Sharpening the Saw

As a Covey facilitator, I definitely believe in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  The seventh habit, “sharpen the saw”, is one that is essential to myself and I believe to my staff.  In my words, sharpening the saw is about taking care of yourself and doing the things that you enjoy to make sure that you are living a balanced life.  It is essential that I not only do these things, but that I encourage staff to enjoy different things in life and not be all about work.  In the end, it will be more beneficial to students if you are the following:

1.  Balanced

2.  Are passionate about things outside of school

3.  Healthy

4.  Happy

As a principal, my days are very busy.  I ensure that I make appointments with myself to do things that I enjoy and ensure that I am maintaining my health.  Energy is needed as an educator and keeping my health is necessary.

Some of the things that I do OUTSIDE of education are:

1.  Group fitness instructor – I teach classes at a gym and love helping other people hit their fitness goals while also working out.  I run when I get the chance but I teach at the gym every single day.  Any stress I have is usually gone after an hour of intense working out.

2.  Basketball ref – I LOVE basketball (watching it right now while I write this) and I always want to stay a part of it.  Reffing is something that I love although many fans get VERY intense during games.  It is a great way to meet others that love the sport and help the players get better.

3. Guitar – I am definitely not good at this at all but it is definitely a stress relief and something I love.  The kids at school enjoy when I bring it to school but they definitely do not like when I sing.

4.  Hang with friends, family, and dogs – There is nothing better than this.

These are some of the things that I do to ensure that I am healthy and I share my passions with my students.  Talking about it is a great way to connect with students, especially with similar interests.

What do you do?

The Power of Twitter

If you don’t believe in the power that Twitter has, hopefully this story will change your mind.

Wanting to show my staff the effectiveness and power of connections through social networks, I decided to place a bet.  The bet was that if I sent out a form over document, the educators in the Twitter community would step up and prove to me that they would help, showing my own staff the power of this social network.  Little did I know that it would go beyond my wildest dreams.

I woke up at 4am before a staff meeting with an idea.  I had done the Twitter “shoutout” before, where I would say hi to my Twitter followers and they would tell me where they were from.  I had thought maybe I would try something a little more and increase the stakes.  If I sent out a short Google Form survey, hopefully a few people from different areas would fill it out.  This way I could show staff how easy it is to connect to a few people that are educators and spread their idea.

Because I know the power Twitter has, I tried to “hide” the form and test it in the morning with someone who I knew was up so early in the morning.  It started with this Tweet:

@SusanneGunning I actually just created a short survey that I am going to send out to the “twitterverse” during staff mtg to show pwr of pln.

This was followed by:

@SusanneGunning Want to be the first to fill it out? http://bit.ly/b2UDEy :)

She had filled it out and I knew that it worked.  Now it was time to wait.

At about 10:40 AM, MST, I sent out a Tweet to the world that stated the following:

@gcouros PLEASE HELP! Having a meeting with staff and want to show power of network. Please fill in form: http://bit.ly/b2UDEy Please RT!

My bet was that I could turn on the spreadsheet and names would be filled in. I specifically put in the question, “Have you ever met George in person? (@gcouros)”, to show that people I had never met were more than willing to help me. I was amazed by the response. Immediately people started filling out the form from all over the world and sending out the message to others.

Rachelle Lamoureux lamoureuxr RT @gcouros: PLEASE HELP! Having a meeting w/ staff & wnt 2 show power of network. Please fill in form: http://bit.ly/b2UDEy <done!

Patrick Larkin @bhsprincipal RT @lamoureuxr: RT @gcouros: PLEASE HELP! Having a meeting w/ staff & wnt 2 show power of network. Please fill in form: http://bit.ly/b2UDEy

I really enjoyed the following Tweet that showed people will help no matter who it is for.

Sean Heuchert @sheuchert 136 people respond to twitter query/experiment by @gcouros launched 2 hours ago http://bit.ly/aPC3DT. 133/136 have no idea who @gcouros is.

My brother, Dr. Alec Couros encouraged me to share the information:

 Alec Couros courosa @gcouros share the spreadsheet with us.

Others went a different step ahead:

Kara Cornejo karacornejo @gcouros I will send you a link for a voice thread that was put together to show teachers the power of twitter. Maybe you could use it

Then my brother wanted to show the visual in a different form through this map.

The results were amazing and I shared with anyone who was interested in seeing the information.

In the end, I knew my bet would pay off and that my professional network on Twitter would come through.  I had no idea on just how BIG they would do that, but I know that a lot of my staff are sold on the power of Twitter.  As I write this post, over 161 people had taken the time to fill out the form, and counting.  They ranged from teachers to professors, parents to principals, librarians to consultants.  The response was overwhelming and so helpful.

