Measuring Success

Last week I attended the EARCOS Leadership Conference in Bangkok.  I joined sessions about developing strong leadership teams, teacher supervision and evaluation, child protection, school accreditation, and more.  Unfortunately, some of these sessions were less helpful than others, leaving a lot to be desired.  I spoke with a few of those presenters after their sessions and asked them how they thought their session went.  Interestingly enough, no one I spoke to really felt confident that their session went well, yet they couldn’t be sure one way or another.  It got me thinking…

While all of the sessions I attended were very different from one another they all had one thing in common – none of them asked for feedback in order to see how successful they had been.  To be fair, the presenters may have had another method for determining the level of success of their sessions.  However, I have to wonder whether the presenters and facilitators I worked with ever measured, or even determined, any indicators of success.

I’m sharing this story today, not because I want to bash the presenters at EARCOS but rather because I want to provoke your thinking about your classes.  How do you know whether a lesson, unit, or assessment was successful?  

Each lesson has an objective, a goal for what the students should be able to do or learn by the end of the lesson.  So, at the end of the lesson how do you know if the objective has been met?  Are you collecting data that provides evidence of student learning?  Perhaps, like many of the presenters I spoke to after their sessions, you’re not always 100% sure how successful a lesson has been.

I want to nudge you to think about how you’re able to know whether a lesson has been successful.  We will be discussing this further with Faculty Heads this week and I’m going to ask them to continue the conversations with department teams.  Please take some time to think about how you determine a lesson’s success as well as brainstorming other ways that you could possibly use to measure success in the classroom.

Counting Sheep at #ELC2017BKK

I’ve got a super comfortable bed in a beautiful hotel room, no one to steal the sheets, and amazing blackout curtains.  Yet, I’ve been up counting sheep because I haven’t been able to sleep for the last few nights while here in Bangkok.  What gives?

It’s this conference.  The ideas.  The conversations.  The opportunities to share stories.  

My mind is racing…revved up and ready to go.

From the word ‘go’ this has been an opportunity to challenge beliefs and encourage thought.  Starting with the three challenges laid down by Peter Dalglish (Climate Change, Nuclear Proliferation, and Epidemic Viruses) was a super impactful way to get the conference started off with a bang!  Things haven’t slowed down one bit since that first morning.  

So what’s been keeping me awake these past few nights?  Well, here are just a few of the provocations that have been racing through my mind:

  1. How do I define learning?
  2. What is my school doing to create ‘nimble learners’ and educate for the unknown?
  3. What needs to be done to ensure that all children are safe at my campus?  (Shout out to @chris_akin for sharing all the work he’s done with Child Protection.)
  4. What ‘clarity’ am I creating out of the ‘confusion’ as a leader in my school?
  5. How can we adapt the programs/courses/pathways in our school to better meet the interests of our students while maintaining (and perhaps even increasing) a rigorous curriculum?

Beyond those five BIG questions lie hundreds smaller, but no less important, thoughts.  The trouble though, is that we’re all here for four or five days to challenge our thinking and have our minds opened to new possibilities, but what are we going to do about it?  When we get back to school on Monday the reality will strike.  School didn’t stop while we were away, things piled up that will require our attention, and it will be exhausting getting ‘back on track’.  So, when will there be time or energy enough to implement anything we learned during #ELC2017BKK?

The answer has to be, ‘I’ll make the time.’  If we’re being educationally responsible leaders, then there is just no way that we can go back to our schools and let all of these great ideas and strategies fall by the side of the road.  So, whether it means cutting something or reprioritizing your schedule, you have to make time and find a way to lead change at your school.  You don’t have to do it ALL, or even most of it.  Coming here and learning, like we’ve all been so fortunate to do, means that you now have the moral imperative to address important things in your school, all with the goal of improving student learning!  

So what questions have been keeping you awake these past few nights?

What are you going to do about them?

Chasing the G.O.A.T. to be Better Educators

Very soon (or possibly already, depending when you read this) LeBron James will become the all-time scoring leader in NBA playoffs history (basketball).  The talking heads on TV and the sports columnists will write articles questioning whether he is the greatest player of all time, or if perhaps the man he passed on the scoring list (a guy you may have heard of, named Michael Jordan) is still deserving of that title.  My personal opinion is that MJ is still the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All-Time) but I also acknowledge that LeBron is still playing and could overtake him some day.

