Friday, September 1, 2017

The "Night Before School" Walk

Teachers work hard.  No, they really do.  And, they care!  The walk through that I just did, confirms that.

You see, as principal, something I've done every year is walk the halls on the night before the doors open to our students.  It's the only time, all year, that the building is empty and you can truly see all of the hard work that teachers have put in to ensure a great start to the school year.  Personalities are on display and hopes and dreams for the year are visible.

This evening, as I popped from one classroom to another, I took notice of the classroom libraries, the little notes left on the desks for when the students arrive, the perfectly crafted message on the the board, and the words of encouragement posted throughout classrooms.  Amazing.

This week, teachers have been bouncing between meetings and work in their classrooms.  As an admin team, we worked really hard to strike a balance between the "need to know" information at the start of the year with the "work time" teachers needed in their classrooms.  Every teacher can tell you that even in the meetings that we have, they're still adding to their to-do list of things they want ready for the 1st day of school.  All they want is time in their classrooms.  They are intent on making a great first impression for students and families and want to ensure they have a welcoming, encouraging environment to kick of the year.  This year, the teachers here knocked it out of the ballpark.

The thought, effort and care that teachers put in at the start of the year is truly admirable.  I encourage all principals to take the "night before school" walk.  It helps put things into perspective for you and remind you of how awesome the staff you work with truly are.

Cheers to a great start to the school year!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The 4 O'Clock Faculty - Summer Reading

This summer, I had a number of books on my reading list that I selected in preparation for the upcoming school year.  While in the midst of a few other books, a new release, The 4 O'Clock Faculty: A Rouge Guide to Revolutionizing Professional Development came across my Twitter Feed.  Knowing I wanted fresh ideas for staff meetings, professional development and motivating staff, I immediately purchased it.  Thanks to Amazon, it showed up in my mailbox in just a few days.  Teachers return to campus in just one week and needing inspiration for our upcoming meetings, I put the other books aside and moved this book to the top of my list.  I'm sorry I did.  It wasn't horrible, but I finished the book with very little in terms of ideas and inspiration.  A majority of the tips the author gives for "revolutionizing" professional develop were all tips I've either heard of, or took part in.

That being said, there were a few nuggets that I found useful and will consider implementing this year:

  • Genius Hour - I'm very familiar with the idea of Genius Hour and have worked with a former staff to successfully implement it into our weekly schedules.  However, the author suggests extending this idea to our staff/faculty meetings.  I've never thought of this!  He states, "allow your school's educators to engage in whatever activities they find stimulating and challenging.  The only rule? The work they choose must directly benefit the students."  I'm giving this one a try!  
  • FedEx Day - The author credits Daniel Pink for this idea.  Simply put, you give teachers 24 hours to work on a project, anything they want to work on.  The only caveat is that teachers have to share what they created with colleagues twenty-four hours later (which he states is just like FedEx).
  • #CoffeeEDU - Similar to the idea of an EdCamp, but on a much smaller scale.  Here, the idea is that you choose a local coffee establishment, set a date and time, and then invite educators to join for some reach discussion about education topics.  You can find events in your area by searching Twitter for #CoffeeEDU. 


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The 500 Classroom Challenge

The first year of a principalship at a new school can be incredibly challenging.  It is almost as if you are jumping onto a fast-moving train that can't be stopped.  As a principal, I feel an incredible sense of urgency knowing that the work we do in schools can impact students (both in a positive and negative way).  There is no time to stop the train when you are considering the limited amount of time we actually have with students.  Not a minute can be wasted.  I've learned that new principals have to roll up their sleeves and jump right in.  It is our responsibility to simultaneously learn about the school's practices and cultures while looking for opportunities for improvement.  It is a delicate task that can't be taken lightly.  So where do we begin?

I've decided to kick off the year by taking the 500 Classroom Challenge proposed by Justin Baeder at The Principal Center.  He firmly believes in the impact principals can make when we root our work in habits that allow us to be the instructional leaders we all hoped we'd be.  The first step in being an instructional leader is actually getting into classrooms.  Justin is pretty straight-forward when he says we need to give up trying to get into classrooms, and actually make it happen.  By getting into classrooms we are better equipped to providing meaningful feedback to teachers that has true potential in impacting student learning  Beyond feedback, our classroom visits will also allow us to have access to information that can assist us questions or problems that come up throughout the day.  We become "in the know."