If you are not sold, read the survey as people shared how Twitter is beneficial to them.  My advice to you is to get on Twitter, start sharing your knowledge, build your network, and have patience in connecting.  You will quickly start to build your own network of people that will do amazing things for you and help you out in so many ways.  I have learned so much from my network, and just hope sometimes that I am of the same value to them.

It always amazes me how there are so many kind and passionate educators are willing to help their colleagues around the world, but from now on, it will never surprise me.

The Importance of Trust

Trust is everything.

Nothing can be done without it.

It can take years to build, but one moment to lose it.

These are words that I know are important to know as a leader.  It is essential to me that I focus on building trust with my staff every day and that I always recognize the importance of it within our building.

Here are only some of the essentials that I believe in building trust:

1.  Extend trust – If you want people to trust you, you must show that you trust them first.

2.  Be open and honest –  There are many times where tough conversations are needed to be had with the group or individuals.  Trust that the people you work with can take the bad news and deal with it, and would much rather KNOW than wonder.

3.  Admit mistakes –  If you screw up, say it.  Do not try to hide it.  Not only will you build trust amongst those you work with,  you will also build an environment that promotes risk taking.

4.  Listen – Hear what people are saying, consider it, and act upon it.  Even if you do not agree, when people see that you are legitimately listening to their thoughts, you will build upon your relationships with them.  There is a difference between not listening and not agreeing.  You do not have to always agree, but it is important that you always consider.

There are many other ways that you can build trust but these are just some that I continuously work on.  These qualities do not only relate to leaders, but the relate to any type of relationship.

If you want things to get done effectively, trust is everything.

The Effect YOU Have

Recently I posted a picture of a student and I that I definitely wanted to take a picture with.  The shirt said, “He started it”, and I just wanted to stand beside him posing by the shirt.  I realized that every little move you make as an educator you make can impact the life of a student.

About two weeks after posting this picture, the young boy came up to me and said, “Do you remember taking the picture with me?”  He had a giant smile on his face after I told him that I did.  He then went on to tell his other friends that he had taken a funny picture with me and that he had thought it was SOOOOO cool.  I stood back and watched how excited this student was with something that seemed so little.

I remind myself of this everyday and share it with staff.  As a teacher, to many of our students, especially the younger ones, we are borderline celebrities.  This is something that is just put upon as educators, right or wrong.  They love us with all of our faults and the smallest things that we do can make (or break) their day.   Go out of your way to say something kind or ask them about their day.  It will go a long way in helping building not only a relationship with the child, but also build their self-esteem.

As a principal, I NEVER let anyone pass me in the hall without saying something.  I always want to acknowledge them and try to have some short conversation.  I love seeing the kids and they make me smile everyday, but I also know that the little things we can do go a LONG way in their lives.

What did you do today to make a student smile?

Keeping Up With Technology

Is there ever an end in site when coming to technology?  Those of us that have truly embraced it, know that there never is and we are accepting of that.  That to me, is part of the fun.  If I expect my students to be learning constantly, should I not be doing the same?

I remember distinctly asking the question of a close friend of mine, who is a genius in the area of technology, the following question: “What would you rate yourself out of 10 on your knowledge of technology?”  He looked at me dead in the eye and said, “6”.  I was in shock.  How could I have great knowledge in the area of technology yet HE IS ONLY A 6!  This is how he explained to me.

“No matter what I know about technology, it continuously grows so it is impossible to learn anything.  If you asked me the question, ‘how easily do I adapt’, the answer would be much different.”  Great point.

As a former educational technology coordinator, turned principal, here is my plan for working with staff.

1.  Provide examples of what is being done in schools to get them excited about the possibilities.

2.  Provide time for them to explore technology and how it can be successfully integrated into the regular classroom practice.  Be willing to explore technology in the classroom with their students.

3.  Personalize learning for each staff member on what they want to do with technology.  Work with their innovation and where they want to lead their class.

4.  Time, time, time.  You must give staff in-school development time to explore what they are doing.  As an administrator, one of the goals we have set for the school is that their increased, effective use of technology in the classroom.  I put my money where my mouth is and bring in substitute teachers to relieve staff to work on their own skills.  If you work through it this way, they will feel confident in their learning and can go at a pace that is suitable to them.

5.  Follow up.  Check where staff is and how you can help them further along their journey.  This is essential.  There is a distinct reason that I do not pay for outside “tech specialists” to come into our building.  It is important that I am available, or other technology leaders are available within the building.  Not only are they readily willing to work, but they also understand the dynamics of the school.  They also have strong relationships with staff.

