How Do You Challenge Yourself?

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With school starting back up around the country, it is important to start thinking, How do you challenge yourself? Jay Posick, Mark French, and I (Ryan Sheehy) are principals that have connected through being in a PLN called Principals In Action. Principals in Action is a group that was started by one of the Kids Deserve It authors, Adam Welcome. It started with a challenge by Adam to ride the slide with kids then tweet the picture using the #principalsinaction hashtag. The group is now so much more than a hashtag. Using Voxer as our platform, we communicate on a daily basis, discussing triumphs, struggles, and the everyday occurrences of being a principal. We currently are a group of over 100 administrators that have made a goal of being out of the office and truly being a principal in action. Our group stretches from coast to coast and everywhere in between.

One of the ways we have been able to challenge each other on a daily basis is through creating challenges that everyone participates in then tweets about using the #principalsinaction hashtag. These challenges come out each week and are posted all over Twitter by using the hashtag. This past year some of the challenges included: ride a tricycle, ride the bus, serve food in the lunchroom, eat lunch with students, play on the swings, and read to students. These challenges are constantly pushing administrators out of their office and out with kids and staff.

For me (Ryan), last year was my first year as a principal. Being part of this PLN provided me a level of encouragement, professional development, and outside thinking that I was not getting in my district. The challenges provided me an excuse to document some of the fun things I was doing outside of my office. I have shown up to principal meetings and other principals look at me and say, “Ryan, it always looks like you are having fun.” I am and I show it off because school should be fun and the challenges had that component for me. I have enjoyed riding tricycles, slipping down slides, serving lunch in the cafeteria, and just being with kids. We need to be the one that shows teachers, students, and parents that principals need to be with kids, not in their office.

For me (Jay), I was in my tenth year as principal in the same building. #principalsinaction provided the inspiration and support to get out of my office, interact with students and staff, and accept challenges. I honestly don’t remember all of them, but I do remember my favorite one, shadowing a student for a day. I actually shadowed two students- a 6th grader in the morning and a 7th grader in the afternoon Lunch and recess duty were sandwiched between the two shadowing opportunities. The day was spent in classrooms learning right alongside the students. Interested students filled out a Google form and then a random number selector determined who I shadowed. The students and staff were awesome that day and it was amazing being in the classrooms with them as a student. I think the staff enjoyed me being in their classrooms far more than an observation or a walkthrough, too.

For me (Mark), last year was my 35th as an educator and 20th as an elementary school principal. Being connected with other leaders across the country has revitalized my attitude and energized my spirit. I have a group of colleagues who inspire, motivate, encourage, and hold me accountable. The challenges get me out of my office and connecting with students, teachers, food service team members, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, custodians, parents, and other stakeholders. I am excited to be a principal in action at this point in my career.

We challenge you to get out of your office and interact with your students and staff members. We encourage you to follow the #principalsinaction hashtag and participate in the challenges. Find ways to share your experiences with your school community through your newsletter, blog, and social media accounts. Join the movement, get out of your office, and show others how much fun being a principal can be!

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Why Aren’t More Principals Attending EdCamps? Dispelling Three Myths

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I love EdCamps. Today I attended #EdCampSEMN at Austin High School in Austin, Minnesota, the home of Hormel and SPAM. And, if that’s not reason enough to attend, the beautiful drive down from the Twin Cities through rolling hills and gorgeous farmland, reconnecting with other educators, making new friends, and strengthening my skills and knowledge so I can be a better principal, were all great reasons to attend this EdCamp.

While I was there, and when I’ve been at other EdCamps, I’ve has a similar thought, Why aren’t more Principals attending EdCamps? I have identified three reasons I believe that happens and try to dispel the myths around those.

Myth #1 – EdCamps are for teachers. Yes, they are, but they’re also for principals, parents, future educators, Superintendents, technology directors, curriculum leaders, anyone who has a connection with students and schools. I have learned so much from attending EdCamps and count robotics, coding, programming, drones, video messaging, Teach Like A Pirate, genius hour, makerspace, Flipgrid, and augmented reality among practices I have implemented and continue to use as a principal.

Myth #2 – I’m not a techie. I think there is a common misunderstanding that EdCamps are all about apps and programs and robotics and devices and using and integrating technology. That’s not true. Any topic is up for learning, sharing, and facilitating at EdCamps. In fact, two of the sessions I attended today, one I volunteered to facilitate, were about non-technology topics: managing student behavior and flexible learning spaces.

Myth #3 – I’m too busy, there’s nothing of value for me. That is so wrong! It is true that you get out what you put into an EdCamp. If you make connections, share ideas, suggest things you want to learn about, and have an open mind, there will be value for you. One of the great ideas I received today happened during a lunch conversation with a high school English teacher from Iowa. He talked about how his district was implementing professional development this coming year in which pd goals were determined by each educator. They will create a plan for their learning, document their progress, and share their results. I was intrigued by that concept and left with contact names, website information, and Twitter handles. And, that learning took place outside of the scheduled sessions while eating barbecue.

