Sunday, May 17, 2015

Want To Lead?

I recently started preparing to teach a graduate course for aspiring educational leaders. All the students in my class are currently working in education in some capacity - most are classroom teachers while some are specialists or pseudo administrators already. As part of the introduction to the course, which starts in a couple of weeks, I asked them to fill out a quick Google Survey so I could get to know a little about them. One of the questions I asked them was...

Why do you think you want to be an educational leader?

Although only a few of the students have completed the survey thus far, their answers got me thinking about myself when I was an aspiring administrator (a little over 10 years ago). My mind was quickly flooded with the romantically idealistic notions and aspirations that dominated my thinking at the time. I thought I was single handedly going to change the world of education and be the catalyst for creating a school that was the panacea of teaching and learning. Well, guess what? That didn't happen; in fact, almost the opposite happened. I failed pretty miserably at my first administrative position and was a pretty crappy leader - I literally cringe when I think back to some of the things I said and did during those first couple of years as a building administrator. 

Why did I fail so miserably? It wasn't for a lack of trying or lack of work ethic; it wasn't for a lack of passion or lack of enthusiasm; in fact, in retrospect, I can honestly say that nothing really could have prepared me to be successful for that first job... except if I could get some insight from my future self. So, in an attempt to share some knowledge with the aspiring administrators I will be teaching in a few short weeks, and reflect on my own journey (reflective practice is a critical element to learning and growing), I humbly offer the following 3 tips on being a successful school leader... or as I like to call myself, a Lead Learner:

1. It is all about you and not at all about YOU at the same time... the position of school principal is a critical one that literally impacts every person in the educational community. From students to staff to families to colleagues, the principal's impact is felt by all. The principal can control and shape and dictate the culture, tone and climate of the entire community. As Todd Whitaker taught me... When the principal sneezes, the whole school catches a cold! Well, that is the truth - so sneeze into your arm and carry around lots of tissues (just kidding). The principal can be the one who models learning; can be the one who offers an open ear when someone is struggling; can be the one who enacts a spirit day when it's been a long month and the students and staff need a little fun; the principal can be the one who advocates for the needs of the students and staff; the principal can be the one removing the barriers and obstacles so that the staff can maximize their teaching techniques by taking risks. The principal can meet with the parent who feels that their child has been wronged; or can be the one to sit with the superintendent and present a sound case for why a specific child might need a teacher aide in the classroom. The principal can do a LOT so on some level it is all about you as the principal but it is NOT about YOU the individual. Please, do NOT take yourself too seriously; do NOT see yourself as reaching some sort of pinnacle and not needing to learn and grow anymore; do NOT sit in your office all day and dictate to everyone around you; do NOT employ a fixed mindset or allow institutional biases to continue because of your personal position or thinking... be the principal who takes their work seriously and pours their heart and soul into their school community but at the same time understands that it is not about them.

2. There are a LOT of politics in education... so, take the time to develop and nurture relationships with all members of the community. Know your boss; know your board of education; know your colleagues; know your staff; know your kids; and know your families. Know what those around you want, expect and need. When you invest the time in nurturing relationships with members of all constituent groups, you slowly amass social capital and social capital becomes your "Get Out of Jail" card when navigating a particularly political situation. Truth is, most people in an educational community have an agenda (even the principal) and it is the principal's responsibility to gain the trust of those around them so they can better understand the individual agendas and help align them in the best interest of children and the community at large. Is everyone going to like you? No so don't waste your energy on being liked (at some point in time, EVERY member in the community will not like you for some reason or another but that's ok) but instead, expend energy on gaining people's trust and confidence because they are the keys to healthy relationships. Remember - it is not about you but it can be all about the politics so healthy relationships must be at the core of the community!

3. Make decisions that are in the best interest of children... not ones that are easiest for you or less disruptive for teachers or cheaper for the district... make decisions for children that provides them access to a rich and meaningful learning environment. Of course, decisions should rarely be made in a silo; instead, all members of the educational community should have voice in some way, shape or form and it is your responsibility as the leader to listen to these voices as a way to broaden your perspective and make the best decision possible. Sound decisions generally don't come as a result of reacting; instead, sound decisions come when a leader reflects, deliberates and considers potential consequences. Effective leaders spend more time trying to be proactive and less time being reactive. Often times, when one reacts, the decisions can be influenced by emotion and that could be problematic. So, remember, always try and make the decision that is in the best interest of children because then you can look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and know you did the best job possible.

