Friday, May 28, 2010

The Perfect Place to Shift

This video, though its length challenges our growing disdain for long-form information, has pushed me this morning to raise my level and push for real change and excellence. It seems an appropriate piece as I prepare to move to a place of hope and innovation. Enjoy. Thanks to my friend Dan Reeve for hooking me up with this resource.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Taking My Own Advice

In my cleaning process, I have come across the little notes that I have attached to my computer for everyday consumption. It is amazing that these little notes have been sitting in front of me each day, and I, at times, allowed them to blend into the background. For multiple years now, there have been four notes taped to my computer, part motivation, part focus, and part philosophy.

Note 1 says Patience, Listen, Your Priority is My First Priority, Every Detail, Every Day- Honesty.

This one came from reflection about my performance as an assistant principal at Nipher. My first principal at Nipher, Dr. Carol Migneron, was really good at pushing me to be more, and those four statements have helped me grow into a more teacher-centered leader.

Note 2 says Find Truth, Find Happiness, Each Day.

Our eighth graders wrote their six-word memoirs this year, and I participated in the process. Those six words speak to my desire to experience life to its fullest and my commitment to being a life-long learner.

Note 3 says Knowing the Right Answer Doesn't Mean That We Get It.

For a long time, it has been easy for me to find answers, formulate solutions, or build a personal opinion on a topic, but only recently have I embedded the fact that having this ability doesn't solve the problem as the human side of solutions is the most difficult part as it requires relationships, empathy, patience, and leading with the heart.

Note 4 says To Truly Love Somebody is to Help Make Them Great.

My calling is life is to help people grow, and to do my part to make them great. It has been great to dig deep into my reserves at times to truly love those around me.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Closing Up Shop

It has been amazing how long it has taken for me to clean my way out of six years of stuff in my office. I've never had a clean office, but my desk is organized when I leave each day. I have been working on it since March, going drawer by drawer, shelf by shelf, and we have reached the last day of school, and I can say that I am packed. There have been a number of odd feelings over the last few weeks, but overall I remain excited, optimistic, and energy-filled about my move. I realize that I won't be moving away from issues as they will be the same core issues with different faces and maybe at times greater volume. I realize that I'm blessed to have a job, and to have a job that I love. I am also grateful for the wonderful people both adults and kids that have filled my life during my tenure in Kirkwood. At 3 p.m. tomorrow, I will be ready to dive head first out the door, but my well-seasoned patience that I have built over the last year will need to serve me for just one more month. Tape the boxes, throw away the is time to close up shop.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tapping the Potential of a Learning Network

A new question has been running around my head lately, and it is this, "Who are the 10 people in your field that are the best at doing your job?" I believe it came from another blog, but it was on one of those days of major input, so I have lost the source.

I'm not sure that I can answer this question, but I think that it is an essential one for growth. Let's start with the idea that we can find 10 people that are currently doing our job at the level of proficiency or higher. I think that I can do this, and I think that I try to learn from these people in an intermittent whenever the management of life doesn't get in the way, sort of way. Every time that I do learn from them, I am excited, refreshed and ready to impact kids in a greater way. Imagine though having access to the best people in your field, people in Japan, Kuwait, and Cleveland. Think of the power of sharing ideas with the elite practitioners in your area. They are the ones with the ideas and resources that seem to trickle down over time, but now you have the power to mold and shape the ideas as they are evolving, no longer do you have to wait for the sloppy seconds.

Today I tasted the honey, and it was good. I spoke through Skype with someone in the UK at the Business Lab, a social service research partnership. They are working with schools in England and Scotland on a program to help with parent engagement. I think that the program is brilliant, and it may be a great new layer to a current effort. How did I first learn about the program...from a tweet. Yes, Twitter has become educators greatest chance of connecting with the top 10 people in their field and truly collaborating on excellence. Each day Twitter provides me with a dose of professional development that can truly be used to enrich the lives of kids. I want this for my teachers, and I want this for my students. My wading through the world of Twitter has allowed me to enhance and build my Google Reader into a rich basket of learning that I can tap into from anywhere at any time.

One idea, one Skype call, one tweet have reignited my vigor for my career during these difficult days of May when school and learning have been notorious for being about closing the cycle of learning instead of extending it.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Counterinsurgency and School Discipline

I spend a lot of time reading headlines, blogs, and news stories outside the realm of education. I have categorized this as being an information junkie, and the Strength Finder test just says that I have a strength in Input. My hope has always been that all of this information will create new ideas and generate some parallel wisdom that can be translated into education. During the past four years, I have been watching the work of General Petraeus in the area of counterinsurgency theory. He and many of his colleagues spent time developing and implementing this theory in Iraq and now Afghanistan. At the heart of this theory is the concept of clean, hold, and build. These concepts work in concert to root out guerrilla fighters from populated areas, keep these conditions in place until the attitude and climate of a situation has turned favorable, and then rebuild governmental structures, basic services, and a new rule of law. The use of this theory has created much debate in the political realm, but it was just the kind of concept from which I try to create lateral learning.

During my six years as assistant principal in my current location (11 school days to go), we have been effective in reducing the major behavioral distractions in the building by half. The data and the overall feel of the building definitely point to improvements in this area. From the beginning, I have been looking to root the students who are at the core of the disruption from their positions of power. This has occurred in many ways including limiting time in the hall, greater proximity, moving students into intervention programs, and in and out of school suspension. Not until recently though have I seen the similarities between my work and the implementation of General Petraeus' counterinsurgency theory.

