Saturday, June 30, 2012

3 easily overlooked qualities of highly successful educators

Highly successful educators do many things well.  In addition, there is a long list of potential characteristics they embody.  However, among those fine qualities are some that are less obvious - yet no less important.

Here are three that sometimes do not get the credit they deserve.

Highly successful educators are...

1.  specific

Whether they are setting goals for themselves, their students, their classes, or their lessons; highly successful educators are specific about what they are working to accomplish.  In order to get specific, these educators invest the time to fully develop a clear vision of the accomplishment.  For example, a "more engaged class" is not enough.  The highly successful educator reflects on this statement and creates a picture of what a "more engaged class" actually looks and sounds like.

2.  available

Being available is not the same as having office hours.  Physically present is an essential part of being available, but unless you are also mentally present, you are not available.  Almost every teacher can be found.  Every teacher is not necessarily mentally present and ready to help.  Highly successful teachers are available to help in the moment.

3.  eager to share

In my lifetime, sharing has never been easier than it is now.  It has also never been more valuable or expected.  Highly successful educators have much to offer, but also recognize that they have much to learn.  They also understand that the more they give away, the more they receive in return.  This concept applies particularly well with sharing praise, ideas, opinions, and guidance.

Among the qualities each highly successful educator exhibits, there are many that are less frequently heralded.  I believe being specific, available, and eager to share are three such qualities.

What would you add to the list?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Finding success as a new school administrator

Beyond polices, structures, and procedures, lie some key elements for success.  For new school administrators (either new to a school or freshly picked from the teaching ranks), these sometimes overlooked elements can be the difference between a successful year and one you would like to forget.

Sit in on "campfires"
One of the most important, and time consuming, aspects of a new administrative role is getting a solid grasp on the culture, values, and unwritten expectations of the community you now serve.  One of the best ways to quickly get a handle on these elements is to seek out the campfires and listen to the stories.  As in the larger society, the stories and myths concerning the school will send a clear signal about the values and culture.  Listen to these stories.  Who is the hero?  What did she do to achieve that status?  Is the hero still part of the community?  If so, seek them out and talk with him.

Teachers like to tell stories.  Do not make the mistake of avoiding them, seek them out, listen, and learn.

If you can't find any campfires, use faculty meeting time to ask teachers to share their favorite success stories from the school.

Work from strengths
An area that you should spend quite a bit of effort on early in the job is to determine the strengths of your school.  Once determined, make sure those areas are being well supported and leveraged to address areas of concern.  Remember, strengths can come in many forms.  It could be individual teachers, academic departments, specific programs, a prevailing sense of teamwork, attitude, mission, etc.  These are the linchpins of your school and need tending to and attention as much as the usually more obvious challenges.  

Addition by subtraction
Identify one element of the school's operations that teachers find cumbersome and restrictive.  Eliminate it with a better solution (one you gleaned from listening at "campfires" perhaps).  Sometimes, success comes in the form of eliminating a negative as opposed to introducing a positive.  Find a negative you can erase.

Engage with a mentor or coach
This works for any administrator, but especially for those who recently left the classroom teaching ranks.  One of the most widely suggested pieces of advice is to engage with a mentor or coach.  Finding someone within your school or district can help, but I also suggest finding someone outside of your school or district.  This outside perspective are very useful and will help you maintain a broad view of issues.  With the advent of connectable technologies, engaging with an external mentor is easier than ever.  

If you are seeking a mentor or coach, I would be happy to discuss how I may be able to serve in such a role.  Feel free to contact me if you would like to explore that opportunity further.

Develop an online network and contribute  
While a mentor can support you in a one-on-one conversation, finding and developing your own network of educational leaders online is another great way to engage with others who share similar challenges.  For me, using Twitter with the hashtag #edleaders is a good start.  Also, I am developing a Google+ circle of Edleaders (also using the #edleaders tag).  You can find me in both places Twitter (@drtroyroddy) and Google+ (Troy Roddy).

There are no guarantees of success.  However, following a comprehensive plan for learning, doing, and reflecting will give you an advantage.