Not all principals would be effective technology integrators in their school, but I believe that they ensure they find someone on staff who will fill this role. Use  the collective knowledge of your staff to better your school.  The collaboration between technology integrators and teachers who REALLY understand the curriculum will help to build lessons that are engaging and relevant for students.

If you really believe that this is essential, you will find a way to fill that need.  Your students AND staff will thank you for the support.

The Leader in All of Us

“”Leadership is communicating people’s worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.” Stephen R. Covey

Just walking out of a session based on the book, “The Leader in Me”, I was impressed with the belief shown in each student from the program.  As an administrator and teacher I believe that EVERY child in the school has the potential to be the leader in something.  It is our role to help them find that passion and reveal it to themselves.

For this to happen, educators need to be leaders in the school as well.  They need to embody the same belief in all students that I believe in all of them.

As a principal, I need to continuously:

– Work on communicating to my staff how they are leaders.

– How each and every one of them contribute to the positive environment of the school.

– How each and every one of them can be great.

– How they should follow and share their passions with others.

This is not a skill that is ever mastered but I will continuously work on.

If I can do this for my staff, they definitely can do this for our greatest resource.

Our students.

Treating Teachers as Professionals and a Cup of Coffee

Recently I wrote a post about what makes a “master principal”. One of the qualities that was listed was that an effective principal must treat “teachers as professionals”. This is a quality that I believed turned around my own career and changed my thoughts on leadership.

About five years ago as a teacher, I remember moving to a new school. At this time, my passion for teaching, to be honest, had begin to wane. I was not as enthusiastic about the profession partially because I was not in the right position for so many years, but partially because I did not feel the connection to my school. I thought that I would give it one more year at this new school and see how it went. Fortunately for me, it went much better than what I had ever expected.

Being at the school for a few months, I distinctly remember watching a teacher during the day walk out of the building during her prep. Now I remember this very distinctly because it was something that I was not used to seeing. I had stopped her on her way out of the door and asked her where she was going. She had told me that she just needed a few minutes and was going to grab a “Starbucks”. I had asked her if she had received permission to leave the building, to which she said that no she had not, but it was not a problem. I remember thinking, “Wow…is she going to be in trouble if she gets caught!”

About a few weeks later, I had a talk with my principal and I asked her right up front, “Do you mind if we ever leave the building to grab coffee?” She told me “OF COURSE NOT!”. I remember her telling me that we were professionals and that she knew we would always do our job, so she was not worried. What an uplifting moment for me as an educator! I always knew that I trusted myself to do the job that I needed, but was not sure if that was the same feeling my administrators had. Walking out of the office that day I had felt invigorated.

The funny thing about the whole situation is that I do not even drink coffee. In the entire year, I left the building once. The greater effect though was the amount of heart and effort I did put back because of this one little token of appreciation. I always remember how I felt that I now knew I was trusted to do my job and how hard I worked because of the belief that was shown in me.

People do make mistakes but people also learn from mistakes. I do my best to know what is going on in my building but I try not to, nor do I want to micromanage. Sometimes the best leader is the one that stays out of the way.

Those little moments that we share with staff are sometimes the most important. Remember that the next time someone asks you if they can go grab a cup of coffee.

What Makes a Master Principal?

I recently wrote my thoughts on what make a “master teacher”.  Little is said though about what makes a “master principal”.  Instead of reinventing the wheel, I thought I would share an article that I use to guide my practice as a principal.  The qualities listed in this article by Cindi Rigsbee , hang above my office and I try to embody them each day.  Here are the qualities that are listed:

1.  The school is a family.

2. Teachers are treated as professionals.

3.  Instruction in the school is data-driven.

4.  They are student centered.

5. They reach out to families.

6. They have great reservoirs of energy.

7.  They promote school spirit and teamwork.

8.  They develop leaders.

9.  They have good help.

I think that the one quality is missing from this list is the following; they are passionate about what they do.  Without a passion for kids and your “job”, I am not sure how a principal can be truly effective.

I work continuously everyday to strive to meet the qualities above and convey my passion for the job to others.  Are these the same qualities that you expect from your administrators?

Please read the article for more information on each quality.

What Makes a Master Teacher

 

What makes a master teacherThe term “master teacher” seems to get thrown around a lot, but is something that many educators aspire to be. In my ten years in the field of education, I would say that the definition of “master teacher” has definitely changed. When I think of a master teacher, here are the qualities that I would suggest they have:

1. Connects with kids first -For all students to excel, teachers must learn about them and connect with each child.  This is not just about finding out how they learn, but it is finding out who they are.  It is essential that we get to know our students, learn their passions, and help them find out how we can engage them in their own learning.  If you are not able to do this as a teacher, the following characteristics will be moot,

2. Teaches kids first and curriculum second – Teachers must ensure that they differentiate learning and work to meet the needs of each student and understand how they each learn.  I believe that students have different learning styles and if we can best figure out how to help them meet their own needs, students will excel in the subject areas we teach.

