Monday, July 30, 2012

Collaborate through Confusion

My first ever 6 mile run was accomplished today, 2 weeks before my 40th birthday.  It was the most gratifying yet tiring thing I've done in a long time, physically speaking that is.  As I began my run, I felt good.  My goal was set before I started, and I was committed to making it happen.  Through the first 3 miles, I maintained a good pace, monitoring my breathing to make sure that I did not get winded.  The first 3 miles were accomplished, and under the time that I set as my half way point goal. 

Now the time had arrived to begin my journey home.  I could feel the tweak in various muscles in my legs.  My stomach was beginning to cramp a little.  The physical exhaustion allowed doubt to seap into my mind.  Could I reach my goal?  Could I make it up the next hill?  All of these questions and mental moments of doubt created confusion and attempted to deter me from my goal.

In my confusion, I down-shifted my goals from finishing my run to shorter-term goals.  Instead of reaching the mile marker from my Runtastic app, I focused my mind and legs on running to a tangible, attainable and concrete goal on my path, mailboxes, driveways, etc.  I turned up the Creed station on Pandora and demanded of myself to reach my next target. When I reached that target, I briefly patted myself on the back and immediately looked down the path to a new target that I knew was attainable and began the mental process all over again.  Before I knew it, I was turning back into my neighborhood for my final half mile where I celebrated my conquest over my new distance record and for using my confusion and doubt to push myself to a place where I had never been before.

As teams of educators, what do we do when we reach a place we have never been before and begin to experience confusion or doubt.  In most teams, it is where progress or learning stops, but in committed and successful organizations it is where learning begins.  These organizations understand that confusion is the starting point for where learning begins and know that short term goals must be more frequent to overcome confusion and ultimately foster new thinking.

Analyze your Confusion

In order to conquer confusion, you must first analyze your confusion and break it down into smaller understandable parts.  Once your understand the components of your confusion, a definite pattern will emerge which simply stated is the source of your confusion. Here are some guiding questions:
  • What thoughts or uncertainties are prevalent in our confusion?
  • What expectations, initiatives or ideas are unclear or fuzzy?
  • What parts of our work create stress, fear or confusion?
  • Who are the people that add to our confusion and why is that?
  • Are there things being asked of us that we feel that we cannot do?

Set a Target on your Biggest Source of Confusion

Your answers will tell you what the biggest issue is.  The Pareto Principle says that by focusing on 20% of the problems, you can change 80% of the issue.  Select the largest uncertainty that is revealed in your inquiry and commit to learning more about it.  By creating your tangible target (i.e. - the mailbox on your run), you are ready to run.  Also, by setting a target on your most difficult source of confusion, you also are addressing the ancillary sources of confusion

Adapt to your Current Reality

Your journey begins where you currently stand and with the physical and mental condition that your team is in. In order to survive, you must adapt to your environment and part of that means that you must check yourself before you wreck yourself. Revisit your norms and make sure everyone is committed to them.
  • Are You Extremely Stressed about your Confusion? You team must take a mental break to clear minds of the stress before you begin. Sometimes, just a night of rest will be all that you need to begin the journey to overcome your confusion. For others, retail therapy, time with friends or a fun time is necessary.
  • Are You Fatigued? If so, you must realize that the journey you are about to begin will require your team to move at a slower and more comfortable pace to reach your target.  Just because you are tired doesn't mean that you can't make it through the confusion. Throughout the year, we become more fatigued and drained not by the job, but by the fact that it requires so much from us to be successful.  It is ok to move slowly on your path.
  • Are You Thirsty or Hungry? In order to get going, we need to be nourished with positive interaction and support from one another. Encouragement and celebrating how far your team has come thus far feeds the team and you need these nutrients to accomplish your goal. Discuss what you are trying to accomplish and encourage discussion, feedback and encouragement.
  • Do You Need Support on your Journey? There is nothing wrong with inviting colleagues outside of your team to go with you on this journey to conquer your confusion. They may have the same confusion and your collaborative efforts to learn from your confusion will make everyone better.  Also, having guests join you builds trusting relationships.

