Friday, June 27, 2014

Reflections of a First Year Administrator

Wow, it cannot be…this did not follow my plan!  I had intended to blog one time a month and look, I have not posted anything since March 2nd.   Does this mean I have failed?  In my mind I guess I cannot say I have failed, but I would say I have let myself down when it comes to personal commitments.  So, year one as an administrator is in the bag; how did that happen? 

Well, I am not for sure if I can tell you exactly how it happened.  As I look back, it seems kind of like a blur and I would have to say my perception of this type of position is this is not likely to change this any time soon.  So, I guess I look forward to the blurred years to come and the roller coaster ride that comes with it!  So, what did I learn in my first year? 

I would have to say the list is most likely infinite, but I tried to limit it to some major things as I look back.  So, here is what I learned:
  • There is no way you can prepare for this type of position.  I filled in for years, earned a 4.0 GPA (in my master’s program), and completed more observation hours than required.  I entered back in August 2013 thinking I knew what I had in store…boy was I wrong!  There is no book or set number of hours that will prepare you for this position.  Every day is different and when you think you have it figured out, you are very quickly reminded you do not!  I remember one of the first few days one of our secretaries made the statement…”You could write a book about what goes on here, but people wouldn't believe it!”  Boy was she right…this leads to my second piece of advice.
  • Take advantage of those around you.   I work with amazing people and I often felt like I was a pain in their rear, but I now realize I would have not made it without their help.  Ask for help often and never feel bad about it.  This goes not only to the other administrators in your building, but to everyone from secretaries to support staff.  Just as we say it takes a village to raise a child, the same applies to those in charge of maintaining the functions of a large high school.  So, thank you team at Bettendorf High School!  My sanity and my wife thank you for helping me keep the pieces together.
  • The list never ends, just try and keep it manageable.  I also had the false perception that I would be able to keep up with the demands of being an administrator.   I mean, I managed to keep up, but the demands are endless.  You just need to prioritize things so they are completed in an appropriate time frame and then move onto the next bullet.  I remember my mentor making the statement to me: “The students will be there tomorrow.”  Just as I say to students…don’t panic over what you cannot control.  Approach the job each day with a renewed passion and try to ensure you cross off more than you add. 
  • Get connected.  Yes, I am implying you engulf yourself in the world of social media.  Take time to learn one platform and use it to connect you.  I often heard that administrators face a lonely career and I could see this prior to social media and even email.  You can bind yourself by the walls that surround you, but with tools like Twitter, Google +, Voxer, etc., you are choosing to stay on that island yourself.   You can also connect in ways locally…just realize, if you do not ask for the help you will not get it.
  • Always look for opportunities to grow.  This can look many different ways as well.  I guess this goes back to my days when I competed as a high school/collegiate athlete.  I always had the mindset that I can always improve and I need to take advantage of every opportunity to do that.  Again, Twitter provides a great tool for that as does many other things.  Read blogs, take time to browse through a virtual newspaper like Zite, take time to read a book…there are plenty of great ones out there.    I just finished reading Mark Scharenbroich’s book, “Nice Bike,” and I highly recommend taking time to read.  By the way, Nice Bike Mark (@NiceBikeMark)!  What a great book and I commit to acknowledge, honor, and connect. 
  • Model your expectations.  If you do not model you are willing to go the extra mile, then neither will your staff.  Do your best to get out of your office and be visible to students and staff.  Be approachable, open, and lend your ear to whoever needs it at whatever time.  Also, celebrate often and for any reason big or small.  If we function in a culture where we focus on what we are doing well, I have a hard time believing this will not lead to success.
  • Believe in yourself, but admit when you are wrong.  Pretty self-explanatory here.  You are new; you will never get everything right 100% of the time.  Just make sure you admit when you are wrong and grow from your mistakes.  Remember, we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes.

I will have to end by thanking my wonderful administrative team and Bettendorf High School.   My thanks and gratitude will never be enough, but your leadership, kindness, and willingness to share your advice has been instrumental in surviving my first year as an administrator.  I am sure I will continue to knock as issues arise but again, I just wanted to say THANKS!  The admin team at BHS:  Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy), Joy Kelly (@joykelly05), Kristy Cleppe (@kriscleppe), Kevin Skillet (@krskillet).  You are all AWESOME!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Struggling Learner

It is that time of year!  Winter is still rearing its ugly head, the students and staff of Bettendorf High School are coming to the end of a grading period, the stress levels are high, and in my perception everyone just wants spring to arrive.  Although most try to keep their spirits high, this is just a tough time of the year. Students are trying hard to reach their perspective goals and teachers are spending grueling hours assisting along the way.  Frustration from both parties is almost inevitable.  Spring break is a couple weeks away and I am sure I am not the only person in need of some time away.

