Articles on this Page
- 10/08/19--06:30: _Three Principles fo...
- 10/10/19--06:30: _Leading Through the...
- 10/15/19--06:30: _A Roadmap for Imple...
- 10/16/19--06:30: _Four Questions to A...
- 10/24/19--06:30: _Leading from the He...
- 10/29/19--06:30: _Principal, Parent, ...
- 10/31/19--06:30: _Ways to Teach Resil...
- 11/05/19--06:30: _Closing the Opportu...
- 11/06/19--06:30: _Six Steps to Jump-S...
- 11/07/19--06:30: _Nurturing a Culture...
- 10/08/19--06:30: Three Principles for Improving Practice
- 10/10/19--06:30: Leading Through the Struggle
- Always remember that life is more than school, and you are more than a school leader. The greatest challenge I face on a daily basis is keeping things in perspective. Too often I allow anxiety and frustration to take an undue toll on me because I lose perspective. No failure is ever final if we seek to learn from it. No pain is fatal if we seek to make the lives of others better for having known us.
- Speak to people about people. Whether you are dealing with a failure or a loss, students, parents, and staff members want to know how you are impacted. We too often undersell our own vulnerability as a leadership quality. People look to their leaders as a reflection of their own struggles, attitudes, joys, and pain; if we place ourselves above their pain or their joy, there is disconnection between us. If we don’t feel the pain of failure or loss or the exhilaration of success in the schools and communities that we lead, we ought not lead them.
- Practice servant leadership. When we are working with students, parents, or teachers who are struggling, we need to remember that our leadership in that moment is not about us. It takes practice, intentionality, and mindfulness to be able to set ourselves aside in challenging moments. If we do not make it a practice to put the concerns of others first on a regular basis, we most assuredly will not be able to do so in the best or worst moments we face. The simplest and best way to do this can be summed up in four words: “How can I help?”
- Speak to the future. The best of us who lead know to do this innately. My mentors and those who I aspire to emulate have this gift. We spend our lives speaking of the great possibilities of the future to those who are going to build it. Even—or, especially—in the most challenging of times, we must take the opportunity to reframe challenge and pain into the building blocks of future success. It is our ability to do this that gives us our claim as leaders. We must always be the voice of the positive—the voice of the future.
- 10/15/19--06:30: A Roadmap for Implementing Standards-Based Grading
- Forming a committee
- Building knowledge through credible resources
- Developing the guiding document
- Sharing the work of the committee and guiding document
- Implementing the new practices systemwide
- Evaluating and revising the guiding document.
- 10/16/19--06:30: Four Questions to Ask Teachers on Creativity
- 10/24/19--06:30: Leading from the Heart, the Mind, and a Place of Stability
- 10/29/19--06:30: Principal, Parent, and Partner: The Balancing Act of a School Leader
- 10/31/19--06:30: Ways to Teach Resiliency
- 11/05/19--06:30: Closing the Opportunity Gap in Rural Alaska
- 11/06/19--06:30: Six Steps to Jump-Start Personalized Learning
- Gotta Believe It to See It
- Be Methodical in Your Approach
- You Win With People
- Build It and They Will Come
- Celebrate Small Victories
- Get Feedback From Your Stakeholders
- 11/07/19--06:30: Nurturing a Culture of Gratitude
- Three expressions of gratitude each day
- Journaling about a positive experience from the last 24 hours
- Random/conscious acts of kindness
My school, long rated as top-performing, was this year given a rating of “targeted” for underperformance among student subgroups—including African-American, free and reduced-price lunch, and special education students. Though this is understandably not an ideal rating, I look at it as a blessing in disguise. We now have a very clear mandate to look at the performance of these subgroups and make immediate improvements. To me, this gives us an opportunity that will ultimately benefit all students, depending on the measures we put in place and the kinds of practices we implement. As an instructional leader, I am reminded that this work starts with me.
Over the summer, I was fortunate to attend several conferences, including the National Principals Conference in Boston and the High Reliability Schools Summit in Denver. In addition, I’ve been reading Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain by Zaretta Hammond and Reading for Understanding by Cynthia Greenleaf, Ruth Schoenbach, and Lynn Murphy. From this professional learning, I’ve been reminded of three principles for improving practice:
1. Instructional leaders must model the behaviors and practices we want teachers to practice in their classrooms.
We know that teachers can better leverage their time and energies if they work together. Many schools implement professional learning communities (PLCs), but many function as cooperative groups rather than true PLCs. If we hope to have teachers practice authentic PLCs, we must do that work ourselves. As a PLC, as an administrative team, as well as with our instructional coaches, we must establish our group norms and develop a data review protocol in order to inform our feedback and professional learning with teachers. In keeping with this notion, our administrative team established six team norms and a meeting process that will regularly look at various data to examine elements of our work toward school improvement, then share this information with our staff through a weekly email.
