Friday, November 22, 2013

A "How-To" Build a Master Schedule

Two teachers approached me yesterday with questions regarding next year's master schedule. Both times, I did a double take at the mere mention of the 2014-15 school year. After all, it's only November. Why concern ourselves with the school year that begins next August? The answer to this question lies in the importance of a school's master schedule and the stress it brings to a school staff.

What exactly is a master schedule? To parents and students, it's the huge board in the principal's office with teacher names and class titles arranged in seemingly random fashion, attached to magnets, and often color coded. The resemblance to a Pollack piece of art is uncanny. To staff members, however, the master schedule is what defines their upcoming school year, what they'll spend their summer preparing for, and can either bring a school year of success or 10 months of frustration. Simply put, it's very important to the classroom teacher and paraprofessional.

In layman's terms, the master schedule is the blueprint for what classes each staff member teaches, what order they'll teach these classes, and when their "prep period" will be. While there is the occasional staff member who will just show up a few days before school and be pleased with any assignment they receive, the majority of one's staff watches the master schedule for any little change that could alter what they're expected to do for the upcoming school year. To understand their concern further, let's examine how an administrator builds the master schedule.

You start with a blank slate in February. Pull everything of of the board. A new year means a fresh beginning for everyone. You should receive your number of allotted sections (how many classes you are able to put on your master schedule board) which will help determine your staffing needs for the upcoming year. This is a good time to work closely with your district office in checking credentials of your current teaching staff. Is there a 6th grade multiple subject teacher with a secondary authorization in math? Does the 8th grade science teacher have enough PE credits from college to teach a section of gym? This is important information and can help you later on down the road when you're stuck in a corner with the master schedule. 

My first steps with the board is to determine the teacher teams based on any changes from the previous year. From here, begin to place classes in no particular order on the board. Based on your number of students per grade and your staffing formula providing by your district office, you'll know how many 7th grade social studies sections to schedule. Often, the 7th grade social studies teacher from 2013 will teach 7th grade social studies in 2014. Much like your students who like to tackle the easy math problems first before addressing the harder problems, sometimes it's best to place the sections on the board with the staff members who taught the classes the previous years and then see if there are any leftover sections you'll have to place elsewhere. 

One of my main core beliefs with the master schedule is to not assign the most "difficult" classes to our newer staff members. Sometimes you can't avoid this from occurring but if you want to ensure the best years for your newest staff members, allow them to build the craft without the most challenging class schedules. While your veteran teachers may not want to teach these classes, they do have the most experience in handling discipline and student issues -- why not have these staff members take on these more challenging schedules? 

Every master schedule is built with the students' best interests at first. Occasionally, you'll have a teacher who may "request" a prep period at a certain point in the school day. Perhaps they'll strongly urge that they teach 7th grade instead of 8th grade. They'll spend much time in your office, pushing their agenda and trying to have you see their perspective on why it's so important to give them the schedule they want. It's during these times I repeat my mantra about the master schedule: it's about the students. We do what's best for kids. If "what's best for kids" happens to give a staff member the schedule and prep period they want, that's great. However, first and foremost, I create the master schedule with our students in mind.

This isn't to say that I don't solicit input from my staff. Our district circulates a form where staff members can indicate their preferences for the upcoming school year. I also, during my first year as a principal last year, asked our staff to submit a simple note card with their requested schedule, requested prep period, any classes they'd like to teach that I may not know of, and if they're requesting a room change. There are two schools of thought on this process: (1) Don't ask for input from your staff -- if you don't give them what they request, they'll say you don't listen or (2) always solicit feedback and input from staff on the master schedule -- they're an integral part of the process and it's best to include them. Personally, I'd rather ask for their input, explain that nothing is guaranteed, and face any fallout if it occurs.

Your next step is to discover overlooked mistakes and any improvements hidden within the master schedule. One year, our administrative team left out an entire line of sections and had to hire a teacher two weeks into the school year. In another year, there was an extra section of 8th grade science at the expense of the 7th grade team. Since you're becoming increasingly familiar with your master schedule, you'll begin to lose perspective on these errors. Reach out to your district office and ask for an assist. I encourage teachers to stop by, see the master schedule, and provide input. Nothing is more valuable than a fresh set of eyes on the master schedule at this point. 

Once you've got a master schedule that seems to make sense for your school, it's time to confirm that they are enough seats for each period. I use an excel spreadsheet to account for every seat in each period separated by grade level and team. If you have a "numbers guy/girl" on your staff, this is a good time to include them with these balancing concerns. Make sure your electives link up to each period. Recheck the "singletons" (classes that only exist once on your master schedule) that may cause a bottleneck in the school day. 

One of your last steps is entering all of the information into your school's information system and then load your students into the schedule. This process is done to see how many errors, conflicts, or issues there are with the schedule you've built. Most of the time, you'll have a 70-90% load rate, depending on the number of singletons and overlooked errors your master schedule may have. My personal recent was a 97% success rate during my third year at a former middle school, a number I've not approached since. As you become more familiar with the process of making a master schedule, you'll improve greatly at your load rate.

Be prepared to start answers questions about the master schedule over the next few months. The best advice is to starting planning now and try your best to calm your staff's concern about next year's schedule. After all, it's only nine months away!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Being Grateful

In my recent exploration of Twitter, I have begun to follow some amazing and talented educators. One of my more recent follows is a current high school assistant principal who happens to be a former colleague of one of my close high school friends who now teaches in Marin. In a recent tweet, the assistant principal posted a picture of his staff room with books made available for his staff. Coincidentally, over the past few weeks, I've been purchasing selected books from amazon for our staff. These are books that they've either requested, books I've discovered via twitter, or assorted books recommended by respected educators. I've provided these books individually to staff members in hopes of encouraging them to explore deeper into their teaching practice. Thus far, all of these gifts have been very well received and I'm excited to hear the positive initial feedback.

Inspiring by the above linked picture, I set out to purchase 15-20 books covering all aspects of education and child development. The main purpose behind the purchasing and providing of these books were to recognize the desired professional development among the staff and to help provide the opportunity to expand their teaching practice. I felt that these gifts would be looked upon favorably. With my plan to introduce the books at a staff collaboration, I anticipated I'd have to stand aside as the entire staff fought each other gladiator-style in order to acquire their favorite book from the available selection. Instead, the opposite happened. Silence.

I continued the staff collaboration meeting for a few more minutes and then left to join one of the 8th grade teams as our teachers regrouped for the upcoming team collaboration. When I returned to the staff room, all of the books remained lined up along the wall. Not a single book had been borrowed.