After reading Ben Gilpin’s (@benjamingilpin) blog post titled, “Monkeys can teach good kids,” and Jimmy Casas’s (@casas_jimmy) blog post titled, “Every Rose has Thorns…& Petals,” I began to think about the struggling learner and how this is the time of year that they need our help the most.  I cannot claim I was able to reach all students, but I can claim that it was, and continues to be my purpose, to connect with all students regardless of ability.   One thing I did early on in my career was remove the 7:30-3:30 mentality and I live and breathe the “Students First,” philosophy.  I cannot say I was able to connect with every student along the way, but I can assure you all of my students will agree that I surely tried.   Below are some of the strategies that assisted me in connecting with struggling students.  

Build a relationship
Get to know all of your students…especially those that struggle.  Show them you care and are willing to invest in them.  When students know that you care and are willing to assist them in reaching their goals, they may go the extra mile.

Assure them they can
Many students do not commit to things because in their minds it is a waste of time.  Remind the student that it may be a struggle, but in the end there is a benefit; they will earn credit and may learn something new along the way.   Assure them you are there to assist them and make them feel as if they are a priority to you. 

Provide opportunities
The last thing you want a struggling learner to say is that they did not have the opportunity to connect, succeed, or complete tasks.   If the student cannot come in before school, offer after school.  If they cannot come after, offer before. If they cannot do either, offer your lunch.  Try to create as many opportunities as possible.  For example, a fellow colleague, Brent Hutton (@huttonbhs), would even offer Sunday evening study sessions to create opportunities for students to succeed. 

Don’t make it about punishment
If any student thinks you are out to get them, they will not respond to your offer for assistance.   One of the biggest things I learned as a classroom teacher was not to sweat the small things and to choose my battles wisely.   I would always find ways to make it look as if I was trying to assist them rather than punish.  I would have conversations with phrases like, “Can you help me with…” and “Let’s work together on this,” to make them feel as if we were a team working together to change behavior.

Celebrate anything and everything
I think this is an area almost everyone needs to spend more time.   We jump at the opportunity to call a parent when a student does something wrong, but we rarely find time for the opposite.  Celebrate with the struggling learner whenever and over whatever you can.  Celebrate a turned in assignment, the arrival to class on time, a response without prompt, anything you can at every opportunity.   When you spend more time focusing on the positive, this behavior may show up more often.  

Don’t take it personal
We work with teenagers…they will mess up.   Realize these students have struggles outside of school that we cannot even fathom.   They will continue to “forget” and leave you with empty promises.   Just continue to offer opportunities for success.

I cannot say these strategies will change your world, but I can say they did assist me along the way.   I encourage you to add to this list, I encourage you to continue on, and I applaud all of you for what you continue to do for today’s youth.  

~ Thanks and continue to be great!!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Change your Perspective

Looking back roughly a year ago, I began a journey I never thought I would…full immersion in the Social Media world.   I avoided Facebook like the plague, thought Twitter was a communication device for celebrities,  had no idea about Google Hangouts or Voxer, and thought blogs were something used in English class.   Man, my views were wrong.   Although my perceptions of Social Media change depending on the percepted purpose of the user, many of these tools can be used in a very productive manner. 

I would say I avoided all of these as I was scared.  Why would I put myself out there for others to ridicule?  Why would I share what I have done for someone to tell me what I was doing was wrong or to question why I was doing something at all?  I had an associate principal, at that time, Matt Degner (@mwdegner), that pushed me to share my ideas with others online and I was resistant.  I worked directly with people that had perceptions about my practices, what would happen if I shared them with the world?  Matt questioned my philosophies and questioned why I looked at sharing with such negativity. I did nothing illegal and every day I looked to improve, so why not share my ideas?  He urged me to look at how I could positively help someone else.  He suggested that not only could I help someone else, my ideas could be strengthened and improved through this process.  Sure, some of my ideas may be rejected, questioned, or not used, but many of my ideas could change the way people think, learn, and/or teach. He urged me to change my perspective to think about how you could positively help someone.  This reminds me of something my principal, Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy) said this summer, “Don’t tell me why something cannot be done, but tell me how we can make it happen.”  In other words, stop finding ways to not do something.  My perspective was beginning to change.

