Saturday, July 31, 2010

Reflections on being and effective leader - JHU/ISTE assignment week 3

I’ve learned a few things about being a leader during the last 3 weeks.
I think the first thing I liked was Gardner’s use of the word constituent instead of follower (Jossey-Bass, 2007, p. 18). As a budding leader I don’t want people to follow me around like lost puppies. I do want people to believe in me and and follow my lead, even as I learn and grow over time.
When we initially think of a leader for some reason our brain shoots towards the great and mighty leaders. As Murphy describes it, those with tremendous vision, knowledge, strength, initiative, courage, tenacity, power, and a take charge attitude. What we don’t think of is the “unheroic” side of leadership, the shared vision, asking questions, coping with weakness, listening, dependence on others, and letting go. (Jossey_Bass, 2007, pp. 52-53)
Leaders, at least good ones, need to fulfill both of these visions of leadership if they expect to lead our schools. I suppose in some idyllic world there exists a school where the students are happy to sit quietly in their seats while information is poured into their brains. Teachers follow scripts and thus don’t worry about creative lessons. Tests scores are all high. Discipline is not needed. the only need for a principal is to shuffle paper. However, in the real world this does not happen.

Kelley and Peterson describe the real world  thus, “principals are also expected to work effectively in increasingly diverse, fragmented, and pluralistic communities with vocal stakeholders. (Jossey-Bass, 2007, p. 359)
An effective leader in a school needs to be able to communicate. All these teachers, and parents, and students, and higher level administrators, not to mention the community leaders, and custodians, and just about anyone else who walks through the door, all of these people need to share in building the school vision and then share in executing the school vision. To do so a leader must listen carefully to what each person is saying translate that into one coherent vision then rebroadcast it in a series of small fragmented conversations again and again and again until everyone hears, understands, and believes.

Robert Evans tells us that the the “Authentic Leader” has four action orientations ... foster change: “clarity and focus, participation without paralysis, recognition, and confrontation. “ (Jossey-Bass, 2007, p. 154)
An effective leader must have focus. the leader keeps the focus on the shared vision. When you are up to your ass in alligators it is difficult to remind yourself that your initial objective was to drain the swamp. (Quote from inspirational poster to start chapter on authentic leadership in Jossey-Bass Reader p. 5) While poop may roll downhill an effective leaders (emphasis on effective) takes responsibility for everything. When constituents bring problems to the leader, the effective leader shows how the finding the solution comes with focus on the shared vision. While the problem may not actually be solved, the person who has the problem is empowered to work a solution that is in keeping with the shared vision.

Thomas Sergiovanni quotes Larry Norwood, principal of Capital High School, Olympia, Washington as writing, My style is to delegate and empower: and my successes have been through other people. (Jossey-Bass, 2007, p. 75)
An effective leader empowers others. The days are long past when a person can grab the reins of a school and dictate everything that will happen if that day really ever existed. As Angelo Patri writes in the book A Schoolmaster of the Great City, As each day went by, cautiously I put the problem of school discipline before them and they responded by taking over much of the responsibility for it themselves. (p. 15). Leadership of a school in my experience and reading is more of a function of allowing smart, talented people to do what they do best than it is a of dictating duties.

I’ve written before on leadership in education on this very blog. Well more than once. Since reading Napoleon on Project Management by Jerry Manas I’ve realized that leadership is more about giving the people the power to fulfill your goals, but today I realize the goals aren’t mine. As leaders we build a shared vision with the constituents in our schools. We get input from the teachers, staff, students, parents, community and organize and refine it until we have a vision of the school, not a vision of what we think a school should be.
That’s the beginning. After building a vision comes the hard part, focus, trust, teamwork, consistency, and an institutionalization of the entire program so that it lives beyond just our tenure.


Inc, Jossey-Bass, & Fullan, Michael. (2007). The Jossey-bass reader on educational leadership.
         San Francisco, Ca: Jossey-Bass Inc Pub.    

Patri, A. (1917) A Schoolmaster of the Great City New York, NY: MacMillian Co

Company, R.R., & Manas, Jerry. (2006). Napoleon on project management. Nashville, Tn:
         Thomas Nelson Inc.    


