Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Take A Risk: Being Connected #ce15

Today was a great day at work. I had the opportunity to work with a fellow educator, one of the most intelligent and thoughtful educators with whom I have ever worked. Through some supportive pressure and encouragement, he finally agreed to let me introduce Twitter as an educational tool. It was a risk to do so, and he trusted me enough to take a leap.

Before my wonderful colleague @DelEdTech and I jumped in to the nuts and bolts of Twitter, we paused – and talked about the why. Why bother to connect? Why bother to share our edu-thoughts through social media? We found ourselves getting increasingly excited with our colleague, discussing the why behind being a connected educator. As educators, we are so excited to continue learning, share our learning, reflect on our learning and discover new resources, it is important to stop to pause and think about the WHY behind being a connected educator.

What made today such a wonderful day at work is that I was reminded that we are all lifelong learners. Regardless of our experience level, our job title or our age, a willingness to be a lifelong learner defines a good educator.

I am thankful for the opportunity to continue to teach, to reflect, and be amongst others who are willing to grow. We are all better educators for being able to surround ourselves with those who continue have a desire to grow. In light of it being Connected Educator Month #ce15, I am reminded how meaningful it is to not only be connected, but also to have a willingness to be connected – and what it says about our growth mindset.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Educator Evaluation Process: It's About Growth and Reflection @sguditus

When I arrived at my school two years ago, I inherited an outdated and incomplete ed eval system, which included a negative culture and many assumptions around what the ed eval process could be, is and is not. As Massachusetts rolled out an updated and revised system over the past few years, I worked to form relationships with teachers and not just tell them, but show them, that the ed eval process can be a productive and effective tool – not something to be feared or to dread. Over the course of the last two years, I have worked to form relationships with teachers; I have worked to make a required process as positive and productive use of time as possible. Since this is something that needs to get done as per Massachusetts state law, why not make the best of it and use the time and tools to improve student learning and teacher instruction? This is, after all, a teacher's educator evaluation - so I find it imperative to engage educators in their evaluation process to ensure ownership of the process. This isn't something that should happen to teachers, but something that helps grow instruction and student learning.  

Over the course of the last several years, I have done a lot of reflection around the tone and culture I want to set in the ed eval process. I believe that all teachers deserve feedback at every level, not just the teachers who are doing particularly well or struggling. Would we only provide feedback to only students who are succeeding or struggling? No – as educators, we have an opportunity and a gift to help students maximize and expand their potential. As a a lead learner and evaluator, I belive it is similarly my job to ensure that the ed eval process is a productive, fair, and helpful tool. The Massachusetts DESE recently revised their vision on regarding the educator evaluation process, shifting from ev eval as an end goal to ed eval as a process to improve educator effectiveness. Words count, and I think this shift is an important one.

This year, I have about eight new staff members in my building. What an incredible opportunity I have to set
Focus on growth and reflection!
the tone and the culture with a large group of educators who are new to our learning community. I need to continue to not just tell, but show, teachers that they are an active participant in their evaluation – the keyword being their. The ed eval process is something that should not be done to teachers, but something in which they actively lead. It is about their growth and reflection, and about their path to continuing to improve. I am here to help inspire, encourage and suggest. I strive to regularly model making mistakes, taking risks, persevering, and trying again! Aren't these some of the characteristics that we want to develop in our students? 

Here are five steps that I tried to follow to develop a positive culture around the ed eval process: 

  1. Be clear about the spirit of the ed eval process. It is easy to get bogged down in the nuts and bolts of what is required in the ed eval process. Do not forget that ed eval is not an end goal, but a process that should be a tool to support educator growth. At our first kickoff staff meeting, I reminded educators that they are talented and awesome - and that the focus of this process is growth and reflection. I even provided some imagery and use this imagery on all the documents I use when discussing educator evaluation. Remember to remind staff that the goal and spirit of ed eval is _______. (For our school, it is growth and reflection.)
  2. You are not the smartest person in the room. If you think you are, you may be in big trouble. Just because you have a title after your name does not mean you know the most about education! When I
    meet with a room full of teachers at a team meeting, the collective years of experience and insight is overwhelming. Leaders are there to inspire, to encourage, and to help educators see the best in themselves – so do that, and let educators do what they do best! Encourage and inspire - but remember that educators are very smart people!
  3. Don't forget to be positive. This may seem like a simple one, but it is easy as an evaluator to provide feedback only on things you wish were different. In any given day, educators make hundreds and hundreds of decisions, and most do an amazing job with our students on a regular basis. Don't just assume that teachers know where you stand on their performance. Be clear, be honest, and provide positive feedback and encouragement where it is due.
  4. Be constructive. One of the most frustrating things for me when I was teaching students was receiving feedback without any recommendations or suggestions. Doing so consistently sends to the message that there are not additional areas for growth and opportunity. Remember the spirit of the ed eval process – for our school it's growth and reflection – so continue to not just tell, but show, support, provide resources, encouragement and praise.
  5. Spend time building your culture. In order for teachers to take a risk, they need to be able to trust you – and know that if something doesn't go as planned, you still have their back and support them. Spend the time to have a face to face conversations, follow up in person whenever possible, and work hard to develop a positive culture that supports both student and adult learning – on on going basis.

