Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Songs of my Life-The Soundtrack of a High School Vice Principal....In May/June

The end of the school year always brings about a serious mix of emotions.  Early in my career, as soon as May hit, it was game on.  Summer time...free at last!  Alice Cooper serenaded my every move as the year wound down, lockers were cleaned out (I was a PE teacher), grades were finalized and summer plans were made.  The next school year was just a blur on the distant horizon and I had things to do.  Fifteen years have passed since I first danced my way off campus into a glorious summer break.  Since then, I've had a career change ( I went to the dark side...administration!), got married, and had 3 children of my own. Now I somehow find myself closing out my 15th school year. 

I have always a been a lover of music, of all kinds....from Prince to NKOTB to Ani Difranco to Bone Thugs to Montgomery Gentry and Waylon....I like it all.  Now I find myself behind a desk more often than before, and I've been listening to music differently.  Recently I was listening to a Ryan Adams song and the lyric, "Am I really who I was" floated through my ears and stuck with me.  I don't always know the answer to that question, and I'm not sure I ever can.  But thinking about that gave me an idea: track the songs I listen to throughout the year.  I began to reflect and realized at different times of the year, different genres and artists enchant me.  Below are my songs and sentiments for May and June.  I ask that you reply with some of your favorites that help you digest another year, shake off the EOY stress and remain hopeful and focused for the next.  

Tom Waits-'Ol 55

Spellbinding, hypnotic look at yesteryear!

Always my favorite compared to the more apt "1999"

Empire of the Sun-Concert Pitch

Intended as a party-esque love song.....one could interpret the lyrics (at least most of them) as a sociopathic dedication to one's school?  I don't know, I just love the song!

Ryan Adams-Lucky Now

I found this song at the very end of the film This is 40,  and fell in love with just that line.  Here it is in it's entirety- "I feel like somebody I don't know, are we really who we used to be. Am I really who I was".  I ask myself this question daily however I find the EOY an important and appropriate time to attempt to answer it, at least in a professional context.

BoyzIIMen- End of the Road

Come on!  I was in middle school in the early 90's!

-Wayon Jennings version-

I lost a cousin years ago named Amanda, this was her namesake song!  Aside from that, it's a beautiful ballad of a man looking himself in the mirror and coming to grips with what he sees.

Pink Floyd-Comfortably Numb-

A little sarcasm here but by the end of the year my head feels like two balloons

Band of Horses-The Funeral

No pun intended here....just a beautiful song with a slow build and a great finish....they type of year I always hope to have!

Bone Thugs and Harmony featuring Biggie Smalls- Notorious Thugs

Again, don't judge me....it gets me through some days

Paper Boy-Ditty

One of the catchiest rap songs ever!

Peter Cetera-Glory of Love
 and You're the inspiration 

I like to blast these songs from my office for my secretary and co workers.  Get's a smile like 60% of the time.  

Lastly-About Today
, by The National, is a beautiful, painful song that, for some reason, inspires me every time.  Perhaps it's the role the song plays in a great move called Warrior?  It really doesn't matter, it's just damn beautiful!

At any rate, have fun with this one!  My previous two blogs were pretty heavy....needed some harmony to mellow out!  I encourage you to listen...or perhaps listen again....and smile, knowing at least one sappy administrator in Northern California is licking his wounds to these very songs!  

Friday, May 13, 2016

Staff Culture-Set it, but don't forget it

Staff Culture starts at the top.  In an educational setting, this is no different.  In fact, culture may be the single most important point of leverage we as school administrators can cultivate, sustain and offer an employee, a student and a community.  As we wind down the year and wind up the job postings, interviews and hopeful hiring I find myself thinking "what can I offer a new teacher, that isn't monetary that will inspire them to be the greatest teacher they can be....AND WANT TO STAY!" 

I believe teachers want to be inspired as much as, if not more, than they seek to inspire.  If cultivated and utilized properly culture can be the "x" factor that potential great teachers want in their lives.  After all, let's remember, these are individuals, like ourselves that see doing good, being human and affecting change are move valuable than careers where success is defined by monetary rewards, at least in part.  

The scary reality of culture is that exists with or without intent, focus and nurture.  Void of these, the culture created and sustained can be counter productive, self-serving, divisive and in worst cases, negative and poisonous.  I do not live in a fairy tale land where I expect of others and even myself, to be able to get 100% of staff on the same bus.  There will always be detractors and "negative nellies".  Given that, it is important you as a leader exemplify, personify and deliver the type of culture that can serve your school's intended outcomes.  

With this in mind, I have begun brainstorming what we do, here on site, as leaders to cultivate a positive culture that will appeal to staff, which, will lead to a positive experience for students and their families.  With all productive reflection comes honesty.  I have also identified some areas we are lacking and how to resolve those.  
Here are some suggestions-

Beginning of the year:

  1. Pair them up with a staff member who embodies the culture you are trying to set
  2. Identify funds for collaboration and observation between the two
  3. Welcome event (not meeting) should be engaging, team oriented and get people out of their comfort zones.  In the past we have done a scaled down "Amazing Race" challenge.  
  4. Gift Certificates to local eateries, especially if teacher is new to the area
  5. Do they have housing? Reach out to local Real Estate friends!
  6. Set a monthly date for "New Teacher/Staff" luncheon.  
    1. Invite a different guest speaker each time! School Board member, cabinet member, student, veteran staff, Ed Foundation representative, advisory board members etc!  
  7. Give them some SWAG from your school!  T-Shirts, temporary tattoos, Sweatshirts, mugs....whatever you got!!!

