Because Counting Our Blessings Just Isn't Enough

Posts tagged ‘Change’

Letting Go of Certainty

 

cc licensed image shared by flickr user Denise Krebs

cc licensed image shared by flickr user Denise Krebs

Creativity, courage, and uncertainty is integral both to joyous opportunity and painful struggle in education and in life.

While uncertainty has always been part of life, the changing nature of work is cause for parents and educators to pause and consider potentially seismic shifts in the ways in which students in our schools today will one day experience work. Differences in generational attitudes toward work are already substantial.

To put shifts into perspective:

  • From about 1880 to 1980, having a good job meant being an employee of a particular company for many years, perhaps even for a lifetime. (The Economist, There’s an App for That, Jan 3, 2015)
  • Generation X (people born between 1961 and 1981) have experienced the end of the expectation of a job for life. (Forbes, Where the Money’s At: The Fastest Growing Sectors for the Self Employed, Meghan Casserly, 8/22/2013)
  • 60% of Millenials (people born between early 1980’s and early 2000’s) are leaving their companies in less than three years and 45% would prefer more flexibility to more pay. (Forbes, Why Millenials are Ending the 9 to 5, Kate Taylor, 8/23/2013)

 

Many today aspire to a freelance lifestyle, qustioning the nature of having a traditional job at all. (Is the Era of Mass Manufacturing Coming to An End, Peter Acton, Harvard Business Review, December 5, 2014) A recent study by the freelancers union, a group promoting the interests of independent workers, suggests that 1 in 3 members of the American workforce (and a higher proportion of younger people) do at least some freelance work. (The Economist, There’s an App for That, Jan 3, 2015)

Knowledge and creative companies, demanding ideas rather than labor and services, are subject to the same forces promoting freelancing as the industrial and service economies. Topcoder can undercut its rivals by 75% by chopping projects into bite-sized chunks and offering them to its 300,000 freelance developers in 200 countries as a series of competitive challenges. InCloudCounsel undercuts big law firms by as much as 80% using freelance lawyers to process legal documents for a flat fee. Innocentive has turns companies’ research needs into specific problems and pays for satisfactory solutions to them.  Quirky operates as a next-gen manufacturer and R & D firm whose global online community of about 800,000 people submit, vote and fine-tune potential inventions. Quirky then manufactures, packages and sells promising ideas at retailers such as Home Depot and Best Buy as well as directly on Quirky.com. (The Economist, There’s an App for That, Jan 3, 2015)

With all the uncertainty, there is creative potential difficult for members of previous generations to imagine. Vocation, avocation, work, and leisure combine and expansive options for crafting a life of joy and meaning, albeit with less security.

Among the most inspiring innovative endeavors for me is E-Nable, which I learned about at the World Maker Faire this past fall. Created by Jon Schull, a researcher at Rochester Institute of Technology, e-NABLE pairs children and adults with missing or deformed fingers, hands or forearms with makers who produce customized 3D printed prostheses. Making a huge impact with little more than 3D printers, open source product design, and the intelligence, passion, time, and good will of a growing cadre of volunteers, E-Nable has cut the cost of prosthetic limbs from tens of thousands of dollars to a mere $50 a limb. The organization went in 2014 alone from 200 members to more than 3200, and a recent $600,000 grant from google will enable E-nable to do so much more.

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For me, E-Nable models the potential for balance between knowing and doing; thinking and making, with a focus on being impactful in the real world. There are certainly many other models we can share with our students, assisting them to consider how they might contribute through vocation or avocation. In the words of organizers of the Maker Impact Summit, held in December, 2013, “We are on the cusp of an opportunity to more fully tap into our creative potential, driven by significant technological innovation that is democratizing the means of production and enabling connections between resources and markets. Realizing this opportunity will require rethinking and redesigning all of our major institutions innovating the way we work, learn and consume.

What are ways we might rethink and redesign learning experiences, supporting students to be courageous in letting go of certainty, finding creativity and meaning in the process?