Good luck.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Art of Education's "Dog Ear" Collection (as of June, 2012)

Every once in a while, I look back at the books I have read and reflect on their influence, usefulness, and "gravitational-like" power to get me to re-read chapters.  The ones that rise to levels of respect above all others become part of my personal "dog ear" collection (named after the fact that the ones I "dog ear" the most usually find their way onto the list).  I also include in this list any Kindle books that i have electronically "dog eared" with bookmarks or notes.

As an aside, I would be remiss to forget two titles that, though not dog eared (since I wrote them), I find useful and frequently refer to - my own two Ebooks:

Paying Attention: Thoughts on Communication in Schools

Foundations: Examining Vision, Beliefs, Mission, and Philosophy

For what it is worth, here is my "dog ear" collection (in no particular order).

Ignore them at your own risk.

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin

Poke the Box by Seth Godin

Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions by Guy Kawasaki

Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals by Heidi Grant Halvorson

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield

Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life's Work by Steven Pressfield

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink

Nine Things Successful People Do Differently by Heidi Grant Halvorson

Do the Work by Steven Pressfield

Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity by Hugh MacLeod

Evil Plans: Having Fun on the Road to World Domination by Hugh MacLeod

Freedom Is Blogging in Your Underwear by Hugh MacLeod

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

Monday, June 25, 2012

Improve your relationship with the teaching faculty

Seeking a Mentor | Having a mentor | Finding a Mentor | Mentorship |  For administrators, your relationship with the teaching faculty is a key component to achieving school wide goals and improving the quality of the student experience.  As with all relationships, this one will have its ups and downs.  However, if you follow a few basic guidelines, you can improve the chances of establishing healthy, respectful, and effective relationships with teachers.

Here are a few suggestions.

Avoid possessive language
The teachers do not belong to you.  Stop referring to them as "my faculty."  Along those same lines, the school (or division, or class) doesn't belong to you either.  The same rule applies.

Ask questions
I have found that asking more questions than delivering monologues is a good way to maintain good relationships.  That doesn't mean I am not guilty of pontificating from time to time, but at least I recognize it.

Listen to answers
If you ask questions, it helps to listen to the answers (and implement them as necessary).

If the only time the teachers see you is when they come to the office, you have a relationship problem.  Get out and be more visible (and approachable).

Simply rule for relationships - don't lie.  If you need to say something, be truthful.

Nothing improves relationships like sharing a good laugh.  Find a way to make someone laugh each day.  It will help your own mental health as well.

When the team reaches a goal, recognize it and celebrate - even the small victories.  After some time, the little achievements add up to big ones.

High expectations with support
Nobody wants to have expectations so low that just about anyone can achieve them.  Most people like a challenge.  On the other hand, setting expectations high and NOT providing the support and resources needed to achieve them is also a recipe for relationship disaster.  Expect much, but also provide much.

Feel their pain
Don't ask anyone to do something you wouldn't do.  If a task is something too painful for you, taking the path of reassigning it just to make it go away is bad for relationships.  Do the before, after, and lunch duty yourself.  Proctor the study hall.  Take a role in doing the painful work that nobody really wants to do.

Remove barriers
Whenever possible, remove structural and bureaucratic barriers to getting the work done.  Mark these items down and revisit them in leadership team meetings, especially at the end of the year when such items come up for review.

Give credit
You cannot give too much praise or credit to those who deserve recognition.  Be generous in giving credit where credit is due.

5 powerful words
"I am sorry."
"Thank you."

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Revolutionary or evolutionary changes in education?

Revolutions are messy, bloody, and usually require a great deal of luck to succeed.  Historically, that luck has come in the form of some outside force (with an agenda similar to the revolutionaries') that is willing to provide significant support to help even the odds.

It has been suggested that education needs a revolution, but I'm not sure that is the answer.

Rather, I believe education needs to be free to simply evolve.  In other words, education would benefit from removing the impediments to its growth and development.  Education also needs to become more comfortable with "natural selection" and allow the beliefs and practices of the past, which are now ineffective and unsustainable, to simply fade away.

Every great educator I know did not wake up one day and suddenly have a dramatic/revolutionary change in her practice/professionalism.  It took time, patience, trial and error, coaching, mentoring, and discovery.  Education, as a field, is largely defined by its membership - the educators who deliver the classroom experience.  If their proficiency is part of their own personal growth, why would we expect the system in which they work to change any differently?

