Sunday, March 23, 2014

Collaborate to Make a Difference

Those of you who know me, you know I like to discuss my belief in the 4 Cs to Lead.  The 4 Cs consist of connecting, collaboration, confidence, and creativity.  The 4 Cs are necessary traits for all successful leaders in any organizational leadership position, including leadership positions in education.  The 4 Cs build off of each other and when done well, create teachers & administrators who are change agents in their respective buildings.

Connecting is the most important “C” needed to grow as a professional.  I recently blogged about connecting and how relatively easy it is to do.  Connecting leads to collaboration.  Collaboration is equally important as connecting, but collaboration can positively affect the culture of a building or team in a more meaningful way.  I will share some of the ways you can effectively use collaboration in any environment (business, schools, classrooms, teams) to make a difference:

Sharing & Caring
In the New Lexington City School District, each building has a 30 minute Collaboration Time for teachers every day.  At NLHS, we meet in the morning before the school day begins with students.  We meet in Teacher Based Teams (TBT) based on content.  The Unified Arts classes meet in a group and our Agriculture classes also meet in their own group.  We have met in Grade Level teams and Advisory Teams too.  The meetings are structured with agendas and minutes.  Each TBT has a leader who is the lead facilitator for the group. 

In the meetings, teachers have the opportunity to discuss yearly & quarterly data, best instructional practices (we focus on best formative practices with data to back up the practices), and most importantly, are given the opportunity to discuss kids.  The meetings can be set up how the teachers’ feel would be most beneficial.  I would like to use the meetings (maybe once a week) as an opportunity to do a “20% Time” much like Google has in their corporate offices.  Give teachers the opportunity to create something or work on a project or product that interests them. 

We have had great success with our Collaboration Time.  Teachers have the opportunity to talk about their craft, practices that work and practices that don’t work, and focus on data that can be used effectively to facilitate learning.  The key is to have great teacher leaders on each of your teams.  When the leaders structure their meetings and have high expectations, the Collaboration Time is a success for teachers.  In the end, the students are the ones who win.

Watch Others Teach/Lead
Collaboration and feedback go hand-in-hand with each other.  Feedback is crucial to getting better in anything that you do.  Sharing feedback as a group or in a pairing is the best type of constructive feedback.  If you watch others teach, coach or lead, you can learn as an observer and visualize yourself and the practices in your position.  When observing others, make sure you supply good feedback.  Supply the feedback like you would for a student on an assessment.  Administrators and leaders need to encourage staff members to observe each other.  Share these experiences during staff meetings.  At NLHS, one of our goals during the 4th Quarter will be to have all of our teachers observe another teacher at least once.

Model for Students
If a staff collaborates, students take notice.  They don’t have to be in meetings to see this.  When a staff works and shares together, the culture of the building will be a model of collaboration.  Teachers and Coaches need to model the effective use of collaboration and allow students and athletes to use collaboration.  In the classroom, have the resources necessary for students to collaborate.  At NLHS, we use our 1:1 initiative as collaboration tools.  We also use Quality Learning tools in classes to solve problems and create solutions.  Students can also demonstrate different forms of mastery for projects and assessments when they collaborate.  From videos to gallery walks, model collaboration so your students will collaborate too.

Find a Way to Make Time
It is imperative to find a way to make time to collaborate.  Maybe having someone record thoughts and discussion at lunch, and then share at the end of the week.  Try having your teachers have matching Prep periods so they can meet.  Use Staff Meetings as a time for collaboration.  Try to make it the norm to do more and meet more.  Start by having your staff brainstorm on ways they can meet more often to collaborate.

Our jobs have lasting effects in our buildings and on our teams.  Often times, one thing leads to another, and another, etc.  Collaboration can help with this.  Create more collaborative opportunities in your building and classroom so everyone in your building (teachers and students) are leaders.  Use the 4 Cs to Lead to create a building of connected collaborators.  As Dan Rockwell states, “Collaborating elevates everyone’s status. It says you matter. People participate when their participation matters.”

Sunday, March 9, 2014

5 Steps to Great Coaching for Administrators & Teachers

I recently attended a workshop on coaching sponosred by the Ohio Department of Education.  The focus in the workshop was showing administrators how to successfully coach their staff in alignment with the Ohio Teaching Evaluation System (OTES).  While there were some good discussions that took place and I was able to connect with some of my PLN, some of the parts of the workshop did not really hit home with me.  That's not to say I didn't come away with anything either.  I started thinking about coaching and what it really means in education and not just what it means while working with an evaluation system.

