Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Leading While Navigating Change

The sound of a text message alert at 6:30 a.m. on a Friday creates some panic in my mind.  It immediately triggers some emotional questions:  “Are my parents okay? Did a student or staff member lose a loved one? Did my sister have an accident?”  I’m not sure why my thoughts immediately go to the negative. Maybe it’s simply because of how the chemicals in our brain control our reactions and behaviors. For me, I have to consciously manage the negative thoughts (caused by cortisol, our bodies’ built-in alarm system) that come flooding in at times like this.  I naturally analyze situations, read into what people say or do, and role-play different scenarios so I feel better prepared for the possibility of an unfortunate outcome.

So, back to the 6:30 a.m. text message.  Contrary to my initial instincts, this message was a positive one.  A colleague was sharing with me a recent podcast he had listened to.  A podcast that allowed him to make connections to the work we have been focused on as public school leaders;  Leading While Navigating Change. 

On my way to work that Friday morning, I listened to the podcast, Principal Matters:  The School Leader’s Podcast with William Parker.  This particular podcast focused on the only constant in life - change.  Leading in uncertain times is hard.  William shared a story about the military as an analogy to strategic leadership in schools.  Ultimately, the most important aspect of leadership is grounded in our ability to build trusting relationships with our colleagues and the people we serve. 

How do you lead in times of change?

Tactical Leadership

Boots on the ground-Soldiers/Teachers

  • Personnel involved in the activity

Operational Leadership

Coordination of systems, protocols, and policies-Officers/Principals

  • Day to day management

Strategic Leadership

Understanding the overall purpose of the mission and communicating what is at stake

  • Understanding and addressing the moving parts

In Worthington, our District Leadership Team read and engaged in book talk discussions last year based on the book written by Britt Andreatta, Ph.D., Wired To Resist:  The Brain Science of Why Change Fails and a New Model for Driving Success.”  We chose this book because of our middle-level changes including feeder patterns and adding 6th grade to our middle school programming.  Little did we know that we’d keep referencing this book based on our current state of public education during the Covid-19 pandemic.  After rereading a couple of chapters, I was quickly reminded of the strategies we should have in place while leading through change;  Self-Care, Mindfulness, and Play.  

In the end, the 6:30 a.m. text on Friday was a positive one.  One that regrounded me in purpose and meaning.  Thanks, Todd Keenan (Twitter @Todd_Keenan_ ) for sharing your learning with me and for your partnership in this change journey.

If you have not listened to this podcast, it’s worth 20 minutes.

Here are 5 applications that William shares as we walk through change together.  

What one thing you can do this week?

  1. Work the plan and execute it consistently.

  2. Create new routines and habits focused on the health, safety, and well-being of others.

  3. Serve as a powerful influence of keeping patience and remaining calm.

  4. Celebrate success and remain optimistic.

  5. Build trust by creating time and space for one-on-one dialogue and feedback.

Monday, May 4, 2020

How times have changed... The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures ...

I grew up in the '80s and '90s (and some days feel like I am still growing up...Smile!).  My K-12 schooling took place in the '80s and now as a "seasoned educator", I continue to reflect on how much has changed in the areas of teaching and learning.  As a part of my role as Chief Academic Officer, I get to work closely with our Library Media Specialists (LMS).  In the '80s, we used to call this position, the librarian.  From my student perspective, our librarian role was to manage the library.  Management meant, checking in and checking out books, assisting students with finding resources, answering the phone and taking messages, teaching the Dewey Decimal System and Card Cataloging (each book had its own card - sometimes handwritten- the author, date published and other pertinent information),  and of course, keeping all of us quiet.  This was probably the most difficult part of the job, yet our library was always quiet.  For some of us, it was the "dreaded" part of the day, maybe that is why I did not truly enjoy reading until later in life.  Or maybe I didn't enjoy the library because that is where I received my first and only detention.  It was my freshmen year and I was hungry so I decided I would eat something healthy like Starbursts.  It must have been the noise of the wrapper that got me in trouble.  Needless to say, I had to miss softball practice because I spent an hour that evening in the library dusting off books.