Keep getting better.  Be the tide that lifts all ships.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Don't just flip a lesson, try flipping your role

As an educator, I am interested in observing any noticeable benefits of flipping a class over the long run.  While I am excited about any technique that raises student engagement, the fact is that this blended teaching method is fairly new and has a few basic roadblocks, specifically, a student with poor or no Internet access at home seems to be at a disadvantage.

Never the less, I am NOT an anti-flipper (if such a term exists).  Rather, I am somewhat prudent in making evaluations on teaching techniques that I am not very experienced.

On the other hand, I would offer a somewhat different take on flip teaching that applies to any classroom - including those with students who lack Internet access at home.  This alternative flip is not based on the instruction, but rather the mindset behind the role of teacher and student.

No, I am not talking about having students prepare lessons and teach parts of a class.  That isn't new.  Instead, I am referring to a more philosophical outlook on the role of teacher and student.

The traditional mindset is that the teacher is basically trying to sell the lesson to the class (content, skills, relevance, etc.).  In this role, the teacher builds upon her strengths to develop engaging lessons in the hope that students buy-in to what is being taught.  There is a presentation, sales are tracked (grades, attendance, effort, etc.) and at the end you may even be asked to meet a quota (I'm referring here to higher standardized tests scores for those affected).

What might happen if we flip that mindset?  What if the teacher's role was the buyer with the student selling their attention and engagement?

With awareness of the competition for student engagement and attention (Internet, videos, online classes, etc.), the classroom teacher is forced to reflect on what she brings to the table that the student cannot get elsewhere and leverage that difference in the transaction.  What can the student get from you that he cannot get online?  That answer is seems more valuable today than ever before maybe because it is overlooked more today than ever before.

Face to face, physically present, connections based on responsiveness, interactions, being friendly, and establishing mutual trust

So while technology can be credited for making the flipped lesson a potentially powerful tool for student achievement, we may also want to credit technology for bringing back into the forefront a proven, yet seemingly overlooked, aspect of student engagement - the transformative power of student-centered relationships in the classroom.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The "secret sauce" of effective educators

The Jumpstart Foundry Secret Sauce  Sure, you can do a research study.  Crunch the numbers.  Interview multiple people.  You can do all of this and you would certainly begin to understand and appreciate what it takes to be an effective and successful educator.

Yes, you can do those.

On the other hand, if you don't have time (or if the idea of doing scientific/investigative research is not your cup of tea), you can pay attention to what you hear each year at the various end of the school year ceremonies.

Chances are you will find a similar answer in the research and in the speeches.

I am not referring to pedagogy, lesson planning, flipped or regular classes, technology integration, etc.

I am referring to the "secret sauce."  The one item that makes all others possible.  The ingredient that we know is present because of what we experience, not because of what we are told.

The secret sauce is often taken  for granted, but we know immediately when it is missing.

For educators, the secret sauce is a mixture of two items.

1.  Caring
2.  Show students (daily) that you care

You can care, but if you don't show it, it doesn't matter.  Only through words AND actions does caring have any effect.

You can go about your work as if you care, but if it is not genuine, it will eventually fall apart and your true self will emerge.

The most difficult support... knowing when support means backing away and allowing students to go at it on their own.

It is difficult because if teachers do it too soon, students are set up for an avoidable failure and distress.

Do it too late and students rebel against your guidance.

Parents face this issue as well.  Outside of parents and teachers, nobody else is faced with the effects of such a decision.

Want to refine your instincts and improve the timing of such a decision?

  • Try teaching a child how to ride a bicycle (or any other new skill).
  • Take up a new hobby and record your own feelings about trying on your own.
  • Listen to parents talk about how their child learned to dress themselves (or independently do any other task at home).
There is an art to knowing when to back away.  Finely tuned instincts help.  So does being observant and listening to cues from your students.

