Capture the Moment: Using Twitter Moments in Education

When they originally appeared on Twitter, Twitter Moments were only for things of national or global importance. Stuff like celebrities making bad decisions, famous people tweeting foolishness (yes those first two are mostly the same, and yes they were still most of what moments were about), and also things like actual news (but only rarely).

Recent changes made by Twitter allow you to create them. If you’re sharing your learning on Twitter (which you should be) and you’re not using moments (many people aren’t), you’re missing out. This post will tackle what are Twitter Moments can be used for, why should you care, and how do you make them.

So, what’s a moment and why should I care?

A moment is a collection of tweets that you can gather together in an easy to share format.

Why is that useful? When so many educators are sharing their learning on Twitter, there is an ocean of greatness out there. It’s nice to put a few of the tweets that stand out to you in a single place for future reference and clean sharing at the moment.

Here are a couple of examples:

I had the privilege of attending EdCamp Navasota this weekend. It was fantastic. In a half day, I had so many conversations that challenged and supported me. It was amazing.

I had the opportunity to facilitate a conversation on blogging during the second session. We shared resources, stories, and struggles throughout our time together, and at the end, I created a moment to pull a few of the tweets together before they got swept away in the sea of other tweets that included the #EdCampNavasota hashtag.

Here’s the small moment I collected and shared:

It was great to have everything in one location for a quick share after the session, and I’m able to go back to those resources and pull from the intelligence of the entire room the next time someone asks me about blogging.

I also used a moment to capture the tweets that were sent to my campus hashtag (#CGcats) last week. A couple of weeks ago I heard the simple but genius idea that’s made a big difference in our staff tweets: Instead of telling them why it’s so great to share, reflect, and connect and hope they’ll be intrinsically motivated, just let them wear jeans on Thursday if they tweet three times about what they’re learning of what’s happening in their classroom (Thanks to Matt Arend, Amber Teamann, and Sanee Bell’s collective genius for this!).

We had a great response, but we have people at all levels of familiarity, excitement, and trepidation surrounding Twitter currently. This Twitter Moment is something that allowed me to share the tweets to everyone on campus as well as my PLN.

It’s great to have all this awesome from around our campus pulled together in one space, and I love that I can access this summary so easily in the future.

I also used moments to document big chunks of my experience at TCEA last week. Who hasn’t had that conference overload/exhaustion feeling before, right? It’s nice to be able to go back to those moments to reference all I learned in Austin over those three days. Here are links to those if you’re interested: TCEA Day 1, TCEA Day 2, & my blogging session.

How do I make a Twitter Moment?

I make my moments on my phone. Here’s how I walk through it:

First, click the wheel on your profile page. Then, click moments on the list that pops up. In the top right corner, click the plus to open a new moment. Add your tweets before clicking save and publish.

Unlike a tweet, there’s no need to get everything perfect the first time. Moments are editable and can even be unpublished if you need. You can also add tweets by clicking the carrot, clicking add to moment, and selecting the moment to add it to.

Capture Your Moment!

Think through this next week. What are those opportunities to capture a moment on Twitter? Will it be a Twitter chat? An event at school? An area of your learning where you know you’re growing? Something you’ve learned that you can pass along to a colleague?

Whatever it might be, don’t miss out on the opportunity to capture and celebrate things worth sharing!

What will you share?

8 Big Ideas From #TCEA17

I made it back home from TCEA. As is often the case after a great conference full of amazing sessions and incredible educators, I’m just drowning in good ideas. Last year, I posted 10 Big Ideas From #TCEA16 after returning home, and I’m bringing back that style of post here.

I could probably go into a separate blog post on each of these ideas (and I very well may at some point), but for now, this is all about capturing and documenting my learning from the past three days (and sharing it out in case it’s beneficial for you). I hope the ideas challenge you and support you in your growth as you make your way through the spring semester.

While TCEA is a huge tech conference, these ideas aren’t dripping with EdTech implications. More than anything, they challenge me to make manageable changes and convict me where I haven’t done enough work to rethink “the way we’ve always done it” in our schools.

Without further ado, here are 8 sticky ideas from this year’s TCEA conference.


