What are Your Blind Spots?

I had the privilege of attending an amazing workshop on Monday with author and researcher Jane Kise.  It was a part of our Elmhurst D205 Professional Learning Strand initiative where teachers get to pick one topic and delve deeply into it throughout the year.  Her presentation was part of the Teacher Leadership cohort, but could have applied to any of the other four strands – Innovation, Inquiry, Behavioral Health, or Workshop Model.

The part that I found most fascinating was regarding people’s psychological preferences and how that affects pretty much every aspect of life.   She discussed four different types and had us consider which type we were.  

  • Sensing & Thinking  
  • Sensing & Feeling
  • Intuition & Feeling
  • Intuition & Thinking

We then got into groups with others who approach the world like we do and discussed the following prompts:

  • Three ways we contribute to teacher efficacy
  • If you want to influence us please…
  • And please don’t…

It was amazing how easy it was to consider these ideas with like-minded individuals and how normal it made the little things that I had thought were weird quirks about myself seem.  I am an Intuition/Thinking type so I thrive on seeing the Big Picture.  I think about future implications and design coherent plans based on those ideas.  I love challenges and many times prefer to work alone.   It was funny answering the last two bullets because we all immediately said people who influence us have to be knowledgeable and if someone doesn’t have a plan it makes us go crazy.  

If you are reading this right now and thinking, “Wait…doesn’t everyone think this way?” then you might be an intuitive thinker.  If you are wondering why I didn’t list considering the feelings of others as important, then you might be a Sensing & Feeling type or one of the others.  The important thing to remember is that there isn’t “one best type.”  It’s just related to our preferences and how we approach things.  Like being right or left-handed, our tendency is innate, but we can learn the others.

Our preferences connect with our strengths, but can also be a source of our blind spots.  When we get so used to thinking about things and approaching them the same way we may be missing out on better ways of doing something or we may be ostracizing others causing resistance to new ideas.  One way to avoid our blind spots is to regularly collaborate and ask for feedback from trusted colleagues who have a different lens.  If you are leading a team (or classroom of students), checking in regularly with a survey or meeting is another way.  Try to create groups that include people who have diverse perspectives.  If this is not possible, consider what blind spots the group may have and work to address them when making decisions.

As a principal, I have started asking for feedback from my staff at the end of each trimester through a survey.   It is broken down into four categories to better pinpoint our strengths and areas for growth:  Operations/Logistics, Communication, Professional Learning/Instructional Leadership, & Relationships.  (click here for a copy)  I review the results independently for individual reflection, and then meet with my leadership team to create responsive plans.  The more I think about this I am realizing the importance of connecting with a coach or colleague in a different building who approaches leadership from a different lens to help me with regular reflection.

It’s impossible to think about blindspots as a leader without considering classroom implications.  What are our teaching tendencies?  Creating predictable structures and routines is a hallmark of good teaching, but what might we be missing if we always do things the exact same way?  When is it appropriate and how often are we asking students for feedback on our classroom?  If a student is struggling, is it because they lack knowledge or is it because we’re not structuring learning experiences in a way that connects with them?  

I’m not advocating changing every moment of the day to fit each child’s preference.  Just like learning to write with the opposite hand, kids can learn to work in a variety of non-preferred structures.   However, considering that they may approach or think about the world in a different way than the way we are structuring learning might help us to figure out the puzzle of students who appear unreachable or disengaged.  For example, a student who views the world through a Sensing-Thinking lens craves structure, immediate feedback, organization, and right or wrong answers.  If your classroom is filled with mostly open-ended projects, explorations and collaborative work this student may start to feel frustrated with school even though you are using practices that most students adore.   Giving students opportunities to work in structures that connect with their lens will help to engage all learners in school.  A simple way to do this is to offer choice throughout the day in your classroom.  If you are interested in learning more about the four lenses and how they connect to choices you might offer in the classroom, click here.  

Our strengths are what make us individually great, but considering our blindspots and being open to feedback and other perspectives will create a place where everyone’s greatness is maximized.  

