Tag Archives: relationships

Innovation Doesn’t Happen Behind Closed Doors

Whether you are starting off as a new administrator, or you have been in the role for awhile, it is important that you “make your mark” and bring your own style to a position.  Just like your teachers want to make an impact with their students, you want to make an impact with your school community.  Doing something “awesome” is important as administrators should feel that they are contributing to the growth of the school, not simply the management of it.

In my own experience, it is easy to lock yourself in a room, work on some great ideas, and come out with something (you believe to be) new and amazing.  Yet closing yourself off and focusing on being “innovative” often leaves you with great ideas that will get nowhere, because you have not created the relationships needed for people to feel safe trying something new.  If you don’t spend time in the classroom and see what the inner-workings are of what learning looks like every day, your ideas can become great in theory, but unattainable in practice.  It is important to recognize that innovation is a human endeavour, and if you are going to put too much time into something, it should always be people, not stuff.

So what is a great step to help move this forward?  Move your office into a classroom.

Administrators have a lot of managerial duties that they have to get through in a day.  It can honestly be overwhelming.  That being said, it is rare that we don’t have access to an untethered device that we can go sit in a classroom and be a “fly on the wall”.  This helps not only with visibility of students, but will give you a great perspective of what teaching and learning looks like, and what hurdles teachers have to jump through in a day to be successful.  Is the technology working?  Does the classroom have seating that is conducive to different types of learning styles?  Does Wifi work?

Many teachers accept their classroom “as is” and do the best with what they have and they don’t say anything.  This does not make those boundaries acceptable.  By simply spending an hour catching up on emails from a classroom, you will learn a lot more about your school than you would spending an hour in your office.  You don’t have to do this all of the time, but you should do it often.

This isn’t “no office day”.  Although I love the intent behind that initiative, I find the idea of having a solitary day to go spend time in classrooms is not enough.  This should be a weekly process, if not more.  The time you spend just sitting in a classroom builds a comfort and trust level with staff who eventually don’t even know you are there.  That’s kind of the point.  If you don’t have time to go into a classroom, your priorities might be out of order.

Through this process, you might not get as much done, but you will build relationships with teachers in this process that will lead them going over-and-above for you, which in the long run, will not only save you time, but creating better opportunities for your entire school community.

Believe me, the investment is worth it.

New to admin? Here is the best way to connect with your staff.

With many people jumping into administrator roles that will be starting in the 2014-2015 school year, I am often asked, “What is the best way to connect with staff?”

My answer to this?  Connect with kids.

Many administrators that are new want to implement changes or try some bold ideas, and with a lack of experience, it can often come off to their staff as arrogant.  Even with a ton of experience, it can replicate that same feeling.  A lack of experience, or even a lack of experience in a school community, can sometimes be seen as a fault.

But what most teachers care about universally is the students.  That is why they do what they do.  So if they know that you, as the new “leader” of the school care about the kids just as much as they do, and show it openly, it will not only buy you a lot of time as you are learning your new role, it will also help you build credibility.

So go out at recess with the kids, spend time in the hallway with them, and go visit their classrooms to not observe the teacher, but to connect with the students.

If your staff see these interactions (and they will), they are likely to see that you are there for the same reasons they are.  To do what is best for kids.

And if you can’t show that, maybe you are in the wrong place.

Trajectory

…if a child knows how to read, if a child knows how to search for information, how do we teach them how to believe. How early in a child’s life, can we put that in there.”  Sugatra Mitra

Since the beginning of 2014, the same word has been popping up in my head over and over again.  It is trajectory. One of the definitions of the word is, “a chosen or taken course”, and I think about the people in my life that have often inspired me to change my trajectory for the positive.  There are times, that my trajectory has changed for a positive in spite of people, and sometimes it has changed for a negative.  I am sure that I have impacted people in a negative way in the past, and I am trying to focus on helping others reach something that they didn’t think that they could possibly attain before.  Like most teachers, I want to make a difference.  Every action, interaction, and reaction you have with someone is an opportunity to change their path; I want them to move up because of me, not in spite of our interaction.