I’ve got some friends who would say that Michael Jordan is, was, and always will be the G.O.A.T.  However, I can’t take such a hard line view because of my beliefs about growth mindset and the ability for everyone to work hard and achieve.  If we said right now that MJ was the best that will ever live then what goals do young basketball players have to work toward, second place?!?  That’s rough!  To allow for the conversation, and suggest that LeBron or someone else may be the best of all-time means that every basketball player and everyone else for that matter can still strive to be the best, to surpass the amazing achievements of those who’ve come before them…there is no limit to what we can achieve!

Okay, this isn’t a diatribe on LeBron vs MJ or who is the G.O.A.T.  What I’m working toward is the growth process for all of us.  Whether we are teachers, students, basketball players, doctors, or plumbers, we should all be working to be better at what we do.  Every morning when we wake up we should aim to be better than we were the day before, imagine a life where that was actually the case…success!!  Sometimes we will be better at our jobs, other days we will be better at interpersonal relationships, or perhaps better drivers, cooks, or parents.  Everyday we’re working to be better, that is the real goal…growth.

Even “the best” never stop striving for improvement or growth.  Michael Jordan didn’t stop practicing after he won 5 championships, he got in the gym and shot more and tried to get even better (he won a 6th before retiring).

We have a lot of amazing teachers at our school and I’m constantly impressed with the teaching practices employed to help our students reach success.  As the school year comes to a close I’ve had a lot of goals reflection conversations.  There is not one teacher at this school who doesn’t want to improve their practice and become even better for their kids.  The passion and drive to become the best teachers that they can possibly become constantly impresses me.  They don’t care if they’re being evaluated on the Marzano, Marshall, or Bozo rubric, they want to improve!  We may not have the greatest teacher of all time walking the halls of our school (we might though!) but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a school full of teachers who are working toward it.  Growth isn’t just our students’ goal, it’s ours too!

As educational leaders we have to live our message.  If we want kids to work hard and grow, then that needs to be our active pursuit as well.  Working everyday to become better educators and better overall humans is what it’s all about.  How are you growing?  How are you becoming better today?

Be a Learner to be a Leader

The mini-bio posted on my blog says that “I’m an Associate Principal at an international school in Quito, Ecuador. That’s my job but only one piece of who I am; other parts include brother, friend, educator, traveler, reader, risk taker and sports enthusiast.”  The problem, I’ve recently realized, with this bio is that it’s missing a few pieces.  The first piece, most people wouldn’t necessarily include in a bio, “I’m not as good at any of these things as I’d like to be.”  The other part is that I’m a learner, trying to grow, and be better at all of these things and more!  

On our most recent holiday Amy and I traveled to the Galapagos, wow, what a trip!!  During the trip we met some really interesting people, none more interesting to me than our naturalist guide.  He’s been guiding in Galapagos for 26 years and knows A LOT!  Throughout the week, if I wasn’t underwater looking at all the amazing marine animals then you could surely find me walking along side our guide asking him questions or just listening to what he had to say.  On one of our walks he said something that got me thinking deeper, he mentioned his recertification process for being a Galapagos naturalist guide.

You see, it makes sense…to guarantee the best quality naturalist guides they require them to attend regular classes to learn about the new scientific research and biological information being learned through research in the Galapagos.  The guides then need to demonstrate their knowledge in order to maintain their license to guide, thus ensuring that each guide meets a certain level of competence.  This all makes perfect sense and is incredibly logical, I mean who wants a poor guide with outdated knowledge?!?  

This got me thinking about my career, who wants a poor educator with outdated knowledge?  

I hope the answer to that question is rhetorical.  As educators we all seem to have a predisposition towards being up-to-date on the best educational practices available.  However, it’s not easy, especially from an international post where resources may not be as readily available as in our home countries.  So what do we do to ensure that we’re the best we can be?