I have plenty more to learn, and wanted to share my insight and experience of implementing our ed eval process in my school. I view it as a tool to improve student learning and teacher effectiveness; what other suggestions do you have to do so?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Words Matter

Although I know it, I'm reminded: words matter. Especially when you are the leader of a building, words count, and words matter. How you use words, which words you use, how you share them, when you share them - it all matters.

Recently, I have made an effort to provide feedback to teachers after I have been in their classroom, even if it has only been for a few minutes. Some feedback I was getting from teachers included questions such as: Why didn't you give me any feedback? Was my lesson ok? Did I do something wrong? Was I on target? We are educators, and good or bad, we are usually rule followers, hard workers, and want to do our jobs well. I found that exiting a classroom without using any words, without providing any language was leaving staff without any understanding about how things were going.

I decided to turn to Voxer. Once I leave a classroom, it takes me literally 30 to 60 seconds to record my thoughts, which are fresh in my mind. Sure, students walk by me and think I am talking to myself in my phone, but I assure them it's for school purposes. Using Voxer, I am able to provide timely feedback to staff, without delay. Certainly, if there is a more sensitive topic, I would plan to have the conversation in person, but if I want to affirm to a teacher that they are on target and doing a good job, Voxer is an outstanding tool to use. One teacher thanked me for using Voxer, sharing with me that it helped her her the tone in my voice, and it was as though we were having a conversation - and helped clarify for her what my feedback was.

This week, I am reminded: words count and words matter. Use words, and use them wisely. Words carry power to help educators grow, reflect and improve. Our students' progress depends on it.

A big thanks to my PLNs, especially #muddleleaders and #principalsinaction to get me inspired and blogging!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Finishing Strong #BostonStrong #satchat #bfc530 (@sguditus Steve Guditus)

Today in Massachusetts, it is Patriots Day - the remembrance of the Battle of Lexington - known as the turning point of the American Revolution.  Many hearty Yankee souls out there hoof it at 4am to participate in the re-enactment of the Battle of Lexington, while thousands of others hoof it 26.2 miles.  Me, I went for for a 6 mile run, made dinner, and am thinking about finishing the school year strong.  Here are a few ways that I plan to do so, and perhaps you can as well:

  1. Get into the classroom: Make it a priority.  It is easy to get bogged down in state testing, meetings, and more meetings.  Let's be honest: the center of learning and teaching is occurring the classroom - so go see what's happening and ensure you are the instructional leader you were hired to be.
  2. Talk to students: In my opinion, the #1 place for this to happen is lunch.  Sit down, say hello, and get a pulse on the building.  Here's how it will go: 6th graders will be a bit scared to say hello; 7th graders will not stop talking; 8th graders will not likely say anything.  Regardless, be present, make sure students know you care and are interested in their learning and their experience, and be the lead learner not just from your office.
  3. Provide effective feedback: It's not about the evaluation system, but about constant growth, authentic conversation, and a willingness to discuss learning and teaching.  Make an effort to get into the classroom and provide feedback to educators.  Have professional conversations, discuss learning and teaching, and show your willingness to discuss how to move student learning forward.  Learning and teaching happens through the end of the school year.
  4. Take a risk: You've read books, you've read articles, you've talked others who have done it, and now is the time.  Implement that new idea you've been tossing around in your head.  If you need to call it a pilot, that's ok - but try it.
There, I feel better.  I have down on paper, and publicly, what I need to do.  I encourage educators to create your own list to finish the school year #BostonStrong.  What will your list include?  What did I miss?

Friday, April 03, 2015

Every Day: A Gift

You never know when the opportunity to make a difference will present itself. Yesterday, while I was prepping for the school day, a student popped into the office at 6:30 to ask if she could chew gum during our state assessment exam, which was being held later in the day. I answered her question and then asked her, "How are you feeling about it?"  She replied, "… kind of nervous, honestly." 