Time to Begin Learning

Once you have set your goal and identified what your current reality is, you must now begin your journey to learn about your confusion. Sometimes, just making up your mind to learn reinvigorates your soul and that is half the battle.  The other half of the battle is knowing where to go to learn.
  • Ask questions of your fellow colleagues.  Their experience is invaluable and many times they have had the same confusion and conquered it, so they can point you in the right direction.
  • Ask your supervisor for help on your confusion.  Many times, you're confused because they may have communicated in a confusing way. Yes, we leaders cause confusion, but a real leader will clarify and rectify ambiguity if he/she truly wants to help you.
  • Dig Deeper in your Resources  Sometimes we haven't spent enough time learning how our resources should be utilized.  It is important to do our own homework with the tools that we have been given.  Digging deeper synthesizes confusion and generates questions to resolve it.
  • Self-Reflection is a Great Learning Tool.  Reflection helps identify strengths and weaknesses and combined with information gathered from the sources listed above can yield the  energy needed to move your team ever so quickly towards your target.

Remove Distractors from your Path

In my learning, I have to set up filters so that I have the necessary energy and focus to move towards my target.  If I am truly committed to turning my confusion into learning, I have to remove all the garbage from my mind, and only allow thoughts and ideas that will support and sustain me in reaching my goal.
  • Negative Thoughts must be Countered with Positive Thoughts.  Focus your mind on the fact that your team will (not can) overcome your confusion.  Don't argue with negative thoughts.  Instead turn your mind to your commitment with positive self talk.
  • Park your Tangent Thoughts - With my random thinking, I can chase a lot a rabbits while I am running. These rabbits can get me off the path or actually have me running towards a new target.  I have to remind myself regularly that while a new thought may be good, it may not necessarily be aligned with reaching my goal.  These thoughts must go to the parking lot in my mind.  If it is a good idea, it will be there after I reach my goal.
  • Ignore Distracting People  - Teams stop running toward their target, because they allow everyone to distract them.  Yes, you have to interact with people, but you don't have to allow their actions and words to deter your efforts.  Negative interactions with people are the most distracting of all, as their negativity can make you forget all about reaching your goal. 
  • Don't Compare Your Team to Others - This isn't about being the best or the most perfect team.  It's about your team becoming stronger.  Your team is an original, so it is futile and a huge distractor when you try to compare yourself to others. Your goal is not to be THE best but to be YOUR best.

Celebrate your Confusion Conquest

If you have followed these tips to eradicating confusion, your team will accomplish your goal.  Once you eliminate your confusion, the team has proven that collectively you have the determination and self-discipline to persevere.  This should yield the self-confidence to know that you can overcome confusion each and every time that it knocks on your door.  More importantly, you have also improved upon your team's knowledge and for that, you must celebrate.  How can you celebrate?
  • Share with experience with your colleagues,
  • Write about your experience through a blog,
  • Identify the same confusion in other teams and offer to help them with your successful experience,
  • Encourage other teams that they can overcome their confusion because your team did.
In this difficult world that we live in, confusion is a daily and natural part of our lives.  If we truly want to be the best for kids, we must be the best that we can be. The only way that we will ever our best is if we are self-actualized enough to acknowledge our own confusion and make a commitment to learn from it.  Then and only then will we be prepared to win the race.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Courtesy, the Most Valuable Parent Involvement Strategy

We went to the dentist this morning and naturally, my daughters were anxious and nervous about seeing the dentist.  I mean, who isn't nervous or apprehensive about going to the dentist?

As we walked in the front door, my girls and I were blanketed with 'Good Morning', 'How are You', small talk and lots of smiles. It wasn't just for us. Every patient received the same courtesy. As we moved to the back for our cleanings, the courtesy continued with politeness and the tactful way that the staff made recommendations for better tooth care. There was plenty of evidence that a plan for systematic courtesy was ingrained in this office.

What's your plan for systematic courtesy? Does your organization have a vision for courtesy or is it left to chance? If you truly desire for your parents to be involved with your campus, you must make a commitment to articulate your vision for making every visitor welcome.

courtesy[ kur-tuh-see, kurt-see ]
1. excellence of manners or social conduct; polite behavior.
2. a courteous, respectful, or considerate act or expression.