You cannot keep up with it all. But if you are connected, you have a much better chance of keeping up with much more. – Amber Teamann

Learning and fun are not antonyms. – Adam Bellow

When we do things, we do what’s best for kids. If you can tell me why it’s not best for kids, we won’t do it. Otherwise, we do it. – Todd Nesloney

‪If parents only know what’s going on in class because of our homework, we need to do better. – Alice Keeler

Being a workaholic is not a virtue. – Alice Keeler

If you want to teach students responsibility, give them a responsibility in class. Homework doesn’t teach that. – Alice Keeler

‪If you weren’t allowed to assign homework, how would you redesign your class? – Matt Miller

Giving people a chance to contribute is powerful. – Dean Shareski


It’s likely that you probably agree with some of these ideas and want to push back on some of the others. That’s great. The more we think critically about what it is we should be doing as educators, the better off we will be. I’m thankful for the opportunity to have come across so many educators who are doing so much to serve the students in their care as best they know how.

Making the Most of TCEA #TCEA17

I’m headed to Austin, TX this week to be part of a huge EdTech conference called TCEA (that’s the Texas Computer Educators Association). Like most excellent education conferences these days, there is no shortage of valuable information to be learned at TCEA. In fact, quite the opposite is the problem. It’s very much the “drinking from a fire hose” experience. So much is great at so many turns that even in the short time I was there last year, I had to stop and put everything on hold one afternoon or risk not retaining everything as I floated in the sea of knowledge that engulfed the Austin Convention Center.

So, I’ve been thinking about my TCEA16 experience as I’m about to begin this year’s event, and there are a few reminders I had for myself. Maybe they’ll help you out, too.

In any case, if you are headed to the event (I hope you are; it’s amazing), I hope your week is packed full of interesting conversations, challenging new ideas, and the perfect mix of tips that will help you impact learning for the better the following week and leave you thinking and rethinking through the way you do your work for months to come.

Without further ado, here’s how I plan to tackle the week (or at least my three days there):

Tip #1 – Reconnect with someone

The best thing about #TCEA16 wasn’t the amazing speakers (who were absolutely awesome), the incredible opportunities to learn from others, or the guilt free time to invest in my own learning away from the day to day stresses that come with being an assistant principal. No, by far, the absolute best thing about being at TCEA last year was being with people there.

There are just so many phenomenal educators innovating across Texas (and the rest of the country and world for that matter) that missing out on this opportunity to find and reconnect with some of those folks is just something we can’t miss.

But not everyone goes into a conference like this expecting to see some familiar faces. That’s ok, and tip #2 will be perfect for you if you find yourself in that situation.

Tip #2 – Connect with someone new

Not only did I have the chance to reconnect with a few folks I’d met previously, but I also had the chance to meet an incredible group of people from my PLN face to face. I can remember it like it was yesterday. I walked into my first session, Angela Maiers was speaking, but three friends were sitting across the room. We saw each other, and although we had never been in the same room, we instantly knew each other. It was nothing short of amazing to be standing there with these people who I knew from our connections online (whether it be Twitter chats, Voxer groups, or their blogs).

In a few years in our connected, I think this will become more and more the norm. But for now, it’s still surprising and sort of incredible to little old introverted me. Needless to say, the kickoff of TCEA16 did not disappoint. I’m really pumped about this year’s event.

Beyond that, those faces that I didn’t know in the crowd soon turned into familiar faces as we worked through some of the same sessions together. Conversations sparked throughout the short time I attended last year, and I’m looking forward to this process continuing this year.

Get to know the people sitting next to you. In our connected world, they’re going to be your allies as you all move back to campus and begin the change process all across our country.

Tip #3 – Hang out in the Playgrounds

I don’t know that I can overstate how overwhelmingly huge TCEA is. When I went last year, it was the first really massive conference I had ever attended. Sure, I had annually attended College Board training (which was invaluable to my survival and success as a high school English teacher), but those events never brought the same size and scale as TCEA (900+ sessions are advertised at this point… That’s a lot of options…).

All those options bring me to tip #3. At some point (really, at many points) you will end up with too many options or shut out of your first few choices. My suggestion is to head to the YOUnited and YOUniverse Playgrounds.

It’s an area on the first floor that can always fit one more standing person, and there are often chairs you can putt up from nearby to join the conversations happening there. If the environment wasn’t enough, the folks who are sharing here are top notch. Kasey Bell, Alice Keeler, Shannon Miller, Todd Nesloney, Eric Sheninger, Adam Bellow, Dean Shareski, and many, many more incredible educators will be setting up shop in these informal environments. Take advantage of the unique opportunities that seemed to come up regularly here last year. If all else fails, head to the playground. You won’t be disappointed.

