Leadership

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Never quite satisfied…

Photo from Affordable Housing Institute: US, http://affordablehousinginstitute.org/blogs/us/

This post is in celebration of Scott Mcleod’s Leadership Day 2012 (even though it’s several months late)

This post is all about Peter Senge’s concept of creative tension. The concept that I chose to base this blog on.

“The gap between vision and current reality is also a source of energy. If there were no gap, there would be no need for any action to move towards the vision. We call this gap creative tension.”

In February 2008, I attended the Unplugged Conference at the American School of Bombay. I remember it well since it was a life changing experience for me. After watching the ASB teachers and students seamlessly use technology for teaching and learning I knew that I had to be working in a 1 to 1 laptop environment. At the time I was the middle/high school principal at Mont’Kiara International School in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. By the 2009 school year, when I realized that we weren’t going to transition to a 1:1 environment, I decided to quit my job. My desire to lead in that setting was that strong. By 2010 I signed on as the high school principal at Graded in Sao Paulo, Brazil and the middle school was in the process of going 1:1. This was exactly the type of opportunity that I was looking for.

Fortunately I work with some amazing educators who were open to the idea of moving in this direction. We created a high school task force that included teachers, administrators, students and parents and the group was charged with leading the learning and planning for the August 2012 roll out. We were fortunate to be able to work closely with Shabbi Luthra from ASB and Scott Mcleod even joined us virtually for one of our meetings. There were certainly times when we questioned what we were doing but we were committed to changing our learning culture.

Over time we developed actions plans that included developing our capacity by embedding professional development into our normal work and learning, attending conferences and networking with other educators. The plans also led to a responsible use policy, identifying our digital toolkit, adding additional power outlets and making sure that there was sufficient power and increased bandwidth. On August 2nd, almost 4 years after my visit to ASB, I can finally state that I am the principal of a 1:1 high school.  For some reason August 2nd was anti-climatic. It certainly was not what I had expected it to be. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really happy that teachers and students have 24/7 access to technology and that the classroom learning environment is evolving. Our new focus is integrating our ICT standards into current units. It’s now about working with students to use technology to develop these skills and knowledge.

As you can imagine, there have been ups and downs this first semester and we’re all doing our best to to become “master” 21st century educators. For some reason we’re just not satisfied. While we may not realize it, changes are happening in the classroom and that this is all part of our journey.  We also have to use this healthy tension as a source of energy to move toward our vision. After all, it’s all about creative tension.

What I learned during the 20ª Maratona Pão de Açúcar Relay

On Sunday, September 16th eighty six members of the Graded community participated in the 20ª Maratona Pão de Açúcar. It was a phenomenal community event despite the temperature reaching 33 degrees Celsius. The relay format meant that teams of either 8, 4 or 2 completed a full marathon. I’m happy to report that all fourteen teams finished the race. One of our teachers, single handedly recruited teachers, students, parents, staff members and administrators to participate in the race. With so much happening at Graded this year the timing for the event was perfect. All 86 of us were able to go out successfully complete a physically challenging task and then celebrate our accomplishment.

During my portion of the race I started thinking about how this event compares to the year that we are having at school. At Graded, like all other schools, we work extremely hard every year, but for some reason this year seems to be supercharged. Our continuous improvement efforts on curriculum development and implementation, assessment practices, implementing a 1 to 1 laptop program in the high school, completing our AdvancED self study and the IB Diploma Program 5-year review, plus hosting the Global Issues Network Conference of the Americas, Innovate 2013, and all of the other normal day to day stuff is wearing us out (OK, just looking at the list is enough to make anyone hyperventilate).

Here is what I came up with.

1. Each one of us wants to do our best to support the team effort – The marathon format is interesting because you are running for yourself and for you team. This means that you want to do your best so that the team can succeed. While a few people considered pulling out before the race due to injuries, lack of training, other conflicts, in doing so, the team would have been let down. On the flip side, others trained extensively so that they would contribute to the team’s success. In true team spirit, everyone followed through to ensure that the team would be succeed. Each person took the responsibility seriously and was committed to the team.

The same holds true for our day to day work at Graded. As professionals we understand our responsibilities to the team of teachers, students, parents, and administrators. We know that it’s not just about what we do as individuals. It’s about our work with the entire community. There is pressure on us, as educators, to provide students with the best learning experiences possible. This means not only doing so in the classroom but also in the many extracurricular, athletic, and community service activities. Unlike the race, our work just isn’t one Sunday out of the year, which means that we’re striving to be on top of our games from August through June.

