Saturday, January 25, 2014

Digital Citizenship: Not Just for Kids

The New Year has presented school districts in my area several new challenges.  In Ohio, we are use to delaying or closing due to snow fall and/or icy roads.  But unlike our typical winters, we have experienced first hand the phenomena called the Polar Vortex, which is bringing us unseasonably cold weather, additional snowfall, and extremely dangerous wind chills.  These frigid temperatures and wind chills, prompted some school districts to close or delay.

This has prompted a debate in several communities about how cold is too cold.  Of course, this debate plays out in social media, particularly on Facebook.  Parents and community members post not only questions that are geared toward furthering their understanding of the delaying/closing process, but also "air their grievances" about issues they have with the school district.  

While I believe it is important to engage the community in two way communication and be open to feedback, how should schools respond when the conversation becomes accusatory, inaccurate, and even inappropriate?  I watched the dialogue unfold as one district attempted to respond to the concerns and explain the decision  making process.  The response was viewed as defensive and was openly criticized by parents and community members.  Suddenly, the comment thread appeared to take on a "mob" mentality.  The continuous negative comments and criticisms, left me with a multitude of emotions.  I felt saddened by the "attacks" on the school and simultaneously frustrated that more individuals who were supportive of the district's decision didn't post comments.  

I began to wonder if those in favor of the district's decision intentionally didn't post a comment for fear they would be criticized or "bullied" for their opinions.  (It should be noted that there were positive comments or favorable comments posted as well).  I also realized that I had an opportunity to respond, yet didn't.  I wondered why I remained silent.  And my answer was simple:  fear.  I was afraid any comment I made would be criticized.  I was afraid my comment would put me at risk professionally- what would be the consequences in my own district for commenting on another district's decision even if my comments were favorable or supportive.  Would I hurt or help professional relationships with educators in this district?  Are these the same questions others were asking themselves?  And, were those who remained silent victimized as bystanders to the negativity that unfolded?

How a parent responds to district decisions and district personnel influences how the child views the school.  How many students watched this negative dialogue unfold?  How many students' opinions of the district or district personnel were negatively influenced by the actions of the adults on Facebook that night?  

We teach our students the importance of digital citizenship.  We remind students to THINK before they post.  We preach to them to make sure that what they post is Truthful, Helpful, Important, Necessary, and Kind.  Yet, I logged off Facebook that evening with a sinking feeling that the ones who need digital citizenship are the ones who have the greatest influence on our children:  the parents.

Currently, my district does not utilize a Facebook page, however, we have not been immune from these types of conversations unfolding in social media.  And, as we look toward utilizing one in the future, how will we handle controversial decisions?  How does your school respond?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Gratitude, Fearless, and Focus

This year rather than making resolutions, I've decided to take Jon Gordon's approach (see the video here) with the one word.  In determining my one word I had to engage in a lot of self-reflection.  I had to ask myself some tough questions, such as:

  • What is holding me back from achieving what I want to achieve?
  • What am I passionate about?
  • How can I lead in such away that will be inspiring to others?
  • Where do I want to be a year from now?  How about 5 years? 10 years?
I also read a great article from Lolly Daskal, which gave me even more to think about, particularly in my role as a leader.  With these questions rolling around in my brain, I was able to determine there were three words that I felt were my guideposts for the upcoming year.  Then, I read a wonderful post by Jennifer Hogan.  It was this post that helped me narrow my focus even more.  They were gratitude, fearless, and focus.  Why these three words and how did they relate to my tough questions?

First, when I think of gratitude, I believe it is a mindset or attitude that one possess.  In a world where negativity is pervasive, it is difficult to maintain a positive outlook.  I prefer to see the world as a world of possibilities- a glass is half full mentality.  This doesn't mean I am always Rosy Sunshine.  There are times I get frustrated or need to "vent," but am quick to recover.  I think by sharing what I am grateful for will help me achieve what I want to achieve in my role as a building principal.  I want my staff and students to be excited to come to school.  By making my gratitude visible or public, I can influence the culture of my building in a positive way.  By expressing my gratitude, my students and staff will know how important they are to me.  I'm not always good at expressing what I am really thinking or believing.  I've been told I that I am "hard to read."  I am a deep thinker and try to process information on a regular basis.  I hope by sharing my gratitude openly, more people will learn more about me and learn to "read me" more easily.  I am not who I am today or where I am today without a great team of people who have supported, inspired, and helped me.