Are there hundreds of other tips I could offer my graduate students (or my former self)? YES (please feel free to leave more tips in the comments section)! But in the end, these 3 have been keys to my success as a Lead Learner and I don't think any course, workshop or internship taught me about these ideas when I was first asking myself... Do I really want to lead?          

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"Little" Things

While scanning my Twitter feed, I recently came across the following…
One hundred years from now, it will not matter
What kind of car I drove or what kind of clothes I wore.
All that will matter is that I made a difference
In the life of a child!
Upon seeing this quote, I immediately thought of all of the teachers who work tirelessly each day at #Cantiague Elementary. From my humble vantage point, our teachers set the bar pretty high as to what a highly effective educator looks like and have created a space where all children can thrive in some way, shape or form. But, my thoughts didn't end there... I started to think about the thousands of amazing educators who I have connected with on Twitter, Voxer, Facebook and Instragram over the last three years who have devoted themselves to one cause - doing what is in the best interest of children. I have learned so much from our #Cantiague community and from the members of my PLN that I genuinely believe that I am a better lead learner, educator, father and person because of the educators in my life (you all know who you are and I couldn't get through some days without you).

Unfortunately, the current landscape of education is plagued by negativity because of the politics that impact our daily work and the heavy handed way in which certain ideas, veiled as the silver bullets to fix all that is wrong with our schools, were introduced... high stakes testing linked to educator evaluations, the implementation of the common core standards devoid of systemic professional development for educators, the lack of voice educators have in enacting policy and the list can go on and on and on! Since most of our time is spent on data collection or preparing for high stakes tests or giving up days of learning to give said high stakes tests, I felt it was imperative to shed light on the “little” things great teachers do… the “little” things #Cantiague teachers do... the "little" things many members of my PLN do but can’t be qualified by a number or score or test…
helping a child recover from a recess issue;
coaching a child out of the backseat of the car when they don’t want to come to school;
giving the child a device at lunch so they can build their relationships with peers;
letting a child use your sleeve as a tissue when they can’t control their tears;
letting a child do their homework in the morning while others unpack because no one could help them at home the night before;
modifying anything and everything to give every child an entry point for learning;
helping a child in the bathroom after they experienced serious stomach issues;
sharing your personal life and interests to establish a connection with a disconnected child;
give up your lunch period to meet with a child or just hang out with them;

climbing up a tree to save the child who felt they had no escape but to climb 30 feet up a tree;

drive a child home because the family doesn't have a mode of transportation;

hug a child who is having a bad day;

getting to know a child's passion and interests and successfully incorporating them into the learning opportunities;

support a colleague who is going through a difficult time;

hold a crying mom's hand during a conference because of the difficult subject matter being discussed; 

showing empathy and earning trust;
You get the idea… the list goes on and on and although there are no numbers, grades or points for these daily efforts, they do not go unnoticed – I, for one, appreciate our teachers at #Cantiague and the thousands of educators in my PLN who have changed my world with all the "little" things they do. 

So, as we get ready to enter Teacher Appreciation Week, I challenge all of us to take a moment to recognize all the "little" things the educators in our spaces do because although they may not be attached to a score or number, they are the things that impact the lives of children!  

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Telling Our Story At The Bammys

In case you haven't heard, Joe Sanfelippo and I will be hosting the 2015 Bammy Awards on Saturday, September 26th! Are we excited? HECK YEA! Not only does it give us another opportunity to poke fun at each other in a public forum but the Bammys are also spotlighting a focus in education that is incredibly important to us... Telling the POSITIVE stories of our schools! Having written a book on the subject and having the opportunity to discuss the topic with other amazing educators on our radio show, we are honored to be working with the Bammy Awards to put the focus where it matters most in education - on our children and all the amazing things they do! 

Check out this video, Breaking The Code of Silence, that presents a quick overview of what the Bammy Awards hope to accomplish this year...

So, we hope you will all join us this year in an effort to change the landscape of education by flooding it with all of the AMAZING and AWESOME and POSITIVE stories of schools!   