2. Dependent learners need both opportunities and explicit instruction in order to grow.
Hammond defines dependent learners as those who are “dependent on the teacher to carry most of the cognitive load of a task always; [are] unsure of how to tackle a new task; cannot complete a task without scaffolds; will sit passively and wait if stuck until [the] teacher intervenes; and [doesn’t] retain information well or ‘doesn’t get it.’” As instructional leaders, we need to assist teachers’ efforts to build students’ cognitive understanding and skills, as well as their confidence and mindset so they can become empowered and capable of accessing various strategies and processes to develop information.
In order to do this, we need our interactions with teachers to have a sharp focus on instruction, including helping them to explicate the domain-specific knowledge and skills students need in order to experience success. We also need to help teachers better define the cognitive and metacognitive moves students must achieve in order to master these elements. For example, in a recent conference with a social studies teacher, we talked about the ways he can help students improve and expand their reading skills through note-taking and close reading strategies.
3. Be present.
It goes without saying that our presence in classrooms matters. Students know that their progress and development as students matters to us when they see us frequently in their classrooms. Doing so also builds rapport and provides additional opportunities for us to find connections with them. Teachers not only appreciate our presence but also benefit from the frequent and specific feedback that such visits provide. By creating processes that track our visits, we can ensure that we get to each teacher in a timely manner. This year, I’ve already been in more classrooms and conferenced with more teachers than I have in years past.
Of course, there are other important elements that improve school performance, including focusing on school culture and ensuring a safe and orderly environment. But to me, these and other important levers of school improvement are encompassed in the three principles I’m already starting to practice for the 2019–20 school year. One other valuable lesson I learned this summer is that, as administrators, we are each other’s best outlets and resources, so we must take opportunities to share our thinking, practice, struggles, and victories.
What are the principles that guide your efforts toward school improvement?
Valerie Nyberg has been assistant principal at Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, IA, since 2013. She is the 2019 Iowa Assistant Secondary Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter at @vnnyberg.
We spend a great deal of time as school leaders talking about building culture. We often consider the day-to-day elements of this work: eating lunch with the kids, visiting classrooms, being visible at all kinds of school events, and having meaningful conversations with teachers and students. The work of leading a school and building a culture is much like leading a family, full of joy and, inevitably, pain.
After 17 years as a high school principal, I have been called upon to speak at more than my share of student funerals. A significant number have been the result of automobile mishaps, though some have been the result of students and families enduring long, painful illnesses. The ability to walk beside students and families as they endure, as they struggle, is an essential part of the work of caring for the community we are called to lead.
Often the greatest moment of our own growth as leaders is tied to how we guide our students and teachers through painful times. Our vulnerability as leaders in these moments validates who we are and who we want to be in all the other moments we face as leaders.
I have been blessed to lead two schools that have had more than their share of exceptional successes. Academic growth, the rebirth of strong arts programs, and athletic victories have happened as I have watched and worked with students and communities. With that said, I don’t believe that substantial growth has occurred unless it happened against the backdrop of previous failure and struggle.
The process of personal growth (for ourselves and our students) is not really any different than the process we work through as leaders of schools. It is our ability to take hold of the most difficult moments and use them as cornerstones of development, growth, and learning that makes us leaders. As leaders, we see the transient nature of all things, good and bad, and always walk with our teachers and our students and our communities toward the better tomorrow that we want to construct with them.
As I returned from my latest opportunity to eulogize a student, I had the chance to think about how we go about making something good out of deep sorrow. These four thoughts have consistently spoken to me in these moments:
While we are as susceptible as the next person to the sorrows, elations, and distractions of life; as leaders in our schools and communities, we must learn to see life as the constantly changing and moving thing that it is. It is only when we recognize our need to move with it through the challenges, trials, and joys we face that we can lead others through those same things. And remember, all eyes are on you. Lead like you know where you are going and like you will be happy to get there.
Have you made a commitment to being mindful and intentional as you lead your school through successes and failures? Do you find it difficult to be vulnerable with your students and teachers in the challenging moments you face together?
