Sunday, November 23, 2014

Flipped Mindset

When I decided it was time to flip my faculty meeting, I didn't mean to videotape myself delivering administrivia upside down.   

However, that faux pas, that willingness to take a risk and embrace change as the principal of the Northfield Community Middle School, might have been the best mistake I ever made. Because, it showed my staff I was open to new ideas, valued their time, and would ask of them only what I was willing to do.

I've never forgotten what it was like to be a teacher because I still am one. My pupils are just adults, but they need to be lifelong learners because this is what we want our students to be. As a connected educator, I love to share and acquire ideas to better my staff, students, and school, even if my connection is shown upside down on someone's monitor. This allows me to grow teacher-leaders who are empowered by my trust, and pass that on to the students. I don't need to micro-manage. If I did, what was I thinking when I hired the staff members in the first place?

At two recent conferences, I had an opportunity to connect with teachers in districts throughout NJ and PA. I heard from a number of disheartened teachers who feel they are asked to differentiate instruction, infuse technology, and more. Yet, when they come to a faculty meeting or receive pullout training, their administrators teach to the middle of the group. Most of the training is done in lecture format. Some of it even makes the teachers feel talked down to. It makes me wonder, what would a fellow administrator say if they observed a teacher teaching to the middle, lecturing for an hour, or talking down to a student. I don't think they'd get a four on the Danielson rubric.

Why not take a risk to flip the faculty meeting, tape yourself on video, and allow staff to see it firsthand instead of telling them what to do.  Have your teachers share their strengths that you have observed in their classrooms to your other teachers.  Ask teachers to bring one positive and one need of improvement about the current school culture to a one-on-one meeting where all is open to discuss.  Lastly, take a step outside your comfort zone and challenge each teacher to take a risk with a new lesson/project idea. Promise them that you are not out to get them, that you'll actually make sure to include it as a positive in the summative evaluation, and that working together as a team can only enhance the school for the better.  

Did I mention that to enhance the school culture and climate I was ducted taped to the wall by my students who maintained A's and B's while remaining discipline free over several months?  The result was A LOT of tape as 95% of the student body participated in this wacky fun day. Who knows what this year's challenge will be as I asked my students and staff to think of some ideas.  Maybe pies to the face on National Pi day?

Perhaps if we allow our staff to grow, then student growth would increase as well.  It's no secret that some of the best schools in the country model and demonstrate this daily.  Over the past several years my PLN, family, staff, students and co-workers have all inspired me to reflect daily and truly analyze who I was as an administrator and who I want to become as an administrator.  By flipping your own mindset away from what you had always seen to what we can envision, should be motivation enough each day to improve onescraft for the betterment of staff and students. 

A big thank you to the following for making a difference in my leadership style!

Joe Mazza - @Joe_Mazza
Jeff Zoul - @Jeff_Zoul
Jimmy Casas - @Casas_Jimmy
Todd Whitaker - @ToddWhitaker
Patrick Larkin - @patrickmlarkin
Barry Saide - @Barrykid1
Aleng Phommathep - @Alengman
Michael Curran - @mgcjusa
Spike Cook - @Drspikecook
Kevin Jarrett - @KJarrett
Thomas Murray - @Thomascmurray
Tony Sinanis - @TonySinanis
Joe Sanfelippo -@Joesanfelippofc
Jay Eitnor - @Isupereit
Tom Whitby - @Tomwhitby
Stephen Santilli - @Spsantilli
Jennifer Scheffer - @Jlscheffer
Scott Rocco -  @Scottrrocco
Brad Currie - @Bradmcurrie
Ben Gilpin - @benjamingilpin


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What Does Your School Do For Veterans Day?

Ronald Reagan once stated, "We remember those who were called upon to give all a person can give, and we remember those who were prepared to make that sacrifice if it were demanded of them in the line of duty, though it never was. Most of all, we remember the devotion and gallantry with which all of them ennobled their nation as they became champions of a noble cause.”  

Thank you to all the brave men and women who dedicated their lives to allow us to live in this great country of ours! I am also especially grateful for having two wonderful grandfathers who both served during World War 2.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to meet up with my wife's aunt and uncle at the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum in Rio Grande, New Jersey. During our time there, my two year old son who is fascinated with airplanes, ran to every plane or helicopter that he could get his hands on and even sit in. 

As we all laughed and smiled watching my son have the time of his life, my wife's uncle who is a retired military police officer and local police officer in NJ asked me a question that I could not answer with more pride then I did. "What does your school do for Veterans Day?" 

