Summit Basecamp- Day One

I am definitely in basecamp, nowhere close to the summit today.

A few months back our Technology and Innovation Educational Specialist at Upper Perkiomen School District shared a great opportunity with us. He had heard about a partnership opportunity with Summit schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, Summit Basecamp. Fast forward several months through an application process and meetings with our newly implemented ninth grade academy team and here I am in California for two weeks.

One of the conversations that I had with a teacher before we committed to this project continues to stick with me. A science teacher had some questions about why this learning was important to us. We were sitting in my office discussing self-directed, personalized learning. He turned and looked at me and said, “Do you really think students can be self-directed learners?” I gave him a sincere and earnest reply, “Yes, yes I do.” I believe in the concept with my whole being, but what would does it really look like in practice in different schools and classrooms throughout the country? And what can and will it look here in our own school?

Well here on my first day at Summit Preparatory Charter High School in Redwood City, CA, I am learning just that. But the learning looks different. Summit Basecamp believes in providing training that looks like what what will be modeled in our classrooms. No one is sitting here lecturing me about the personalized learning platform and I have yet to watch a powerpoint about the mentoring component of self-directed learning. Instead, I am asked to learn about the PLP by going there and opening a task card and working my way through activities that guide me through understanding it.

The facilitator told us from the get go- Don’t ask me, engage in a productive struggle, talk to your partner and work through it. I struggled. I struggled a lot. I think my partner may have wanted to wring my neck. At one point, I told my facilitator, “You just made me feel like a total idiot.” It wasn’t easy to grasp something that I had never encountered before in a self-directed way, but we persisted and the learning is happening.

Obviously this system is doing something right. You see this sign shortly after walking into the school building.

So how can you not want to be a part of this exciting work? During our introductory session, Summit explained that several years ago, they found that many  of their graduates were struggling in college. When asked how their graduates are doing now, they told me they will be looking at the data over the next few years to determine if this self-directed learning model really does improve post-secondary outcomes for students.

It is so refreshing to have an opportunity to connect with educators and professionals across the country. I met a secondary principal from a school in Texas which enrolls only students who are on track to become professional soccer players. I met a “user experience researcher” from Facebook who designs the learning platform. Their experiences are all so different from my own. All in all a great day as we continue to struggle with the questions surrounding self-directed learning and what it means for students and teachers at our schools.

You can learn more about the project here: Summit Basecamp

 

 

 

 

Finding Time for My Person

In my last post, I talked about some things I am looking to quit in 2016. It really has me thinking, “What has quitting given me more time to explore?”. In the next few blog posts, I will be sharing what I am using my time to work on in 2016. One area that I am focusing on in the new year is my person.

Over the past year or so, my daily routine hasn’t afforded me time to focus on my well being. Before becoming an administrator, I usually exercised around 4 times a week. I used to be an avid runner, sometimes clocking 10 miles a day. It made my feel more energized, more centered, and definitely helped my focus and concentration. Obviously, I don’t spend hours running anymore but I am working to incorporate more activity in my daily routine. Last week, I did a quick Piyo workout and it instantaneously improved my mood.

When I say I really want to work on “my person”, I don’t just mean my physical self. I think it is important to remember to feed your interests and passions in order to lead a full life. Gardening, getting outside and growing something always helps me feel accomplished. A few summers ago, I taught myself how to can.  It was really gratifying to grow my own vegetables or fruit and turn them into pickles, jam, or homemade ketchup. I could feed my family from our garden all year round. Jam made from blueberries grown in your backyard ALWAYS tastes better than store bought Welch’s grape jelly. This year, I have made a commitment to learn to keep bees. Although I am just one person on the Earth, I can do little things to make all of our lives better. Working under the guidance of Chuck Pressler from Bucks County Apiaries, I ordered my bees a few weeks ago and will install them at our new farmhouse in late April. I am absolutely terrified, but really excited to delve into a new learning. More to come on my beekeeping experiences in later posts!  The best teachers I have worked with bring their passions and energy to the classroom. They understand that it is important to share their own interests and encourage their students to do the same. You know these classrooms because you can hear and see the energy exuding from everyone in the room.

I am not super religious. I grew up going to Catholic school, but transferred to public school my freshman year in high school. For me, going to church isn’t about saying the prayers and sitting/ standing/ sitting again/ kneeling/ sitting again. It is about taking time out of the hectic week to give thanks for the many blessings I have in my life. Lately, I have been getting away from this time. It isn’t necessary to recite prayers, but spending a few minutes everyday in quiet reflection will help me maintain a positive outlook.

Teachers carry an enormous responsibility on their shoulders each day. We are tasked with teaching young people the skills they need to be productive members of society. In order to accomplish this mighty feat, we need to take care of ourselves. Last year, one of the special education teachers at my high school became interested in Mindfullness. He started offering sessions to teachers and students, who now sit side by side in quiet reflection. It has caught on like wildfire.  As pressures on us continue to mount and stressors appear around every corner, remind yourself to take time for you.

