Sunday, August 11, 2013

Beyond the Mirror and Through the Looking Glass: Why I Reflect

First as a teacher and now as an administrator, I have always been engaged in thoughtful reflection on my practices.  I reflect often and deeply. These reflections oftentimes take place in the form of quiet contemplation, journal entries, notes on scrap paper (aka quick writes), edits to my lesson plan book, and conversations with trusted colleagues.  These reflections were often followed by action steps for improving whatever area I was focused upon at the time.  Many times these action steps required me to investigate a particular topic more or to seek professional development opportunities that would help improve my practice in a particular area.  You see, for me, reflection wasn't just about thinking about what happened.  It was about discovering the key to unlocking my potential as an educator.  

Reflection fuels my passion for improvement and keeps me engaged in the learning process.  As an educator, I know that there will ALWAYS be new things for me to learn (content) and new things to try (strategies).  Nothing made this more clear than after I joined Twitter and have expanded my PLN.  Like thousands of others, I read posts, retweet posts, favorite posts, check out blogs, view videos, etc.  As a result, my opportunities for reflection have increased exponentially.  And, I have committed to using blogging as a new way to reflect.  Blogging, by the way, was one of those action steps from a reflection I had on how I could better model technology integration in my role as a leader.

 However, as much as I reflect about my own learning, there are also experiences that lead me to reflect on the learning of others.  A teacher in my previous district (who was frustrated by the district's required language arts PD) stated, "I'm a National Board Certified Teacher.  I already know a lot about teaching language arts and there's not much more I can learn."  For the past two years, her comment has stuck with me.  Initially, I walked away feeling disappointed and discouraged that a fellow educator was not as committed to lifelong learning as others in our building.  However, in the past year, I have learned a lot about professional development, adult learning, and motivation (with admittedly, a lot more to learn).   I now have a different perspective about that conversation.  I believe this teacher was being reflective of her practice and trying to communicate that what she needed to learn wasn't being provided.  In other words, we weren't meeting her needs as a learner.  If that same conversation were to occur today, I feel better equipped to ask her probing questions and provide her resources that would be more closely aligned to fit her needs.  

I am beginning my third year in a "new to me" district.  As their newest leader, I have made mistakes.  I have also done many things well.  Most importantly, I still have many things to learn.  I will never be a perfect leader, but I will be a leader who is focused on using reflection as a way to constantly and consistently improve.  As we begin a new school year, let's commit to becoming more reflective practitioners together and sharing our learning.  And as we reflect, let's remember...Reflection isn't about perfection, it is about growth.  

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Crazy Little Thing Called...Twitter?

     As I set sail on my maiden voyage into the sea of blogging, I decided it was important to share what has led me to this place.  So, I'm going to take a little trip back in time to share what I've learned:

March through April:   The Twitter Journey Begins

The perception I had of Twitter was that it was for all things entertainment: actors, musicians, movies, television, radio, sports, etc.  I'm not one to be enamored with the famous or infamous.  Granted, I appreciate the works of many in the aforementioned category, but not enough to want to read about their daily lives.  Then, one day at work, I happened to receive an email from a fellow principal to join the Twitter universe.  I knew two colleagues that also had Twitter accounts, so after several weeks of ignoring the invitation to join, I decided to "check it out."  

Still skeptical, I created an account and followed the three people I actually knew in addition to organizations I trusted (@BattelleforKids @ASCD @OAESA @NAESP).  I had a private profile b/c I didn't yet trust this thing called Twitter.  After all, what was it and why would I need it? 

As I began receiving updates from those I trusted, I grew curious about who they were following and who I might know that followed them.  It was within that first week of twitter that I discovered @PrincipalJ, @Joe_Mazza, @CurtReess, @donalynbooks, and @NMHS_Principal  I was blown away by the content that they were posting and the conversations they had with one another.  (However, at this point, I wondered if this was just a #NewJerseything or a #Wisconsinthing).  As I began to feel more comfortable, I actually started to explore the idea of Re-Tweeting and using Favorites and even composed a few Tweets of my own.

I continued to follow others, stayed up-to-date with those I was already following, began reading their blogs and articles they posted.  This was when I began to understand the potential of Twitter to grow me as a leader.

April through May:  Jumping in to the Land of Hashtags

Finally, I set sail on my Twitter journey.  I began navigating the tweets as if I had been doing it for years.  Then, I became curious about the power of Hashtags and Twitter chats.  With the encouragement of @bCurrie5 and @drjolly I decided to first "lurk" them participate in Twitter chats.  I also noticed this amazing thing happening, I discovered other Ohio leaders on Twitter.  I connected to them and discovered #OHedchat  What could be more important in discussing the many changes and challenges happening in my "own backyard?"  These first chats were mind-blowing experiences!  I could hardly keep up with the amount of information that was flowing from the number of educators.  The more I read, the more I began to reflect and reconsider my past and current practices.  I was made aware of great professional books for principals and so with my Amazon account having been neglected since spring break, I ordered several titles, including @donalynbooks' The Book Whisperer, @burgessdave's Teach Like a Pirate and @ToddWhitaker's Shifting the Monkey and The Ten Minute Inservice.  These books were completely inspirational and transformational.  As I wrapped up the year, I knew I would be spending more time on Twitter and connecting to others who read these books and responded to them in the way that I had.

June through August:  The More You Read...
During this time, I was able to participate in more Twitter chats, connect to more educators, and introduced Twitter to a few teachers.  I even met a small group at Panera one evening to "teach" them how to use Twitter.  I was "hooked," but in a good way.  As educators, we often work in isolation, sometimes not even talking to another adult for hours at a time.  As a principal, you are sometimes even more unconnected.  As the only principal of my K-6 building, I don't always have the opportunity to bounce ideas off others or share questions or concerns with another with like responsibilities.  This is where I have found "salvation" in my PLN from greats like @twhitford, @courosa, and @gcouros!  I no longer feel isolated and know that I can post a question and receive ideas and support.  Recently, because of Twitter, I was able to attend hands-down one of the best conferences I have attended in a long time!  I was able to learn first-hand from @RickWormeli @NLHSprincipal @snbeach and @RichardCash.  The best part of the conference; however, was found in the #ILEOhio feed.  The conversation between participants was amazing.  This enhanced the learning times 10!  I have continued to connect and reflect.  

August and Beyond:  The future's so bright...
So, where does this leave me now?  From my PLN or tweeps, I have developed very clear goals for the upcoming school year.  I have made a commitment to use what I have learned and put them into practice.  One of my favorite sayings is "You don't know what you don't know."  This couldn't have been more true for me than what I have experienced in these past few months.  And so, now, even though I still consider myself a "newbie" to this Twitter universe, I am beginning my next steps into becoming a better educator:  a more reflective, yet connected educator by blogging.