"I can honestly say with much pride that our school's Veterans Day program is the best in the state of New Jersey. We are the only school in the state of New Jersey to be selected by the Veterans Day National Committee and the Department of Veterans Affairs as a Veterans Day Regional Site. Our students interview a veteran from their family or one from town, write about them, speak in front of the entire student and staff population with the veteran by his or her side, make large poster board displays that go to local buisnesses, play Taps, have the students in choir sing and the band even plays for them. We had over 20 veterans attend, one flew in from San Diego to surprise his nephew and we even had a great grandfather who was 100 years old.   

The entire student body in the audience sat for two hours waving small American flags and homemade banners for each veteran present, with no misbehavior. They demonstrated respect, honor and dignaty throughly the entire assembly.  How could I not be more proud?

We also collected food, supplies and old cell phones, batteries and chargers that were sent oversees to active troops.  

There is also the "Post Crashers" initiative, which is students, parents, staff and community stakeholders who give up a few Saturdays to help restore the local Veterans Hall. These individuals embraced this service learning project that requires them to paint walls, ceilings, replace light fixtures, rip up and replace flooring as well as landscape a yard that hasn't been touched in years. Yes, they do this voluntary out of the goodness of their hearts and not for grades!  They even made up their own theme song and dances as well.  

Once this hall is finished, I can only imagine what they will do next.  How they do not have their own HGTV or DIY network show amazes me. To see students from 5th, 6th,7th and 8th grade working so hard for veterans who served our great country is tear jerking."

After my reply, I asked my wife's uncle, who now works in a school district in another region of the state the same question that he presented to me.  He stated he was so upset that the building doesn't really do anything and that he went out of his way to place a Veterans Day bulletin board in the front of the building for all to see. His response left me upset, shocked, and wondering how many other schools who are open on Veterans Day partake in any events.  I know in my heart that he will continue to work hard at trying to make a change for the better within his new school and help everyone see as to why it is so important to honor our veterans.

As I made the long drive back home I could only wonder, "What does your school do for Veterans Day?"

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Not the Problem You Have, It's How You Handle It

The question that I present to everyone is how many people can honestly say that this quote represents your current leader, management, coach, and/or principal?  "An upbeat manager that goes through the day with a positive outlook ends up running a team or organization filled with upbeat people" (Welch 2005).  
John F. Kennedy once stated that "Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other." It is imperative that all leaders continue the path of being life long learners to help better their schools, students, teachers, parents, and all stakeholders as they move forward each day.  Successful leaders, coaches, and management have a trait in common that is vital to success, which is trust.  If one cannot instill trust to his or her environment then true change cannot occur.  Often in society today, many managers tend to "give in" or "ignore" slacking employees and transfer their responsibilities to others who do the job correctly for them.  In a sense if your allow it, you promote it.  This struggle to actually rise up and hold individuals accountable is a frustration that could be found in just about any work environment.  True leaders are the ones who can motivate, inspire, and promote trust by maintaining expectations, communication, building relationships all while treating everyone equally while holding them each accountable.  
Before I became the Lead Learner (Principal) of my own building, I worked as a teacher, soccer coach, and assistant principal within one school district.  During my 9 years in the district, I had 5 new principals, who each were all drastically different in leadership styles.  As a life long learner, I took it upon myself to analyze and learn from each of them to improve my own craft.  Yet, as I learned numerous "do's and don'ts" from them, the one underlining topic that coming back to me was trust.  My father who was a third generation water well driller who ran his company would regularly tell me to remember that people come before programs and the it's not the problem that you have, it's how you handle it.  The frustration that I developed under several of my bosses was that they would fail to build trust, fail to build relationships as they only wanted results, and they would base decisions off of emotions that would often lead to larger issues.
We must embrace critical remarks, and suggestions to continually try to improve who we are as people and leaders.  Too often in my experience many leaders are against change and refuse to listen to suggestions as they let "power" take over their mindset.  As a Lead Learner in my own building, we installed many changes that were based on teacher and student suggestions.  I view leadership as a privilege and an honor to have the ability to make a positive difference in someones life.  It is a goal of this Lead Learner to create an environment that risk taking and autonomy is present. Being a true leader is being a servant leader who will put his or her employees, and students first.  In school settings we control the daily education of all stakeholders, and you must ask yourself, "is this the day that students will be talking about 20 years from now?"
Lastly, as a leader, bravery is a choice.  In being brave, one must realize that it will be uncomfortable. You can only be courageous and/or brave or you can be comfortable, yet you cannot be both.  
The question I leave you all with is: are you willing to be status quo in being comfortable in your position, or are you brave enough to try to make a difference?