Edcamp, School Culture and Multipliers

It started two weeks ago at #edcampsfbay.  Adam Welcome (@awelcome) threw out a session on school culture.   Adam’s a pretty charismatic guy.  His energy and enthusiasm for his school and students is infectious.  And as the conversation continued, questions of legacy came up.  Is the true test of the culture what we leave behind?  What lasts beyond our tenure as leader?  Or is culture about the here and now?  Or both?

Then it came up in one of my a Voxer Book Groups.  It was nice to hear from secondary and elementary leaders from around the country.  Different perspectives and experiences are good fodder for reflection.

Flash forward to Liz Wiseman (@lizwiseman) at our county office talking Multiplier Effect for an afternoon speaker session.   The 6 Diminishers she outlined just made me shrink into my seat.  Guilty as charged.  But am I?

The 6 Diminishers

I’m a Fixer, which seems to embody all 6 of these potentially diminishing traits.  Diminishing in the sense that my actions don’t amplify or make the most of the amazing people around me.  When I jump in to Fix things, I might be stepping on someone else’s ability to fix it.  I might not be needed at all.  And that’s a good thing.

Liz doesn’t use the Fixer label.  It’s more of her Rapid Responder plus Rescuer plus Optimist.

Where does it dovetail with culture?  All over.  My actions (either Multiplying or Diminishing the power of those around me) help set the culture.  Do I jump in (butt in) and thereby communicate distrust or lack of ability to our staff?  Does my perpetual optimism undermine the real, hard work of teaching and learning?

Yes to all of that.  And yet, my Rapid Response style is often appreciated.  Teachers appreciate that I jump in so that they can remain focused on students.  My optimism helps us not wallow in the difficulties and start moving forward.  Liz finished her talk with, “Be less Diminisher.”  I can do that.

For me, it comes down to paying close attention, building relationships and working for the here and now.  If that is my focus, my legacy will take care of itself.  And it’s a crap shoot anyway.  Who knows who will be hired after me?  It’ll be the staff that dictates or shapes the new leader based on how highly they value what already exists.   For once that dreaded phrase This is how we’ve always done it at Grant School could be useful.

Paying Close Attention.

I’m with staff a lot.  In serious conversations and in small talk.  Lucky for me, our staff enjoys both working and playing together.  Yesterday, a message on the whiteboard in the staff room announced Happy Hour on Ms. B’s porch at 4pm.  Come one, come all.  TGIF!  And sure enough, ten staff members were laughing and reminiscing about the first two weeks of school.

I make time for staff.  This is especially critical of classified staff who don’t have time outside of the work day to meet with me.  A hallway convo on the way to library, a chat at break or while waiting outside the restrooms for a student.  It’s time well spent where I learn a lot about each of our staff family.

Building Relationships.

It’s a bit redundant to Paying Close Attention but is action oriented.  Connecting teachers who have like goals for their students.  Facilitating professional reading by buying the books we’re interested in.  Taking over pick up/cross walk duty because it makes a teacher happy.

We share acknowledgments at staff meetings (always item #1) that are also highlighted in the bulletin.  But since we have staff meetings only once a month, I added a basket in the staff room for in-between acknowledgements that I can list in the weekly bulletin.  So far, I’ve added 3 otherwise-unmentioned thank yous via my basket.  Awesome.

Appreciating one another is relational.  Venting is too.  Venting with some productivity to follow.  What do we do with the complaint?  That’s the important piece.

Focus on the Here and Now.

What is lacking about our culture?  What can we do about it?  Are there systems in place that we’ve let lag?  Do new systems need to be implemented?  How do I, the leader, amplify the work of others?  How do I exemplify the culture and attitudes of our school?

So that’s my Saturday reflections on school culture.  It’s a topic we could talk about until we’re blue in the face, read a hundred books and never get anywhere.  The conversations are valuable, don’t get me wrong, but my actions, our actions as a staff, are much more important.  Culture is never on autopilot.  My job is to cultivate, shepherd and amplify.

Onward and upward!