Principals, you need to find and attend EdCamps in your area. If there aren’t any, step up to help organize one. I’ve taken the EdCamp model of professional development back to two different school staffs and having our own, smaller EdCamp professional development day was very well received. So, dispel those myths, model for your teachers, and engage in great learning at EdCamps. Plus you may get to see beautiful scenery and reconnect with great friends.

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Don’t Just Survive, Thrive!

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I detest t-shirts that insinuate the school year is something to survive. Don’t just survive, thrive! I’m noting four things an educator can do to thrive during the beginning, middle, and  even end of the school year.

First, you need to connect with others. You can do this through Twitter, Voxer, professional organizations, at EdCamps, and in your own building. Being a connected educator has given me many ideas, mentors, friends, listening ears, and ways to reflect.

Second, be positive. There are so many more positive things to share than be bogged down by the negative. Find ways to share those. I make a daily #GoodNewsCallOfTheDay for a different student each day. This is one of my favorites parts of the day. During the summer I count the days between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next with my #95DaysOfGWSummer daily Tweets. Finding and sharing the positive, however small, gives me an appreciation for even the simple things.

Next, have some fun. If you are dreading going to work in the morning or are counting down the days until school is over, then it sounds like you need to have more fun. If you haven’t read “Teach Like A Pirate” or “Lead Like A Pirate”, you’re missing out. These books have inspired me, and countless others, to find our passion and bring joy into our work.

Finally, make some changes. Maybe you can infuse more technology into your teaching, leading, or learning (like engaging students or staff with Quizlet Live or Flipgrid), plan for flexible seating, or even flip your staff meeting. If you’re just surviving, make some changes and start thriving! There are lots of folks out there who can help you learn and make positive changes to your teaching or leading.

Don’t just survive, thrive next school year. Connect with me on Twitter @PrincipalFrench and I will help you find ways to bring more joy, passion, and fun into your teaching or leading.

A Tweet A Day Is The Positive Way

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I’m in my fourth summer of Tweeting my summer learning, reflecting, and adventures. The first year I Tweeted for 90 days, the next year it was 100 days, and last year I used #89DaysOfSummer. This year I am using the hashtag #95DaysOfGWSummer to share a Tweet a day from students’ last day of the 2016-2017 school year to their first of the 2017-2018 year.

Some of the reasons I started this were to share more about myself, show how I spend my summer, and demonstrate that my learning never stops.  But, this year I have discovered another reason for documenting my daily summer Tweets. Doing this really makes me think about the positive things happening with my school and in my life. Finding 95 things to post during the summer days makes me reflect and pay attention to even the smallest things in life. I’ve posted about sunrises, sunsets, trees, flowers, friends, family, and food. I’ve also shared about my readings, connections, collaborations, and planning.

I need to give credit to George Couros for this. In December 2013, at the TIES Conference in Minneapolis, I remember George saying, “If you’re not telling your school’s story, then someone else will.” I took that challenge and started my Twitter journey. I thought, I can certainly find one great thing happening in my school each day and Tweet that using a school hashtag I created. That idea grew and soon I was sharing more than one thing a day and I began connecting with others, participating in Twitter chats, and deepening my professional learning.

I really enjoy my #95DaysOfGWSummer Tweets because it makes me look for the positive things in life. Sometimes I’ll capture an image and save it for a later post but most posts are about something I’ve experienced that day.

I’ve been criticized for only focusing on and sharing the positive, but I’ll take that. Shouldn’t we be sharing the great things happening in our schools and in our lives? After all, there’s so much more of that happening than not.

Accepting and Managing My FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)

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I admit it, I have FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out. It started on Facebook when it looked like others were having fun and attending events that I couldn’t or chose not to. I know, it’s weird, I’d make a choice not to go then have all these feelings about not being there.

Now, my FOMO extends to my professional life as I see more and more blogs, posts, Tweets, and references about conferences and professional development others are attending that I’m not.

I’m envious of those who travel to, attend, and present at local, state, and national conferences more than I do. I know it’s not possible for me to attend more than one or two national conferences a year due to time, work schedule, budgets, and resources, but my FOMO still doesn’t go away.

As the ITSE 2017 conference draws near and more and more folks from my PLN share their excitement about attending, presenting, and meeting up, I have reflected on how to ease my FOMO from missing this, and other conferences, and still learn from others.

First, follow the hashtags. Most conferences and some professional development sessions have a hashtag to generate excitement and share the learning. Follow those. There is even a hashtag #NotAtISTE17 to stay connected from afar.