Secondly, when I think of being fearless, I don't think of bravery or courage.  Rather, I think of risk-taking.  Not the jump off a cliff or out of an airplane kind of risk taking, but the "set a lofty goal and go for it" kind of risk taking.  Many times when I make big decisions, I have done a lot of research, talked out the pros and cons, and selected the best option based on the evidence.  I'm not planning to change that practice per se, but I do believe that I am guilty of making safe choices.  Choices where I can be certain of the outcome- personally and professionally.  When I looked back on 2013, I realized that some of the best results came from being fearless.  When I was uncertain of the outcome, but stayed the course, I was pleasantly surprised by the results.  Being on Twitter and writing a blog are two examples of that.  For some, sharing in those realms comes naturally.  But for others, like me, this is not an easy task.  Additionally, I had the opportunity to do a presentation and be videotaped.  These opportunities would not have happened had I not been fearless.  

Finally, when I think about focus, I think about making the goals I have personally and professionally a reality.  Without focus, those goals won't be realized.  Without focus, I won't continue to grow and achieve.  For those that know me personally, they would tell you that I am focused/ driven.  However, I often make choices that put my personal and professional goals on the sidelines.  With focus, I won't make excuses.  With focus, I will prioritize.  With focus, I will grow.  With focus, I will achieve.

So, if I follow Jon Gordon's approach of one word, the word I would choose is focus.  With focus, I will be fearless.  With focus, I will make my gratitude known to others.  I am excited to make 2014 my year of focus!

I was so inspired by this process, that I shared these resources with my staff.  Last week, we gathered together to share our one word with each other and the reasons we selected them.  We made paper hearts, writing our one word on them, and then posted the hearts outside our doors.  The postings serve as a reminder for ourselves, but also a way to help keep each other accountable for our one word.  I also took pictures of each staff member with their one word, which I will be posting in the waiting area of our office.  The best part of this whole process was to see staff members sharing this with students!  

Monday, January 6, 2014

Sunshine Award

On Saturday, I was nominated by @CathyMere for the Sunshine Award.  While this isn't an award per se, it is an opportunity for those in my PLN to learn more about me as a person.  I was certainly flattered by the nomination, though admittedly, I haven't done much blogging.  In fact, my very first blog happened at the end of the summer.  While I have created a blog for my parents and write it monthly rather than a newsletter and a weekly blog for my staff, I haven't maintained my personal blog.  And truly, I'm not certain why.  I read others' blogs all the time.  These are often the sources for my reflections and I regularly share others' blog posts with my staff.  So, I am taking this opportunity to accept this "award" to dust off my blog.

Here's the description of the Award from Matt Renwick:

"The Sunshine award gives others an opportunity to learn more about me as a blogger and then, in turn, I will send sunshine the way of 11 other amazing bloggers for you to get to know!"

Here are the rules:

  • Acknowledge the nominating blogger
  • Share 11 random facts about yourself
  • Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you
  • List 11 bloggers.  They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
  • Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you).
Here are my Random Facts:
  1. I love "Foo Foo" Coffee.  I have often thought about working at Starbucks in Barnes & Noble so I can be surrounded by my two of my loves:  books and foo foo coffee.
  2. I love to travel!  I took my first plane ride when I was 10 and if I had the money or opportunity, I would travel somewhere at least 2X per month.  
  3. My professional life has changed SIGNIFICANTLY due to Twitter and I am so grateful for being connected to other educators, particularly now that I am in administration.  Being a principal can be a very isolating experience, particularly when you are the only elementary principal in a district.  Twitter gives me the opportunity to learn from more experienced administrators as well as leadership gurus in other professions.  I believe I'm a better leader because I became connected.  So THANK YOU to all of you whom I've had the pleasure to follow!
  4. I am the first in my family to go to college and am grateful to my parents for instilling in me the importance of education.
  5. I use to play competitive sports: basketball & softball.  I played volleyball in middle school, but quit in high school.  
  6. I coached my son's 6th grade basketball team.  (Could be why he hasn't played basketball since). :)
  7. I am a movie junkie!  I love to go to movies or watch movies at home.  Sometimes I forget that I've seen a movie before and don't realize it until I'm halfway through it!  
  8. I love music and enjoy a variety of genres.  Dave Matthews Band is by far my favorite and it is mandatory on road trips.  I have had the pleasure of seeing DMB live several times and I don't know if there is a better live performing band!
  9. Summer is my favorite season- mostly because of the sunshine.
  10. I'm a picky eater and have not eaten eggs since I was 4 years old.  I'm not allergic, I just hate the smell and taste.  :)
  11. My favorite grade to teach was 3rd grade.  
My 11 Questions to Answer from @CathyMere:

