Up, Up, and Away

He roots for a different ballclub than I do. He taught science and I taught English. He never wanted to be a site administrator and as a principal I’m happy as a the proverbial clam. Different? Yes. And…

I’ve met few people as passionate about teaching and learning as Kevin Fairchild.

Kevin is leaving our district to start a new adventure up the highway a few miles. That I’ll miss him is a difficult reality I’m choosing not to write about, not after this sentence anyway. He’s off to do great work in a new position, and while I know how rewarding he found what he did when he was under our banner, this new job allows him to stretch his professional wings and make a difference in the lives of teachers and kids. It was, as Vito Corleone might say, an offer he couldn’t refuse.

photo (2)This change in my local Professional Learning Network (PLN) comes, ironically, on the week the #YourEdustory blogging prompt reads: “Say thanks to a member of you PLN for inspiring, encouraging, and helping make you a better educator.”

I can think of no member of my PLN who has done all three of these things more.

Years ago, a friend who was serving as an assistant principal with me kidded me about my not being on Twitter. Clueless, I nodded. Twitter? …and then I called Kevin. Kevin came out and asked all the right questions. He didn’t walk me through Twitter; he prompted me to dive right in and learn about it for myself. That I’m still tweeting is a testament, at least in part, to the possibility he helped me see.

Over the next few years, Kevin introduced me to EdCamp, encouraged me to blog, and inspired me through his own work on our district’s tech blog. With a smile and resonant laugh, Kevin showed me technological doors that have opened into opportunities I never would have dreamed of.

His work, on my campus, in our district, and all over this interweb thing have made a real difference time after time after time.

For that I thank him.

And now this man in the Cardinals cap flies north.

The good news is that a PLN in 2016 isn’t constrained by geography. That he tweets and blogs from a different zip code matters not at all. Heck, one of the first things I noticed on the day after he took the new job was a question about screenshots sent to him through Twitter by one of my teachers. Of course he answered it.

So I say “thank you.” Thank you for the inspiration, encouragement, connections, humor, and support. I wish you luck making a difference in the lives you’ll touch. You certainly have made a difference in mine.

…and it’s not like you’re headed to Mongolia. I’ll see you at CUE!

#YourEdustory

It started with an inspired teacher and a quotation by Kierkegaard. A little over a year ago Jo-Ann Fox created the #YourEdustory blogging challenge with a mind to help educators reflect, share, and grow. With an EdCamp style list of topics (anyone could add topics on a form open to all) and the urging to write a post every week, #YourEdustory got teachers and administrators putting pen to paper on topics as diverse as learning spaces, 21st century learning, student engagement, resilience, and taking risks.

I looked forward to reading what educators from across the US and around the world had to say on topics, and relished the opportunity to add my voice to the choir. Increasingly I find information and inspiration online; #YourEdustory was a source for both in 2015.

It was through #YourEdustory that I found bloggers like…

Steve Brophy, an Australian educator whose blog, Transformative Learning, packs a punch, particularly on pedagogy and practice.

Christy Fennewald, a Texan with tech and teaching insight shared regularly on her blog, Fennovation.

Lisa Rodrigues, whose beautifully titled blog, The Learning Journey, provides not only a window into education in her home of Melbourne, but offers ideas and insights applicable across the globe.

Andrew Thomasson, whose blog, Concerted Chaos, captures an energy and passion that never fails to inspire me to think about this adventure that is education.

In addition to these, #YourEdustory has prompted me to visit scores of blogs, learning, laughing, and connecting along the way.

And it was through this blogging challenge that I grew, as Jo-Ann’s vision expected we would, by taking on topics I otherwise might not have, like “What scares you most about education?” and “What was the defining moment you decided to be a teacher?

photo 1 (1)I’d re-up for #YourEdustory in a heartbeat, and even if it takes a breather in 2016, the experience of being part of a weekly blogging group has left its mark on me as an educator. So I’ll end this post, and 2015, with a heartfelt thank you to Jo-Ann and Soren Kierkegaard. May we all keep living life forward and telling our own EduStories!

 

Since this seems the time for end of the year lists, here are…

My Top 5 Favorite #YourEdustory posts (to write anyway).

How are you different than your favorite teacher?

Define “learning” in 100 words or less.

What does rigor and engagement look like in the classroom?

Describe a time where you as an educator took a risk in your classroom, and it totally paid off. Or, completely backfired.

How do you bring joy and laughter into your classroom?

Island Hopping

There’s an old saw in education about teaching being a solitary profession. The notion is that as often as not teachers close the doors of their classrooms and do their own thing, independent of what might be happening on other classroom islands.