Earlier in the staff meeting, I had shared a video on being grateful and showing compassion to others. Within the staff memo emailed out earlier that day, there was an article included on how blessed we all are to be living in the Bay Area  and working at Union among friends and family. With such a focus on gratitude and thankfulness, I was surprised at the lack of feedback and support of what I felt was my generosity. I even suggested to a few veteran staff members that they may like one of the book selections I made, hinting it was purchased with their interests in mind. Almost every teacher said "no thanks" to the offer. I was stunned.

Later that day, I spoke, perhaps even vented, with our school counselor, wondering aloud at the reaction by our staff. While perhaps it was a little much to expect The Hunger Games to break out in an attempt to get a book on Falling in Love with Close Reading, I had secretly hoped that all of the books would have been spoken for by the end of the first day. As always, our school counselor listened and offered some feedback, all of which was completely true. Yes, our staff (including our leadership team and perhaps our students and parents too) are quite busy right now and cannot commit to reading a book on the Common Core over Thanksgiving break. Yes, a few staff members are already reading a book I've lent them and didn't want to take a second book until finished with their first book. Yes, the teachers were in a rush to get to Team Collaboration as there's a lot to discuss during this limited and sacred amount of time. All of this is true, but to me it still stung a little.

I spent the end of the school day outside in the rain, trying my best to usher cars into the parking lot and then match said vehicles to their correct student. Given that it was a rainy day, we experienced at least twice as many pick-ups in the front parking lot as a normal Wednesday. I afterwards returned to the office and made plans to depart a bit early for the day after the lengthy Math Meeting the evening previous. At home, I shared with my wife my experience from the day. Much like the school counselor earlier that day, my wife rationalized the staff's response and remained positive about my project. She reminded me of something I would always say to her: "You can't control how someone else will respond to your gift." She continued to share that this doesn't mean you shouldn't give the gift. It just means it's not about the reaction; it's about your generosity and kindness. And she's right.

The following morning, I received an email from a parent. It said:

Good morning,

Yesterday was pretty crazy with the rain and I just wanted to say how much I appreciate you being out there. (Her student) and I drove by and we saw you helping a student get into his car to help with the outrageous traffic and I said to (my student )how awesome it is to have such a hands on principal. Thank you for being ready to do whatever it takes to help things run smoothly. I really appreciate that you are out there and so visible to our kids. We are a lucky school to have you!

Have a great day--should be a bit easier no rain today.

Where I thought the appreciation would come from ended up not being my generosity with educational books for our staff but instead from a parent for something I enjoy doing and did so without any expectations. Today, after receiving this email, I made a few decision on how my Thursday would proceed. After all, if this simple email made such a difference in my day, shouldn't I follow its lead and attempt to encourage others to feel just as positive about their daily routines?

First, I was going to acknowledge as many staff members and school volunteers as I could today. Our staff puts in so many additional hours and takes on very challenging assignments, many of which are outside the public's eye and only privy to the principal - they deserve this recognition. Second, receiving this parent email invigorated me to have the best day possible and I set out to pay it forward for as many staff members as possible. It is very important to appreciate the efforts of one's co-workers, something I know I need to improve upon. Third, I've always struggled with thanking someone for just doing the job that they're expected to do. Surely this stems from my childhood and needs to be explored through professional means at some point, or so my wife, also a middle school counselor, tells me. That said, I don't think it's about mindlessly thanking someone for just doing their job requirements but instead acknowledging them for everything they do that truly makes a difference in the lives of their students, their own professional growth, or for the betterment of our school community.

Thus, my daily goal is to be more thankful of our students who stop to help a peer pick up their dropped pencil box that exploded open in the middle of the quad (yes, this happened today); our staff who did select a book and stopped by to specifically thank me for my efforts (there were more than just a few who did today), or our parent community who truly sees our relationship as collaborative efforts to raise socially responsible and academically prepared young adults (and I'm very lucky this is the template for my daily conversations with our school community).

I have more plans for the book wall. I've already set them in motion. I've also begun to "take requests" (some unsolicited) from our staff on which books they'd like to see added to the available selection. I hope to achieve my vision of a staff Reading Wall and I'll be quite thankful of everyone who borrowed, reviewed, or encouraged a colleague to check out a book. And for those who make a difference in my life along the way, I will be extremely grateful.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Meet Your New Boss!

One of the more challenging, yet rewarding years of my administrative career occurred with the departure of a beloved principal and the arrival of a new one. This transition was also coupled with my own promotion from Dean of Students to Assistant Principal. I spent my first two years as part of an incredibly strong administrative team. However, it was in my third year, in which I served as the Assistant Principal and lone administrative returnee, that I experienced the most growth as an educator. This growth was largely due to being a returning administrator while serving under a new principal. The year was not without its challenges and some valuable reflections upon year's end.

1) Be prepared to do everything

As a sole returning administrator, you overnight become the go-to resource for every school rule, every assembly schedule, every parent contact, and more. You will instantly be relied on for your historical knowledge by the new members of your administrative team. You will find yourself working longer as your daily routines will expand. Expectations by your staff and parent community will grow as well; you're going to be seen as the "go-to" administrator throughout the year. It's not going to be easy. Having a strong administrative assistant team is a huge bonus. You'll need to rely on all of your key department leaders as well. You'll find yourself utilizing your district office significantly more as well. It's quite a year.

2) Be prepared to see a different side to certain staff members

While you've already built relationships with your staff, adding a new principal into the mix will change things. It's actually not that different than a new middle school student joining a group of established friendships at your school -- new relationships are made and old friendships sometimes fade. If the previous principal was beloved, the transition is going to be hard for some of your staff. They may confide in you their hesitation in accepting the new principal as a member of the school. Adding a new administrative to the team won't just be difficult for you -- it will be hard for the entire staff. From here, new allegiances will occur as your new principal bonds with staff members, some of whom may surprise you. Things will be different and it will take some adjustment for everyone.

3) Expect your new principal to want to change things

The general rule for a new principal is to observe how the school works during their first year, learning the ins and outs of every procedure and policy at the school. However, not every principal will follow this practice. At the very minimum, they'll at least confide in you their plans for the following year and all of the changes they'll want to make. For me, the new principal began to make some changes during the second semester, most of which I agreed with. I was fortunate to have a new team member with a similar educational vision to mine. This won't always be the case. The administrative team's priorities may change and your new principal will want to count on you to support the new protocols, even if you internally disagree.

4) Opportunity to learn from someone new

The opportunity to work closely with a new principal, someone who has what hopefully is a wealth of knowledge and experiences from their previous school sites, is one of the most beneficial aspects of administrative change. You will gain a close colleague who you can rely on in your current and hopefully your future assignments within administration. As any administrator will share, the world of education is a very, very small one. You never know when your former new principal will end up working with the individual you replaced for your very own first principalship - yes, that's a true story; it's a very small, connected administrative world. For some experiences with a new principal, you'll also learn a lot from their decision, but sometimes it's learning what not to do as an administrator. Principals, new and old, are human and, given the thousands of decisions made daily in our role as the site administrator, we make many mistakes throughout the school year. As a returning administrator, you may feel you know better (and you might) but the decision will be sometimes be made by the principal themselves. Do your best to support your students, staff, and school - sometimes that's all you can do.