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Comparing self assessments. - blog requirement for JHU/ISTE leadership course

This was a very difficult task for me specifically. First of all there is my strong desire to pass a test so I'm always fighting the urge to give myself the benefit of the doubt on what I think is important. For example I want to be more of a change agent then I probably am, at least according to the test. Then there is my tendency to underestimate my expertise. Secondly, I started working at a new district in January, less than eight months ago and we have been on summer break for two of those months. I don't know the schools, the staff, the culture, the key players, or even where (or if) I'll be working next year. This really is an exercise in; if I'm working next year and at this school as the unknown, but new principal, this is how I think I will score.

I first filled out the paper based self assessment sheet (linked here). The next day I filled out the online survey. As you can see I added a column for those results. I thought it interesting that only 25% of the numbers differed more than one point. The only one that differed two points was my underestimation of my involvement in curriculum.

I thought the online assessment, though hardly to be considered accurate, would be more accurate because it had several questions for each responsibility and included some specific actions that would be considered fulfilling those responsibilities. If it is more accurate then I underestimated my abilities 80% of the time. This means I could be a better leader than I think I am, of course it might mean exactly the opposite.

There is a third interpretation. That interpretation would be that in the areas where I scored my self lowest compared to the online survey are the areas I feel are the most important to me as a leader. Thus I would want to become more experienced in those areas. Those areas would be in order of importance according to amount underestimated.

  1. Involvement with curriculum instruction and assessment

  2. Monitor Evaluation

  3. Relationships
The corollary then would be the areas I think are least important are where I over estimated my abilities.

  1. Change Agent

  2. Communication

  3. Culture

While I would be ready to put the first 3 at the top of the list I'm not sure I would put communication or culture at the bottom. Change Agent, now that would depend on the school. In the school I was thinking about while doing this exercise I don't think a Change Agent is necessary. Not to say it can't be improved, rather, I think the previous principal implemented the major changes necessary to revitalize the school and what is needed now is a leader who can continue those reforms.

This of course is a problem I see too often in schools. Reforms are begun and start to see success then they fizzle because grants end, leadership changes, enthusiasm wanes, or a new fad comes along*. In this school at this time I would be the principal who continues the reforms started by the previous principal and hopefully refines and develops them into a lasting change. I would not shake things up and change everything again.

*I'm pretty sure a similar thought was in one of the readings this week I just can't figure out where.


Inc, Jossey-Bass, & Fullan, Michael. (2007). The Jossey-bass reader on educational leadership. San
          Francisco, Ca: Jossey-Bass Inc Pub.

Marzano, R. J., Waters, T, & McNulty, B. A. (2005). School leadership that works from research to
          results. New York, NY: ASCD.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Rules

The Rules

I was brought back to thinking about my experience as a computer room teacher this summer. Technically I suppose I could also have been thought of as the Assistant Principal for the ARRA Summer Program. But for the most part I was running the computer lab. This post by Chris Lehmann caught my eye. I know I’m like 10 posts behind on his blog, I’ve been busy. 

I think I showed the computer rules in a post last week. They caught my eye for two reasons. First I was led to believe that rules are more effective if you present them in a positive way. Instead of No Cellphones, it could be presented as Cell phones are to be used during free periods only. Second, I had one rule at the start of the summer, “if you think its wrong it is, and if you don’t know what Iis wrong you should not be here.”

I did have to remind some students to sign in and get to work when class started. I did have to split up some students. And I did boot one student from the room, actually a classroom teacher did, but I supported him.

By the second week students in all but one class came in and got to work without prompting. Even that one class were merely waiting for me to tell them to get to work. I guess they felt more comfortable with the teacher giving out orders. I had several students come into class during breaks and work, though more came in to play. In the mornings I had as many as 12 students show up to school before I did to use the computers.

When I didn’t bust the early students for using proxy sites to evade the school filters I had fewer of them show up early the next morning. As far as I could tell they were either going to video games or songs with poor taste in lyrics. I had a lot of fun sneaking up behind students who were off task and waiting for them to notice me. Usually, they noticed when the students around them couldn’t stop laughing. By the last week in summer school, six weeks.  figured if nobody had a heart attack the students would have loved it. Then by the third week I could project student computers onto the wall and they could monitor themselves. I don’t know how effective it would have been, but it would have been fun.

