Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's the little things

Over the last five school days, and because of some reflection time during Thanksgiving and hanging out on twitter, I realized that it's the little things that we do in education that really matter.  I realize in watching these little things just how much education has changed since when I was in school.  I watch as students assist and collaborate with one another in classrooms.  Students assisting and collaborating used to be considered cheating.  Now it's just the way we do education.  I watch staff interact with students and each other in a cooperative way.  There is still some work to do, especially in providing more time to collaborate to make this cooperation more a part of the every day workings of a school.  It used to be so much more competitive but we're moving more toward "coopetition", the combining of cooperation and competition, because who doesn't want to be the best?  Cooperation will allow all of us, staff and students alike, to be more successful.  These two items are pretty big, but here are the little things I have seen in the last few school days.

  • Staff greeting students and each other in the hallways, at the classroom door, and in the cafeteria.
  • Two new students being accepted for who they are and other students befriending them with no hidden agendas.
  • Staff stopping in the cafeteria to speak with the students about nothing really related to school.
  • Students assisting one another when someone has dropped their books or their lunch tray.
  • A former student coming in to share information about his high school marketing class, and every teacher allowing him to spend time in the classroom.
  • Coaches putting in hours of preparation before and after school to provide better opportunities for success.
  • Staff attending meetings before and after school to make the school an even better place to learn.
  • Anonymous donors providing funds for expanding technology access.
  • A former superintendent sharing his volunteer work in Sudan with all of our students.
  • Parents coming in to cheer on their child during basketball games.
  • Behind the scenes technology work to get the entire school on board with google apps for education.
  • Conversations with staff about the difficulties in school with a change in the topic to what is good in school.
  • Watching a back channel chat in a social studies classroom, and seeing everyone engaged in the discussion.
  • Learning with a student how to use a color Nook for the first time.
  • Having pie, an example of a treat, in the teachers' lounge.
I'm sure that I'll see many more things over the next few days that would make this list even longer and more impressive.  Sometimes it's just the little things that can make your day, like having lunch with a group of 4th graders or joining a kickball game or seeing a smile on a student's face when you say hello and call them by name.  Well, it's time for a great recess with the kids, another little thing I really enjoy.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Captain of the team

Over the last two months of school, I've been reflecting upon the leadership in our school.  There are many leaders in our building who are a part of teams or committees, but oftentimes their leadership stops there.  These leaders often don't extend beyond these specific groups.  I've begun to wonder how I can facilitate theses leaders so that they can see that they are a bigger part of our school team.  Everyone in a school has specific responsibilities and adding leadership to these responsibilities should not be seen as an extra duty.  It's a part of our jobs as educators to lead within our classrooms, our grade levels or content areas, our school, and our district.  Having one leader who is the only "go to" person, in my opinion, isn't practical.  We are all educational leaders whether we have a title or not.
I had a great discussion about this with one of my teachers the other day and came up with an analogy that rang true for us as we have both coached basketball.  We discussed the difference between a coach and a captain.  I equated a coach to the way that principals used to be perceived in schools.  They were in charge of any and every decision.  We felt that principals now play more of the role of a captain.  The captain on the basketball team knows what every player is supposed to be doing and directs them while they are on the court.  They don't tell everyone what to do, but they do expect the players to know their job and to do it to the best of their ability.  They also cannot play everyone's position, either due to height, quickness, court vision, or a variety of other reasons.  The captain knows a good basketball play when they see one.
The principal in a school is like the captain of a basketball team in the same regard.  He or she expects the teachers to do their job to the best of their ability.  They can't teach every class or content area but they know a good teacher when they see one.
I struggle from time to time when the teachers who work with me call me boss.  For some reason the term boss has a negative connotation for me.  I always remind our staff that I am a co-worker.  I'm responsible for everything that goes on in our school but I also rely upon each one of the teachers and staff members I work with every day.  We all have to work together to be successful, just like the players on a basketball team.  If everyone on a basketball team plays to the best of their ability, the team has a much better chance of being successful.  The captain is there to make sure that the team is all going in the same direction.
The same is true of a school.  Everyone has a role to play in our school and they all do their best.  I am there to make sure that the teachers are all  working toward the same goal of educating every child, just like the captain on a basketball team.  I am hopeful that the staff I work with considers me more of a basketball captain than an old time basketball coach.

Friday, November 4, 2011

What took so long?

It's been quite a while since I wrote my last blog post.  It took being at the the AWSA Principals' Conference and the Midwest Google Summit to remind me of what I had been missing. I was missing the chance to reflect on what I do as a principal and what I am as a principal.  What you do and what you are can be two very different things.  I sure hope that I do what I am as a principal.  Now a bit about the conference and the summit.

At the AWSA conference I was a co-presenter with two incredible Wisconsin principals, Curt Rees and Jessica Johnson, on the benefits of twitter for administrators.  They were actually the presenters and I was more of a lurker, adding points once in a while and helping out those new to twitter.  It was a great experience and came about due to the connection I made with Curt and Jessica on twitter.  I had met Curt before the conference but Jessica and I met face to face the day before our presentation.  It was a bit scary but those who attended the session came away excited about the connections they began making on twitter during the last half our of our session.  My PLN has grown because of this great opportunity.

