“It is lonely at the top.” We suspect that everyone who is reading our post has heard this quote relating to the isolation that can come with leadership.This can be true of educators at every level whether we lead a district, department, campus or classroom. With all the tools available to become a connected educator, there is really no reason to remain in a silo of isolation in your role. This post will explore the way two principals maintain an authentic connection that supports and challenges the work that we both do. We will explore some specific questions about being a connected educator and how we overcome those challenges. After that we will show how we stay connected and how you can do the same. We will end with a challenge for you!
Why is being a connected educator important to you?
I (Mark) am the principal of a new campus, Stockdick Jr. High. I have had the pleasure of serving students for 30 years as a science teacher and an administrator. I am driven to connect due to my strong belief in synergy. I am a servant leader who wants to be masterful in the craft of growing others. Connecting with others serves to stretch my thinking and give me fresh ideas.
I (Jeff) am the principal of A&M Consolidated Middle School. This is the third year at my campus as principal. Prior to my current role, I have been at the intermediate and high school levels of campus administration and teaching. In my years of education I have learned that staying connected to peers is critical to my success. The reason for being connected is because I need to be able to collaborate, discuss, share, and explore the possibilities related to my day to work with someone that can relate to my work.
How do you fight the isolationism that comes with the job of being a principal (or any leadership role)?
Serving in any kind of leadership capacity can be lonely work because you are the person that everyone looks to for guidance, solutions, vision, and judgement. You are supposed to have all of the answers, right?!? The pressure that comes with the title of principal is real. There is only one principal on a campus. Yes, there are assistant principals but, at the end of the day, they are looking to the principal as well. The buck stops with you. When you do not know the answer, who do you turn to? How do you make your decisions? Who do you talk to?
This is where having a peer principal to talk over issues with makes all the difference in the world. One of you may have already worked through the issue that the other is currently struggling with. Both of you are able to relate to the stress of the position and the expectations that come with the title of principal.
Sometimes those connections are made within your district and sometimes those connections are made across districts. With the in-district connections, you are able to have lots of rich conversation about the issues that are within your district and what is being faced within the system. There is power in those connections but sometimes those connections fall short because there is a lack of an outside perspective. This is where the out of district connections come into play. When you have peer connections at different districts you open the door for different perspectives and solutions. These connections are just as powerful as the in-district connections. Are you connected with your peers within your district? How about outside of your district?
What are the advantages to being a connected educator?
Most educators know that effective leaders are masterful at balancing pressure and support as they grow others. What fewer people think about is how a leader’s drive to be the very best creates an intrinsic pressure and a need to also be supported. Being connected to a peer educator helps us maintain an internal balance.
Our intrinsic pressure to get better is served by being connected. Through collaboration, ideas are exchanged. New and different ways to accomplish our goals are explored. Reflection on what is working or not working for our peer moves us forward. I find that some of my most meaningful learning opportunities come through ongoing connection to peer principals. The action orientation of these relationships is an advantage that comes from being connected.
The principalship is a tough job. The reality is that being connected to a peer that has your same position creates an easy opportunity for empathy. When you are walking in one another’s shoes, the ability to support each other is not much of a reach. When we are vulnerable and authentic in sharing struggles and celebrations, the connection grows. Through hearing and being heard, we are healed.
What makes voxer so powerful for you?
I think we all realize that the best possible connections with people are face-to-face. The ability to interact with one another in this fashion allows superior communication verbally and non-verbally. The next best thing to face-to-face communication is arguably the use of video chat platforms such as Skype, Google hangouts, or Facetime. The biggest issue with face-to-face meetings or video chats is the need to coordinate time. The reality is that there simply is not enough time to bring all the players together that should have a voice in the process. Enter Voxer.