I would love to hear some ways that you are working on taking care of “your person” in 2016! Please share in the comments. What interests and passions are your pursuing in this new year and how are you bringing it to your classroom?

What I’m Quitting in 2016

 

This past summer, I read Think Like a Freak by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt. In this book, the authors explore why the concept of quitting is often equated with failure. They go on to explain that strategic quitting can actually create opportunities and sometimes lead to future success. For me, 2015 came with a lot of new responsibilities: taking care of a toddler, selling our home (and making sure it was clean every weekend for showings), packing to move, and keeping our current home running while my husband spent most evenings working on various projects at our new home.

Towards the end of 2015, I realized that I was allowing my time to be jeopardized with stuff that doesn’t really matter. I was wasting my energy on routines that weren’t working for me- wake up, work, come home, dinner, bath and bed time, catch up on some social media and emails, clean up dinner, and go to bed. It left me feeling a little dull. Here are a few things that I am quitting in order to free up space for more meaningful things in my life.

I am quitting mindless internet use. Quitting this habit should free up a lot of my time. Over the past few months, I have been tasked with picking out every single thing that will go into our new construction home. You can spend hours on Pinterest searching for that perfect paint color or rug. I am not quitting internet use all together, just trying to be more mindful of the amount of time that I spend on the internet. So far in 2016, I have been successful with this.

I am quitting my routine. I always wait to straighten up my house until the end of the night, right before I go to bed. In doing this, I put off this chore everyday and instead engaged in “mindless internet use” (see prior paragraph) to procrastinate. Instead, I am going to clean up as soon as possible in order to free up time for myself.

I am quitting wasting time in the car . My drive to work isn’t very long but instead of wasting the time I spend in the car, I am going to listen to more books. I have already finished a few books so far this year and am looking forward to listening to many more.

What does all of this have to do with education you ask? Teachers everywhere never have enough time. It seems as though everywhere we turn, there is always something being added to our plates. Engaging projects can’t be done in class because there “isn’t enough time” or we can’t go to that awesome webinar because there “isn’t enough time.” I think educators everywhere would benefit from taking a step back and asking themselves, “What can I quit in order to make room for other things, more meaningful things?” Maybe reviewing homework assignments every day isn’t working or grading is taking up too much of your time. Quitting something may give you the opportunity to try out that innovative project with our students or may free up time to research that strategy you want to try. I think it is worth a try. In my next few blog posts, I am planning to share the more meaningful things that I am engaging in this year now that I have more time. Stay tuned!

Is anyone else quitting something in this new year? What new ideas or interests are you pursuing with your time? Please share!

 

 

Leading Through Service

Summer was definitely busy as my husband and I started to build a new home and look to sell our current home. I have been itching to write though! This past week, I became a member of my local Lions club. When I was inducted, I learned that someone needs to ask you to become a member. A sponsor needs to recognize your potential and nominate you to become a part of this service organization before you can even apply. Many thanks to my colleague, Scott Voth, who believed that my skill set would be beneficial to the club. I am truly honored.

Over the past few months, I have noticed that the world’s most influential people always lead through service to others. As I was standing with other Lions club members during the induction ceremony, one of them stated, “You are not a success until you help others become successful.” This reminded me of the words that Principal El shared at TEDx Pennsburg- “To lead is to serve, if you don’t serve, you can’t lead.” This statement really resonated with me. As educators, we need to remember that it is our job and duty to help others be successful both in and out of our school buildings. If we model this behavior for our students, they leave our schools ready and willing to make the world a better place.

As I embark on a new school year, I will look for opportunities to serve my family, teachers, students, fellow administrators, parents, and my home and school community everyday. I think service to others keeps you humble and grounded. We sometimes loose touch with this focus as we work to check off tasks on our daily to-do list. Opportunities to serve others present themselves everyday, we just need to keep our eyes and hearts open to them.

How can you serve those around you?

Check out the entire TEDx Pennsburg event here.

As I Finish My First Year……

I just looked at the dates on my blog settings. It has been over a month since my last blog post! I really need to set a writing schedule and stick to it. The spring was a little hectic and now that the summer is here, I find myself having more time to reflect. I just finished my first full year in building administration and to say I learned a lot would be an understatement. Here are some of my reflections on this past school year and my goals for the next few years to come.

There are a lot of things that take you away from what you feel is important in schools. 

For me, I think teaching and learning is and should be the most important function of our schools. Everything that occurs in our schools should revolve around learning. Learning can take a lot of forms. It should not always be thought of as a process by which students sit in desks, listening to a teacher while he or she writes on a smart board. Teachers can learn a new instructional strategy from a PLC meeting. I can learn something new through a conversation over coffee with a fellow administrator. There are a lot of things that take up our time in education, but we need to make sure to make teaching and learning our priority. In the years to come, I will continue to keep this belief close to my heart, make time everyday to get into classrooms to observe and give feedback to learners and keep current on how learning evolves in our society.