How did our students do? By the end of the six weeks all students had finished the assigned computer curriculum, a math supplement. At least 4 had finished so early we created custom curriculum for them. One student even started working on math two years above grade level.

As for test scores well let’s just saw they went up a mile and not once did we do any sort of test prep work.

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Reflections on Leadership

         Based on the readings over the last two weeks I define transformational leadership as a leadership style that is focused on creating change. When a leader wants to make a transformational change in a school he/she starts by creating an empowered culture in the school. As teachers feel more comfortable with the power to make change they begin to see problems in a new light. Problems move from being obstacles that someone else needs to remove to opportunities for change. As a culture of transformational change takes over the school it is hoped that the change that happens will be greater than the sum of the parts of the change that has been implemented.
As a teacher my philosophy of education included a strong student-centered classroom. In a nutshell this philosophy can be described as students learn when they do. Studying transformational leadership, servant-leadership, steward leadership, I see these styles of leadership to be a natural extension of my teaching in the classroom. A leader should try to empower their followers in such a way that they become leaders in their own right. Ultimately the leader becomes as Thomas Sergiovanni said a “leader of leaders” (2007).
This decentralized leadership, where power is spread out among the staff, requires strong communications, trust, and highly skilled individuals. The technology of the 21st century makes this style of leadership easier. Leaders build trust by modeling the actions we want, doing the work we expect, and being transparent. We build strong communication through being accessible. I sometimes feel I know administrators from around the world as well as I know my own principal. I am in this leadership program specifically because of administrators and other leaders whom I communicate with on twitter and blogs, but for the most part I have never met. My personal growth, skill in the classroom, has accelerated because of my ability to share and observe various educational leaders around the world. I have been inspired to start implementing some of the changes in my own work.
For me the power of technology isn't in what is allows us to do, but rather in how it allows us to share. In the same way leaders aren't the people who are best at a specific job, but rather are the people who are the best at motivating people to do the job. As a school leader I don't intend on managing everyone in the school rather I intend to manage the teachers and staff and let them have the power to manage their individual sections of the school.

Fullan, M. "Leadership for the 21st century: Breaking the bonds of dependency." Center for
         Development and Learning. Retrieved July 15, 2010, from
Inc, Jossey-Bass, & Fullan, Michael. (2007). The Jossey-bass reader on educational leadership.
         San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc Pub.
Anderson L. S.. (Producer). (2008, January 1). Episode 21: 2 CEOs talk about leadership
         [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from
Marzano, R. J., Waters, T, & McNulty, B. (2005). School leadership that works from research to
         results. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The six steps of the RCS methodology for knowl...Image via Wikipedia
“The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn”- Alvin Toffler

If you are still teachnig your child to be a geek because that is where the money is your too late. the information revolution is in the second phase. The invention process while still going on is not the hot topic, the hot topic is the ability to use those inventions to change the world. 
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Wednesday, July 21, 2010


These are the rules in the computer room I am in charge of for the summer.

no! No ! NO   !
I wonder if I should point them out to the students?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Leadership Week 1

Week 1 is finished with the JHU / ISTE program. our first week in reading and discussing Effective Leadership. Leadership is a good sized topic and I won’t bother writing what I think about it at the moment because we have another eight weeks of study and I’m sure my opinions will be evolving over the next two months.

What I did learn what that I love this format. Read discuss reflect online. For the last few years this has been exactly what I have been doing on a variety of subjects. I’ve even been known to say that my twitter and blogging has taught me more about education that I learned in m first six years being an educator. Now to have the opportunity to do the same, but with the guidance and focus of a teacher.

One is like trying to drink out of a firehose and the other is more like being served tea in fine china. I’ll let you decide which is which.

