Creating a Perfect PLC…

to-get-to-that-next-level-you-gotta-learn-to-get-comfortable-being-uncomfortable-quote-1PLCs have been a part of my professional learning and growth for years. I have experienced it as a teacher, a team leader, an instructional coach and now as a campus administrator. I have seen it from the implementation phase to fully involved.

A question that was recently posed with a learning team I am a part of was, are the systems and structures we have or do not have in place limit the progress and authenticity that PLCs are meant to produce with learning and collaborative efficacy?

The learning team reflected and asked how much of PLCs should be directed and clearly defined by administration and how much should be guided and directed by the teacher team?

Much like we have learned that our students need differentiation with instruction and the way they share their learning, teachers need it in the structures and systems they have within their PLCs.

Teachers, curriculum writers and administrators agree that the conversations and data discussed is different in Kindergarten through second grade teams compared to third through fifth grade teams. There is a concrete area that differentiation is needed. The other is based on the needs of team.

It takes time both for the administrator and the teams to determine where they are as a team in the process of becoming high performing (Stages of Team Formation). Then each team’s PLC structures and systems would be designed in such a way that there is a gradual release of responsibility in communication, planning, lesson sharing, data analysis, and collective professional learning.

It is a delicate balance for administrators to know when we need to say something and when they can attain the learning on their own. A fellow colleague recently commented on this stating “If we say something teachers can get on their their own… why are we saying it?” It is, with the work together as educators (teachers and administrators), we find a place for each team between accountability and autonomy.

We have amazing teacher leaders in every place you look in education. Every educator should see themselves as a leader both for the students they have in their classrooms, but also within their own teams and beyond.

When our learning team met it was a mix of both classroom educators, campus administrators, curriculum directors and district administrators. The most powerful thoughts and reflections came from our classroom educators… what resonated was how excited they were to be with the learning team, to meet other educators that were so deeply passionate about teaching, learning and their students.  As one teacher stated, “We desire to be with others that think at the same level as we are.”

Reflecting on Theories of ActionThat left me pondering… how do we differentiate learning both in PLCs and individually for our teachers? How can we provide systems and structures that allow purposeful PLCs to occur instead of limit progression due to too many constraints or not enough guidelines?

The questions (taken from the book The Transformative Power of Collective Inquiry: Realizing Change in Schools and Classrooms by Donohoo and Velasco p. 104) to the right are designed to evaluate Theories of Action, but also can be used to evaluate the present state of team’s PLCs and help move forward with next steps.

As we move toward the end of the 2017-18 school year, reflect on our progress and the areas we hope to see more growth in the 2018-19 year, what are the systems and structures that best move your campus, teams, teachers and students forward… what systems and structures (or lack of) could be limiting your progress?

Citations:
Donohoo, Jenni, and Moses Velasco. The Transformative Power of Collective Inquiry: Realizing Change in Schools and Classrooms. Corwin, 2016
mind tools, team. “Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing: Understanding the Stages of Team Formation.” From MindTools.com, Mind Tools, http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_86.htm.
“To Get to That next Level, You Gotta Learn to Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable.” PictureQuotes.com, http://www.picturequotes.com/to-get-to-that-next-level-you-gotta-learn-to-get-comfortable-being-uncomfortable-quote-258304.
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How Do You Choose to be Brave?

Shortly after I posted “My ‘One Word’ for 2018” the tragedy of Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida occurred. I thought of the bravery of the students, staff and first responders on that day. I thought of the bravery of parents who patiently waited for news of their child. I thought of the bravery of the counselors who consoled the students and faculty in the aftermath.

What I didn’t see as brave is the multitude of social media posts that point fingers and apply blame. We have had an epidemic on our hands for over a century. Our children for over a century have been less important than the blame and rhetoric that seems to fill our media. If our children were truly the priority it wouldn’t be about gun control, or poor parenting, or the moral decline of our society. It would be about resources being allocated to best serve our children. Prioritizing services to provide resource officers trained to deal with the variety of threats that may come into our children’s schools. Please remember, this last one was another student, but many times it is not. Often times the violence isn’t with a gun… look at the recent tragedy in China.

It is time we stop blaming poor parenting, guns, schools, and most of all children. The following was posted on a fellow friend’s Facebook feed:
shooting

I responded with the following: “There has been documented school violence for over 100 years. What is not told is that more violent acts are prevented that happen now than before gun laws were in place. Unfortunately, violence happens without guns too, but the media only focuses on guns. Our focus should be on keeping our children safe and how we can address mental illness. Until the rhetoric changes and the argument is focused on something else other than our children nothing will change.

Children with mental illness are suffering while we debate over guns. Educators are doing everything within their means and beyond to meet the needs of children and families with limited or no resources and little training to address concerns of mental illness and safety. As stated in my response above until our focus and priority both in funding and rhetoric changes, nothing will truly change.