When I think of coaching in education, I immediately think of coaching and sports.  Being a former teacher and coach, I truly believe that coaching is an extension of teaching in the classroom (especially if you have ever coached at the lower levels).  Students are always looking to learn new things and grow to improve at what they are doing in any activity or athletic endeavor.  As coaches  & teachers, that is one of our primary repsonsibilities: helping students grow.  As an administrator, it is no different with our staff.  We need to help them grow and become better teachers, the same thing a coach does with his or her players.

Whether it is in athletics or education, great coaching can completely change an environment and culture.  It has a big impact on the growth of a team and school.  Below are some strategies to maximize the value of coaching as an administrator and teacher:

1. Embrace Practice
I always remember what legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden would say in interviews about the secret to his teams' success.  Wooden always loved practices and didn't care too much for games.  Even with winning all of the games that he did, he found more value in practice.  In practice, he was able to teach and help his student-athletes grow.  Coaching in education should entail the same philosophy. 

As an administrator, let your staff try and try again. Provide them with feedback and get other teachers & students to provide them with feedback.  The best place for teachers to realize if something works is in the classroom.  As a teacher, use formative assessments as they are meant to be used: for practice.  Provide feedback for formative assessments, not grades.  Allow students to make improvements and practice.  Teams don't prepare for games without practicing, so why would we assign grades without the proper amount of practice?

2.  Effective Positive & Constructive Feedback
While an administrator or teacher provides feedback, as Carol Tomlinson states, it needs to be instructive feedback.  Provide staff and students with guidance in your feedback. While the feedback is guiding, make sure it also includes how you feel what you witnessed. I know OTES doesn't want to include how the administrator "felt" about methods and styles, but that is a big part of coaching. Great coaches tell players all of the time "Great job!" or "Nice effort!"  Teachers and students need to hear these types of comments.  Coach Wooden would always begin with positive feedback when he was going to give some constructive feedback.  I believe that is a great way to approach feedback as a coach in education.  

As an administrator, provide feedback that allows teachers & students to get better.  Show your passion!  Teachers should do the same. Provide instructive feedback to students mixed with encouraging, positive feedback.  Coaches who are constantly critiquing, yelling, and negative do not get good results.

3. Model 
Coaches at practice are constantly modeling for their players.  Whether it is a drill or formation, coaches demonstrate to players what it looks like when it is done correctly.  As administrators and teachers, we need to model what we would like to see in the building and in the classroom.  

As an administrator, host professional development for your staff.  Coach them on how to improve their craft with specific strategies & methods.  Model how you want staff and students to look. If its using technology as a tool for learning, then as an administrator, you should be using technology to assist in your learning and others.  If you want your staff to utilize social media for professional development, then you should be leading the charge. Teachers should also model for students.  Make learning targets come to life in your teaching so students can have them come to life.  Bring urgency and passion to the classroom so the students will do the same.  Good coaching includes accepting responsibility for yourself and modeling that so it rubs off on your staff & students.

4. Have their Back!
You can watch any athletic event and you will see coaches fighting for their players. Sometimes its arguing with officials and sometimes it occurs in the media.  It is important to show support as a coach.  Good coaches always develop trust and relationships within their teams.  It is the same in education.

Administrators and teachers need to encourage risk taking and innovative thinking.  If a teacher wants to try something new, administrators need to provide the teacher with the resources to do this.  If students find different ways to demonstrate mastery, teachers should share this with other members of the class to encourage forward thinking.  Support leads to confidence and creativity in the school and classroom.

5. Encourage Educated Risks
Coaches are always trying new formations and plays.  Depending on the situation, sometimes the plays are not practiced but yet implemented in games (don't try this at the Jr. High level of coaching  - just saying).  We can't continue to do the same thing all of the time because we will continue to get the same result.  Our country's current state of education will continue if we do this.

As an administrator, let people in your building take chances, encourage others to do this, and recognize people who take risks.  Failure is feedback.  Allow teadchers to do this and get help from the students.  As Dylan Williams states, "Making mistakes  in learning is actually better than not making mistakes."  Your building will grow because the culture will be based on creative thinking and trying different methods for the benefit of students.  As teachers, allow the students to take the same type of chances.  Focus on student learning.  If that leads you to innovative practices, then take the chance and try new things.  The term "outside the box" should not exist in education. Create an environment where there is no box.

