Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Building a Connected School - The BIG C's

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It is summer, and I am more excited than ever to start school in August!  Why?  Because my goal for next school year is to lead the “building” of a more connected school.

A connected school is one where collaboration, celebration, and communication are the keys to expanding outside the brick walls that surround us.  The 3 BIG C’s.  We must collaborate to share and become better.  We must celebrate our successes and failures.  And we must communicate with all our stakeholders to let them know about all the happenings in the school.  “If we don’t tell our story, who will?”  


“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
-Helen Keller
Merriam-Webster defines the word collaborate as “to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something.”  In education, we are continually striving to discover more methods and tools to help our children be successful in their endeavors. While every educator can be seen collaborating with colleagues on any given day, when I think of building a connected school, collaboration moves beyond our walls to other educators across the globe.  We can work together and share our ideas with a much larger group of people, all with the common goal of helping kids.  

This year, my goal is to embrace the collaboration already happening within the school and model how it can go well-beyond these walls. We do a great job collaborating within our grade levels.  Now, let’s see it vertically within the school.  Let’s build time in our day to help each other, build our PLN so we can move our professional development from a set time and place to anytime.

More than ever, I plan to model, model, model the use of technology FOR professional development and collaboration beyond our school.  Remember the WHY we use technology - our use will be FOR collaboration and FOR professional expansion in this goal area.  I will model using a blog for reflection. I will continue to train my staff to use Twitter to build their PLN and learn from others around the globe, and I will continue to model how it can be one of the most powerful tools out there for educators.  We will use Google Apps for Education for sharing and collaborating on a host of topics, and any other tool I can get my hands on to MODEL the power of collaboration.  We can expand our collaboration to a Padlet wall of ideas and resources, and add Today’s Meet for a backchannel during our staff meetings.  Through modeling of different technological tools and resources, our collaborative efforts will reach beyond our walls and help us grow professionally.  


“Anyone who’s just driven 90 yards against huge men trying to kill them has earned the right to do Jazz hands.”
-Craig Ferguson
Schools have “earned the right to do Jazz hands”!  We are driving “90 yards” daily in our determination to propel students to success.  It is time to celebrate ALL of the magnificent work happening in our school!  This past year, I created a school Twitter account (@RyanParkRhinos) to share happenings around the school.  I have to admit - I wasn’t as up-to-date as I wanted to be, and didn’t showcase NEARLY what I wanted or needed to in order to spotlight the wonderful teaching and learning going on daily.  I’ve watched great leaders such as Tony Sinanis (@TonySinanis) and Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal) showcase the teaching and learning happening in their schools through Twitter and other social media.  My goal is to do the same.

With the added scrutiny on public education, it is even more important today than ever before to celebrate all the exciting work happening in schools.  It is OUR job to tell OUR story.  As Eric Sheninger shared in his recent book Digital Leadership, “...these tools combined have given my stakeholders and the greater educational community a bird’s eye view into my school and the great things happening here.”  

Through social media, I wish to share Ryan Park’s story and all the great teaching and learning going on here.  I will send out a positive morning message daily, highlighting great activities at the school that day.  I will create a showcase of great work.  One showcase will be at the school, visible to students in the hallway, with newspaper clippings, pictures, and great accomplishments.  Another showcase will be on my website, featuring our learning and accomplishments.  In addition, I will use Twitter as a means to share all of these celebrations, as well as screencast and post YouTube highlights of our activities every other week.  For me, this is a start, but one I am excited to begin to celebrate all we do to help our students reach their potential.


“communication: the act or process of using words, sounds, signs, or behaviors to express or exchange information or to express your ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc., to someone else”
We communicate in so many ways.  Our communication with others can be personal, professional, friendly, informative, stern, written, verbal, frequent, or infrequent.  In today’s schools, our communication can take these many forms, but often times is on paper, in an email, or in a phone call.  Our communication with ALL stakeholders is key.  This is where we celebrate, collaborate, and inform. I can always improve in this aspect, and this too will be a priority for me next school year.  

Above all, I strive to communicate more frequently with all stakeholders and do so in a variety of formats, thus reaching a larger audience.  Communication needs to go beyond 7:30-3:30.  It needs to be anytime, anywhere, and in multiple mediums.  