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Spreading Positivity

We recently had the most awesome day at Cantiague as we celebrated Positive Post-It Day. As you may have read in a recent blog post I wrote, Positive Post-It Day was born from an idea shared by a student from another school who decided to reframe a bullying situation in a much more positive way; instead of responding with negativity, this student went the route of kindness and plastered the walls of her school with positive post-its. Well, after viewing the video it was clear that we wanted to celebrate something similar here at Cantiague and thus the idea for Positive Post-It Day was born. 

On #PositivePostItDay, our children and staff members filled the walls, doors and desks in our school with some of the most incredibly kind and positive notes (there were literally hundreds of notes all over the school) I have ever seen in my career. Additionally, each child wrote themselves a positive note celebrating something they are proud of within themselves – kindness can really spread when we recognize the positivity within ourselves! In the end, it was a pretty awesome day and I invite you all to click on the following link to check out some of the highlights from #PositivePostItDay…

The Positive Post-It Day experience was one of the proudest moments in my educational career because we celebrated everything that is good and right about education and recognized all the awesomeness of our children and the educators who are dedicated to making a difference! So, if you haven't done it yet, I suggest you try #PositiveItPostDay in your school... and maybe it doesn't just happen once a year... maybe it happens once a month because when you get notes like these (see below) you quickly become re-energized in your dedicated efforts to inspire students through dedication, compassion and positivity!


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Positive Post-It Day

How many of you have heard about Positive-Post It Day (#PositivePostItDay)? It is such a positive reframing to dealing with a bullying situation and one worth learning about and celebrating! We are going to try this at #Cantiague on Tuesday, March 31st and we want to welcome our PLN to join us on so we can celebrate all the positivity in our collective spaces across the world. Interested? Then check out this 2 minute video explaining the idea...

We welcome everyone who joins us on Tuesday, March 31st to make it look however you want in your schools, districts, classrooms or programs but we are going to have the children generate at least four post-its. Here are those ideas...

1) One positive post-it to themselves - something they are proud of themselves for that they can display on their desks... I think recognizing our own strengths is an important celebration!

2) One positive post-it for a classmate where they celebrate something specific about a classmate;

3) One positive post-it for another child in the school... maybe from the same grade level or a buddy from a different grade... whatever... they should celebrate something specific they value in someone else;

4) One positive post-it for an adult in the building - someone on the staff they want to recognize and celebrate!

Being that this aligns with the idea of "Random Acts of Kindness" these post-its should be specific to the receiver but also anonymous from the giver... it doesn't matter who the post-it comes from... it is about celebrating someone else. So, label the name of the person getting the post-it but there is no need to sign your name. 

I am so excited about this day because it reinforces EVERYTHING we talk about here at #Cantiague in regards to being Bucket Fillers and we hope that our whole PLN will join us on Tuesday, March 31st (or a different day if that doesn't work for you) to celebrate #PositivePostItDay. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Student Led PTA Meeting

Our most recent PTA Meeting at #Cantiague was an EPIC one because it featured some of the best learning opportunities we've had all year. The presenters at this meeting helped our families understand the whole idea of persuasive/opinion based writing in addition to how one might develop an argument and successfully prepare for a debate. The presentations were concise, informative, thorough and accessible for all family members. It was a great morning that sparked a lot reflection and conversation as our families in attendance left the building. 

Overall, I would say it was the best PTA Meeting of the year because it was filled with great content and important information. The most awesome part of the experience, at least through my lens, was that the presenters at this PTA Meeting were our kids. That's right... For the first time ever at #Cantiague our PTA Meeting (and the learning that unfolded there) was led by our students... nine students in all - from grades 3, 4 & 5 - prepared, reflected and presented everything anyone would need to know about developing an argument, supporting an opinion with evidence, persuading a reader with research to back up claims and sway voters during a debate - our kids (under the guidance and instruction of our amazing teachers) hit a GRAND SLAM today!