For me (Mark), Voxer is my go-to tech tool for asynchronous collaboration. I am able to have ongoing conversations with a variety of individuals and/or groups, as time allows. I spend approximately 45 minutes each day commuting to and from work. I leverage this time to move things forward with Voxer. I may lose the non-verbal aspect of a face-to-face, but I can still enjoy the more subtle forms of verbal conversation such as tone, word emphasis, and emotion. These elements make the communication clearer and bring the conversation to life far beyond the written word.
For me (Jeff), Voxer is a great tool for connecting with others from all over the country and within your own building. Typically, I use voxer during my 20 minute commute. I started this about 4 years ago and it has become part of my normal routine. Why? Talking is much easier than texting / typing. Hearing someone’s voice is very powerful and I don’t have to worry about the video component that comes with something like FaceTime or Hangouts. A reality of the world we live in is the hustle and bustle of our schedules. Making phone calls on a daily basis is challenging but with Voxer the connection is on our time and our schedule. Since you leave voice messages for each other and you check those and leave those when you can, the conversation continues regardless of the busyness of everyone’s schedule.
Do you want to see what a voxer conversation looks and sounds like? Click here to view a short video to give you a better idea.
Here is the challenge… join the voxer group, start a conversation, and bust that silo that is holding you back!
We want you to join in the Busting Silos Voxer Group if you are interested! Please click here and complete the google form so we can get you in the group.
In case you did not know... I am a huge fan of CBS Sunday Morning. There is something about the stories they share that just make everything feel like home. Today, I was fortunate enough to be able to watch this Sunday Morning at my dad's house (which is a treat in and of itself) and this was one of the stories that was aired today.
Take 5 minutes to watch it if you have not seen it already. If you have seen it, I recommend you watch it again because you just might catch something you did not catch the first time.
Have you watched it yet? What did you take away from it?
If you would have told me 20+ years ago that Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg would be hosting a TV show together I would not have laughed out loud and said, "yeah right." They could not have been any more different.... or so I thought.
Isn't life wonderful?!
Here are two people that could not appear to be any more different on the surface but in all actuality they are very much alike in so many ways
Think about that. Look at the history of their lives and you will see what I am talking about
"We are not all so different." ~ Martha Stewart.
Just when you think you do not have anything in common with someone, I challenge you to talk with them. When you take the time to have a conversation and build a relationship, most of the time, you will find that you have more in common than you realize.
Don't believe me? Try it with your most challenging student. I bet you will be surprised to see how much you have in common with that student if you take the time to get to know him or her.
Isn't life wonderful?
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
As a campus principal, I often ask why we do what we do. If we cannot explain it and show how it supports kids and learning… do we need to still do it? How do you know?
When you are willing to examine everything by asking why, you then must be willing to make the changes that need to be made when you find the answers.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
When is the last time you pushed your limits? What happened? What did you learn about yourself? What are your plans to push yourself again>=?
If you are not willing to push yourself to your own limits, how will you ever grow?
If you are not willing to push yourself to your own limits, how will you be able to push others effectively?
Get out of your own comfort zone and grow!
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
Take a couple of minutes to watch this video. Listen from the different perspectives you have: teacher, student, friend, community member.
What are your take-a-ways? Here are mine:
"Dreams without goals ultimately fuel disappointment. Have dreams, but have goals." I think this is what makes the difference between those that seem to live their dreams and those that do not. You must work hard to make dream a reality. Having smaller, achievable, attainable, progressive goals help you to achieve your dreams. What are your dreams? How will you get there? How can I help you get there?
Fail Big. Don't Be Afraid to Fail.
I talk about being willing to fail all the time. We must step outside of our comfort zone and push ourself. That is how we grow. If we do not increase the rigor, challenge our thinking, stimulate our minds and body differently, we won't grow; instead we become stagnate. We are not adjusting and adapting to an ever-changing world.
I will not be upset if you are trying something new to improve student learning and it does not go the way you want it to go. I will celebrate it and help you to trouble shoot what went wrong. I would rather have you miss big trying to improve than stay safe and not grow.