I asked the following questions yesterday:

“Did you have a teacher impact you? What did they do differently from others?”

Not one person responded about a science test (check out the hashtag #whatgreatteachersdo for responses) that inspired them, yet most of the answers talked about some personal connection and belief that a teacher had in them.  Although teachers have to deal with many students, the best ones make every student feel that they are special and cared for.  That is a great teacher’s gift.

As a principal, I waited outside in the morning for the students to get off the bus and tried to say hello and acknowledge every student as they arrived to school.  I did not do this because it was my job to do supervision, but because the opportunity to start off the morning feeling like you could make a child smile with a little acknowledgment, is a pretty amazing way to start the day.  Yet with hundreds of students in our school, there is no way that I could have seen every one.  My expectation, was that teachers would be waiting for their students outside of their doors and greeting them as they came in.  If you think about it, some of those students that you greet, is their first acknowledgment in the day.  Yes, they might be around people as they come to school, but it does not mean anyone has shown any interest.  I am not solely talking about students that come from families in poverty, as we should never make the assumption that a child coming from a family of means is one that is also feeling loved.  It is always the safe bet to show love and care for every student.

I have walked down the hallways of many schools, and I watch teachers and administrators walk by students and not even look at them.  It kills me.  A little acknowledgment to a student,  can be all they need for you to change their trajectory that day, and possibly beyond.  I have watched leaders like Jimmy Casas and Patrick Larkin, acknowledge every student and staff member that walks by them in a day.  If you watch people like these two, you will realize it is unnatural for them to not have those interactions.  They change trajectories every single day, because they know those kids and staff members do the same for them.

I also watch administrators stop their teachers dead in their tracks from trying something new to help kids.  Instead of saying, “How can I help you?”, they simply say “no”, just often in a more elaborate way.  If you want your teachers to have those interactions with students to show that they believe in them, we must model the same thing.  If I know a teacher cares for their students, and will do anything for them, as a leader, I exhibit that same behaviour.  Sometimes a simple “yes”, or “go for it”, is all that teacher needs to be great.  “No” often ends that excitement and enthusiasm quickly.

So as I continue on in this year, I will continue to think of my words and interactions with others. I am someone who wants to leave a legacy, and in education, legacy is not defined by what you do, but by what the people you serve do.  Helping others to achieve greatness and changing their trajectory to do something that they might not have once believed possible, is our work.

Sometimes the only thing a person needs to change their path is to feel that someone believes in them.  Let’s remember that in everything we do.

Lessons from Shaq

The fear of thunder

Shaq..waiting for the thunder to stop.

Spending the last few weeks in Adelaide, Australia and spending a great deal of my time on the road, I have struggled with missing my dogs.  I am lucky that I have a great friend who is making sure that they are taken care of and loved as I am gone, while also getting to stay in their house (they have been there more this year than I have!).

Often I have written about my dog Kobe, who had passed away a couple of years ago, and Odom, who is finally growing out of the puppy stage, but have said little about Shaq (yes, they are all named after people that played for the Lakers at one point).  I always wondered about why Shaq has had little face time in my online world, and I guess part of it is that she is extremely camera shy (she literally runs when you get a camera out sometimes) and has always been timid.  But as Shaq grows older and starts to move into the final stages of her life (she is 13), I have missed her more than ever on this trip.

You see, Shaq was not really what I ever wanted in a dog when I first got her.  She was extremely shy and as Odom and Kobe were extremely affectionate she was always somewhat despondent.  Rarely would she enjoy being petted and she was extremely weary of new guests.  She is all bark, with maybe a touch of bite (if you try to cut her nails) and has stressed me out on several occasions.  As Odom and Kobe would often want to sleep on the bed, Shaq would often sleep beside and just want her own space.

I struggled with this for many years, but I just kept giving her love, giving her love, and giving her love.

As she got older though, I always appreciated that although she would not sleep in the bed, she was always near by. Always.  If I was in my office, she was in the office at my feet.  If I was in the kitchen, she sat close.  When I would watch TV, she would be sitting on the couch beside me (yeah, they have the run of the house).  Once in awhile though, while I was sleeping, Shaq would sneak on the bed and lay close.  Although it was always on her terms, she was always there. As I said, she was sometimes tough, but I just kept giving her love and her presence in the room was aways amazing.