Duane Kline is in his 33nd year as an educator, and 18th year as a high school principal. He lives in New Liberty, KY, with his chemistry-teaching wife, Anne, and he is the proud dad of his special education daughter, Hannah, and soon-to-be history-teaching son, Aaron. He was blessed to be recognized as the 2016 Kentucky Secondary Principal of the Year.
Fair, standards-referenced grading systems that communicate what a student knows and can do are often difficult to design. Developing grading systems that are fair and consistent across an entire school district can seem like an impossible task. However, it is a task that is necessary and worthwhile.
My school district began looking at grading reform in 2010 but was unable to gain any traction on making changes across the entire system. However, in 2017, the board of education adopted the district’s first policy on grading. Known as Policy 415: Grading and Reporting, the board mandated grades to have “consistent meaning through the school system and be based on grade-level standards.” This vague but powerful policy required the curriculum and instruction department, school administrators, and teachers across the district to develop a guiding document. In order to create a guiding document, a well-thought-out process was required. Our process consisted of six steps:
Here’s what we learned about the process:
The first step, forming a committee, was crucial to the success of creating standards-based practices. The curriculum and instruction department invited all sixth- through 12th-grade teachers in the district to apply. Teachers who were interested in taking on the yearlong work were selected based on established criteria for creating a committee, which represented all content areas and subgroups in the district. The committee was led by the executive director for curriculum and instruction and co-led by district instructional coaches. In total, the committee consisted of 31 voting members.
After setting norms for its work, the committee began increasing its knowledge around standards-based grading. To accomplish this second step, the committee read books and peer-reviewed journals, participated in webinars and video conferences with experts in the field, and conducted interviews with teachers and administrators of districts who have implemented standards-based grading practices. In addition, the committee itself was called upon to share valid experiences with standards-based grading practices.
The largest portion of the committee’s yearlong work was the development of the guiding document. After expanding its knowledge and understanding of standards-based grading, the committee began writing the document that outlined the grading practices and guidelines. This document clarified the role of professional learning communities in student achievement, defined the differences between practice and assessment, and established four grading practices. Our common practices across the district are that grades will be standards-referenced, behaviors will be communicated separately from standards-referenced grades, teachers will use consistent grade calculations, and students will have multiple opportunities to demonstrate proficiency on assessment. The guiding document identified what each practice looked like, what it didn’t look like, what PLCs could do with it, and the benefits of the practice.
After the guiding document was developed, it was then time to share the committee’s work and the guiding document with teachers, administrators, and the community. Through a series of meetings and staff professional development, the guiding document was not only shared, but also broken down into the specific grading practices. Teachers had the opportunity to ask questions and share with other teachers specific examples of what they do in their classrooms for each of the practices. This helped to ease the minds of teachers who were unsure and hesitant about the new guiding document.
All of the work up to this point was completed in one school year, with a couple of summer sessions. Now it was time to implement the grading guidelines to meet board policy systemwide. This endeavor was a yearlong effort, which required weekly checks by PLCs to determine the effectiveness and implementation success of the grading policy. Administrators met with teachers at their sites regularly, and the curriculum and instruction department conducted monthly check-ins along with a year-end survey.
The final step was to evaluate the implementation at the end of the year and really look at the data to determine what worked and what didn’t. The original grading committee took information from gradebooks and feedback from teachers and administrators and began to make necessary revisions to the guiding document. Some adjustments were made to address the challenges schools faced while implementing the four practices in the guiding document. Throughout the entire process, the document was shared with stakeholders as a living document that would be revised as necessary. This was incredibly important in maintaining teacher support for the document.
Fair and equitable grading practices are necessary to inform students of what they have actually learned and can do. Through standards-based grading practices, students are provided with feedback, see their growth, and experience success.
Ryan Kettler is currently serving as vice principal at Rio Rancho High School in Rio Rancho, NM. He is in his 11th year as an administrator and is New Mexico’s 2019 Assistant Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter at @R_Kettler.
How do you lead and model creativity? That’s a question many school leaders ask themselves. Many of us can get our arms around collaboration, communication, and critical thinking, but why is it that creativity is one area where we frequently struggle and sputter? I think it’s because we fear creativity—it doesn’t fall into a nice box that is neatly packaged with structure and details. You see, creativity is often messy, frequently busting the seams of our comfort zones and almost always requiring us to stretch and grow.
