Friday, December 20, 2019

Slide Shows

Whether it is time for my students to learn or I am preparing professional development for teachers, one of the decisions that must be made along the way is whether or not to use a slide show.

Most of the time, a few, well-designed slides can aid the learning.  I create minimalist slides these days, but it hasn't always been that way.  I remember one of my first slide shows for professional development.  It had so many words!  The amount of wording overwhelmed me so I added random pictures of flowers and lizards, just to break it up a bit!

That was a long time ago.  These days, slides are chosen and used for a very specific purposes.

The Picture
Just a picture.  No words.  A visual that may help some learners solidify/remember the concept.  A picture can also force the learners to focus on the conversation or activity at hand.

The Directions
A simple list of the directions for an activity can be helpful.  It is better to give each learner a copy.  A screen version allows you to talk through the directions rather easily.

The Question
The question to discuss, ponder, or reflect upon can be helpful for folks who need some thinking time prior to finding the answer or solution.

Your Guide
Simple slides can help you stay on track, but please don't include every point you need to remember in your slides for the learners.

Principals, if you use a slide show for your professional development, please keep it simple!  Use the slides to enhance your material.  The slide show should not be the highlight of the learning.  Be sure to provide each learner with a copy of any words you need them to know or remember.  Do not show it once and expect the learners to take good notes!

Make your words big enough for the old guy in the back of the room to easily see.

Avoid These Slide Show Mistakes
  • Do not read a slide show full of bullets to the learners.
  • If you want to share data, keep it simple.  Do not add a giant spreadsheet that nobody can read.  It frustrates your data hounds!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Teacher's To Do Lists

When it comes to my own TO DO List, I have always been mediocre to poor.  I get distracted during certain items and I tend to choose my preferred tasks first.  I know, deep down inside, that I need to prioritize the items on my list and take care of the most important items first.  I know this, but I don't do it regularly.  Even worse, sometimes I occasionally ignore it.

As I look back to my time as a campus principal, it seems that I was always adding things to the teachers' TO DO Lists.  It came with the territory.  As much as I tried to minimize the extra helpings of stuff that I put on their plates, I had to ask teachers to do specific things regularly throughout the year.

I tried to ease the difficulties of keeping up with all the action items I asked teachers to do.  At the top of my weekly email, I included a short section called, Action Items.  I put it at the top of the weekly message so that teachers knew they could pull up the message on their computer or on their phone and quickly see the list.  They would also know that more information about the listed items could be found further down in the email.

Now that I am a teacher, I see how difficult it is to keep up with all the stuff that needs to get done.  I also see how important it is for teachers to receive the details of the task clearly and concisely.

Clear the Path
Principals, if you want to set your teachers up for success and support their need for better information and more time, make sure you are giving teachers the details of their TO DOs in writing regularly and consistently.

If your primary method of passing along tasks to teachers is telling them about it in a faculty meeting, please know that they are not getting it all.  Your diligent note-takers may get it.  Your good listeners hear you well but forget parts.  Your attention-challenged folks ask teammates for help.   A few folks were already ignoring you.  If your teachers are given tasks to do from you, the AP, the instructional coach, and their team leaders via email, verbally, a mailbox flyer, and a giant whiteboard in the workroom, you are not clearing the path for excellent communication. 

When teachers regularly get their TO DO items in writing, in a weekly email, they will know where to find them and they will always get the details in your words.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The Master Calendar

When I began teaching, my principal handed out a weekly calendar printed from a mimeograph machine!  Yes.  Blue letters and an interesting odor!  Soon afterwards, he sent them out via email.  Every week, we got a weekly letter from him that included a calendar of events that teachers needed to know.  We teachers also wrote down calendar items in our giant red planning books.  It was pretty simple.

Not anymore.  For example, between the mid 90's and now, required assessments alone have changed the way we keep a calendar.  Our district currently requires assessments every nine weeks in reading, writing, and math.  Each one of those include a window for its administration and a due date for scanning them into Eduphoria.  That is three calendar items for each test.  We also must create and administer mid-term assessments that must be scanned into Eduphoria.  The students are also required to take a computer-based assessment in reading and math at least once per month.  Finally, add the state tests and the preceding practice tests to the calendar.

