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?