We have a responsibility to grow creatively as school leaders. The workplace doesn’t need students who are good test takers and who can think when all of the details are laid out and structured nicely for them. Just the opposite—the workplace is looking for people who can think creatively in a fluid, complex, and ever-changing world.
Check out these four questions every school leader should be asking their teachers to nurture creativity in learning:
How/what are students creating, publishing, designing, etc.?
Be willing to have the courageous conversations with faculty and staff about the need to break out of the traditional test-taking learning environment which focuses on teaching students how to answer a multiple-choice quiz. Instead, ask teachers, “What are you having students create, design, publish, perform?” By doing this, we take the onus of learning off of the teacher and place it on the student. To do this, we must challenge the status quo and be willing to have courageous conversations with faculty to change their pedagogy to model and promote creativity.
Who are students creating for?
Most likely, when you and I were students in school, we created work for the teacher, and only the teacher, to view. Now, we need to have students creating work for the world to see. Why can’t students be creating blogs for their community to read, podcasts for the world to learn from, and videos to challenge and inspire others to action. Ask your teachers, who are students creating their work for? You, classmates, or the world?
Why are students creating?
Are students simply creating and designing for a grade in your class? Or are they creating to solve today’s real-world problems? When students create from a platform of generating real life change and improvement, they are more empowered to learn and lead. For example, students in my school worked to create a rain garden to collect the runoff from the parking lots. They did this to improve our environment and to beautify the school. But most importantly, their work changed our school for the better and empowered them to make a difference in their community. Now they are looking for other projects to work on and improve.
What are they learning from creating?
Simply creating without taking time to reflect on the learning and growth falls short of closing the learning loop. It’s important for students to reflect on their learning and examine what they did well, what can be improved, and what would they change if they did this project again. This type of reflection strengthens the learning process and provides students with a true life example of a workflow project that is regularly practiced in the workplace. A collaborative reflection on the project allows for collective thoughts on how to improve and grow.
Finally, start small and build big. Leading creativity is energizing and empowering. When we have the courage to ask these four questions, we open up the learning culture to become more creative and empowering for students.
Bill Ziegler, EdD, is the principal of Pottsgrove High School in Pottstown, PA. He was a 2015 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year and the 2016 Pennsylvania Principal of the Year. Bill is the host of “Lead the Way, A Podcast for School Leaders,” which works to encourage, equip, and empower school leaders. He is also the co-author of Future Focused Leaders: Relate, Innovate, and Invigorate for Real Educational Change. See more of his thoughts on creativity at https://youtu.be/zs1BqDQOtLk, follow him on Twitter (@drbillziegler), visit his website at www.chaselearning.org.
As school leaders, we often feel pulled in many different directions and it can be difficult to navigate where we should be leading from. We must be careful to stay grounded and lead from the right place—otherwise, as a line from my favorite musical goes, we could easily be like a ship blown from its mooring, adrift with plenty of work to do but no stability.
So where should we lead from? I suggest we lead from several places: from the heart, from the mind, and from a place of stability.
Leading From the Heart
Leading from the heart is all about leading from a place of care and compassion—not only for our students, but also for the adults in our buildings and systems that we lead. For the most part, I believe we all entered education because we intended to do what’s best for kids on the daily—I mean, I hope that’s why you entered education. However, sometimes we get so caught up in doing what is best for kids that we can forget the humanity of the adults we are leading and how our kid-based decisions might affect them and the work they do each day.
I am not suggesting that we change kids being our true north during the decision-making process, but I am stating that our approach when making and sharing decisions and working with the adults is important to the climate and culture of our building. Leading from the heart means providing the adults we work with a clear picture of the “why” behind the decision and an understanding of the work that needs to be done along with a clear expectation of what the end product should be. As Brené Brown says in Dare to Lead, “Clear is kind.”
Leading From the Mind
Leading from the mind entails keeping our mind clear and able to function at high levels, which includes self-care. This means taking time away from work to recharge our internal battery. To different people, this means different things. Personally, I believe Rachel Hollis is right when she stated the importance of hydration as part of her “Five to Thrive.” That’s right—I am suggesting you drink lots of water, which will mean lots of bathroom breaks, but the importance of staying hydrated is a scientifically proven fact. Secondly, leading from the mind includes an insatiable desire to learn and improve yourself as a leader. Our world is changing so rapidly, as are the issues and challenges facing our students and “staffulty” (that’s the word I use to describe faculty and staff—we are always just one big happy staffulty). We must stay current and relevant, filling our mind with new things and keeping our mind open to the possibility that our own previous beliefs may be flawed.
