Saturday, February 21, 2015

What powers your school? #savmp #empowerment

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"What are ways that you are INTENTIONAL in allowing your staff to feel empowered?"  Amber Teamann asks us to consider this question in the February #SAVMP blog post. Here are a few thoughts from her post:

"Teacher empowerment. Student voice. These are real things. Are they happening in your building? As a leader, do you see the need for these two facets of your culture?"

"It is the responsibility of the leader to provide opportunities and experiences for your teachers to grow as leaders. This is more than just asking once at the beginning of the year, it’s an on going piece of what helps define the culture of a campus. It helps move your school from point A to point B, all fueled by the power of passionately involved staff members."

"Collaborative practices amongst your staff allow for a collective growth, which will also have a direct impact on your students. They have the chance to learn from each other, see different perspectives, and have the chance to share their successes. This builds team morale, as well as allow best practices to be shared and discussed."

I've been thinking about this question all month and I think it really boils down to what structures are in place in our school to promote passionate teaching and learning, collaboration, and leadership. 

Passionate teachers. Starting with hiring, we are looking for teachers with passion and creativity. In our school, teachers create their own curriculum (read no boxed programs) based on the content standards for their grade level. This is amazing, and it's a ton of work. It's not for everyone, but it really allows teachers to be creative and incorporate their passions as well as student interest into their instruction. Every classroom looks different, with walls painted in bright colors. We have a room with a Hollywood theme, and a surfer room. Lime green, golden yellow- chosen by the teacher. 

New this year, our fourth and fifth grade teachers have an enrichment block- four days a week for an hour, elective-ish classes happen-- topics chosen by the teachers to incorporate their passion and talents. Students from both grade levels choose every six weeks or so. This round, we have knitting and crocheting, Minecraft, Zumba, a school newspaper, and digital photography. Earlier this year, speech and improv, art, engineering, and even a script writing contest were student choices. Students and teachers love this time of day, and have commented about how much they enjoy having the freedom to create these passion-driven learning opportunities for kids. One of our 5th grade teachers shared her thoughts on our school blog. You can read it here.

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Collaboration. It is everywhere at our school, and much of it is powered by Google! Our staff meeting agendas as well as our weekly tech PD are Google documents where everyone can add items, share ideas, and take notes. Teachers develop instructional units together -- sharing the work means working smarter, not harder. Some teachers share students for instruction to provide more differentiation for student needs- in first grade kids are shared for phonics based on need, and third grade teachers share students for spelling and word work. Teachers inspire each other with fresh ideas. How did you do that? is a question often asked, which leads to another teacher trying out an idea. A YouTube Zumba playlist has kids in many grades dancing now, and Kahoot, a fun quiz type game has now been tried in several grade levels after being shared by a teacher. Check out our teacher tweets below! in 2nd grade in 5th grade

Leadership. In our school we believe everyone is a leader and everyone is a learner. Kids and teachers. Teachers are leaders on curriculum committees. Teachers lead the talent show. They help lead parent nights-- right now there are teachers planning Dr. Seuss night! Teachers are also leaders outside of school- leading learning by blogging and reflecting, by presenting at conferences, and by making their learning public by Tweeting out the awesome happening at school. Teachers lead in meetings- sharing and teaching all of us about everything. Recently, teachers have been reading articles and posts about building relationships and classroom community and sharing best practices and their findings. Kids lead as mentors in Minecraft Club. Kids lead in enrichment by choosing projects and Zumba routines. Kids lead in the world by blogging on their class blogs.

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"What are ways that [I am] INTENTIONAL in allowing my staff to feel empowered?"  

I think for me, I want to set the table. I want to provide the structures to allow them to be empowered. I think the way that this happens in our school sets teachers up to be successful, to take risks, to learn, and to be inspired. It's not my school, it's our school. We want to love what we do. We want kids and families to love being at school. I think this happens when we believe that the smartest person in the room IS THE ROOM. Every day, we try to learn and to grow. It's messy. But when it works, it feels AWESOME! 

We harness the power of each other.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Don't believe me just watch #cuerockstar #pennpanthers

I spent the last three days in Petaluma at the first #cuerockstar camp of 2015. This is my sixth rockstar in 3 years and we were lucky to be hosted by Amy Fadeji at her amazing school. The whole rockstar thing aside I could have spent three days walking around her school and taking in all of the little things. 

And all the time I was learning. Having fun. Getting fired up! Just watching the Twitter feed during the weekend was awesome- all of the sharing and connecting happening. 

After driving home last night, I watched the tweets for #caedchat as educators discussed the topic of professional development. Questions about what makes it great, the best format, the length of sessions, and even the conference location.

Thinking back on this weekend, we had two venues- a cool building downtown Petaluma for the night time Pecha Kucha event (think 6-ish minute keynotes), and Amy's elementary school. Both just right. Casual. A little crazy. Pecha Kuchas are a unique pre-party that only happens at the shorter rockstar events. Scary, but I love it!

Our Friday night event started with snacks and we were excited to get the Pecha Kuchas started at 6:00. Only one problem... half of our faculty were still on the road and stuck in traffic below the Golden Gate Bridge. With an ETA of 6:45.

We decided to just get started around 6:10 and hoped they would show up in time. I was still getting tweets and texts from the faculty about being late. "Don't worry," I said. "We'll see you when you get here." Around 6:40, horns honked outside. Our final two had arrived. What did the late arrivals do? Sit down? Relax? 

No way. 

They stepped up to the front, plugged in their computers and dove in. It all worked out. 

Mike Fenton said to me "I guess the vibe of this rockstar thing is different." Yes, yes it is. But it works. Why?

It has three things.

Purpose. Passion. And a plan.

What about presenters? Nope. We have people. Leading learning. For free. 
Rules? Nope. Those were broken all weekend. By design.
A fancy conference place? Nope. Just a rad elementary school with the right feel.


Start with the why. It's not about tech tools. Or Google. It's about connecting people. Inspiring leaders and learners. Telling your school's story-- on Twitter, with a photograph, or with a piece of wood and some zip ties. It's about critical thinking and reading and writing and learning. 

It's about getting people to dance with you literally and figuratively.

Just add an Uptown Funk dance video and Jenny Derby and you have a lunchtime dance party! First followers matter.

Take Michael Fenton. Math Teacher. First time rockstar faculty. This guy decided to change his whole session for Sunday, asked the audience what they wanted to learn, and ripped his shirt off in the shred session. Freaking AWESOME. He revamped his whole day at Lagunitas. The night before. 
Seriously- he reflected on his teaching and made changes that he implemented the next day. In front of 100 strangers.
Right before he ripped his shirt off. 

A plan.
The rockstar recipe is no secret. Start late. End early. Two hour sessions- time to learn and play. Two hour lunch- time to connect and reflect. Small group. Hands on. Collaborating. Creating. Communicating. Everyone is a learner. Everyone is a leader. Everyone- even the faculty. This camp, our faculty included principals, an assistant superintendent, coaches, teachers, and a director of innovation. Many first time faculty. Their most important job? Modeling risk-taking. Doing stuff that's scary. Learning on the fly.

How awesome would it be if we brought these ideas back to our classrooms? To our schools? 

I can't wait to see the tweets rolling out over the next few weeks and months as their story unfolds.

Don't believe me-- just WATCH! #uptownfunk