Tip #4 – Tweet your learning to the #TCEA17 hashtag

When you get into those sessions, start tweeting out your learning. It’s imperative that we get the word out about what will make a difference for students, and there’s no easier way to do that than by Tweeting it out. If you include the #TCEA17 hashtag, you’ll add to the collective knowledge that’s being shared out by the entire conference (or at least by those who are doing it right).

When you do that, not only are you sharing your learning with others, but you are also taking notes for yourself. I love that I can head over to Twitter and search for my username and last year’s hashtag and come up with all this information documented for me to revisit any time I like. It’s not something I need to reference all the time, but every now and then I’ll be looking for a quotation from the conference or a link to an article or a Google Drive folder and there it all is.

Bonus tip: If you come across great nuggets that you want to get noticed a little more, create a few images to Tweet out. Here’s a post that chronicles a few of the sticky ideas I came across last year.

Tip #5 -Recap your learning often 

Going through the process of taking notes is good. Sharing those highlight ideas as Tweets is even better. But leaving all that raw material on the page or on social media will only take you so far.

At the end of each day (or sometimes even at a mid day break), you have to take time to brain dump all that learning down into some useable nuggets. Think of it this way: What’s going to fall on your to do list for next week, before spring break, this spring semester, or by next fall? Plan things out. Categorize them. Put reminders in your calendar so your phone will remind you of those great end of year ideas or that brilliant concept for something at the beginning of next year.

I failed to do this last year at TCEA, and I’m sure I missed out on opportunities to equip teachers in the process. I fixed that at a summer conference, and I’ve committed to doing this faithfully at each conference I’ve attended since then. It’s made a profound difference.

Tip #6 – Blog your learning

Don’t skip past this. The next one’s not any easier.

Once you’ve got that set of notes or Tweets and you’ve arranged your thoughts into a manageable timeline of implementation, take time to blog your ideas out.

Yes, I know that all the excuses are there:

  • I don’t have anything to say
  • I’m not a good writer
  • Other people will be sharing about this already
  • Will anyone read what I have to say?
  • What if someone doesn’t like what I have to say?
  • But I’ve never blogged before

Honestly, we could go on for a while with others, but the reality is that although blogging is scary, this sort of reflection is vital to your growth as an educator. John Dewey says that, “We do not learn from experience… We learn from reflecting on experience.” If we believe that (and I do), then it’s no enough to simply take notes and make a plan. If we want to learn (and why would we be at a conference like this if we didn’t?), we need to get busy doing this and doing it well. Here’s a link to the only blog reflection I really did from TCEA last year.

It doesn’t have to be great at first. Just write down where you’re at, what you’re learning, and what you’re trying. That’s it. You don’t have to do anything other than to share what you are learning. If you can do that (and, yes, you can do that), you are a blogger.

When you become a blogger, your risks go more public, but so does your learning. With the accountability that’s included of having yourself our there, you are more likely to get more done, and, in the process, others are going to learn from seeing your reflections. I highly recommend it.

If you’re still not confident you can make this happen, join me on Thursday morning in Room 13AB from 8:00-9:00am. My session, “How Blogging Improved My Practice,” is really not about me much at all. Instead, it’s about setting you and others like you up to confidently share your learning online for your benefit and that of others. Whether you join me for that hour or not, take time to blog your learning. You will not regret it!

Tip #7 – Become an expert at something useful

Finally, leave with an expertise you didn’t arrive at TCEA with. None of this experience is cheap in terms of time, energy, or cost incurred. Have something to show for it when you return home (and not just great personal learning for yourself). Go into TCEA knowing what those you serve need and with a plan to find it and package it well for them when you return. You get the chance to be the hero to them. Make it happen!


I hope you have a blast at the conference, and as odd as it seems, I hope to maybe run into someone who’s read this. It’ll help us both accomplish a goal and get better as educators in the process. Isn’t that what we’re all psyched up about doing this week anyway?

Top 10 Posts from 2016

2016 has been a big year for me and my family. The biggest and most exciting change was the addition of our daughter, Joy, in April and the transition to a family of 5 that followed (it’s gone flawlessly, and we’re fully rested all the time; thanks for asking).

I also changed campuses for the first time in my career as I made the jump from high school to an intermediate school (a 5th and 6th grade campus) in the same school district.