3. Ensures that they draw relevance to curriculum – The question, “What does this have to do with real life?”, is something that I would prefer never be said in a classroom.  Not because it is not a legitimate question, but because teachers should show the relevance before there is an opportunity for it to be asked.  As we are obligated to teach curriculum objectives outlined by our government officials, this is something that must be done.  It is not always an easy part of the job but it is something we much continuously strive to do.

Not only is it essential that we draw relevance to the subject matter of what we teach, but it is also essential that we use mediums that are relevant to how students learn.  Disconnecting from devices that WE use as adults and kids use all the time the minute students walk into school is wrong.  A master teachers knows that it is essential  to use technology in the classroom to enhance learning in a way that is relevant to students.

4. Works with students to develop a love of learning – We are obligated to teach curriculum objectives but we are also obligated in our profession to help students find their own spark in learning.  Why do I write this blog?  It is my way of connecting with others and reflecting on my own learning.  It is a way that I choose to share and learn with others.  There is no pay or compensation that I receive from this.  A master teacher will try to tap into those ways that students love to learn and build upon that.  Creating that spark in each student will lead them to continued success and growth.

5. Embodies lifelong learning – A master teacher knows that they will never become the “perfect” teacher since that is unattainable.  They will look at ways that they can grow along with students and develop their own skills.  Education and learning will always change and a master teacher knows that they need to change with it.  I have seen teachers that have proclaimed that they are master teachers but have not changed their practice in years.  Growth is essential as a teacher.  Society changes continuously and so do its needs.  We need thinkers in our workplace and teachers must show that they are on the leading edge of this.

6. Focuses on learning goals as opposed to performance goals – Reading “Drive” by Dan Pink, he talks about the difference between performance and learning goals.  A performance goal would be similar to having students wanting to receive an “A” in french where a learning goal would be a student wanting to become fluent in the language.  Many students are smart enough that they know how to meet the objectives of a rubric and still not grow much in their learning.  A master teacher sets the goals based on learning not on receiving a grade.  This type of assessment is not about understanding what a students knows and reporting on it, but it is a tool used for learning.

7.  Ensures that “character education” is an essential part of learning – Character education is just as relevant, if not more so, than any learning objectives set out in a curriculum.  We live in a world where collaboration is vital to success and working with others is an important skill.  Working with students to teach the fundamentals of respecting others and being able to listen and learn from others is vital.  Students can have the smartest understanding of objectives but not have the ability to share these ideas with others in a respectful way or take the time to listen to other ideas.  A master teacher ensures that students not only grow mentally in class, but also emotionally.

8.  Passionate about the content they teach – If a teacher works in the area of math and LOVES the subject area, that passion will spill over to the students he/she works with.  As an administrator, I work hard to help teachers work in subject areas that they are passionate about because I believe that enthusiasm is infectious. A master teacher shares their passion and enthusiasm with those they work with.  However, if you are a teacher in an area that you do not “love”, it is important that you find ways to spark that passion for yourself.

(UPDATE: Reading through the comments I feel that I had to add a couple of characteristics to my list.)

9.  A master teacher is a “school teacher” – I often talk with people about the difference between a classroom teacher versus a “school teacher”.  It is essential that a master teacher does not only impact the learning environments of the class that they work with, but that they also have an impact on the school culture.  This can happen in sharing their passion through extracurricular activities or their knowledge on strong teaching strategies with school colleagues.  It is important that teachers do not just build connections with students that they teach now, but with students they had in the past or may have in the future.  It is great to see teachers that connect with kids that they do not teach at the time leading to enthusiasm for that student to one day be in that very same teacher’s class.

10. Strong communication skills – Obviously it is important that teachers are able to communicate with the students they teach, but what about their colleagues and parents?  Sharing knowledge, back and forth with colleagues is essential to the growth of the individual as well as the collective.  It is important that these skills are continuously developed.  It is also imperative that you are able to effectively communicate with parents as they have great insights on how their child learns best.  I have learned more and more as an educator the valuable learning that can come from communicating with parents and how important they are to the development of the school and class culture.  A master teacher will effectively draw upon this knowledge.

These are the characteristics that I believe make a master teacher.  I definitely know that as an administrator these are ideals as a teacher leader that I work towards everyday and want to embody.  The one thing that I do know is that my learning is nowhere near complete and I can still grow.  Learning from you, what areas do you think I missed on this list?  I would love to hear your thoughts as I continue to grow.