Passion Driven Schools

Recently a colleague shared a video with me from Brendon Burchard. If you’re not familiar with Burchard, he is a motivational speaker. If you are anything like me, the thought of a motivational speaker makes you cringe a little and be more than a touch suspicious. This guy, though, is very engaging and seems to be a down-to-earth kind of guy. Anyway, the video pokes fun at SMART goals. Everyone in education knows about SMARTgoals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and trackable. They are a great way to set goals for many things. Burchard, though, introduces the idea of DUMB goals. His assertion is that our goals have to be created on a larger scale. Our goals should be about our Dreams; our destiny, they should be uplifting, they should be method friendly – they should have practices that lead to mastery, they should be behavior triggered. If you want to know more about that, hit the link.

This video got me thinking in terms of education. Every school now talks about being data driven. But weren’t we always data driven? Didn’t we always look at where kids were and try to move them forward? Maybe not. But dumb goals got me thinking about more grandiose goals, which got me thinking about passion. Passion, in my opinion, is what makes good schools great and bad schools better. If we somehow could measure the passion of all the players in a district could we find a correlation with achievement? A correlation with success ten years after graduation? A connection to the number of alumni who feel joy on a daily basis?

I had the pleasure of hearing George Couros speak at ISTE 2015 in Philadelphia. In a huge building full of people talking about being technology oriented and data driven, Couros talked about being a leader and being present for students and teachers. This is a passionate guy. He is passionate about not only students but about what we do to better reach our students. On more than one occasion he was practically moved to tears as was the audience. And he made us laugh and think. As Jimmy Valvano said in that famous speech, “that’s a good day!” And talk about passion, you probably won’t find a more impassioned than Valvano’s.

Another leader that I respect a lot is Todd Whitaker. Mr. Whitaker wrote, among other thing, What Great Principals Do Differently. He is another guy who is passionate in making schools great places for kids. In his books he talks about connecting with kids, with teachers, and with parents. This is his answer to being a great principal. Although he doesn’t use those words, he talks about making it cool to care. He also speaks about always doing what is best for kids. That is an old and tired saying among administrators but I love this quote: As a leader, it’s essential that you develop a clear vision and focus…if two people both make decisions based on what is best for students, they never disagree, even when they disagree.

So here is where I am: Passion. That is what makes us great or takes us from good to great. Or it at least makes us better. It seems odd in this day and age but we need to love more. We need to love our kids, our peers, our leaders, our parents. We need to be passionate about what we do. We need to bring the joy everyday as Mr. Burchard would say. And we have to do it methodically. My daughters like to say, “I do _____ like it’s my job.” We need to love and care, bring joy and passion like it is our job. Because it is our job. I can go on and on about specific cases where kids don’t get the love they need, they never feel that they are good enough, they are deprived of their basic needs, they never have a chance to use their voice. Remember Maslow: The need to feel secure and cared for trumps all other needs except the basics of food, air, water and shelter. We need to be more passionate and with that comes compassion. Love those on the journey with you. You have no idea what baggage they are carrying, what struggles they have, the road that they are travelling. Most of us would never dare to attempt to walk a mile in the shoes of some of our charges.

In this vein, I propose a Passion driven school or a passion focused school. We have data by the bushel. More data than most of us can sift through. What we need more of is passion. We need to love what we do and we need to bring the joy every day. That is a challenge, not only to you but to myself. Bring the joy; bring the passion. Everyday, methodically, purposefully like it’s your job. Because it is.

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Protect Your Brand

There has been a lot of chatter recently on Twitter concerning ‘branding.’ I never really thought about branding and really thought it was a bunch of crap. That is until I read this tweet:

Now that makes sense to me.It is a wake up call to all of us and most definitely a new way to portray social media to tweens and teens.

For professionals, we can talk about having separate accounts for professional use and private use but the reality is that whatever we put out there represents us. We can’t hide behind psuedonyms or private accounts. We can, I guess, but it doesn’t change who we are. Whatever we put out there impacts our brand. I don’t think there is any positive or negative; it is just a representation of who we are. As educators and professionals we should strive for transparency in our tweets, Facebook posts, blogs, etc. We should put out there who we truly are and what we truly believe so that when others read our content, they know who we really are.