Blog bost from Travis Jordan about every childI will not tell a parent that it is their parenting that failed us. I will not tell students that it is the moral decline of their generation that has failed us. I will not tell a student who has experienced great difficulties mentally, physically or emotionally that more gun control can alleviate their challenges. I will not tell a teacher that it is up to them entirely to ensure that they solely can prevent another atrocity like this or that the answer is that they carry a weapon on school grounds. I will not place blame on our counselors or expect myself or my fellow administrators to think less like an educator that presumes positive intent, and instead, assumes worst case scenario.

What I can do is what was so eloquently stated by a fellow Professional Learning Network colleague, Travis Jordan (@Supt_Jordan) in a tweet he shared the Sunday after the horrific event in Florida.

This is how I believe being brave can make a difference. This is how I can help the students be brave, the staff be brave, the first responders be brave and the parents be brave. I refuse to blame. I choose to be brave.

 

My “One Word” for 2018

I thought long and hard about this word. I knew this word would be my word, but, honestly I didn’t want to admit it. It was a word that I kept denying was my word… until after my family determined our “One Word,” EMBRACE, and that word told me I couldn’t escape the word. (You can read more about my the Wilson Family’s “One Word” on my family blog “The Wilson Family Stories from Razorback Ranch.”)

brave memeMy word is “BRAVE.”

Defined by vocabulary.com, brave means “Courageous, dauntless, perhaps a little bit daring, a person who is brave faces dangerous or difficult situations with courage.”

While most situations I face are not, in relation to truly serious matters, dangerous and most of the time not that difficult, it does require courage to live a life that positively impacts the world around me.

I know that part of that is being brave with my words that I write. I love to share  through blogging, but I often rationalize why I shouldn’t write. Yet the words that are never shared still burn in my mind and on my heart. Ideas, experiences, reflections, questions and wonderings, So I move forward, giving my words voice, and bravely share. share your storyThat is one way I will be brave.

So what will it mean to EMBRACE being BRAVE beyond writing?

-Invest deeply in others.

-Trust my instincts.

-Trust others.

-Take risks and don’t fear failure.

-Share my story.

-Embrace the unknown.

-Be rooted and unwavering in my faith.

-Be present.

-Do what’s right with every opportunity put in front of me.

This word, BRAVE, as I had previously stated, I didn’t want as my “One Word.” It pursued me, haunted me and I relented only when our family “One Word” EMBRACE pointed me right back to it. To be honest I was embarrassed to admit that I am not brave, and most often I stop myself from doing what I know God is urging my heart to act on or pursue because I am afraid of what others may think. Hence the delay to post this until mid-February, long after the “One Word” time frame to share has passed.

This word, what it represents and what it will push me towards is frightening. However, if I am going to live a life that inspires others, I will EMBRACE the many ways life will challenge me to be BRAVE.

 

 

 

 

 

The Dance of Change and Progress

dont rushIn the process of change and progress there are moments of celebration and times of distress. Too much change within the systems, its supports and the expectations can take a toll. Learning how to effectively lead and support through the dance of change and progress is a dance that requires expertise, understanding and awareness.

Often the struggle is in seeing the potential in the change and progress that can happen, and pushing for that change and progress when those joining in the journey don’t yet have the same view.

How can a team move forward in a positive way to do the dance of change and progress TOGETHER?

I have been reflecting on my own practices to improve my approach in supporting my team as we earnestly work through the challenges that come with change and progress. There are three areas I have determined must be present in my own mindset if I am going to best serve my team:

  1. We ARE moving forward… be PATIENT
    • Keep focused on the work at hand- the harvest will come
    • Don’t worry about the pace of the progress and change- when you reach it, however long it takes, it will be worth it
    • There are seasons of life, and things out of our control; trust your team and be optimistic
  2. Be POSITIVE
    • Don’t complain or look for what isn’t done; focus on what is done well
    • Be intentional in your work/relationships; keep silent and let the work and others speak to the progress being made
    • Keep a perpetually optimistic outlook- perspective is everything
  3. Be TRUE
    • Trust the process and your team
    • Live with integrity- build, foster and maintain trust with your team

I realize that the points mentioned are not new, nor something that is unique. However, it is something I needed to reflect upon and humbly share with others. My hope is that I improve the dance I am doing with my team and through patience, positivity and truth effectively support them in their process of change and progress.

How is your team doing the dance of change and progress with you?

Restoration of my Blog…

blog about starting again prof blogSince moving from a Instructional Technology Specialist to a campus based instructional coach and now an Elementary Assistant Principal, I have struggled with writing blog posts. It isn’t so much about the content, but where the ideas come for the content.

In my current position, and the last position as a campus based instructional coach, building trust with the educators on my campus as well as parents and students is critical. It is in those very relationships and experiences that ideas and stories result that would inspire by blog posts. Hence my conflict. I am concerned that in my efforts to share the stories and experiences through blog posts I could compromise the trust that these relationships are built upon. So, the last few years I have often opted not to write.

However, writing is how I process and reflect. It’s where the greatest ideas happen and the fine tuning of my own practices benefit. Knowing this need and conflict, I become paralyzed. I am actively working to figure out how to move forward, write, reflect and restore my blog process.

For those of you that have followed me and been patient with me in the interim, I thank you. For those just now joining my blog journey, I am trying an approach that will keep me consistent. It will be simple, short and perhaps a little unrefined.