At the Google Summit, I had a chance to learn about google, obviously, but also to make connections with the staff who attended with me and other educators in Wisconsin and many other states.  Although some of the sessions were more "techy" than I understand, I came away with some great things to share with my staff.  More importantly, the staff has come away with great things to share with their colleagues.  That is the expectation.  In a future blog I'll let you know how that goes.  The Google Summit showed me the possibilities of all things google in our school.  I can't wait to see how it works out.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The resiliency of kids

Today changed the entire outlook I have on all of the challenges I face as a husband, father, and principal on a daily basis.  It came because of a two-minute conversation I had with a student before school.  She is one of those students who greets me every time she sees me.  She has a smile on her face and has a bubbly personality.  But it's what she said after she greeted me this morning that still brings a tear to my eye.  Not only did she say hello to me this morning, she couldn't wait to tell me the good news.  It wasn't until she was done telling the story that I realized how much resilience this nine-year old girl has.  This is what she told me.

"Mr. Posick.  I'm so happy.  I'm going to be living over the Custard Shoppe with my mom.  I'll get to walk to and from school.  It will be great."  Had the story ended there, I wouldn't have cried later as I told the story to the members of our administrative team.  It's what she said next that changed how I look at all the challenges I have and how truly insignificant these challenges are.  She continued by saying the following.

"Mr. Posick.  I have to move because my mom and dad are splitting up again.  It's alright, though.  They fight all the time and it will be better for all of us if they split up again.  Can you believe I get to live above the Custard Shop?  It's going to be great!"

Once she finished her story, I tried to say something profound but I couldn't speak.  I just smiled and watched her skip away with her friends.  I couldn't believe how happy she was after hearing that her family had split up once again.

As I continued my day, no matter what happened, I smiled about how insignificant my challenges are compared to this nine-year old girl.  I smiled a lot today as I thought about the best ways to attack my challenges.  I hope to smile even more tomorrow.  I might even skip a little bit.  If a nine-year old girl can smile and skip while her family is splitting apart, can't each of us smile as we attack the challenges we face every day?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The unexpected

Yesterday I had a chance to speak with all of our 560 students in the gym before school started.  I do this once a month to allow the staff the opportunity to collaborate for an hour, essentially providing a late start for all of our students without having to change bus arrival or parent drop off.  Most of the time I am in the gym alone and have a chance to speak about a variety of topics- rules, responsibilties, trust, resolutions, friendship, and opportunity.  Yesterday we discussed opportunities.  I finished by reading "Oh, the Places You'll Go" by Dr. Seuss as a culmination of opportunity and to celebrate National Read Aloud Day.  This was when the first unexpected event occurred.  One student, an 8th grader, who is at times challenged behaviorally, volunteered to help me by sharing the pictures with the students while I read.  His involvement allowed for the presentation to end on a very positive note.
As principal I often have to focus on negative issues and this can be draining.  During my presentation, I spoke about sharing good things with me.  I was in an 8th grade math classroom at the end of the day and a student came up to me with a piece of paper.  This was  my second unexpected event.  This student has rarely interacted with me unless I have initiated the conversation.  On the piece of paper was written his score for a speech he had given earlier in the day.  He was proud of his score, 37/40 points, and wanted to share it with me.  I was later able to speak to his mother about how his son had helped to make my day.
Sometimes the unexpected can ruin your day.  Yesterday the unexpected made my day.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My first online class

I have begun taking an online graduate class for the first time.  It's entitled "An Introduction to Coaching."  All of the other graduate classes I have taken have been limited to seat time, lecture, reading, few classroom discussions, and regurgitation of information.  After beginning this class, I think online classes were made for me!
Those who know me know that I have difficult time staying focused for long periods of time.  This online class has afforded me the option of working for 30 minutes or an hour at a time at home, before school, or after school.  I've even been able to do some of the work at school while I'm eating lunch and checking emails and twitter.  I've gone into classrooms to see staff and students in action while putting what I'm learning into practice. I'm currently looking at questioning techniques that are used by staff, students, and me in all types of school situations.
Today was a snow day so I've been able to work from time to time on my classwork.  I have been able to stay in contact with my professor even though neither of us has met face to face.  I am able to ask questions, answer questions, and do course work when it's opportunistic for me.  I read background information, reflect on what I've read and done, and put what I've learned into action.  This is truly anytime, anywhere learning.  I can't wait to take my next online class!  Wouldn't it be great to provide these types of options for all of our students, and not just on snow days?