 

How Administrators Can Support Teacher Leaders in Their Schools

Jeffery E. Frieden, an educator, and blogger I greatly admire put out this tweet in February:

Friedman quote

I have to admit the first time I read it I thought to myself, what on earth would cause an administrator to not support the efforts of a staff member to create meaningful change for students?? Since I began my administrative career in Elmhurst District 205 innovation has been at the forefront of what we do.  Our belief statement about curriculum and instruction literally says,

“Students learn through innovative, engaged teaching methodologies taught by highly qualified, dedicated and inspiring professionals.” -Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205

For me, supporting innovative ideas of educators is one of my absolute favorite parts of my job.  (Not to be completely lame, but my tagline on Twitter literally reads, “You had me at, “I’ve got this idea.”)  Doesn’t every administrator feel that way?

As the responses began to unfold I realized the naivete of that thought.  There were valid questions and points brought up from both teachers and administrators demonstrating varying perspectives on the topic.  It was a rich discussion that ultimately left me evaluating and reflecting on my own perspective and approach.

Common Fears, Beliefs & Questions

It was clear from the responses that everyone was on the same page as far as the focus should always be on helping students. However, there appeared to be a major dichotomy from many teachers and administrators as to how to why innovative ideas weren’t flourishing.

From the administrator perspective, many responses included a desire to have data to back up the idea, a well thought out plan of execution and a connection to the district or school goals.  Making sure that educators had support or research behind their ideas was a theme that popped up repeatedly.  When they said no to an idea it was because it wasn’t clearly thought out or didn’t have a connection to district outcomes.  

Teachers who responded wanted to feel heard by their administrators.  Many expressed that they felt like innovation was a defeated effort before they started because their administrator was not open to new ideas.  They wanted their ideas to be met with enthusiasm, support and thoughtful questions that helped them bring their idea to life.  They wanted a leader that not only says we support innovative ideas, but also supports the words with action.

The Plan

Reflecting on the comments made in this thread I realize that I have been lucky in my teacher/administrator relationships.  I had administrators who either left me to my own accord to do what I knew was best for kids or leaders who regularly gave me the green light on my ideas.  As a result, I felt trusted, empowered, and inspired in the places I worked.  

As a new administrator, I hope to continue this approach to supporting innovation, but also think that based on some of the tweets I read I might be missing some structural pieces.  By incorporating these pieces, my hope is that the innovation started by one becomes more widespread leading to more success in students.

1. The Why

Tell me why you want to implement the idea you are bringing.  Is it based on the interests of your students?  A problem you are seeing in your classroom that you’d like to solve?  Something related to our mission and vision? An article you read?  Where is the idea coming from?

2.  The Plan

This is more of an overall plan as opposed to a step by step.  How do you plan on bringing your idea to life?  Who will this idea impact in your class?  What’s an estimated timeline?  Tell me about your idea so I can share in your enthusiasm. 🙂

3.  What You Need from Me

Is there anything I can do to support you?  Do you need extra materials?  Feedback on your idea?  A partner to implement it with?  Reassurance from me that it’s ok if it doesn’t go according to plan?

4.  How You’re Going to Evaluate it

How will you know if it’s a success?  This part is more about thinking about the outcomes and how we’ll know if the students have met them.  Sometimes it’s anecdotal notes with specific behaviors or mindsets to be observed, student reflections on the work or even a project of some sort.  I don’t mean that you have to give every student a formal assessment, unless that makes sense for the idea you’ve created.

5.  How You’re Going to Share it With Others

One of the problems that I’ve seen happen over and over is that we amazing things going on all over our building on a daily basis, but administrators or coaches are the only ones who get to witness it.  How are you going to share your brilliance with our staff?  It could be something as simple as sharing it on social media and tagging it with our school # or as involved as presenting about it at a staff meeting or Late Arrival.  