Truth From The Trenches

CC licensed image shared by flickr user Chez Pitch

CC licensed image shared by flickr user Chez Pitch

“Our hearts would sing if our administrators really made it safe to try new things and make mistakes,” a teacher I had never met and will will unlikely ever meet again shared with me at the recent NYSCATE (New York State Association for Computers and Technology in Education) conference. We were at a session on Creating a New Learning Culture in schools. The presenter, Dr. Billie McConnell, was informative, even inspirational, sharing the need for change, compellingly presenting statistics about how unprepared our children are for the world they are inheriting, and sharing a vision, replete with videos of some of the most creative, insightful student-centered, individualized learning experiences I have ever witnessed. He outlined a problem, a significant problem with schooling today, and showed us a profound solution.

And, then, came the question I wait for at conferences; the question I hope somebody will be brave enough to ask in a setting in which we do not know each other, do not need to work with one another for more than a few hours, and consequently, sometimes, when courageous or frustrated enough, can express what is truly on our minds. I must paraphrase, yet nontheless share the essence of the words spoken. “This is all well and good, but it takes a tremendous amount of work, way beyond expectations in our contracts,” a teacher boldly stated. “I am a teacher and in my early years in the classroom I would have aspired to teaching as you show. Yet, now I am also a father of two young children and the demands to teach the way they do in those videos are way too high. It takes much more time to prepare than we have. What do you expect for us to do?”

Dr. McConnell respectfully validated the question and moved on with his presentation. In fairness, Dr. McConnell was showing us through his presentation what a new learning culture can be. He was wise, experienced and insightful, relaying a profound vision and a substantial amount of  information to us in a very short time. I appreciated and respected the learning. And yet, I longed to engage in further conversation with this outspoken, articulate teacher and the other educators who had chosen to come to a session on Creating a New Learning Culture. I longed to delve into dialogue beyond making a case for what is needed in schools, beyond a vision for what is possible in schools, to an honest sharing of what creating that culture is like in the trenches, in real schools and in real classrooms, with the multitude of demands and challenges that exist.

I raised my hand and myself blurted out, with more urgency in my voice than I had intended, a request to pause and speak further about what this teacher had shared, to open the conversation with others in the room about how we can work with the limited resources of time and funding available, and yet make progress. How can we engage with teachers open enough to attend conferences and speak their minds, passionate about helping students, yet skeptical about what is possible in their own classrooms and schools? How can we support teachers honest about how very challenging and demanding changing a culture of learning is? Was Dr. McConnell showing in his videos a few outlier teachers, particularly wise and resourceful, or could the remarkable accomplishments of these superb educators be replicated in classrooms and schools throughout the country? Again, respectfully, Dr. McConnell validated my participation and moved on. I admire Dr. McConnell’s ability to remain focused in the face of participants, primarily me, attempting to shift the focus of his well thought out, well received, important presentation. Looking back, I appreciate that he remained focused and moved on. And yet, I continue to long for a venue in which to discuss the truth from the trenches of our classrooms and our schools; the demands and complexity that envisioning our efforts anew will entail.

As the presentation ended and I stood to leave, the woman sitting next to me turned to me and said, “I am a teacher and I can tell you what I would like from my administrators.” “Please do,” I replied, “that would be so helpful.”  “Our hearts would sing if our administrators really made it safe to try new things and make mistakes.” With that, as participants for the next session began to file into the room and we both needed to leave, I thanked her and bid her good-bye, realizing that in a conference boasting many experts, numerous of them nationally reknowned, this wise and honest teacher had just offered me the greatest gift and insight I had received during the entire three days of the conference. We can only risk growth in environments in which we feel safe and protected. This is true for our students and is true for our teachers as well.

Can we hold the bar high with a vision of learning that is compelling, meaningful, and relevant for our students? Can we support teachers facing a plethora of demands and seeking to make progress with limited resources, time as well as funding? Can we empower teachers to make progress while still attaining a healthy work-life balance, grounded and present for their students as well as their families and themselves? Can we enable teachers to feel safe and protected as we venture forward with approaches requiring risk?

 How can we help make risk-taking safe and progress manageable? How can we help our teachers’ hearts sing?

