Monday, April 23, 2018

Deeper Learning Exhibition #2 Reflection

Reflecting on our second exhibition I first want to give a shout out to our Core 4 team that has done such a great job this year.  Kaufmann, Konczal, Bektic, and Durbin well done, and thank you for recruiting so many more staff into this work. We had an amazing turn out for our first and second exhibitions, and every staff member that had a hand in the work deserves a pat on the back.  I’ve said countless times I abhor standardized testing mainly because I think KPREP and the ACT are biased towards our students (especially our ESL students) and are only one, small measure of ‘success’. I think Deeper Learning exhibitions are a real, tangible measure of success that allows us to showcase what we are doing, give our kids a sense of academic success, and communicate to our community the answer to that age old question: “What did you do at school today?”.

Here are some lessons I’ve drawn from our two exhibitions this year:

  1. Deeper Learning begins in Passion and interest, then connect it into content.  Students don’t want the sage on the stage, and it doesn’t work. So don’t do it.  Purpose and relevance is what hooks our students. Engagement is the foundation of any instruction, right?
  2. Deeper Learning Must be teacher led.  Our job as admin is paint the promised land, and build a place for them to make it happen.  We did this by first saying our culture is focused on the process, and by creating a space to try.  Empowered teachers produce outstanding results, and I think our two exhibitions are strong evidence of this belief.
  3. Deeper Learning should involve every content and let them find where they can exhibit learning.  We are best served when we refrain from the ‘right answer’ and default to ‘give it a shot, let's see what they can do’. Reinforcing iteration is important. Reinforce this lives all over the building.
  4. Deeper Learning is a commitment to not to be afraid for it to be messy, raw, and provocative.  If a kid wants to do an analysis of Gender, the #MeToo movement, race, violence; then build a structure for them to do it well. Real world engagement is where we hook them.
  5. Deeper Learning at its core must have a Focus on quality.  As Dr. Pollio says: “Ground zero of equity.” BUT- give some room for messy, because the quality will come.  This is where the science of teaching and work protocol lives. Expectations that intersect across the school (super hard lift) are what will move us to the school we can become.
  6. Deeper Learning is about a celebration of what our students can do. We should celebrate every bit of it, especially focusing on the non traditional definition of success.  Social media is our best platform to showcase this work.
To take this work further I think we need to do two things:

  1. Embrace the Backpack of Skills and Profile of a Graduate work.  Our internal team is close to done with the first iteration. Expect a full day of work on this during our retreat to design appropriate demonstration points for ALL contents, area, academies, and grade levels.
  2. Continue to promote all contents of the building to put forth examples of Deeper Learning.  Check the photos in the Monday Report for ideas. Don’t be afraid to step up to the plate and have your students showcase their learning.  We will do 2 exhibitions next year, and the first one will be tied to our Open House. We will continue to polish the production aspect of the event, and continue to tie food, art, band, orchestra, and music to our events.  These events should be a celebration of our academic success from all aspects of our campus.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

#KyGoDigital Episode on Digital Tools to Build & Unite Your School Community

We had the opportunity to host a #KyGoDigital episode at our school today.  Three of our outstanding educators: Kyle McKune, Maegan Woodlee, Kyle Chandler, and myself discussed digital tools, culture, and school branding.  Check it out.  It's part of a massive undertaking by the #KyGoDigital people who are curating some of the outstanding work going on in Kentucky.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

What happens in the School Admin team meeting?

There are a lot of things a principal has to do well.  Hire good people, create a culture of trust and risk, support good people, be kind, approachable, transparent.  One of the process things a principal has to do well is have a cohesive, coherent administrative team meeting.  If communication breaks down during this crucial process, then the building will be muddled, teachers will get frustrated from a lack of coherency, and inevitably students will suffer.  I don't hold up our model as the best out there, but it's born honest from some years 'in the saddle'.  Hopefully you can learn something for your practice with what we do.

We didn't do norm setting as a team.  I set the tone with a few ground rules every year:
1. Be on time
2. Be constructive
3. Be present.