Justin offers a number of practical tips that will help us get into classrooms more often We've all heard over and over that one of the keys to goal setting is sharing your goals with others to give us a sense of accountability.  It is incredibly motivating to know that others around you know that you are on a journey.  It is easy to let yourself down, but letting others down is a little bit more difficult.  So, I've made it a point to share this goal with staff by sending out the following e-mail at the start of the year:

Good morning,

I wanted to share with everyone that I've accepted the 21 Day Instructional Leadership Challenge.  This challenge, promoted by The Principal Center, is intended for me to keep the "Instructional Leadership" portion of my job at the forefront.  As a part of this challenge, I will be visiting a number of classrooms each day with the hopes of visiting 500 classrooms by the end of the school year (doesn't sound too bad, right?).  When I come in, I'll be providing you with feedback through e-mail which, for the most part, will include things I've noticed and perhaps a question or two.  I'd like to be as transparent in this process as possible, with no hidden agenda.  Just as you are working on providing meaningful feedback to your students, I'd like to do the same with you.  If you ever have any questions or concerns, don't hesitate to stop by.

Have a great day! 

However, I know that I can't stop there.  I've spoken with my school's director about this goal and asked him to help keep me focused on it during my weekly meetings with him and, as of this morning, I've officially let the parent community know I've taken part in this challenge as well.  I'm very honest with everyone and communicate that this is a lofty goal and I ask them for their support.  I told parents this morning to stop me next time they see me and ask me, "hey, how's that 500 classroom challenge going?"

It is no secret that I can be a bit competitive.  I don't like loosing, and I especially don't like loosing when I know I have a children's' educational experience at stake.  I truly believe that this challenge, with the support of those around me (including Justin's), will motivate me to do what I need to be doing every day at school.  Perhaps the challenge will work for you?

It's time for me to get into a classroom!

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Technology Focus Group

It has been an amazing start to the school year.  I've been incredibly impressed with the caliber of both the students and staff.  There has been a lot of deliberate work over the last few years in the areas of curriculum planning and development and it shows.  Now, one of the areas I'd like to focus on is how to take this strong foundation and begin to look at it through a lense of innovation.  George Curous, in his book, The Innovator's Mindset, states that innovation comes to fruition when we begin to ask ourselves "what is best for this learner" and begin to question why we do what we do.  Coupled with this idea, I know that the use of technology to enhance instruction can be really powerful, only when we have a strong curriculum in place.  I believe we are there, now it is time to look at next steps.

Currently the school has a BYOD program at the middle and high school level, and has a 1:2 model for the use of iPads at the elementary level.  However, in the first full month of school I'm seeing less technology use than expected.  I've learned that a number of staff members have come to the school after having successfully taught in a 1:1 environment and with such a strong base, I began to wonder why I wasn't seeing more.  So, in order to truly understand the perspective of teachers, I offered a free lunch to teachers in return for their participation in a technology focus group.  Over half of the staff attended, with a good balance of both new and veteran teachers.  Questions I asked included:
  • What is getting in your way of using technology to its fullest?
  • Are there any improvements that need to be made to the technology infrastructure that would make your experience more positive?
  • What kinds of PD have you found helpful in the past and how would you like PD to be structured in the future?
  • What are some ways you've used technology in your lessons that you've been really proud of?
Throughout the discussion, I was impressed with the thought that the teachers gave to the questions and it was clear that there was consensus among those in the room that they want to do more.  In summary, I learned the following:

  • Teachers needed the technology to function properly.  It is frustrating to take a risk with technology during a lesson, only to find out that the device won't turn on or has error messages.  When this happens over and over again, teachers simply give up, knowing that time is of the essence.  
  • Teachers who are skeptical of the use of technology in education need concrete examples of ways it can enhance learning.  They are weary of technology being something flashy and not contributing to the overall quality of a lesson.
  • There are pockets of innovation and technology use in the building.  We need to learn from these teachers and showcase what it being done.
  • Those who moved from a 1:1 program to our current 1:2 program found it difficult to wrap their minds around how to use technology when only half of their class had access to it.
  • Teachers value "real time" professional development and like the support of instructional coaches when using a new app or program.  Having a partner there to support the launch is helpful.
  • Teachers would appreciate help with navigating apps and programs that can be used cross-curricular, as well as accompanying professional development.   They recognize that it can become overwhelming to learn how to use so many apps that only have a specific purpose.  
All in all, none of these responses surprised me and I'm willing to bet that they are pretty typical of teachers anywhere.  I think the lesson learned is that an institution has to be prepared with a lot of background work and support before launching a technology initiative.  Teachers are ready to take the risks, but ask for thoughtful implementation.        