Courtesy Plan
It is critical that the leader lead the staff in devising a plan to treat guests with courtesy. Identify where all staff members come into contact with guests and work with them to make a courtesy plan to make every guest feel welcome or appreciated. Key areas include car drop off and pick up, cafeteria, front office waiting area, parent conferences and the telephone.  Don't forget to discuss how to communicate with courtesy in emails.  Have staff members develop norms to make guests feel welcome. Identify the language, tone, and body language that must be in place to communicate courtesy. Tone and body language make up 90% of your communication.

Organizational Efficiency leads to Respect
If your systems are unorganized, you will not have time to focus on the people walking through the front door. Excessive waiting and lack of organizational procedures communicates that visitors are not a top priority. With specificity, clarify and communicate staff roles and responsibilities at duty spots, so they can positively interact with visitors. Most importantly, every employee must make eye contact and welcome every guest to the building. This small act of courtesy pays huge dividends.

Understand the Intimidation of School
To some, the school is more intimidating than the dentist's office because many people had negative or unsuccessful experiences at school. Your staff must recognize this reality so that they do not make fatal mistakes in their communication toward visitors to the school.  Failing to understand why people have reservations about school can lead to poor interactions with guests. Again, positively addressing every guest breaks down barriers and makes them think that your school is different from the school they attended. 

Recognize & Respond to Uncomfortable Guests
Visitors come to school for different reasons. One of those is to address a problem or question that they are having. Many times they are uncomfortable or even irritable as a result. Your staff must have a plan to recognize and welcome uncomfortable guests. Setting norms for handling upset or frustrated visitors with courtesy is paramount. If your staff is prepared for situations like this, they are capable of maintaining positive rapport between the visitor and the school. Ultimately these planned acts will be of great value when the visitor makes it to the person that can address their problem. Responding appropriately to uncomfortable guests reduces tension which makes way for building rapport.

Thank You are 2 Powerful Words
How much do we thank our guests for taking time to get involved? 

Thank your guests for:
  • Coming to the school,
  • Eating lunch with their child,
  • Bringing necessary paperwork,
  • Returning a phone call,
  • Bringing a problem to your attention,
  • Asking a question,
  • Supporting the school's discipline plan,
  • Helping their child with homework,
  • Etc. 
Each one of the items listed above is very important in the education of their child.  We must show our appreciation for their support.  If a guest receives thanks for the things that they do for their child, there's a strong likelihood that they will trust us more and be more involved with the school.

Enthusiasm is Exponential
If you're not excited about your job, your visitors aren't excited about being there either. Enthusiasm communicates to others that your school is a positive place, you believe in what the school is striving to do for kids, and you enjoy being a part of the organization. Greet guests with a smile, a genuine and cheerful tone, and open body language that demonstrates transparency. Enthusiasm builds bridges and makes your building feel more like a home.  More importantly, when more people show their enthusiasm at the school, your positive culture factor increases exponentially.

Sorry Communicates your Visitors' Importance
Do you communicate that you are sorry?  When we inconvenience visitors, they must hear that we are sorry. When we make a mistake, we must show that we acknowledge our faults and want to correct them. When our guests are having a bad day, we can communicate empathy. The two words, I'm sorry, are a very considerate act, show your openness and have high leverage in fostering parent involvement. 

You're Welcome, the Overlooked Courtesy
We are often so busy that we forget why we're here, to serve others. "You're Welcome" is a reflective statement. It is your opportunity to share with your visitor how important it was to serve them. Take the extra five seconds and invest them in telling your visitor how much of a pleasure it was to help them. These two words will be your down payment on the next time that your visitor returns to your school. If you do a poor job or worse, no job of saying you're welcome, you may have to start all over to build a relationship the next time your visitor returns to school.

Communication is important to solicit parent involvement, but without courtesy, the potential of communication is minimized. Courtesy or how your organization's actions value visitors complements communication and results in higher parental involvement.

Friday, July 20, 2012

In Search of Significance

What's this life for?  What purpose do I serve?  Why am I doing this?  Why am I here?