5) Don't be afraid to move on

I've heard the that the average administrator stays at a school for 2-3 years. At my current site, I'm the fifth principal in nine years. I replaced a principal who had been the fourth principal in four years. According to my late night recollecting, I believe our current assistant principal is sixth in eight years. Sometimes it's time to move on... and that's ok. Regardless of your relationship with the new principal, this is a good time to explore what other opportunities exist within and outside of your district. Refreshing your administrative lens at a new school site can be an extremely positive experience. If you're struggling with the new principal, run through the finish line and move on at the end of the year. If you're working cohesively within your new administrative team, you may still want to consider a change. Don't feel stuck or obligated to spend a second year -- find a new home where you can continue to grow as an administrator.

In the end, being the sole returning administrator at a school will be one of the more unique and challenging years of your educational career. There are many positive takeaways from the experience. Personally, I still regularly connect with my former colleagues despite my moving on to another school site. I really enjoyed this year with a new principal. It was a year of new challenges and many successes. Whatever your own situation, be prepared for what the school year will bring. You'll have the opportunity to experience true professional and personal growth during this year. Enjoy it!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Today, I Took a Chance...

Today, during Team Leaders, I took a chance and did something a bit different.

As a means of a back story, we have "Team Leaders" every Tuesday morning at 8:05 to 8:25. Each of our seven teams has a "teacher leader" who attends the Tuesday morning session. These teacher leaders are provided with information about the Wednesday 8:05-to-8:35 Staff Collaboration and then lead the Team Collaboration from 8:35 to 9:10 in their respective groupings. In past years, Team Leaders has served as a time to share Wednesday's information, to gather input from these staff members, and look ahead at some bigger staff projects in the upcoming weeks. Many of these elements are already captured during Wednesday's Staff Collaboration, so I've been trying to use Team Leaders as more of a brainstorming session for "big picture" issues at our middle school.

Today's experiment actually began the previous day, hinted at in the Team Leaders email with the word "Brainstorming" highlighted and standing alone on the usually-filled list of topics we're scheduled to cover. I made sure to arrive early into the conference room where we hold our Tuesday morning meeting and began to arrange the furniture. Luckily, our district office recently provided us with tables and chairs that can be easily wheeled, folded, and stacked. I eventually settled on three table groups with four chairs at each set -- a perfect number for our twelve members of Team Leaders (all seven teachers, a special education teacher representative, our tech guru, the school counselor, the assistant principal, and myself).

On the white board at the front of the room, I mapped out the tables and assigned seats (!) for the staff. I attempted to have every grade level represented at each of the tables while factoring in various prior knowledge amongst the staff regarding the idea we were about to discuss. To the right of my tables sketches, I listed the following three questions: "What is the problem? What led to this problem? What ideas do you have to solve the problem? (be creative - no limits)" I also distributed pens and post-it notes to all of the tables for the staff members' use. I then left the room.

Upon my return, all of the Team Leaders were sitting in their assigned seats and looked eager to see what we'd be discussing. I accidentally slammed the door closed as I entered the room. This mistake actually provided some levity to the physical and visual changes of what Team Leaders had been in previous weeks. I then called upon two expert teachers (both of whom I've met with many times over the past few weeks) to explain what we believe the problem to be. The problem is our incredibly successful and well attended Homework Center.

At our school, we open up our library for an hour and a half at the end of the school day for students to study, read, and complete their nightly homework. We call it our Homework Center (HWC, for short). In past years, we have had two teachers "own" the program. They are responsible for hiring the tutors, of which we have two for each day. They also oversee any student or parent concerns with the program. These staff members also help log in and log out all of the students every day from HWC. Somehow, these teachers also find time to assist students with their work and manage the student crowds we often experience during HWC.

These two teachers also happen to be part of our current Team Leaders group (Surprise!) and shared out what they believed the problems to be. Simply put, HWC has grown in the number of students served from recent years and is in need of adjustment to continue to be the successful program it has been. With an additional twenty kids attending each day, noise and on-task student management has been increasingly challenging for our adults assisting during this time. We have also upgraded our library lab to include a full classroom set of 32 computers for student use. While it's great to have more students using these digital devices, we've found that students collaborating on these iMacs are quite loud and difficult at times to supervise.

I did want to take a moment to acknowledge what has led to our current predicament. I would like to begin by saying that I think these two staff members have grown a successful HWC program and have fine-tuned the program into a productive place of study for all students to address their homework concerns. HWC has been the saving grace for many students over the past few years and continues to serve this purpose for many kids at our school. That said, there have been some substantial changes to both the program and our school over the past year that may have influenced the larger number of students and increased noise levels.

First, based on feedback from our previous Team Leader groups, there was a request to open up Team Leaders to more staff members this year. We now have four additional teachers running certain days of HWC. Additionally, we have more students this year, both at our school and currently taking advantage of HWC during the week. We also lost three of our tutors from last year and have been working to train our talented but new tutors in the problem. Furthermore, an after school program added to our school this year, while very successful, is slowly building membership whereas the program from recent years had more students involved based on its familiarity and longevity at our school. All of these factors have contributed to the current predicament we now face in HWC.

After hearing the problem and some of the back story, I then provided the road map for the upcoming exercise. Describing it as a psuedo-Design Thinking experiment, I asked the group to work alone at first, coming up with their own ideas on how to creatively solve the problem. As I looked around the room, I saw frantic scribbling on the post-it notes by the participants. I was very pleased to see everyone taking advantage of this opportunity to have shared input. After a few moments, I asked everyone to get into pairs and share all of their ideas. Again, after 2-3 minutes, I asked each table to share and then select their top three ideas from their quad partnership. Finally, and running slightly short on time, each group had the opportunity to share out their main ideas on how to improve the program. As teachers rushed out to their first period class, I asked for and collected all of the post-in notes to review and share with our HWC leaders.

Do I think we solved the issue just from one twenty minute Tuesday morning meeting? Definitely not.

Did I gather lots of great ideas by our staff with some outside-the-box creativity on how to help solve our overloading of HWC? Absolutely.

Did everything run smoothly? Don't be silly -- there were a lot of flaws with our first brainstorming session. That's ok. It doesn't have to be perfect to find the best answer.

But did this morning's meeting involve key stakeholders in the ground-level thinking on how to work together to address the HWC issue? Definitely.