Leading From a Place of Stability
Leading from a place of stability means standing firm, with heart, around our decision making. However, we want stability that is similar to the stability that our spinal cord provides for our body—the stability to move many miles daily, all the while being flexible enough not to snap when we step into a pothole. Our leadership should assume this same model. Lead from a place where your students and staff feel comfortable to move forward, following you—all the while knowing that when problems arise, your dexterity and flexibility will allow everyone to move past the issue by making a minor in-the-moment adjustment while staying on course. That is true stability, staying focused on the goal and having the strength of mind and body to make minor adjustments along the way.
Note that nowhere is this blog did I mention the word ego, because in leadership there is no space for it. When your ego is permitted to guide your leadership, you will be definitely be blown from your moorings and things will go awry. Don’t allow your ego to enter the room because the people we lead need leaders with clear hearts, minds, and stability—and because, in the words of educator and author Adam Welcome, “kids deserve it.”
We have been called to lead with our hearts, minds, and stability. Now get out there and change the world for the better for our kids and those we lead!
Annette Wallace is the chief operating and academic officer of Worcester County Public Schools. She is the former principal of Pocomoke High School, a high-poverty school on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Annette is the 2017 Principal of the Year for the Maryland Association of Secondary School Principals and the 2018 Maryland Society of Education Technology Outstanding Leader of the Year. Follow her on Twitter at @Aewallace8.
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When I was child, I always wanted to juggle like the showstoppers in the circus and on television. I mastered juggling two balls (not that impressive, I know) but when the third ball entered the mix, I couldn’t control it, and I looked like a clown in the worst sense of the word. As school leaders, we have to juggle all the time. We have our professional and personal roles, and sometimes we sacrifice one for the other, and that’s when everything starts crashing down.
It is important that we look at the three “P” roles in our lives—principal, parent, and partner—and make sure we do everything we can to ensure each gets the time and attention that it needs and deserves. I have learned over the past few years that this is easier said than done.
Last year, a mentor of mine said something that rocked me to the core. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Remember Roger, you are not married to your job.” After hearing those words, shame began to build up as I started to really think about the time I commit to work compared to the time with my wife. I would spend all day at work and when I came home, work was all I would think about. I would sit there and think of all I had to do, look at my calendar, and check emails while I sat on the couch, three feet away from my wife while failing to check on her. Around the same time, more shame filled my heart when my seven-year-old daughter looked at me and said, “Daddy, am I important [as your job] too?” I was guilty of spending more time raising my professional status than raising my children.
After truly evaluating myself, I knew something had to change with the way I was balancing my roles. This was difficult at first because I didn’t want to be less of a leader to my building and was afraid of what would happen if I decreased the time I spent on that role. Surprisingly, making these changes made me a better leader because I had more joy and peace from my relationships and positive interactions with my family.
Below are a few changes that I made to bring balance to the two most important “P” roles in my life—parent and partner. Change is hard, but your family is worth it. At the end of the day, it is your family sitting around the dinner table and snuggling with you on the couch, not your job. Put these two roles first, and success in your other roles is sure to follow.
When you come home for work, stop and give all of your attention to your family. Let your partner and your children tell you all about their days. Show them that what they are saying is the most important thing. Trust me, there will be stories about what happened on the playground and on the drive home from work that you can do without hearing, but by listening you are letting your family know you care about every part of their lives and that you honor their feelings.
When you get home, hug your family and “hang up” your phone. Take your phone to the charger or get a little box that electronics go in for a specific time period. I actually took a small square Amazon box and wrote “No Phones 4:00–7:00 p.m.,” and that is where we place our electronics when we get home. Nothing says you are important like a cell phone in a box.
Individual Date Nights
You need to make time for your partner and children. Make sure at a minimum you take your spouse on a date twice a month. This is a great way to really connect and grow as you talk without interrupting children. Along with taking your partner on a date, plan individual dates with your children as well. Take your daughter to the movies, your son to the park. Make time for each member of your family so they know they are your top priority.
Over the summer and at least once during the school year, take your family on a getaway. It doesn’t have to be expensive; just getting away from it all lets you focus on the things that matter most—your family.
Do Chores Together
On the weekends, clean together. Let your partner know that you value them by grabbing a toilet bowl brush and a vacuum and clean the house together while you make your relationship sparkle and shine.