2. Every individual’s level of preparation varied – First, when people signed up for the race in August, everyone was at a different level of readiness.  The training approaches and the amount of time that individuals devoted to preparation varied greatly. Many of the students who are on athletic teams relied on the practices with their teams. I think that these students found that the practices and training were sufficient for the 5k race, but not enough for the 10k distance. Some individuals dedicated a significant amount of time preparing for the race, while others did very little and then gutted it out to the finish. As far as I know, group training did not happen due to our busy schedules. This meant that the overall majority of the training happened individually. Those who set goals for individual or team times had to tailor their training accordingly.

With the work that we, as educators are doing this year the same holds true for preparation. We’re all at different levels of expertise in our knowledge of the curriculum, assessment practices, and the integration of technology to enhance learning and there are a variety of plans in play.  As a school, we have tried to embed as much professional development related to these areas into our work. But, just as the athletes learned, we’re learning that there is a  need for some of us to seek additional learning opportunities to take us to another level. We also struggle with finding time to get groups together for collaborative planning and learning. This is where technology can really help us through the connections that we can make with our Graded colleagues and educators from around the world. We’re all working diligently to grow as educators and we’ve set our goals with steps that we are planning to take throughout the year.

3. During the race, people took different approaches – It was fun to watch different personalities come out during the race. Some runners were vocal about cheering the teams on while others were quiet and focused. Many were quiet because they were nervous. I remember seeing one colleagues twice on the course and he was in his own world with his headphones and music on. There were others who were loud and vocal whenever a Graded runner passed by. It didn’t really matter which type of person you were, we all knew that we were in this together. We certainly did not take silence to mean that you weren’t being supportive of the other members in the group. It’s just the state of mind that the individual was in at the time.

The same holds true for our work this year. Personalities come out naturally when working together and with over a 140 faculty members, we find that each person handles things differently. We have our cheerleaders, our work horses, our shy types and the middle of the road ones. The key is making sure that we all are respectful of our differences and to find ways to let each other know that we support each others work.

4. The race was tough – It’s safe to say that just about everyone was challenged by the event. Even the fittest runners had to deal with the heat, the crowd and the desire to run a fast pace. The work was hard and there were some who weren’t sure that they would finish. All of us had to cut back on our pace and some had to walk. Even our best runner had a slower than normal time and was wiped out by the end of his leg.

This is true with our work this year as well. The work is certainly difficult for all of us. We are working to grow and change our practices which is never easy. Recently I referred to this EDS commercial where the airplane builders are building the plane while flying. We’re trying to keep up with the normal day to day things while planning ahead for the future. We all feel stretched to thin and we’re not doing our job well. Some of us even question why we are trying to do so much in a short amount of time. Just about all of us have to walk occasionally to catch our breath and even those who are at the top of their profession realize that the work is not easy.

5. The post race celebration was important – After the race we met for brunch at a nearby restaurant. Forget the fact that we were really hungry, the importance of this was that we were able to celebrate our accomplishments. The medals were proudly worn and the stories were flowing. Everyone was smiling, laughing and enjoying that post race high. It was a wonderful way to end the event.

We realize that we need to find more time to celebrate our successes through stories.  This should be done even though the race isn’t over yet. I envision us celebrating after the visiting team comes for our self-study accreditation visit in April. It may not feel like it now, but we will certainly have much to celebrate at that time. We may not be wearing medals but there will be special stories to share and laughs to be had.

Saddened by the Ugg Boot Ban

Ugg BootsBTW

Photo on Flickr by UggBoy/UggGirl

As I was running on the Schuylkill River trail last week,  I could not help but think how sad the recent ruling to ban Ugg boots by the Pottstown Middle School in PA was.  I just don’t understand it. What do the Ugg boots have to do with a cell phone policy at school?