Going back to my bio – I’m adding “learner” to my bio because it truly is a piece of who I am.  I work to read as much as possible about current educational research and best practice.  I try to build my network of resources and work hard to improve a little bit each day.  It is one of my personal goals to be a better person today than I was yesterday.  That includes professionally AND personally.  

I’ve realized over the last few years that life is reflected very often in our jobs and vice versa.  Reading this great blog post the other day made me start thinking about how important this really is to my life.  I’ve often worked to be better at my job by applying my outside life to the things I do at school but I’ve never gone so far as this article suggests, I’m going to give it a try.  Similarly this article about 10 activities you can do at lunch to make yourself a better professional/educator/person.  They’re not difficult, nor are they things that are boring, have a look and think about them the next time you walk out for lunch.

It’s a joy working with such dedicated and professional colleagues.  Knowing that the people who’ve read this will actually go out and think a little deeper about how they can grow is exciting, we’ve got such an amazing community here at AC – it’s inspiring!!  

My EdCamp Leadership Experience

Five out of my last six summers have been spent either in Bethlehem, PA at Lehigh University or in Miami at the PTC.  However, having already completed my goals at those fine institutions I figured that this summer I’d focus on spending time with family and friends instead of racing from one spot to the next.  That being said, and as I mentioned in my last 2 Cents post, I still had professional learning plans for the summer.

I’m about half way through The Multiplier Effect and the #admin2b Twitter Chats have been excellent, even though I missed a couple due to travel.  More to come on that when I’ve finished the book.

Similarly, I’m rolling along nicely on Insights:  How Expert Principals Make Difficult Decisions which I’m reviewing this summer for

Today, I want to reflect on the amazing experience I had yesterday at the edCamp Leadership unconference in Chicago.  This was my first unconference and it far exceeded my already high expectations!  For those who’ve never been…basically when you show up there is no schedule, this gets set during the first half hour or so as people bring ideas forth (or share on a Google Doc) and offer up different topics.  For the most part these are discussion sessions instead of teaching or “sage on the stage” style presentations.

The edCamp Leadership idea has been around for a while but this was the first year that it was coordinated on such a grand scale.  There were 17 sites around the country involved on the same date, at the same time.  #edcampldr was on fire all day long as people shared all the amazing learning that was happening at their specific sites.  I attended in Chicago where we were hosted by the amazing crew at East Leyden High School, huge shout out to them!

At each session there was something new for me, from personalized learning to, standards based grading, to Google Hangouts, even the session about “Getting Started in a New District” was interesting as I’m preparing to move into my new school, Academia Cotopaxi in Quito, Ecuador.  The insights and perspectives that were shared throughout the day were eye-opening for me in many ways.  As someone who’s been working in international schools more than US schools throughout my career I don’t always identify with the struggles that US based educators present.  However, during EdCamp Leadership the conversations weren’t about state laws, unions, or political mumbo jumbo; every discussion I heard was focused on being a better educator for the benefit of the students.  It didn’t matter if someone was working in a school in Illinois, Wisconsin, China, or Mars…it was all about the kids, anyone could follow these conversations.

Along with all the wonderful professional learning that was happening throughout the day I was excited to meet some of the amazing educators who I’ve been following on Twitter for the last couple years.  Having been in China and struggling to access the internet at times, let alone social media, many of these outstanding educators have been my source of professional information, whether they knew it or not.  It was inspiring to meet so many wonderful educators, it was truly an all-star lineup of educational leaders from the midwest region!

Finally, and perhaps the biggest take away for me, was the amazing connections that all of these educational leaders had already established…many without ever meeting face to face!  Lots of these people were clearly friends prior to this unconference but it was shocking to learn that so many of them had, so far, only met via Twitter, Voxer, or some other form of social media.  These educators, who previously may have functioned in isolation at their respective schools had found friends, mentors, and resources without leaving the comfort of their homes or schools.  The collegial atmosphere and laughter at lunch time and throughout the day was inspiring beyond words, awesome stuff.

EdCamp Leadership was my first edcamp but it most definitely won’t be my last!!  I look forward to maintaining the connections I made yesterday and as I continue to learn from these amazing educators.  If you’ve ever thought about attending an edcamp then stop hesitating and get moving…have a look here for edcamps coming up near you.