I've never had an admin not follow those, and we don't reference them more than once a year.  I've found that high performing people do those things naturally, and I find it insulting of their intelligence to continue to discuss those expectations.  If it becomes a problem, I address it one on one, because otherwise we're too busy to waste time on that stuff.  

A couple of things that I want in a 'good' admin meeting:

1. Some sharing of information, but for that not to be the purpose.  Sharing information is critical, but if the whole meeting is sharing information, then we haven't decided anything or taken action.

2. Honest conversation about critical issues without emotions.  Sometimes we have issues where one persons area is rubbing wrong against another.  We are one school.  When we have pain points we need to be able to address them as a group, without getting mad at each other.

3. Service mindset.  For more on this check this previous post about Assistant Principals.  What I need from the team is the mentality that when we meet, we're here to solve issues and create processes to allow more time in class, and our teachers spending more time teaching, rather than bogged down in minutiae.

4. Being present.  That doesn't mean phones are off.  We're busy people and they may get a text from our ISAP teacher and need to step out.  What it does mean is that we're engaged in the work, even if what is being discussed doesn't pertain to their area at the time.  Being knowledgeable about the whole building, and helping to make decisions for the whole building is effective.

5. Espirit De Corps.  It may sound corny but I want the team to feel pride and fellowship in each other.  You can't manufacture this, but you can support it, and be mindful about it.  No one wants to work with negative nancy or jerky jerry.

I believe in the importance though of setting a good agenda.  It should guide the work, be easy to follow, and have the resources the team needs to communicate in front of them.  Below is a screenshot of our admin agenda.  We use a google slide, copy it each week in the same file so we have a running document of the year.  This serves as a quick one stop shop for documentation needs, and referencing back to what we have done in the past.  I've used other ways in the past, but for my needs, using slides is the best method I've fond so far in terms of organization and documentation.

There are some components I feel are important to the agenda to give it structure and keep us focused:

1. We begin each meeting with 1 quick celebration from the week before.  Each member of our admin team (Me, 7 Assistant Principals, 6 Counselors, 1 Academy Coach, 1 FRYSC) have to celebrate something, either a student, staff member, something good that happened the week before.  I think this is important because it serves to focus our meeting from the start, and having seven grade levels on campus, it allows the team to hear the good things going on throughout the building.  This also gives me a chance to be able to highlight really noteworthy things to the staff if we all feel it's needed.

2. Useful Links: These are the common documents we all need as administrators in a one stop shop.  Our evaluation matrix listing all staff and important evaluation needs (on a Google Sheet), our Data Management Center, a district resource for data; our District Principal Priorities, a district document that lists big ticket items, and most importantly our improvement plans.  This link goes to a google slide that warehouses all of our plans: Behavior, Interventions, assessment, etc.  

3. In the top middle our three boxes that line out the major areas of the building: Environment, Systems, and Learning.  This graphic serves as a reminder of the big areas and the sub needs under each.

4. Top right hand corner: our vision.  If you want the vision to be living, it has to be everywhere, referenced often, and guiding the work, rather than just a catchy (or worse overly wordy) phrase painted on a wall.

5. Current vacancies, so we all know what we have open.

6. At the bottom: Our priorities, the three big 'rocks' we need to be good at to become the school we want to become. We reference these often.

7. Environment: This box holds first our standing reports.  At each admin meeting we have our Building Assessment Coordinator, Special Education Resource Teachers, Positive Behavior Intervention Teachers, Technology, and Goal Clarity Coach (instructional coach) come and give a quick standing report of what they have going on so all admin know.  This serves to build the coherency for the building and make sure we know when the BAC is taking the theater for AP testing.  The rest of this box has environment, or new process issues we need to discuss.  Here we divvy up nighttime duties, discuss environmental problems (like the building having kids in it unsupervised) any construction or projects we have on campus, or other 'big ticket' processes that are new and we need to hash out.

8. Systems: Here we discuss data or information from established systems.  Usually this is intervention data, scheduling concerns, budget, student advisory, ESS, or other processes that are built and require monitoring.

