. We had several activities during our regular staff meetings to brainstorm ideas and share possibilities, and then teachers simply shared their plans through Google Classroom. We wanted to remove the barriers and get to the real work.



So much of the PD of the past felt like jumping through hoops. It wasn’t always relevant to every teacher. It might be exactly what one person needed, but it might not be helpful at all for another. In a sense, it created a culture where professional learning became lifeless. It was just something that was expected and sometimes dreaded. I think some teachers began to view professional development as something that was being done to them instead of something they felt invested in. 



We needed a professional development reboot, one that actually honors how people learn best. These principles work for students, and of course they work for teacher learners too. 



Greater Ownership



The success or failure of each teacher’s plan belongs to the individual. The responsibility for growing personally and professionally ultimately rests with the individual and not the organization. We will provide support and encouragement, but you will get out of your professional learning what you put into it.



If you are taking risks and pushing the envelope, you may experience failure in the short term, but that is okay. Sometimes we learn the most from what doesn’t work. The important thing is to be invested in your own learning. We want it to be authentic and feel personal to you.








Increased Choice



Two years ago we required teachers to write goals that were aligned with certain building goals. We were emphasizing literacy since that is so important across all content areas. And we were about to launch our 1:1 program so we felt it was important to make digital tools a priority. We asked each teacher to line up their goals with the direction we were moving as a building. 



But last year, we removed that requirement too. Most teachers still had goals that were very relevant to literacy or digital tools, but they had the freedom to pursue things that might only be relevant to the learning in their classroom. We trusted our teachers to choose the priorities for their learning plan. What is important to you? What will benefit your students? The choice is yours.



Providing Time



We have built-in time for teachers to collaborate and learn. Every Wednesday morning, school starts at 9:00 a.m. The late start provides time to do this work. But we still have to be very careful it doesn’t fill up with other stuff that leaves little time for personal learning. It’s essential to try to carve out some time to allow teachers to be self-directed learners. However, time should also never be used as an excuse to not be a learner. Everyone has the same number of hours in the day, and learning is not optional for educators. We have to model the ongoing growth and lifelong learning we should seek to inspire in students.








Opportunities for Sharing



We tried to build in some opportunities for sharing Personal Learning Plans throughout the process. However, that is an area we need to continue to develop. It is so important to reflect and share in an ongoing way. Creating the structures for that is one way the school organization can support this process.



While most teachers developed and executed their plans on their own, some teachers elected to work together to create a learning team. We think it’s great to allow the flexibility for teachers to choose to work independently or with others. But either way, sharing with others is essential and not optional.



Near the end of the school year, we facilitated a closing event for the Personal Learning Plans. We randomly assigned teachers to small groups for a time of sharing. Teachers were asked to bring an artifact or product from their work to share. It was a time of celebrating all the good work that was done.



What’s next?



This year as we develop new learning plans, we are going to facilitate several opportunities for teachers to brainstorm and share possibilities. We want to develop more opportunities to support this work and allow staff to encourage one another and build off of each other’s ideas. One activity will be a First Turn/Last Turn structured dialogue. Here’s how it works:



1. Groups of 6 are ideal.

2. The facilitator will ask one group member to share a possibility for their learning plan.

3. In round-robin fashion, each of the other group members will comment on the idea with no cross-talk.

4. The person who initially shared the idea will then close the round by processing his or her thinking about the comments offered by the other group members.



Emphasizing the rule that there be no cross-talk will help keep the discussion focused and on-topic. Follow-up conversations can occur after everyone has a turn in the structured dialogue.



Transformational Ideas



As I mentioned before, the criteria for the learning plan was that it had potential to improve student learning. But maybe we can aim even higher? We want to think bigger and strive to do things that don’t just improve student learning, but that can actually transform student learning. 



It might be helpful for a teacher to learn how to use Powtoon, Twitter, or Glogster, but it could be transformational if the teacher learns how to use these tools to cause students to take more ownership of their learning or to create work for authentic audiences. We want to focus our energy on ideas and learning that has the potential to transform student learning. We want our work to be a game-changer for our students.



Here are a few examples of topics our teachers chose last year for the Personal Learning Plans:

  • The impact of goals and journaling on student motivation
  • Project Based Learning
  • Nonfiction reading with IEP students
  • Genius Hour with emphasis on human rights
  • Formative Assessment strategies
  • Increased choice in demonstrating mastery
  • Using CAD to create designs for 3D printing
  • Developing math tutorials for student to use for review and reinforcement
  • Using technology in choral rehearsals (video, music theory techniques, etc.)
  • Creating “flipped classroom” lessons
  • Increasing student choice in reading to develop passionate readers
I am very proud of the work our teachers have done as part of their Personal Learning Plans. We have already seen new ideas become game-changers for our school. As we continue to practice and refine this process, I believe we will see even more positive results. Ultimately, our efforts to honor teachers as learners and empower individual and collective genius has been meaningful for our school.



How is your school honoring teachers as learners? Do you believe this type of professional development would be helpful in your school? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.



Read More Does Your Professional Development Honor Teachers as Learners?

A simple google search will yield many a list of “principal must do’s or how to’s “. While I can’t speak to mastering many of them, what I can do is give my “16-17” to do better list…these are compiled from many conversations with my friends, my edupeeps, my staff, my parents…voices that have a vested […]

Read More Be the leader who…

In PMP Episode 30, I continue responding to listener and reader questions. This week’s question was: What’s one of the biggest leadership challenges you face right now? One principal wrote back, “How can I respond to negativity among teachers about their students, colleagues or the community?” The answer to that question comes in three parts. […]

Read More PMP:030 Three Simple Ways to Respond to Negativity

Ross Cooper has some really interesting insights on learning over at his blog.  In his last post, he talks about the phenomenon of “Pokemon Go”, and how educators seem to…

Read More Pedagogy Before Technology?