Second, follow members of your PLN. Follow the posts, Voxes and Tweets of your PLN members who may be attending a conference that you aren’t. Learn and live vicariously through them. Engage with them and ask them about their highlights and favorite parts.

Third, participate in Twitter chats. Sometimes before, after, and even during conferences, there will be Twitter chats around the general conference or specific speakers, presenters, or themes. Search those out and join in.

Next, expand your PLN. The more people you are connected with, the more you can read about and learn from their experiences. Even though I am unable to attend ITSE this year, I plan to follow the members of my PLN and will add others who are attending and sharing.

Start local. Attend local or regional EdCamps and conferences. Generally, those are closer, easier and cheaper to travel to, and you can make valuable connections with others who may be near you. Start small and it may lead you to bigger events!

Finally, give yourself permission and accept that you can’t do it all and sometimes you have to prioritize your own and your family’s needs. However, make sure you ARE attending conferences and professional development, even if it’s at the local level. The people you meet and connect with will have a lasting impact on you and they may be the impetus for you to attend more national conferences in the future which can help reduce your FOMO.

 

I’ve Become Skilled At Reading Upside Down By Sharing Books With Students Each Month

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I love my PLN for all the great ideas that are shared. Over the last few years I have taken and used, to some degree, the following practices members of my PLN have shared: TouchCast video; Smore for school newsletters and staff bulletins; coding and programming resources I use with students; reflecting and sharing by blogging; using Buncee and Flipgrid as presentation and feedback tools; and EdCamp style professional development for my staff.

Another idea I borrowed from a member of my PLN (and I’m sorry I don’t remember who because I’d love to give them credit) is the practice of reading a different book each month to classes. This past year I read a different book during September, October, November, January, February, March, and April. I skipped December because I taught Hour of Code lessons to classes that month and May was so packed with other events and activities that it was hard to schedule myself to read to classes.

I selected some of the books from my personal collection and I reached out to my PLN for other ideas. During the year I read “Going Places,” “The Butter Battle Book,” “Gaston,” “Last Stop On Market Street,” “What Do You Do With An Idea?,” “What If The Shark Wears Tennis Shoes?,” and “Beekle.”

In order to make myself available to 24 PreK-6th grade classes, I scheduled four two-hour blocks into my calendar each month, two morning and two afternoon sessions. Then, I created a Google Spreadsheet indicating the dates and times, sent that to teachers, and had them sign up for a 15 minute slot.

I found that 15 minutes was the right amount of time. Sometimes the story didn’t take that long, but the month I read “The Butter Battle Book”, I had to read at a quick pace to finish in 15 minutes. But that was fun, reading quickly in the writing style of Dr. Seuss.

I’ll be continuing reading to classes next year trying not to miss any month. I have already started to collect books I plan to read next year as suggested by members of my PLN. Those books are in the photo above.

Principals, join me in reading to your classes. I had fun, it’s great modeling, you get to share your love of reading, and students enjoyed it. My 6th graders were just as focused and engaged in the stories as the PreK students and kindergartners  were.

Another practice I started last year that I need to be more consistent with is sharing and reading books to my staff. At our staff meetings I shared some of the books I planned to read to students. I did this to be a role model for literacy and share great stories with all licensed staff members, not just the teachers listening to me read in their classrooms.

If you have a great book idea for my monthly story for students or to read to my staff, please share those with me on Twitter @PrincipalFrench. Thank you!

Managing Drama

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Last week I shared the events of a particularly busy day with my Principals In Action PLN on Voxer. One term I used seemed to resonate with others. I described some days in May as “drama filled.”

Now, I’m not disparaging anyone or any incident because the month of May can bring out drama, for very legitimate reasons: the school year is coming to an end; the pressure to get everything done on time is real; patience is wearing thin; and, for some students and family members, summer is a stressful time.

I offer five tips to managing the drama that presents itself at this time of the school year.

First, remain calm. Your calmness will be reassuring and can help calm others’ feelings and emotions.

Second, listen. Many people just want to vent and share and just by listening you are helping. Also, by actively listening, you can help paraphrase what you heard or identify the underlying issue.

Third, reduce your commitments. Don’t overschedule yourself, that will stress YOU out. And, it is okay to say, “no.” I’ve said “no” recently to someone who wanted to add another thing during this busy time of the year.

Fourth, be present. Your visibility will be comforting to others and with reduced commitments, you’ll be available to respond to situations and support others.

Finally, lean on others. We all need a listening ear, advice, and support ourselves so find others who can provide that. I reach out to members of my PLN during these busy weeks and that is very helpful.

We won’t be able to eliminate the busy and sometimes drama filled days in May, but how we behave and react can help situations and others, ultimately helping ourselves.