What a great example of the 9 dots as a part of the IQ test. It required test takers to think outside the box... to think differently. Sometimes we just cannot operate outside of the parameters we are given. That's okay. It does not mean we cannot think differently and take different approaches within the box we have to work in. Be willing to think differently and take a different approach.
Don't confuse movement with progress.
Doing a lot more does not mean you are getting a lot more done. I think many of us are guilty of this, me included. We are so busy doing, and doing, and doing that we get to the end of a day or week and we cannot really say what we accomplished. The remedy for this: focus on what needs to be done to get you where you need to be. Take advantage of the time you have and be as productive as you can be in that allotted time.
Don't just aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference.
As educators, we are in the people business. We contribute to the growth and development of future generations. We are difference makers in the lives of our students. Being a teacher is more than just a job. It is a calling. The work you do each day matters. Aspire to make a positive difference in the lives of each of your students. If you go into each day with that mindset, you will be just fine.
I am looking forward to a fantastic 2017-2018. I hope you are too!
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
It is the first of August. School administrators across America are working diligently to prepare for the rapidly approaching school year. To do lists are growing by the minute and meetings seem to take more time than normal. The anxiety and excitement is building around the knowns and unknowns related to the start of a new school year. This is one of my favorite times of the year.
As does most every other principal on the eve of a new school year, I spend time reviewing data. The purpose of this data review is to help me know the needs of my campus. I use the data to identify areas of strength and areas of growth. When data is used properly, it can reinforce the work of a faculty and when it is used recklessly it can destroy the morale of a campus. Data analysis and use is critical to the success of a school.
Today, I spent a great deal of time reviewing engagement data. I was not looking at data to show the growth rates and improvement of students. Instead, I was looking for the engagement data of my staff.
I spent time reviewing over the data that reflects if my staff is engaged in their work and accepting of my challenges. In my opinion, this is some of the most important data a principal can collect about his or her campus. I reviewed staff attendance rates, budget expenditures and usages, paper consumption, printing costs, student program participation rates, number of student club sponsorships, and attendance at professional learning opportunities.
In short, I am looking at the engagement levels of my staff. Why? A couple of years ago Gallup Poll released this study about teacher engagement in America. If you are not familiar with this study and report, you must to read it.
Staggering isn't it? 70% of the teachers in America are either not engaged or actively disengaged in their work. This means that only 3 out of 10 teachers in every school are engaged in their work. That is unacceptable. That should not happen. According to Gallup, it happens each day.
What did I find? I found engagement. Lots and lots of engagement. I am very pleased with the data because it shows that my faculty and staff are active and a part of my school. The data I reviewed shows that my faculty is accepting my challenges to grow, improve, adjust, and challenge the status quo to do what is best for their kids. That is critical.
I am not going to put any spoilers here because I want to share this with my staff before I share it with my PLN… sorry, it is just a respect thing. So why am I sharing this with you? I want to challenge you to see if your faculty and staff is engaged in your school.
Look for that engagement data. How do you know if your staff is really engaged in your school if you never look for the data so show the engagement?
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
I find myself nearing the end of a long, yet, fast season of summer school. Not as an administrator, but as a student. Over the past 10 weeks my doctoral cohort and I have experienced some struggle with learning STATS I and STATS II online and developing our qualitative research and writing skills. It has been a blur to say the least.
What have I learned? Besides ANOVA, Regressions, and Qualitative Coding Techniques?
I am reminded of the importance of perseverance in education.
Throughout these past 10 weeks we have been grappling with very difficult content, hours of videos, pages of writing, and many, many, many long hours. The thought of giving up comes to mind from time to time. This is difficult stuff to learn this quickly.
Then I am reminded of this:
Being successful in academics does not always mean that you are the smartest person in the room. It does not always mean that you are first one to turn in the assignment or the first person to solve the problem. Being successful in academics means that you did not stop until you achieved excellence in the task at hand.