9. Learning: This is where we discuss senior on track, common formative assessment data, testing concerns, and learning processes. This is also where we split out the meeting for the evaluation portion.  The end of all of our admin meetings we dismiss the counselors, academy coach, and FRYSC so just myself and the assistant principals are there.  At this point we discuss teacher evaluation, coaching documents, instructional feedback concerns, and teacher growth.  We dismiss the other folks because they are non-evaluation positions.  In our district only principals or assistant principals do performance evaluations.  During this time we go through our instructional focus protocol (when we have time, i'll confess it gets dropped on occasion, which it shouldn't).  You can read about that here: Instructional Focus Walkthrough.

We meet every Monday at 8am, and typically we are done by 915 or so. We do our best to protect this time, and the clerical folks know we are 'off radio' at that point and the resource teachers and security need to handle the building unless something is really important. 

This year we're going to try a new form of a book-study.  We're all bringing books to the table, everyone will have a month to read their book.  Then we will briefly discuss what we learned in our books, and then switch among ourselves based off the readers review.  I've done traditional book studies in the past, and i'm just not a fan.  I think we gain more if we share our ideas and impressions of a variety of books at the table.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Horatio Nelson, Adaptability, and Leadership

Every week like most principals I have my version of the Monday Memo, Weekly report, or other piece that tries to get everyone on the same page in our school. Each week I do an 'Instructional Focus' that is usually some discussion on instructional initiatives or big ideas. This is one of those writings.

Horatio Nelson, Adaptability, and Leadership

My philosophy of leadership has always boiled down to “Support them, and get out of their way to let them do the job.” At the heart of this is the belief that in education especially it is about adaptability to the myriad variables that enter our profession: students. I believe that highly effective staff members at their core have the ability to intuitively adapt to the needs presented to them on a daily basis, and as a result maximize the learning and preparation of our students. Adaptability is critical to a successful organization. As a highly effective teacher understands that a great lesson can be tossed on its head by students who are having a rough day, highly effective leaders should realize that the most careful laid plans can be tossed to the wayside based on the variability of students. Adaptability is key to successfully navigating the changing landscape that a school presents daily.

Mr. McIntosh (9th grade science) turned me on to the above book “Team of Teams” by General Stanley McChrystal as he saw strong linkages to the work we are doing here, and the ideas presented in the book by the general. Gen. McChrystal writes intently on the idea of adaptability in organizations, from the viewpoint of his command of one of the most highly effective military teams in existence. He argues that the strongest lesson he had to learn as a leader was the fluid adaptability of this teams become mission critical for both the pursuit of victory, and the safety of his people. Whereas established doctrine dictated a much more rigid approach, and his study of military history emphasized a rigid approach, the environment and variables he was confronted with demanded a different response. He found quickly that instead of looking at his team as a series of people on his command, it was critical to look at his team as a ‘team of teams’ comprised of smaller sections that had to own, understand, and make decisions about their realms of responsibility while communicating back, and with each other for their contribution to the overall mission.

What he found was that this was a hard pill to swallow in an organization that by tradition, was hallmarked for it’s rigid hierarchy. This became a pain point in implementation of the new decision making and information sharing models that he sought to implement, for he knew that these models were what the environment, and problem demanded. He sought examples of these ideas in the history and traditions of his field, and settled upon a sound example produced by Admiral Horatio Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar. The nuances of naval warfare aside, the lesson at the heart of the illustration is that Nelson gave a set of loosely defined parameters to his captains (his teams) and gave them the autonomy to self correct the plan if it went off course. This was counterculture to the established doctrine of the admiral leading each movement of the battle from his ship in a rigid succession of orders. McChrystal correlated this to his experience battling Al Qaeda, in that the rigid military hierarchy was forced to become flexible in the face of an enemy that’s hallmark was adaptability. While we are not at war here at school, I think the lessons speak soundly to large organizations dealing with complex variables. He speaks of “shared consciousness” which results from transparent information sharing. In the example below he outlines the traditional model of team, the next iteration of commanding teams, and then the finally example he strived for, the ‘Team of Teams’. I’d encourage you to look at it through the lens of the school and where we fall as a school. I’d argue that the first iteration isn’t the most conducive to maximize the learning and preparation of our students. While it works in some schools, I think the rigidity doesn’t adapt to the variability our students present, especially in a high needs school that has the multivariate factors of poverty. I think the real strength is in the area between the second and third iterations of his idea. We can ensure the success of these models by how we communicate, and what monitoring systems we have in place to ensure we remain focused on the mission. We do this through support and cultivation of decentralized decision making.

