Embracing the new

I would ordinarily start an August post with the time honored traditional Welcome Back, but that doesn’t seem to fit this year. While we are certainly gathering mostly the same people to the same general spot in our community I think we can all agree there is so much we are unfamiliar with.

The opening of our new building has been a unique experience; I wish I would have placed a camera on my shoulder during our Snow Cone Social as children and parents alike took in the learning commons for the first time. I’ve never seen looks of such joy and downright giddiness in my nearly 20 years in education. We all knew that we were going to have a very special building on our hands as we open our new campus, but I don’t think we realized how happy it was going to make us. We are 7 days into the new school year and the positive vibe shows no sign of weakening 🙂

I recently stumbled across a quote that reads every day brings new choices. I like this. We champion the 7 Habits of student leadership on our campus and I want all of our learners to understand that each day brings new opportunities to find the right path.

I found this quote to be germane to the decisions that we have made, and continue to make, as we grow into our new building. We make plans that we think will work, and then we adjust to the new realities of those decisions. We put systems in place that make sense on paper, and then we rework those systems to ensure ease and safety. We place the furniture in the places that we think will work, but make sure to put wheels on everything just in case!

I am going to extend this quote and say that not only does every day bring new choices, but every new situation. I appreciate everyone being flexible as we sort out our new routines and I have been impressed by everyone’s positive attitude as we tweak the systems we have in place. I can’t thank you enough for rolling with it.

This is going to be a very special school year and I look forward to experiencing all the new, together.

#conditproud

Dan

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It is what it is

I think it was the hall of fame coach Bill Parcells who issued the response “it is what it is” during a post-game press conference. Since that time this refrain seems to have become the perfect way to end a conversation about nearly anything, particularly when explaining why something might not be working well. I’m going to be honest, I don’t like it.

The whole idea reeks of give up. It’s much easier to simply shrug something off that should be adressed  than actually putting in the work to make it right.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. When I was growing up I’m certain I was told to ‘leave well enough alone’ and isn’t this the same thing?  I guess good enough was…good enough.

I’m not sure when my change in perspective happened. There was a time that I thought ‘it is what it is’ was genius; a great way to avoid talking about an issue that was likely uncomfortable.

In my relatively short time as a campus leader I’ve witnessed, first hand, the dangers of avoidance.  Somethings never ‘is what it is’, its what we allow it to continue to be until we choose to do something about it.

Lets choose to do something about it.

Work on your return game

Has anyone ever told you that Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it?  It’s a fairly common refrain that I wish I could change and it all hinges on one small word.  I don’t like the idea that nearly all of my time is spent reacting.  When I think of what that means I think of knee jerk, emotional, shoot from the hip decisions – not the state I want to find myself in if I can avoid it.  Maybe an instantaneous, dangerous situation might call for a reaction, otherwise I would to respectfully suggest we change that word to respond.  Responding is all about measured, thoughtful, proactive discourse that addresses the root cause of an occurrence.  Reactions have a way of making things worse, responses can often prevent something from happening again.

When I’m responding I’m shaping the path forward and addressing the cause of a situation; when I’m reacting I’m providing a quick reply to a situation.  Herm Edwards, former NFL player and coach had a terrific rant on one of the morning shows and it all surrounded don’t press send.  In Herm’s case he was chastising a player for a poorly thought out tweet that he had sent.  His rant boils down to my essential point, simply reacting has a high percentage of getting you in hot water; responding usually involves stop and think time.  When I receive an email that I feel like I need to reply to RIGHT NOW…I usually don’t.  Providing time to absorb and reflect will usually allow me to respond in a way that I’m proud of instead of reacting in a way I might regret.

When I was an assistant principal I remember a conversation I had with my predecessor, Mr. Bowyer, about decision making.  We were talking about instructional arrangements for the upcoming year and he told me about a time when, on the last day of school, a few teachers came to him with a suggestion that was a bit of a departure from the ways things had been done in the past.  Fred reacted.  The idea sounded pretty good at 4pm on Friday when everyone was packing to go home and he told me he regretted the decision that entire next year!  From that point on he always told me he doesn’t make decisions on the last day of school.  What I took from that conversation was that when a decision doesn’t allow space for conversation or reflection it’s best to make time for further consideration.  Hungry?  Tired? Early? Late? If there is a time when you don’t feel like you are ready to make an important decision, don’t.  Most decisions we have to make can wait until you’ve had a snack 🙂

Speaking of returning, while we are only days away from enjoying the hazy, lazy days of summer we will be walking into our brand new campus before you know it.  August will bring all manner of excitement, and a new building will require us to design a new normal.  While we will do our best to anticipate things like traffic, circulation in the building, and normal ebb and flow of the day, some of the decisions we will end up making will be in response to the way we use our new school; in some cases we’ll wait to see what patterns establish naturally instead of reacting to each individual circumstance.