Starburst - Home | Facebook

How times have changed...
In Worthington Schools, our libraries are the "hub of learning". The school libraries are a place where students want to go to interact with the LMS and their classmates.  Our libraries have spaces for collaborative learning with comfortable modular furniture, read aloud, Maker Spaces, robotics team, author presentations, athletic and academic signings, book fairs, and student presentations.

Our LMS is responsible for teaching our students argumentative and research writing, plagiarism awareness, digital safety and citizenship (online bullying, cyber privacy, evaluating the reliability of news sources, and of course cultivating a healthy online profile), appropriate book selections, and various online technology tools and resources.  As a team, we are also working to better understand and implement the framework for Future Ready Librarians.  Our librarians in Worthington work hard for our students and staff.  They care about student growth and achievement and are an integral part of their success.

As a former principal, I found myself leaning on our LMS a lot.  She would help me to see the big picture of an idea, assist with technology, plan instruction for student learning, and even organized a student news team to deliver live morning announcements on televisions in the classrooms.  This was a big deal in the early 2000s and our LMS made it all happen.

As we are all living in this new world of COVID-19 and Social Distancing, our Worthington School LMS Team continues to amaze me.  Just last week, we engaged in a Zoom Meeting to connect and share best practices.  Holy Cow!  I was taken back by the amount of work and collaboration that is happening between them and with their classroom teachers.  Just like the classroom teacher, our LMS team is continuing to work with their students remotely through read-alouds, virtual book clubs, Google Classroom, Google Meet, Zoom, phone conversations, instructional videos, and links that provide free audio and eBooks.  It was so difficult for me to keep up with their sharing that one of the LMSs created a spreadsheet for me.  Here are just a few of their newly created websites, activities, and resources they are engaging in with their students;

I am grateful that I get to work with our LMS Team and cannot thank them enough for the job that they do each and every day in our library and classrooms within the Worthington Schools District, especially during this national pandemic of COVID-19 and Social Distancing.  

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Changing book at a time!

"All teachers will create a culture of empathy and support that scaffolds all students' academic, social, and emotional success."  

In Worthington Schools, this is one of our four focus strategies.  We believe this is the foundation of our work and I am excited to share "HOW" one of our teachers is making this happen in his classroom. 

Brian Lawless is a 6th-grade teacher at Worthington Estates Elementary.  Each year, before the school year ever starts, Brian gets to know his students by spending time with them during the Ice Cream Social.  He engages in conversations around student interests, hobbies, hopes & dreams, and friends & family.  Not only does Brian enjoy this time with students outside of the classroom, it also affords him the opportunity to begin building trusting relationships with his students prior to the start of the year. 

During the first few days of school, Brian meets individually with every student to continue these conversations, all with the purpose of ensuring that he learns as much as he can about his students.  In Worthington, the student's first day is usually on a Wednesday, which means Brian has 3 days to ensure these individual student connections take place before the big reveal.

Yes, like most teachers, Brian works hard to learn about student interests and ultimately builds trust through engaging conversations, but here is what I found super cool about what he does next.  On Monday, when students return from the weekend after their first three days of school, Brian takes all that he has learned about each of his students and selects books that he believes each of his students will relate with the most.  He lays the books on their desks so that they are visible for students upon their return from the weekend.  The energy and excitement in the room is like no other when students enter the classroom.  And now that I have met Brian and had a chance to talk with him, I am sure he is just as excited to share why he has selected these books for every one of his students.  Brian believes that every child should interact with a "life-changing" book and as Brian shared more about his "HOW" with me, I also asked him a "WHY" question. 
"Why do you value reading so much?" 
 He quickly shared three reasons with me;
1. Reading builds empathy in our classroom and in life.
2. Reading builds community in our classroom.
3. Reading prepares our students for the complexities of life.

Brian continued by saying, "I want my students to read for a lot of reasons, but ultimately,  I just want to help all of my students to learn to ENJOY reading."  

If you ever have a chance to visit Brian in his classroom, it won't take long for you to concur that reading is important to Brian and his students.  It's possible that you might mistake the Library for his classroom as all four walls contain shelves of books.  Students are permitted to check out three books at a time, and because Brian knows his students and his books, he has provided great connections and a personal interest in reading for all of his students. 

