I hope it wasn’t easy

The title of my final Cat Chat of the year may be leaving you scratching your head a bit, but allow me some latitude on this one.  It would be horribly mundane to simply wish you a nice summer and move on from there; I’m going to ask you to reflect on your experiences of this year and embrace the struggles that you, hopefully, have had.  The adage of with no struggle, there can be no growth is one that I subscribe to with as much gusto as I can muster at the end of May.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hoping that your year was miserable, but I do hope the challenges you encountered asked you to grow in unexpected ways.

So, what am I talking about when I say that I hope your year wasn’t a proverbial cakewalk?  I hope you had an assignment that you struggled to wrap your mind around, a due date that you may have missed, a mix up that caused you to work to recover a bit, or a miscommunication that you had to resolve.  Again, if your school year included these types of situations exclusively, then there is a larger problem at play, but if you ran into situations like these along the way from time to time then you were presented an opportunity to improve, did you take advantage of that?  

Inherent in my message is the idea that you came out better on the other side.  The point of having something challenge you is all about building your experiences dealing with the uncomfortable, honing your skills of working through a situation and finishing the year older, wiser, and relatively unscathed.  Were you able to extract a lesson from the messes you may have found yourself in, or did your run away from it as fast as you could and simply hope it never happened again?

This past year has been an interesting one, to be sure.  Take the summer to rest, recharge, and reflect. Safe travels to all of our Condit families that are aging out and moving on to middle school, and for everyone returning in the fall, prepare yourself to make it happen again in 2018-2019 @ConditES.

#conditproud

Dan

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Be Everywhere

I recently finished reading The Principled Principal by Jeff Zoul & Anthony McConnell, and I’m pleased to report that it produced several head nodding, highlighter grabbing moments for me as I reflected on the way I go about my business as a school leader.   Among the several ideas that Jeff and Anthony discussed, there was one that really got my mind buzzing, and it was a short and simple statement: be everywhere.

The more I thought about it, the more vigorously I nodded my head in agreement.  The way I see it, there are three different ways for me to be everywhere.

Be physically everywhere.  This was the first aspect, and most obvious aspect, I thought about, and this has always been something I make a concerted effort to achieve each day.  I want our students, teachers, and parents to see me in the hallways, classrooms, learning commons, and lunchroom…oh, I guess you might find me in my office sometimes as well.  Being present means being connected, and that is something I put a premium on.

Be digitally everywhere.  You’ve likely heard me say something along the lines of tell your story, or someone else will tell it for you at some point and I mean that sincerely.  If we want everyone to know that great things happening on our campus, it means communicating digitally with our families (Livingtree) and the world (social media outlets).  We have too many amazing things happening at 7000 S. Third Street to keep it to ourselves.

Be tuned-in everywhere.  This last part is the one that I realized after thinking on it for a bit, and being tuned in means, knowing what’s going on.  We do this by doing far more listening than we do talking. Understanding the culture of the building and community is more than just showing up and doing your job, it means seeks to understand the issues that folks are sorting out at the school and community level.

Clearly I have my work cut out for me!  I look forward to doing my best to be everywhere, all the time, everyday.  Let’s also not forget to enjoy the spring weather as the school year continues to roll on, and take time to appreciate all of our annual end of the year events which will begin shortly.  Get those cameras ready and check the calendar…you won’t want to miss being there.

#conditproud

Dan

#oneword2018

Each year that the #oneword posts start to fill up my twitter stream I am in awe of how sharply focused folks can be at the turn on the calendar page.  To be honest, I have usually dragged my feet a bit when it came to proclaiming the word that I would pronounce as IT for the rest of the year.  I guess it’s just been hard to make up my mind; I’ve found it difficult to boil it all down.  However, I persist…

As an educator, I feel like my year runs August to May, not January to December.  Choosing a word halfway through the year seems a bit half baked…and what a year this has been.  Instead of the smooth transition from summer to school we got Harvey.  I have found myself working through the new or unknown more times than I can count and in every way measurable this has just been a different kind of year.  As I reflect on my first half experience and couple that with several spring semester changes on the horizon, I have arrived at my #oneword.

embrace

I’ve always felt that I am the best version of me when I wrap my arms around that task in front of me and welcomed the new.  If the this school year has taught me anything, it’s that new is what I’m going to continue to welcome.

So, bring it on 2018.  I’m ready for you, with open arms.

What’s next?