Are you giving your partner and parent roles the attention that they need? What are some things in your professional role that are keeping you from your personal roles? Which of those things can you stop juggling and have someone else juggle? Which of the above examples can you start implementing in your life today?
Roger Gurganus is an assistant principal at Brownstown Middle School, a grade 6–7 building in Brownstown, MI. He has a passion for children and education and strives to ensure that every student is connected and feels part of the positive communities he creates. Follow his educational and leadership journey on Twitter (@RogerGurganusII), Instagram (@RogerGurganusII), YouTube (@BMSWARRIORS67), and his blog (https://raiseyouranchor.blogspot.com).
As I reflect on the years that I have been at Whaley School, we are graduating more students each year, we are offering more elective classes that tie into what students want to do after graduation, and our teachers are working hard to create amazing lessons in and out of the classroom—all things which help build resiliency in our students.
Among the ways we teach resiliency:
A Positive Belief in Our Students’ Abilities
When staff talk to our students, they are helping build positive self-esteem within them. We process student behavior on a daily basis—reminding students of their strengths while discussing their successful reentry back into class is key to encouraging strong confidence and resilience for the future.
Helping to Build a Strong, Caring Network Around Our Students
By doing this, our students feel safe in times of crisis. Students are able to confide in us so, we are better able to help them each day.
Teaching That Change Is Inevitable
In order for resilience to occur, students must learn to be flexible. While routine is best for our students, we realize that routines may be interrupted, and we teach adaptability so students are better able to manage their emotions in times of crisis.
Finding Your Passion
Teachers try many different things in their own classrooms that they are passionate about in order to offer experiences students may continue with in the future. We also ask students to create something within their own passions—to teach us!
Staying Positive and Optimistic
Sometimes this is difficult, but if we keep the positive at the forefront, this only helps students. Teaching students that staying positive in negative or dark situations is important for resilience and the future. This doesn’t mean that we want to ignore the problem, but we want to find positive solutions. We understand that there are setbacks, but that doesn’t mean that students will stay in the ‘setback’ place. In this way, we teach students the ability to combat their challenges.
Team-building activities are required at our school. Teachers work together for one purpose, the success of our students. In order to do this successfully, teachers need to build meaningful relationships with one another.
Our teachers have the ability to add their own passions to their classrooms to present to students. Whether this is in their core classroom teaching through their content or teaching an elective class, teachers have the ability to make these choices at the beginning of each year.
Each week positive notes, quotes, or sayings are sent out to staff through the Monday Memo—via email or put into their mailbox. I sometimes even deliver them to all staff personally!
Giving staff the ability to be flexible in their scheduling, student groupings, and more helps them feel like they are a part of the planning—which they are.
We celebrate staff birthdays, awards, family events, new scores on tests, activities in the classroom—everything good!
We can always stay positive and share our smiles with someone else. This is what we can and should do every day. Our students need to see, hear, and learn resilience. They deserve it.
Robyn Harris is principal of Whaley School in Anchorage, AK. She is the 2018 Alaska Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter (@WhaleySchool), Facebook (Whaley School), and her blog (whaleyschool.weebly.com).
Chief Ivan Blunka School is a preK–12 school located in the Alaska bush community of New Stuyahok. In New Stuyahok, hunting, fishing, and subsisting off the land aren’t hobbies but a necessity for survival due to the lack of traditional economic opportunities. Our community is only accessible by air or boat, and even then only when the weather cooperates. Everything we need to run our school, from toilet paper to textbooks, is flown in via single-engine aircraft.
The biggest challenge our students face is gaining exposure to all of the college and career choices that are available to them. Our students do not encounter the casual exposure to these opportunities that students in more urban settings experience. I feel that a major part of my responsibilities as assistant principal is to provide my students in every grade with every possible opportunity to see what options are out there and provide them with equal access to an amazing future of their choice.
I never want students to feel like they are missing out on something because of where they are from.
One opportunity students in rural Alaska miss out on is college visits. We use technology to host virtual college and postsecondary training program visits for our juniors and seniors each year. We have had admissions counselors and former students video chat to show our students their campuses, talk about what kinds of programs they offer, the application process, financial aid, and what recreation opportunities are available. The most beneficial part of these virtual visits is the opportunity for students to ask questions.