Thank you for a tremendous 2015-2016 school year, it has absolutely flown by and I am extraordinarily proud of all that we have accomplished.  Enjoy your summer and if there is anything you need send me an email, I’m usually close by and and quickly react respond.

#conditproud

Dan

It matters what you roll

 

I recently finished reading School Culture Rewired and there were several pieces of the book that really had me thinking not only about how we do things at Condit, but also about why adults act in certain ways in regards to workplace culture.  There was one particular quote, at the beginning of the book, that really set the table for me in terms of what the discussion was going to be about, I’ll paraphrase to make it a more inclusive question that I’d like you to consider:

Why do some people roll up their sleeves, while others simply roll their eyes?

I’ve always been fascinated by the different ways that people react in different situations.  Sometimes the smallest challenges will set a person off on a hyper-emotional rant and the next week that same person will respond in a thoughtful, measured way to a serious, significant setback.  I’m certain that this fall squarely under Habit 1 Be Proactive, because it is here that we understand that we, ourselves, choose our weather.  In this case we are choosing our reaction.

Regarding rolling, I think order matters.  In some cases a short, semi-private, emotional reaction is completely understandable as long as it is followed by the real work of finding solutions to a problem.  I don’t think choosing your weather means denying the emotional component, but I do believe it means understanding which one needs to be the focal point and the public reaction.

I also believe that which we roll most becomes our default reaction.  The context of the entire book is building a positive campus culture and while it certainly begins with leadership, it is sustained by the actions, and reactions, of everyone.  When the adults, teachers and parents alike, model desired responses more times than not the results will be young people who act the same way.

I’ll take it one step further; I can assure you that something will not go your way this week.  Someone might make a mistake that creates more work for you or you might forget something that puts you in crisis mode.  When that happens my hope is that you will choose to roll up your sleeves instead of rolling your eyes and take a proactive view on the situation.

Spring is in the air, testing season rolls on, and end of the year activities loom on the horizon.  Embrace the quick pace of these next few weeks and take a moment to soak in the remaining days in our current building before the big move.

You can catch me rolling up my sleeves to make sure the remainder of the year is the best yet.

#conditproud. Dan.

The tail that wags the dog

 

I think it is healthy to continually question what we do.  Doing things because that’s the way we have always done it can be dangerous.  In a rapidly evolving world like ours it is our responsibility to regularly take stock and evaluate our practices.  If we aren’t mindful of the specific ways in which we are preparing our students, we could leave them at an educational, and competitive, disadvantage.

My latest wondering if born out of our recent viewing of Most Likely to Succeed, the film that our Condit PTO partnered with the Bellaire High School PTO to show for our community.  As if the film didn’t have my mind buzzing enough, I recently received the book which extends on the ideas in the film.  In fact, I can trace one particular concern all the way back to the first year that I was teaching.  As a fifth grade teacher I felt like I was always stuck between a rock and a hard place…maybe it’s best to say 2 rocks and 1 hard place.  Here was my concern that was born 19 years ago and still vexes me today, and for purposes of strict irony I will phrase it as a test question.

Question: As a teacher, which should serve as your instructional compass as you plan and deliver lessons to your students?

What you instructionally believe to be best

  • (a) A focus on soft skills such as problem solving and collaboration
  • (b) The test that students will need to pass to advance to the next grade
  • (c) The instructional delivery method/style in middle school
  • (d) All of the above

It’s impossible to circle (a) and move on, to do so would be irresponsible.  We are often told that life is about balance and life in the classroom is no difference.  I would argue that sound instruction is absolutely THE most important goal, but if we don’t at least acknowledge the specific challenges ahead for our learners we would not be properly preparing them.  The big question then becomes where do we draw the line?  What we can’t do is compromise what we know to be best for the sake of something that we believe to be instructionally, and maybe developmentally, wrong.  This isn’t about blasting a state test or about critiquing the instructional arrangements in middle school, it’s about allowing something that hasn’t happened yet dictate what we do now.

The struggle is real and the underlying message of Most Likely to Succeed isn’t making this any easier.  If we are to believe that the old version of success may no longer be valid (good grades – get into college – get a good job), then we had better start putting a premium on accessing and manipulating knowledge as opposed to simply regurgitating it.  We don’t have all the answers, but I think we are asking the right questions, and that is a skill I know will always serve us well.  