 Spirit Rally/getting students involved:

  1. Welcome Back Rally-aside from sports and student leadership, identify a game or challenge that brings new staff to center stage for existing faculty and student body.  
    1. Dating Game
    2. Staff vs. student dodge ball, hot dog toss, relay race, Kahoot/Socrative tech games etc!  
  2. Have student introduce new staff at Associate Student Body meetings

End of the year:

  1. Have graduation ceremony for returning staff! 
  2. Survey new teachers to get their input on how their year went.
  3. Recruit these now returning teachers to present and mentor next years new crop!  
  4. Invite them to a job fair to help sell your school!  

  1. Cover their class and send home a first year, exhausted teacher early!  
  2. Or, cover a new teacher and allow them to go observe a master teacher
  3. Or, cover a new teacher and have them watch YOU!
  4. Always, always always say thank you!
  5. Write no less than three thank you cards a week....at least one must go to a new employee!
  6. Invite them to a sporting event to cheer on your student body!
  7. Have department sign up for Friday lunches....each department is responsible for one Friday a month to treat the rest of the school!  Get creative with themes!
  8. Make sure they have your cell phone number
  9. Surprise the staff with a coffee menu or Sundae menu, they fill it out on Thursday and it's delivered Friday! ...or any day!  
  10. Keep their request on file...do it again!
  11. Select a book that inspires, buy several copies and have a book club!  
  12. Try and procure funds for Professional Development that meets with your goals and culture and send a team.  
  13. Call home with positive feedback that is SPECIFIC!  
  14. Honor their Birthday

I would say teaching does, indeed, require some conceptual, creative, thinking!  Wouldn't you!  Inspire them!  Set the culture, if you don't, someone else will!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Came Confused, Leaving Inspired

I once was a passionate, young, determined physical education and leadership teacher.  I was trolling the Internet with vigor trying to find different ways to inspire youth and reach them on a very human level. I was attending professional development all over the state to bring home the newest and most effective, entertaining life-long fitness ideas I could find.

Then, I became a high school administrator.  I plunged, head first, into a world of a-g graduation requirements, linked learning pathways, units, back pack searches, evaluations, grant writing and the list goes on.  5 years later, my wife and I had two more children, we had one already, I had procured hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants, successfully implanted two National Academy Foundation academies, evaluated over 70 individuals at varying levels, spoken at numerous conferences and
board meetings etc.  And most days, I hardly made it into a class if it wasn't a scheduled evaluation.

I was working through supervision time, which aside from not fulfilling my job description, was also costing me valuable time bonding, mentoring and learning from our school community.  Don't get me wrong, there are notes of appreciation from students and families, random compliments and the like at the grocery store or little league baseball games and approval from superiors, which, of course, in the end only reinforce the cycle you are in.  There were also long talks with my wife, who is also in education, about whether or not this was the correct career path, reading books like Mindset, Good to Great, Formative Assessment etc.  I realized, I was not doing what I wanted to do.  I decided my goal needs to be, must be, re engagement with students.  They deserve it, but so do I!

This realization led and urged me to accept an invitation to CUErockstar camp in April.  At first I was confused.  I wasn't sure what CUE was, I intentionally didn't do much research as I wanted to come in with a blank slate and no expectations.  I didn't quite understand what the intended outcome was of CUE, and of course I arrived late the first day, which didn't help!
Until I came to CUErockstar camp at SkyWalker Ranch, I didn't realize what was absent from my professional life was inspiration; I wanted to be inspired.  I needed my Jerry McGuire moment. Within 30 minutes, I found what I was looking for.  These people, and those I came with, were inspired and inspiring.

I credit CUE for effective workshops, certainly, however what I truly appreciate, was recruiting inspiring administrators to lead those workshops and providing the time to discuss practice and strategy with those individuals.  Sometimes, just getting out of my office, off my chair and seeing what others are doing....or merely commiserating together....can be helpful.
Here are some strategies that I am taking home with me to remain inspired by getting out of the office and with the school community, do what you like with it!

  1. Mobile Office- you can check email, type of an evaluation etc from anywhere!  
  2. Attend a conference with a group of colleagues
  3. Park on the other side of campus....you never know who you will meet coming on campus from the other direction!  
  4. Deliver passes on your own
  5. Cover a teacher's class who needs a break....
  6. Create a googleform for teacher walk through feedback-send it to them before you leave!
  7. Ride the bus with students
  8. Bring your M/O department lunch....or coffee, at least!
  9. Schedule time every week, 20 minutes to call up students for no reason at all....just to talk with them....about ANYTHING!
  10. Find out some students who:
    1. have been suspended the most
    2. have been absent the most
    3. made some significant progress
    4. recently overcame a struggle
    5. you don't know
    6. etc
And buy them lunch....and eat it with them!

At any rate, I am energized, ready and most importantly, inspired to finish the year strong, reflect on my practice and goals and gear up for 2016-17!  This time though, I know I am not alone!  If I am, it's my fault for not reaching out to the community at CUE, within Sonoma Valley Unified and....social media!  
Thank you,