The idea of amplifying student voice has been high on my list of priorities this year and we have tried a bunch of different things to make that happen. We have incorporated Genius Hour, we have given them choice in their academic pursuits and we have empowered them to lead some of the learning in the community. Last month I wrote this post about our students successfully lead a professional development session for our staff and today they impressed again by leading and facilitating our monthly PTA Meeting. With the support of their classroom teachers, they came prepared to share their journey as it related to developing opinions in writing to persuade a reader or building their argument to win a debate. Their presentations were really awesome and the truth is, I did not preview anything nor did I have a say in what the kids shared... the meeting was all theirs from start to finish and they were AWESOME! Actually, you can check out a ten minute excerpt from the meeting right here... you don't have to take my word for it - you can see them in action sharing their awesomeness...

Words cannot accurately capture how proud I am of our kids and how impressed I am with their knowledge, maturity and composure - I never could have done this at 9 years old. In the end, I guess amplifying student voice can look different in different places but the bottom line is we must create spaces where children feel respected, valued, heard and empowered so they can successfully teach and learn. So, I challenge my fellow educators to turn up the volume and amplify their students' voices! 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

41 Things I Know About Education

This month I turn 41... that's right I have moved beyond 40 and am heading towards middle age, or at least that's what my son recently told me. Although getting older comes with some drawbacks (aches are common, sitting on the floor with a kid to read is great until you have to get up and eating something spicy after 7pm can lead to some problems, etc), the last couple of years have also been pretty amazing. Being in my 40s has been quite empowering and has amplified my voice in ways that I never knew possible. I have learned a lot about myself, a lot about the people around me, a lot about what matters in life and a lot about the world of education, especially the current landscape of education, which is a rocky one. 

I have been an educator for almost 20 years and I have learned more in the last year or two than I did during the first decade of my career and that is an awesome feeling! Last year, right before I turned 40, I wrote this post in honor of my birthday, and I have decided that I might make this a little tradition so now I am sharing 41 things I know about education...

1. Kids come first and doing what is best for them is the most important part of our work as educators, even when it's not easy!

2. As educators it is our responsibility to always be learners FIRST!

3. The conversations in schools must shift from the teaching and instead be focused on the learning... how do our kids learn best?

4. Successful schools are built on relationships that are rooted in trust, empathy and respect! 

5. Yes, we can be sympathetic towards others but more important is showing empathy... it's more about "I can understand where you are coming from..." and less about "I feel sorry for you!"

6. Have fun in your classroom... in your school... and in your district! People thrive in environments where smiles and laughter are the norm and not the exception.

7. Tell the story of your school... because if you don't someone else will and they won't do as good of a job!

8. Listen more than you talk... and most important is giving kids a chance to be heard. 

9. Schools MUST be a safe haven for kids because that is critical to addressing the gaps in the quality of education that exist in our country!

10. Racism is a system issue that continues to plague our schools and impact our kids!

11. We need to shift the focus from trying to close the achievement gap to trying to address the opportunity gap!

12. Branding your school or district is not about making money or slapping a logo on the building... it is about creating an identity that the community is proud of and embraces!

13. Any successful change in schools comes as a result of relationships rooted in trust and respect.

14. Our kids are much more than a number so instead of creating data walls that focus solely on test scores, create student profile walls that give us the hard and soft data points... the test scores from the classroom and the fact that the child was a selective mute three years ago; reading levels and the knowledge that a child lost a parent; etc. Our kids are complex and rich... don't devalue them by reducing them to a number.  

15. Empower the educators around you to have a say in their professional development... give them voice and choice!

16. Professional development must also resonate on a personal level if it is going to be sustainable. 

17. We cannot let professional development happen to us... we must take control of our own professional development and personalize it to best meet our needs and the needs of our students!

18. Educational leaders must try and learn something every single day! If we want our schools and classrooms to be hotbeds for learning, then we must model those expectations and be true life long learners!

19. Our children need time to be creative in school... whether it is centers, art or genius hour, our kids need time to create! 

20. Our children need to have a voice in their learning - we must give them a space to pursue their passions and interests! 

21. All staff members have an area of expertise so let's tap into it and share it - we have so much to learn from each other!

22. Educators need to create a PLN... a school or district based PLC is a great thing too but we need ideas beyond our context and our PLN can provide those to help us broaden our lens and point of view!