All along the way I tried to blog through the things I was learning. The following posts are a small taste of all that I’ve thought through over the past 365 days.

1. 41 Books Worth Reading

This post was just what it sounds like–a big list of books that I find myself suggesting over and over.

2. An Educator’s Social Media Guide

This post is more clearly described by its subtitle: What I wish I had known before I Wasted 5 years not knowing how to use Twitter to grow.

3. Thriving as an Assistant Principal

Every role in education has its challenges. As I do my best to figure out how to serve in my role as assistant principal, I took time to write down what it looks like when it goes how I’d like.

4. 4 Skills Every Student Needs

We spend a lot of time thinking about the skills and knowledge we’re required to teach students. This post focuses on those other skills we all want our students to have and reminds me not to neglect teaching those.

5. 4 Videos That Inspire Perseverance

Clearly there is huge value in talking about grit, perseverance, and growth mindset. These four videos serve as a point of departure for conversations with students and teachers alike.

6. Grades, Learning, and Change

This post summarizes a conversation I had with a group of sophomores about grades and learning. I’m lucky to work with kids who are interested in this discussion and challenged by their thoughts each time I revisit this post.

7. Why Educators Must Innovate

This post is all about how innovation shouldn’t be seen as optional. We don’t want to end up looking antiquated, and innovation is our solution to prevent that outcome.

8. Leading with an Innovator’s Mindset

There’s a lot of conversation about innovation in the classroom, but not very much about innovaiton in professional development for teachers. This post is about trying to apply the innovator’s mindset to my work as a school administrator.

9. Why Do We Do That?

This post challenges us to think about the things that we aren’t thinking about enough.

10. 12 Can’t Miss Blog Posts

I love this post. It’s all about the posts that have inspired me throughout the year. Reading the thoughts of others helps inspire and challenge me to keep getting better and refining my craft. If you only read one post here, read this one. So many great ideas shared from so many great educators!


I’m looking forward to all that 2017 will bring. Happy new year to you and yours!

Why Do We Do That?

why-do-we-do-that

I’ve got a little story for you.

It’s Christmas, and it’s the first time the family is having dinner away from the home they grew up in. The cook (not the matriarch of the family) is preparing the roast to cook, and the first thing he does is cut off the ends. He puts it in the pan, it cooks, it’s prepared to be served, and then comes the question. His mom asks, “Why did you cut off the ends?”

A little unsettled, he replies, “That’s what you always did when you cooked it, mom.”

She laughs, and he begins to get a little worried. After her laughter subsides, she shares why: “We only cut the ends off because we didn’t have a pan big enough to fit the whole roast.”

And just like that, the dreaded TTWADDI has reared his head.

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Credit goes to Amy Mayer (friEdTechnology) for this memorable image!

ANY SIGHTINGS AT YOUR SCHOOL?

Now think about your school. Why do we do things the way that we do them?

With some things, there are good reasons.

Maybe we do things that way because it’s best for kids or because it keeps people safe at school.

But with other things, I imagine that we don’t always have a great reason for what we’re doing. With many things, probably more than we’d like to admit, we’ve never even thought about why we’re doing what we’re doing.

I think it’s time that we start thinking seriously about what we’ve not thought about before.

Typically I’m not one to make suggestions without offering solutions, but my goal is a bit different here. I want us to think of what we haven’t been thinking of. I want us to spend a bit of time exploring the gaps in conversations. Yes, eventually it’s important that we come to some conclusions, and I’m invested in that conversation as well. But I think it’s worth taking a step back from time to time and sharing a few ideas about what school could actually look like if we shook off the force of habit that has a strong hold on many of our practices.

So here are a few ideas I’m trying to rethink. I have some thoughts on solutions, but I’ll save those for another day.

Ideas I’m trying to rethink:

  • If we want our teachers to develop best instructional practices, why do we depend so heavily on whole group instruction for professional development?
  • If time out isn’t a good option for discipline in the classroom, why is ISS such a common consequence for behavior?
  • Why are we so hesitant to share our ideas with other educators? Why not connect more with others? Why not try to do that in new ways?
  • If we know that learning is often a messy, non-linear process, why is learning so often divided up into 6 or 7 or 8 period days?
  • If we know that learning happens at varying rates for various students, why are six weeks grading periods so commonly followed?

What are YOU going to rethink? What do we need to reconsider in education? What have we done the same way for too long?

Share your ideas in the comments!