1.  When you look out the window or door of your house, what do you see?
I see my backyard where there is currently blowing and drifting snow.  It is my favorite view in the morning because I get to see the sun come up.

2.  Ocean or mountains?
I love the ocean.  It is very calming to hear the ocean waves outside your window and there is nothing like a long walk on the beach any time of day.

3.  What is the best vacation you've ever taken?
I absolutely loved a trip to Hawaii that I took a few years ago.  However, my favorite trip was to Chicago with my niece and my son for 4th of July and the Taste of Chicago. I fell in love with Chicago on that trip and have been back several times!

4.  What is the best book you read in 2013?
Gone Girl was by far the best book I read in 2013.

5.  Who is your favorite book character and why?
I fall in love with characters all the time, but I would say my current favorite character is Jemima J in Jane Green's book by the same title.  

6.  What is the one thing you wish you could have someone else do for you?
Weed whack the yard- I have a hard enough time trying to start the dumb thing let alone trimming the whole yard every week March through October.  

7.  What inspires you?
I receive inspiration from a variety of places and people as well as things that I read- books, articles, blogs, etc.  

8.  What do you make time for?
I make time for my parents.  I call them almost every day and we typically still have Sunday dinner together, except now I do the cooking for them.  I am so blessed by my parents and all that they have done for me in my life.  I always want them to know how much they are loved and appreciated.

9.  If you could spend a month on any continent with your expenses paid, where would you go and why?
I would go to Europe.  I want to see the birthplace of my great-grandparents, castles, pubs in Ireland, and all the architectural landmarks of Italy.

10.  What are your favorite games to play?
I love the older board games we have:  Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, Scategories, and Cranium.  I am also the reigning Clue champ in my family!  However, these days when we play games, we usually play Farkle!

11.  If you could make one change in the world, what would you want to change?
One change in the world I would make would be hunger.  

My list of 11 Bloggers (Well, I'm not certain all of the 11 people I am going to list actually blog.  However, if they are not, I hope this will be the inspiration they need to get started as I believe they have lots to add to the conversation)!

Dr. Lou Kramer   Lou is a dynamic leader who is doing great things within his district.  He is connecting with families and students in a way that few superintendents do and his work is inspiring.
Bobby Dodd  I had the opportunity to meet Bobby this summer and he has certainly inspired me to make changes in how I connect to families and share our school's story.  He is an invaluable resource for me!
Danielle Prohaska  Danielle is one who currently doesn't blog, but has been an amazing colleague and leader in my current district.  She has also been recently appointed as my superintendent for next year.  I hope she will take this invitation to begin blogging because she has a depth of knowledge about teaching and learning that is powerful.
Chad Miller  Chad is the reason I started a Twitter account, so I have him to thank for expanding my learning.
Mindy Reid  I have been following Mindy for quite some time and love seeing the things she is doing as a fellow elementary principal.
Jennifer Hogan  I am a new follower of Jennifer's and I love her passion for education.  I have subscribed to her blog and have read previous posts.  I'm actually surprised that it took me this long to connect with her, but am so very thankful that I have!
Matt Miller  Matt inspires me when it comes to "connectedness."  He does a wonderful job of promoting and celebrating his district but also sharing information with the rest of us in his PLN.  
Sean Wheeler  I connected with Sean through #ohedchat.  He has a wealth of experiences that he shares with his PLN.  He's also the lead blogger for @teachinghumans
Dr. Bobby Moore  I have had the pleasure to learn from Bobby over the past two years and have found him to be a positive influence on my role as a beginning principal.
Jane Maki  Jane was one of my early follows when I started my Twitter journey.  Her knowledge of best practices in Reading Workshop/ Daily 5 is amazing and I have enjoyed learning from her.
Jesse Kohls  Jesse is a great elementary principal to follow.  He shares not only about the great things he and his staff are doing within their building, but also connects to his community in amazing ways.  Jesse and I have been able to connect outside of Twitter (though not yet in person) to share ideas in more detail for our buildings.  I have appreciated learning from Jesse and plan to do so in the future! 