I’ve started reading #MarchingOffTheMap by @TimElmore recently and there is a significant piece near the beginning that talks about keeping up.  I’ll be honest, keeping ahead of the curve and being able to anticipate what’s next in education is important.  When asked what’s next? I would hazard a guess that most folks think about technology and the classrooms and buildings of the future.  Me?  I thought about the types of kids that we will be tasked to serve.  The world we grow up in shapes our experiences, and in turn, our mindset and it is critical that we understand the types of learners we have in our classrooms so that we can best meet their needs.  Below are a few questions that I kicked around with my colleagues and have my mind buzzing, consider these the next time you are looking for dinner conversation 🙂

  1. Which current educational trend do you feel will eventually change the way we teach and learn?  I’m not sure it’s ready to ‘pop’ yet, but I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of distance learning, or learning with and from people that are not in the same room.  This model certainly lacks the personal touch, but having access to others seems like something that could really impact education.  Here at Condit, we’ve connected with specialists and speakers around the world via Skype and Google Hangouts in the past; it’s not the same as a virtual classroom, but it would likely qualify as baby steps.
  2. As adults/teachers, how are we ensuring we are ready for what’s next?  I tend to take a commonsensical approach to this one, keep your eyes open and remain well read.  If we accept that things change and the world changes with it, then we will remain open to the possibility that what we do will have to change as well.  Foundations like fostering positive relationships should never go out of style, however the tools we use to learn, and the way in which we approach content will always be subject to advancement.
  3. How do we ensure that student learning looks like what the world will be, not simply what school has always been?  What is the saying about recognition being the first step?  If we continue to look forward and consider what can be, as opposed to doing things because that’s the way we’ve always done it then we will have the mindset we need to get our kids ready.  It’s not a matter of throwing out what we’ve always done for the shiny new toy, it’s about recognizing that as the world changes and students change, we need to respond accordingly or we are doing our kids a disservice.

My holiday wish to each of you is that the next 2 weeks turn out exactly the way you have planned; that you enjoy time with your loved ones, and you return to school on January 8 ready to make it happen.  Rest, relax, and recharge because you never know what’ next 🙂

#conditproud

Dan

Being Misunderstood

I recently had a conversation with my colleagues about an article that I had stumbled upon in my twitter feed, it was about how the job of a school principal is largely misunderstood. To be more specific, there are several paradoxes that exist in the job of the person tasked with simultaneously moving the work and vision forward on a campus, while at the same time balancing the bureaucracy on the district level. For the most part, being #conditproud while at the same time being a member of #TeamHISD is a pretty seamless affair since our goals are largely the same: making sure we grow our student leaders, honoring their unique talents, and creating a love of learning. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone understands what I do. I wonder what the responses would be if I took this one question poll: What does the principal do? Perhaps that’s a topic for another time 🙂

The idea that we don’t all clearly understand each other is one that I have been kicking around since my conversation; I see a road fraught with peril when we believe we understand exactly what everyone does and who everyone is, and this idea extends well beyond my specific position at our school.

As teachers, how do we really get to know our students? We tend to instruct our students with some fairly large assumptions about them until we learn otherwise. This is one of the reasons that I fell in love with the idea of parent conference day at the beginning of the year. Spending the time to get to know about our kids before getting to know them as learners really set the stage to respond to each of their needs. Understanding our students in the context of their lives outside of school is powerful stuff.

As parents, do we understand all the different directions that teachers are pulled? While the idea of what a principal does is largely accepted as ‘lots of things’, I have found that sometimes the parent view of a what a teacher does is narrow and leaves lots out. Perhaps we need to make space for those types of conversations on our campus as well?

The great part about recognizing a misunderstanding is that there is always an opportunity to address it. Habit 5 tells us to seek first to understand then to be understood and the best time to practice that is always! My advice: ask a lot of questions, take a lot of notes, and be a good listener. There will be time to explain a problem, it’s best to understand context first.

As we head into Thanksgiving Break I hope you enjoy the cooler weather, you find time to rest and relax as we enjoy a nice week-long break, and you eat altogether too much as you are surrounded by friends and family…that is something I’m quite certain we all understand 🙂

#conditproud
Dan

Making Memorable Moments: Pits and Peaks

Welcome to the 2017-2018 school year!  While most people consider January 1 the beginning of the new year, most of us in the field of education know that the real beginning is somewhere around the end of August.  I can’t wait to see what adventures and opportunities for growth await us this year and I’m excited to be a part of that journey @ConditES.