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Interview

The Interview.  This is one of the things that many of my colleagues from the States wanted to know about.  What was it like?  Did I have to fly out to Barcelona for the interview?  Who was on the interview committee?  Depending on the school, I'm sure the answer to these questions are wide and varied, however, I wanted to take a moment to highlight the interview process that I was a part of in hopes that it may help you if you are beginning your search.

I first received an e-mail from the human resources office at the school in mid-January asking if I'd be interested in interviewing for the position.  In this e-mail they included a detailed school profile and asked me to respond with a few dates/times in which I would be able to connect with the current elementary school principal.  I immediately responded and within about a week, I was speaking with her.  Due to the time difference, I remember waking up at 4:30 in the morning to shower and prep for the 7:00 interview (I'll never forget this day.  I was on a dissertation writing retreat in Wisconsin and needed to find a quite location at the retreat center that was open and had WiFi.  The temperature outside was hovering around zero degrees and the empty classroom I was in probably wasn't much warmer).  

The first interview with the principal was just about an hour long.  She asked some questions about my experience with literacy, math, and building a strong school climate.  However, unlike other interviews I had in the past, a great deal of time was dedicated to me asking questions and learning more about the school.  I imagine this takes place a lot in international schools in order to make sure the "fit" is right.  This is a big commitment on both ends, so the two-way conversation was incredibly important.

After my interview with the principal, I received an e-mail from the director of the school who stated that he was interested in my candidacy and wanted to Skype as well.  He and I were able to connect, and very much like the first interview, questions surrounding teaching and learning were at the core of our conversation.  I remember talking a lot about my experience leading during a time of change and how I worked alongside the teachers in my building.  He also wanted to know why I wanted to make the move to international schools as well as a bit about my family and their support of this endeavor.  

A few days after speaking with the director, I was asked if I'd be interested in moving forward as a finalist and meet with a group of teachers from the school.  This interview, much like the first one, was very early in the morning (via Skype).  There were about 10 teachers sitting around a table in a room and each had a question or two to ask me.  These questions were definitely more teacher-centered  and required me to speak to my experience with various initiatives, student discipline and coaching teachers.  It was here that I learned how small the world really is!  One of the staff members on the panel had lived in the city where I was working as a principal!  

Shortly after my interview with the teachers, the director reached out to me and informed me that I was on the short list and that he'd like me to fly out to Barcelona to meet with the staff and other members of the school community.  About 2 weeks later, I was on a plane to Barcelona for a whirlwind of a visit!  I was picked up from the airport on the morning I arrived by the head of human resources.  We began the morning looking at a few apartments which gave me the opportunity to see some different areas of the city and learn more about housing costs in Barcelona.  After some apartment-hunting, she dropped me off at the hotel to rest a bit before being picked up by the director for an early dinner out (6PM is early for dinner in Barcelona!).  I had dinner with the director and one of the school's instructional coaches.  This was very laid back and gave us the opportunity to learn more about one another, as well give me a better idea of what life would be like in Barcelona and at the school.

Finally, the interview marathon concluded with a visit to the school on the next morning.  One of the division principals picked me up from the hotel and brought me to the school.  Here, I had a tight schedule which gave me an opportunity to once again meet with the director, the administration team, members of the operations team, a group of parents, and another group of teachers.  One unique aspect of the interview that day was when I visited two classroom with the administration team. Before going into the classrooms, they asked me to observe the teacher and classroom environment and be ready to discuss the type of feedback I'd give them teacher after spending some time in their classroom.  I thought this was great!  It isn't too often that you are put into a situation during an interview where you can truly demonstrate your ability to be an instructional leader.  The day ended with a wrap-up and time for reflection with the director. It was here he let me know that there was one other candidate who was scheduled to visit the school two weeks later and that I'd be hearing from him as soon as that visit was complete.