"HOW you do anything means everything" and thanks to Brian Lawless, he has demonstrated the "HOW" behind 
"All teachers will create a culture of empathy and support that scaffolds all students' academic, social, and emotional success."  
at Worthington Estates Elementary. 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

All I Really Need to Know I Learned FROM a Kindergarten Student

I always look forward to the start of the new school year for several reasons, but the most paramount reason is that I get to visit schools and classrooms. The energy and excitement observed helps to keep me grounded in my purpose as an educator - To Serve! 

Each year, I am more amazed by all that our teachers do to promote creativity in their classroom. The walls are covered with positive quotes and interactive lessons. The student seating is organized in work stations and furniture is flexible. Students are welcomed at the door with a personalized greeting. And so much more.

All of these observations and one particular interaction is what motivated me to share this blog.

As I entered and signed in at one of our elementary schools, I was greeted by very welcoming office staff and immediately the principal, Mary, volunteered to walk around with me.  Now, this is not necessary, but it is nice to have the opportunity to walk and talk with the building leader.  After stopping into a few classrooms, we made our final stop in a Kindergarten classroom.  The first few days of the new school year are always fun but even more so in a Kindergarten classroom.  Quite frankly, I'm not sure how our teachers do it with 25 little ones all in the same room together, but they do.  Although, I suppose that as a former high school teacher, some of our Kindergarten teachers may say the same thing to me.

Mary introduced me to one particular kindergarten student, Grant. Grant had already met Mary earlier in the day, and she had learned very quickly about his interest in rocks, yes, rocks. You see, Grant already has a large collection of rocks and not only does he have a collection, he knows the identification of each. As Mary and Grant went on their walk around the playground, Grant began picking up rocks, looking at Mary and saying, "Did you know this is an igneous rock, this is shale and this is a metamorphic rock?"

Image result for petoskey stone

I so enjoyed being in the moment with Grant, a kindergarten student, as I listened to him share his passion. I couldn't help but think of the immediate relationship Mary was able to build by just taking the time to allow Grant to pick up a few rocks on the playground. When Grant was done sharing his collection with me, I asked him if he had ever heard of a Petosky Stone. With much excitement and curiosity, Grant said, "No, what is it? I'd like to learn more." So, as the story goes, I shared my knowledge of the Petosky Stone (rock and fossil) and promised him I would send him one. Now, when you tell a kindergarten student you are going to send him something they are super passionate about, you better remember to do it. Yes, I wrote it on my hand, made a mental note and added it to my to-do list on my phone.  

I think Grant was grateful, don't you?  

As I was driving back to the District Office, I thought to myself, 
"All I Ever Really Need to Know, I Just Learned FROM a Kindergarten Student."  

1.  Make Time for the Things You Love
We all have things that bring us joy, but how often do we take the time to live in those moments of joy. It might be as simple as a rock collection, but my time with Grant helped me to realize the importance of these moments in my own life. Really, days are just a series of moments so let's make the most of those moments and make the time for the things we love.

2.  Share your Passion with Others
What if Mary hadn't taken Grant on a walk around the playground?  
What if Grant hadn't shared his rock collection with me?  
What if I hadn't taken the time to make school visits?  
Sure, life would have gone on, but I can guarantee you my day would not have been as meaningful.  We all need to feel valued and Grant certainly did this for me. Sharing your passions brings people together and makes life more meaningful. Take the time to make this happen not just for you, but for others.  If you allow your passion to become your purpose, it may someday become your profession.  Who knows, Grant may grow up to be a geologist.

3.  Show Gratitude
Grant has no idea what he did for me on this day and even more so when I received his video the next day. His expression and words of gratitude have given me the "fire in my belly" for another school year. Show gratitude for others, it matters!

I will never look at a rock the same way again. Thanks for bringing joy to my heart, Grant!

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable...CHANGE!

Better Safe Than Sorry
 - OR - 
Nothing Ventured Nothing Gained

Image result for nothing ventured nothing gained or better safe than sorry

Where do you align with these two philosophies? 