Final Thoughts

Innovation in schools is critical to the success of our students.  Our kids are constantly changing and we need to make sure that we are regularly reflecting and shifting instruction to ensure their needs are met and their strengths are grown.  This starts with administrators supporting staff in taking risks.  This is more than saying we are innovative, it’s taken action steps and following through by supporting them through the process.  

I was lucky enough to be able to speak to Jeff directly about this idea in his podcast, Dear Teacher Don’t Give Up! If you’d like to hear more regarding both of our thoughts on the topic of teacher leadership and innovation, please click here.  (As a side note, both his podcast and blog are chalked full of inspiration and great ideas to use in the classroom. If this topic doesn’t interest you, I’d highly recommend checking out others.)

Wildly Important Goals: Calm in the Chaos

This past Thursday I attended a training on evaluating administrators.  As much as I enjoyed talking with my peers and listening to the presenter, the part that was most meaningful was learning about a concept called, “Wildly Important Goals” from the book, The Four Disciplines of Execution by Covey, McChesney, & Huling.

The beginning of the year is hectic for educators, and it can make you feel like although you are working insanely hard and barely sitting every day, your ToDo List never seems to get any smaller.  When I was a teacher I had experience and routines in place that helped to counteract this, but as a new administrator I’m still figuring things out.  I’ve been questioning my ability to execute, much less ever be good at all of the tasks required of a principal.

So when the presenter played this video about the first discipline of the book, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm.  It was like someone had been reading my mind and had given me that plan of execution I had been experimenting with, but never really successfully accomplishing.

Like the title says, there are four disciplines that are key to exceptional leadership.  Discipline 1 is the Discipline of Focus.  Mastering it will make the whirlwind of tasks (expected or unexpected) that can be all-consuming to a leader (or teacher), become not only more manageable, but resulting in the achievement of our loftiest goals.   The authors argue that amazing results can only happen if we are clear on what matters most.

So how do we do this?

Start with creating a Wildly Important Goal (WIG).  Ask yourself, “If everything else remained, what one achievement would make everything else seem secondary?” It is way harder than you might think to come up with this goal, but once you do, you focus all of your effort on the tasks related to accomplishing it.  The other tasks you have to complete you are given permission to put forth minimal effort to complete.

I love the analogy given in the video of the jobs of an air traffic controller. It may seem like EVERYTHING is critical in this job, but really the laser focus must be on the plane that is trying to land so that it gets on the ground safely.  A much smaller amount of effort is spent on making sure the other planes do not crash.  As a lifelong perfectionist, this one analogy was the most calming and reassuring.

In creating my WIG, I thought about the goal we set as a staff on the first institute day this year of Unlimited Growth & Connection.  What was my role in this endeavor?  Where do I want to focus all of my efforts so that this goal is achieved by all stakeholders?  When I started breaking these two things down, I realized that in order for students & staff to have unlimited growth they need to know their strengths.  The only way this could happen was by me developing strong relationships with everyone involved in our school.

My Wildly Important Goal for this year is making sure that every learner (adult and child) in my school community ends the year knowing at least one strength they are incredibly talented at.  This is not going to be an effort that I can do alone.  It will definitely be a team effort including all staff members as well as our parent community.

To ensure that my WIG becomes a reality, I have the following action steps planned for the rest of the first trimester:

  1.  Unless I have a meeting, be outside talking with students both before and after school.  Be present at recess/lunch for the same reason.
  2. Block out time daily in my calendar to be in classrooms.  When I’m in classrooms give explicit feedback to students about what they are doing well.  When I leave, send a positive email to staff or tweet out their awesomeness.
  3. Create a lunch schedule where every student in the school is invited at some point throughout the year to eat lunch with the principal.
  4. Continue the “Positive Phone Calls Home” on Fridays where I call families to share with them the good news that their teacher nominated them to receive a phone call home based on something special they have done.
  5. Provide time for our staff during institute days and staff meetings to track how much they know about students both personally and academically and collaborate with their peers with action steps.  At our Late Arrival on Wednesday, teachers had time to fill out this template (or this one) and collaborate with peers to get the process started.
  6. Provide professional learning opportunities focused on giving feedback in both teacher to student and student to student.
  7. Before and after school walk around the building and check in with staff members to find out their successes, ideas and challenges that they may want assistance with.
  8. Ask for feedback from staff, students, and the community.  How well do they think I know them or their child?  How do they know?  What are suggestions for improvement?