A Parting 2 Cents

It seems like a long time ago that I started writing my 2 Cents!  For the last SCIS version of my 2 Cents I’m going to be a bit more long winded than usual.  However, I want to offer a few summer time options for those who haven’t already ironed out every single minute of their holiday.  I’m not advocating for any one idea over another but I think any successful summer will include at least one of these four things.

Personally, for my summer, I’ll be working on organizing a visa to Ecuador, spending time with family and friends in America, getting back to working out and eating healthy, and acting as the Officiant in my sister’s wedding just days before Amy and I take off for Quito.  During all of that time I’ve also committed to reading two professional books (one for an online book chat and the other to review for Middleweb) and attending a 1-day “Ed Camp” in Chicago.  I’m excited for these professional opportunities which have all come via my professional learning community (PLC).

My recommendations for the summer:

1.  Hit the beach, mountains, trails, parks, ocean, lake, or whatever you can find outdoors!

Get outside and enjoy the fresh air (I’m hoping you can get away from a polluted city for this one).  Spend a few days camping next to a river with no wifi or mobile phone access, unplug and enjoy Mother Nature at her finest.  Give yourself some time to just enjoy all that nature has to offer without the hustle and bustle of the ‘outside world’.  If camping isn’t your thing then take a walk, go for a bike ride, or just sit and enjoy a park…but do it often.  Take a road trip, see a new place, and get out of the city-life for a while.  All of these things will help rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit!

2.  Take care of yourself.

Remember that New Year’s Resolution…yeah, I know the feeling…I was too stressed and too cold in the winter to really get anything productive going.  It’s too dark in the mornings and dreary at night, who wants to work out?  I wanted a nice warm meal full of comfort food and some wine on the couch at the end of those days, not an exercise class and salad!!  However, now the sun is shining and we can sleep past 6AM!  So track down your trainers and get moving…10,000 steps a day is a lot easier to manage in the summer when there are no papers to grade or meetings to attend.  Cook some homemade meals for your friends and family who still have to work through the summer, enjoy a nice dinner together and help them relieve some stress too.  The summer is your time to take care of yourself and feel great!

3.  Read, read, read!

If you’re like me you might feel like summer is the perfect time to squeeze in some of that professional reading you’ve promised yourself you’d do.  That’s fine but don’t skip the reading for pleasure too!!  (I’ve got Game of Thrones book 5 waiting for me)  Whether you’ve got a book waiting or not, you might also consider reading some of the books that are hot with our kids right now.  This article is a great one and lists five young adult books that adults would also enjoy.  I’ve read a few on this list (Book Thief is awesome!) and agree that knowing what our kids are into is a great way to connect and relate to our middle school age kids.  If you’re thinking that professional reading might be in the works for the beach then have a look at this article, some great tips there too.  The old saying of “don’t mix work with pleasure” goes out the door here…when it comes to summer reading, mix away!

4.  Reconnect at your own risk!

It goes without saying that living overseas requires a long time away from friends and family who are back ‘home’ or elsewhere.  However, if you’re like me it only takes a week or so at ‘home’ before you feel like it’s time for a break!  There are a lot of family and friends who want to spend as much time with you as possible and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the attention.  In a sense it’s almost like teaching…there’s only one of you but there’s a seemingly endless number of people who want/need your time and energy.  Be sure to take some “Me Time” this summer and don’t let yourself get run down while trying to connect with everyone.  I often joke at the end of summer that “I need to get back to work so I can relax!”  It’s easy to feel that way, especially if you’re bouncing from couch to guest room all summer.  Enjoy the time with family and friends but be sure to enjoy some time alone as well.

Enjoy the last week with our kids, it’s going to be a wildly emotional ride for many of them (and us!!)  Hang in there and enjoy the laughs and memories and embrace the inevitable tears.  Everyone has made a lot of strong connections here in the SCIS community and it will be tough to part ways, no matter how long you’ve been here.  Say what you need to say to those you’ve grown close with, trade contact info, and be confident that you’ll connect again soon!