When I started as a teacher back in the 1990s this was true. I could go weeks without seeing another adult in my classroom, and the times I watched others teach could be counted on one hand. Things changed a bit when I switched schools and found myself teaching in the same English Department as one of my best friends. Pure fun had us collaborating and combining classes, talking shop, and visiting each other’s rooms.

photo (2)When I moved to California and a new school, boom, back to the island.

Today, while it’s possible to isolate oneself from colleagues, the climate of education has changed. Administration, once relegated to offices and hidden behind serious countenances and striped neckties, is increasingly committed to visiting classrooms and engaging in conversation about teaching and learning. Teachers, still masters of their own islands, are less Robinson Crusoe and more sturdy paddlers of outrigger canoes. Island hopping abounds, both at school and online, some formal and encouraged by district and school leadership, some driven by teachers who hunger to connect with colleagues at their own school and beyond.

Here in my district Professional Learning Communities are de rigueur, teachers meeting with colleagues to discuss best practices, student performance, and all aspects of teaching and learning (and reteaching and understanding). Seeing teachers connecting with each other, supporting each other, and celebrating the good work going on in classes inspires me. Truth be told, it makes me wish I’d been a teacher now, not back when classroom felt as accessible as bank vaults.

Great teachers often take this connectivity beyond the confines of the classroom, going online to learn and share, joining communities on Twitter or other social media as they build a Professional Learning Network of educators without the boundaries of geography. Sometimes these PLNs manifest themselves in collective celebrations of curiosity like EdCamps, and broaden in experiences like Twitter chats.

I’m happy that I’m in education today, when teachers (and even administrators like me) see the work we do as interconnected. I love that I see teachers flocking to Twitter to share strategies and resources, and that I see departments take advantage of the collaborative time built into our bell schedule to connect with each other about how best to help kids learn.

So here’s to accessible archipelagos, where teachers know they have the freedom to bring their own vision to their work with students, and know that they’re not alone in the grand adventure of education.

Another point of view is just a short hop across the narrow water.

Nice Catch

photoI went fishing today. I don’t know how long it’s been since the last time I picked up a pole, but I’d wager I was still wearing Levis 501 jeans and sporting a ridiculous 1980s haircut.

It was an unexpected trip; a handful of us, three site administrators, got together after work and decided to get outside to enjoy the sunny summer afternoon. One, the most seasoned veteran in our group and an avid angler, coaxed the other two of us out to the lake with promises of bass and adventure. I’m glad he did.

As we baited our hooks with mealworms, cast out into the water, and watched our red and white bobbers float on the surface of the lake, we talked.

Certainly talk ranged to fishing, youth, and sepia tinted summer afternoons of years past. It also took a decidedly professional turn, and before we’d pulled our first leviathan from the water, we’d bounced ideas off each other about how we could improve the work we did with kids, teachers, and colleagues at each of our schools.

We talked about building professional relationships, treating others with respect, and creating legacies that we could be proud of. We shared what went well over the past school year, what we struggled with, and what we already knew we’d do differently in the fall. Honesty and ease filled the afternoon, and as we caught and released we did something else, we really connected.

Finding people we can talk with is vital to succeeding in public education, where so much of our work runs the risk of being pushed into a vacuum by the bustle of days. Taking time to talk can feel like a luxury, and even though those connections are renewing, it takes effort to make them happen. It’s like that fishing pole leaning up against the wall of the front closet that we walk past every day, potential ignored by the hectic pace of life.

Teachers can feel this when they’re adrift on the solitary boats that are their classrooms; site administrators feel it too, the events to be covered and opportunities to help so many that time can get away, and we look up to find ourselves alone on the shore at the end of the day.

photo 2 (2)Our veteran host, who caught far, far more fish than either of the other of us, helped put things in perspective. “I try to do this every week,” he said, flicking his line into the water. “After a busy day it helps put things right.”

Today’s excursion helped put things right for me too. Honest talk about the important work that we do, shared in the company of friends, not only helped me feel good about the year I’m just finishing, but also got me reflecting on what more I can do to improve.

My time at the lake reminded me of the joy of youth that is fishing on a sunny afternoon. It also reinforced the age old lesson of patience; much of fishing is waiting, and the thrill of feeling a fish strike the line, knowing a productive struggle will follow, and that at the end, if all goes well, the result will be looking you in the eye, is worth the time spent standing on the shore.

Truth be told, that standing, that waiting, that feeling the wind on your face and watching the sun on the water, is just as important a part of the experience as catching a fish.