I was already involved in Faceboook, but nothing I did there helped me become any better at what I do.  I used it merely as a communication device for my family to see pictures of my children and to this day, this is its primary purpose.  With the strong urging of the two above gentlemen, and a long car ride to a conference, I signed up for Twitter.   I will be honest, I was a little skeptical at how this could help me improve my practice, but less than a year later, I am a huge proponent.  I began following a few people and “lurking” when it came to the “chats” that happened on various nights of the week.  I would read all of the weird things both Jimmy and Matt would post and I became more curious on how this could help me.  I would post articles and blogs that I found on Zite and the people that shared my same philosophies began to follow me; my virtual family was growing.   I then began to be an active member and the doors opened.  It is amazing the number of people involved in Twitter that share the same stance Matt was pushing; it’s all about sharing, growing, learning, and getting better each day.  I now correspond with thousands of individuals all looking to improve the educational experience for our children; what a great feeling.  With the encouragement of Jimmy, I began blogging this summer and I pledged to do so once a month.  It is amazing to see (or hear), that my experiences and ideas are shared by many.  I am still getting used to the idea that my messages may help and/or inspire others.
I am still a novice when it comes to many of the other forms of Social Media, but I continue to pledge my spare time to researching any of these tools to assist me in becoming the best at what I do.  I suggest to never closing the door on anything without first giving it some effort.  Sure, you may put time into something and find it is not the right fit, but I am sure you will grow along the way.  I have changed my perspective; the question is now can you? 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Put Another Log on the Fire!

It is that time of year; the time to reignite the fire.  The time to find that passion and spirit that brought you into the classroom and into the lives of so many students.   It is easy at this point of the year to let the short days, cold temperatures, and wintery weather get you into a negative groove.  Now is the time to sit down and ask yourself some reflective questions to rekindle why you chose to enter the wide world of education.  Here are some things to ponder as you begin your new term…

Do you enter your classroom with the same passion every day?
It is imperative to keep that beginning of the school year passion throughout the year.  You need to bring your best on a daily basis.  If your students sense you lack passion about what you are teaching, they too will lack the passion to learn.  Be excited about what you do!  Go home each day knowing you have given everything to ensure student learning.

Is your classroom a “can’t miss” environment?                                                             
It is essential that your classroom is an environment students don’t want to miss; something they look forward to each and every day.  Whether it is because of the relationship with you, others in the class, or the content you are presenting.  We have to create an environment students are excited about; one like Dave Burgess (@burgessdave) creates in his book, “Teach Like a Pirate,” an environment students would buy a ticket to attend.  If I still taught, I would ask myself a question posed by Erin Klein (@KleinErin) every day before I entered my class: would I like to be a student in my own class?

Do you continually look to improve?
To be successful, you need to live and breathe this statement.  Never settle for status quo and continue to better yourself all of the time.  Look for ways to improve yourself, your teaching, and those around you.  If all you do is look to improve, it is hard to believe success will not happen. 

When is the last time you tried something new?
It is okay to take risks!  It is not necessarily a bad thing that your students see you fail at something; it makes you look human and strengthens your relationships with students.  An environment where it is okay to take risks regardless of the results is essential to a successful learning environment.  Robert Kennedy summed this up nicely with this quote: “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”

Are you connected?
Although many believe social media serves little to no purpose in education, those same people have a misconception of how educators purposefully use these communication tools daily.  If you are not part of Twitter, Google +, Linkedin, etc., I suggest you join ASAP.  The relationships you can form are amazing and you are no longer blocked by the walls where you work.  Learning opportunities are available all the time from people all over the world.   Join a Twitter chat; host a Google hangout, who knows what you may gain from the experience.

Twitter Chats and times à  Thank you Jerry Blumengarten! (@cybraryman1)

Are you frustrated?
Remember to take time for yourself too.  You cannot give your best if you are not at your best.  Make sure you schedule some “me time.”  Whether that is a walk in the park, a run, a bike ride, or a cocktail with a friend; make sure you find enjoyable moments outside of school so you can make enjoyable moments inside.