I recently began reading the latest book from a few of my favorite authors, The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath.  The premise of the book is that when we realize that certain moments have incredible impact we can better harness and create those moments; pretty interesting stuff.  Two specific types of memorable moments that are discussed early in the book are pits and peaks.  The more I thought about it, the more I felt like as a school leader, pits and peaks were what constituted most of my time, however I never thought of those moments as opportunities…until now.

Prior to the idea of thinking in moments, I seldom thought that working with people during a low point was a blessing.  I mean, I always seek to empower students/teachers/parents that I am working with, but I wasn’t considering these moments as opportunities to make a positive, memorable impact that, in hindsight, would be seen as a proud moment.  I’m challenging myself to make that switch as we begin the new year.

Consider the student that has been sent to speak to me because of something that happened in the classroom, usually a repeated issue that hasn’t been addressed fully by using classroom interventions.  Instead of simply addressing that specific issue, what can I do to make sure that when that student looks back on the event that they see it as a turning point?  What does that conversation sound like?  What does the follow up look like?  How do I turn something that at the onset is such a negative experience, into something so positive and transformational that this student will look back on it as something they were glad had happened?  No easy answers here, right?  I don’t claim to write because I have all the answers, but I can say that the more I write, and the more I read the writing of others, the more questions I seem to have.

You may be asking, why start the year with these types of questions?  Shouldn’t I be writing about the super fantastical awesome year that is on tap at Condit?  Maybe, but I suppose I’d prefer to think about how I will respond to the missteps, because the way I figure it, the memorable moments aren’t always when things are going awesome, they tend to be when we can take something horribly un-awesome and turn it into something we want to remember, and that’s hard.

I hope we can make 2017-2018 a memorable school year for all the right reasons.  I look forward to celebrating all the things that call for celebrations, and finding a way to celebrate even that things that don’t.  

#conditproud Dan

Forget Perfect and #EmbraceTheMess

I ran across a fantastic blog post this past week written by a 9th grade teacher who mused over the idea of perfection in our profession.  In her post she reflected on the perspective that a set of recent visitors may had after leaving her class and observing a lesson that wasn’t exactly seamless.  Upon reflection the teacher said this:

IMG_8419

Sydney is dead right; we need to drop this idea of perfection as a goal when we are talking about education.  Working with kids is reality and reality is messy.  We need to #EmbraceTheMess, rethink our expectations, and recognize what working together to develop learners is all about.

There is no such thing as the perfect student.  Granted, there are some that make better, more consistent, choices than others but I’ve yet to run up against a student who is error-free.  Part of growing up is sorting everything out and as a wise educator once said if you aren’t making mistakes, then you probably aren’t trying hard enough.  To expect perfection out of students is like asking them to perpetually play it safe, to never take risks, and to fear what happens if things don’t always work out.  We want our kids to be brave, not operate out of fear of a misstep.

There is no such thing as the perfect parent.  As most of you know I have a 3rd grader and an 8th grader and among the many words I would use to describe my journey as a parent, perfect is not one of them.  We do the best we can with what we have, right?  We raise our kids the best we know how, we tell them all the right things, but when we drop them off at school there will be 7 hours when we hope they make all the right moves.  Sometimes they don’t and we sort it out but it should never a referendum on what type of parent we are.

There is no such thing as the perfect school year.  My 11 years in the classroom and now 9 years in admin have been instructive, to say the least.  I have earned 2 master’s degrees, worked on 4 campuses, taught 4 different grade levels, in 2 different districts, and did a short stint at the administration building; one lesson I continue to learn is that each year will have successes and setbacks, each year is a special kind of rewarding, and none of my 20 years in education, in any capacity, have been perfect.  We strive for better, to learn from our mistakes, to be proactive in looking for pitfalls, to care for each of our kids, and to do our best to grow them as learners, and we will never expect that 180 day process to be perfect.

My Cat Chat articles this school year started out talking about embracing the new as we moved into a brand new, different type of building and from there I have thought about being a marigold, getting it wrong, and seeing things as nails if all you have is a hammer.  I passed the midway point in the year and moved on to difficult conversations, being empathetic, being more dog, and doing things specifically because they’re hard.  Do you sense a theme?  The difficulty of the work we do is only surpassed by the importance of the work itself.  I know what’s at stake and because of that thinking of the way we go about things matters.  A lot.

I’ve run out of time, and Cat Chats, this school year and there is little left to say other than enjoy your summer.  I can’t wait to see everyone in a few months when we kick off the 2017-2018 school year; it’s going to be perfect. 🙂