All-in-all this was definitely the most thorough and rigorous interview process I've ever been through.  It truly gave the school a chance to deeply learn about me as an educator as well as gave me the opportunity to truly understand all aspect of the school community.  Thank you for this opportunity, ASB!  I'm looking forward to our work together this fall.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Professional Development - The Internet is where it's at!

One of the concerns I had regarding moving overseas was how I would stay up-to-date with current practices and continue to grow professionally.  Gone are the days of driving 30 minutes away to join area educators for a workshop in a hotel banquet hall (you know, the "sit and get" kind).. What can I do while living and working in Barcelona?  Of course, one thing I could do is hop on a plane and go to a regional conference, but that could get quite pricey and who really wants to wait around for those once-a-year gatherings?  I need continuous growth and development!  With that being said, I've recognized the need to up my game in the digital world.  Over the last few years, I've tinkered with Twitter and have sung its praises as a platform for professional development for educators however, given that the Internet is really all I have, I need to make the best of it!

This weekend, while scrolling through my Twitter feed, I came across a post about an upcoming virtual conference for leaders called The Transformative Leadership Summit and quickly learned that for FREE, I could have access to a number of webinars from some of the biggest names in education and innovation right now.  I'm writing this post just minutes after watching my first video of Jethro Jones and Brad Gustafson discuss relevant pedagogy and the need for innovation in our schools.  In just over 30 minutes, I was able to file away some new ideas for the upcoming school year and reflect on my past practice as an administrator all while sitting on my terrace and snacking on tapas.  Oh, and guess what, I was able to connect with each of these speakers through Twitter and share my thoughts and ask questions.  Remind me again why I want to drive to a local hotel to sit in a cold room, drink bad iced tea, and be talked at?  The internet is where it's at!

I'm curious, as an international educator (or perhaps one in a more rural area of your country), how are you staying connected?  Who have you included in your PLN?

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Journey Begins

feel a good place to start talking about this journey is from the very beginning. So many people are asking how and why I became interested in international schools. It all started after my attendance at workshop during the National Association of Elementary School Principals annual conference in Long Beach last summer. I was invited to attend the conference by myON after our district was selected to be spotlighted in a series called The Principal’s Perspective. Just as your typical conference is structured, this conference had a series of keynote speakers followed by mini workshops throughout the day. During the last day, there was very little on the agenda that I found applicable to what I do, however, there was a session on international schools. I figured I’d check it out, not having a clue what an international school was. The session was co-facilitated by a senior associate from Search Associates and a Regional Education Officer with the Office of Overseas Schools and the US Department of State. At this session, I learned that there are opportunities for teachers and administrators in international schools all over the world. These schools, many of which are partially funded by the US Department of State, cater to expats who have had to, or have chosen to move their family to another part of the world and want to ensure a top-notch education for their children. I learned about this amazing lifestyle of educators who have made it their career to travel the world by working in international schools. The presenter from Search Associates, Ralph Jahr, shared his experience working in schools in places such as Japan, Belgium, Libera, Kuwait, Pakistan, and the Dominican Republic. I was hooked! Could you even imagine?

After the conference, I met up with my partner and began telling him all about international schools and immediately he and I were drawn to the idea of raising our son in schools like this – where he could experience new cultures and languages, learning from peers from every corner of the earth – all while receiving a world-class education. We knew that there wasn’t a chance of us ever being able to provide an experience like this for him unless we jumped on an opportunity like this. We don’t always agree on much, but this is one thing that he and I agreed wholeheartedly that we wanted to explore.

So, I immediately set up a follow-up call with Ralph to learn more about how I could get started. He walked me through the timeline and how I could create a portfolio that would make me marketable. I learned that most schools began hiring principals in the fall for the following year and if I stood a chance, I’d need to get started ASAP. So, I spent a few weeks gathering letters of recommendation, drafting a new resume, and creating my online portfolio through Search Associates. As jobs started to pop up, I spent hours researching the schools and decided to throw my hat in the ring for opportunities in South Africa, Brazil, Switzerland, Japan, Mexico and Spain. I knew it would be an uphill battle as almost every job posting stated that the ideal candidate would have had teaching or administrative experience in international schools. I didn’t always match their profile of an ideal candidate, but I figured there was no harm in trying. My partner and I fully expected this year to be a wash and agreed that I’d become a bit more aggressive in the search next fall. However, in January 2016, I received my first call…

For those of you who are working in international schools, I'm curious as to what peaked your interest and how you began your journey.