I now ask you to take on a new challenge, take a risk, and push yourself to be the best you can be on a daily basis.  If you expect the best from your students, expect the best from yourself! 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Make your Mess your Message

     I would not say I was your perfect child growing up nor would I say I was your worst.  Did I reach my full potential?  I think most of us are lead to say no to this question and even as adults we are still challenged to answer this one with 100% accuracy.  I think this is good though, because we should always strive to improve; trying to get better every minute of every day.  It reminds me of a quote by Jon Gruden, "You never stay the same. You either get better or you get worse."

     I would not say my life is, or ever has been, a mess, but the bumps in my road have lead me to where I am today.  There are points in everyone’s journey where they must decide to forge on, or turn around and head back to comfort and safety.  The thing I have learned the most is, the most successful people have bumps in their journey and would have never reached their potential without taking the road less traveled. 

     Well, that is what I did as an eighth grader, took the road less traveled.  To make a long story short, I spent almost one fourth of my year in ISS (In School Suspension).  Why?  As I look back, I cannot tell you why.  Did my teachers not create environments that harbored my creativity?  Did my school not provide the services I needed to be successful?  I would say no to all of the speculations, but I would say I lacked relationships with my teachers the most.   

     That year pretty much labeled me for the remainder of my high school career.  I am sure teachers saw my name on their class roster and the fear and panacea set in; oh no, not that kid!   You see I didn’t use my freshman year to change my image either though; at least academically.   I was that student, the one who’s potential went through the roof, but my effort and attention was focused on everything besides school and its requirements.  

     At this point in my life I needed to answer some questions; how did I want people to remember me?  Was my future destroyed because of my past?  Had my poor choices ended my path to future success?  I will have to thank my oldest brother and his struggles, because these have helped shape and nurture my decisions more than he could ever imagine. 
     From that point of my life to where I am today, I have used my past and my brother’s experiences to drive my pursuit of excellence.  My goals, then and now, are to prove all those that did not believe in me wrong.   I enjoy returning to the town where I grew up and informing the naysayers that I am now a school administrator and watching their reaction.   I was labeled as a young student and my passion to this day is to prove that label inaccurate.   I would say, quoting Robin Roberts, “I have made my mess my message.” 

     My advice to teachers:
·         Encourage those that struggle to continue to set and pursue goals.  
·         Mistakes will happen all through your life; learn from them and become a better person.
·         Avoid labeling students based on their past and look for the good in everyone. 
·         Every person has a story; take time to listen to it.
·         Remember it is not about you…it is about the students.
·         Always do what is in the best interest of students.
·         Continually ask yourself the question; would you want to be a student in your own classroom?
o   Thanks Erin Klein (@KleinErin)
·         Take time to do something you enjoy.
·         Read the book “Teach Like a Pirate!” by Dave Burgess (@burgessdave)

     This is the time of year where we need to rekindle our fire so that our passion to impact students continues to burn bright.  Please take time and remind yourself of why you chose to become involved in education. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

I Thought I knew, but I had no Idea

As I wrap up the fourth week of my administrative career, I want to share my experiences up to this point. These are the experiences of a new high school administrator in the state of Iowa.  The best phrase I have found to sum up my experience is: “I thought I knew, but I had no Idea!” 

At this point, I cannot help but relate back to my first year of teaching.  I entered the classroom with eight weeks of lesson plans and ideas to change the world.  I quickly learned that my perceptions of the classroom were quite different than the reality!  I had to pitch all eight weeks of lessons and start over from scratch.  I had to develop my ideas and philosophies one day at a time.  Did my teacher preparation program fail me?  Did my student teaching experience not reflect that of a true classroom?  The answer is no, but I thought I was the next best thing and having to start over was a big gut check. 

I know I always have room to grow and will continually attempt to do my best, but I now realize my perceptions of administration were a bit off as well.   Although I did fill-in when our admin was out of the building in the past and I had a wonderful mentor through my admin program, my ideas of what the position required were beyond the scope of the textbook and internship of any program.  I thought I knew, but I had no idea…

1.  Students...they used to like to see me.    Most do still enjoy my company, but to some my mere presence can create an uncomfortable experience.  I now represent discipline; I am now the bad guy, with me, comes consequences.   The conversations with students are different now, but in any conversation the outcomes are the same; doing what is best for students.    The great part is there are cases where you represent hope and light. Poor choices will always accompany teenagers, but luckily I now get to help in the guidance of better choices.

