Navigating the Waters of Change

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Last year I was introduced to the Assistant Superintendent Leadership Seminar put on by MASS. Last Friday was our first meeting of the school year. These sessions are rich with discussion and give all of us time to reflect on the work that we are doing in our schools and help us push our thinking to better ourselves and our districts.

For the last hour we watched a Tedx Talk by Rosebeth Moss Kanter entitled Six keys to leading positive change.” The description of the talk was as follows:

From the power of presence to the power of voice, leadership expert and Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter discusses the process of making a difference in the world. Kanter uses the stories of great leaders and ordinary people to reveal the six success factors that are the keys to positive change, including lining up partnerships, managing the miserable middles of change, and sharing success with others. This uplifting talk from TEDxBeaconStreet will inspire you to lead and take action. (Tedx Talks)

Short, sweet, and caught our attention. Six simple factors that will help us lead change in our schools. As we know change can be tricky, scary, and very rarely desired. As Robin Sharma stated, “Change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.” All of us as leaders know the importance of change, but also fully realize the fear associated with it. Heifetz and Linsky in their book Leadership on the Line do a wonderful job explaining what occurs when change happens in schools. They write, “when you lead people through difficult change, you challenge what people hold dear-their daily habits, tools, loyalties, and ways of thinking-with nothing more to offer perhaps than a possibility. People push back when you disturb the personal and institutional equilibrium they know.” With this knowledge and what I have seen throughout the years, I was curious to hear about her six steps. Oddly enough they were very straight forward:

Show Up

Speak Up

Look Up

Team Up

Never Give Up

Lift Others Up

Simple, powerful, effective and all critical in leading change. As leaders, we must show up. We must be present and visible in leading a change initiative; regardless of the negative reaction it may cause. We must speak up and share with everyone why we are doing this; communication is the key. We must look up and listen to people. We need to hear their fears and apprehensions and validate them while also explaining why this change is for the better. As we know in leading initiatives nothing is done alone, we must collaborate and team up. Change takes time, it does not happen overnight. In education we want immediate results, but we must learn to never give up regardless of the time table or opposition received. Finally, it is important to lift others up. People need to be heard, listened to, and recognized.

After the video, we had a great discussion on these steps. All six are critical parts of leading change and you can’t have one without the other. Now, if only leading change was as easy as following these six steps our lives would be much easier. As you think about a change initiative that was successful in your school, did you include all six of these steps? On the other hand, as you think about an initiative that failed, were there any steps that you missed? In the end, as leaders, we must always be willing to change in order to grow. As Tony Robbins said, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always gotten.”

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Welcome 2017-2018

Monday I start my 24th year in education. Each year begins with tremendous optimism for everyone: students, parents, teachers, and administrators. Kids can do and will do it; they will succeed. It is our responsibility to find a way to reach every student and help them reach their fullest potential. As we begin this wonderful 180-day journey, I wish each of you the very best and remember every day why we are here….to help kids succeed to their fullest potential, no matter how difficult, no matter how many obstacles we must overcome, no matter the reason. Our kids deserve it!

 

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Enthusiasm through Empowerment

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For all of us, whether as administrators, teachers, students, or parents, the start of the school year is filled with all sorts of emotions. There is a sense of sadness that summer is over and the relaxed feeling that accompanies summer days has come to an end. There is the knowledge that the hectic pace of the school year is about to start and not end for the next ten months. The summer gives us time to pause and reflect on the previous year and also allows us to recharge for the start of the next year. Regardless of the joys of summer, I often hear people say, “It was a great summer, but I am ready to get back to school.”

A new school year is filled with excitement, rejuvenation, and anticipation. These feelings are only natural and motivating. For those of us on Twitter, our feeds have become inundated with back to school messages that cover a myriad of topics. There is even a hashtag #1st3days to mark the start of the year. Regardless of your role or how many years you have been in school, everyone has that sense of enthusiasm to start the year. Knowing this, I ask the question…

“What are you enthusiastic about to start the school year?”

As the year begins to unfold, that sense of enthusiasm and excitement begins to dissipate week by week, month by month; it is only natural. Over the last few days, I have reflected on this very notion…

“Why do we lose that sense of enthusiasm?”

And

“How can we maintain it all year?”

Is it even possible? Who knows, but it was worth exploring. Through my journey, I discovered a book by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani entitled Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Own Learning. The title grabbed me…

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“Could we as teachers help students maintain that level of enthusiasm if we empowered them throughout the school year?”

So I bought the book for my Kindle and began reading and thinking. Two chapters in the book jumped out:

Ch3: Empowering students means giving kids the knowledge and skills to pursue their passions, interests, and future.

Ch 5: It’s not about giving them a roadmap for learning, it’s about having them create their own maps.

After reading these chapters I asked myself…

“What if we as educators, found a way within our classrooms to empower students to follow their passions, would this help build and maintain that level of enthusiasm?”