Do we teacher this to our kids or do we just expect them to know what this looks like?
As educators, we cannot lose sight of this when it comes to teaching our kids. We must teach our students the power of perseverance. We cannot afford to let them give up, no matter how difficult the task at hand may seem. Does your boss let you do less than what is expected for the task at hand because you do not want to do it or because it was too difficult to complete? I highly doubt it. We cannot afford to accept nothing less than their excellence.
How will you help your students to persevere to their excellence this year? If you will not hold them to that standard, who will?
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
:Do you read Seth Godin's blog? Maybe you should. His posts are almost always short and very thought provoking. His blog is a great addition to your professional learning.
Here is his posting for today:
This is where leaders often fall short. We do not give the understanding behind what we are doing, where we are going, and why as leaders or as an organization. And we wonder why we cannot change as an organization. We can cast blame on the others all we want, but in the end, it starts with the leadership and how we choose to work with our people.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
For one week in June each year, administrators from all across the great state of Texas converge on Austin. We are all here for the same reason, to learn. There are three fantastic associations that host some of the greatest principals in America during this week. Texas School Administrators Legal Digest, Texas Association of Secondary School Principals (TASSP), and Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association (TEPSA). The learning has been top notch and all of the participants have had plenty of sessions and presenters that are able to push their thinking about schools and what’s best for kids. Want to see what I am talking about? Click the links below:
As these sessions begin to wind down over the course of this afternoon and tomorrow I challenge you to think about the following:
I think that all of these are questions that we ask ourselves after each professional learning session. If you do not ask yourself these questions… what are you doing this for, I mean really? Just a vacation? Not cool.
Those questions are great but here is where I want you to really focus:
Would we accept our students only learning once a year? Heck no! Why do we accept that for ourselves and for our teachers?
Think about that.
As my friend Jimmy Casas says, we must model the way in all that we do. One place to begin is with learning. Not just our students’ learning, but our learning. The great thing is that we can strive for tomorrow, today. Each day is a new shot at personal excellence. Thanks for sharing your learning and leading the way Jimmy.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
Here is a question for you? What’s in your “Secret Sauce” to success in life? Have you ever thought about that? If you do, what is your secret? If you have not, perhaps you should so that you know (a) what helps you to be successful or (b) an area of growth to increase your success.
I woke early this morning to drive to Dallas so that I could attend a professional learning opportunity. There are some of us that prefer to sleep in our own beds instead of hotels, even if that means leaving the comfort of that bed in the wee hours of the morning to arrive at your destination. Today was one of those days for me.
As I was driving from College Station to Dallas I listened to a couple of podcasts. My wife, the brilliant Amanda Mann @amann4edu, introduced me to podcasts a few years ago and, as with all things my wife introduces me to, my life took a turn for the better. Thank you, Amanda. Little did you know that you created a podcast consuming monster…. Or maybe you did!
The world of podcasts is a fantastic place. It is like listening to the radio, but without all the commercials. I love that. If you do not like what you are listening to, you can just go on to the next podcast. You are in control of your own learning and consumption… just what adult learners (and kid learners for that matter) need to be engaged in learning.
I subscribe to some education related podcasts, but most of them are not related to education at all. Instead, they are about risk taking, big thinkers, storytelling, funs stuff, and creativity leaders. These various podcasts help me to think differently about leadership, the principalship, and how to relate to the variety of people I encounter each day. All from one singe device that I carry in my pocket every day.
So what is the point you ask? The point is, I believe that we must always find ways to push ourselves in our learning and growth. That is a main ingredient in my secret sauce. If you do not expose yourself to different thinking, ideas, perspectives, life lessons, stories, and points of view you will lose perspective on the world that is outside of yours. As a leader can you afford to do that? Perhaps it is time for you to reevaluate the ingredients of your secret sauce.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
A lifelong learner that is committed to asking questions to seek greater understandings.
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are
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