We took a few minutes and chatted about the fact that the day's test was just a snapshot in time, a way to help the adults know how much she has grown, for her to know how much she has grown, and that it is just one moment on the timeline of her educational career. It doesn't mean that she's a good or bad person, and that this is an opportunity to have fun and and and to be excited to tell a story (it was the composition exam). A little nervous is an ok thing, I told her - it might even help her - to try to use her feelings to help her. It was just a quick conversation – maybe only two minutes long. 

After the exam I saw her again and I said "Hey...how did it go?" And she replied, "It went better than I thought it it would. I'm glad I talked to you this morning." I don't even know if she realized how impactful her words were when she told me that she was glad we had chatted – but it made me remember: whether it be a quick smile, a high-five, or a hello, educators impact students' lives. We may not always realize it - but we can make a student's day, inspire him or her, or even intervene when they needed a vote of confidence the most. As educators, we get a gift every day - to make a positive impact on our students' life. Let's make sure we take that opportunity every day to help our students. You never know when the opportunity might arise.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Once A Teacher, Always A Teacher

Recently, I had the opportunity to teach all the six graders in my school. We needed to roll out Google Apps for Education, and I was able to match up my schedule with the student schedule with the computer lab schedule – a feat in itself, for sure!

What a great two days I had spending time with middle school. I got to see students through another lens, and be reminded of how exciting and nerve-racking it can be to facilitate learning. It was a wonderful day for several reasons, but especially because I got to spend a lot of facetime with students, focused on teaching and learning. A close second, however, was a reminder of all of the pressures, stressors, excitements and decisions that educators have to make every day. Did I remember to restate the objective, every day and every period? Was I sure that I was accommodating for each student in the class needed something a little different? Was a meeting students needs who needed to get the scaffolding? Was I holding the students back were ready to keep on going? Don't forget to monitor the conflict between those two students...

Throughout the first day there were a series of different teachers who work in the classroom support students. At the end of the day, I sought them out and asked, "How did it go? What do you think? Any feedback? Is there a better way that I could do that tomorrow?" One teacher suggested it might be helpful to have a visual to go along with my verbal directions – of course! Why didn't I think of that before I started? So, the next morning on Day Two, I frantically typed up step-by-step directions. I went running out of the office, photocopies hanging on my arm and flying down the hallway, while the teacher was holding the class waiting for me.

A few lessons learned:
1. Be flexible.
2. We teach kids first - about content/skills.
3. Students have strengths and weaknesses in various areas - no one is all one way across the board.
4. Teachers have a really, really tough job.
5. Teachers have a really, really great job.
6. Asking for and receiving feedback is helpful.  It feels good to focus on growing and improving.
7. Reflection is key - be it formal or informal, always work to grow and improve.
8. Always have a Plan B.  (And C.)
9. The capacity and eagerness to learn is a beautiful thing.  Respect it.
10. Educators must take care of themselves to take care of others!  

Until the next time!

Saturday, January 03, 2015

One word for 2015: TRUST #oneword365

Instead of a giant list entitled, "All The Things That Steve Should Do To Improve in 2015," I followed the lead of my wonderful PLN, and chose one word on which to focus:


My 2015 is going to be the year of trust:

  • I will trust myself.
  • I will trust my instinct. (And back it up with facts.)
  • I will trust colleagues to do what's best for our students.
  • I will trust that others have the best of intentions.
  • I will trust that doing what's right for students may not always be easy.
Clyde Beatty taming a lion with four legs.
To kick it off, I have decided that I will trust that our new core values have importance in our school, that modeling reflective behavior is important, and that it is important as a community (one of our core values) to take the time to reflect on 2014, look ahead to 2015, and select one word to direct our attention for 2015.

The lesson that I created for our students is entitled "The Lion Tamer and One Word."  Clyde Beatty, the lion tamer who figured out that a four-legged stool would paralyze a lion due to indecision, is the main figure in illustrating that having too many foci will lead to indecision and as a result, inaction.  I'm going to trust that this is a meaningful exercise for students: recalling 2014, and looking forward to find their one word that will help them be their best in 2015.  

What will your one word be, that will help you be your best?