This rings true for our schools’ social media platforms. The content creators for our schools should be putting out the message that this is who we are. This is what we believe and this is what we strive to do for students.This is the positive side of social media that many districts still fear.

Mr. Whitby shared the above tweet also. How true! We are being branded in public education on a daily basis. This is our opportunity to take the bull by the horns and put our content out there. There is no question as to the power of social media. Parents are on. Taxpayers are on. Students are on. We can touch our worlds in 140 characters or less and change our brands for the better.

The second thought I have on branding is that it is important that students know this information too. On a daily basis they are building their brand. What they say and post tells the world who they are and how they want the world to see them. For the most part I think kids are who they really are more often on social media than in everyday life. They should remember that this is who the world sees. That’s right, kids, the whole freakin’ world. Protect your tweets but know this: What you say is who you are or who you want to be no matter whether the general public can see it or not.

I’ll retire now with one final tweet from Dr. Weston. In both of the instances in this post, I don’t mean for anyone to be different than who they are. The fake you is hard to maintain and very stressful. {Ever watch Catfish?). The real you is your brand. Keep it safe!

 

Are Teacher Interviews Better Than a Coin Flip?

Interviews are a poor indicator of success. Why not abandon this expensive, old-fashioned practice and just hire the next person who walks in the door?

Read more: http://www.inc.com/margaret-heffernan/hiring-recruiting-forget-interviews-hire-anyone.html#ixzz39FFS1eyG

Wow! Can that really be true when we are talking about teachers?

After posting my previous blog post, The Status Quo, I received an email from a long time reader of the blog with some challenging follow up. He’s that kind of guy who like to keep me on my toes. In his email he questioned the effectiveness of the interview in hiring new teachers. A great point and something that I have struggled with for several years.

As I responded to him, I have had mixed success with the interview process. I have been on teams that hired candidates who did exceptionally well in the interview and the faltered in the classroom. I was on a team as an assistant principal when we made the decision to hire a candidate based on her classroom experience although she had a terrible interview. That teacher eventually resigned rather that be let go. I also was on a team that brought in a candidate to teach a lesson to a live class. She was ten minutes late, her lesson was barely adequate and the principal decided to offer her the position anyway. For the next year she took a tremendous amount of our time and eventually her  position was eliminated y the superintendent.

If you are going out to the web to look for ways to make the interview more relevant to hiring teachers, good luck. Most everything out there is based on business models which aren’t always the same. In business there is more upward mobility and a first year candidate doesn’t necessarily need the same skill set as a 25 year employee. In teaching everyone needs the same set of basic skills. In business your turnover rate is probably hire than in education. At least in my district, we hire with the intent that this is a long term relationship. Those two differences bring about some challenges in education that we don’t always see somewhere else.

Looking through the web I have managed to mine a couple of ideas that could improve the hiring of teachers. First, applicants will be at their best in the interview. They will anticipate your question and have a prepackaged response. I try to cut through that by asking some questions that will take them out of their comfort zone. I thought of that idea after reading through some supposed Google interview questions. I wouldn’t get away with those questions but I have come up with some questions that make the candidate think on their feet: Tell us something that we wouldn’t know about you from reading your resume, What book do you think everyone on the staff should read?, What are your three favorite books/movies/TV shows of all time? These types of questions allow the team to know if the candidate is a fit personality and culture wise. In my opinion, 60-70 percent of the selection process is based on whether the candidate is someone with whom the staff and I will want to work.

Secondly it is important to look at performance over promises. This is probably more difficult in hiring teachers than it is in the business world. When you are hiring someone to fill the same position over a long period of time, you may be looking at very young candidates and trying to compare them to candidates who have several years of teaching experience. How do we level the playing field? How do we determine performance data for candidates who really haven’t performed yet? I approach this in two ways. First, talk to anyone that you or the team knows that may have some experience or knowledge about the candidate. Sometimes candidates will come with glowing resumes but there is a question about why they don’t have references from important resources. At times we will have connections with other districts that can give us some off the record insight. Second, in the second interview we like to do a performance based activity. In my tenure, the teacher candidate teaching the panel scenario has never gone well. In the last few interviews we have done we have asked teachers either to prepare a presentation to the board or a group of teachers to promote an idea that they have or we have asked candidates to develop a lesson plan including certain components based on a category that we give them. For our last interviews for a fifth grade teacher we gave the following scenario prior to the interview:

 

1.       Create a plan for a fifth grade lesson on some component of figurative language. The lesson plan should be thorough and include a technology component using BYOT. A typical ELA period would be one hour. It is also important to note that only 1 in 3 students typically has their own device.