 

 

 

10 Principles For Leading Change

cc licensed image shared by flikr user sakocreative

cc licensed image shared by flikr user sakocreative

“Too bold. Not bold enough. Too fast. Not fast enough.” As school leaders, administration and teachers alike, seek to enhance and even redefine the quality of learning and community for our students, we often hear variations on these four critiques.  At times in the past I’ve been accused of being too bold and too fast, to the point of appearing impulsive. And thus, in a recent coaching session, I was startled by my mentor’s suggestion that I strive to build on positive momentum and be bolder and faster or at least to consider more carefully the balance between being too bold and not bold enough, too fast and not fast enough. His words, part compliment and part critique, were a first after several years of coaching through which, among many other goals, I have sought to enhance my ability to “lead from the middle”, and not run out too far ahead of our teachers, being too bold and too fast. His challenge has me wondering. How can we consider the vital role of pacing in improving our schools? How can we consider not only time, but timing, as a precious resource? How can we be faster and bolder, while remaining thoughtful, patient and reflective?

Ten principles can guide us in leading change, managing the careful balance necessary between being too bold or not bold enough; too fast or not fast enough.

  • Say “yes” to those who seek to experiment and try approaches new to them, and new to the school, as often as possible
  • Be patient with those moving at a slower pace 
  • Embrace the perspectives of all, making disagreement and skepticism safe
  • Compliment and show appreciation for the individual contributions of all
  • Believe in the potential of teachers and students to achieve great things
  • Provide robust job embedded support and opportunities to learn
  • Encourage experimentation and embrace mistakes made while learning and striving to move forward
  • Celebrate successes, small and large
  • Recognize when you have gone too far, too fast and be prepared to slow down, reflect, and consider approaches anew
  • Have fun

What principles might you add? What approaches have you found effective in balancing the pacing of change?

Gooooooal!

cc licensed image shared by flickr user Sean MacEntee

cc licensed image shared by flickr user &DC

Gooooooal! declares the sports announcer. Gooooooal! exclaims my jubilant husband. The excitement of my Argentinean spouse as his soccer (or rather football) team scores a goal is contagious.

Gooooool! I cry. Or, at least I do in my mind. The goals I celebrate are different than football goals. They are aspirations.

I am a principal, serving students with a broad range of interests, curiosities, and capabilities; helping them discover themselves as they are in the present and supporting them to embrace the potential in themselves as they are becoming. I am a supervisor, assisting teachers to recognize and build on their current skills, while guiding them to envision themselves as the increasingly skilled activators of student learning they are becoming. I live in a world of imagining the possible.

It’s professional goal setting time at school and I’m so proud I feel almost ready to sing out in celebration: gooooooal!

I meet, one on one, with each teacher. I meet as a group with our professional leadership team (myself, assistant principal, psychologist, and admissions director), during which time each of us set a professional goal; a particular area that will support student learning in which to delve deep. These are not necessarily our school-wide goals and strategic plan, although often times they reflect school-wide momentum and effort. These are individual goals; reflecting our unique professional journeys. By no means the whole of our work; our goals nonetheless ground our aspirations, reminding us that professional learning, like learning more broadly, is a process, benefitting from focus, time and dedication.

Some goals our teachers have chosen for themselves include:

  • To develop a broader, more nuanced approach to assessing student learning and to utilize gleanings from those assessments to plan ongoing instruction
  • To create a learning environment in which all students participate actively in both full class and small collaborative group activities
  • To gain greater skill in designing differentiated learning experiences for collaborative and independent student learning 
  • To strengthen relationships with parents utilizing technology and face to face connection 
  • To develop greater comfort and skill in teaching math, including differentiation for strong students
  • To in a serious way collaborate with members of the grade level team in order to support student learning

My own goal is to improve the quality and effectiveness of our supervisory, evaluative, and support processes for teachers.