Certainly this can be situational and in all honesty, that is probably the smartest way to consider your alignment.  However, we all know that change is really our only constant in life, yet most would say that it creates much unrest for us.  Most of us would admit to not liking change, yet we don't want to stay the same.  So how do we develop our mindset to see change as an opportunity for opportunity to build trust with others, an opportunity to work through conflict, an opportunity to invest in and commit to the work, an opportunity to hold ourselves and others accountable and ultimately, an opportunity to achieve the desired results?

Think about how one or all three of these strategies may help you and/or others become comfortable with the uncomfortable...Change!

1. Be Prepared
While change is uncomfortable, we tend to feel better about any change when we are prepared.  The key to preparation is ownership.  We must own our preparedness.  This means we must remove ourselves from the mindset of, "Nobody told me or I wasn't invited to that meeting..."   We must believe in positive intentions and know that if we were left out of the conversation or communication, it's only because change can happen quickly.   Get involved, cultivate your communication skills and strengths, and start talking with and learning from those who are directly involved in the change.     

2. Listen to Self and Others
Listen to understand while also taking the time to reflect and ask questions to gain understanding and clarity.  If change is going to be effective, we must have a platform to listen and learn from others, while ensuring our voice is heard and validated.  Trust is the foundation of any team and will grow when we feel emotionally safe during these conversations.  Even if your idea is not incorporated into the plan, it's important that you were heard.  Listen to understand, reflect and be vulnerable.  Working through change is truly about building your own self-awareness and emotional intelligence.  Work to better understand the feelings of others by getting in touch with your own emotional intelligence.

3. Commit to Doing the Work
Get on board and be a part of the Change!
We know that change is happening and will continue to happen and while we may not be able to control the change, we can control our attitudes and behaviors.  It's all about controlling our mindset, reframing our responses, and committing to the work.  Stay the course, assume positive intent, and remember that we are all on the same team.


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

keep it simple.

While I am not the best golfer in the world, I certainly enjoy playing.  I enjoy it enough to have recently joined a club and thus, I am trying to play a lot more as I must get my money's worth, right?

Recently, my poor playing called for a lesson from our golf pro, Andy.  I fretted about the lesson; 
What if Andy laughed at my swing?  
What if he questioned my membership?  
And what if he told me my entire swing needed to be reworked?  
...while golf is just a fun hobby for me, I am competitive and therefore, wanted to get better but not at the cost of being completely vulnerable to failure.  

I finally met with Andy last week and much to my surprise, he was complimentary of my swing and even said I had the potential to be really good.  

According to Andy, it was really simple;
  • Keep the clubface directly behind the ball when addressing,
  • Keep my shoulders straight, and 
  • Swing like an athlete!

"That's it?"  I asked.  
"Yep, keep it simple,"  Andy replied.   

Here I was, worried about my lesson due to all of the things I'd have to fix with my swing.  How would I remember everything he was going to tell me to do?  Would I need a notebook to document my areas of growth?  My fun hobby was now going to become real work and possible embarrassment for me. 


Keep it simple.  
-To make something easy to understand or do
-To not do something in a complex or fancy way

All of this got me thinking about my work in education.  So much of what we do can be super complicated, but does it have to be?   I believe that in my work as Chief Academic Officer, I must help our administrators, teachers, and staff by communicating and sharing best practices in the most simplified way...reduce the complicated and keep it simple.   One's ability to simplify a task or expectation doesn't make him less intelligent; it makes him a genius!  

"If you can't explain it to a six-year-old, you don't understand it yourself."  
- Albert Einstein

We don't need to over-complicate things in education. Our success isn't defined by talking over people's heads with the overuse of complex terms.  Be real and enjoy the process of sharing, teaching and learning from others.  Ultimately, we must be able to build capacity through a collaborative team environment where everyone clearly understands the vision of our work.  

Keep it simple.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

I Belong

The Worthington School District seeks to empower a community of learners who will change the world.  We believe that all students are capable of success.  Success is determined based on each child's individual needs;  success may look different for every child.  The whole child approach to learning redirects educator efforts from a narrow focus on academic achievement to an 
all-encompassing focus on physical, social, emotional, and cognitive learning structures and supports.  