23. The most important people in a school are the secretaries, custodians and nurses... never forget it!

24. The principal can set the tone of a school... they can build and nurture a positive culture or breed a destructive one! The Principal's impact is far reaching... be thoughtful if you are a principal!

25. Go out during recess and play with your kids... even if it isn't your day to be on recess duty. Recess = unstructured joy! 

26. As educators it is our responsibility to model appropriate digital citizenship and how to create a positive digital footprint!

27. Technology does not equal innovation!

28. Be kinder than necessary... even when you're having a bad day. 

29. Don't embarrass your students in front of each other. Public humiliation breeds contempt not obedience. 

30. Use a morning meeting or a peace talk or some sort of classroom meeting time to nurture a sense of community and family in your classroom!

31. Let your students lead some of the professional development for the staff!

32. Invite your families to be ENGAGED... not just involved!

33. Once you take a behavior problem to the principal, which depending on the level of severity may be necessary, you have lost all authority with that child.

34. EdCamps are rooted in sharing effective practices and discussing good pedagogy... not just spotlighting the coolest new tech tools!

35. Don't be afraid of BYOD... be prepared but also let your kids have some freedom!

36. Explaining the real life connections to everything we teach may help students see the importance.

37. Take risks with your teaching and learning!

38. Create a staff blog where people can share all the awesome things happening in your space.

39. School should be about a balance between uncovering the answers and asking the right questions.

40. Take the work of educating children really seriously but don't take yourself too seriously... in fact, get over yourself. 
41. Kids should always be at the center and come FIRST!

Clearly the list could go on and on but in the end, I think these 41 points are critical to the success of any educator, student and learning organization. 

What do you think should be the next thing on this list? Please leave a comment below!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Dear Governor Cuomo

Dear Governor Cuomo,

My name is Tony Sinanis and I am a Lead Learner at Cantiague Elementary School in Jericho, New York, which is a suburb of New York City. Over 400 students attend our school each day (our highest enrollment in the last seven years) and the one common trait most of our children share during their days at Cantiague is a smile. That's right sir, our children, for the most part, are happy to be at school because they are in a space where they feel safe, respected and valued (their words). Not valued like a test score because that would be completely demoralizing and dehumanizing; no, we value our students for the WHOLE child who attends our school each day. The mathematician, the musician, the only child, the author, the tech enthusiast, the Minecraft expert, the soccer star, the child who splits her time between two homes, the nurse helper, the professional developer (yes, our students have led a PD session for our staff), the reader, the child of immigrants, the student leader, and the list can go on and on. You see, we devote much of our time at Cantiague to getting to know our children and learning about their passions, interests and readiness levels. Do we address the Common Core State Standards? Yes. Do we prepare them for the high stakes testing each year? Yes. But we do not define our children by standards or test scores.... we define our children by what makes them an individual; by what excites and interests them; and by what inspires them. You see, we have made a collective decision as a staff to focus on these priorities because that is what we believe will make a child college, career and most importantly, LIFE ready! 

I have been an educator in public schools for almost twenty years - I spent eight years as a classroom teacher in the NYC public school system and in Hewlett; then I spent one year as an assistant principal in Valley Stream; and finally I have been an elementary principal for almost nine years in Valley Stream and now in Jericho. During my time in each one of those schools along my journey I have come to realize that we can train almost every child to pass a multiple choice test - trust me, I have seen it happen. We can turn around almost any school and address the achievement gap if we integrate scripted curriculum, "research based" programs and rely primarily on test preparation and benchmark testing - trust me, I have seen it happen. We can even push staff members with threats of accountability and consequences - trust me, I have seen it happen. In all of these instances though, what I haven't seen is sustainable change; I haven't seen a staff that stays in tact for years to see change "stick" for the long term; and I haven't seen children who are happy to come to school. In every one of these situations I have seen people (students, staff and administration) come to feel like widgets; interchangeable pieces in a "game" controlled by people outside of the schools. 