 

2.      Typical class size in the District is 20 students. Since our ELA classes are homogeneously grouped, prepare the lesson as if you are teaching the middle group. The PSSA scores in this class usually range from low Advanced to low Proficient and include both students with IEPs and 504s as well as students in the Title 1 program. Special Education students may be experiencing Learning Disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorders or Emotional Disturbance. Title I students are either experiencing difficulties in fluency or comprehension.

 

3.      Submit the lesson plan by Tuesday, July 15th via Google Drive and share withjkuhns@greenwoodsd.k12.pa.us. Please do not share a link.

 

4.      You will not be teaching the lesson but be prepared to defend the lesson plan based on Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching.

 

5.      You will be expected to lead the panel through the BYOT component. Panel will have various devices with internet access.

 

6.      The interview should last no more that 45 minutes. Questions about your lesson plan should take 15-20 minutes as should the technology walkthrough. The remainder of the time may include additional questions or discussions.

The team felt that this scenario allowed us to see whether a candidate had the skills to create an appropriately rigorous lesson, the ability to integrate technology, and knowledge of using differentiation. Those were all things that the team felt were important.

All of this being said, We won’t know maybe for a couple of years how successful we were. Sometimes I wonder if we put too much time into this process when we may be better off choosing at random or flipping a coin. I don’t know.

I’d love to hear from others about how they handle the hiring process with teachers. What kind of questions do you ask? Have you considered alternatives to the traditional interview?

The Status Quo

There is a key point that I always keep in mind when hiring new teachers: We do not want the teacher we hire to become more like us; we want our school to become more like them. The gist of that statement comes form Todd Whitaker in his book What Great Principals Do Differently or maybe it was from a presentation I heard him do but either way I’ve always attributed the thought to him.

By this tenet I want to be an organization that continually grows. I never want to become stagnant in the way we think or the way we interact. New blood allows us all to become better; challenges us to change for the betterment of our kids. While I’m a proponent of allowing autonomy among the teachers, I also understand that everyone has an impact on everyone else. Ask not for whom the bell tolls…and all that! Which leads me to the status quo and this blog post by Greg Miller: You Weren’t Hired to Maintain the Status Quo.

The post came at a very important time for me. Having just completed interviews for a teaching position I was left with the undesirable decision of whether to hire a new graduate or an applicant who had extensive substituting experience in the district. I chose the candidate that best fit my tenet from above: Which candidate do we want our school to be more like? While I will hang my hat on the fact that the best applicant for our students was chosen, it was still one of the hardest phone calls I’ve ever had to make. The easy decision would have been to hire from the substitute pool but the interview team felt that this applicant made our school better and I couldn’t disagree. In Dr. Miller’s blog he quotes Dr. Justin Tarte, “You weren’t hired to maintain the status quo; you were hired to make a difference and make an impact.”

Dr. Tarte and Dr. Miller were using that statement to talk about hiring teachers. It is also important to remember as administrators. Whoever hired us didn’t do so because we were exactly like the last person. We were hired to make our schools and districts better. We were hired because someone thought we could make an impact. We were hired because we are risk takers and capacity builders.  We were hired because we love kids and someone believed that these kids deserved us. We should never lose sight of that. Sometimes that means making the tough choices. It means upsetting someone as well as the status quo. It means always making the students the focus of your decision making. And it means that sometimes people aren’t going to like us.

Another motivational guy on Twitter, Salome Thomas-El put it this way:

 

That sounds tough but it’s true. Our jobs aren’t easy and we shouldn’t need to be told that. We chose to be the people who have to make tough decisions and as long as we are making the right decisions for the right reasons we should be able to sleep at night. All of us know people who have chosen not to take that step into administration. This is a big reason why. Does it make me feel good that every year I have fewer friends? Not really. Is it easy for me to see my wife’s disappointment when community members avoid her? Not at all. Does it make me feel good that I am making decisions that positively impact students? You bet.