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Leadership Day 2014; Reflection on Things Done Well

To celebrate Scott McLeod’s Leadership Day 2014, I thought look back on a few highlight of my leadership.  The moments I look back on for reference and guidance when the going is rough.  There is always plenty to be discouraged about in this vague, daunting, exciting role of school leader, so when things work, really WORK, it’s worth a word or two.   Today I’ll share two such moments.

Our school has always been a technology leader.  I started there with an Apple IIe lab, very cutting edge.  Our active and involved Technology Committee (aka Grant Geeks) met off site, equal parts parents, staff and our principal to continue our momentum in making technology an integral part of teaching and learning.

As a sixth grade teacher, I was already knee-deep in Ed Tech (reading blogs, checking out new devices, encouraging my colleagues).  Enter the scene, Interactive Whiteboards.  By this time, we were running a PC Lab, had a bank of desktops in most classrooms and were launching “the teacher work station.”  Grant Geeks used funding from PTA and (minimal) site funds.  Projector or IWB was the conversation for a few months as we were planning to outfit 3 classrooms as a starting point.  I read Frank Noschese’s post, The $2 Interactive Whiteboard.  Agreed.  100%.  IWB’s are the technology equivalent of round robin reading.  You want interaction among students?  Buy a melamine panel and hand out the Expo pens!  That’s collaboration and interaction!!  The $2 versus $2000.

This was a moment when we were willing to spend the money necessary, install a system in a few rooms, stand back and see how it worked.  Then tweak, refine, replicate and move through the rest of the school.  Projector vs IWB was a pivotal decision.

What’s best for students versus the latest shiny thing is a battle we wage often in Ed Tech.  And sometimes it’s just hard to know until you get to work.  We were making a different decision when the rest of the Ed Tech community seemed to be IWB crazed.  And I know many teachers who are very pleased with this device and use it effectively.  We just didn’t quite agree with the trend.

I, along with two colleagues, piloted the initial ‘teacher work station.’  It was awesome!  A desktop computer, projector and doc cam opened up the world to my students.  Instant research, ‘field trips’ to far away places, webinars from McMurdo Station, students showing off their ideas and learning…. we made a good decision.  And I’m proud to have been a part of it.

As the site administrator for our school now, starting year four, my moment of things working well happened just two days ago.  We start every school year with a staff meeting, of sorts.  Welcoming new staff, enrollment updates, scheduling, and some sort of message for the year, a pep talk/theme/guiding experience.   Last year we talked Abilene Paradox.  I wanted to protect our site from district-level strife that was bringing down morale.  As a site, we are not getting in the car to Abilene, speak up, your opinions are important and we don’t have to agree to come to agreements.

This year, after an awesome two days at the Google Teacher Academy, I was inspired to put teachers in the learner’s seat and host an experiential start to school.  We dove into a hyperdoc with four tasks.

Screen Shot 2014-08-16 at 8.20.18 AM


Aligned to the 4C’s and very GAFE-centric, we worked through the tasks, asking questions, learning from one another, skipping around the document, googling help, laughing and enjoying the work.  When we got to our stopping point, we went through each quadrant, enjoying the fruit of our labor but, more importantly, talking students.  How would this look with your students?  Needs more structure?  Small group activity?  How does this tool apply to math?  history?

In my experience as a learner of Ed Tech, one part of the process is usually left out.  Teachers need to be learners.  Not just talked to, but actually doing the work.  And not pretending to be a fifth grader, but learning and experiencing as an adult.  Sometimes that’s missing.  And we need to talk application RIGHT AWAY.  While we’re in the learner’s seat is when the How does this look with students? be most fruitful.

“I accidentally messed up the title slide,” shared a teacher.  Yep.  That’s going to happen.  Do you stop the class for a mini lesson?  Talk to the individual, help he/she fix it and maintain everyone’s work flow?  Those are in-the-moment teaching decisions.  It’s up to you.

I’m proud of the work I prepared for our 1st day back.  Being together is important for a small staff like ours.  Learning together, laughing and then turning our attention to our students… it was fun.

Thanks Scott for inspiring me to write!  Happy 8th Anniversary to your Dangerously Irrelevant blog!  Always an inspiring read.


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