I’ll never forget the day I first saw this Playing for Change video in 2009. It gave me chills. It moved me. I was participating in a training about how to collaborate effectively, and how to move schools from good to great. This video is still one of my favorites, and I think it really speaks to what we are trying to do as far as change in education. These musicians are playing together, collaborating, connected by technology. Sure, they are singing the same song, but each brings their own passion and creativity to the piece. How can we lead for change? What components do schools need to have in place to inspire this feeling for kids and teachers? At Star Academy we’ve taken our inspiration from a variety of places and I am so excited about the level of innovation and inspiration at our school. What have I learned? Here are are a few “instruments” for inspiring change in your school.
Get out of your office
If there is one thing school leaders can do to change the culture of schools, it’s to get out of the office! I’m in classrooms every day, and almost every Monday I’m in classrooms with teachers and kids all day-- with no meetings! In EdWeek’s “No Office Day” post, Adam Welcome says,
“There's no denying a Principal has administrative 'office' duties, I get it. There's just no other way to feel the pulse of your school without constantly being on campus and in classrooms. My first year as Assistant Principal and Principal, I was in each classroom, every day, for the first one-hundred days! You can't feel the pulse or set the tone of your school in an office.”
So, get out of your office. Next year, I’m hoping to schedule one “office day” and be out and about the rest of the week.
Create a culture that celebrates risk taking and innovation
Ramsey Musallum Ted Talk: Three Rules to Spark Learning
Watch this video. It says it all.
- Curiosity comes first
- Embrace the mess
- Practice reflection
Start with the standards. Start with the “why”.
Why did we shift to the Common Core anyways? Common core IS NOT all about having a new boxed curriculum to follow in a lockstep fashion. Remember, we teach KIDS, not programs. My K-5 school doesn’t even have textbooks except for math. Teachers create their own curriculum, starting with the standards, infusing the 4 C’s, student interests and needs. Common Core IS all about getting kids college and career ready, ready for the future. We don’t know what the future looks like but we definitely know that jobs will involve technology and collaboration. The jobs we are preparing students for may not even exist yet.
Teachers and parents often ask us why we have first graders using email, blogging, and writing with Google docs. Aren’t they too young? Besides the fact that they LOVE it and they can totally do it, the standards also explicitly state what kids are expected to do. Starting in KINDERGARTEN.
Digital writing in the common core is being rolled out in different ways in schools, but what I hear emphasized the most is the typing requirement. Yes, being able to use a keyboard is important. Digital writing is all about creating, having an authentic purpose and audience, and about interacting with others. Connecting. Collaborating. Success should not be measured by how fast you can type. Having said that, putting this standard out there leaves teachers and leaders with tons of questions. But what does this standard look like?
Model. Model. Model. Provide mentor texts.
We need models. Real examples. Teachers and school leaders struggle with this. They can tell you the 4 C’s but often can’t articulate what it looks like in a classroom with real kids? Teachers wonder, “Where do I start? What if I fail? Do you really want a messy, noisy classroom?” As school leaders we need to tell teachers what we want to see, model it when we lead staff meetings, and celebrate it-- even if it fails or doesn’t go as planned.
Teachers work hard, and I believe that at the end of the day they are trying to do in their classrooms what they think their administrators want to see. I’ve heard teachers say that their teacher prep programs or site administrators have said explicitly that classrooms should be quiet and orderly, and that success is measured by time on task. And now, with Common Core, they are hearing “and add the 4 C’s!” It’s a mixed message at best when teachers try to figure out how to incorporate collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication into their current classroom model. And then we see things like kids doing worksheets in cooperative table groups.
At our school, we’ve spent a ton of time on this. What does digital writing look like for 5 year olds who may not write well yet? And how can we connect our classrooms with the world?
Blogging rocks this standard! There are three roles kids can have-- reading, writing, or commenting on posts. All of our teachers have classroom blogs, and the kids are more often than not the authors, writing about things they are learning about and that they care about. Classmates, families and friends comment on their posts and all of a sudden our students are creating content and engaging with the world and each other. You can check out our classroom blogs here. Check out this third grader’s student of the week post and comments from almost every one of her classmates, or this first grader’s Power Ranger inspired post with 25 comments from teachers, friends, and family near and far. Even our parents are blogging! Check out this post by guest bloggers AJ and his mom on our school blog! Our classroom blogs are all different, some with video posts, some pictures, some authored by students, and some by the teacher. And although every blog is unique, we all started with inspiration from Linda Yollis and her 3rd grade classroom blog. Just having kids comment on posts is a great place to start, and we were inspired by watching this video! We also looked at tons of blogs by classroom teachers to get ideas before starting.
People always ask me if I require teachers to have blogs, and I don’t. What I do have is an expectation that teachers communicate with families. This happens in lots of ways, through our blogs, Google sites, teachers tweeting, and email. Does it take time? Yes. Do our families know what is happening in classrooms? Totally. The best thing about blogs is that the pictures help the kids be part of the conversation. Can you tell from this post what these first graders have been learning about? More importantly, could a first grader tell the story of his/her classroom by looking at this post?
The challenge is to inspire change without having to require it. Do I require things? Sure. I require teachers to leave thorough sub plans when they are gone. But the inspiration to change doesn’t necessarily come from me. Amazing things happen when teachers get inspired. It could be anything from a Kahoot game to a blog post to a video of images with music. So many things have taken off school wide because our teachers were trying things and sharing the awesome things happening in their classrooms! I don’t need to require things because our school has become a place where teachers raise the bar for each other. They embrace the mess and try things with no guarantee of success. Every day.
I want to say yes. When a teacher asks me to try something new, I try to say yes. I want to provide what they need. I also say yes, and… “How can I help?” “What do you need?” Tina Fey’s four rules of innovation (you can read the entire post here) can inspire a lot of the work we do in schools and in life:
Rule 1. The first rule of improvisation is to AGREE. Saying “no” grinds invention, innovation (and improv) to a screeching halt. Obviously in real life you’re not always going to agree with what everyone says. But saying YES reminds you to respect what your partner has created and to start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you.
Rule 2. The second rule of improv is to not only say YES, say YES, AND. In improv, you agree and then add something of your own. If your partner starts with, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you just say “Yeah…” the skit has stalled. But if you respond with, “What did you expect? We’re in hell!” things keep moving forward.
Rule 3. The next rule is MAKE STATEMENTS. Don’t respond with questions. Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles. Speaking Valley Girl (ending every statement with a “?”) does not work, either. Instead of saying, “Where are we?” make a statement like “Here we are in Spain, Dracula.” This may be a terrible start, but it leads us to the best rule:
Rule 4. THERE ARE NO MISTAKES only OPPORTUNITIES. The next big laugh is just around the corner, as well as beautiful happy accidents. Many of the world’s great discoveries have been an accident. Bad glue created sticky notes (Post-It® Notes).
Change takes time-- years possibly. Just be brave and start somewhere. The best advice I can share is to be a lead learner and get messy and embrace change with your teachers and students. After I left the classroom two years ago, I started this blog partially because I wanted our teachers and students to blog. I wanted to model being a digital writer. I really felt that if I wanted teachers to embrace anything that I needed to be willing to do it myself. This blog also provides me with a space to reflect on the amazing job I get to do every day. Do I succeed every day? No way. Do I learn every day? Absolutely!