We’ve only just begun, and many of our teachers are still setting goals. Each goal includes an action plan, supports for meeting the goal, and means by which we will assess success. We will monitor progress throughout the year and evaluate ourselves based on growth.

cc licensed image shared by flickr user carnavalboquense

While proud of our teachers, I worry. Will we be pulled back by the many obstacles constantly present – limited time, limited resources, the priorities of others? Will we be distracted by the crises that inevitably occur? Will we be drained by the pressures to move perhaps too quickly toward our goals, neglecting to reflect, change course as needed, and adapt when necessary?

cc licensed image shared by flickr user Niklas Hellerstedt

 Or will we ponder, embrace support, and consider our course carefully? Will we pace ourselves thoughtfully in order to make meaningful progress over the long haul?  Will we consider multiple approaches toward meeting our goals? Will we remain open to alternative perspectives and approaches? Will we seek to learn from our strengths and successes as well as from our missteps and mistakes?

What advice do you have for us? We welcome your wisdom.

What Would School Look Like If? Reflections on Edcamp Leadership

cc licensed image shared by flikr user kjarrett

“What would school look like if we could really do what we are being asked?” teacher leader Mike Ritzius (@mritzius) passionately inquired at Edcamp Leadership during a session he titled, organizing for organic leadership. Mike’s answer for the public vocational tech high school in New Jersey where he teaches involved a radical rethinking of the use of time and space in school, along with a dramatic redesign of curriculum and student support. While the scope and specifics of Mike Ritzius’ innovation address vastly different concerns than those we face at my school, his emphasis on the importance of empowering teachers with the authority to make decisions based on student need prompted me to wonder. What would school look like if we could really do what we are being asked? What would school look like if teachers were really empowered to make decisions, even bold decisions requiring rethinking and redesign, based on student need?

Edcamp Leadership, which took place this past July in New Jersey, was my very first edcamp experience. For those who have not yet attended an edcamp, they are “unconferences”; free participant driven professional learning experiences. At Edcamp Leadership, a poster board listing times and room numbers, but no session names, was propped up on a window sill. Volunteers passed out brightly colored post-it notes, encouraging participants to sign up to facilitate a session. While many of us tentatively stood by, wondering whether we should facilitate a session or not, other brave learners stepped forward and stuck a post-it note up with their session topic, their name and their twitter handle onto the board. The day’s schedule was born! The schedule was immediately posted on Edcamp Leadership’s web page for all to access and off we all went for a day of engaging conversation and learning.

In addition to Mike Ritzius’ session, I attended Evernote for Teams, Professional Learning Communities and students with Sharon McCarthy @ienvision; He, She, They, We: Tools for Faculty Evaluation and Development with Dr. David Timony @DrTimony; and Managing Change with @DLE59 (who I still know only by twitter handle). The “what would school look like if” theme permeated all of the sessions I attended. What would school look like if we used web 2.0 tools such as Evernote more effectively to promote true collaboration within schools? What would school look like if faculty evaluation and development was truly designed around the needs of teachers as professional learners? What would school look like if we provided effective supports as we manage change?

Throughout Edcamp Leadership, I learned with some of the smartest educators I have ever met. Principals and school administrators struggled openly, sensitively and wisely concerning the challenges we face. Yet even more compelling to me were the voices of the teachers present. Dr. Timony’s session was particularly relevant to me. As dedicated, knowledgable administrators talked passionately about the time we spend in classrooms, equally dedicated, knowledgable teachers shared their frustrations with administrators’ visits, explaining that students don’t act as they naturally would during administrators’ walkthroughs and observations, teachers feel as though they are “on stage”, and most significantly, administrators do not offer the feedback teachers‘ crave to improve practice. The teachers’ words resonated with me. I wondered and I probed, seeking to learn what might make principals’ engagement in learning and teaching more valuable to teachers. It is a conversation I am pursuing, both with teachers in my professional learning network and even more poignantly, with teachers in my own school.

At the sessions on Evernote and managing change, teachers and principals had more similar perspectives to one another. We shared ways of using Evernote, an app for note-taking and archiving, to collaborate more effectively. We reflected on the difficulties of change: insufficient time, insufficient support, negativity about new directions, a sense of entitlement among individuals who feel they do not need to change, and finally, the threat of extinction if we do not change. While we spent most of the session sharing insights into ways of patiently addressing difficulties with change, we ended with a potent conversation about how schools’ declines are generally gradual. A participant shared the often used anecdote of a frog in cold water that is slowly heated, with the frog not realizing the danger until it is too late. I left wondering how we can we balance patience with the urgency of our students’ needs; how we can be mindful of recognizing when the water is boiling and help each other to jump out, or rather jump into more effective ways of supporting student learning, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable that jump may appear.