Friday, January 21, 2011

A simple thank you can change your day

I was having a difficult day at school this week.  Dealing with adult issues can do that to a principal from time to time.  I was trying everything I could think of to change my attitude.  I was talking to other adults, but that wasn't working.  I was visiting classrooms, seeing staff and students learning and interacting, but that wasn't working.  I was checking twitter and emails for uplifting thoughts, but that wasn't working.  Then it happened.  One of our special education students came into the office looking for me.  He had something to give me that I wasn't expecting.  He had hand-written a thank you note to me for getting some bean bag chairs for his classroom.  There was even a picture he had drawn showing him sitting in one of the chairs.  We shared a fist bump and a smile.  It made my day.  Can you find someone to thank today?  It could completely change their day.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Student input (originally posted 11/24/10)

Yesterday I had an awesome meeting with about 75 of our 7th and 8th grade students.  That's over a quarter of the total 7th and 8th grade students in our school.  It was an impromptu meeting about curriculum and about changes in our school since last year.  Many of the changes have been due to budget cuts, some of the changes are due to a change in curriculum, and some are due to new teachers teaching new subjects.  Now, getting 75 7th and 8th graders together for an impromptu meeting can be a bit of a daunting task, but these kids behaved in a way I wish the adults in their lives could have seen.  They were respectful of me, but more importantly, they were respectful of one another.  They took turns, expressed their opinions, let others express their opinions (even if it was contradictory to their own opinion), and waited for answers or explanations.  They were given a voice and sometimes I think that as educators we don't give kids enough of a voice in their own education.
I learned a lot about the kids yesterday.  I knew that the kids had opinions about their education, but aside from an informal and less than personal survey from time to time, I never really spent time with the kids to ask their opinions about our school.  On a personal level, I learned something I plan on incorporating on a more frequent basis.  I need to provide the venue and the time to our kids to ask their opinions, to listen to their suggestions, and to give them a voice in their education.  I owe it to each of them.

Conversations (originally posted 11/7/10)

As I think about changes in education, I reflect on conversations that have guided me throughout my career.  Many of these conversations have occurred face to face with other educators- fellow teachers and fellow administrators.  The conversations that have really provided me with a chance to pause and think about education today have been with parents.  Being a parent myself, I understand that parents want only what's best for their children.  My wife and I are no different for our daughter.  Having conversations with fellow educators and your wife about education is one thing.  Having conversations with parents is another thing all together.  For many parents, their only experience in education is that they went to school.  We need to find as many ways as possible to engage them in conversation about all of the global and local changes those of us in education are facing.  Postings on school websites, emails, and newsletters are some ways.  But many people still prefer a face to face conversation.  Many of the teachers I work with and for have had individual conferences with parents.  We have had school board presentations and community chats.  All of these methods of communication are helping to educate our parents about the changes in education, but can we do more?

Thoughts (originally posted 10/1/10)

Have you ever thought back about a two week time frame and realized it has been the most powerful experience of your career?  That's what I've been doing all morning.  In the last two weeks I have been challenged by students, parents, staff, and family about a variety of topics.  Each of these challenging discussions has made me grow, reaffirming or changing my beliefs about education and it's current state.  The discussions have been about both positive and negative changes to our school, whether perceived or real.  Being able to discuss these conversations, both before and afterwards, has made the learning even more impactful for me.  Some of these discussions have been face to face while others have been via email or twitter.  I'm relatively new to twitter, but the impact it has had on how I think about our school is incredible.  Now I'm starting my own blog because of the impact of many of the links from people I follow on twitter.  I look forward to your feedback.

Building leaders

The title "Building leaders" has two different meanings to me.  The first references building staff to be leaders in the school.  The second references staff who are building leaders in the school.  Something occurred last week that made me want to discuss building leaders, but I'll get back to that at the end.
I think that part of my job as a principal is to build leaders in the school.  I see all staff having the ability to lead in some way or another in the school.  They just need the opportunity to experience what being a leader is all about.  The trick is trying to find the experiences in which the staff member will be a successful leader.  I try to provide opportunities for staff on grade level or school teams.  Sometimes the staff members feel comfortable to lead and sometimes they don't.  I can't give up on providing them the opportunities.  I must continue to provide support and encouragement.  Being a leader is not easy and it isn't always a positive experience.  I do know, however, that when I have a good experience as a leader, I want to take on another opportunity to lead.
Now I'd like to discuss the thing that occurred to me last week that brought me to writing this blog post.  As with most principals, I have meetings that I need to attend.  Most of the meetings are called by me.  Last week I was tutoring some 5th graders in math before school.  I found out, after the fact, that I had missed a meeting with members of the school's RtI team.  It wasn't on my schedule because they had set the meeting without me.  At first I was upset because I wanted to be at the meeting with them.  It was a selfish response.  I should have been happy that they met without me.  The RtI team recognizes the importance of their work so they got together without me to discuss how they will share the information with the entire staff next month.  They are definitely leading the way with RtI in the school.  I have provided the opportunity and the support and the teachers have taken on the leadership role.  They are building leaders.
This is but one example of the building leaders in our school.  There are many more examples.  I need to continue to provide the opportunities, support, and encouragement to building leaders, with regards to both meanings of "building leaders".