BTW – While running I was using my phone to to track my pace and time, listen to music and to take  pictures of the rowers on the river.
We have worked through the cell phone debate at Graded and we understand that, as a mobile device, cell phones have a place in the classroom. Our policy states, “Cellular phones may be used as educational tools with the permission of a classroom teacher. Otherwise, the use of cellular phones on campus is prohibited except for in the student center, cafeteria and hallways during breaks. Unauthorized use of cellular phones will result in the confiscation of the phone and the phone will be delivered to the Assistant Principal.”
Once we realized that the teacher has control and that he/she can work with the students to determine how they can be used educationally, we were heading in the right direction.
Case in point, in our 10th grade physical education classes there is a huge emphasis placed on fitness and our students have created online portfolios to help them with their learning. They track their cardio vascular workouts by recording distance, time and heart rate, they record their strength workouts by recording reps and weight. They set personal goals and all of this information is recorded in Google Docs and they periodically write reflections and get feedback from their teachers. One of our teachers, Sueli Valades (sueli.valades@graded.br) has been having the students use their cell phones during their workouts. So, how are these tools used?
  • Students record their data during the workout in their portfolio.
  • Students take photos and/or video of their workout and then they are able to look at their technique. The feedback is immediate and they can make corrections right there on the spot.
  • Students listen to music while they are working out. Pretty important since studies have shown that music can lead to better workouts.
This has been an excellent learning experience for the students and we feel that this will set the stage for lifelong fitness. I really feel sorry for those students and teachers in Pottstown Middle School who are talking about the Ugg boot ban instead of teaching and learning in today’s world.

School Leaders Set the Tone by Playing, Experimenting and Taking Risks

My presentation, School Leaders Set the Tone by Playing, Experimenting and Taking Risks went live yesterday. While I have given many conference presentations over the years, this one is something new and different for me. The reality that my work will be on the website for the world to see for who knows how long, is exciting. At the school level is was neat to see colleagues show up for an after school session where my video was the main event. On a global level, I loved seeing educators tweeting about watching the presentation. The MS teachers at Singapore American School were probably surprised to see a clip from their assembly Flashmob video.

This process made me realize the importance of sharing ideas with my own school community and getting them involved in the discussion. In the past I may have gone off and presented without sharing with the faculty and students. In this presentation I included teachers and students in the process. While I’m not someone who enjoys self-promotion, in this case I think that it will be valuable for our school community to view the presentation and spend time discussing the ideas. The concept of risk taking for innovation is one that we all should consider. While I didn’t mention it in the presentation, I view the act of creating a K12 Online Conference presentations risky. We’re all putting ourselves out there for the world to see.

You can hear my Voicethread description of the story behind the making of the presentation at the 2011 Presenter Backstories page. Creating a video was a new endeavor for me. One that I hope to repeat in the future. I know for a fact that I’ll do a much better job of editing the final product. That’s the one area that needs the most work.

Who knows how many people will be exposed to these ideas?

Photo from Creative Commons: Boy Scouts – Gettysburg 

Learning from the NBA: when to keep the leather ball

Michael Coakley holds the new official NBA basketball, left, and the old one, at right. outside the Winstanley offices in Lenox. Tue June 27 2006 (Bonnivier)

For those of us who are promoters of change it’s important for us to step back and carefully consider how those involved with the change initiative are feeling. In 2006, the NBA made the decision to change from leather to synthetic basketballs. There hadn’t been a change to the basketball in 35 years. Talk about a sensitive subject.

The league tested out the synthetic balls for approximately 3 months. Spalding, the ball manufacturer, stated “We believe the microfiber composite ball offers many superior characteristics to leather…” After the player’s union filed a grievance and many of the players complained, the NBA decided to switch back to the leather balls. At the time, David Stern reported “Although testing performed by Spalding and the NBA demonstrated that the new composite basketball was more consistent than leather, and statistically there has been an improvement in shooting, scoring and ball-related turnovers, the most important statistic is the view of our players.”

“The only thing that we love the most is the basketball. That’s your comfort. I mean, without your basketball, it doesn’t work. That was my biggest problem, was, why would you change something that means so much to us? ” —LeBron James, Cleveland

So, the NBA decided to listen to the players and not make the change.

I’ve been thinking about this example a lot lately as we take on change at school. While we’re not going to drop our work on assessment, PLCs, and teaching and learning in today’s digital world in a 1:1 environment, we can certainly decide to slow down or backtrack a bit when necessary. Whenever we make significant changes there are always unanticipated demands on time and energy. These demands can lead to frustration, anxiety, anger and grievances among colleagues. Sometimes the leader has to press on, and act as a cheerleader for change. Other times the leader has to listen to the teachers, students and other administrators and slow down or back track a bit. David Stern certainly understood this in 2006 and the league backtracking didn’t seem to  have a negative impact on the NBA.

Like David Stern, I hope that I am able to recognize when it’s time to back track on planned changes.

Photo from Jacobwolman