If you need some help getting started, consider these questions:

  • How was 2014?
  • What do I want to do this year?  
  • What do I want to be better at?
  • What do I need to continue to grow and improve as a student/educator or person?
  • What do I want to accomplish as a student/educator or person?
  • What word do I need to help me be my best?  
  • Is there another word not listed that will help me be my best for 2015?  
  • To what word can I commit for 2015?
  • How will this word help me focus and be my best in 2015?

If you would like to use the lesson I created for students to use, please go to: The Lion Tamer and One Word.

For some inspiration, you may want to consider some words from this wordle.
For more community support, you can "find your tribe" and post your one word at http://www.oneword365.com.  Check it out.  Also, why don't you select your one word with your family, colleagues, students and kids?  

What will your one word be?  And how will it help you be your best in 2015?

Friday, December 05, 2014

Creating a Culture of Gratitude

For the past month or so, my school has engaged as a community and giving thanks and building a culture of gratitude. It all began ultimately with us preparing for Veterans Day, and it was so successful that we continued by building chain-link some kindness, writing additional thank you cards to people in our lives what impacted us, deep gratitude by creating five fingered turkeys of gratitude and hung them publicly in our common area, and today we continued building a culture gratitude amongst the staff.

Inspired again by the awesome #BFC530 chat, facilitated this morning buddy amazing @jvincentsen, I got to work this morning and created a high-five with directions that required the recipient of the high-five to read the gratitude that was provided to them and then spread the gratitude by giving a high-five to another staff member. When I got to work this morning I wrote to notes to staff members, and cross my fingers. I had no idea if it would work. Knowing how I felt after the #BFC530 Twitter chat this morning, I was hopeful that I could use this activity to help build a culture of gratitude in our building. Hearing the word "thanks" is so impactful, and so simple, and get so easily overlooked. I am certain that I am guilty of this as well – and I hoped that it would spread recognition gratitude and appreciation amongst the staff who works so hard to do what's right for kids and help our students grow their potential.  I don't know if everyone on my staff received a high-five by the end of the day, but I do know that many people did. As I did walk-throughs around the building, I saw high-fives on desks, staff members excited to see greatly appreciate a fellow colleague for job well done, and have a positive impact. I could feel the wave…folks were buying in. I even got a high-five back when I got back to my office at 2:30.

One of the unintended consequences of his activity with that students got to see their teachers modeling gratitude and appreciation. Students watch everything we do and say, and I'm certain students were watching their teachers gift thanks, appreciation and gratitude for the things they do every day. Some are big, some are small, but all have an impact on our students in school – and I hope that the teachers in our school left today, feeling good about the work they do any impact that we have collected we had on our students lives. What we do and what we say matters – not just with our students - but with our colleagues as well. Truly, we are a community. It was just awesome.

I think the most impactful moment for me was running into a staff member who had just received a high-five, and said "Wow. This is so cool. I really needed to hear this – and it made my day."

Monday, December 01, 2014

Are you truly taking risks, or just thinking about it? via @sguditus

During this morning's #BFC530 chat, we talked about overcoming our fears and continuing to grow as an educator. What really resonated for me was this idea of encouraging ourselves, our students, and our staff to take risks in order to overcome our fears and continue to grow. I love that term: risk-taking.

Maybe it's because growing up, I never really saw myself as a big risk taker. When I think of risk-taking, I think of risky physical acts, like jumping from tops of buildings attached to bungee cords like in The Amazing Race.  Although you won't ever catch me jumping out of an airplane, as an adult I like to think that I am a healthy risk-taker. Maybe it's this dichotomy of what I envision as a risk-taker (sky diving) versus what healthy risk-taking really is (trying something new).

Members of my PLN challenged me this morning during the #BFC530 chat, to truly think and reflect upon my own risk-taking.  It made me wonder: am I truly taking risks, or do I just like to really think and talk about it, hypothetically?  Am I actually trying new techniques in my practice, or do I just like encouraging others to do so?  (Or both, I hope!)

I started racking my brain: am I taking risks myself?  Am I sharing this with my colleagues?  Thinking and reflecting more, yes, I like to encourage other to take risks, and yes - I am taking some risks in my own practice - but I can do more.  This #BFC530 chat reminded me how important it is to take risks and share them with our fellow educators. 