My communication goal with my staff and students:
I will continue my Weekly Notes with staff (thank you Todd Whitaker for highlighting this idea in so much of what you do).  This provides an overview of the week ahead, sharing the positives the week before and what to get ready for next.  Now, I am going to take this a step farther.  I have built a website this summer, Heavin’s EDU-Idea Place (, where I share a Morning Message to the staff and students (this will also go out on Twitter and email).  My goal with the Morning Message is to highlight great learning, accomplishments, and be that positive message to start every day.  Thank you to great leaders on Twitter for giving me this idea!

In addition to the Morning Message, this website features ideas, resources, videos, and articles for my staff to learn and share, as well as my staff Padlet and Staff Meeting Channel (courtesy of Today’s Meet) to open communication lines for collaboration.  The website features a Showcase, where I plan to post great pictures and other pieces of evidence of the wonderful learning going on.  This website is ONE communication tool for staff, students, and even parents.

I still plan to communicate with staff and students through Twitter, celebrating accomplishments and keeping them up-to-date on activities.  I use Remind with my staff for updates, delays, and closings.  I am visible in the school daily, and it is ALWAYS my goal to walk into EVERY classroom EVERY day to greet students, but more importantly show them I find what they are learning important, and I want to see their learning! Creating this personal connection is so important in communication. These are just a few of the many ways I plan to communicate better with my staff and students.

My communication goals with parents:
I will continue to send out a monthly newsletter with a TON of information and happenings.  I like sending letters and mail as well, so those will continue to help keep my families informed.  But more than that, I am especially excited to communicate our celebrations with more videos and through Twitter.  This is an area I have not tapped into yet, but am ecstatic to try!  Sharing our story with our families will spread throughout the community, and I cannot wait to connect our school with the world!
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The 3 BIG C’s are my goals this year.  With these, I will begin the journey of a more connected school.  But more than that, my goals of collaboration, celebration, and communication will stay put, the means of which I get to those may change as needed.  Remembering the WHY gives me the ability to embrace any HOW to achieve the goal.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Take a Risk

"Good morning, class.  Today, our objectives are to prepare for our state test.  We will be going over some test-taking strategies and reviewing all of the standards we have studied so far this year.  Please take out your textbook and turn to page 52."

When I was a student, I heard this.  Today, it can still be heard.  Not because teachers WANT to teach this way.  They do this because they FEEL they HAVE to teach this way.

With today's accountability, risk-taking has been diminished.  Test scores, teacher evaluation, and new standards have driven schools and teachers to limit their creativity because of the scripted environment the state and legislation has made us promote.  Our teachers are inspiring, creative, motivated individuals who got into this profession to help children achieve and succeed in an environment that promotes thinking, questioning, problem-solving, and creating.  Why do we succumb to the wields of this accountability?

Before I continue on, I do need to stop and reflect on this.  We are NOT doing anything wrong.  We are doing what we CAN do and what we have been told is best under the constructs provided by the state.  We want our students to do well on this test, and we are doing the best we can to prepare them for it!  I am going to be the first to admit that I have attended workshops and trainings on how to raise test scores and actually put together programs in schools to do just that.  When the state says you are a failing school and they are visiting to see what accountability actions you are taking, you do what the state is telling you to do to raise those test scores.  And, test scores do go up, school "grades" do go up, and in looking around the school, we have become a testing factory.  But, I say, it is time to take a collective stand and not allow these state mandates determine what we know is best for students.

Start taking risks and doing what we know is best for kids.  The "scores" will come if we strive for higher than what the mandated standards say.  And let's face it, test scores do NOT determine the success of our school if we are celebrating and sharing all the fantastic things going on in them!  Our teachers will not have to think twice about a teacher evaluation system because they are already utilizing the best practices to push our students to higher levels.  Know the outcome you want from students and go after it!

Last week, the PATINSProject director, Daniel McNulty, gave the example of the 175 vs. 5 concept.  Many times, we dictate our instructional practices, curriculum, and differentiated techniques because of the 5 state testing days we have in the school year, all because every child takes the same test and not allowed many accommodations and modifications we know are best for students to show their learning. Why should we change what we know is best for kids for just 5 days of testing?  We cannot let the 5 days dictate what we do with the other 175.

On top of it all, no child is average.  Daniel also shared this absolutely fascinating video.  Yes, it is 18 minutes, but well-worth every second.  I especially love the first 5-8 minutes, as this is really the heart of his message.

Todd Rose explains that despite it all, no one is average.  Everyone is different, requiring different instructional methods and different means for showing their knowledge and abilities.  We need to "nurture individual potential". We are in a position to say enough is enough.  We have read, studied, and worked endless hours to make sure our students are getting the very best and we know what kinds of instructional practices should be implemented in our classrooms.  No longer do we force test prep upon our students, which many times is the one-size-fits-all approach.