Always close…but not too close.

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by gcouros

I truly believe that you can learn a lot from animals, and if you let them, they can make you better people, so as I thought about Shaq and how much I miss her, one student popped up in my head over and over again.  For the sake of the story, I will call him Sam.

Sam came to my school when I was principal and I knew that he had a special heart but struggled as well.  I had known that he had some issues with his temper and often would get into trouble.  At one moment he was the kindest boy ever, and in the next, he would be yelling and swearing.  Too often we focus on the second part, yet I always try to find the positive in every kid and knew that if you kept working with Sam, he could be a good kid.

One time Sam was extremely upset in a school assembly and for the safety of others, he was sent to my office.  He came in and he was extremely escalated and was swearing a great deal.  10 years ago I would have yelled at him as he escalated as I didn’t know what to do but I have learned that is about as effective as yelling at a class when you need them to be quiet.  I wanted to model the behaviour that I would expect out of Sam so I calmly said, “when you are ready to tell me why you are upset, I will be ready to listen.”  He kept swearing and I sat there doing work on my computer.  I just kept telling him that I was going to wait for him to calm down but I wanted him to stay in the office with me.  Again, 10 years ago, I would have asked him to leave, but I have learned that often times with kids like Sam that when you actually cut off that physical proximity, you teach them that when times are tough, you will easily abandon them.  Now I just wait and make sure that we are in the same room.

Shaq taught me this that even when it seems tough, keep giving love, keep giving love, keep giving love.

So as Sam calmed down, he talked about what was upsetting him and also talked about how he was sorry about the language that he used.  I told him how much I appreciated everything that he had said and he had done some work with the custodian and myself so that he could help around the school.  This was not the last time Sam had one of these temper tantrums, but he got better and better over time and I felt that he knew that I wouldn’t ditch him when times were tough.  When I moved onto a different position and left the school, I promised Sam that I would come back and check in on him and I smile every time I see him still.  In a farewell, Sam said, “Every time I get in trouble, I will think of Mr. Couros.”  His wording made me laugh but I knew exactly what he meant and was glad that he knew that I had cared for him.

The reason that I think of Sam when I think of Shaq is because no matter how tough they seem to be, they are always there.  Shaq is always in the room near by, while Sam was the first kid to school every day and one of the last ones to leave.  This was a happy place for him and the proximity for both was something that they each craved.  We often overlook the fact some of the kids we struggle with as teachers and show up every single day, are the kids that need us the most.  Anyone can teach the well-behaved kids; the ones that we struggle with are the ones that make a great teacher.  Sam pushed me to get better and taught me to be patient, calm, and caring when it was sometimes hard to do so.  People show their true worth when times are tough, yet when we go through those things together with someone, we come out with a much stronger relationship.

I still see Sam every now and then and he smiles and is excited to see me and I him.  He still gets in trouble now and then, but I know that he is in good hands and is cared for.  As he becomes a young adult, I am so proud of how much he has grown up and I will continue to watch him grow and develop.

After 13 years with Shaq, she is now crawling into bed and nestling right beside me every single night I am home.  It has taken a long time but I appreciate it a great deal because she taught me that if you keep giving love, eventually that love will be returned in spades.  Dogs have a funny way of making us better and teaching us to be kinder people to all those that we encounter.

As Shaq and I her deal with her cancer and she slowly goes into the night, I will always be thankful that she was and will always be close to my heart, no matter her physical distance.

Love

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by gcouros

Human Purpose

All Purpose

Recently, I attended a very interesting talk by Sherry Turkle, who wrote the book, “Alone Together; Why we expect more technology, and less from each other“.  It was interesting to hear the thoughts of a doctor in the area of technology in one of the most famous universities in the world (MIT)  talk about the

Dr. Turkle discussed how parents and kids were so distracted and engaged with “Facebook” that they often ignored the people around them.  Now I do agree that does happen but saying it is “Facebook” that many people are addicted to is not really the truth.  What many are addicted to is the people on the other side of Facebook and the constant interactions that happen.  I am also not the expert to say if connecting through social media is detrimental to society or just different than what we are used to.  I have had many powerful interactions and made some great friendships with people because of social media. Without it, those friendships would not have existed.  In fact, I have probably had more face-to-face interactions with people in the last two year (including my own brother) because of social media.