At some point in our lives, we have jostled these questions around, and they are truly perplexing ones. Without faith, it is a hopeless question.  This constant battle to figure out our earthly purpose tears at us, and in times of weakness it brings us to our knees.   So what is the purpose of this post?

The purpose of my post is significance and how we find our own.  If you think about it, every student, teacher, and leader in education is in search of it.  Some feel that they find it in accolades and accomplishments.  Others find it in the daily completion of a routine of activities.  It can be found in the short-term through the tangible things that we receive, but all of the things listed above have one thing in common.  They are man-made and can't guarantee us perpetual significance.

Significance is not found in what you receive, earn or achieve. Significance can only be found in what you give.  The reality is that the things you gain are easily forgotten.  Can you name the last SuperBowl champion, teacher of the year or last year's accountability rating?  That is because these things are permanently irrelevant in our lives.  They are events that disappear from our minds faster than they appeared.  Life moves faster than our accolades, and we are pressed to replace them quickly with an even bigger feat.

Now if I ask you who was the most inspiring teacher you ever had, someone who was there for you in your darkest hour or the greatest influence on your life.  These names flash to the forefront with lightening speed.  Why is that?  These memories consist not of things but of people.  They are critical to our DNA.  They made us who we are.  Even the most terrible people in our lives are significant because they played a role in our hard-wiring.  They shaped us in how we relate to others, how we serve others and how we guide our daily lives.

So what does this all mean?

It means that we have a constant internal battle to pay it forward.  If we truly are in search of significance, we are not looking for the next big thing to do.  We are looking for the next person to help, and we want the talent that we give to be of  grand and long-lasting nature.  It is this constant desire to ensure that what we do changes the lives and more importantly the moral fiber of the person that we intend to help.  Because if we are able to make an immense change in someone's life, that means that our lifeblood will continue to flow forever.  We will have found a way to signify ourselves by developing value in others, and I can find no better way than this to discover our significance.

Ignorance, the Secret Leadership Weapon

Being immersed in the Twitter universe for the last two months has made me realize just how much more I have to learn. This epiphany has generated a major desire for my own personal learning and growth more than any learning experience that I've ever had. In my own reflection, I have come to the conclusion that in order to be the ultimate leader, you must identify and utilize your secret weapon, your own IGNORANCE.

Let's be clear before I continue. Ignorance and stupidity are two totally different things. Let's define both:

Stupidity - n. the state of mental dullness.

Ignorance - n. the state of lacking knowledge or learning.

Many people use these terms interchangeably, but if you synthesize these two typically condescending terms, they are vastly different. I constantly want to become a better leader, but if that is to a occur, I must be a constant and continuous learner.

Seek out What You Don't Know
Bosses think they must be the supreme knower of all things in order to manage effectively.  This philosophy generally results in decision-making that creates organizational ineffectiveness.  True leaders yearn to learn more about all things in order to best guide the organization toward higher performance. This year I have challenged myself to learn more about balanced literacy and writing, and the method that works best for me is taking what I learn on my own and deepen my knowledge through conversations with teachers, central office leaders, and other literacy leaders about the various components. I use the questions that are still fuzzy in my mind to see how these people view and implement balanced literacy.  By seeking a better understanding through communication, I can make more efficient and effective decisions.

Eliminate your Fears
Many leaders won't discuss with others what they don't know because they fear that it will show that they are a weak leader. Actually this thought process is flawed and guarantees ineffective leadership. You can't lead people if you are not interested in learning from them. I want to know more about the craft of elementary instruction, and my background is secondary instruction. I can't just infer what is best practice by only what I see or think.  By showing others what I don't know, I gain a better understanding while building trust with my colleagues.  The by-product of being fearless in my constant learning is that my colleagues will recognize and respect my desire to learn more from them.

Coaching closes your own Learning Gaps
I enjoy using coaching strategies because you ask questions that can guide others to think reflectively about their craft. When some are struggling with a given issue, I jump into coaching mode and ask them reflective questions to guide their own thinking, and this is where I soak in all the information. Questions such as: 'how do you do...' , 'how do you respond to...', 'so what you're saying is...', 'what do you see as ...' help others solve their own problems, but these questions and responses close gaps in my own knowledge.