Today, our Team Leaders tackled a bigger issue on our school campus and worked together to brainstorm solutions. It felt like a big risk, but something taking that chance is what can make the difference.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Little Interactions are Everything

As previously mentioned in an earlier blog entry, two of my favorite times of the day are before school as I welcome students to the campus and after school as they depart from the parking lot for home. I try to do my best to connect with every student as they arrive on our campus, either with a hi/hello or with a silly, middle school-esque comment in hopes of exciting them about being at our school. Truthfully, to me, these moments don't feel as significant as a teacher observation or a counseling session with an at-risk student. After all, these interactions last less than a minute, often much less, and at least one hundred passing conversations happen every morning and afternoon in the parking lot. But to two students and their parents, they mean a lot more.

Both conversations happened at our weekend Bid and Boogie, a fundraiser for our school athletics program. Held off campus for just school faculty and parents, the Bid and Boogie event is a chance to interact with parents and co-workers in a non-school environment. It was at this gathering that two parents approached me with separate stories about my morning interactions with their children.

The first set of parents are new to Union Middle. Their child has adapted very well to our school, performing well academically, socially, and athletically. The family has been very positive and supportive of our school and teaching staff as well. This summer, when they enrolled their student, there was a lot of concern about how this adjustment would unfold. While we didn't do anything "special" for their student, we did our usual school introductions and means of welcoming to best assure the parents and student that they landed at an amazing middle school. I think they'd agree that this is true.

I spoke with the parents of this student about a variety of topics. One part of the conversation that stuck with me is when the mother brought up a moment from a few weeks ago in the parking lot during drop-off. I didn't catch what she said the first time around and actually thought she was upset about an interaction I had with her student. Specifically, she said she drove away in tears, which I immediately worried couldn't be a good thing. I surely don't want to gain the reputation for making parents cry. I don't think this would help our greatschools reviews: "We love the school, but the principal makes the parents cry in the parking lot!"

After having my stomach drop to the floor, the parent explained what led her to tears. As it turns out, her reaction stemmed from a conversation between her child and I as the student exited their car one morning. Often, I'll open the car door for our students and encourage them to thank their parent for driving them to school. For some, as I did for this student, I'll also suggest that they tell their parent that they love them. For most students, they mumble "thanks and I love you" and quickly make their way on to campus. For a few students, such as this parent's child, it's more of a struggle the say those three little words.

And so the student paused and tried to keep his eyes low as a way to avoid having to say that little phrase. They made an effort to exit the vehicle but given that I had now placed one arm on the rear door and was still holding the open passenger door, the student had nowhere to turn. He muttered the words and quickly headed on to his first period class. The mother gave me a smile and, as I found out this past Saturday, drove away with tears in her eyes.

This student reminds me of myself as a 7th grader, although I doubt I was as confident and socially acclimated as they are. As I shared with the parents, I often made my mother watch my middle and high school soccer games from the car as I was afraid she would embarrass me if she were on the sidelines. Today, this sounds incredibly silly as my mother never did nor could she embarrass me, especially not any worse than I did on my own each and every day of middle and high school. Secretly, I think she wanted to watch from her car so she could play music and multitask. From there, no one could see her reading her daily novel. Still, I shudder to think that I was so worried about what my peers would say that I made this request of my mother.

I shared this story with these parents and received confirmation through their eye contact that they completely understood what my mom most likely felt upon hearing my request. This student, it turns out, has been slowly distancing themselves from their parents, a little bit more every school year. While this is completely normal, it can still be a challenge for parents to see their child try to set boundaries where there once were none. To this parent, just hearing the words "I love you" were enough to produce tears of joy. Who knew that a simple request of a student could lead to such a reaction?

The other story from this evening involved a parent of one of our leadership students. She relayed a story from a few weeks ago involving her student during announcements. At our school, our ASB officers handle the morning announcements. They do an amazing job and improve throughout the year. I try to stay nearby during the morning announcements for a few reasons. First, I like to hear the announcements just to be informed. Second, I find the energy in the front office to be very electric in the morning and there are often times where I can help out. Third, it's a chance to interact with our ASB officers and check in with them regarding their daily homework load, any peer issues, and get a general sense of the student vibe on our campus. It is also a chance to see if any of them have left out their cell phones that I can "borrow" for a few moment to take a selfie and also post it as their phone's screensaver.

And on one random day, one of our ASB officers did happen to their phone out and I did happen to come across said phone. One thing led to another and a few moments later, this student had a new screensaver on their phone. Of course, the student immediately found out, partly by my deliberate theatrics involving the cell phone. The ASB officers all laughed at the silly principal and left for first period; I never heard anything else about the incident...

Until this parent brought it up at the weekend Bid and Boogie, I truthfully had little recollection of the incident occurring. Given my average school day and student interactions, it didn't register as anything out of the ordinary. Thus, I was a bit surprised that their student had shared this story with them. What to me felt like a silly, passing moment was significant enough for a student to share with their parent as a moment of connection between the oft-goofy principal and 8th grade student. In retelling the story, the parent connected how these little silly interactions make our school the amazing community it continues to be.

There are so many lessons to learn from these ineractions. Every single time you have an opportunity to connect, you help build the relationship between the staff member and student. It doesn't matter if it's a few minutes after a class period to show interest in a student's academic progress, attending their volleyball game, opening a car door to get a quick "I love you" or taking a silly selfie on their cell phone... all of these moments help build the connection between adult and student. These moments bring an end result of our students feeling safe at our school. In order to be open and available to learn, a student needs to feel safe and comfortable in their school environment. When our kids feel physically and emotionally safe, they're more likely to take risks and experience true growth. Essentially, these little interactions mean everything.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Being Part of the Solution

In a recent post, I compared two professional development conferences that I recently attended. One conference, per my notes, was rather effective while the other conference didn't resonate as strongly. In talking with a close colleague and fellow administrator of mine, I was asked a series of questions about the second conference. Many of their questions focused on the following question: "What would you have done differently?"

That's a good question. In my recent blog, I listed everything I struggled with in regard to the conference. At no point did I offer solutions or ideas on how to fix what I saw as negatives. When my staff comes to me with a concern, one of my first responses is "you've come to me with a problem... now tell me what you think we should do about it." In my recent post, I didn't follow this format. To be fair, here's what I would change, first as a list and then with detailed explanations.