Decentralized decision making authority, what the General terms “empowered execution” aided his team of teams in dissolving barriers of the individual silos and levels of their hierarchies. While these traditions had given a uniform efficiency, the need for adaptability in the face of a changing landscape became critical. I think there is a strong connection to education in this analysis. Our organization is based in traditional, rigid hierarchies and traditions. Such as the principal as the prime decision making authority, the teacher as the font of knowledge, or the sage on the stage that delivers instruction to receptive students who sit patiently in organized rows to consume the knowledge provided.

We know these traditional hierarchies are not only outdated, but in many ways wholly inefficient, and unadaptable. We then look to newer organizational models. In these models the principal empowers decisions makers while retaining organizational oversight and decision making ability, teachers become flexible facilitators of knowledge rather than the sages on the stage, and classrooms are no longer orderly rows of desks with basal readers on one corner, and pencil neatly in the tray. Instead we develop environments where decision making is shared, teams have autonomy to adapt to the variables that are presented in their unique situations, teachers are given the space to adapt lessons and instructional techniques to the diverse needs of their learners, and the classroom environment becomes flexible. Or, at least we should.

Here in our school we have made policy and practice that I think supports these ideas. While we can always do better, i’d like to take a moment and write about the structure of decision making and adaptability. In some things we are very tight and rigid in our decision making. In some aspects we are much more loose, and adaptable. Our guiding team is SBDM, who involve themselves in matters of large policy, budgetary decisions, and hiring practices. In practical application the day to day oversight of budgeting, policy implementation, and staff development falls to the admin team. Front line concerns fall to the teams/ academies/ sections that have oversight of their concerns, and decision making is executed at multiple levels. My goal is that each team/ academy/ section has decision making ability in their area, that filters up through the various team leads, academy leads, and department chairs who comprise our 2 ILT teams. In these teams we should see the hallmarks of initiative for improvement of their areas tied to the overall mission of the school, and a collection of individuals that combine critical thinking abilities to implement our overall mission that THE Marion C. Moore school will be a school where students want to be, adults want to work, and the community is proud to have their children attend.  I think, at the heart of this is the ability to adapt, and the resiliency to move forward.

Education is by nature a field of variables.  Resiliency of our organization comes into play when we are confronted with change, adversity, challenge, even animosity; and the ability as a school to roll with these punches, or as the quote above states "benefit from them."  What a wonderful idea if we are so strong a school in our adaptable systems, that we don't shudder or balk at growth and conflict, but instead we become stronger and more agile for it.  This is what we should strive for in all of our teams.

What I think we gain from this type of organization, and more importantly what we must continue to strive to nurture is the leadership of our individual teams to maximize the learning and preparation of our students. The trick of making this all work is that we are adaptable in our individual areas, but tight in our overall cohesion as a school. We have made some great strides in culture, and feel of the building. I think that for the most part we like to come to work, have a vision of what we want to become, and generally get along as a staff. We continue to have growth in the tightness of our processes, the pedagogy of our approaches, and the analysis of our work to see if it is indeed maximizing the learning and preparation of our students. To support this structure we place a premium on transparency and communication. To support this structure we place a premium in decentralized and ‘spread out’ decision making. Where we continue to have growth is ensuring our communication is sound, and our decision making keeps at its heart an analysis of what is best to maximize the learning and preparation of our students.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Open Letter to the Legislature: RE: School Funding

Dear Legislators,

On the precipice of what is the most disastrous educational budget in my memory, you, as our legislature, have the ability to make some bold decisions that will impact the future of our Commonwealth.  As our legislators, you need to place education as the priority of our Commonwealth.  You want to cure the opioid epidemic?  Invest deeply in an educated populace.  You want more skilled trades and high paying jobs?  Invest deeply in an educated populace.  You want less crowded prisons?  Invest deeply in an educated populace.  You want our Commonwealth to be the forefront of the United States?  Have the courage to find a way to make education the number one priority of your body.