I should always seek to improve myself and others. 

I made mistakes this year. Some of the mistakes were really dumb and I should have known better. Although I won’t make those same mistakes again, I think I might still mess up a time or two. There is always room for growth. From now on, I will try to be more thoughtful in my decision- making and anticipate how my decisions, words, and actions affect other people.

Ask for feedback. 

I think some administrators just plug away everyday in their jobs. They don’t ask for feedback because they don’t want to hear it. I do believe it is important to ask students, teachers, parents, community members for honest feedback. My goal was to ask this question of every teacher in the building at the end of this school year. I didn’t get to speak with everyone, but I did get to speak with about half of them. People shared openly and I learned a lot about myself, the history and culture of the district, and the ideas teachers had for areas of improvement. I know that I won’t get to everything they discussed, but I know there are ways we can work together to make our school better than it was this year.

What other advice do you have for me as I embark on my second year as a building administrator?

Let’s Notice Teacher & Student Curiosity

Let’s talk about staff empowerment and transformational leadership. I have been pondering my thoughts on these topics, unsure of what to write. I have to admit these important concepts have not been in the forefront of my mind this school year. As I am just finishing my first full year as an administrator, I am still learning about and getting to know the comfort zones of the faculty.

I am embarrassed to tell you that I am a bit of a micro-manager at work. I have difficulty sharing responsibility and delegating. If I take care of an initiative or problem, I know exactly what is done. If I share responsibility, I fear that follow through may not occur. Maybe I would find myself having more time if I worked to empower the staff in the building. The special educators like to refer to me as forever a “case manager”.

This year, I noticed one of our teachers was exceptionally active on Twitter. Knowing that Twitter can be an outstanding PD tool, I wanted to share her knowledge of Twitter with the rest of the staff. I asked her to run a workshop with a few teachers on how to use Twitter to build your PLN. She was glad to own it and I was so impressed by the time and energy she put into planning the workshop. Just a few short weeks later, that same teacher told me she was curious about the new LMS our teachers were trying out. Without abandon, she jumped right in to try it out. I think her curiosities will certainly transform into leadership abilities.

Let’s notice when teachers and students are curious. Let’s cultivate that curiosity and step aside so the staff and students in our buildings can lead. Watch the great work that will happen when you notice the strengths of your staff members and capitalize on them. Next year, I will look for opportunities to show instead of tell, watch instead of do, and listen instead of talk.

Just Do It




Since I have become an assistant principal, I have tried to work under a mantra, “Just Do It”. In the field of education, we talk about what we want school systems to look like and reminiscence about how our past experiences have shaped what we believe now. However, the rubber has to hit the road. We need to make decisions and  work to realize the outcomes of those decisions. “Just Do It” reminds us to be efficient with our time and ensures that we are moving forward.
Time management is not my specialty. Sometimes I start a task and find myself distracted by an e-mail, a phone call, a student need, a tweet, a text (I could go on and on here.) Maybe that is the nature of the business. My fellow assistant principal and colleague, Art Vigilante, is a time management master. He is extremely efficient, setting himself to a task and accomplishing it all in one fell swoop. He is great at “doing it” and getting it done. I envy him and his ability to fit it all into a day. For me, time management is always a work in progress. Self-awareness is always the first step in realizing change. Here are some tools that I use to keep me on track:

  • MY GOOGLE CALENDAR- I live and die by my Google calendar. I like to joke that if the Google calendar app ever crashed, I would walk in circles at work. I schedule everything on my calendar and you can guarantee that if it isn’t on my calendar, I am not going to be there. I use my calendar to remind myself of tasks and goals that I set to accomplish for the day.
  • Paper & pencil lists- as much as I love technology, I still appreciate a good “to-do” list. There is just something about putting the line through a task that I just can’t give up.
  • Self-reflection- I have learned quickly that as an assistant principal, your day can easily be consumed by necessary tasks that don’t always align with where you want to focus your energy. Reflecting helps me to remember where I want to spend my time and how to channel my efforts towards student learning.
  • My Family- They help me to be a better professional. I am surrounded by amazing people that support me as a working mom. My sister-in-laws and moms take good care of my son so that I can focus on “just doing it” at work. On most weeknights, I come home after work to a homemade dinner made by them and a clean house. I am immensely grateful everyday for this blessing.
  • My Colleagues- One thing I love about working at Upper Perkiomen School District is the people. There are numerous teachers within the high school who come to me with problems AND possible solutions. Some teachers come to me to discuss a concern and end the conversation with “how can I help you?”. I can count on my fellow administrators to help me out if I am feeling stuck on something or cover for me if I can’t be present somewhere. Always looking to help each other out, we have a great team!

How do you manage your time? What methods do you use to “just do it” everyday?