Oh, and backing away doesn't mean running away.  You can back away slowly at first.  This allows you to jump back in and respond as needed.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Now that you are enlightened, what will you do?

now what? Hugh MacLeod (2008) Image found at copyright 2012 Hugh MacLeod's gapingvoid available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivatives license

Yesterday (June 8, 2012), I published a post, What did you learn this year?.

If you haven't read it, please do or this post will not make much sense.

If you did (or have now and are ready to continue), here is my follow up question.

Based on what you now know, what will you do differently ?

If you are not prepared to act on what you now know about your class, don't go through the motions of asking for feedback.

Friday, June 8, 2012

What did you learn this year?

  Like many schools nearing the end of the school year, you probably gave your students a chance to demonstrate what they have learned.  You may have done this through an exam, final project, summary paper, "end of year" presentation, etc.

However, students weren't alone in class.  You were there too.

Did you take the chance to get feedback from them about the class?  Did you include their feedback as part of your year-end professional reflection?

In some format, you probably asked them, "What did you learn this year?"

For the student-centered lead learner (yes, I mean you, the teacher), the same question applies.

What did you learn this year?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Pride and pedagogy

There are many reasons for educators to feel a sense of pride in their work.  Some of that pride should be directed towards your own personal work.  Some of it should be directed towards your students' work.

This post is about your students' work.

Pride in your students' work falls into two categories:

  1. work your students did during the year
  2. work  your students are now prepared to do in the future
There is nothing wrong with looking back over the accomplishments your students attained over the past year.  Certainly, seeing the fruits of your labor is an important piece to maintaining your own motivation.  So, take pride in what your students have done and be prepare to do it again next year.

However, it is the pride in knowing what your students can do AFTER spending a year with you that I suggest is even more important.

Artifacts of past success are important and should be recognized.

Developing and encouraging new potential for future success is paramount.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Guest Contributor Mark Pullen: Computers as Connectivity Tools

The following article was written by guest contributor, Mark Pullen. Mark is an advocate for classroom technology integration, and writes extensively on that subject on behalf of Worth Ave Group.

As a teacher in a third grade 1:1 classroom, my students all have laptops which they may use whenever needed.  Early in the school year, I let the students know that these computers will serve us powerfully in three key ways: as knowledge tools, creation tools and connection tools.  Using these devices, the students can find virtually all recorded information from throughout human history; they can create, display, and share their work in new and innovative ways; and they can also connect with virtually anyone, including experts in almost any field.  

The students quickly understand the computer’s power as a knowledge tool and gradually grow in their skill of using it as a creation tool, but it generally takes more time for the students to fully understand the power of the computer as a connectivity tool.  I don’t blame them – many leaders in education seem to view computers almost exclusively as knowledge tools (and sometimes creation tools) as well.

At various points in the school year, however, opportunities tend to arise.  When one student was upset about the vague, mysterious ending of one read-aloud book we read, I suggested that she contact the author directly to inquire about it.  The room turned completely silent, and her reply simply verbalized what all of the students were thinking: “We can do that?”

Three days and a few emails later, our whole class ended up enjoying a lengthy Skype session with this kind author, and the kids were able to hear her directly explain her reason for ending her novel the way she did.

After that experience, the students were infused with energy and began initiating connections on their own.  During a research project, several students contacted subject matter experts to help clarify something they were learning.  While writing a product review, several students contacted companies directly for more information.  During a government simulation, students began contacting our local representatives and senators to ask questions and pass along their bill suggestions.  Three students even teamed up to contact our state’s Supreme Court because they thought a recent law change that had passed our actual state government was unconstitutional because it potentially violated the ex post facto clause in our state constitution.

In each of these cases, with the help of technology, students began to see their learning as real and as something which could extend beyond the walls of our classroom.  They began to see themselves not only as digital citizens but as active, empowered citizens of the physical world around them.

This, to me, is the power of technology: not only can it dramatically help students as a knowledge tool or a creation tool, but it can also connect students with others in powerful, previously unimaginable ways.

About the guest contributor:

Mark Pullen has been an elementary teacher for 13 years, currently teaching third grade in East Grand Rapids, MI. He’s an advocate for classroom technology integration, and writes extensively on that subject on behalf of Worth Ave Group, a leading provider of laptop, tablet computer, and iPad insurance for schools and universities:
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