Why Educators Must Innovate #IMMOOC

why-educators-must-innovate-immooc

Take a look at this image.

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Do you know what you’re looking at?

That’s what they were stealing in the first Fast and the Furious movie in 2001.

That’s crazy to me. They could have filled that thing with anything they wanted, any technology imaginable, and they filled it with a bunch of VCRs, TV/VCRs, and camcorders. I remember watching the movie and being totally enthralled. It was entirely believable and absolutely appropriate for them to be chasing down a Semi-Truck full of this stuff, but when you look at it now, it’s laughable.

I mean, really… a 13″ TV/VCR is front and center.

If that’s not enough, check out the storage for the plans they used:

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Obviously a lot can change in 15 years.

We all know this, but these images put that reality into perspective for me. It makes me wonder about things. It make me ask myself, “If that’s what was on the movie of the summer, what was in our classrooms? How much has changed with technology? What about in our classrooms?”

Why innovate?

Here’s my worry: Schools that don’t innovate are going to look like this, and it likely won’t take 15 years to happen. In all likelihood, it’s probably happening more places than we’d like to admit right now.

If we don’t change, we’re going to end up looking like that picture appears to us now–irrelevant, a relic of the past. For some (maybe even many) what we were doing now will be nearly unrecognizable in the not so distant future. In hindsight, some of what we understood as best practice not too long ago seems that way.

We can’t control the fact that our schools will continue to grow, but if we don’t start getting some movement now and gaining momentum today, we’re going to end up so big and so settled in that our own inertia will keep us from moving forward. With each day that passes without innovation, we only make it harder to make change happen in the future.

So what can we do?

I love the simple definition that George Couros shares often of innovation.

It’s not about the tools. Not about the technology. Not about an app or about a device or even necessarily about anything that might be considered forward thinking otherwise.

His definition? It’s innovative if it’s new and better.

I like that. It opens things up for me in a way that’s really helpful and encourages me to consider some ideas I’m trying as a little more innovative than I would have at first glance.

It makes all sorts of things (not just what’s technologically cutting edge) an innovative effort, and the desire to innovate under this definition prompts me to be always looking forward.

I need that push to make sure I’m not getting comfortable. I think we all do.

Because so much is changing so often, educators have a choice to make: change or be changed. I, for one, prefer to take an active role (as much as is possible) in that process.

What are you doing this year to be innovative?


I’ll be writing more about my own journey with innovation over the next few weeks as part of this MOOC (massive open online course) centered around George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset. I’ll also share throughout the year as I try to innovate and help others do the same. Check out the #IMMOOC hashtag to see some conversation about innovation in education.

Together

Together

My first day in the classroom was terrible.

It wasn’t bad in the “I’m supposed to say I was bad because I can tell I’ve grown since then and I don’t want to boast” sense either. It was bad.

I had first period off (which is great any other day of the year for most people, but especially for this non morning person). On this first day, though, it just left time for the knots in my stomach to tighten themselves into even more knots.

As I was walking back into the main building to get some water, the power went out. I was going to get a day reprieve! We couldn’t have school with the power out, right?

Wrong.

My department head comes walking around the corner, and instead of telling me she would see me the next day, she said in a really positive, supportive manner that they were working on getting everything fixed up as quickly as possible and that I would do a great job and that she was excited to hear about how my first day went.

Awesome.

So I go back to my portable and begin to put on this ridiculous costume that I decided to use during my first minutes of teaching ever. On top of my uncomfortable shirt and tie teacher clothes I put on a rain jacket. On top of that, I’m wearing my graduation robe. The plan was for me to start with the end (graduation) in mind, then point to how I was going to be their guide on the path toward that goal, and then end with the realization that I was the teacher who could get them there. At this point, they would realize how much they were going to love me and this class, but things didn’t exactly go according to plan.

What actually happened was more like this.

I put everything on and began to sweat. Blame it on the first day of school or on it being MY first day of school or on not having any power on August 25th in central Texas or whatever else you want. Regardless of where fault lies, I’m really sweating by the time students arrive. Like beads of sweat I can feel. Not fun and not exactly how I wanted to start the day or my career.

I’ll spare you the details about the rest of the day and offer this summary: I pushed through the entire morning of classes packed with 30 high school juniors in a portable with no power for the video clips and slideshow I prepared or for the music I had carefully chosen to let them know I was someone they could relate to. Also there was no power for the air conditioning.