Modeling the behavior and expectations that we hope others will engage in is crucial to see a systemic change in a school's culture. But one can't model what one doesn't know is happening. Does the staff in my school think that I'm a risk taker? Do I think I am a cutting-edge, radical educator, when in reality I am either not or not communicating this? I commit to communicating the importance of taking risks – not just in theory, but in practice as well. In order to successfully encourage others to truly take risks, not just theorize about taking risks, I need to act - and be authentic, transparent, and vulnerable about what risks I have taken, which ones have been a failure, which ones have been a success and which ones scare me! Taking these risks and taking inventory of what I have done will help me grow my practice - but in order to successfully create a schoolwide culture of actual taking of risks, not just theorizing about risk-taking philosophy, I need to show, not just tell.
So let's take inventory: am I taking risks in my practice? Here are a few initial thoughts:
  • I want to have a conversation with staff every time I engage in a walkthrough - even a short one (as per Kim Marshall's recommendation).  I have publicly shared this with staff, and now I need to step up to the plate and improve in this area.
  • I signed up for Voxer and have engaged in several new PLN groups.  I took a risk, and tried this new piece of social media - and the reward has been huge.  I've connected with educators and have continued to grow thanks to colleagues from around the world.  I need to share this with staff.
  • We embarked on a journey to reestablish our school's core values in a very public way.  I felt very uncertain about this, but believed in the process, and the it proved to be a strong community-building activity.
  • Our school instituted in advisory program – with an incredible amount of support help, assistance and collaboration with a variety of staff and students.
  • We instituted an initial PBIS program in our school, tied to our new core values.
That's just a quick start. What are some additional ways that I can not just talk about taking risks but take risks?  Here are a few initial thoughts:
  • Have a No Office Day - and share my thoughts and insights with staff. 
  • Create a Student Advisory Council and get feedback from students. 
  • Engage in a book study with parents and staff about timely topics - even if it is a tough topic.

And so, I challenge myself and all of you: take inventory. Are you truly taking risks - or just talking about taking risks?  The shift in culture has to start somewhere - make it with you.

Image Credits:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Classroom observations: It's all about the conversation

Yesterday I did a brief walk-through of a teacher's classroom. It was a short slice of a class, only about 5 to 10 minutes. The students were engaged, good questions posed, and the teacher did a great job of stressing the essential questions of the class. As I left the classroom I thought to myself, "That was a good class," and continued on with the rest of my day.  I closed out my day a few hours later, and when I came in to school this morning, the teacher popped into my office and said "I just wanted to connect with you about your observation yesterday."  I was so glad that the teacher wanted to connect with me, debrief, and reflect about the lesson that I observed – this is a lead learner's dream!  I was surprised, however – because I had only popped in quickly to the teacher's classroom, but the teacher was looking for some feedback and wanted to discuss some thoughts. I underestimated how important it is to have the conversation - even a quick one - even for a quick walkthrough - and to engage in conversation.  

This exchange was a great reminder about how eager educators are to discuss their craft on a regular basis. The teacher and I had a great conversation, discussing past practices, current practices, the new Massachusetts educator evaluation system, and we had a very genuine and authentic conversation about what good teaching and learning looks like.  What struck me was that the teacher really wanted clarity about what my expectations were as the lead learner in the building, and how those expectations could be met.  Different personal experiences and different evaluators lead to uncertainly about such a personal process: providing and receiving feedback.  There's so much that we don't know about each educators' path, so it is crucial to take the time to get to know one another as educators and understand why we structure our classrooms the way we do.  This is crucial to moving our schools forward, and making sure that students are always learning and growing – a d same is true for us, the educators in the building.  Providing a scaffolded and differentiated feedback experience is critical to educator growth.

Later in the day, the teacher approached me again and apologized for taking my time to discuss the brief observation from yesterday. From my perspective, I told the teacher, our conversation was the best one that I had all day. Engaging in professional conversations about learning and teaching is what it's all about! Being a reflective educator is how we hope all educators will be. Not only was there no need to apologize, I told that teacher, but I also hope that we can continue to have such important conversations about what good learning and teaching looks like, what we can do to support all of our students, and how we can maximize  learning. We ended our conversation by highlighting what it was that the teacher hoped I would be able to provide in my future observations' feedback.

Taking the time to have a face-to-face conversation with this teacher reminded me of the value of spending time in classrooms, the importance of being present in the belly of the school, and engaging in conversations about how learning and teaching happens – on a daily basis, not as a once-per-year task as part of a formal evaluation. Engaging in this conversation on a regular basis is what keeps us excited and jazzed up to be educators. I'm so thankful that the teacher in my school approached me, took the time to share questions with me and I was able to have an incredibly valuable conversation about learning and teaching.  Taking the time to speak, in person and face-to-face, allows conversations about feedback, observations and education to be meaningful and focused on student learning.

Now I just need to find the time to make this happen!