Like working at a school, the periods of excitement are complemented by the quieter times, and best when we put a priority on connecting throughout both, celebrating successes, and helping each other when it feels like we’ll never catch a thing. We will, if we’re patient, and we’ll come out of the experience closer, if we allow ourselves to relax, reflect, and be there for each other as we go about what we do.

photo 1 (3)Professional development often takes place in offices and meeting rooms, official, even if it’s interesting. Sometimes it happens online, PLNs built and nourished through Twitter or other digital platforms. Today, for me, it took place outside, looking out over blue water, laughing, and hoping for a bite.

Welcome to the Fray

It’s the season of new assistant principals. Many of these APs are straight from the classroom and eager to try on the new role of site administrator. This week I was prompted to come up with someone I’d invite to join the #YourEdustory blogging challenge, and without hesitation a freshly minted AP popped to mind. I won’t call that person out here by name; I’m a gentleman and would never put someone on the spot publicly, but imagine the name of a new assistant principal you might know at the top of this letter…

Dear AP,

This is going to be fun.

You’ve been in the classroom for more than a few years, and you know how important it is to connect with kids, communicate with parents, and collaborate with colleagues. This year, in your new role as assistant principal, all that is about to change. …and be just as important.

What I mean is that in your new position all those relationships that have been so vital to your success as a teacher will be just as important, but they’ll feel different. As an assistant principal the subject of your interactions will broaden and you’ll find yourself facing questions (and finding answers) on topics as diverse as misbehavior in class, Common Core State Standards, and how to free a songbird trapped in a classroom.

It will be a blur, a beautiful blur, by October, and while I have no doubt about you succeeding, I have a challenge for you that I think might make your first year as an AP even richer. Feel free to say “no,” but please consider saying “yes…”

#YourEdustory is an idea hatched from the Kierkegaard quotation: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” It takes as a premise the belief that we serve our schools and school communities well when we tell our own story.

I’m all in. I love celebrating the great things happening at Diegueño, and I’ve found in the weeks since I started blogging with the #YourEdustory bunch that something else has happened: I slowed down. I started reflecting more. I read other educators’ posts, and felt increasingly connected. I found people I wanted to follow on Twitter and whose thoughtful responses to the weekly prompts inspired me to think about how I can improve my own practice and school. And it’s been fun.

There’s no pressure to this; not everyone posts every week, and that’s totally okay. But, with enough of us thinking about these topics (and offering our own prompts in a deliciously EdCampish shared Google Doc), there is always something to learn. And the truth is, I’d like to learn from you. I value your perspective and the fresh eyes you bring to administration. I’d love to read what you have to say about the weekly #YourEdustory topics, and hear the school story you have to tell.

You know me well enough to know that I’m more likely to suggest than demand, and in this case it isn’t even a suggestion; it’s an invitation. I invite you to roll up your sleeves, have a second cup of coffee, take a stroll around campus, and then…

Add your voice to the conversation. Laugh, reflect, engage. Tell your story.

Summer Planning

“Do you have the first day inservice planned?” She asked. One of my best teachers, a powerful educator and true teacher leader at Diegueño, her eyes wide, she really thought I might.

“I know I’m starting by feeding you pancakes,” I stumbled, “and…”

And I was thankful for her kindness, and the good humor of the other gifted teachers sitting around the table. “…and you know today is the first Tuesday of summer.”

We were together at a district achievement summit, a great way to cap off the school year, revisiting our progress on district initiatives and looking ahead to the start of the next school year. After a full morning, our Diegueño team broke off, finding a space where we could talk about how we could organize the first two days teachers were back in August.

With passion, candor, and an energy that suggested it was September, not June, the five teachers who joined me at the summit brainstormed ideas, spoke honestly about what would work and what wouldn’t, and helped craft a plan that will bring people together when we all return from a few weeks of vacation.

As I walked away from the meeting at the end of the day I was struck by three things: first, I work with some amazing teachers. Smilingly passionate about educating kids, they brought a spark to this summer planning that astounded me. Willing to help lead the August work, curious about how to improve their own practice and move our school forward, and ready to do the hard work needed to help kids, they are, like so many teachers, the reason education continues to adapt and really matter for kids. In this world of abundant information, it’s teachers who help provide perspective and wisdom.

Second, I was reminded of how important it is that I continue to push myself to be at my own best. That question about the first inservice that I bumbled, albeit honestly, was asked with the expectation that as the leader of the school I was thinking months ahead. I am, but hadn’t thought that I’d need to articulate my August plan on June 16th. I did, and having a group of teachers patient enough to let me find my answer made this a real opportunity for me to continue to grow into the leader I want to be.