Hang on tight, because this year is about to get kicked into high gear and we will be packing up and getting ready to move before you know it.  Enjoy the warm weather, spring break, and remain #conditproud.
Dan

Embracing the new normal

I had the good fortune of attending the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) recently in Austin, Texas and as always the conference was inspiring. The Expo was great, the sessions were well planned, and it was exciting to see what might be the next big thing in EdTech. I feel one of the greatest strengths of conferences like these are that they create space to have conversations that might not happen on campus. When you are surrounded by folks excited about educational technology it is impossible not to think of the implications for your campus and begin to ponder big questions. When will we be one to one? What does genius hour look like at the elementary level? What role could makerspaces have in our enrichment rotation? My mind was buzzing by time I left and there was one BIG question that I am still wrestling with: Is our job as educators to embrace the new normal of eLearning, or is it to anchor our students to the fundamentals of the past? While the answer may seem easy, a quick ‘yes’ is not without issues.

  • Will Storia make book bags obsolete? Several of our classrooms have started using Scholastic’s online bookshelf to all but replace the book bag that goes home. With a few clicks teachers can indicate which level books are appropriate for the different readers in their class and then BOOM, an entire library of just-right books. Students have choices of what they read and they can interact with them on any device that supports the internet.
  • Have we seen our last paper newsletter? Let me put on my parent hat and tell you I’ll take Livingtree + Class Dojo + Gradespeed over any paper newsletter any day of the week. A tool that gives me up to date information that I can use to work with my child is what I want, not a sheet of paper that is partially outdated by the afternoon it comes home.
  • Will we soon be putting trifold makers out of business? With content creation tools that can outpace their paper based counterparts it won’t be long until the conversation will no longer be about rubber cement or glue stick – the questions will be about how many parts of the world have access to the project you posted online.
  • Can our Wednesday be the same without those big green folders? With digital portfolio tools like the app Seesaw students can capture and comment on work digitally, afterwards teachers and parent can view/comment/interact with it. It beats a folder full of papers any day.

I don’t think the answer is yes to any of these questions, but I will qualify that with a big fat YET. While we might not see everything disappear at once I can provide you examples of all of the above tech replacements happening at Condit as you read this. The biggest hurdle we continue to face is access; we must be certain that all of our families have access to the tools they need to support the success of their child at home. Until we can ensure that the electronic versions of the old standbys are accessible to all parents we will continue to rely on both the old and the new.

Speaking of the new, you can follow Condit Elementary School on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – @ConditES is our handle on all three platforms.

#conditproud

Dan

Always seeking first

There have been a few very politically charged events happening recently that have me thinking lots about Habit 5 Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.  In fact, just last night as I flipped back and forth between the January HISD School Board Meeting and a Presidential Primary Debate I couldn’t help but reflect on the number of times I felt that the discussion was all about the defending their own opinion as opposed to considering the thoughts and feelings of others.  And so, like I do in many cases when I’m looking for a little perspective, I decided to ask my 12 year old and 8 year old a few questions at breakfast, here are a few ideas we talked about, these might be questions you talk to your child about as well:

  • What happens when you go into a situation with your mind already made up?  This ended up being a good one to start with.  It ends up highly likely that when people do this they will end up in an argument, not a discussion.  I’m not sure when arguments are productive, but I can tell you thoughtful discourse will usually be more impactful and solution based.
  • Why don’t people like to ask questions?  I’m not sure when asking questions got a bad wrap, but personally I feel that people who are seeking information tend to be thoughtful.  When someone is interested in what we think, we tend to be interested in them as a result.  
  • Do you have to make someone feel like they are wrong in order for you to be right?  For all you Star Wars fans out there, you know that only Siths speak in absolutes 🙂  Too often people become more concerned with making someone else feel wrong as a means to justify their stance and this concerns me.  Seeking first to understand is about keeping discussion about ideas and solutions, not winners and losers.

Seeking to understand others is foundational when thinking about walking the path of leadership.  History’s greatest leaders weren’t those that imposed their ideas and opinions on others, they were folks who built consensus and searched to find the best solution.  Listening to others is the easy part, genuinely considering their ideas at the expense of your own is hard.  Leaders find a way.

I look forward to a memorable 2016 and to achieving great things together.  Most importantly, I look forward to sharing our ideas, enriching our school community, and truly listening to what others have to say…even if it wasn’t what I was thinking 🙂

#conditproud

Dan