Social-Emotional Learning is one of the most critical issues in public education today.  In Worthington, we are proud of our ongoing efforts to ensure that this learning is completely integrated into our academic learning.  Our educators prioritize the importance of social and emotional well-being, however, we also realize this can be difficult to keep in focus as we balance the pressures of higher academic standards and state testing accountability.  Our administrator and teachers are involved in professional learning that focuses on the "how" of integrating SEL strategies into the classroom.  They are members of The School Superintendents Association (AASA) and The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) SEL Cohort, they have attended Responsive Classroom Practices and Restorative Practices workshops so that they have the knowledge and understanding to help our students work through difficult situations together.  Challenging behaviors and events are inevitable and we know that we must work to help our students respond appropriately so that learning can take place.  We also know that our students thrive when they have a trusted "go-to" adult in their lives while at school.  When students are connected to the learning and experience a sense of belonging, their understanding of the standards being taught improves.  It is truly all about the positive relationships our students get to experience in our schools.

Creating a Sense of Belonging in our schools and in the classroom is a non-negotiable for our teachers, administrators, and staff.  This SEL strategy is one of our Continuous Improvement Plan goals in Worthington and the "how" is truly what matters.

We know and believe that a Sense of Belonging matters for a child's educational success, but how do we make it happen?  

Here are just a few ways in which I have observed a Sense of Belonging come to life in 
Worthington Schools.

Learning Spaces
󠇯Flexible partner/group arrangement and overall structure that encourages communication
and collaboration.
󠇯Student growth is recognized.  The focus is on effort and/or finished product.
󠇯The classroom environment has opportunities for students to build community
(i.e. shout our board, conversation jar, etc.)
󠇯Expectations, procedure, and behaviors are created collaboratively and are displayed
for all to see.
󠇯Displays of student interests, passions, and curiosities, within and outside of the school

Staff to Student Interactions
Staff intentionally plans for daily opportunities to build and support community for
students all year long.
󠇯Staff greets students at the door by name; making students feel seen and welcome.
󠇯Staff is mobile and actively working with students.
󠇯Students feel “believed in” and “loved” by all staff.
󠇯Staff uses eye contact with students as well as authentic and genuine smiles.
󠇯Staff uses positive affirmations and recognizes students for random acts of positivity.
󠇯Staff gives specific and positive feedback.
󠇯Staff allows flexible learning styles or other non-traditional ways for students to connect
with the content.
󠇯Staff is intentional about face-time with students, cultivating in-depth personal connections
and conversations by sharing personal stories, battles and/or triumphs.
󠇯Staff engages students in a meaningful daily closing activity.

󠇯Failure is modeled and worked through together.
󠇯Staff exhibits positive posture and body language.

Administrators, Teachers & Classified Behaviors
(Staff to Staff Interactions)
󠇯Staff are willing to take risks – willing to share failure(s) with their peers and are able to
learn from that failure.
󠇯Staff engage in in-depth personal connections and conversations with each other.
󠇯Staff listen to peers respectfully and work to problem solve collaboratively.  Staff engages
in active listening, not just listening to respond.
󠇯Staff know the names of all co-workers and use them when talking with them.
󠇯Staff help each other and accept help from each other.
󠇯Staff interact and talk with all co-workers in the building, even if they are not necessarily

Student Outcomes of a Belonging Classroom

󠇯Students are willing to take risks – willing to fail in front of their peers, and are able
to learn from that failure.
󠇯Students use eye contact with each other as well as authentic and genuine smiles.
󠇯Students engage in in-depth personal conversations and create authentic connections.
󠇯Students listen respectfully and work to problem solve collaboratively.
󠇯Discussions have a mutual level of comfort.
󠇯Students know all of their classmates’ names and use them when talking with them or in reference to them.
󠇯Students engage in active listening with each other, not just listening to respond.
󠇯Students give advice and help each other, often asking a peer for help before the teacher.
󠇯Students interact and talk with all students in the classroom, even if they are not necessarily friends outside of school.
󠇯When adults and students pass each other in the hallways, there is always acknowledgement of the other person.

Thanks to our Worthington School Community for making this matter in our schools and with our students and staff.