I left Edcamp Leadership wondering; wondering about using Evernote more effectively, wondering about supervision, evaluation, collaboration, and coaching to meet teachers’ professional learning needs, and wondering about managing change. Most of all I wondered about Mike Ritzius’ essential questions. What would school look like if we could really do what we are being asked? What would school look like if teachers were really empowered to make decisions, even bold decisions requiring rethinking and redesign, based on student need?

What do you think?

From Facilitator to Activator

 

cc licensed image shared by flickr user The Darling Librarian

The definition of a motion leader is one who motivates the unmotivated in a way that the unmotivated then thank them for, Michael Fullan, ISTE Conference, 2012, Session Title: Stratosphere: Integrating Technology, Pedagogy and Change Knowledge

I came to ISTE (International Symposium on Tech Education) with one essential question: how can I, as a principal, support teachers in my school to improve learning? Perhaps attending an educational technology conference I should have shown more interest in the technology. And, I’ll admit, I was wowed by much of the technology. More significantly, I was moved by the focus on learning.

I gained more than I ever expected, experiencing a shift in a paradigm I had embraced and that has shaped my leadership in recent years. In the very first session I attended Monday morning, Michael Fullan, in true motion leader style, motivated me (ok I was already motivated, but supported me) to shift my perspectives on the role of teacher and by extension the role of principal from facilitator of learning to activator of learning.

Quoting John Hattie, Michael Fullan relayed that there is a .17 effect size on student learning when teachers act as facilitators of learning through problem based learning, simulations and gaming, and individualized instruction. Alternatively, there is a .84 effect size on student learning when teachers serve as activators of learning through offering feedback, accessing thinking, supporting challenging goals, and monitoring learning. It does not take extensive training in statistical analysis to find this research compelling.

I know, we love problem based learning, simulations and gaming, and individualized instruction. And, Michael Fullan did offer appropriate caution in our interpretation of Hattie’s findings, positing that gaming, for example, as currently utilized may not yet be effective but that skilled teachers may develop high quality use. Still, without dogmatic either/or – facilitator or activator – lines in the sand, I accept and appreciate Michael Fullan’s redirection.

Michael Fullan activated my learning even further, leaving me not only with a direction, but also with some concrete steps as to how to move forward. And, again, it’s not about the technology. Wisdom I gleaned included:

  • Offer respect to others before it is earned
  • Engage in impressive empathy, meaning empathy even for those who stand in your way
  • Invest in capacity building – human capital and social capital
  • Build social contagion
  • Eliminate non-essentials
  • Focus on a small number of ambitious goals.

Perhaps it is paradoxical that at a technology conference I walked away with the message that what matters is not new, but eternal. What matters is what has mattered for millennia: the quality of our relationships, our respect for one another, and the supportive environments we create. I spent the rest of the conference attending some fantastic sessions, learning some impressive technology tools, but most essentially, connecting and engaging with others who care deeply about learning. At a conference about what is current, I focused on what is enduring.

To Michael Fullan, the ISTE organizers, the AVICHAI Foundation who sponsored my participation, and the engaging educators with whom I learned, from one of the motivated, thank you!

 

Comfort With Discomfort

“How many of you are feeling uncomfortable right now?” Heidi Hayes Jacobs asked at her EdJEWcon conference keynote yesterday. I confess. I didn’t raise my hand. When Heidi Hayes Jacobs emphatically shared that we should feel uncomfortable, I wondered, feeling a bit like the child in class who has just gotten the “wrong” answer. Now please don’t misunderstand, I was riveted by Heidi Hayes Jacobs’ presentation. My mind raced with her notion of “strategic upgrade”; not adding to our already overfull plates but shifting learning experiences strategically to more effectively meet the needs of our students today who are processing information differently, in more social, non-linear ways. I was feeling engaged, open, reflective, and interested. I was considering possibilities , reflecting on how better we might serve our students. I was learning and I was loving the opportunity.