For the life of me, I cannot understand how we could let this happen - why do we want our children to be subjected to these types of situations? Is that what you want for your daughters? I highly doubt it because I know for sure that is not what I want for my son. Unfortunately, with your recent proposal to see state test scores account for 50 percent of an educator's evaluation I think more and more schools will look like the above. It will not be about what is best for children - in no way, shape or form! It will not be about what is best for a community - it might actually be the opposite! And it will not be about encouraging our educators to take risks with their own teaching and learning. Nope... the opposite will happen governor. We will stifle schools. We will stifle creativity. We will stifle passion. We will stifle risk taking. We will stifle innovation. We will stifle our children. And for what? Higher test scores? For more teachers being rated ineffective? Or are you just trying to annihilate public schools? Please, explain to me your rationale because I do not understand how your plan will help us promote college, career and LIFE ready kids.

With that in mind, please share with us how much time you have spent in public schools across the state of NY? Months? Weeks? Days? Or is it just hours? And based on these experiences do you know there is a "crisis" in our schools? Have you spoken to students about this crisis? Have you spoken to educators about this crisis? Have you spoken to families about this crisis? Or are you basing your call for action on recent test scores? If that is your sole data point for suggesting that high stakes tests carry even more weight then I think we are in big trouble. How about if we used a similar system to rate you? Let's say your popularity numbers dipped one month? Could we rate you as developing? Let's say that drop in score continued over the course of a year? Should you be removed from office because you were clearly ineffective based on that one data point? Does that seem fair or logical to you? Hmmmm... that doesn't sound like the best way to judge you on your performance and thus the suggestion that educators be judged in a similar fashion makes no sense to me. What research do you have that shows evaluating teachers based on how children perform on high stakes testing is an effective way to improve schools? Have we seen this work elsewhere? What research speaks to the positive impact of high stakes testing on children, their learning and their academic performance? Please share this with me because I have done some research and I don't see anything that says this model will be effective at improving schools and weeding out the "bad" teachers that you think are plaguing all our schools. 

From my perspective, as someone who only has twenty years experience as an educator, I have to believe there is a better way to assess us and to hold us accountable. Trust me, I am all for accountability because I can stand behind everything I do in our school because I believe it is in the best interest of children. Can you say the same? Can you stand behind 50 percent of an educator's evaluation coming from a single test taken by a child (in some cases children who are only 7 years old and have yet to master tying their own shoelaces)? Do you think placing more value on high stakes testing is in the best interest of our children? If so, please explain how because I don't see it. I watch our kids, staff members and families become increasingly anxious as we get closer to the state tests... and why? Because they are nervous about how they are going to perform and no matter how much I try and keep the temperature down in the building, the pressure mounts and becomes almost stifling. Is that what you want for your daughters? I can tell you that it is definitely not what I want for my son. 

The more I think about it, the more I have to believe you are being misguided in your attempts to reform schools. Someone, or some group of people, is giving you misinformation and leading you to believe that educators are the enemy. We are NOT the enemies! In fact, most of the educators I know try and help children develop and amplify their own voices; we try and be the advocates for our children; and we try and create a space where children feel safe, respected and valued. I think maybe you need to spend more time in schools before you try reforming them. Come to Cantiague - our doors will always be open for you because I want you to see the smiles for yourself. I want you to see the children who love coming to school because of outdoor recess; I want you to talk to the children who love coming to school because of our library and the independent reading time they get during the day; I want you to watch the children who get to explore their passions and interests during Genius Hour; I want you to interact with the children who see themselves as authors and have recently mastered Google Docs as a way to publish their work digitally and thus gain access to an audience that goes beyond the walls of the school; I want you to come to a school where we put kids first and we know that kids are much more than a number and test score. If you can't make it all the way down to Long Island then I am guessing you will pass dozens of schools along the way that have created similar environments for their children where it is understood that being able to answer a multiple choice question is not an indicator of college, career and LIFE readiness; no way! Go visit a school where children are given voice; where staff members take risks with their teaching and learning! Go visit a school where critical thinking, collaboration and questioning are at the center - not test prep or benchmark assessments. Go visit a school where children are smiling and use that as the model for reforming schools - not the value added model that has not been proven to work! Please Governor Cuomo, make our kids and their well-being the priority - don't let them fall victim to the business of high stakes testing!