1) The Sessions
     a) more sessions
     b) shorter sessions
     c) sessions from tech companies
     d) more 21st sessions

2) The Scheduling
     a) less breaks
     b) different placement of general sessions

3) General Sessions
     a) shift on awards
     b) which speakers which days

4) Attendees
     a) more diverse population
     b) encourage more online participation

The sessions at the conference were infrequent and quite long. In my opinion, the secret to a successful conference is to have more sessions, more often. If you happen to be a part of a session that isn't your cup of tea, knowing that it's just a short 30-45 minutes doesn't make it a huge waste of time. At this recent conference, sessions were anywhere from 90 to 150 minutes. That's just too long for today's educators to be a part of. Having shorter sessions means that there's the opportunity for more sessions. That's an important point of the conference. Additionally, to not have any educational technology companies present seems foolish and out of touch with today's 21st century schools. Imagine four additional 45 minutes sections led by various cutting edge edtech companies and their products. These 21st century topics would be of interest to all conference participants and energize the overall vibe of the conference. There is also a lot of value in learning about new methods or a new product that you can bring to your school site.

The scheduling of the conference was a huge issue. Long three hour blocks just can't happen. Imagine a three hour lunch at a middle school and then asking the students to return to their classes for social studies. What do you think the students would do? How is that best for learning? Instead, I'd have fewer breaks and completely overhaul the schedule of when general sessions take place. The middle of the morning or afternoon isn't the best place for everyone to congregate. I'd schedule these events at the end of the day prior to any evening events. I'd also change the content of these general sessions... specifically, I would encourage new leaders within education to present. The message of these general sessions can be very powerful if developed accordingly.

I'd change not only the timing of the general sessions but I'd encourage a more 21st century aspect to the theme of the conference. While I appreciate the stories of recent speakers, I feel that motivation and cutting edge technology is what should be at the forefront. Last year, the general session speaker spoke about a rose growing front concrete (google is your friend). I left not only motivated but invigorated to support today's youth and make a difference at my school site. I'd move these sessions to the late afternoon / early evening spot. After a long day in individual sessions, having a chance to congregate and celebrate the great work we do on a daily basis would be a positive reflection opportunity.

Finally, I'd figure out a way to invite a new professional contingent to the conference. While I realize that the conference is meant for school administrators, many of whom have belonged to this organization for decades, the future of the organization is built on the shoulders of our current teachers and aspiring administrators. I personally brought seven teachers to this conference. Imagine if every principal was given the task of bringing at least four teachers to the conference. How would this shift the conversations? What kind of Twitter presence would the conference have with this new influx of participants? One of the best parts of a conference is the ability to collaborate and communicate with other attendees. This aspect can be accomplished by including a more techno-savvy contingent to the conference. It may take a dedicated marketing or recruitment by current attendees but I think it would make for a better conference experience for all those involved.

These are just a few of my suggestions. As I always share with my staff members, we need to focus on how to improve the situation and not just stress on the negatives. How can we as a team attempt to solve the problem and by working together improve our practice for future students, parents, teachers, and community members? Even if we have a small role in the situation, there is still much for us to share and gain from improving the past practices of the organization. After all, when presented with the question of "what would you do differently," shouldn't we be prepared to answer the call and work collaborative to improve what we want to one day benefit from? I'd say yes... and I'm willing to work with the organizers to have next year's conference embrace these changes and improve into what type of conference it could be for today's 21st century administrators.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

How Do You Manage To Get Everything Done?

The question I'm most often asked by my community members and onlookers is how I, as the site administrator, manage to get everything done during the work day. Inside, I usually laugh a little bit as I don't think I've ever had a day where I feel like "everything is done." In replying to their question, I often smile and say something along the lines of "it's a team effort" or "we just do our best." These are truthful responses but the real answer goes a bit deeper into what my day looks like. So how do we get everything done every day? It's as simple as this:

1) Hire a great staff and provide opportunities for growth for your veteran staff members.

I feel like our school has been very blessed to have hired some amazing talented educators over the past few years. Four of our five 7th and 8th grade ELA and three of our five 7th and 8th SST teachers are new to our school during this time. We have also recently been joined by an accomplished assistant principal and front office administrative assistant. These are key hires: a poor decision at one of these leadership positions can bring a very challenging year. I've worked very closely with our district office staff on selecting only the best possible candidates for our school. After all, our students deserve the best. Our veteran teachers continue to serve on key committees for the transition to common core, our curriculum council, and team leaders. Four of the seven staff members who attended the recent ACSA conference were veteran teachers, excited about the opportunity to professional grow as educators. Our staff members handle most of the daily issues that would normally make it to a principal's desk. This does take a good bit of trust among your colleagues but it's worth the risk if you have a staff you can depend on.

2) Your students' free time is your supervision time.

As I've previously blogged, my favorite time of the day is the morning drop off and the afternoon pick up. I spend most of my time at the crosswalk, helping parents progress through the parking lot and escorting students to and from their cars. While I"m assisting students arrive and depart for the day, I'm always keeping an eye on the other happenings on our campus. These are moments to let students know that you're present and paying attention. Just a simple look and passing conversation with a student waiting to be picked up for the day goes a long way. Brunch and lunch is my time to walk the campus and check in with specific students as well as the general student body. I try to circle the campus at least once and stop by the games room, the u-turn room, the library, and a few teachers' classrooms. On a good day, I'll also walk the campus during passing periods. The location of the office makes it a challenge to have an effective four minute walk during this time, but I'll intentionally schedule classroom visits before and after these passing periods to lengthen the walk time. Often, these are the best moments of my day.

3) Systems are the key.

I've been very fortunate to follow a principal who left oodles of documents and schedules in place for my first year as site administrator. Now, during year two, I've begun to update and alter these files to best serve our staff's and students' needs. That said, the library of documents, memos, and templates were crucial for survival during my first year as the site principal. These are documents that I'll carry with me to my next administrative position and also what I'll leave for my eventual successor. Many of the documents I've added have been "liberated" from other colleagues at various school sites (with their permission, of course). For instance, we are looking at updating our report card format to mirror our nearby (and some would say rival) middle school from another school district. Part of being a connected educational community allows for a higher level of sharing between fellow administrators.

4) Prioritize what you need to do and then continuously re-prioritize it throughout the day

Almost minutes within waking up each morning, I take a look at my day's calendar and look at what the day is scheduled to bring. How many meetings do I have? Are there any gaps in my schedule that I can add in classroom visits right now before they're filled? What are my essential activities today to complete? After a quick review and beginning to move through my day, I again check in with my calendar to see if anything's been added or overlooked. If there are urgent, without warning student, teacher, parent, or district issues, figure out what on my calendar can be moved to a later appointment slot. There will always be an emergency in our office and/or on our campus that disrupts the school day; today, for instance, there was an impromptu fire drill during passing period -- fortunately, it was just the steam from the dryer! These interruptions occur frequently throughout our day and you have to be ready to adjust at a moment's notice.

5) Schedule free time and lots of it.