And, yet, suddenly, with Heidi Haye’s Jacobs’ challenge to embrace discomfort, I became uncomfortable. I know, the demands are great. I know, our schools are not yet where we want them to be. I know, with all we have accomplished in our schools, it isn’t yet enough. I know, we have tremendous challenges ahead.

For a moment, I felt a heaviness, allowing the grip of fear of failure when the stakes are our children’s futures to overtake me. Yet, only for a moment. For me, embracing discomfort means becoming comfortable with discomfort. When we strive together to address difficult realities the engagement need not be stressful. We are allowed to have fun.

With tremendous respect for Heidi Hayes Jacob, I permitted myself again to relish in her words, to imagine the possibilities they hold for our school, and to find energy, rather than discomfort, in the challenges she poses. I formulated my own essential question, which stood in the background of my learning for the rest of the day: How can we become comfortable with discomfort through the experience of rapid change in our schools?

The two following sessions offered me context – Leading In a culture of Change with Valeri Mitrani, Julie Lambert and Jon Mitzmacher and Upgrade Curriculum and Assessment with Student Blogfolios with Andrea Hernandez. Each of these extraordinary educators supported me to reflect on my essential question.

Valeri Mitrani and Julie Lambert focused on the factors necessary in managing complex change in a system.
No shared vision leads to confusion.
Missing skills leads to anxiety.
Missing incentives leads to resistance.
Missing resources leads to frustration
Missing an action plan leads to a treadmill (working hard with no results).
Missing results leads to inertia.
Confusion, anxiety, resistance, frustration, hard work with no results, and inertia. Now, there is a recipe for discomfort. And, it’s real. We’ve experienced such discomfort. We know it, relate to it, recognize it, and fear it.

It is also a recipe for possibility. Share a vision. Build capacity and skills. Find incentives in focusing on the values based mission of providing together for our learners. Creatively assess and develop resources even in financially trying times. Plan and develop an action plan collaboratively. Celebrate even the small successes.

Jon Mitzmacher then authentically shared in concrete terms ways he is managing complex change at the Martin J. Gottlieb Jewish Day School, speaking of structural choices his school has made.
They got rid of the computer lab and instead pushed technology instruction into the classroom.
They created a school ning as a virtual space for faculty members to collaborate.
They redefined a number of existing positions with a 21st century and instructional coaching thrust.
They transformed faculty meetings with a focus on professional learning.
Jon Mitzmacher, as Head of School, set clear expectations, defining minimum requirements and raising the bar every year.

As Jon spoke, I connected. We as a school are in the process of making similar choices. I felt energized because I recognized the shared vision, skills, incentives, resources, action plan, and celebrations of successes along the way. And, I appreciate Jon’s open acknowledgement of the discomfort that occurred in the process. He recognizes the discomfort without wallowing in it, astutely open for course corrections in an ongoing process of learning.

Andrea Hernandez spoke in the following session with contagious energy about one strategic upgrade at the Martin J Gottleib Jewish Day School: student blogfolios. A term Andrea has created, a blogfolio is a blog + a portfolio. Beginning last year in kindergarten, third and fifth grade; and this year extending to the entire school third through eighth grade, blogfoloios are offering students at the Martin J Gottlieb Jewish Day School a voice with an authentic audience. Started as digital portfolios on a wordpress blog to use primarily for assessment of learning, students were so excited to receive their own blog that they wanted to write. The magic began! Students became bloggers, in Andrea’s words, “learning to create and creating to learn.”

Andrea was honest, open and reflective about the challenges and discomfort; parent concern about safety and privacy, student interest and engagement growing and waning, and skill building with teachers. She was also clear, blogfolios are a tremendous amount of work. And, yet, Andrea did not seem uncomfortable. The reverse, her energy, excitement and passion were palpable as she shared one example of a strategic upgrade – replacing assessment and writing projects previously on paper and handed in to a teacher with blogfolios that can be shared with an authentic audience. Imagine the possibility!

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