Sometimes I love directing my own learning and just going where my whims take me, but sometimes, quite often actually, I feel like I’m being overwhelmed and I have to back off a bit. Having someone direct my learning give me the chance to allow someone with experience to filter out the possible choices and I can concentrate on soaking it all in. This isn’t to say I turn off m brain and follow directs, but rather I can focus my attention on the primary subject and let my instructor worry about the quality of the material. later in the program I can and probably will reflect on the quality of the readings and perhaps bring in alternative voices, but for the moment I can feel comfortable that all of the learning material will be of high quality.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Award or Scam

Originally posted at

Award or Scam
June 6, 2008 – 7:22 am by Brendan
Schools in Grayslake Elementary District 46 have been examined closely. It has been determined that they should win the Blue Ribbon Lighthouse award. This award should under no circumstances be confused with the U.S. Department of Education’s No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon Schools award initiative. See the blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence Inc. gives away one award and the U.S. Department of Education gives out the other.
The other significant difference is that blue ribbon Schools of Excellence Inc. is also an educational consultant company. They charged the Grayslake school district over $20,000 for consulting fees before giving the schools this award. It sort of makes me feel slimy now to call myself an educational consultant. On the other hand I don’t live that far from Grayslake, I could have done the consulting for less than half the cost.
I don’t have a problem with having outside sources examining schools and helping them find strengths and weaknesses. The outsider insight often can see things you can’t see from inside when looking for strengths and weaknesses.
For years now marketing companies have been using dubious awards to promote products. A good idea to sell stuff. Not so good if the product is a public school. What are they trying to sell in Grayslake? Why should public schools even feel the need to promote themselves?
As I said in my first article measurements of education are at best subjective. If you want to know if the school is good talk to parents who have kids in the school, talk to the teachers, talk to the administrators. And I don’t say that because we do have the option for rating schools on our website. I say that because the best school according to one person may not be the best school for you. I also think the best school is the one where the parents are involved. Schools are only a small part of the education of your children. Get involved and stay involved and it won’t matter if you school won a Blue Ribbon for Excellence or not.

Social Marketing and Bettering Communicating Between Teachers and Administrators

Social Marketing and Bettering Communicating Between Teachers and Administrators

A member of my Personal Learning Network, PLN, Ben Grey is starting a new job. In his post he says:

It seems to me as I’ve observed the advent of modern technology increasing in utilization in education, there has grown a rift between those in the Director of Technology role and many of the others in an educational institution. Somehow the two sides seem to be at odds. Neither understands the other. As it is most often manifested, the one side is prone to thinking in terms of restricting what takes place in the technological environment, while the other side believes those running the technological environment know very little about education.

As a “teacher” who is also a qusi-administrator I hear both sides of the communication complaints.

I don’t know why it is, but teachers in general seem to have a pretty low opinion of most administrators. While administrators in general seem to think that teachers have too narrow of a scope of view.

I am reminded of the Nordstrom advertising fiasco I heard about in a marketing bootcamp. The story as I was told it is basically, this: Nordstrom’s marketing group decided to insert an advertising page around home delivered newspapers. As they saw it all the home delivered newspapers would be neatly wrapped in a Nordstrom flier announcing not only to the home owner but anyone who drove past while the paper was out that Nordstrom was having a grand opening that day. What actually happened was that the newspaper delivery people, who did not get compensated for any extra effort, decided that this was a waste of time and energy and it started raining. The delivery people already behind schedule because of the rain and the required stuffing of papers into plastic bags stuffed the fliers with the newspaper in a haphazard fashion. When they delivered the papers, if the flier was visible at all it was usually because it had escaped the bag and was now litter and a blight on the landscape. The grand opening was a dismal failure.

The marketing group had a good idea that might have worked, but didn’t because of poor implementation. If someone had said, “What can we do to get the people actually doing the work to buy into this program?” Then perhaps the idea would have been a success.

What does this all mean? it means that as administrators the job requires getting teacher buy in because they are the ones actually doing the grunt work. It means improving communication between teachers and administrators, teachers and teachers, and administrators and administrators. It means being able to see from more than one point of view.

For the last couple of years the push for me has been one of creating a Personal Learning Network, and while that is important, I think the goal as administrators is to build a Professional Learning Environment in the district. A place where all teachers and administrators learn and share with each other. If collaboration is the key to improving our teaching then perhaps it is important to improving districts as well.

Why did I choose Ben’s post as the lead in? Because the educational technology director is the person who has the knowledge and opportunity to create the network. Perhaps, he won’t be the one who ultimately manages the networking, but he can get it started.
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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Day Four Tuesday From Walled Gardens to Authentic Approaches

The BYOL No Paper? No Problem! Effective Teaching in a 1-to-1 Classroom sounded like something that would be interesting. While the basic premise, that of a classroom working solely with 1-to-1 computers, was true I, and I think about half the participants expected something a bit different.