There are days in my calendar that have appointments blocked out with a "Do Not Schedule" message. These are opportunities for me to take a moment to breathe, check in with our front office staff, and attend a few classroom lessons that I've been invited to join. The most important part of my day is the time where we catch our breath, laugh a little bit, possibly have a quick bite, and then get ready for the next appointment or emergency. Perhaps the best part about scheduling these moments of free time into your calendar is that you always have the option to change your mind and add in an appointment. Obviously, it rarely works in the other direction.

There are so many more facets to our work day and to running a middle school. I would be remiss to not mention our amazing parent community, many of whom are on our campus each and every day as volunteers. Our leadership program and elective offerings help create a positive school climate and prevent possible future issues from reaching our desks. It's also spending time with our students, parents, and staff, listening to their concerns and trying your best to reach a common ground and hopefully solutions where possible. Truthfully, we don't get everything done every day, but most days we get pretty close.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Be Selective with your Professional Development

Over the past week, I've attended two separate professional development conferences. The first, detailed here, was EdSurge and held locally in Mountain View, CA on a recent Saturday. The second, the annual ACSA leadership summit, was over two and a half days (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday morning) just a bit further south in San Jose. Despite their proximity and educational focus, these two conferences couldn't have been more different in three key areas of professional development: Sessions, Social Media, and Energy.

At EdSurge, the day began with all educators in the room together. After brief introductions, the schedule was presented for the day. Here, 15-20 companies with a product or service related to the field of education would present for no more than three minutes. These companies explained their connection to education and how they could improve the teaching at our school. There were "ooohs" and "aaahs" from the crowd on many of the ideas we saw. We were provided just enough information to want to find out more -- and that's what the next hour was for: time to visit individually with representatives (often the founder and/or CEO) of these companies in the adjoining room. At lunch, there was an hour long presentation by students ranging the entire spectrum of K-12. With their brutal honesty  and yet an optimistic outlook on the future of technology in education, the student panel finished with a standing ovation from the crowd. Lunch, I should note, was provided during the panel presentation (free of charge). From there, 15-20 more companies presented followed with an opportunity to meet their representatives over the next two hours. Time was then provided to socialize and mingle. The day ended with a "fire side" chat.

With its format, EdSurge allowed for the element of choice among its participants. Did you want to listen to the presentations? Great, join us in the banquet room. Instead, would you prefer to spend your time meeting various companies and learning about their product? That's fine too. The schedule was completely full of sessions for the day with each individual choosing how they best wanted to spend their time. I spent a large portion of the day hearing from companies, both in the banquet room and individually at their tables, and then tweeting my discoveries. You could follow the EdSurge hashtag for other updates, although it was challenging to keep up with the steady flow of tweets and excitement. And yes, as silly as it may sound, there was a lot of excitement and energy throughout the day. There seemed to be a sense of being part of the "cutting edge" in educational technology. To a group of educators willing to give up their Saturday to attend, it was an amazingly positive, eye-opening day with social and educational connections made throughout the event. Simply put, it was a Saturday well spent.

In contrast, the ACSA conference began with a variety of professional development sessions. Many of these sessions were 2.5 hours in length and covered topics on student discipline, common core, and closing the achievement gap, all worthwhile topics. Our school team attended three of the possible conferences and thoroughly enjoyed all of the sessions we attended. From 11:30 am to 1:45 pm, there were no free sessions available. While you could spend over $50 to attend a luncheon coupled with a talk from one of the earlier presenters, this large amount of down time led to many attendees to fend for themselves offsite for lunch. The sessions restarted at 1:45 and continued until just prior to the General Session Keynote at 3:30. The speaker for the Keynote was amazing - Amanda Ripley chronicled multiple student stories into one thread about how we can, need to, and must change how we approach education. At the end of the evening, our team headed home and reconvened for the following day.

Day two at ACSA was even more frustrating from a session scheduling standpoint. After a morning session at 8:30 am on Design Thinking by @mrbprincipal, our team mapped out the remainder of our day. After the day's General Session Keynote at 10 am, there were no more sessions until 3 pm. This time gap led to much frustration in our group as we wanted to receive professional development during this time but instead were forced to spend time walking around San Jose. For the final session at 3 pm, there were just a few relevant selections and I chose poorly. Stuck in a session for the next 90 minutes, I had time to rescan Twitter for any updated tweets with hashtags from the weekend. Perhaps not surprisingly, there were only a few dozen tweets for the entire conference at this point. To a connected educator, this felt like a missed opportunity to experience additional professional growth and collaboration. After the last session, no one is our party felt interested in attending the evening's dinner event. Truthfully, the lack of energy and excitement about the days' events led to these decisions -- "ho hum" could sum up the feedback I received from the eight other school members I invited to attend.

Looking ahead, I realize that I need to be more selective in the conferences we attend as a staff. Sessions need to be shorter with more on-topic discussions. Choice and Collaboration are two of the most important elements of a successful professional development opportunity. In this day and age, conferences I attend that don't have a large social media connection via Twitter feel like I'm stuck in prehistoric times. While I realize the clientele between an EdSurge and ACSA conference pulls from two, only-sometimes overlapping parties, it's the responsibility of older, more established conferences to energize their experience for true 21st century learning. Without these changes, I see a lot of time spent at EdSurge and EdCamp conferences with the decision to forgo other seemingly out-of-date opportunities.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Thinking about Design Thinking for the First Time

At the recent ACSA conference, I attended two professional development sessions on the topic of Design Thinking. Prior to this forum, my experience with Design Thinking had been limited. As a principal in the Bay Area, I know of more than just a few schools beginning to implement elements of Design Thinking into their students' daily experience. Still, as someone new to the concept, I was looking forward to an introduction to these concepts and determining if it was something worthwhile to bring to our school campus. After attending both sessions with a cadre of fellow educators, the question isn't whether or not to bring Design Thinking to our campus but instead how and when.

At our first session, two educators (Alyssa Gallagher and Kami Thordarson)  from nearby Los Altos introduced the concept of how to encourage students to be designers of their own learning. They began with an introduction to Design Thinking, highlighting how student voice is something overlooked in today's schools. The presenters shared the five steps of Design Thinking, beginning with Empathy.

  1. Empathy is the first step to understanding the problem and remaining open with a good bit of curiosity to find solutions. 
  2. Define was next - and this is where you need to start opening your mind to to unique solutions and answers. One needs to get into the heads of the eventual users with layers of context and meaningfulness embedded. 
  3. From there, what I think is the most crucial step occurs: Ideate. Here, you take what you've begun to mentally build and start deciding what it is you want to create. It can be as simple as a list of ideas with every answer being considered. I see the Ideate step as a very inclusive step that builds upon the Empathy and Define steps from earlier. The last two steps overlap somewhat: Prototype and Test
  4. In Prototype, the team shares out the ideas as quickly and briefly as possible with the understanding that everything here is a rough draft. 
  5. Ending in Test, the final products and/or ideas are presented and more discussion is held. Test isn't necessarily the ending as there is a natural healthy cycle to the Design Thinking model.