The next three steps in the process involve tracking lead behaviors (action steps), making progress visible and having regular accountability talks.  For me, the lead behaviors I plan on tracking are how much I know about each staff member and how often have I given them positive feedback.  I also plan on keeping track of everything I know about students.  I have a dream of a giant wall in my office with a picture of each student and a place to record things I know, but I’m guessing a binder with a class list including pictures is more realistic.  At the end of each day, I’ll flip through the pages and jot a few notes.  For staff, I’m going to have a stapled packet of our staff list with one page for each week of school.  Every time I visit a classroom I’ll put a checkmark next to the staff members’ name followed by an email with positive feedback.  I have used this practice regularly in the past and it is a great tool to track how much I know about their strengths.

I recognize that this sounds like I have just given myself a TON of extra work to do, but what it has really done is prioritized what is important each day.  It’s not that I won’t do the other logistical things that are required to make the building work well or if a crisis arises I won’t help out, but I’m not going to expend the majority of my energy on them.

Prior to this training I used a methodology I learned from James Clear (check out his website here -it is awesome) where you prioritize three main tasks of the day and start each day putting forth all of your energy towards them.  I liked this approach because it helped me feel a sense of accomplishment each day.  However, many times I struggled with prioritizing what were the 3 most important things.

Layering in this new approach is going to elevate this process and give me the confidence I need to execute my Wildly Important Goal.  I look forward to sharing with you the progress along the way of every learner at Jefferson knowing his or her strength.  Thanks in advance for being my regular accountability check-in. 🙂

A Million Dreams: Creating a Shared Vision with Students, Parents, & Teachers

I wouldn’t really describe myself as someone who cries easily, but as the closing melody of “A Million Dreams” began to play I found myself overcome with emotion, unable to hold back tears.  Looking out across the audience of parents, students, and teachers I realized that the moment that we had been planning for months had arrived and the true journey was about to begin.

The Spark

It all started last fall when author Katie Martin visited our school to talk with our teachers about her amazing book Learner-Centered Innovation. (Side Note:  If you have not read this book, I highly recommend it.  Check it out here.)  As part of the day she held a workshop with our parents that included conversations about our own school experiences, what we really want for our children, current success indicators vs. what we truly value and messages from parents to the teachers.

IMG_2885

There were tears at this event as well as many participants realized that the message they were sending in their language and actions didn’t match the future that they deeply wanted for their children.  Our community found connections in shared memories of their own school experiences, dreams for their kids, and what they valued most in education.  They created new language stems to use with their children that better matched their desired outcome of a growth mindset, kindness, and empathy.

IMG_2878

What I found to be most powerful about the workshop evolved out of one of the last questions:  What do you want to share with the teachers?  Smiles ensued as parents wrote down positive messages of support, a desire to be a collaborative partner, and deep admiration for the work that they do.  They also discussed a need for increased communication due to the recent changes including a no homework policy, Standards-Based Reporting and a workshop approach to the classroom.

I walked away from that day with my mind brimming with ideas.  We collected a lot of great information, but I knew the conversation couldn’t stop there.  We needed to engage more people, collect more feedback and continue the dialogue started that day. The result could be a shared vision that went beyond just our district or school by integrating all of the stakeholders in our community.  This would pervade everything we did and shape the culture of our school.

Beginning Stages of the Work

Knowing that a great way to engage the parent community was to first go through our PTA, I reached out to Erin Stratton, our dynamic PTA president.  An organizational ninja, filled with ideas and always willing to lend a helping hand, she has been such an asset to our school both inside and out.

When I initially proposed the idea of engaging families in creating a shared vision of the school she agreed with me that this was a great idea, but posed a really great question:

How are you going to engage all stakeholders?  Not just the ones who come to all of the meetings.  How will you ensure that all voices are heard?

