school leadership

#IMAMUSTANG – Highlights from My New School

So excited to be a Mustang at MVPS

So excited to be a Mustang at MVPS

As many of you know I joined the Mount Vernon Presbyterian School community this year serving as the Head of the Upper School. Mount Vernon is a school of “inquiry, innovation and impact” and we are redesigning the school experience for our students. So far, the experiences and challenges seem to be just what I was seeking.

Take a look at what I’ve been experiencing these past few weeks. This laundry list will provide you with a taste of what life is like at Mount Vernon.

On September 22 and October 6 Trung Le, Christian Long and the rest of their team from Wonder by Design held Curiosity Conversations around the current prototype of the proposed Upper School building with members of our community.

The current model is nothing like your traditional school building. “Flexibility” was the number one word used by those who participated in the conversation. There are “Inquiry Zones”, “Inquiry Accelerators”, “The Plex”, “The Mobile Action Lab”, and STEM areas. This building represents the school that we want to be and our efforts to create a program that fits the space are continuous.

Our students are working on their iProjects and those students who are seeking to find the topic that hooks them have had access to mini-field trips around town (The Beltline, CNN, College Football Hall of Fame, Historical Sweet Auburn Market), entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs like Corbin Klett (you have to see his 3 min speech at the Georgia Tech Commencement Ceremony), Ted Wright, from Fizz, Chantel Adams from Forever We and designer Jenn Graham of Atlanta Streets Alive.

I, along with colleagues and students attended the Creative Mornings – Atlanta meeting where Aarron Walter spoke about Empathy and designing for emotion at MailChimp. Our students then visited the Museum of Design Atlanta and had lunch at Atlanta Tech Village.

While the MVAllstars provided our community with a powerful drama around Armenian immigrants to the US, our World History students were conducting interviews of local Armenians to learn more about the their knowledge of the genocide that occurred 100 years ago. Our photography students prepared an exhibit that set the tone as viewers entered the theater and one of our teachers shared his family’s immigration story. This was an excellent example of teams working together to craft the entire experience for theater goers.

Oh, and it’s been so long ago that I almost forgot about having the honor to attend Plywood Presents where we heard from many inspirational problem solvers.

To provide our students with opportunities to travel abroad and within the US we kicked off sign up for our interim trips. Students can chose from trips to Australia, London, Greece, Costa Rica, Seattle, New Orleans, Crystal River, FL, local internships and other local experiences. Plus, our Innovation Diploma students will be visiting the Stanford d.School to work with graduate students on a Future of Food challenge.

More later on our work on improving assessment practices and designing a MVPS Upper School Humanities program.

I’m alive and well professionally but my blog has been dormant

Graded High School Blog

The 2012 – 13 school year has been a fantastic one for me professionally. You wouldn’t know if from looking at my blog. The main reason that Creative Tension has been dormant is that I have been focused on curating the Graded High School Blog this entire year. I’m pleased to announce that we had 103 posts and over 11,500 hits. While our primary audience is the Graded community, the Graded stories reached a worldwide audience. The concept is that the HS Blog is “where the Graded high school community shares information and ideas on education.” This has been an excellent first step to creating a venue for members of the community to share stories about learning at Graded. With the school year over it’s an excellent archive for school community members to look back on the year.

While we also have the traditional weekly newsletter that is sent out to parents each week this blog has received more viewers, given community members the chance to comment and develop a dialogue, provided the community with timely information, and opened up our school to a more global community. We have tried to limit the number of posts that are just informational in terms of upcoming events and instead tried to focus on student and teacher learning. I look forward to building on what has been done this year and improving in the following ways.

  1. Increase the number of authors. Aside from my posts, there were a handful of others who contributed during the year. I hope that we can create a culture where teachers, students and parents will contribute whenever something happens. By reminding community members that the posts don’t have to be lengthy and that they can include photos, text, audio and videos I hope that we can increase authorship. While I’ve spent a considerable amount of time curating this blog, I look forward to it becoming a place where the community shares stories.
  2. Increase the number of comments that readers contribute. Aside from a somewhat controversial post on the changes to our grade weighting policy (6) and a post asking students to comment on a draft of our self-study Executive Summary (14), there were very few comments submitted. Hopefully we’ll continue encouraging people to comment and it may require more provocative topics.
  3. Increase viewership – I’ve been promoting the blog through e-mails to the community, links in our weekly newsletter, announcements at meetings, and Facebook and Twitter announcements. Hopefully it will help to increase the number of subscribers so that they get announcements whenever new posts are made. We have a ways to go to catch our the Talonline Blog that is student focused. They have had over 78,000 views.