The Governor has made it clear education is not a priority.

The gap between the rich and poor is correlated directly to the gap between test scores of affluent schools and schools beset with poverty.  I challenge you to look at school rankings as far back as the NCLB inspired testing craze, and you will see that the affluent schools of the state stay on the top; and the high need schools of the state stay on the bottom.  It is unethical to fault the educators or students at these schools for their ‘low’ performance.  You made us take these awful tests, whose relevance is specious at best to their future success, put our students through a decade of them; and knowing the results, you refuse to fund us to ‘fix’ the scores.  These scores were then used to lambast us for our lack of progress.  I refuse to believe that it is the fault of our students or our educators.  The fault lives in your body.  SEEK has essentially not moved since 2008.  While we teach more students, with higher needs, our funding is 15% less than it was in 2008. Couple this with the growing mental health crisis among our students, and we have a great deal of pressing issues that require more funding.   Fund us to address the needs of our students, and we will.

We need bold and courageous leadership that will create funding models based off of our students’ needs, which will mean our less affluent buildings will require significantly more funding to address the needs of their students.  KERA is a prime example of bold, courageous leadership from our legislative body.  We must move past the idea that all schools are funded equal.  It doesn’t work, and hasn’t worked for decades.  It’s time to admit it and move on.  This may be an unpopular belief, but I give it to you from the boots on the ground eyes of a Principal doing the work about which you debate. The truth of the matter is we don’t have anywhere near enough to do the job tasked to us.  We are charged with educating the youth of the Commonwealth, on budgets that are nowhere near effective for our most needy students.  You have the opportunity to change the funding structure of our schools.  You can have the bold vision of an educated Commonwealth, where all students have a robust funding model that supports their needs.

Instead, you want us to do it with even less.

We all worried you would tear our pension to pieces, and we became vocal, and it seems now that at least for a moment, you listened.  While you patted yourselves on the back for “having the courage to not kick the can” we rolled our eyes and worried you would take what we have faithfully paid for.  I still don’t believe that you will honor the promise of the pension, but all the most recent pension debacle taught me was that the legislature listens when we become as loud as we can be.  You need to hear this loud and clear: we are not funded to answer the challenges before us, and our profession is not compensated to the level where we keep highly effective staff.  If you want an educated Commonwealth,  you’re going to have to not only fund our schools effectively, but you’re going to have to fund our professionals sufficiently.  I will use myself as an example.  I have three degrees, significant experience, and work approximately 3,300 hours a year for my school.  When I hear our Governor lambasting my profession for the $100,000 plus salaries, I ask you, what do you think a professional in my position should be compensated?  I run an organization with over 2,100 students, and 240 staff.  As your body is often fond of the private sector, what is a correlating position with my responsibility and experience?  The same rationale applies to our teachers.  Imagine the state of the Commonwealth if our teachers were not afraid for their retirement, and are compensated for their experience and ability commensurate with other professions.  We should aspire for teachers to make strong salaries for their work.  Stop lambasting us for making a living, and fund us to be effective, and we will produce the graduates in the Commonwealth prepared and ready for life.

Instead, you want us to do it with even less.

There are plenty of wise superintendents, principals, teachers, and knowledgeable professionals in our field.  In fact, 40 of them just filed to run for your seats.  That itself should give you pause.  One of those 40 teaches in my building.  He should be teaching, not running for office because he believes that you don’t value the needs of our students.  It should cause reflection on your part as to what you have done, and what you intend to do for the future of our Commonwealth.  It would be wise of your body to stop and ask us exactly what we need to do our job effectively.  We will tell you, and we will offer solutions to what we believe our schools and communities need to be successful.  The current path that your body travels does not honor education, nor seek meaningful input in the future of education in our Commonwealth.  Instead, it cuts, belittles, and marginalizes the needs of our students, educators, and their communities.  The most recent budget proposed guts our schools, and spits in the faces of the students of the Commonwealth.

You have an opportunity for bold and courageous leadership for the future of our Commonwealth.  Do not fail to rise to the occasion.


Robert Fulk