This question literally drove the rest of our conversation for the meeting as we brainstormed ways to get more people to come.  We talked about typical ideas like making it fun, including food and maybe even holding it off school property so that we could include an adult beverage or two.  What really struck me though was Erin’s honest conversation with me about the need to open up the school, give parents a window into what was happening in the classroom.  Parents will always come if it is somehow connected to the kids and they can gain a greater understanding of how their children are learning.

This got the wheels turning in my mind again.  I thought about doing a learning fair where we opened up the entire school and students could pick any sort of way they wanted to demonstrate their learning.  Parents could move around the school, talk to the teachers and students, and get a sense of what learning looked like.  After they did this we would have break out rooms to discuss what they saw and talk about what resonated and also other ideas they had.

The biggest obstacle I saw with this was time.   When would students work on these projects?  If it was going to be during the school day how would teachers feel about giving up some of their instructional time to facilitate these projects?  The other tricky component would be asking teachers to give up a night for essentially another Open House at our school.

At the end of the meeting, we talked about building excitement for the event and advertising it to our community.  I don’t remember whose idea it initially was, but we decided that some sort of promotional video that involved students would be a great idea to spark conversation and get people interested.  It would include snippets of instruction as well as some sound bites.  I told Erin I would reach out to Kate Allt in our communications department to help produce it.

We also sketched out some questions that we wanted to ask parents at the event to spark the conversation and decided that we would have a sign-up that night for parents to join a Shared Vision Committee that would do the work of putting the vision into action.  The questions we initially thought we would ask were:

What resonated with you about what you saw in the video?

What was your experience like in school?  What do you still use now?

What do you wish they would have learned in school?

What do you most value for their children in school?

What is your vision for your child’s future?  

Hawthorne wishes for the school…

As Erin left the meeting I was excited about the work that was before me, but nervous about how it would actually all play out.  The idea of a movie about our school really resonated with me and I started thinking it could go beyond just the promo and be the focus of the evening.  I decided to reach out to Katie Martin to get her feedback on the idea and sent her an email with an outline of the plan.  She liked the idea of inviting the community to a movie night that would spark conversation about a shared vision for our school, but added one piece of advice that ended up changing the trajectory of the film:

“I think you should definitely invite students to the movie night and see if a few of them can help you out the movie together. Their insights throughout the process would be valuable.”

I couldn’t believe I hadn’t considered this.  I was currently working with a group of 5th grade students, The Hawthorne Hawkeye (YouTube Club as the kids affectionately named it), who were learning about video production with the goal of creating 5-10 minute videos about each classroom in our school.  We had spent most of the year working on building their skills and understanding of film, but hadn’t actually started creating the mini-documentaries yet.  They would be the perfect group to do the work of telling our school’s story.

Excited (yes, I know I get excited a lot), I reached back out to Erin to meet up again and talk to her about the slight shift in plans.  She was in agreement that this was a good plan and we sketched out a tentative agenda for a “Movie Premiere Night” complete with popcorn, tickets to the event and maybe even a red carpet.  The attendees (parents & teachers & involved students) would first watch the film and then meet in break-out sessions to discuss the questions listed above.  After this, groups would carousel around to read other groups responses and we would create a list of themes.  There would be a sign-up sheet for anyone who was interested in continuing the conversation and actually putting the vision into action. We decided to replace the PTA meeting on February 19th with the premiere which was a little over 3 months away.

Getting the Students Involved

Creating the video with the students was a three-step process with many intricate details and nuances along the way.  I sincerely wish that I could say that the students drove the entire process, but with the time crunch and the fact that I could only meet with them once a week, I did take control of facilitating and designing of the structure and process.

Because asking good questions was going to be key to building a great film we started there, brainstorming questions for both our teachers and parents.  Based on what we captured in interviews, it was our intention to then go in and capture “B Roll Footage” of classroom instruction that matched what the interviewees said.