I remember sitting in the lunchroom thinking about what else I could do with my life. The morning left me embarrassed, frustrated, and pretty intimidated about actually coming back for day 2.

But I came back, and things got better.

My Worst Decision

I made a lot of bad decisions that first day, but the worst decision from my first day didn’t have anything to do with what all was happening or not happening in the classroom.

My worst decision was to sit silently by my peers at lunch while I felt so stressed.

Right there sitting next to me were the people who could help me most, the people who became my friends, the people who taught me how to teach.

And I just sat there and beat myself up. The story ends well, but on that day I felt like I needed to pull this all together myself, like that was what the best of the best did. I had convinced myself that this was how to make it.

The single best thing that happened that day was that a nearby teacher came by, brought me a Coke, and said, “How’s it going?” and talked to with me about how things were, in fact, going. Don’t get me wrong, ditching the outer two layers was clearly an important choice, but engaging instead of retreating was the best thing that happened that day.

Thankful & Restless

I’m incredibly thankful for that teacher and her willingness to sit with me on her first day back which we all know to be exhausting. Even if it’s the best, most welcome sort of exhausting, it is absolutely draining.

That solved my day one problem, but it didn’t address the motivation that drove me so far out of my comfort zone.

You see, I think I believed that I could make the magic happen all in those first 50 minutes. I had thought and over thought what I wanted for my students that I had convinced myself I needed to be someone else to make that happen.

I had convinced myself that somehow I wasn’t the guy for that job.

What a lie.

I felt woefully unprepared for all sorts of things that first day, but I was the one they picked to do the job. Not the best teacher I could remember, not me with more experience, not me with more answers or more confidence or more whatever. Me.

Before the day began, my biggest mistake was to believe not only that I could develop a lasting legacy with my students on the first day, but also that I needed to. That to miss that mark was to fail.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that our legacy as educators is built in community over time. That’s easy to say, but tough to do. Still, that’s our job. If you want to be the teacher who leaves an impact, develop a space where students can learn with you and their peers together. So how do we do that as teachers? How do we take 30 people and an adult and create a place where both students and teachers thrive? How do we get past the barriers that we put up, the things that make us feel safe? How to we press into vulnerability and let others see us for who we really are, not who we want to be seen as?

We do that together.

We have to be real together.

We have to be willing to learn together.

We have to be ready to act now (& probably fail some) together (both of them).

Think about who you can engage when school starts up–maybe even who you need to engage before it starts. Those little interactions–just bringing someone a Coke and filling the space with some peer to peer conversation–they can make all the difference.

And what’s on the line? If we get this right, all of those with whom we interact–our old friends, our new colleagues, and our students who will walk our halls and learn in our classrooms–they can all walk toward success knowing that we are walking through each trial that comes our way together.

Thriving as an Assistant Principal

Thriving as an Assistant Principal

There’s a difference in feeling capable at a job and feeling that you thrive in it. I sure prefer the latter, but that isn’t something you often stumble yourself into. It takes planning and intentionality. So before the year begins, I decided to think through those things that I can be about as an assistant principal that will help me help our campus.

Assistant principals who develop lasting, trusting relationships with their staff build on a foundation created by doing their job and doing it well. An AP needs a foundation of credibility before he can earn the relational capital that creates trust. Establishing your ethos on campus comes in a variety of ways (and happens differently in each unique situation). I’ll be the first to say that each path toward trust is unique, but it’s never bad to start by managing the referrals that come your way fairly and efficiently, committing to being a learner in your leadership role, and moving toward each new year looking for ways to serve students and teachers in new ways.

Though that trust must be earned, your work as an AP is far from over when you reach that point. Having the respect of the teachers is not the same as having a relationship with them. Cultivating those trusting relationships is vital if you’re interested in creating change (and who isn’t interested in creating positive change). To do that, you have to take the time to ask good questions and put your to-do list of important things on hold long enough to really listen to what’s urgent for the teachers you serve. More often than not, those questions fall into one of these four categories:

1. Ask about the family.

We spend an incredible amount of time asking teachers to give of themselves at school. We know our students deserve the attention of their teachers, but we don’t always know how much our teachers are juggling outside of school. Asking about a teacher’s family can help us get to know teachers as a whole just like we often ask them to do with their students.

When I’m at my best, I’m often asking these questions:

  • How’s your daughter’s basketball team playing? Is she enjoying college like she thought she would?
  • So you’re son will be a freshman here next year; what’s he excited about? Worried about? Are there any questions I can answer about our school for you as a parent?