In rural Alaska, student travel opportunities are extremely expensive. It often takes creative funding, excessive fundraising, and being an expert travel agent to make travel opportunities possible for our students. But all of that work is so worth it. Students who travel learn how to interact with people who are different from themselves, learn how to navigate in unfamiliar places, and experience opportunities they never knew existed. Last year, I was fortunate enough to chaperone my student council officers on a trip to Washington, D.C., for the National Close Up program. The trip across the country was a huge investment in time and money, but it was worth every penny spent and every minute in airports for one moment, my proudest moment as an Alaskan educator.
During our last day in Washington, we visited the National Museum of the American Indian. There was a small section of the museum dedicated to the Yup’ik culture. My students were so proud to see their culture represented in a national museum. As we excitedly talked about the familiar pictures and artifacts, some of the other museum guests overheard that our group was from Alaska and struck up conversations with the students. These students, who were once so shy that they would have never considered holding a conversation with a stranger, proudly shared that they were Alaska Natives and that they were Yup’ik. These three students answered every question they were asked with pride and confidence, and I have never been prouder!
We rely on the connections we have made in our community, across Alaska, and as far flung as Minnesota and Hawaii and beyond. When we can’t take students out of the village, we bring opportunities to our students. We have had a graphic designer and videographer from Minnesota teach classes to our students when she traveled to our village to work on a documentary project, and she even had students assist her. While on a senior trip in Hawaii, a connection with a tour guide led a student to a new guitar and love of music. We have had visiting artists, experts who suture skin, and doctors teach lessons and share their careers with our students. We have made positive connections with our legislators in the state government to provide our students with amazing learning opportunities. And last but not least, we have had local community members and former students visit classes to talk about their jobs or the postsecondary opportunities they have pursued.
Finally, it’s important to instill a sense of pride in our students about the culture and community they come from. They may be experiencing an opportunity gap from someone else’s point of view, but they have so many opportunities to experience things no one else outside of rural Alaska will ever experience. Our students have lives full of rich, meaningful experiences, with a close connection to their own culture most people can only dream of. For every opportunity they may “miss out on” by living in rural Alaska, they are provided with so much more in return.
Opportunity gaps exist for students beyond rural Alaska. I challenge my fellow leaders in education to find innovative ways to close the gaps for your students, no matter where they live or what their background is, while at the same time instilling a sense of pride in the culture and community they come from.
Meghan Redmond is the assistant principal at Chief Ivan Blunka School, a preK–12 school in New Stuyahok, AK. New Stuyahok is off the road system and only accessible by air or boat. Meghan has worked in rural Alaska for 10 years and is the 2019 NASSP National Assistant Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter (@alaska22redmond) and the Chief Ivan Blunka School on Facebook at the “CIBS Eagles Fan Page.”
As education continues to change, so does the way we teach and how our students learn. Instead of the teachers being the holder of all information, our students now have the resources to drive their own learning. Personalizing learning for students allows students greater opportunities to control their learning and search for what suits them, and my Virtual Tour event focuses on what personalized learning looks like at Mason High School.
As we make these changes in learning, we need to make sure we are purposefully following specific steps so our staff and students are successful. Here are six steps leaders must take in order to successfully shift to personalized learning.
If you are going to personalize learning in your district, it needs to be embedded in your beliefs and mindset. Do your research and make sure it is the right fit for your students and staff. Collect data and feedback from all of your stakeholders on their thoughts on personalized learning. Contact the experts in personalized learning to help you create a plan on how you will provide professional development. At Mason City Schools, we have worked with Alison Zmuda throughout the last few years to work with administrators and staff so we could introduce personalized learning in a thoughtful, organized manner. The key behind making personalized learning successful in your district is making sure it is a part of everyone’s vision.
While change is hard work, it also requires patience. To be successful, you need to spend a lot of time planning your approach to integrating personalized learning. This process can’t be rushed. Collect data, solicit feedback, and have purposeful meetings to create your plan. At Mason, we had selected cohorts of teachers from different grade levels and content levels lead the learning throughout the district. These staff members received professional development before the school year began and were prepared for the new year. Planning is essential for every administrative team to complete in order to set the teachers up for success during the year.
The famous quote by former Ohio State University football coach Woody Hayes still stands the test of time. You need to have the right people in place in order for personalized learning to be successful. Having the proper support in place provides resources to your students and staff to ensure progress. It’s important to place people in support positions who are passionate about personalized learning. They will do the necessary homework to generate ideas, find answers for staff, and coach students and staff to successfully implement personalized learning. Providing help with consistent check-ins will help ensure a successful transition.