In designing the questions I told the students that we wanted to capture what was positive about learning at our school, what made Hawthorne unique and what are some hopes for the future.  After working in partnerships to come up with ideas, our teacher questions ended up as the following:

  1. How long have you been teaching at Hawthorne and why did you become a teacher?
  2. What is your favorite thing about teaching or What’s your favorite teaching moment?
  3. What are attributes that you think a good learner should have?
  4. What is your favorite thing about Hawthorne school?
  5. What do you expect from your students?
  6. Is there something that you want your kids to learn that you don’t teach? If so, what is it?
  7. Did you like school when you were a kid?  If so, what was your favorite subject?
  8. What is your favorite subject to teach?  Why?
  9. What is your ideal classroom or school?

We then set up a schedule for teachers to sign-up to be interviewed during their lunch hour in our library and TRC.  The students worked in teams of two to interview each teacher, one working the camera and the other being the interviewer.  Mr. Chambers was kind enough to send over York High School students from Ytv to mentor the students prior to this in how to use the cameras and tips for capturing the best shots.  I could see from the way that the students operated behind the camera as well as performed in front of it that this had a lasting effect on their work.

We did not have every teacher sign-up, but I did have teachers reach out to say they would have participated if all the slots weren’t already full.  Our staff is amazing at jumping in and contributing to a variety of opportunities in our building.  If we ever did this again, I would try to accommodate them all.

After Winter Break, we began the grueling process of interviewing students and collecting classroom footage.  For the classroom work, we had the teachers sign up over a period of three days for 1-2 students plus myself to come in and record in their classroom for about an hour.  We didn’t give them any specific parameters, only that it should represent learning in your classroom and that it didn’t have to be fancy.   We ended up with at least one teacher volunteering in every grade level and even had a few specials sign up.

When it came to the actual recording, one of the students would man the stationary camera while another would capture more candid footage.  At about halfway through the time the students would move outside of the classroom and would pull students to be interviewed to find out what was happening in the lesson from their perspective.  They also asked them the following questions that the group had developed during one of our meetings:

  1.  How do you learn best?
  2. What do you wish you got to do more of in school?
  3. What do you want to be when you grow up or what problem do you want to solve in the world around you?
  4. What is your favorite subject and why?
  5. What is the best thing about your grade level and why?
  6. What is one thing you would change about Hawthorne?

We also interviewed students during lunch and recess time with these same questions either individually, in a partnership or in a small group.

Although I had initially wanted the students to be involved in the parent interview portion as well, scheduling and time got in the way and I ended up creating the questions with feedback from Erin Stratton.  We decided it would be best to send out a Google forms survey to the parents to pull quotes from first.  The last question asked participants if they would be willing to be interviewed on camera answering these questions.  We used responses to that question to invite parents in to ask them some of the same questions, plus a few more.

  1. How would you describe learning at Hawthorne School?
  2. What does Hawthorne School do really well?
  3. What is your greatest dream for your children?
  4. How does Hawthorne help your child to reach that dream?
  5. What do you want to share with the teachers at Hawthorne?
  6. When you imagine the ideal school experience for your child, what does that look like?
  7. My favorite moment or favorite experience at Hawthorne School is…
  8. How do you think Hawthorne is different from other schools in or out of District 205?
  9. What do you wish Hawthorne did more of?
  10. What was school like for you growing up?

One of the things I learned in conducting the parent interviews was how amazing it is to sit 1:1 with a parent and talk about their experience in the school.  I met with parents who had children at Hawthorne from 1 year to 15!  It was incredibly insightful to hear either viewpoint and moving forward I would like to start scheduling these annually to get an idea of where we’ve been and also where we want to go.  If I was still a teacher, I would do the same practice, but with parents of students in my classroom.  Surveys are great, but you miss out on some of the nuances and ability to probe more deeply.

The Editing Process

The editing process went through several iterations.  The students quickly discovered that looking through film to find interesting quotes and clips was not as fun as doing the recording itself.  These meetings tended to drag and I was honestly a little worried that we would ever finish based on this progress.