One of the things that Dr. Turkle asked in her lecture that really stuck out to me was the following question (that I believe we need to all ask ourselves):  Does the technology serve our human purpose?

So the first thing that came to my own mind was, “What is our human purpose?”, and with a greater focus, what does that mean in the context of schools as learning organizations.  As I thought about this question, my first and strongest thought that our main human purpose is to connect with one another.  The second one that came to my mind is the need as humans to continuously grow (learn).

Dr. Turkle made the comment that if the technology does not serve this purpose, then we definitely need to rethink our use of it, which I wholeheartedly agree.  What I believe is that face-t0-face interactions are so vitally important to our own development, and the more we can connect in that manner, the better.  The reality though is that technology gives me the opportunity to connect and grow with many people all around the world.  My learning has not been limited to the social circles that I have grown up with or known in my personal life; they are now only limited to whom I am able (and choose) to connect with around the world.

Seems pretty purposeful to me.

 

…the little things

Yesterday I had a pizza lunch with some students in our school.  Having pepperoni pizza, diet pepsi, and some root beer, one of the kids looked at me and said:

“Mr. Couros, this is the best lunch I have ever had!  Thanks so much!”

Something so simple, can mean so much to someone.   A couple of pieces of pizza and the company not only lifted this student’s spirits, but also mine.

We have to always remember the impact of the little things.


cc licensed flickr photo shared by Risager

We are all teachers


cc licensed flickr photo shared by gcouros

Sitting in on a meeting this morning with my Superintendent and other principals, she had brought up this AMAZING Ted Talk that she had recently seen on another school blog.  As I furiously searched for this blog, I laughed as I realized that it was Diana Laufenberg who I had just ate supper with and chatted with on numerous occasions at Educon on the past weekend.  Small world.

As we prepared the video, Diana messaged me and told me that she would gladly come in and video chat with the group.  Immediately after we finished watching her video, Diana came in on video and chatted with the group about her views on the classroom.  In fact, what was even cooler about the experience was that she was actually IN the classroom while she was talking about it.  The group was stunned at how easily we could connect and share our learning.

I was disheartened to read a post this weekend after Educon about the “clickiness” of Twitter.  I will admit, that there are some people I talk with more on Twitter, but that is not because they are in the cool crowd, but just because they are people I have become friends with.  Some people call it “cliques” and some people will call it a group of friends.  I cannot tolerate when people are rude to each other and hope that I have never been.  I have not always agreed with certain viewpoints, but that is part of the learning process and development of our schools.  Rocks do not shape without the constant resistance of the water against them.

There have been several occasions where I have had teachers that I have  rarely talked with jump in and help me or my school, because  of one thing; they are passionate about kids.

Full disclosure: Diana and I talked for the first time this weekend.  I have seen her Ted Talk prior to this weekend and enjoyed it even more  after talking with her.  Deepening these relationships does definitely make learning more meaningful to me (as it does for most people).

Here is the bottom line for me.  We are all teachers.  We care about ALL kids, not just our own students.  Some of my best interactions this past weekend were with students from SLA.  Sometimes I believe that kids do more for us as educators than we do for them; they are great to be around.

Dean Shareski said this over the weekend:

I really felt the power of this today (as I have on so many other days). It is amazing how connected we are becoming, but I think it is even more impressive why we are becoming connected.

We are all teachers.  These are our kids.  We need to do our best for them.

We Are All Connected


cc licensed flickr photo shared by ::: Radar Communication :::

Relationships are the key foundation to the success of students in our schools.  The more we connect with them, the more likely they are to succeed.  This is not only true with our students, but also essential with our staff.  If we know those we serve, the more likely we are to all be successful.