Finally, the day underscored the importance of being purposeful in all we do. Whether it’s community building or academic initiatives, to make lasting change and a real difference, we must be both systematic and determined in what we do. This means working together, being honest in our assessment of where we are and ambitious in our determination of where we want to be.

I’m back at my desk in the morning doing the work I know will pay off in a couple of months, planning in June and July, inspired by those I work with, and excited about the difference we can make in August!

photo 1 (2)

…and when we get back in August, we’ll have the best staff shirts around!

Creative Council

Lincoln did it right, surrounding himself with people who would question his opinion and provide passionate and sometimes contrary perspectives of their own. He didn’t call it a “mastermind group,” as Andrew Carnegie would a few decades later, or a “creative council” as Thomas Edison would dub the diverse personalities in his inner circle. Many of us have our own group of people we bounce ideas off, either publicly through social media, formally in a professional learning community, or informally through phone calls, emails, or meetings over coffee. I’m blessed to have all three, and use them weekly as I navigate the waters of being a middle school principal.

plnMy Professional Learning Network (PLN) isn’t anything formal or particularly unified. Not unlike the ragtag fugitive fleet of the 1978 Battlestar Galactica show, it’s the Twitter feeds and blogs of educators from across the globe that I travel with …in pursuit of that glittering planet of progress. As different as we all are (some working in small schools, some big, some without brick and mortar schools at all), the educators I follow and interact with online each provide me with perspective that helps me be the best I can be. Some I’ve met only a time or two, at an EdCamp or conference; some are people I work with every week, colleagues from other schools and our district office; and some I’ve never met in person, but consider professional colleagues (and even kindred spirits) who I hope to sit down with someday face to face.

There’s a saying that PLNs are like friends and PLCs are like family. We choose our Professional Learning Network, but our Professional Learning Community is usually the result of proximity with others at our school. At Diegueño, I’m fortunate to have a great professional family. Creative, collaborative, and curious, the teachers and others who make up my PLC have the courage to speak honestly, disagree with respect, and stay focused on finding solutions. I’m a fellow of discretion, so I won’t name names, but when “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” the voices I seek out for advice always give me much to think about. The common denominator of my onsite creative council isn’t credentialing or position; it’s a passion for helping kids and a commitment to speaking the truth …even if the boss doesn’t share that opinion. Maybe especially then.

Three GoonsAnd for the times I need advice, consolation, or just an ear to hear, a constellation of educators fill my night sky, always pointing true north. Some have never been in the same room: the teacher from Richmond, the assistant principal from LA, the EL Coordinator from San Rafael. Some know each other well: my first admin team consisted of me, Lars, and Justin, and while we can’t see each other every day as we once did, I still lean on them when it matters. Physical distance doesn’t mean as much as it once did, and I know that someone to talk with is just a text, phone call, or email away.

I’m thankful for this interconnected world. Unlike Lincoln, Carnegie, or Edison, my creative council is always there. My mistakes are my own, and I try to use every one to get better, but my potential to succeed is improved by the many, many people and perspectives I have the privilege to know and draw wisdom from every day.

Super


photo (2)“Remind me why we are doing this…”

It’s a phrase that could apply to so much in education, a challenge to clarify, or even justify, the decisions we make every day. This time the prompt came in a group text between the five middle school principals in my district. We’re a tight bunch, quick with a joke or a word of support, the kind of quintet that wakes up early to meet for coffee before monthly principal meetings. We like to talk shop, laugh a lot, and help make what could be an isolating job feel like teamwork. We’re a professional learning network in the best and most immediate sense of the word.

The question we needed to answer today was simple: Why are we all wearing superhero shirts to our principals meeting?

That it was April 1st seemed to add some cover for our wardrobe, as did the fact that we choose to (and love to) work with middle schoolers.

Truth be told, I think it really boiled down to that sense of play that most educators have, and served as a collective reminder that while the work we do can be challenging, and while March and April are some of the busiest in a school year, what matters most is kids, and that’s fun.

Looking around at the Justice League that is my PLN, even as I tried and failed to explain it to the other administrators in the room, I was given a marvelous and memorable reminder of the value of a team of supporters.

We can’t fly or shoot laser beams from our eyes. We don’t carry magic lassos or utility belts, but we’re here for each other. And that’s pretty super.

 

After the Pizza is Gone

photo 1 (28)Last week more than a dozen smart and funny educators gathered here at Diegueño for pizza and conversation. In an effort to promote our district’s weekly Twitter chat (#SDUHSDchat), we invited in anyone who wanted to learn more about Twitter, how to participate in a chat, and how to build their personal learning network (PLN). It was a ball.