2. Ask about professional interests.

We do a lot of talking to teachers when it comes to professional development. If we’re going to ask teachers to customize and individualize learning in the classroom, we need to be ready to do the same for our staff. Matching our practice with our message builds trust with teachers.

When I’m at my best, I’m often asking these questions:

  • How’s the year going? Where are you doing your best work? What would you try if money or time weren’t barriers?
  • What if you could pick your schedule next year; what would it look like ideally? What are you doing this year that’s different/new?
  • That thing you’re trying out this year–maybe it’s stand up desks or ditching homework/the textbook–how can I help encourage others to do it too? Also, how is it different than you expected it would be?

3. Ask for input before making decisions.

All leaders know the power of buy in, but it’s not always the quickest road to a solution. However, getting buy in on the front end of change can make a profound difference on the success of any attempt at change in a large organization like a school.

When I’m at my best, I’m often asking these questions:

  • If we went from 4 to 3 lunches, where could we best use the time in our day? What could you do with 25 minutes a day?
  • What do you want to learn about during faculty meetings? What are you tired of learning about in faculty meetings?
  • What do we need to spend more time looking at?

4. Ask for critical feedback.

We provide this for teachers routinely, but we rarely ask for it in return. Hearing critical feedback makes us better at providing the same for teachers, and knowing the concerns of those we serve allows us to keep a close watch on that which impacts those activities.

When I’m at my best, I’m often asking these questions:

  • What do you think of the new schedule? What problems did it solve? What is more complicated with the new schedule?
  • Talk to me about a particular student; what’s working, what’s not, and what is the best support I can offer to help him keep learning in your classroom?
  • What do you think we are missing as administrators that you see as a teacher?

Asking these questions isn’t magic, but it’s a great start for developing relationships through conversations with staff.

Finally, as an instructional leader, you have to walk the walk. Credibility has a short shelf life. We need to keep ourselves current, and we need to keep investing in our teachers. If your professional development sessions are lifeless and flat, you’re not going to earn yourself any points with teachers. Even though faculty meetings and PD days are important arenas in which we must excel, we can’t only show up then. A trusted AP will be looking for new ways to learn on his own and will be actively seeking opportunities to bring others into his learning. Invite people to a Twitter chat, help out with an EdCamp, create a Voxer group to highlight great things happening on campus. Do something to engage in a different way. Excellence in this area alone won’t create lasting relationships and trust, but it will steadily increase your credibility you’ve developed with the staff.

If you have any other ideas for ways to thrive in the role of assistant principal, please share! We’ll get better together!

4 Skills Every Student Needs

4 skills every student needs

One of the things I miss the most about the classroom is discussing novels with students and the way that set students up to thoughtfully approach tough conversations. We’d open up The Great Gatsby or Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Invisible Man and dive headlong into some of life’s biggest questions.

We’d talk about what it means to be valued as a person and walk through how easy it is to devalue someone and how hard it is to rebuild someone who has felt less than.

We’d spend time talking about the American Dream–what it meant to them, what it meant to characters in the text–and talk about whether it is alive today (and if it’s alive in the same way for everyone in our diverse classroom).

We’d invest time in serious conversation about those who are invisible among us. Those who might identify with the narrator of Invisible Man who declares that he is “invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see” him.

There’s a lot there, and that only scratches the surface of everything we would get into. It was great conversation, but it was even better knowing that I was sending students out confident that they knew how to engage with their peers and their community for the better.

Though the conversations focused either on the literature or on its implications, students acquired a number of soft skills through the process that were as valuable as the content of the exchanges. Removed from those conversations, I think our students’ education is incomplete without these skills.

Don’t hear me saying that these can only be developed over in discussion of literature. That’s not reality for many teachers, and it’s no longer my reality. Still, students with these four abilities have the skills to create peace, stability, and hope where it is lacking. If that’s not worth pursuing, I don’t know what is.

4 SKILLS EVERY STUDENT NEEDS

Disagree with an idea instead of a person. Too often, we treat this as an all or nothing. We mistake an opinion for an individual, and if we’re not careful, we miss out on a chance to learn something different. I think we’re pretty bad about this as adults. We have work to do to be the models we need to be, but I think it can be done. This, like many of these traits, is remarkable when it shows up. People notice. Look for opportunities to shed light on this concept for your students and peers.