This is why it is frustrating when there is talk that the use of technology and social media sites actually disconnects our students, when in my own experience, I have found the opposite.  The more I have connected through our staff and student blogs, the more I have learned about them and what is happening in the classroom.  After reading Stephen Johnson’s, Everything Bad is Good For You, I was comforted that I was not alone in the belief.

Johnson discusses that most of the technology that has impacted our current time, has been social in nature:

“In fact, nearly all of the most hyped developments on the Web in the past few years have been tools for augmenting social connection…”

As technology progresses, the need for connection remains.  Mashable recently wrote an  article on the “5 Predictions for the Music Industry in 2011“, and predicted that the Ping network on iTunes would not be successful since it seems to be focused “more on commerce than social”, although it has tried to integrate this element through the use of Twitter.  The same article also predicted that artists would become more social as this has been beneficial to their growth in a changing environment.  If anything, technology is giving us new opportunities to connect and interact with one another.

As educators, we need to continue to find safe and effective ways for our students to have the opportunity to participate in this human network.  Johnson contends that if anything, technology has forced us to grow:

“The rise of the Internet has challenged our minds in three fundamental and related ways: by virtue of being participatory, by forcing users to learn new interfaces, and by creating new channels for social interaction.”

If relationships are the foundation of our schools, and technology helps to create and enhance these, it is hard to contest that social media should not be more apparent in our learning environments.

Humanity; Where is it actually lacking?


cc licensed flickr photo shared by Jesslee Cuizon
I have heard several comments regarding the “fear” of using too much technology in the classroom and how it sometimes dehumanizes us.  I find this rather interesting as I have started to develop some fantastic relationships because of my use of technology in the past year (Twitter, Facebook, my blog), but understand how those who do not take part would have trouble fully realizing the potential of these mediums.  If we have technology in the classroom and do not use it to connect and collaborate with others, I also can understand how people would be concerned.

I think we have bigger things to worry about though.

When schools lock their doors until right before classes begin, this is a concern.

When schools have “anti-hugging” policies, this is a concern. (Story here, here, here, and here.)

When staff do not use supervision as a way to connect with students in the school, that is a concern.

There are always boundaries that we must ensure that we do not cross in schools; it is important that we address these issues as they arise and work with our students. The following quote seems to be more applicable to many schools everyday.

“What happened here seems to be the knee-jerk response to any problem these days: Overkill, just like when schools ban tag because a kid could trip, or cupcakes, because a kid could get fat.” From Banning Hugs at School

Reading these articles and hearing these stories tells me that our kids disconnecting from each other because the use of technology is the least of our concerns.  It is imperative that we teach our kids to not only the curriculum, but how to care for one another.

“People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” This should be the key element in all of our schools.

Update:

I think that this video is a great addition to this post via Patrick Larkin.

Connect

Today I had the privilege to accompany two students that have made a tremendous impact at our school in the last year, along with inspiring others. Marley and Emily (if you have not read their stories, you need to) both spoke today at Parkland School Division office about how they have been welcomed and cared for at our schools. It was powerful to see the two students impress everyone in our central office and I was extremely proud.  Emily has such an amazing presence with everyone and brings an amazing smile to everyone.  Marley took the microphone and gave such an eloquent and lovely speech, right after her mom told us all about Marley’s struggle with anxiety.  You would not have been able to tell.  While she touched everyone’s heart, she also left them speechless.

The best moment of the day, was when I introduced the two girls to one another.  Marley has moved onto another school this year, and Emily has just joined us.  This was the first time that they had met.  No matter what I write here, I will not be able to capture the moment between the two.  It was as if they immediately understood each other and had a special bond that no one would understand other than those two.  Emily had nothing but a gigantic smile and Marley was so caring of her younger counterpart.  I was so proud of both of them.

From that moment, I thought how beneficial it is to connect other students in our school.  I could only imagine if these two had connected last year, how powerful their relationship would have been.

I often talk about how as educators, we need to build strong relationships with our students.  I am now more determined to help facilitate those mentoring opportunities between students.  The power of these kids working together, learning from one another, will be so powerful for all kids involved.  I hope that I will help facilitate more of these connections in our school.