Our campus has been working as a group of educators to be transparent in our work as we move toward authentic collective efficacy, and I would not be living by the expectations of our campus if I did not demonstrate that same transparency in my own work.

Share your thoughts, reflections and ideas on how you transparently share stories and reflections in your experiences, while protecting the relationships/trust built in your community of educators.

 

What Does Failing Forward Mean?

Recently at a social event a person quizzically stated to me, “I bet you are glad to see the school  year almost over.”

I hesitated and then responded, “I feel like there is so much I still want to do that I thought I would have already accomplished. So I guess I am a little sad. I can’t believe the end of my first year as an assistant principal is already here. Now I have a lot of goals for next year!”

Aside from the fact that I love being at school and with students and teachers and never long for the end of a year or saying goodbye to students. I also see the deadline coming for meeting goals I have set for myself, for my campus, for my teachers and for my students. If I was within reach of the goals I set… the end of the school year would be a punctuation of celebration. However, for me it is not quite that.

learning

Couros, George. “What Success (and Learning) Really Looks Like.” The Principal of Change. N.p., 16 Jan. 2016. Web. 02 May 2017.

This year hasn’t been so much about a gentle forward move on a line of progression toward growth, but an awkward series of stops and starts due to the learning curve that comes with being in a new position. I will say every experience I have learned something. I have grown, maybe not in the direction of the goals I have set, but still I have grown… by leaps and bounds, on my own and with the support of others.

A conversation that happened around the first of March with a mentor has stuck with me. I was in the midst of a large task that required decisions where there wasn’t a clear right or wrong/ yes or no. I had to determine what I thought was best. I asked for my mentor’s input.

My mentor replied,”You are going to have to make this decision for yourself.”

I pleaded, “I want your opinion.”

“You are going to make this decision. And if you fail, fail forward.”

At the time I was frustrated by this response. I wanted to have assurance that the decision I was making was right. I did not want failure to be a remote possibility.

There have been many decisions before that, and many since that conversation. Not every situation presented the opportunity to fail forward, but each one has helped me grow, strengthened me, and sharpened my focus as a leader.

As I reflect back at the year, I note where I have fallen short in reaching the goals I have set for myself. I choose to see the failure in reaching the goals I had set for myself as an opportunity to fail forward. Failing forward is what drives the goals for the upcoming year. It is in the failing forward I grab for what is most important and utilize that to sharpen my focus, be purposeful in my plan and lead with even more intention.fail forward quote

I do not long for the year to come to an end.  At the same time, I am eagerly looking forward to the next year, knowing I will fail again, but failing forward with grace, strength and the support of those around me.

I am no longer under the illusion that growth happens on a gentle forward moving line of progression. Rather, growth is a beautiful yet awful mix of stops, starts, crawls, runs, trips and stumbles that all move us forward. I look forward to failing forward.

How do you define failing forward? How does failing forward define your growth and goals?

Relevance, Rigor and Research #TCEA17

Last week myself and Sue Fitzgerald (the library-media specialist at Pike Middle School- where I previously served as a Campus Instructional Coach) and I presented on an instructional collaboration we had designed together for our students and 6th Grade World Geography and Technology Apps teachers in 2015-16 at TCEA 2017 in Austin, Texas.

The title of our presentation was “Designing Relevance, Rigor and Research.” As we prepared and then presented, I was struck by what happens when good professional learning (through training with the International Center for Leadership in Education), a recognition for a need for change in instructional approach and a collaboration between educators with experiences and complimentary skills creates a framework experience for students that transforms learning.

Here is the result of the collaboration and presentation:

Sue and I are no longer on the same campus. However the desire to collaborate, create and transform learning still drives us both. There is nothing more rewarding than to create opportunities that drive student learning deeper and makes it more meaningful.

So I am faced with a new challenge… to find others where I am now, in my role as an Elementary Assistant Principal, to do the same collaboration and creating. Change is inevitable, whether it be creating the change or being thrust into it. However, change doesn’t take away our passions and our drive to continue to learn, strive for continuous improvement and collaborate with others.

I know that Sue will continue to create opportunities for her students on her campus, and I hope to do the same. Preparing to present “Designing Rigor, Relevance and Research” reminded me of that part of me… that part that seeks to find opportunity to take instruction and learning to the next level, the part that loves to create innovative learning experiences that spring board from my own new learning, and the part of me that loves to collaborate and co-create. Hattie talks about collective teacher efficacy… there is nothing like it. And why not do it? Research has proven that collective teacher efficacy beliefs “contribute significantly to the school’s level of academic success.”

Originally, change was what I was hoping to cause, now change is challenging me to action. What is change in your learning environment? Are you the cause for change or is change the cause for your action?

Donohoo, Author: Jenni, Author: Elise Foster, Author: Tom Hierck and Garth Larson, Author: Thomas R. Guskey, Author: Stephen Johnson, and Author: Jessica Allan and Nicole Franks. “Fostering Collective Teacher Efficacy: Three Enabling Conditions.” Corwin Connect. Corwin Press, 29 Nov. 2016. Web. 14 Feb. 2017.