Repay wrongdoing with kindness. This doesn’t fit with much of our mythology. Ours is a story of getting the most, getting the best, getting even, getting what you deserve. But at home, I ask my boys to do this. They’re 2 and 4, and although I believe that consequences are part of our actions, they’re learning from that I don’t care who started it. When wrong has been done, they repay it with kindness (and so does the one who bit his brother, for what it’s worth). I think there’s incredible potential for modeling this as adults. What power we could bring to students. What an alternative to lashing out. I’m not asking anyone to get walked on here. I’m just trying to imagine a better way.

See a situation from another person’s perspective. I loved asking questions that teased out this conversation (especially when students thought they had things figured out). I’m not big on ranking or creating a hierarchy of soft skills, but the ability to step into another person’s point of view, see things from his or her perspective, and respond differently to a situation as a result has to be up near the top. It’s not something that can be forced, and it’s rarely developed as quickly as we would like (or as would be beneficial for those who interact with the learner). But it is an absolute necessity to have this skill. Graduation requirements should be incomplete without it.

Find hope, even when it’s tough to see it. I’m not asking you to be Pollyanna, nor am I asking you to look past a situation that calls for grief or sorrow. What I do think is valuable is to train ourselves to find hope in situations where it is apparent and to quickly move toward it after we have walked through a valley. We know that our brains like patterns, and everything I’ve seen and experienced indicates that the positive patterns take more time to develop than their negative counterparts. So take time to find hope daily. Talk about it with your students. It matters so deeply.

These skills aren’t magic. They don’t eliminate hurt or sorrow or loss, and I would never claim they would. What they do is give us the power to navigate tough conversations with human responses. Responses that need to press into vulnerable spaces in conversations where we have to pursue understanding long before we seek to respond. But these are just four ideas. What else do you believe we need to instill in our students? When they leave your campus, what do they need to be successful, productive members of society?

The Power of an Invitation

AnInvitationIn

There is such great power in an invitation.

A while back, someone invited me in to help support a new chat that was starting up. I had spent time in a few chats, but although I knew it felt like I was learning a great deal, I sure didn’t think anything special was coming out of my engaging online that would make someone notice let alone recognize and invite me into a new chat. But someone saw something in me and asked me to be part of something new.

As a result, I’ll never be the same. And not just as an educator.

I think we underestimate our power as educators, as people to speak powerfully into another person. At least I do at times. And on the one hand, it feels like nothing, right? An invitation to join in seems so insignificant that I forget the power that we have to speak hope into situations, to speak life into those we are in contact with until I’m on the receiving end of the conversation. But I can think of several times when something that probably seemed like nothing to the speaker left significant, positive, life-giving impact on me, and I know that I need to stop erring on the side of caution, of reluctance to step out into a bit of vulnerability, and make this a significant part of my regular routine.

But I don’t want to just leave it at that. Acknowledging that invitations are powerful and that change is needed isn’t enough. I need to make a habit of including this communication, and I’d like to share a few ways I think we can make a positive impact with a simple invitation.

AnInvitationIn (2)

Invite someone to critique something you are working on

It’s not always fun to have a critical eye on your work, but asking someone to look over your shoulder to help you refine something that’s important to you is a big deal. To me, it’s a great honor to help someone accomplish a goal that has personal or professional important, and so often as educators our work has both components.

Ask someone to share their voice and expertise in conversation

I host a weekly Twitter chat with my friend and colleague Jeremy Stewart, so this is an easy place, but it’s still one I’ve neglected. I need to be better about thinking through the topics we are discussing and intentionally engaging those who have so much to offer in that conversation. Understandably, most people aren’t hosting chats, but I think there’s an easy face to face parallel; as conversations come up on campus, bring those informed voices into the conversation and take a moment to explain why you brought that person in before or after. It’ll make a difference.

If you blog, invite someone to write with you or to guest post on your blog

Most educators who are blogging are doing so to share the ideas they’ve been mulling over or sort through their learning. I’ve been awful at doing this, so I’m sharing it not only as an idea for others, but also as a call to action for myself. What a great opportunity to share that space and encourage another educator to connect and share!

Here’s our reality: We cannot do our work in isolation. We fool ourselves into thinking we can from time to time, but each time, after we’ve hit the wall (again), we remember that we need others. Take time to get ahead of the curve and invite others into something that matters to you.