Coaching is not easy. I remember my coaching days when I would teach all day and then go to practice for an hour and a half after that.  I would come home drained.  I was teaching during the day and then teaching during our practices.  When you watch games on TV, you envision yourself coaching and say, "I can do that.  I would be good."  What you don't see are the number of things that come with a coaching position.  The education field is similar.  You need to do the behind the scene things to be a good administrator or teacher.  You need to coach with the mindset of staff and student growth.  Its work.  If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.  Use the steps above to be the coach your building and classrooom needs.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

QR Codes: Communicate your Message In & Out of School

QR Codes are good way to communicate your message as an administrator and teacher.  I feel like they are under utilized in education.  Creating QR Codes is not difficult and it is free.  Doesn't get much better than that when looking to market your product.  As more schools go to 1:1 and more of our students have smartphones & tablets, we need to increase the use of QR Codes in order to make communicating our message more efficient.

Here are some ways that QR Codes can be used as an effective means of communication.  You can adjust all of these ideas to meet your specific needs with distributing information to your stakeholders:

1. Advertise events
Create QR Codes to advertise events going on in your classroom or building.  You can use QR Codes to promote daily or weekly events at your school.  Our College Knowledge Week at NLHS is this week and we will advertise the activities during the week with QR Codes around school.  We have contests each day for the students & staff to participate in and they can scan the QR Codes for details.  If you are interested in the amount of success your QR Codes are having, use Snap Vu to track the amount of hits you get on QR Codes.

You can also make people aware of other things in your building like plays or musicals, athletic events, or your Wi-Fi password.  I saw this at Hilliard Bradley this past year:

Place the codes in different locations in your building/classroom:
  • windows of front office
  • doors
  • bathrooms & locker rooms
  • social media (FB, Twitter, School Connects, school website)
  • cafeteria
  • local library
  • local businesses & restaurants (you could run a promotion each week with a business & post your QR codes in that business; great marketing for businesses in your community)
  • newsletters
  • ask local pizza shops if you can tape on their pizza boxes
  • create banners/posters to hang in local businesses (our Panther FabLab makes posters/banners)
Floor sticker advertising our mobile app

Banner created by the Panther FabLab advertising our mobile app.  If you are interested in ordering & receiving vinyl banners like this,  please check into the link above to reach FabLab personnel.

2. Learning Targets
QR Codes are a great way to post daily learning targets in a classroom.  Simply create a QR Code with a  generator (mentioned above) and post the target for the day/week.  Students scan code and they have the target in their device.  You can also generate a code for your class web page, Edmodo page, Blog, etc. and give to students that way too.  A few of our teachers who use the codes use learning matrices where there may be a list of targets for the week, so they are not constantly changing the codes each day.  But you could have different codes each day for each learning target.

3. Use to take your message mobile
Use Jumpscan to create mobile version of what you want to market.  Jumpscan gives you one free QR Code and then you have to pay for the service if you want additional codes.  We have used it to market the number of ways students, parents, and community members can stay informed with events at NLHS.

I created a flyer and listed the communication methods (FB, Twitter, etc.) and saved it as a .JPG file.  Next, on Jumpscan, you upload the image to the create the mobile version.  After it uploads, you go through Jumpscan and fill in the rest of the form with the social media accounts for your organization.  Jumpscan will generate a QR Code for you to share with others.  Save the code as .PNG file and share it through social media.  When the code is scanned, a mobile version of your image will appear on tablets and phones.

4. Miscellaneous ways to use 
Here are other ways you can use QR Codes to communicate your message:
  • Your district/school vision or mission.
    • Post inside your district buildings and school buildings your district & school vision and mission statements so stakeholders can scan them into their devices.
  • Price items in your school shop, concession stands, DECA shop with QR Codes
  • Create links to Google Maps so people can find the location of your school
    • Another thing we are going to try with this is creating a QR Code for the location of all of the visiting schools we play in athletics so parents & stakeholders can scan the code to find the location of the away event.
  • Make a code for your school's Course Offerings Book
    • Another great way for your students & parents to have access to the book.  Yes, you probably have the book on your school website, but there is nothing wrong with getting it our there in a number of places.
Some sites that can help you with learning more about QR Codes and how to use them are:

Remember, don't create QR Codes to say you use them, create them to communicate your message.  The codes can be a good way of getting students & parents information especially when almost all of our students & parents have smartphones & tablets.  Just think, get a room of people together like this:

 Freshman Scheduling Night from last year

and share with them important QR Codes.  That is what we did and we are now able to send them important information through School Connects.  You control how powerful you want your message to be.