What made a huge difference was the way that we ended up organizing the way that we took notes on the clips.  Instead of the original template that looked like this:

chart 1

 

I ended up making a specific template for each group we interviewed with a section for each question.  The students then signed up for the question they would be paying attention to as they listened to the interviews.  (Try to picture the example below with a section for each question as well as the stakeholder.)

chart 5

 

This expedited the process significantly because it gave students something to focus on.  I also made a copy of the questions for each of the groups for writing down specific quotes that we might turn into quote slides in the documentary.

When it came time to decide on the structure of the video itself we went through and looked for themes in the questions and decided to organize the documentary that way. Here are a few examples of where we started:

 

Chart 6Chart 7

By organizing all of our ideas ahead of time we were able to put the actual video together in much less time than if we had just input all of the videos into WeVideo and tried pulling clips as we went.

One huge obstacle to consider if you are considering having students do something like this with WeVideo is that the students can’t all simultaneously work on the same project at one time, even if it is in collaboration mode.  To solve this problem and not waste students time during lunch I had them each sign up for individual times they would come down to my office throughout the day to work on the project importing clips or adding in design style like transitions, music etc.   I am sincerely grateful for one student in particular who I am pretty much convinced is the next Steven Spielberg with his creative genius and ability to figure out any video creation obstacle that we needed to overcome.

The Premiere

If I thought Erin Stratton was a creative and organizational ninja before this process started, working with her on this project only reinforced that idea tenfold.   Leading up to the event she dropped everything to come in, talk on the phone or even text about ideas.  Her questions and ideas added incredible value to the focus of the evening as well as the smooth organization.

While OUT OF TOWN, she continued to work behind the scenes to ensure that this event was a success.  She helped organize parent volunteers to facilitate the post-film discussion, recruited PTA President-Elect Jennie Beal to help with set-up and coordination for the night including assigning tables, decorations and food, and somehow managed to get back to help set up for the evening.

The final plan for the night ended up being the following:

Facilitation Guide

Prior to the event starting, I met with the 10 table leaders to discuss how they would facilitate the discussion based on the guide.  We were expecting around 100 people who RSVP’d including parents, teachers and students who were involved in the making of the film.  We ended up with less than this number, but the conversation had by those involved was a powerful one.

After watching the documentary (huge applause, happy tears), tables started out talking about what resonated with them from the film.  Many agreed with the positive messages about our school being one that focuses on the needs of the students.  They smiled as they shared stories of the impact that particular teachers had had on their children and even discussed behaviors of teachers who had the opposite effect (I did not hear specific names used).  I overheard conversations about liking our workshop model approach and how their children come home happy with school.

What sparked an interesting debate was our recent “No Homework” policy.  Some parents thought that this was a great new policy because their children have so much they’re involved in after school and this gave them back more family time.  On the flip side, parents who also had middle school and high school students were concerned that this wasn’t preparing students to develop organizational structures and responsibility when they start getting homework again as they are older.

Another interesting conversation that occurred at one of the tables came out of a conversation about bringing in more experts from the community to talk about the work they were doing.  Some parents thought that we needed to do more of this because it would expose students to career ideas for their future.  Another parent brought up the point that we spend a lot of time focusing on preparing students to be “career and college ready,” but we are missing out on the development of the whole child if we only focus our efforts there.  It was an interesting conversation for sure and one that I would like to continue.

The cumulating work of each table was to create two posters based on the following:

Imagine a school where…

Then we need leaders who…

Then we need teachers who…

Then we need parents who…

I loved hearing tables debate back and forth about what was essential for our students and what we might need to make that happen.  It was also amazing to hear families say, well, we already do a lot of these things.  I want to make sure you know that this is not a criticism, but just our best ideas.  A few of the posters created:

I had many amazing conversations that night with parents.  One of my favorites came from a parent who was teaching a religion class and had started reading every Smokey Daniels book she could get her hands on.  It was so fun talking to her about inquiry and how passionate she had become about instruction through this process.  She jokingly mentioned that maybe parents could come to some of the staff development workshops that we did.  I seriously thought this was a fantastic idea and wasn’t sure why we didn’t do this more!  (Side note:  I already picked up Upstanders and am enjoying it immensely)

After the Shared Vision Night, I took the posters and typed them up into this document.  The starred items are ones that had additional markings on the posters indicating that more than just one group agreed with that statement when they did the gallery walk.  Just like the day that Katie Martin visited our school, the themes that stood out were more greatly related to students truly enjoying learning, developing character and strong relationships being created among all parties.