Tony Sinanis
Dad to an AWESOME 5th Grader
2014 New York State Elementary Principal of the Year 
Lead Learner at Cantiague Elementary School (2012 Blue Ribbon School) 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Learning In The Digital Age


The principalship is like a fire.  People are drawn to it, look to it for light, and it can get a little hot!  Principals lead buildings, initiatives, create more leaders, and help to provide environments where everyone can be successful.  The heat and light given off tend to wane if that fire is not fed.  But where?  Principals are often the lone wolf in their building - they are isolated and often work within a silo.  There may be assistants, dean of students, or directors, but often only one principal.  Being the leader of a learning organization means modeling the learning.  The opportunity to connect virtually with others in the principal position has the potential to be invaluable to the growth of leaders, and subsequently, schools.  Becoming connected as a principal is a great way to model that learning.

When considering the role of the school principal it becomes clear that the position is no longer singular in focus - the school principal is expected to go way beyond the administrator who sits in the office all day pushing papers around. Among the many challenges facing principals today is maintaining the balance between addressing the administrative mandates while also meeting the demands of being transformative instructional leaders. The school principal went from being a program manager/administrator in the 1960s and 70s to today when principals are expected to be transformational leaders who bring about change within the entire school community by successfully addressing both instructional needs (instructional leader) and administrative expectations (administrator) (Hallinger, 1992). An effective transformational leader, according to Hallinger (2003), is one who possesses strong instructional leadership abilities and skills that can be shared with the entire community.

The expectation of being an effective transformational instructional leader, along with the need to seek out current and relevant professional development opportunities, have led me in a new direction: to Twitter and the thousands of other educators using that platform to connect, share, learn and grow. A socially networked online community, Twitter is one of the most popular social networking sites and is considered a form of micro blogging that encourages educators to tweet and share their thoughts, opinions and resources in 140 characters or less (Perez, 2012). As educators, we have experienced the power of Twitter firsthand over the last several years and this has led us to find out how principals may address their professional development needs by participating in this socially networked community. Twitter, like other social networking sites, functions as a social learning resource and space where educators can be exposed to a whole other type of discourse and literacy practice (Greenhow 2009). Jane Hart, a social media and learning consultant, has classified Twitter as a tool for personal and informal learning that goes beyond the confines of any building (Galgan, 2009). Learners can use Twitter to ask and answer each other’s questions and Twitter can in turn help support collaboration and deeper understanding (Galagan, 2009). Since information on educators using Twitter for learning and professional development is limited because it is relatively unchartered territory, we will be offering a guide about what systems need to be put in place to begin supporting the professional development of principals using platforms such as Twitter.


Although one of our focal points will be Twitter, the bottom line is that we want to show that people, in this case specifically principals, can learn through social interactions and in the digital age, these are interactions no longer have to be inhibited by physical boundaries. So, check out our latest book, Principal Professional Development: Leading Learning in the Digital Age so you can take control of your own professional development and ensure that it is personalized to best meet your needs in your efforts to stay current and relevant in the 21st century!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Tech Amplifies Student Voice

Recently I was honored to be asked to participate in Digital Learning Day , this year's theme is directly connected to the important #FutureReady effort being spearheaded by both the Alliance for Excellent Education and  the U.S. Department of Education. The emphasis at this event was to consider and share instructional practices that effectively used technology to strengthen a student's learning experiences. Although we have used technology in many ways to help strengthen a student's learning experiences at #Cantiague, the first thing that came to my mind was how we have used technology to amplify student voice and show the world what we stand for and what we believe in at our school. The idea of student voice is one that is important to us because we see our children as the center of all the teaching and learning... they are who we plan for, they are who we scaffold for independent success and they are who we advocate for each and every day. Thus, we know we must listen to  them to best understand their needs, passions and feelings about school. And so our journey began to use technology to give voice to our students - both directly and indirectly - with a rebirth of our vision statement and the integration of weekly video updates featuring our children as the school storytellers! 

Our vision statement, reborn... As educators, especially those of us in leadership positions, one of the first things we are asked to consider is the Vision Statement for our school. You know what I am talking about... that bulleted list of generic phrases and words trying to capture what the schooling experience will be like for children. Here is an example in case it's been a while since you looked at your own vision statement...

Our vision is that children leave school with: 

A set of values -- being honesty, being determined and being considerate of others. 

A set of basic skills -- literacy, mathematical, scientific, artistic and social. 

Strong self-esteem and developed self-confidence. 
Tolerance and respect for others.