From this point, I pledge to take risks as a principal, encourage risk-taking in the classroom, so teachers feel the freedom to try new approaches and can meet every child where they are.  If no child is average, then we have to approach every child individually.  I challenge teachers to take risks, try new methods and approaches, allow questioning and creating.  Allow redos and retakes because we KNOW that is where the real learning will happen.  Build individually-paced projects and tasks so that each child can grow at his/her rate, not the rate of what we claim is "average".

I encourage my staff to continue to be the most AMAZING staff around, take risks, be creative, and then only the sky is the limit!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Anyone who has children who have either been in Little League or are experiencing it now knows what I am talking about when I say the word "time".

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I have 3 boys, only 2 of which are in Little League right now.  I can only imagine what thousands of other parents across the nation experience who have multiple children involved in sports or any other extracurricular activity. I love my kids being involved and feel it is incredibly important for our children to be involved, but it is time-consuming!

So, why do we do it?  Because our children love it; we do it for our kids.  We sit in rain, cold, heat, wind, and any other weather element I can think of because we love our kids and want them to experience the very best.  We will buy the best equipment, fill up the minivan 2 times a week to transport the kids to practice and games because it is imperative our children build teamwork and resiliency skills. We want them to create memories, build friendships, and learn to work as a team.  When it comes down to it, we will do some pretty crazy things for the betterment and development of our kids.

Being a mom of 3 boys, educator, principal, and high school principal's wife is absolutely wonderful!  I wouldn't wish for anything different.  Many people ask me, "How do you do it?  How do you find time for it all?"  My answer is, "I don't know. I just do."

For me, doing what is best for kids is my pursuit every day.  Time is not an excuse.  I could sit back and list the many reasons why I cannot do something for my kids or my school.  There are only 24 hours in a day.  I can't add any hours to the day; we all need to sleep sometime (while I can think of at least 10 educators who I swear do not sleep).  But, I quote Eric Sheninger, "We make the time."

To me, our kids, our schools are well worth the time.  Time doesn't bother me when I know it is for a good cause.  When I'm passionate about something, time flies.  

“When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute.  But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute - then it’s longer than any hour.  That’s relativity!” ~Albert Einstein

All the work is worth it when we see what kids are able to create and achieve. Honestly, I don’t believe I could sleep at night if I knew I didn’t try my very best and take advantage of every minute to do what I feel is in the best interests of our children.

I don’t consider myself as a master multi-tasker.  However, I do believe it is critical to prioritize.  What is my goal today?  What is the purpose behind my tasks for the day?  Let THIS be the guiding question, then there is ALWAYS time for what is best for our children.

Each morning, I make my post-it “stack” of to-dos. Each task is on a different post-it. After I make the stack, I prioritize the stack - most important on top.  How do I determine the most important? I ask myself these questions: Does it involve helping kids?  Does it involve helping my staff?  Does involve communicating with my parents?  If I answer yes to any of these questions, it is on top.  Yes, those managerial tasks are mixed in the post-it stack, but I don’t always set them as a priority.  I will get them done, but that is not why I do this job.  I want to make the MOST of my time, and doing what is best for our children is always my guiding question.

After a task is completed, I crumple the post-it and throw it out.  There is something quite gratifying about that part! And here is where I am a bit crazy.  I do have a larger set of post-it notes that are my “always to-dos”.  These activities are always a part of my daily stack, always at the top.  Being visible in the school, reading with my kids at home, and sharing or collaborating with others are always at the top of my list.

At the end of the day, I can say I accomplished a lot and know it was for the betterment of children, both at home and at school.

I’ve decided the next time someone asks me, “How do you have the time for all that you do?”, I will simply say, “I make the time because it is what is best for ALL the kids in my life.  Time is not MY excuse."

So, make the most of the time each and every day, ensuring the goal and purpose behind it all is for our children.  When that drives you, anything is possible.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Technology is NOT an Add-On!

Technology is NOT an add-on. Technology IS a means by which we attain 21st century instruction and skills in our schools.

Recently, I've been reading Digital Leadership by Eric Sheninger and attended a keynote address delivered by him as well.  His insight on essential skills instruction and technology integration is spot-on! I am continually reflecting on what I read, on the words from the educators I follow.  Often times, it stirs with me for a while, coming into focus to drive me, refuel my passion and vision.  My recent reading has brought this to the forefront for me.  We have been approaching technology as tools and devices instead of working on shifting our pedagogy.  