Wenger Swiss Army knife, opened.Image via Wikipedia

I was kind of expecting to see free range students plucking tools from the Internet to solve real world problems collaboratively. What I got was teachers using technology to control the content their students could work from to complete rigid and structured lessons.
Way back on day 1, Saturday for me, I caught the end of the discussion on iPads and their role in education. The debate there was that some felt that iPads were more suited to consumers and didn’t allow for the creation of content. Thus they restricted the ability of student to SHOW what they learned. Others felt that not every tool needed to be a Swiss Army knife. At times students would be asked to build content that could be assessed, but at other times the size, simplicity, and speed of an iPad would be better than a full strength laptop.

This “No Paper? No Problem” group fell into a third category. They fall into what I call the “we want to point our learning to a specific goal and chart the shortest and fastest route to that goal” group. Is that how they see themselves, I doubt it. I’m sure they see themselves more along the lines of doing a great job in meeting the standards set forth by the governing bodies. We are the best teachers in the state because we have the highest test scores. As a matter they claimed proof that their methods work because one of the presenters did have the top scores in the state.

Was the entire session completely without merit? No, I did like the idea feature of the platform they were using that allowed the teacher to see a thumbnail of every student’s computer. I know I could set up something similar in just about any computer lab, but sometimes having something developed and managed for you just makes life easier. (I think that’s why some many people like Macs they work and synch with all things Mac with almost no fuss)

It wasn’t the monitoring of the student’s computers that I liked it was the fact that she would project the screen onto the wall and let the students monitor each other. She also did this during discussions. Students would then make sure everyone participated in the discussion and didn’t slack off.

I was most disappointed in their seeming glee in the fact that one student was removed from the program because he managed to break the security and explore sites that were inappropriate.

About an hour later I went to Creativity and Standards: Amazing Authentic Approaches presented by Annette Lamb Her outline can be found here

Basically she wanted to present some ways teachers could meet the NETS 1 standard of creativity and innovation. She wanted to show us ways that teachers can help students demonstrate creative thinking and construct knowledge.

Start by thinking different. Think visually, she lists several different visual dictionaries and thesauruses. Allow students to explore them and then create their own visual dictionaries, or create vocabulary videos.

Provide options, which she did in spades, If students can’t or don’t draw, give them options of create animations online using the stock images they provide.

Model, I don’t know about you, but I was always taught to model the behavior I wanted. Model behavior, learning, exploring, thinking, and anything else I wanted my students to exhibit in the classroom.

The world is rich in resources, so why do we limit ourselves to the textbook bought by the district. Infuse the classroom with a variety of resources. Novels, graphic novels, comics, editorial cartoons, sketches, caricatures, and more are out there waiting to be used. Find them and show them to your class. Then why not let them surprise you with what they can find or create.

Scaffolding creativity. This was repeated in the unplugged session I attended next. Basically, if you throw everything at your students they will be overwhelmed and return to you a copy and paste. Model the use of one tool and then ask the students to use it. Later, after they are comfortable using the tool, you can ask them to be more imaginative in their creations.

Use the tools to be a more creative teacher. As you can from Annette’s website being a creative teacher means being:

  • Generative

  • Imaginative

  • Ingenious

  • Innovative

  • Inventive

  • Originative

  • Productive

  • Progressive

She provides a nice definition and explains at least one way to make it authentic in your classroom. The rest of the work along that front is up to you.

Conclusion (direct from her website)
Be a model. Use the technologies you plan to integrate into your classroom. Explore our Graphic Inquiry project.
Facilitate learning by creating pathfinders, learning guides, and WebQuest. Explore the Leviathan pathfinder.
Finally, get outside with your digital camera, create a comic, or contribute to an online discussion.

This was a great BYOL session. She had practical ideas to use in the classroom supported by several resources to use to create great artifacts. Everything showed how the NETS 1 standard applies to the student-centered classroom.

If you are like me and you like to see how people take this philosophy of student-centered technological rich classrooms and use it everyday in ways that are elastic and yet at the same time focused directly on reaching learning objectives this was the session for you.
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