Now I know what you're thinking!  What a ridiculous amount of testing!  That is another topic.  For fourth grade teachers at my campus, there are at least 82 different testing events that go on the calendar.

This is just for assessments.  This is just one example of the huge number of calendar items that teachers juggle.

On a weekly basis, there are always numerous other events that teachers need to keep up with:

  • mandatory training deadlines
  • observations
  • team meetings
  • faculty meetings
  • committee meetings
  • special events
  • report card deadlines
  • progress report deadlines
  • data analysis deadlines
Clear the path
Because I believe that one of the principal's main duties is to clear paths for teachers, making sure that everyone on campus has an easy grasp of everything that goes on the calendar is extremely helpful to teachers.  

Google, Outlook, and every other major email service that schools use includes calendar features that allow users to set up groups and send calendar invitations or meeting requests for events.  Use these features!

Set up your groups each summer.  Give rights to the folks in the office to help you.  If 4th grade teachers need to know the dates you will be meeting with them to discuss data, send them a meeting request.  The meeting shows up on their personal calendar.  This process takes only seconds longer than adding it to the master calendar as a simple event.

Do not simply place the event on a giant, shared master calendar.  This practice requires every single person to search through the calendar weeks at a time, searching for events that are pertinent.  When events are sent by calendar invitation, teachers only need to look at their own calendar.  Teachers can select to receive reminders on their computers and on their phones!  

When you send calendar invitations, your system will automatically notify teachers about the new event via email.  This is a good thing!  Make this the only way you put things on the calendar!  Don't expect teachers to keep up with calendar items too well if they receive information verbally at faculty meetings, through regular email, from a team leader, written on a folder, and through a handout in their mailbox.  When calendar items come from multiple sources in a haphazard manner, teachers will be frustrated and stressed.

Include a calendar in your weekly email.  Sending out calendar items on a weekly basis helps teachers ensure they are keeping up with all the deadlines.  Plus, it is super easy for teachers to know they can check your Friday message at anytime to double-check calendar events.

But they are professionals!  They should keep up with their own calendars!
Teachers are professionals.  Organizing your calendar communication and systematically reminding teachers of the multitude of deadlines does not diminish their professionalism.  It increases your leadership capacity by showing that you support their efforts and do you best to make their lives easier!  Clear the teachers' path by making their calendar lives easier!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Email or faculty meeting or team leader?

Three months ago, I decided to start writing again.  I decided to start with communication.  Three months later, the topic is too huge to fit into one blog entry.  When it comes to high-quality school communication, the principal must make it clear for the teachers.  Good communication keeps teachers informed and makes them happy!

Anyone who works in a school knows that there are simply too many lines of communication to make it simple.  It will never be simple.  It can be simplified.

For teachers, there is one area that seems to be universally agreed upon.  Don't call a meeting to tell teachers things you could send in an email.  I heard this when I was a principal and I worked tirelessly to follow this.  I have always believed that there is very little reason to call a faculty meeting if the topic is not collaborative, professional learning.  Sure, each meeting can spend a few minutes on the nuts and bolts of running a school.  You can also invest some time providing your rationale for decisions, processes, changes, etc.  However, the majority of time at any staff meeting should be collaborative professional learning.  

Getting the whole staff together to hear a bunch of information come out of the principal's mouth or to see bullets on a screen is ineffective.  If you need the whole staff to get the same message, give it to them in writing.  When the staff gathers together, spend a few minutes explaining the rationale and your stance on the material.  Give folks the "why."  Offer a question and answer session for those who need it.  If teachers are consistently gathering in hallways asking for clarification on your message, the message wasn't clear.  

Verbal messages are tantamount to the telephone game.

But they won't read it!
They will read it when it becomes the norm.  It may take a little time to show teachers that you respect their time and you won't steal it by thinking that your words are supremely important.  The information may be supremely important.  Just because the principal says it, does not elevate the level of importance.  Again, share the "why" in person if you need to, then give them the "who, what, when, where, and how" in writing.

But I can't waste all that time typing all the details
If you try to tell them all the details, they won't hear them, they won't remember them, and they won't like it.  If you expect teachers to take notes on your message, you end up with no two teachers getting the same message.  Write it down!

