My Wellness Hypocrisy

I met with the chairs of my district’s Wellness Committee yesterday, and ever since I have been thinking about what I can do as a school leader to support a healthy school community. Unfortunately, I have come to the stark realization that I am part of the problem. I’ll grab my scarlet H, plaster it on my chest, and get real about my own wellness hypocrisy.

See, I am the person who had to hedge an excuse for a box of decadent cake balls from the local Bosnian bakery sitting on my desk when a reporter came to talk to me about healthy school meals.

I am the person who brought sinfully sweet gourmet cupcakes to celebrate a colleague’s birthday last week. I enjoyed every crumb and didn’t even think about tagging a “sometimes food” disclaimer.

I am the person who lived two blocks from work for six years…and drove there every day, all the while advocating for physical education and health literacy.

Like all seismic cultural shifts, creating a distinct and shared culture of wellness in our district relies on individual people making individual decisions day in and day out to act in accordance with our professed beliefs. Once our “walk” matches our “talk” we have successfully shifted the culture.

So today—and every day after—I will take deliberate steps to match my walk with my talk. Now that I’ve donned my scarlet H, you can all hold me accountable as I strive to model a life of wellness. I also urge each of you to think about the decisions you can make today to model a healthy lifestyle for your colleagues and your students. 


Creating a Vision for Collaboration

A team from Waverly-Shell Rock attended a Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) at Work Institute just last week. The ideas were nothing new or Earth-shattering, but they were incredibly compelling.

Our team came away from the event committed to articulating a clear and solid vision for collaboration in our district. We developed four guiding principles to both operationally define the overused term PLC at W-SR and to provide a means to monitor our progress as we work to implement collaborative learning time for teachers. 

Our Guiding Principles: 

Time for teachers to talk to each other about evidence of student learning is critical. (learning focus)

All W-SR teachers should be members of highly functional teams that engage in ongoing cycles of questioning to promote deep team learning. (functional teams)

We need a structure that allows teachers to collaborate on a regular basis in a way that facilitates both common learning and individualization. (differentiation)

We are the people we’ve been waiting for. The time to act is now. There are steps each of us can take today. (action)

W-SR staff: You heard these from your colleagues today. This is your chance to respond. What do you think? Feel free to post comments here, email thoughts directly to me or your building-level representatives, or stop by my office and talk.

PD Promises

There’s something exhilarating about starting another school year. New faces; new challenges; and, most of all, new opportunities. I feel this sense of exhilaration in a heightened way, as I kick off a new year in a new district. It’s great to be a Go-Hawk!

I decided to extend the new year theme and introduced myself to our teachers today through my new year’s resolutions. I’ll be the first to admit that professional development has some hypocritical tendencies. Sometimes our “walk” strays a bit from our “talk.” So today, I make the following PD promises:

I promise to keep learning at the forefront.

It’s so easy to get distracted by the latest feel-good program or initiative that we sometimes forget that what really matters is the quality of our students’ learning. We must be clear about what we want to students to learn, and we must be sure that our outcomes match that intent.

I promise to value and capitalize upon the expertise in each person.

While I haven’t yet met all of our teachers, I’ve seen overwhelming evidence in those I have met that we are a group of knowledgeable, highly capable educators. However, we can’t just close our doors and do the right thing. Our growth and success depends upon a culture of collaboration and mutual responsibility.

I promise to meet people where they are.

I want to get to know every one of our teachers. They each have unique and critical roles to play in our collective work. I will make time to be in their classrooms. I want to know their strengths and passions. I want to understand their immediate questions and help them find timely answers.

I promise to act.

We spend too much time admiring our problems in education. There is a lot of talk—and not nearly enough action. We can’t wait for other people to save us from ourselves. I haven’t been the first, nor will I be the last person to say it, but we are the ones we have been waiting for. It’s true. There are steps each of us can take every day to make steadfast progress toward our goals. 


Part II: Sorry, but I'm over that topic now

I know the last blog post promised (at least) two parts. Sorry, but I'm over that topic now. At one point I had more to say, then work and life got in the way and kept me from committing those thoughts to public memory. Frankly, I just don't want to revisit the topic at this point. I have other ideas to write about now.