As with most dynamic presentations, our table of four (three teachers from our school plus me!) didn't just sit for the duration of the session and instead were challenged to find ways to provide our students to have more voice at our school. We started relatively slow with the process, something that the presenters hinted may happen. Given the opportunity to build upon the ideas of our peers, we started to brainstorm idea after idea. Here's a sample listing:

  • Why don't we have video announcements at our school?
  • Could students design professional development for our teachers?
  • What do our students want their electives to be? Shouldn't we survey them ahead of time?
  • How can we get our students more involved in community service projects?
  • What is the best way to have our students show their academic and social growth of their years at our school?
Our team left the session energized and excited to implement many of these ideas. Even more so, our interest in Design Thinking was piqued -- how can we try these kinds of activities with our staff and students?

Fast forward to the following morning where more of our team participated in our second introduction to Design Thinking, this time led by a team of educators from Menlo Park including the reigning California Midd School Principal of the Year, Erik Burmeister. The Menlo Park team began with an overview of Design Thinking ("a proven an repeatable problem-solving protocol that any business or profession can employ to achieve extraordinary results" per Fast Company) and shared their involvement therein over the past few years. Menlo Park has worked closely with the Stanford D School and have led parent informational nights on the topic. They explained how Design Thinking worked for them and how it could work for our school. Next, it was our time to experiment with an activity of our own -- and this led to the most fun of the entire conference.

I was working with my fellow school educators with instructions to build "an area of play" in response to the needs presented via video from three middle school students. Again, the process began slowly as we were unsure of how to best incorporate all of the requests into our cardboard design. At this point, we were told to introduce at least one item worth more than a million dollars to our project. We paused. Were they serious? What's the point of adding something that we weren't going to be able to produce? And that's when it became obvious how Design Thinking works: You need to list every possible solution you can think of regardless of available funds, location limits, or collective abilities. This is your time to stretch your way of thinking and to explore those ideas that were always the first to be easily dismissed. Our team, after the initial shock had worn off, began to add creative, even silly, elements to our structure. A "water elevator" was built and the building's sun roof could also serve as a trampoline. Upon completion, our group seemed to exhibit pride in our work despite our design resembling something a passerby would deem as foolish. Together, however, we worked as a team, building upon each other's ideas, to construct what we felt was the best "area of play" in the room. Mission accomplished!

What's most impressive of the work Menlo Park is doing with Design Thinking is their planned schedule for later this early Spring. For one week, Menlo Park shared that they're suspending their classes and instead allowing their students to choose their area of study. Perhaps they'll choose rock climbing or photography or how to effectively coach a football team. The key element here is how they're allowing students to drive the selection of activities; the students themselves are in charge of their own learning. This is Design Thinking in its purest form and I'm looking forward to hearing the student responses to the experience.

Our next steps as a school community is to continue to introduce more staff members to the concept of Design Thinking. From there, we'll explore how we can adapt the concepts into our daily school practices. It's also very likely that our staff will spend time creating their own "area of play" during an upcoming staff collaboration time. To me, Design Thinking just makes sense. As educators, we are always looking for how to best encourage and support our students. With the upcoming shift to Common Core standards, there will be a need to have our students share and experiment with their ideas, to be able to not only defend their work but also creatively adapt changes into their parameters. With Design Thinking, our students can accomplish these goals by actively becoming involved in their own education.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Trust Your First Impression

Sometimes, your first reaction to a person, experience, or event is the right reaction. I've often shared with my colleagues that "you'll know" within the first few moments of an interview whether or not you can see the interviewee as a member of your team. It's not just one thing; it can be their smile, their energy, their personality, or how they engage the panel. So far in my decade of administration, my first reaction has almost always been the right reaction when it comes to the interviewing process. What those new to administration may not realize is that the same theory applies to your first few impressions of your new school.

It is not uncommon for administrators to spend just a few years at one school before moving on and exploring new opportunities. At my first administrative placement, the middle school had experienced eight (!) principals in eleven years. Two of the principals from this school didn't even last through their first year. This school has just as many assistant principals over that time period. This trend has continued since my departure as they're on their fourth acting principal in three years. Given similar practices throughout many other schools, you will, as an administrator, have many "first reactions" to a variety of schools and situations. My last two "first reactions" have been very telling to the school experience and community support I later encountered.

Immediately, during my first week as an administrator at a previous school site, there was an odd buzz across the campus. There seemed to be a slight distrust of the administration by the student body. I had walked into what turned out to be a schism of ethical decisions on how to best support the educational and social growth of our students between the staff and the local community. I felt that I had walked into a difficult situation that would take much work to build and hopefully repair what had happened prior to my arrival. Personally, I had an ethical dilemma on how to address what felt like an out-of-control student body. In fact, I was tested by a first week experience that served as my "first reaction" to this new administrative opportunity.

It was the first Friday of the school year. After a relatively quiet first Friday, I headed home to begin the weekend. As I departed campus, I saw no less than a dozen students atop a nearby bridge throwing water balloons and eggs, some of which were frozen and hard as rocks, at freshman students as they rode the bikes home below the bridge. It turns out that this Junior and Senior class believed in a "tradition" where freshmen would be hazed on the first Friday of the school year. I pulled over and approached the bridge to stop the poor behavior. Students, upon seeing my arrival, ran in dozens of directions. A few of the students remained but denied any responsibility despite my and other eyewitness accounts of their behavior. A few students later bragged about their behavior on social media. An even worse hazing incident happened elsewhere off campus and involved an assault and battery on a middle school 7th grader. This didn't feel like a school community; it felt like something out of the last few chapters of Lord of the Flies.

It was at that moment that I realized that this was not a school community that matched my core values and that would challenge our administrative team daily. While I championed positive change and improved student choices over the next two years, I knew almost immediately via my first reaction on that first Friday that this was not a school, at least not at that time, that I wanted to spend my days. Truthfully, there is little doubt that the decision to venture elsewhere was the right choice, having landed at my current school site and all of the positives therein I experience on a daily basis.

At my current school site, my first week of school was nothing short of amazing. Students went out of their way to introduce themselves to me. There seemed to be a lot of instant trust and communication from the staff. The front office team was supportive and liked to spend their days in a middle school environment. Later on in the month, at one of my first discipline meetings with a parent regarding their student, the parent thanked me after our conversation, proud of how well I handled his student and the situation, and said they agreed 100% with the discipline result. Over the past four years, I've experienced many more moments like these first few days at our school. It was a staggering change from my previous administrative appointment and one that I welcomed wholeheartedly.