Reveal your Ignorance to Others
I have no problem saying that I don't know or don't understand something. People look to you to be able to address anything, but you can't possibly know everything. You take your first steps towards true leadership when you can admit that you don't know enough about a given topic to make a decision, but that you want to learn as much as possible so that you can make the best decision for kids, teachers and the campus as a whole.  Revealing this lack of knowledge is an opportunity for you elicits collaborative relationships, creates collective inquiry and ultimately finds the best solution to the problem.  The process of revealing your ignorance closes one more gap in your knowledge while building a stronger and more collaborative culture.

Enthusiasm for Learning More
Ignorance is bliss only if it kindles a fire that makes you want to grow in your learning and your quest to be the best leader for others. Leaders must come to the cold hard reality that the less that they know about effective instruction, best practices, technology or any other instructional idea, the less likely they will effectively lead the organization. The organization thrives on innovative leadership that has a constant passion to learn through collective inquiry. Leaders must model the fire, enthusiasm and passion in their own learning. In the end, you are modeling the mindset needed by all staff members to address their own individual lack of knowledge.

Trust is Built through Collective Inquiry
Collective inquiry is nothing more than identifying your team's collective lack of knowledge (ignorance) and doing something about it. As a leader, you should guide teams to discover the unknown. Next, leaders must empower them to make a plan to learn about the unknown, and finally implement what they have learned. The leader must be current on leading research. Tweeps, and excellent literature can be vital resources to help the team to learn. The more the team learns together, the more trust is solidified. The more trust that is built between you and your teams, the more your leadership is respected.

All this is my secret weapon, and I guess my ignorance is that I'm sharing it with you. In revealing my ignorance, my hope is that I gain more knowledge from you, the reader. To be honest, it would be stupid of me not to share these thoughts with you because not sharing would reveal my own selfishness and insecurity as a leader. Use your ignorance as a starting point to become a better leader and learner, or forever be stuck in your own lack of knowledge.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Rest of the Story about Communication

Paul Harvey's voice still rings in my ears from his daily reporting of the news from 20 years ago. This reporting icon's unique dialect, the way he would raise his pitch at the end of a given paragraph and his signature phrase at the end, "Now You Know the Rest of the Story..." had me captivated each time I heard him speak. I couldn't wait to hear the news the next day because of his
  • Regularity,
  • Enthusiasm,
  • Sincerity, and
  • Transparency
in each daily message.  Listen to a fantastic example of Paul Harvey's story-telling to see the genius of his descriptive communication style.
Do you have the above outstanding communication qualities that make your parents, staff and students want to hear from you? Communication is a special art form and one that many in leadership positions leave to chance. If you want to be successful, you must be a great communicator and utilize the R.E.S.T. tenets of communication.

Before you begin to communicate, you must develop your plan of what to communicate, how frequently you want to communicate and what forms of media or format will be best to communicate your message to as many of your stakeholders as possible.


People expect to hear from you at the same time every day in the same way.  Set your calendars and alarms to make sure your message is delivered regularly. Also use multiple media formats to ensure that you reach the audience in the media format that works best for them.  I like to send tweets linked to my Facebook account at 3:00 p.m. so parents can begin reading the daily message while they wait for their child in the parent pick-up line.  This communication also gives parents a conversation topic with their child when they get home.


Nobody wants to listen to a boring message from an uninteresting speaker or writer. Let your passion about education show, and people will be more interested in learning more about what you want them to know.  Your values and personality are communicated in the message that you send.  Parents, staff and students must hear "Why this is Important" in your message.  The why shows that you care about kids and are passionate about making sure that every child becomes a lifelong learner.


Show your audience that communication is very important.  Sincerity is showing your love for learning and compassion for each and every child.  Having flipped lessons available online shows parents that you need them involved in their child's learning by giving them a video model of what kids are expected to learn.  Inviting parents to visit the school and be involved in your daily activities also shows your sincerity. Again, letting your passion show in your communication will bring stakeholders in and will close many communication gaps with your learning community.