It was going to be some reflective/introspective self-dialogue about how much of the past year I devoted to talking in comparison to how much time I spent putting my abundant words into action. I can respond to that prompt in just two words: NOT ENOUGH. I publicly commit to spending more time doing and less time talking this year.


Reflecting Forward: A Blog in (at least) Two Parts

Reflecting is about careful consideration--often in the context of a past experience. The approach of a new school year is an obvious time for reflection with the intent of welcoming the new year deliberately and thoughtfully. I invite you in to my new year's reflection, which will have (at least) two parts.The first is a simple re-visiting of the "Welcome Back" address I gave my faculty last year at the beginning of the year. Consider the holistic message and overlook the contextual details. I'll get back to you with more soon...

Welcome back. This is the day I’ve been looking forward to all summer. In the midst of the crises and catastrophes that occupied most of my summer, I had one steadfast and immediate response to queries—“I am just ready to get the students and teachers back in the building and focus on what we do best.”

No matter what the headlines or critics say, I have been around long enough to know that what we do is all about the kids who sit in our classrooms every day. I believe with everything I am that—given the chance to put our focus back there—we will do more than anyone ever thought possible. That’s just the way we roll.

We are at a major crossroads today—and people are watching. They’re watching—waiting for us to fail—or hoping that we’ll be able to pull this all off and validate their support. Either way, they are watching like they’ve never watched before. It has never been more important for us to pull together, stand united, and to reach within and outside of these four walls to collaboratively achieve our goals.

In the hours I spent thinking about what I should say to all of you this morning, I came up with a phrase and an analogy. Let’s start with the analogy—of course best illustrated by a Super Bowl commercial.

In the end, that’s what we’ve got to do. Deconstruct this existing plane and construct an entire new, revolutionary plane—and do it all while the plane is still flying. We don’t have time to stop and re-tool—we have kids on board who are depending on our ability to keep this thing flying while we transform it. Unfortunately, we’re not going to know exactly what to do at every step of this process. In fact, if we’re doing this right, we will create problems and questions—that’s where the opportunities for progress lie.

We have entered the world of complex change—which by definition means there is little certainty and little agreement about where it is we are going. While complex change can be overwhelming and intimidating, I feel confident when I look around this room that you are up to the challenge in front of us. Your passion, your knowledge, and your unrelenting commitment will be critical as we navigate this complex change, increasing both certainty and agreement about where it is we are going.

Earlier I referenced a resounding phrase as I contemplated what to say to you today. As most of you know, I am pursuing a doctorate in Educational Leadership. In one of my courses this summer I was introduced to the concept of “transformation leaders,” which emerged from a meta-analysis of 30 years of research on effective leadership. I share this concept with you today in the context of my firm belief that the educational system needs us—each and every one of us operating as a collective unit—to be transformation leaders.

It’s easy to criticize the current state of education. We are failing children of poverty and children with disabilities. Even our most advantaged and supported children are not able to compete with their global counterparts. Many say our educational system is broken. I agree that our system is facing a crisis, but I would offer that our educational system is functioning quite well—it is getting precisely the results it was designed to get. Our job must be to disturb the system enough to stimulate systemic change that will produce the results our children so desperately need and deserve.

Transformation leaders share some common characteristics.

• They break with the past. What if we no longer measured learning based on Carnegie Units? What if we developed a system that measures mastery of essential concepts and skills?

• They operate outside of existing paradigms. What if we didn’t have grade levels? What if we developed a fluid system that follows children and their needs, rather than forcing them into a system that exists based on arbitrary factors like having a birthday between September 15th of one year and September 14th of the next year?

• They are willing to challenge prevailing norms and values. What if we thought differently about children with significant disabilities and educated them in an inclusive environment with their peers, providing them full membership rights to our learning community?

• They find solutions that are unbounded, emergent, and complex. What if we upset the entire apple cart and created a 21st Century learning environment driven by innovations instead of forcing our innovations to fit a 20th Century learning environment?

My challenge for each and every one of you this year is this: Be a transformation leader. I will commit to support you in your innovation –as you must commit to support each other and to implement practices based on evidence, logic, and moral imperative. Don’t let existing systems limit your innovations. Rather, innovate! And let our collective innovations change the system.