Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What Happens When You Sneeze?

As an elementary classroom teacher (mostly 5th Grade), I was always worried about being out sick or attending a conference for a bunch of reasons - I wasn't sure if the sub would cover all the work, if the children would make good choices (i.e.- would they behave) and honestly, I always missed my kids. The feeling was usually mutual (depending on the class or time of year) and upon my return my kids would ask me to never be absent again because it wasn't the same without me. I always treasured and valued this type of relationship with my kids because it was rooted in a mutual respect, concern and investment. My kids knew I would do anything for them and I valued that they would take risks with their learning for me (and themselves).

Once I made the transition to building administrator, I assumed that type of relationship wouldn't exist - not with the teachers (who really cares about their principal?) and not with the students (isn't it true that only the "bad kids" get to know the principal?). Well, after reading various works by one of my gurus, Todd Whitaker, one thing he preached stuck out in my mind... "When the principal sneezes, the whole school catches a cold!" I don't know if I experienced that during my first couple of years as a principal because I literally felt like I was running around like a chicken without a head. But, over the years in my position as a Lead Learner (aka - principal) I realized that my every word, action and decision did have a direct impact on the entire educational community. 

This is a huge responsibility but one that I have learned to value and treasure on so many levels and for so many different reasons. It has never been about "power" for me because it has always been about serving my community with one singular focus and goal - doing what is in the best interest of our children (students). This is what drives my work each and every day... 

I engage in conversations with staff members to better understand what they are dealing with in their spaces and to consider how I can support them and help them enhance their own craft. 

I visit classrooms every day and listen in on what the children are learning and doing so I can better understand the way teaching and learning unfolds in our school from room to room. 

I try to model my expectations and lead by example (I try not to ask anyone to do something that I haven't already tried or would be willing to do). 

I try and personalize professional development opportunities to offer staff members the chance to learn about things that interest them. This also allows us an opportunity to spotlight all the expertise in our building.

I try and learn from our staff, parents and kids - if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't know how to use Instagram, wouldn't have been exposed to different authors and teaching techniques or have a better understanding of different cultures and beliefs. 

I email and chat with parents on a regular basis to integrate their perspectives, meet their needs and address their concerns (after all, we are taking care of their most precious "cargo" for at least 6 hours each day). 

I have lunch with my kids on a regular basis so I can hear from them about what makes them happy at our school, what we are doing well and what we could be doing better. 

Then, at the end of each day, I reflect on all the information I have taken in as a way to better serve our community and ensure that our goal has become, and remained, a common mission for all. 

Now, have I met with success? Am I doing my job well? Have I developed positive relationships with all constituent members in our community? Does our school catch a cold when I sneeze? I am not 100% certain but what I do know is that I have been out over the last few days because my son had surgery and in that time, I have received numerous texts, emails and tweets letting me know that our school doesn't feel the same without me. In my book, that means that I am serving my community well by assessing and addressing their needs.

So, if you are a Lead Learner, Principal, Assistant Principal or any type of administrator serving a school community (or classroom teacher serving a group of kids), make sure you step back every once in a while and see what happens when you sneeze!    

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Power of the Teacher

When our son, Paul, was born, our lives were literally flipped upside down! Unfortunately, he was affected by various medical conditions (mostly physical in nature) and during the first few months of his life we struggled with fears about whether he would be able to walk on his own or attend a typical school or possess any amount of self-confidence. Well, he is 8 years old now and I am thrilled to say that he walks on his own, goes to an amazing public school and exudes self-confidence (check out his blog - Paulie's Passions)! Thanks to our incredible support team (family, friends, doctors, therapists, etc.) our son made a lot of progress and developed all the skills he needed to be successful in the first few years of his life but it wasn't until he started school that I realized the power of the teacher(s)!

Yes, I have been in education for over 15 years and I am fortunate enough to have worked with some of the most incredible teachers and educators around (I work with them each day) but until our son went to school I never realized the profound affect a teacher could have on a child. Paul's teachers helped build his self-confidence, helped support him after multiple surgeries, helped him develop new skills and most importantly, they ignited a passion and love for school and learning - thank you Mrs. M., Mrs. T., Mrs. C., Mrs. B., Mr. B. and all the other dedicated educators who continue to affect our son!

Paul talks about himself as an amazing artist because the art teacher in his school has instilled that confidence in him and exposed him to concepts that have changed the way he creates art. Paul talks about himself as an author because of the experiences his teachers have provided him through the Writing Workshop process. Whether he is publishing an "All About..." book or a personal narrative, Paul is excited to share his knowledge, interests and passions! Paul sees himself as a skilled reader because of the Reading Workshop experiences his teachers have created and talks about different genres and text features because of the mini-lessons his teachers offered! Additionally, a couple of months ago, Paul was elected Student Council President of his school and I believe that he had the confidence to pursue this goal because of the support of his amazing teachers (and an awesome campaign manager - his mom)!

After Paul entered Kindergarten, I started to notice all the amazing "little things" the teachers did in our school where I work that might have gone unnoticed in the past. The phone call to a concerned parent to assure them that their child has grown as a reader. The teacher who chose to stay in for lunch so she could eat with a group of students who can't stop smiling and talking about lunch with their teacher. The teacher who gently rubs the shoulder of a specific student during a math test to reassure the child and help alleviate some anxiety. The teacher who started a talent/expert day so that the last 15 minutes of the day are dedicated to children sharing their talents, passions and interests (we have some incredible hula hoopers, pianists and artists in our midst). The teacher who sits in the hallway with one of his students who is having a tough day and just needs an open ear and shoulder to cry on. The teacher who maintains a regular communication notebook/email exchange with a parent to help the parent understand what the child has learned and how they are doing in school because the parent is wrought with anxiety. The teacher who celebrates each student birthday by having the child sit at the front of the class and receive "Verbal Gifts (Compliments)" from his classmates. The teachers who celebrate different Star Students each week and have family members come in during the week to share a book and complete a project or activity!

The list could literally go on and on and on but I think the message is clear... the power of the teacher is AWESOME! I have quickly come to realize that aside from a child's family, a teacher can have the most profound affect on a child and truly shape the trajectory of the child's educational experience and self-perceptions as a learner. The power of a teacher cannot effectively be graded on a 100 point scale; the power of a teacher should not be reduced to a score on a multiple choice test; the power of a teacher is not even tangible at times (see above). Instead, as a society, we must embrace the idea that the power of a (good, great, amazing, etc.) teacher is deep, far reaching and can last a lifetime!