We have been driven by adding tools and devices to our schools, instead of REALLY thinking about WHY we use these tools and devices.  Too often, we buy the devices, train teachers on the tools, but fail to determine and establish the vision behind it all - the development of 21st century essential skills and instruction, thus changing our instructional techniques for the students we have in our classrooms today.  “Technology is not just a shiny tool that can increase engagement, but a conduit to endless possibilities that can enhance every facet of what we do in education” (Sheninger, 2013).  Too often we create and attend professional development opportunities focused on particular devices and cool Web 2.0 tools to use in the classroom, but never give the WHY we use it in our instruction.

Let me give an example.  

During this past year, I have worked to shift from a Twitter lurker to a Twitter user.  This propelled me to share this technology tool with my staff.  I created a PD Roundtable for my staff, invited them to fill out a Google Form to give insight on their comfort level with Twitter, and then sat around a table and showed them how I use Twitter to develop professionally and learn from other great educators around the globe.  Pretty standard delivery.  I told staff about a cool tech tool I use to grow.  

Now think of this.  What if I had posed in that Google Form this question?
What are some ways we can learn and grow from others in education?  How do you collaborate and share?  Come to the PD Roundtable to share!
Then, Twitter is just ONE way, not the only way.  Then, it is not about the tool, it is about the purpose and outcome of the many possible tools.  

Maybe our shifts in education are happening slowly because we are approaching the tools and devices instead of the pedagogy behind it all.  We are buying the devices, showing teachers the cool tools out there and how they work, instead of first thinking about WHY we use technology in the classroom.  It is not about the devices and tools, it is WHAT we do with it to build skills with our students and how we communicate with those in our school community.  Maybe we need to shift HOW we change education so it is NOT about the technology, but about the 21st century pedagogical shifts and communication.  No more technology conferences.  We need more 21st century essential skills conferences with technology as a way to reach the outcomes we want for our students and our schools.

Let's ask this:
What do we want our students to know and be able to do? This is our ultimate question. This is why we do what we do every day.

Here is my answer to that question.
  • I want my students to be able to collaborate and learn from others.
  • I want my students to be able to create with the skills they have learned, not just recreate, but really create something new.
  • I want my students to know how to find information and then do something with it.
  • I want my students to be able to think about problems and find new solutions.
  • I want my students to ask questions and then find the answers to those questions.
  • I want my students to love learning, reading, writing, art, music, anything that interests them.
  • I want my students to be responsible citizens, capable of contributing to a community in their own productive way.

Never once did I say I want students to know how to use a particular device.
Never once did I say I want students to learn a particular tech tool.

Our infusement of technology into our instruction needs to be secondary to the shift that needs to happen in our actual instruction.  We need to start approaching our instructional models, creating environments where questions, collaboration, creativity, and problem-solving are the norm. Think about the outcomes we want for our students.  Integrating technology has made these outcomes easier and more readily available, but it is not the device or tool that makes 21st century skills instruction possible, it is the framework for 21st century learning established before even introducing the device or tool that creates success for our students.  It is not the device or the tool, because those will constantly be changing.  What we keep constant is our continual efforts to build 21st century essential skills within our students so they can apply those skills to anything they choose to do.

My mantra is this: technology is not an add-on. These devices and tools are just a means by which we attain the student outcomes we wish to see in our children.  We need to change HOW we think about technology in schools and how we professionally develop educators.  We need to focus on the instructional techniques.  

My next conference: I will attend the sessions where we talk about instructional techniques, 21st century essential skills in schools, and the philosophy shifts that must take place for our students to be successful.  Tech tools are always cool to learn and are necessary to achieve these skills.  But, if we approach our professional development in this regard, I know we will begin to make the massive paradigm shifts in instruction that need to occur so our children are successful entrepreneurs of the future.  

This has become my focus and my vision in our schools. Shift our instruction. Model its use and share this vision with others so that it becomes so embedded into the culture that there is no other way to reach kids than with the technology.  “As a leader, this is the type of teaching and learning culture that we should want to foster and cultivate, one where creativity flourishes, students find relevancy and meaning in their learning, and teachers are given the support and autonomy to be innovative.” (Sheninger, 2013) Then the technological integration will happen, not be the add-on it seems to be in so many schools and classrooms now.