Connected Principals Posts

As educators, we often refer to ‘Wait Time’ as the time between when you ask a question and when you expect an answer. Cast out a question to your class and if you don’t provide wait time, then when the first student begins to answer (takes a bite), all your other students are ‘off the […]

Read More Questioning Your Inquiry

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?

Dealing with setbacks is tough and can often lead to feelings of resentment and jealousy. This short video from comedian Chelsea Handler is a really great story on how to deal with it, and gives a great perspective. I know that I have felt this myself, and it can be tough, but this video is … [Read more…]

Read More “There will be a place for you”

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



The days of summer will soon give way to the start of a new school year. For teachers, the end of summer can be met with mixed emotions. Even the most passionate educators can be reluctant to give up the freedom and flexibility of summer break. But it’s also a great time to get excited about the possibilities that lay ahead. It’s GO-TIME!!!



As you gear up for back-to-school, here are seven reasons to be enthusiastic about the new school year.





1. Making New Friends



One of the most exciting things about the start of a new school year is the chance to meet new people and welcome them into your school. It’s a privilege to get to know new staff members and students. And it’s a great opportunity to share with them all the things that make your school great. It’s also a great opportunity to find ways they can contribute to making your school even stronger.



Remember that being new can be terrifying. Offer your support. Be sure to send the message loud and clear to everyone new to your school, “We’re glad you’re here.”



2. Reconnecting with Old Friends



I also look forward to seeing everyone who is returning. Over the years, we build increasingly strong bonds with the people we work with. It’s great to hear about their exciting adventures of summer and begin to share in the daily life of school again. I can’t wait to see all the smiles and feel the energy as we come together again to help kids.



Keep in mind that returning to school can be especially difficult in certain seasons of life. I am always reminded that a word of encouragement or act of kindness can go a long way to making the new school year better for someone going through a difficult time.



3. Making a Difference 



For some students, summer hasn’t been that great. They’ve had struggles, turmoil, maybe even hunger. Returning to school won’t solve all their problems, but it will provide a chance for educators to make a difference. No matter what their summer was like, your students are counting on you now. They need to know how much you care. They need you to love them, listen to them, and to never give up on them.



Your work as a teacher makes a difference in the lives of young people. That’s a great reason to get excited about the start of the school year! 



4. Fulfilling Your Purpose



It’s great to enjoy the wonderful time away from school during summer break. Good teaching is demanding in so many ways. We need time to recharge. But there is something about doing what you are meant to do, even when it’s hard. The start of the school year is a great time to reflect on why you started in the first place. Why did you become a teacher? How will you make a positive impact this year?



When you have passion and purpose for your students and your teaching, you won’t have too much trouble being excited for the new school year.



5. New Beginnings



When I reflect on a previous school year, there are always things I wish had gone differently. I see areas I need to improve, and things I want to change. The start of the school year is a brand new thing. It’s a fresh start.



There’s something about the cyclical nature of school that lends itself to making adjustments based on last year to continue to make things better for learning. But the key is to reflect and set goals during the summer, so that you’re ready to adjust and adapt this year.  



6. New Opportunities to Grow



Positive people grow. Happy people grow. Healthy people grow. The new school year will not doubt present challenges that will help us grow if we choose to allow growth to happen. I believe growth is an essential part of being fulfilled in our lives. We can’t stay the same or even have stagnant growth and expect to have a healthy and happy life. And for certain, we won’t make much of an impact on others if we aren’t willing to grow.



I know some people dread the start of school because they feel that they are going to face challenges that are really difficult for them. Some struggle more with difficult students. Some struggle to keep up with paperwork or grading. Clearly, some struggle to get through the school day more than others. I think most of that is related to attitude.



If we welcome the challenges and view them as a way to grow, it changes everything. If we invite hard things into our lives, it makes us stronger. Rarely do I see an unhappy teacher who also regularly takes on new challenges. Usually, the most unhappy people in your school are the ones who are most protective of their time and their comfort.



So I think a GREAT reason to get excited about a new school year is that it’s a GREAT opportunity to grow. What would your school be like if every educator had a growth mindset?



7. Believe in Amazing Possibilities



I’m excited about the new school year because I believe this will be the best school year ever. I’m excited about the work our school is doing. I believe we are moving in a positive direction. I see a tipping point happening, where we will see learners empowered in ways we’ve envisioned. 



Your classroom has amazing possibilities too. Students will learn more about who they are. They will learn and grow and become more confident and independent learners. Commit yourself to the idea that great things are going to happen this year. Focus on the positive. Who knows what incredible things will happen this year in the life of your school?



Questions: What gets you excited about a new school year? What are you anticipating? I would love to hear from you. Leave me a message below or respond on Twitter or Facebook. Here we grow!

Read More 7 Reasons for Teachers to Be Enthusiastic About a New School Year