We chose a conference room for the gathering, rather than a larger space like the library, and by the time we got started the room was bursting at the seams. With laughter drifting out into the rest of the admin building, some gifted teachers led the room through a series of silly questions, helping folks understand hashtags and Twitter conversations, not by reading about them or by being shown, but by doing.

The teachers and administrators who came were able to experience a chat with the support of other pizza stuffed, smiling colleagues. When someone made a good point, the room responded; when someone made a good joke, the room laughed. Wit filled the conference room as if it were Jillys and Sinatra was holding court with the rest of the Rat Pack.

photo 3 (21)By the time people left, I hope they understood some of the great things about a Twitter chat. They’d seen teachers and administrators who were not on site join the chat from other schools, and had a blueprint for how to participate. The question lurking in the back of my mind, however, was: “Would they come back?”

Would those smart and interesting folks who engaged with each other over pizza be game to log on from home after the pizza was gone and join the next #SDUHSDchat?

I’ll be honest, I have a vested interest: I’m moderating.

And so with high hopes of an evening of great professional connections, I asked myself what I could do to make it easy to participate on Tuesday 1/20.

A brief reminder of some of those Twitter basics seems like a good start, and a website that was given to me that did just that is: Mom, This is How Twitter Works.

Choosing an accessible topic was important, so I started with a question that every educator I know can answer with a smile: “Who was your favorite teacher?”

Knowing the questions ahead of time is another nice support, so here they are, at least in DRAFT form:

photo 4 (15)—> Q1: Who was your favorite teacher and what did she/he do that made her/him stand out for you?

—> Q2: What are some of the things you currently do that you learned from a favorite teacher?

—> Q3: What are some ways you (and your approach) are different from your favorite teacher?

—> Q4: Do you have a colleague who has inspired you? What did she/he do to motivate you to do something new or different?

So if you’re reading this and feel like participating, I’d love to see you at #SDUHSDchat on Tuesday, January 20th, from 8:00-8:30 PM (PST). It’s a low risk, high reward, and fun way to connect with other educators, even if you’re not eating pizza.

#SDUHSDchat is on 1/20/15, from 8:00-8:30 pm (PST). This week’s topic: “Inspiration, imitation, and amazing teachers!”

#mozzarella

photo (7)One night I think it was just me and two nice teachers from Escondido. They were kind to me, answering questions, bantering a bit. It felt, by the end, like I’d made some friends.

Not every experiment in social media is an immediate success. #SDUHSDchat, my district’s foray into Twitter chat, is still a work in progress.

Like the others who have banded together to get #SDUHSDchat up and tweeting (a ToSA, a fellow site administrator, and a pair of strong teachers), I see in this weekly multi-school conversation great potential to strengthen the ties that bind our district together, to share innovative ideas about teaching and learning, and to support and inspire each other in our profoundly important work.

If people come.

And so, with an eye toward broadening participation, and knowing that nothing draws educators like free food, this Tuesday (1/13) #SDUHSDchat will break through the fourth wall and we’ll do our best to lure some dynamic (and hungry) teachers to join us for a #PizzaChat!

Our plan is to meet here at Diegueño, bring in enough pepperoni and cheese to feed the masses, and help teachers and other district educators feel comfortable with (and maybe even inspired to try) Twitter in good company, in an afternoon version of our scheduled #SDUHSDchat. I like that our chat is half an hour long, not a huge commitment, but enough to provide some connections and ideas to take into the week ahead.

For folks not familiar with a Twitter chat, we’ll explain how using the #SDUHSDchat hashtag can connect them with comments from a host of educators, some from our district and some beyond. We’ll reassure them that they can lurk, and encourage them to try dipping their proverbial toe in the water, and celebrate their participation. We’ll show any who don’t yet have a Twitter account how to set one up, and learn from those who are already tweeting how to build our Personal Learning Networks (PLNs).

chatrevisedI’ve heard Twitter described as a place where people become colleagues without ever working at the same place. I like this, and I’ve found it to be true. And for those who haven’t tried Twitter, I’m optimistic that by starting face to face we might be able to lessen any anxiety about an unfamiliar tool.

I see the possibility of more teachers taking advantage of each others’ knowledge and insight online after they’ve had the low stakes high carb introduction of our #PizzaChat. I have high hopes for the discussion, both online and over grease stained paper plates, on Tuesday.

…and I hope that those two teachers from Escondido will stop by the Twitter part of the chat too. Heck, if they drive out to Diegueño, I’ll give them some pizza.

 


For any SDUHSD teachers who might be interested, you should be getting an RSVP form emailed to you soon. If you don’t, check with your site administrator, so we can know you’re coming. This should be a fun afternoon, beginning at 3:30 on 1/13, at Diegueño Middle School.