Sometimes, things can change for the better throughout a challenging situation but I'm a strong believer in trusting your first impression. I wouldn't take back those years at the challenging school site as that time has helped refocus my core beliefs in how I support all students and address difficult discipline incidents. That said, once you find the "right fit" for your administrative home, you'll experience many moments that mirror your positive first reaction. For me, every single day at my current site has dozens of moments that leave me smiling and appreciative to be able to spend my waking hours with our students, staff, and community. Similar opportunities are out there; you just have to trust your first impressions.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"School Daily" - Why I Blog

Everyone has a different reason behind their decision to start a blog. Some may see their blog as a chance to communicate with distant family members or long-lost friends. Others may see blogging as a chance to make their imprint on worldly topics and current events. A close colleague is soon to begin their blog on 21st century education and what it looks like for today's students, parents, and educators. We all have our own slant on the purpose of our individual blogs. For me, it came down to three main elements of why I try to write a "school daily" blog ("school daily" = when there is school, I blog.)

First, writing a blog has become my opportunity to share thoughts with my past and current colleagues, to provide support to new or aspiring administrators, and to allow our parent community and middle school students a brief look into the mind of their school principal. Since joining Twitter, I've discovered an outpouring of articles and blog entries, many of which I to share out with my colleagues but filtered through my own lens. Blogging is just one way for me to process through past issues, current topics, and future ideas. I do believe that my decision to write may inspire fellow staff members and administrative colleagues to share their story through their own blog. They, in turn, will encourage others to follow in their footsteps, each individual telling their story and adding to our educational community.

My blog has also allowed for me to share what I believe to be practical stories for current and aspiring administrators. I've found that while I truly enjoyed my administrative classes en route to receiving my masters in administration, I didn't receive the "real world" vision into what being a school site administrator truly was, the "day in and day out" of the job. I still think, even in year nine of my administrative career, that I'm learning how to best handle many of the out of the ordinary events that occur daily at a middle school. Being able to provide future principals with a quick glance into our daily happenings and an overview of what they'll encounter as an administrator is something that I wish I had during my transition out of the classroom and into the front office. I intentionally blog only about the daily, practical events that they'll experience; we have so many experts working at the 20,000 ft level -- I'll leave the much needed recommendations for our nation's education policy to them.

The third reason I blog is not why I first began to write but instead why I'm continuing to share my thoughts: I've found a love of writing that I didn't even know I had. I will fully admit that I'm not the most talented writer. I am definitely a "math guy" and seem to spend more of my moments in middle school math classes, enjoying the topics and chiming in with the class (perhaps more than I should) when we're discussing the distributive property. Among my colleagues, I even often joke about my intentional style of "writing at the 8th grade level" so as to make my thoughts and experiences accessible to as large of community as possible. While I could transcribe diatribes that establish a metacognitive understanding of my professional tribulations, I've found that speaking directly to the average 8th grader, even if the reader has progressively advanced past that education level, allows for a common ground to reflect on the blog and for the reading community to collaborate.

I will admit that writing a blog is akin to taking a substantial, professional risk. You are telling your story, but your words can and will be taken out of context in our digital world. I'm hopeful that my blogging is seen as useful for my fellow and future administrative colleagues, as read-worthy by our student and parent community, and continues to be a positive outlet to process and document the stories from my days in school administration. I encourage you, the reader, to consider starting a blog as well. You never know -- you may find yourself writing on every school day as well.

(As always, comments are welcome... feel free to share your story why you blog <or don't> as well.)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Professional vs. Personal: The Balance of Time

As a secondary school administrator, many of my weekday nights are filled with board meetings, Home and School Club meetings, and various other school events. Truthfully, many of these events are very valuable to attend, whether it's the community-building school-wide fundraiser or the silliness of our school dances. It's a blessing to meet with fellow district personnel and school community members outside of the normal school day and have honest, open discussions about all things in the education realm. The opportunity to make these personal connections is a huge part of the vision and presence my fellow school administrators have set in the past for my school site and something that I, as the principal, have tried to continue. With all of these additional night events, it can be a challenge to balance one's professional life with one's personal time. Thus, when the opportunity to spend eight hours on a Saturday at a local technology conference arose, it was with much pause that I explored the possibility.

The conference was titled EdSurge Tech for Schools Summit: Silicon Valley with the intent to "getting educators and entrepreneurs together for a day of hands-on edtech." One of my former colleagues had sent me the link for the day-long conference and encouraged me to sign up to attend with them. Likewise, I share the idea of the conference with a staff member who was currently testing out some of the very same concepts in their classroom. While the conference itself sounded valuable, the challenge as an occasionally scheduled-filled site administrator was the concept of giving up a Saturday with my daughters (and the weekly Saturday morning Costco trip we took) and instead replacing the father-daughters time with more professional growth and work events. However, over the next 24 hours, the positives of the conference started to take hold.

And so I began to make a mental list of "why I should go to the conference" and came up with seven key reasons:

  1. The event was free - as silly as this sounds, I wasn't costing the school any funds and since it was on a Saturday, I wasn't missing any work;
  2. Many of the educators I follow on twitter would be attending this (or have attended like) event(s);
  3. There was a promise of a decent lunch (yes, food motivated);
  4. Many of the companies who would be presenting at the conference were curriculum products and classroom tools that I had previous interest in and wanted to learn more about (with the companies selected from a panel that included my former journalism teacher and one of my former middle school principals during my classroom days);
  5. The event was an opportunity to network with both my former colleague and other like-minded educators;
  6. The commute was just 10 minutes, door to door;
  7. And perhaps most importantly, if I were an educator at a Bay Area Middle School, would I want to work with a principal who had taken the time on a Saturday to research innovative classroom products? Is this a quality that I would like to see in someone I needed to rely on to help support my efforts in the classroom and my own professional growth? I asked myself, how can I best support my staff and share new ideas when I'm not availing myself to these opportunities to learn more about the specific products?

And I'm happy to say that it was the right decision. I felt that I saw numerous educational innovations that our staff can implement within 24 hours and already improve upon the amazing student learning taking place in their classrooms. The staff member who attended the summit walked away with a Google doc summary of all of the companies and their products; they've actually already added me to a "test class" for one of the classroom tools they discovered! I networked with numerous other educators through twitter throughout the event, discovered amazing blogs and feeds that I would not have had logical access to otherwise. All in all, it was a very worthwhile event and I'm already looking forward to the next opportunity to experience it all over again.

(and for those of you concerned about the lack of a Costco trip that weekend, my daughters and I were fortunate to be able to sneak out of the house that evening for our weekly departure to Costco land. It was a good day.)

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