If no one is asking you questions, challenging ideas or suggesting new ways of doing things, nobody's listening to the leader. The purpose of your communication must be to inform and solicit input to make your organization a better place for kids, staff and parents. This means that you have to provide multiple ways for your stakeholders to communicate with you.  Have your website easy to navigate with important information to include parents in the learning process.  Reach out through your social media and emails.  Transparency is shown best when you show where you or the organization is lacking and how you value parent input to address these short-comings.  Parents want to be involved and they are less likely to be involved if they do not trust the school.

Parent communication is the key component to parent involvement.  If you make communication a priority, a strong partnership between your school and your parents will be the rest of your story.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sustain your Change

This past year, many organizations throughout the nation implemented a lot of changes to meet the needs of kids and as a result had improvement in student learning. As we return this year, it is very important that we continue to grow as educators and leaders of learning. For that to occur, we must focus on sustaining the changes that we have made in the previous year.

Diets fail because their purpose is solely to change you with little emphasis on sustaining change once it's made. In order for a diet to be effective, it must become permanent in how you live your life. You must make the changes become your new lifestyle, and we do that by committing to the behaviors and actions that helped you reach your goal.

In your organization, change is no different than the diet illustration above. In order to S.U.S.T.A.I.N the changes that you make, you should follow these steps:

Solidify your Mission, Vision, Values & Goals

Organizations think we have already have them, so we don't need to revisit them. Wrong! This is your core, why you exist. You must revisit, reflect and recommit. Focus on how the organization can be even better at living up to your Mission, Vision and Values in order to reach your SMART Goals.

Use Data to Understand the Reality of the Change you Implemented

It is important to reflect on data that your currently have. Using tools from SMART Goal experts like Terry Morganti-Fisher and Anne E. Conzemius will help you extract quantitative and qualitative data to guide your team through the process of reflection.  Organizations that are successful pull many data points from many data sources over a long period of time to effective gauge their current reality.

Simplify Productive Practices

Utilizing the data reflection process, identify practices that are effective and find ways that your team can be even more efficient at doing them. Again, SMART Goals authors, Morganti & Conzemius have great tools to choose from.  Your questions should be answered based on the trends that you extract from your trend data.

Terminate Counterproductive Practices

Taking things off the plate is hard to do, but data can help you identify practices and activities that are a waste of time. You will find things that you like to do which are counterproductive. Terminate those things if you want to be more productive. Sustaining change is more about being committed than being comfortable.

Action Plan

You've identified what you need to do, now make your plan of activities and strategies that your team will commit to in order to sustain the change. Identify the key people responsible for leading these strategies to improve clarity of responsibility and remove confusion. Using the SMART Goal process will help your team be clear in defining your specific and strategic plans to reach your goals.

Implement your Monitoring Plan

If you want to continue to improve, you must be willing to make a plan of what you will monitor and how frequently you will monitor it. Monitoring learning is important, but so is monitoring your action plan. It helps your team hold themselves accountable for staying committed to the action plan. As you identify gaps in learning, you can use data from monitoring your action plan to evaluate if your team is failing to follow the strategies that you outlined in your action plan.

Norm Your Behaviors Again

Last and most important, teams must norm how they will work together to follow the plan. Include norms for when to meet, how to meet, contribute, collaborate and support one another. Remove useless or confusing norms and collectively add new norms that will make your team more cohesive, efficient and collaborative.

Change is easy because you can see results quickly, but failure to sustain the change is where organizations fail and go back to their original state. This occurs because they never took the time to see what worked, what their current reality is and what they must do next to make themselves even better.

Sustaining change is hard work, but with a unified team, committed leaders and commitment to follow a detailed plan of action, organizations can solidify change into the organization's lifestyle and make learning for all a reality.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Curriculum Cup Stack

"Daddy, help me with this cup-stack," my daughter called to me as I finished my morning blog. As I got down on the floor to help her, we tried to stack 20 oz. styrofoam cups end to end to see how high we could go. The higher we went, the quicker the stack tumbled to the ground.

With each attempt, we paid closer attention to how we were connecting the cups, and we quickly found that the ends of connecting cups had to be perfectly aligned to ensure stability for subsequent cups. After about 15 minutes, our cup stack reached 10 feet. The biggest difference in our success was not improvement in our effort, but a more focused attention to the importance of aligning the cups. 