Image from Flickr by martin.canchola

It’s now time for me to get back to blogging and sharing the learning that I’ve been doing throughout the year. It’s certainly been a productive one for me.

The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels

Cross posted on LeaderTalk.

Five years ago I used Michael Watkins‘ book, The First 90 Days to help me prepare for my transition into a new principalship and I plan to do the same with my next job. In August, I’ll become the High School Principal at the Escola Graduada de São Paulo, or as those of us in the international circuit refer to it, “Graded”. Graded is an American international school in Sao Paulo serving the children of host nationals and expatriates. I feel strongly that this book was a main reason that I was able to successfully transition into my last job change. The first 90 days definitely set the tone for the rest of my tenure.

You might say, “This doesn’t apply to me because I’m not changing positions”, but you can also use the book and process with new leaders (e.g. assistant principals/superintendents, department heads, coordinators) in your organization. It doesn’t matter whether the new leader is coming from within the organization or from the outside. The book would be great to use in orientations and/or retreats before new leaders begin.

Michael Watkins is the Chairman of Genesis Advisers, an executive on-boarding and transition acceleration company located in Newton, Massachusetts and he opens the book by stating,

The actions you take during your first three months in a new job will largely determine whether you succeed for fail. Transitions are periods of opportunity, a chance to start afresh and to make needed changes in an organization. But they are also periods of acute vulnerability, because you lack established working relationships and a detailed understanding of your new role. If you fail to build momentum during your transition, you will face an uphill battle from that point forward.

If nothing else, Watkins creates an awareness of the importance of planning for “accelerating transitions” for the reader. Instead of going into the details I prefer to share just a few highlights.

The foundation of the book is based on the following propositions:

1. The root causes of transition failure always lie in a pernicious interaction between the situation, with its opportunities and pitfalls, and the individual, with his or her strengths and vulnerabilities. “Transition failures happen when new leaders either misunderstand the essential demands of the situation or lack the skill and flexibility to adapt to them.”

2. There are systematic methods that leaders can employ to both lessen the likelihood of failure and reach the breakeven point faster.

3. The overriding goal in a transtion is to build momentum by creating virtuous cycles that build credibility and by avoiding getting caught in vicious cycles that damage credibility.

4. Transitions are a crucible for leadership development and should be managed accordingly.

5. Adoption of a standard framework for accelerating transitions can yield big returns for organizations.

With an understanding of the five propositions one can then embark on the 90-day plan. There are ten steps to take during the process.

  1. Promote yourself
  2. Accelerate your learning
  3. Match strategy to situation
  4. Secure early wins
  5. Negotiate success
  6. Achieve alignment
  7. Build your team
  8. Create coalitions
  9. Keep your balance
  10. Expedite everyone

After just reviewing these ideas I’m excited to get started with my accelerated transition.  After all, August will be here before I know it.

Anyone else used these strategies in the past? If so, I’d love to hear more about what happened.

No Fear, No Hope

A good friend of mine has told me on many occasions, “No fear, no hope”, and this has become one of my favorite mantras. As a school leader who has developed the conviction that schools need to be transformed, this statement makes so much sense to me. Eddie Acorsi who paraphrased Joe Paterno states, “if you have a conviction, then you take the risk.” My conviction is that our students should have the type of education that is relevant to today’s world. While a major component for this type of education is the ubiquitous access to technological tools, I’m certain that there are many other changes involved. Based on this passion and conviction I’m prepared to handle the healthy level of fear that will most definitely arise over the following situations.
  • Convincing stakeholders that these changes will require additional funding and/or the redistribution of funds.
  • Tackling the skeptics who demand to know how the changes will positively impact student learning.
  • Making personnel decisions that will promote this change initiative.
  • Standing up in front of stakeholders and letting them know that my vision for our schools is continually developing and that I don’t have all of the answers.
  • Discussing and taking action on the balance between restricting and educating students and teachers on the responsible and appropriate use of technology.

Why am I prepared to live with this type of fear?

Trapeze Fly School
Those of you who attended NECC this year may recognize this sign from the Trapeze school seemed to be a popular place in downtown DC. There were students, young and old, practicing every time I walked by the school. I imagine that the rush that the trapeze students face is much like the one I get when I witness students using technology to do things in the classroom that would not be possible without the technology. For example, I love seeing students collaborating on meaningful projects with individuals half way around the world, using technology just as scientists would in a lab, and making sense of difficult concepts by using cutting edge tools. A teacher helping a student achieve that ah-ha learning moment is just as exciting for me as when the trapeze student lets go of the bar and he/she lands into the arms of his/her partner. I’ve become addicted to the experiences and these moments provide me with hope for the future.
I’d love to hear more thoughts on the ideas of fear, hope, addiction and conviction.