Besides that, I like dogs.

Count on Trolls

This wasn’t what I set out to write today but this is where I have ended up. Today marked the day that Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error hits newsstands nationwide.  I haven’t read it but I have read some reviews. This morning, while reading Ms. Ravitch’s own account of her stop in Pittsburgh, one of the commenters posted a link to a review of the new book. I wasn’t on full troll alert so I followed the link

Turns out, after a few seconds of heart-stopping anguish, that it wasn’t a troll at all.The site is obviously satirical but not that far off of what some believe. The site is called Last Stand for Children First which at first blush sounds like another public education hate site. Read on my friends, critical reading and thinking are important 21st Century skills. From the billionaire CEO, Myron Miner, who taught in the tough inner city of Boca Raton to the Chief Education Director whose only apparent credential is that he played hoops with Arne Duncan in Australia to the notoriously fictitious Rep. Jack Kimble from the mythical California 54th, Honorary Director. We even have a Sigma Chi representative on the BoD.

It was a bit scary at first because I wasn’t quite sure whether it was real or not. Statements like these below aren’t all that far from some of the things we hear in public education:

On Ravitch’s new book: “While I didn’t actually read Ravitch’s book, I think I’ve gotten a pretty good feeling for what it’s about by reading the cover..” from the CEO of Last Stand for Children First

On improving teacher quality: “Our research has shown that the best teachers to motivate inner city youth are white, fresh out of college, and preferably from a privileged background.”

On improving the curriculum: “Too much of a child’s day is taken up with classes like music, art, and social studies, which are not even tested.  These classes have been created by teachers unions trying to create jobs and give teachers prep periods.”

And their tribute to billionaires: “Billionaires have the clout to influence public policy in a way that few other people can. There is no better way to democratize education in this country than by bringing the voices of CEOs and hedge fund managers into the equation.”

As well as a common man’s understanding of statistics “Nearly 25% of all American high school students in 2008 scored in the bottom quartile of state standardized tests in reading and 10% scored in the bottom tenth in math.”

Not sure who is responsible for this but, “Well Played, Sirs, Well Played.” I’ll be back!

A Giant Cup of I’m the Boss

It’s back to school time and after a summer of graduate school, I’ve had a few days to reflect on what I do. There are things about being a leader at which I think I am quite good. I love being around the kids. They keep me young. Mentoring teachers to be the best they can be is a challenge that I enjoy. Reading about new trends and researching ideas for better schools and classrooms is kind of my nerdy hobby that I partake in through many different outlets like Twitter, Diigo and Scoop.it. Taking all of those ideas into the practical world of the school is rewarding for me. 

There is one thing that I don’t think that I’m cut out for naturally and it causes me stress and anxiety. It is my professional goal for this year. This will come as a surprise to people that think that leadership is all about power. The one thing that is difficult for me is being the boss!

I’m not a fan of people looking up to me because of my position. I would prefer that people judge me and respect me based on my record and how I treat them or their child. I don’t want false respect that is triggered by my leadership role. I intend to prove to people that they can trust me and that I have earned their respect.

No matter, sometimes you have to be the guy that makes the tough decisions, you sometimes have to be the guy who tells people that aren’t doing a good job, you are going to be the guy who loses friends because of your decisions and you are going to have to be the guy that enforces the rules even when you don’t like the rules.

Those of you who know me well will understand why those things are difficult for me. We can talk about shared leadership or transformational leadership. We can talk about Theory X and Theory Y. We can go on and on about leadership in the 21st Century and the benefits of situational leadership. But in the end, one leadership trait never goes away. Some days you have to be the boss. Some days you have to switch into your big boy pants, enforce the rules and make the tough calls. That is the part of my job that I like the least.

In our school we have some fantastic teachers, we have some average teachers and we have some teachers who should move on. I enjoy mentoring teachers but there is a point where some teachers are not cut out for the job. They know it and I know it and sometimes you have to be the guy that tells everyone where the bear shits in the buckwheat.

So my goal for this year is to be more open to making the tough calls. To be the guy who is honest about the performance of teachers and staff. Be the man to make the difficult call to a parent who is also a friend or acquaintance and tel them what their kid is up to. 

It’s time to be the boss.