Stacking Curriculum 

Aligning curriculum is exactly like stacking cups. Each year of instruction represents one cup in a child's academic cup-stack. How we connect years of instruction ultimately makes the difference in whether or not kids construct learning that will be the equivalent of a 10 foot cup-stack or a pile of cups on the ground.

The key to curriculum alignment is the degree to which districts and curriculum teams connect years of instruction. With each haphazard or random effort, a strong chance emerges that the curriculum will be unaligned, thus resulting in several kids failing to master high leverage skills. 

How can Districts & Campuses stack Curriculum?

Common Vocabulary
Kids deserve access the same vocabulary no matter which teacher they have.  Districts must be purposeful in deciding which vocabulary will be taught each year for each subject.

Common Language of Instruction
Just like vocabulary, all kids deserve to learn an aligned language of instruction for every subject so that every teacher can know what language all kids acquired from the previous year and what language they must acquire this year.

Common Instructional Strategies
Kids need to learn new concepts that are built upon instructional strategies learned in the previous year.  Instructional strategies must purposely link from one year to the next if kids are truly going to learn at deep levels.

Common Levels of Complexity
If one teacher has a low level of rigor, one has average rigor and one has high rigor, the teacher that receives these students the following year will have a hard time meeting varying deficits in critical thinking.  Teachers deserve to count on all students receiving high levels of rigor no matter which teacher prepared them the prior year.

Beginning with Last Year's Instruction
The best way to know how to begin this year's instruction is to start with how they learned last year's instruction. Teachers need to know how last year's standard was taught and assessed so they know where to begin this year's initial instruction. 

End Instruction by Connecting It to Next Year's Standard
Students that learn a concept deeply must be prepared to walk in next year's course prepared to access the next standard.  This can only happen when all teachers analyze next year's standard and agree on how students must master this year's standard to be fully prepared to learn next year.

Stacking for the Future

Stacking cups to the ceiling takes time, concentration and lots of failure. Curriculum teams must remember that alignment can't happen in one meeting per year. Stacking curriculum to heights of excellence requires frequent collaboration, lots of trial and error and constant refining and readjusting alignment plans. When this level of commitment to a vertically aligned curriculum is in place, more kids will be in position to receive a guaranteed and viable curriculum not because of the teacher that they are assigned to but because of the district that makes the time to guarantee learning for all. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Develop Leadership in Everyone

An organization's success is based on the level of empowered leadership on the campus.  A campus that believes in success believes that it can't just come from one leader or a small group making decisions.  Everyone must be involved, and that can only happen if leadership is developed in everyone. Here are some leadership roles that can be developed within your PLC's or on your campus.
  • Instructional Technology Leader: the expert that can find resources to be incorporated into instruction.
  • Station Leader:  the expert that has great stations that can be implemented in every classroom.
  • Math Hands-On Leader: the leader that always comes up with neat and  relevant ways to make math a fun and interactive hands-on experience.
  • Literature Guru:  the knower of all literature that would be best suited for a particular skill.
  • Researcher:  the one who is always looking for the latest strategy or resource to improve instruction.
  • Intervention Leader:  the expert that comes up with great ideas to help kids who don't learn the concept the first time.
  • Website Leader:  the person who will make certain that everything is posted on the website to keep parents informed.
  • Materials Leader:  the person that will take the responsibility for organizing copying of materials and gathering resources for the team.
  • Resource Leader - in planning meetings, the person that researches one particular resource to see what activities or assignments would best help kids learn a given concept.
This is just a small list of some of the leadership possibilities for your campus or team.  The roles are developed based on the team members' work styles, personalities and overall needs of the team.  The point of this leadership concept is that when the team sees a problem, they collectively find the best person who will step up and take on the responsibility of leading the group to solving the problem.  The most effective teams find the leader by recognizing the talents of each individual in the group and using those talents to help each member of the team get better.  When we divide the work and share the load, everyone benefits, most importantly kids.  Because in sharing the load, we create more pockets of time to help kids learn.