The Work is Just Beginning

As much fun as it was working with the students to create the school documentary, the true work begins now.  As you can see from the charts from the evening there are so many ideas for what our ideal school might look like and what teachers, parents, and leaders might need to do to achieve that dream.  The Shared Vision Committee will be meeting soon to discuss:

  1. What are the common themes from each of the sections?
  2. What do we already do well?
  3. What are areas for growth?
  4. What are our next steps in achieving our goals?

My greatest takeaway from this work is the importance of everyone having a voice in what goes on in our schools.  In Learner-Centered Innovation, Katie Martin articulates

“If we want to better align our schools with the world we live in and develop the type of learners and people that will be productive citizens, administrators, teachers, families, and the greater community must work together to develop a shared understanding of the desired outcomes for students and align the vision, policies, and practices.”

Schools are the center of the community.  They have great potential to connect those who might not otherwise connect, to bridge differences thought perhaps previously impossible, to create unimaginable and limitless possibilities for those they serve. As educational leaders, we can no longer sit behind the walls of our building developing plans based solely on academic outcomes related to levels of achievement.  When we engage all voices, we go beyond academics and get to the dreams of the human beings we serve and start the journey towards the world we want to create.

If you are interested in watching either of the videos you can see them here:

Full Documentary (40 minutes)

5 Minute Ending “A Million Dreams” Song (5 minutes)

A Few More Shout-Outs

You may have already surmised this from the rest of the story, but a key component of this process was generating help from others, sometimes by asking, and other times being the grateful benefactor of an awesome human being who hears a need and reaches out.

The first part I am referring to is our awesome music teacher, Ms. Cunanan.  She is seriously one of the most generous and creative human beings I have come into contact with in education.  Last year she helped myself and our instructional coach out when we were creating an end of the year video for the staff by having the choir record a song that we had written a parody to about all of the amazing instruction our teachers were doing.  What’s even more amazing she didn’t ask any questions, she just said yes and did it.  This year was no different.

I think I asked her in January if she thought that the choir would be able to learn the song, “A Million Dreams” and be ready to record it by February she didn’t hesitate.  She found a lead singer, practiced regularly with the students, organized permission slips for the kids to record at York High School one morning and essentially took it over.  I honestly couldn’t have organized it any better.  I definitely couldn’t have gotten 40 students ready to record in the record time that she did.  THANK YOU Ms. Cunanan and the Hawthorne choir for practicing relentlessly during your lunch recess to produce such a beautiful tune!

This brings me to my next musical genius, Mr. Chris Gemkow, the music production teacher at York High School.  Last year he helped myself and a group of students to record a song for our “21st Century Learning” video for teachers at Lincoln at the end of the year.  It was such a wonderful experience and I was excited for the opportunity to work with him again.  The morning of the recording he gave up his own time to set up the sound booth to record almost 40 students plus one soloist.  After this he produced the song and got it back to me within a week!  Seriously blown away by his kindness!

Finally, there is ZERO way this video would have happened if it weren’t for the amazing and incredibly talented, Mrs. Leban, our creative tech teacher at Sandburg, one of our middle schools.  (Side Note:  If you do not follow her on YouTube you are missing out!)  She actually reached out to me about WeVideo after hearing me talk about my technology dilemma with students using the Chromebooks in this process.  I had been talking about it on one of the SuperCharged Learning podcasts and she emailed me to get together. We met during her lunch/plan time one day and I am sincerely grateful for her help!