I would imagine more could be gained if we created a structure that allowed students to follow their passions for a portion of the school week, found a way to have them relate it back to what was being taught, and allowed for an authentic assessment of learning.

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Juliani created this chart for the 20% rule as a way to empower students to guide their learning. 20% of a day or a week may be too much time. But let’s not focus on the time, but the concept of empowering students in an engaging and authentic way. There are many ways to do this, and this is just one. So I ask the question…

“How will you empower your students this year to maintain that level of enthusiasm throughout the school year?”

REIMAGINE, REDESIGN, AND REINVENT

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I was fortunate enough this week to have attended and presented at the MSSAA Principal’s conference. A future blog post will cover the message of that presentation. I always enjoyed attending this conference as I came back to work with new ideas and big picture themes to implement in the upcoming school year. I attended several break out sessions over the two days but was left thinking a lot about one from the Admin. team at Nipmuc High School. They challenged us to reimagine, redesign, and reinvent what we are doing in our schools and in our districts. This message has given me reason to pause, reflect, and plan for the upcoming school year; more importantly, it has inspired me.

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Schools get “stuck” in doing things the same way. Opening days meetings, welcome back to school nights, assemblies, concerts, lesson plans, tests, projects, final exams, etc. What if we, as schools, principals, leaders took a step back and reimagined some of these events? Redesigned them? And then reinvented them? What could and what will happen? Think about that…. We can’t do it for everything we do, but what if we picked one thing a term or trimester, how could that change things in our district? My guess is it will make it better. I plan on doing this throughout the year and will challenge our team here to do the same. The end result will only benefit our kids.

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To Exam or Not, that is the question?

Last week I had dinner with a colleague who decided this fall that his school would not be giving students final exams. We discussed his decision and his rationale for it; truth be told, a lot of it made sense.

Over the past few days, I have been helping my own children as they prepare for their final exams. The review packets and the exams they took, highlight the very reason why my colleague decided to eliminate exams. What they had to study for was arbitrary and a basic regurgitation of facts, dates, and concepts. There was very little that showed that a student mastered and understood the material at a high level. Simply put, this was a rote activity that rewarded memorization rather than understanding at a high level.

I know I am painting all exams with one broad brush, but as I thought back on my experiences as a teacher and building principal, this tends to be the norm. Is there a better way to assess students to show mastery of material? Some schools have replaced final exams with quarterly common assessments. This helps students prepare for reviewing large quantities of information as they get ready for college. If schools are still looking to have final exams, that are worth 10%-20% of a total grade, then maybe the format needs to change. Would students be better served by doing a capstone project, writing a paper, doing a project etc.? Maybe the time of final exams for high school students has run its course? It is definitely worth a discussion.

The Power of Relationships

May 30, 2017

Last week I was on Twitter and this came across my feed:

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I read it, retweeted it, and went along my way for the rest of the day. On my ride home that day, I had a conversation with a colleague and we discussed the importance of classroom teachers making connections with students. We agreed that mountains can be moved and true progress can occur when teachers and students connect beyond the curriculum.

Over the next few days, I spent some time thinking about my 20 plus years in education, the classes I have taken, and the conversations I have had with teachers, administrators, and peers about the importance of building relationships in schools.

As a principal, I would always show Rita Pierson’s TED Talk to new teachers. There are two quotes from that TED Talk that always resonated with me and speak to this Tweet. At the start of her talk she says:

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Our kids, all kids, deserve that adult, that teacher, who connects with them and lets them know that they can achieve and accomplish anything they set their minds and hearts to.

Towards the end of the talk she says:

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One can argue the merits of this statement, however there is a lot of truth to it. Some students do not learn from those teachers that they fail to connect with. Why did I show this video to new teachers? Because I believe in the importance of connections and building those relationships with students. As James Comer writes, “No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.”

Nine years ago, my first class at Northeastern University was taught by Ashland’s own, Dick Cunningham. One of the texts for the course was Michael Fullan’s book Leading in a Culture of Change. And one of the chapters of the book was called “Relationships, Relationships, Relationships.” The chapter spoke to the importance of building relationships, regardless of your role in education, in order to make change happen. I have never forgotten the class discussion that day. We spoke about the importance of teachers building relationships with students in order to impact learning. We spoke about the importance of school leaders building relationships with staff to implement initiatives and drive change to improve student performance and outcomes. And we spoke to the importance of district leaders building relationships with schools and the community in order to make certain that teachers have what they need to do their jobs to help kids learn and close the achievement gap.

The examples and stories can continue about the importance of relationship building and the positive impact it has on everything we do. As the school year draws to I close, I ask each of you to think about how you have built relationships over the year and how it has positively impacted the learning in your classrooms.

Welcome

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Welcome to my blog. My hope throughout the year is to share many of the wonderful things that are happening in our schools on a daily basis and provide you with some insights and ideas from this office.

All my best,

Paul Vieira, Ed.D

Assistant Superintendent for the Ashland Public Schools