Here are my 11 questions:

  1. What are you currently reading?
  2. If you weren't in education, what field do you find most appealing and why?
  3. What was your favorite subject in school (lunch & recess do not count)?
  4. Who inspires you?
  5. What hobbies or special interests do you have?
  6. How do you "give back" to your community or to others?
  7. What are your favorite movies or television shows?
  8. As a child, what was your favorite pastime?
  9. What are your "resolutions" for the new year?
  10. What instrument can you play?
  11. Name 2-3 books or educators who have influenced you the most in your current role.


I first began writing this blog post in September.  Unfortunately, blogging took a back seat in my professional life for the past 3 1/2 months.  On Saturday, I received a Sunshine Award from @CathyMere which prompted me to "dust off" my blog.  I am grateful for the nudge from Cathy to work on my blog.  I believe it makes me a better connected educator- by sharing what I'm thinking, learning, and doing with others.  So, while it is not a "resolution" for me, I will be more focused on publishing my thoughts more regularly.  Thank you so much @CathyMere!

So, here is that blog post from September:

I love music.  Music is a soundtrack for my life.  David Bowie's "Changes" playing through my head lately as I think about all the things that I'm doing differently in my own practice to start the 2013-14 school year.  These changes are a response to new learning I've received as well as the rapidly changing education landscape in the great state of OH-I-O.  It has been said that the one constant in life is change.  Well, I believe the same is true for education as well.

Change is what makes this chosen career path both exciting, challenging, and rewarding.  First as a teacher with over 10 years in the classroom, I can say with absolute certainty, that my teaching practices changed every year.  Not only was I gifted with students with different needs each year, I was provided with changes in curriculum, administration, teaching materials, techniques, and schedules.  Not to mention that during my career in my previous school district, I changed physical locations, on average, every two years. When I left the classroom 6 years ago to begin a career in administration, I know that my last group of third graders was taught differently than my first group of fourth graders.  I know that my last teaching position within the district as a reading specialist working with at-risk readers in kindergarten and first grade forever changed how I viewed the teaching of reading.  I know that through my experiences in the classroom and all the changes that came with it, I was a much better teacher.  Without change, we would do a disservice to our students, to our families, and to our communities.

Yet, I still get puzzled when colleagues react so negatively to change.  Perhaps, it is how I view the world.  Whenever there is a new challenge or change, I, like many, have an emotional response or reaction.  After I have had a little while to digest (or as I like to say "incubate") the challenge or change, I seek to find the true purpose for the change.  If the purpose is unclear to me, I will follow up with clarifying conversations.  While I don't always like the response I receive, I look for ways to embrace the change and make the most of it.

Like in many other settings, Ohio finds itself at the crossroads in education.  The alphabet soup of education has many new acronyms:  CCSS, OTES, eTPES, OPES, PARCC, and FIP, just to name a few.  Add to this a new grade card system for school districts and buildings using letter grades (which as an advocate for standards based grading makes me cringe).

While I'm not in favor of ALL the changes taking place in my home state, I believe some have value that we must embrace.  With the transition to CCSS, teachers throughout the state and across the United States have an opportunity to learn from one another, share resources, materials, strategies, ideas, etc.  This will assist in creating more connected educators.  Students who move across the state line (in theory, though some states are not adopting CCSS) will be provided a more cohesive education.  Being an administrator during the transition time, allows me an opportunity to learn the standards with my teachers and have high quality conversations about how to best support our learners.

OTES/OPES/eTPES all center around new teacher and principal evaluations in the state of Ohio.  While a hotly debated topic among most Ohio educators, I believe there is value to this change.  We now have a more uniform way to communicate educator performance.  There is a rubric that provides teachers guidance for how they are performing and how to improve their practice.  While the rubric, itself, is not perfect, it is a great starting place for providing feedback and having great conversations about the teaching and learning process.  Currently, there are changes pending in our state legislature about this process.

As we begin a new calendar year, I am excited by the changes yet to come.