The team leaders can tell them
Please stop doing this immediately.  This practice should have died in the late 90's when email became prevalent in schools.  Your leadership team should be used to guide campus decisions.  Team leaders can also be there for their teams to help answer questions as semi-experts.  Leadership team members should NOT be responsible for delivering messages.  After a team leader meeting, send out the written information to your leadership team to make sure it is correct, then send it out to everyone!  When ten team leaders go tell their teams ten different messages, your credibility diminishes.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

What I have learned since I returned to the classroom

As a teacher, years ago, I met a few administrators that needed a quick return to the classroom to see what it was like.  My teacher brain made me think that they had forgotten what it was like to be with students all day long.  The fact that those same people had actually walked in the shoes of a teacher at some point in their past didn't seem to matter too much.  Then I became a campus administrator.  And I am quite sure that teachers said the same thing about me.

I tried my best to put myself in the mindset of a teacher as I made campus decisions and took actions as a campus leader.  Even so, teachers probably said I had forgotten what it was like to be in a classroom all day long.  As much as I tried to think like a teacher, it just wasn't 100% possible.  I was a campus administrator with different responsibilities.

I realized that my job was different, but the idea of returning to the classroom stuck with me.  Could a successful principal return to the classroom?  Would a year or two teaching make me a better principal?  What if every principal spent a year in the classroom every five years?  These thoughts began to drive my belief that a campus administrator has two primary duties.

First, a principal must clear paths for teachers.  The principal must administer systems that support teaching and learning.  The principal must carefully choose what to add to a teacher's plate with minimal negative repercussions.  What things can simply be done for the teachers?  How can we protect planning time for teachers?  Principal's must ensure that teachers have clear information in a timely manner as much as possible.  Job #1 is to clear paths.

The second thing a principal must do is set the course for the continuous improvement of teaching and learning.  Professional learning should be at the top of the principal's priority.  Learning does not improve when we measure students.  Learning improves when teachers become better teachers based on those measurements.  Job #2 is to lead focused efforts that improve teaching and learning.

Three years ago, I started thinking about a return to the classroom.  While the primary reasons that drove my decision were not based on my need to see things from a teacher's perspective again, many things that a successful principal needs to do became abundantly clear.  Some of them, I get to pat myself on the back and say, "Good job, Me!"  Other things, I could've done better.  My thoughts about successfully clearing paths and leading professional learning efforts will be the topic of my writing.

I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions about these posts!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Writing again!

I haven't posted anything here in over a year.  I have written several articles during that time, but I chose not to publish them.  Sometimes, they went unfinished.  Sometimes, I couldn't find the right words.  Sometimes, I didn't publish them because I felt like the words I wrote were too negative.  I felt like I was constantly finding things that were not going well.  After fifteen long months of observation and introspection, I am ready to publish again.

After 23 years in the education biz, I changed districts for the fourth time.  I felt like I understood that things could be different and I would be able to handle any/all the differences between my new district and my previous employers.  How different could it be between neighboring districts of similar size and demographics?  I was wrong.  I wondered if my lack of understanding the rationale for the differences was perhaps a negative vibe that had found its way into my soul as an educator.  (It hasn't.  I simply stand firm in my belief that we should strive for better!)

For years, I felt like I ran through each day with optimism and hope for improvement.  I tackled problems positively and laughed through the successes and mistakes.  I tried to model forward-thinking and I tried to squash TWWADDI (That's the way we've always done it) mentality.

I looked back through several years of posts.  The overarching theme has been my deep seated belief that we can always improve what we do in education.  Sometimes I highlighted great things that I witnessed.  Sometimes I made observations about current realities.  My posts in 2017 and 2018 seemed to have a deeper feeling of frustration.  While writing can be a therapeutic means of reflection, I made a choice to stop publishing my pieces.  I didn't want to write my opinions without sufficient evidence.

It has been two years.  I am ready to publish again.  I am ready to note wonderful things that are happening in my world.  I am also ready to examine things that need to be better.  In this profession, like no other that I know, we struggle with systemic change and we don't learn from our neighbors.

It has also been two years since my return to the classroom.  I did some things really well as a principal.  I also had some glaring weaknesses.  Don't we all!  At this point, I can see what I would do better as a campus leader more clearly than ever before.

I am really looking forward to this writing endeavor!