It is important to create the time and place for staff to get help and grow in their knowledge and delivery of personalized learning. Take a look at your bell schedule and different spaces in your buildings where you may be able to make some changes. Create time in your schedules where staff can collaborate and learn from each other. Get creative with different spaces and see if you can make a space where your cohort can gather and gain inspiration.
Share and recognize successful personalized learning experiences. It is important for staff members and students to see what success looks like. Take time during staff meetings and in your weekly staff communications to share the great things going on with personalized learning. Let students share their experiences too. Have discussions and studies on changing practices such as homework, assessments, and grades, and encourage teachers to make changes.
Collect data from staff, students, and parents on how personalization is going. Feedback is essential to making improvements. Share the feedback with your stakeholders. Let them know what is going well and where there are opportunities for growth. Transparency in the process of change allows others to stay aware of what is taking place and what the district plans to do with the feedback.
As we make shifts in education, it is important to follow the steps discussed above to provide a solid foundation for change. It’s our job as leaders to help our staff and students adapt to the changes by providing guidance and support.
This blog is part of NASSP’s Virtual Tour Series. Be sure to tune in to Facebook on November 13 at 9:05 a.m. (ET) to participate in the live tour. Jamie Richardson will also be leading the #PrinLeaderChat on Twitter on November 17 at 9:00 p.m. (ET).
Bobby Dodd is the principal at Mason High School in Mason, OH. He was a 2016 NASSP Digital Principal Award winner. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram at @bobby__dodd.
Each year in November, we take time as a middle level school to emphasize the importance of gratitude. While we are an international school, we build off the American holiday of Thanksgiving as a foundation for celebrating recognition and thanks. Abundant research connects gratitude with a sense of purpose and happiness, and focusing on gratitude is an important way to help meet students’ social-emotional needs.
Our work with gratitude gets folded into our advisory program, but it also permeates into other classes and includes active involvement by our teachers. The premise of our work with students is based on the message presented in a 12-minute Ted Talk by author Shawn Achor: “The Happiness Advantage: Linking Positive Brains to Performance”. In this talk, Achor challenges viewers to engage in a 21-day “rewire” to support changing the way our brain looks at the world, with gratitude as a key part of his ultimate goal of happiness. As he says, “…it’s not necessarily the reality that shapes us, but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality.”
Achor’s 21-day rewire consists of the following activities to create lasting positive change:
Here’s how we have supported our school’s 21-day rewire for gratitude for the month of November in past years. We scaffolded our work from the individual/self (privately writing things we are grateful for in our life), to expanding gratitude to share with someone else (a letter of thanks to someone we care about), to spreading appreciation in our community (placing notes on a gratitude tree).
In week one, we introduced gratitude journals to students and continued this daily practice for 21 days. We kicked off with an assembly for all middle level students, which included a student-friendly video linking gratitude and happiness. In week two, we continued daily gratitudes and expanded the work to include students writing a letter of gratitude to someone they care about. In week three, we continued daily gratitudes in the journals, and then students wrote a message of thanks related to our community on paper leaves, which were hung on a Gratitude Tree in our common space. Throughout the month, teachers shared videos, read passages from books, and generated conversations to actively share these gratitudes.
Over the course of the month, we also shared articles with faculty to deepen how we practice and model gratitude for our students. Two great articles that share the research of how being grateful leads to deeper happiness are “Choose to Be Grateful. It Will Make You Happier” and “The Neuroscience of Gratitude.” Here is a link to additional resources to support gratitude work, including several articles, videos, and images that capture the essence of gratitude.
A high-quality education is about so much more than rigorous academics. It is also about developing character and teaching students the skills and dispositions to successfully engage in a changing world. With anxiety and depression on the rise, it is essential for schools to consider the needs of the whole child. Focusing on gratitude is one way to accomplish this goal.
Education is about so much more than just teaching a rigorous academic curriculum. Supporting a culture of gratitude will also support a culture of love, happiness, and purpose. When we engage in gratitude work, we support a community that can meet its potential and maximize the learning that is possible at school.
“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.”
—Brother David Steindl-Rast
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
—John F. Kennedy
Alexa P. Schmid is the middle level principal at the International School of Kenya and the 2019 U.S. Department of State Office of Overseas Schools Principal of the Year. She is currently working on her doctorate in education from Plymouth State University, where she is studying cultural competency leadership in international schools. She was a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia, and has worked in international schools in Egypt, India, and Kenya.
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