We value the partnership which exists between school, families and our community in realizing this vision. 

WOW... those all sound like some pretty wonderful and important aspects in the development of a child. But, I have a bunch of questions and concerns...

  • Is there anything in that vision statement that makes identifiable to a specific school? (Sounds pretty generic)
  • What exactly does all the stuff described in the vision statement look like? 
  • Does the vision statement speak to a school being #FutureReady or the students being fluent in 21st Century skills needed to be successful in life? 
  • What does being determined look like? 
  • How do we teach children about their levels of self-confidence? 
  • What role do the students play in this vision aside from being on the receiving end? 
  • Is this vision happening to kids and the community or are all constituent groups actively part of the process? 

The list of questions could go on and on but you get the idea - what is the point of this vision statement and what does it really mean for a school community? This is something I had been struggling with for years at our school because I wasn't quite sure about the best way to capture and represent our vision statement, especially in thinking about the fact that we have dedicated ourselves to focusing on 21st Century skills both in our teaching and learning. Although 21st Century skills emphasize concepts such as critical thinking and collaboration, we also wanted to find a way to celebrate and recognize our dedicated efforts to meaningfully integrate technology into the teaching and learning experiences each day at #Cantiague. This had all proven to be a challenging task and the trajectory was rather unclear but eventually we decided to tackle the dreaded vision statement because we had finally achieved a group understanding of our vision and the direction we wanted to go with our vision!

from likeateam

So, at the start of last year, our Shared Decision Making Team was charged with this important task... re-write and re-create the Cantiague Elementary School Vision Statement. Our Shared Decision Making Team is comprised of six staff members, four parents, two students and me. We started by listing words that we felt best described Cantiague and the Cantiague experience. Generating that list (ended up being about 100 words and phrases) and then narrowing it down was quite a process that involved surveys, discussions, more surveys and follow-up discussion. It literally took us months to decide which words and phrases best captured the Cantiague experience for kids. After deciding on the words that best fit Cantiague (the students on the team really helped refine the list from their vantage point) we then shifted the conversation to what our vision statement should actually look like... will we generate that bulleted list? Maybe write it in a different way? Or go in a completely different direction and create a Wordle that would permanently be visible on our website. Although it was a great discussion, we had a tough time coming to a conclusion!

After a month of discussion on this topic, the team kept coming back to the idea of a video and how it might best capture the Cantiague experience and would allow us to actually show, with images, what the vision statement looks like in school. Well, thanks to the hard work of three team members - KatieCaseyLisa and the rest of the Shared Decision Making Team - the Cantiague Vision Statement went from an idea to a video reality. Check it out and please leave a comment below letting us know what you think about our vision and ask yourself, What does your vision statement say about your school and what role do your students play in that vision statement?    

#Cantiague Video Updates... our best effort to amplify student voice on a grand scale! At Cantiague, we started doing Weekly Video Updates last year where 6 or 7 students from each class do research about what’s happening on each grade level and then share those updates on camera. The children have two days to do their grade level research and then they join me for lunch on Wednesday or Thursday and we shoot the video. No class time is lost; the children decide what information is shared; and the community knows exactly what is happening in school in real time!

Let's face it, the children are the best storytellers and who better to share what’s happening in our schools than the people who are experiencing it first hand - our amazing kids! That is the power of student voice (#StuVoice). We have been shooting weekly video updates for almost two years and here 
are some helpful hints based on what we do at Cantiague…

Use whatever video platform that works best for you. We use the Touchcast app on my iPad, which is free and allows for 5 minute videos. The app also gives you the option to add in sound effects, pictures on the screen and other such video enhancing features.

After creating the video, we upload it to our YouTube channel. Although a YouTube channel is not a necessity, it does provide an online space to house your videos and allows for easy sharing with the entire community via an emailed link - again, not a must but something to consider! The great thing about YouTube is that it is linked to Google and you can set your channel so it is public or private, which is definitely important for the community to understand.

And after all that work, here is an example of the final product featuring the awesome kids of #Cantiague...

The time has come for all educators to dedicate themselves to being #FutureReady and find different ways to use technology to enhance and support student learning. We have used technology to amplify student voice... what are you doing with technology in your school?