My initial goal is to CLEAR the most volatile spaces of the building of known disruptive students. This often came down to 5-7 students that seemed to impact the behavior of 20-30 or capture the attention of 100 or more students. The next part of making this work long-term was to HOLD the space. This allowed the remaining students to feel the positive aspects of this new space. Additional students made the choice that this is how they wanted to exist at school, which led to a further decline in incidents from students who were marginal behavior problems. When there were setbacks, things often started over with more CLEARING. In counterinsurgency, this setback is called returning to "mow the grass" until there are enough resources available for a true HOLD. Finally, once a week or so had past, it was now time to BUILD new guidelines and behaviors in the space.

Having a way to explain your actions is great, but most importantly changes have occurred, and they are holding. There are days when I wonder if all of the information that I input can truly make a difference, and then little gems emerge that seem to validate the hard work that it takes to stay on top of the information tsunami each day.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Digusting Nature of the School Cafeteria- Part 3

This three part series is being wrapped up with a conversation about the Sara Lee Double Chocolate Muffin. This beast of a treat packs a punch, and it is the delight of way too many students on a daily basis.

As you can see, it does the quad attack of sugar, sodium, fat, and calories.I have always felt that as soon as we package our desserts or buy them from outside our cafeteria, we are losing all control of fighting the influence of heavy sugar on the brains of our learners after lunch. I started to wonder about how this snack, treat, add-on to lunch compares with having a Big Mac. The side by side comparison is too close to not be upset that we are serving this in the cafeteria.

Removing one snack or item from the cafeteria will make a difference, but systemic change requires both removing and adding to the cafeteria. The additions that must be made are a change in the habits of our students who have breakfast and lunch at school. Reshaping habits means first giving students a clear and compelling reason to make the shift, then providing an alternative that can satisfy their hunger. Our responsibility as a school is huge in this area, and we have for too long chosen to play victim instead of focused customer with choices in the marketplace. The students deserve us to act like an empowered entity that has their best interest at heart, not unlike our efforts in the academic program.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Disgusting Nature of the School Cafeteria- Part 2

Cheese...I really like cheese, but the use and volume of the cheese consumed in our cafeteria is disgusting. Each day, we have two large bags of cheese (see picture), heated and hanging ready for student use. The uses for the cheese are amazing, and I will detail the uses in a moment, but I first have to explain how the cheese is justified. We offer nachos and pretzels with cheese for students each day which is why we have daily cheese. Some days we have nachos with bag cheese as well as nachos with meat and cheese on the main line. It is all nachos, all the time. This situation isn't good, but it certainly isn't the worst of it. The biggest problem with the daily bag of cheese is the use of the cheese as a dipping sauce for flaming hot cheetos. The students buy cheese and a bag of chips, and they use the chips as a cheese delivery system. Students have also been known to put nacho cheese on pizza, dip grilled cheese into cheese, and even just eat the cheese with their finger or a spoon. If I were the cafeteria king for a day, we would start with the elimination of the bag of cheese. It could make a big difference with little impact to the bottom line.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Disgusting Nature of the School Cafeteria- Part 1

Though I have been talking about the vile nature of my middle school cafeteria food selections for many years. I have a new sense of urgency about speaking out about it. It started with watching Jamie Oliver's TED talk, and it has continued with the Food Revolution show by the same Jamie Oliver. Over the next few weeks, I will be taking some pictures of items in our cafeteria as examples of the problem, and explaining my hope for the future of school cafeterias. I know that I am headed to a district in the fall that has stated that they are focused on big shifts in what is served to our kids for breakfast and lunch, so I hope to see how it should be done in the future.

In an effort of full disclosure, I do eat 90% of my lunches in our cafeteria because I do believe that there are ways to cobble together a decent lunch each day, but this is certainly not the path of 80% or more of our students.

Part 1- Rockin Blue Raspberry Applesauce

I don't mean to be picking on blue raspberry (is there actually such a thing?) because we have had GRAPLESAUCE (grape+applesauce) also. The bottom line is that we don't need to add color or sugar to regular applesauce. We need to continue to offer a variety of fruit choices. There are some days when we do this, and there are others that we resort to this food-like stuff. It seems like removing this item would be an easy start to changing our cafeteria. I can't imagine that having it is a huge cost benefit or that it encourages more fruit consumption.

I'm starting easy. The tough stuff will come in future days. Any thoughts on school lunches. What should it look like? Anyone interested in changing the farm bill or contacting the USDA?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Six Secrets of Change

I am busy working through Michael Fullen's book on change. It isn't a new book, but it is the foundational information for my administrator retreat in a few weeks. Fullan does an excellent job of justifying the need to have a theory skeleton to base day-to-day actions. He comments that even the best leaders with the best instinct will struggle without a foundation or core for their work. His first secret has to do with loving your employees. I really appreciated some validation in this area as I try really hard to connect, care, and congratulate the folks that I work with. Certainly, there are moments that I wish that I would have been a better listener with some or taken a second to think before talking, but the idea of loving my colleagues has remained solid throughout my work as a school leader. The other point that has seemed to stick from the first half of the book is the importance to lead in such a way that has everyone consistently focused on purpose. Good organizations have structures and resources, but great organizations are driven by a well-defined, simple, yet robust purpose that allows for measurement of success, capacity development, and future ways forward to erupt organically.