2.  Decisions, decisions, decisions.  Wow!  You do make many decisions as a classroom teacher and each and every one of those is very important.  As an administrator you make hundreds of decisions each and every day.  Administrators make decisions about students, teachers, discipline, curriculum, schedules, activities, athletics, PD, community connections, etc.  I enjoy making decisions but I feel I continually question whether the decision was the best one.  Will it have the intended impact?  Will it produce the desired results?  Rest assured, at least in my case, very few decisions are made in isolation and each are made with the best intentions of the district, teachers, and students.

3.  Schedule, what schedule? As a classroom teacher you have a bell schedule that runs the days and changes your experiences from class to class.   There are many unknowns within those time frames, but whenever that bell rings you are assured your schedule will be back in tact.  As an administrator I have quickly learned the only known part of your day is the start.  You hear the bell and have plans to get to this and to that, but there is no for sure you will get to your plans as scheduled.  You do your best to maintain what you set forth as you need to respect people’s time, but in all reality you have no idea what you are going to walk into and where you are going to encounter each day. 

4.  Social Media…what is its role in Education?  This could be a blog post in itself, but I really think students need to be educated in the true purpose of social media.  What is the true purpose?  I am not for sure I have the answer, but students could use this communication tool in a much more positive nature (@westhighbros).  At this point, I feel I have a daily conversation about appropriate usage and why this is not an appropriate place to handle our issues.  I know our admin team covered this in our welcome back and students do learn as they progress through their years, but it bothers me students air their laundry for the world to see. 

5.  You are a spectator, but duty calls.  As a high school administrator, you no longer attend high school sporting events as a spectator.  You do, but if a situation arises you may miss some, half, or most of the event. Your interactions range from conflict resolution to catching up with old friends.  In some cases, this may be a blessing, but it is interesting to try and reflect on the event you were at and realize you cannot as you did not see much of what you had intended.

I am in no way complaining about any components of my job as I truly love what I do!  I get out of bed every day excited and ready to come to work.  I love the wide variety and unforeseen nature of my role. I love working with students in this capacity as I can impact a much wider scope of students; I am no longer bound by the walls of my classroom. I also love who I work with and appreciate their kindness and willingness to assist me as I learn the requirements of my new role (Jimmy Casas - @casas_jimmy, Joy Kelly - @joykelly05, Kristy Cleppe - @kriscleppe, Kevin Skillett - @krskillett). I write this blog, informative in nature, for those questioning whether they want to become a high school administrator.  

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Why I Lead

            As I begin my new journey in administration I begin with high hopes and fears.  There are many questions and concerns growing along the way.  To ease my mind, I decided to join George Couros’s (@gcouros) Virtual Mentoring Program (#savmp) where George has paired over three hundred and fifty administrators from around the world to guide one another through the roller coaster of educational life.  As part of this program he asked us to reflect on why we lead.  So, here it is, this is why I lead…
I lead because there were so many from my past that counted me out!  As I hear stories from leaders that I look up to like Jimmy Casas (@cassas_jimmy) who also struggled throughout his childhood and school, I cannot help but prove the naysayers wrong.   Don’t take this the wrong way…this is the root of my passion, not the tank that drives me.  I love it when I see people from my past because they are floored when I inform them of my involvement in education.  I have to say they deserve this reaction as my past proves their perceptions.
            I lead because I want to see change.  I want to see educators do what is best for students not what is easiest or causes the least amount of work.   I want to push the envelope and encourage teachers to try new things; I want them to think outside of the box.  I want teachers to bust out of the mold and revolutionize their classrooms and schools.  Seth Godin once said, “Fitting in is a short term strategy to get you nowhere.  Standing out is a long term strategy that takes guts and produced results.”
            I lead because I want teachers to use cutting edge technologies/techniques.  As a classroom teacher I tried to think of every possible way to incorporate technology.  I spent countless hours trying to find that one thing that would revolutionize the classroom.   I want to create an environment where teachers are begging for more opportunities to purchase/incorporate technology rather than complaining why it was purchased and allowing it to collect dust in the corner.  I want to create a culture of leaders where every person has a moment to shine.
            I lead because I am passionate and I want everyone to be successful.   I want to have a meaningful relationship with everyone in my building.  I want students, staff, and colleagues to follow my lead and give everything they can every day and know when they leave the building they have accomplished something.  I want a culture of connectedness where students and teachers feel their accomplishments are appreciated and work to build relationships each day. 
            I lead because of a fear of failure.  I have failed many times in my life and these failures have built me into what I am today.  Do not fear failure, accept it, and use it to build a better you.  Work hard and realize if you are not getting better, you are getting worse; in education there is no such thing as staying the same.