Shelley Burgess

Reflections of an educational learner and leader


1 Comment

Busy is not a Badge

I just finished hosting #satchatwc with my awesome co-moderator, Beth Houf.  The chat today focused on strategies to help us prioritize our time. This tweet exchange with Robert Abney and Sandy King stuck with me…

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

As educators, the reality is our work is never done. There is no finish line. We add more to the “to do” list than we cross off.

We will always have more on our plates than we can tackle each day, so the real challenge is this:

How do we take control of our time?

 

Great leaders master this. They spend the majority of their time doing the work that matters most. They create systems to get the essential components of the “job” done and free up their time to do the meaningful “work”.

Like all leaders, great leaders are busy all day long, but at the end of the day…

Busy is not their badge… Making an IMPACT is!

 


12 Comments

Doing “What’s Best for Kids” – Hmm…

whats-best-for-kids

Full disclosure before you read on… I know that what I’m about to say might rub some people the wrong way, but I hope you’ll read on and I’d love to hear your thoughts!

I don’t particularly like the phrase, I’m going to do “what’s best for kids”.  I think we need to be really mindful when we throw it around in our profession.  While I understand the positive intent of the phrase and I agree whole-heartedly that meeting the needs of students should absolutely be the primary focus of what we do in our schools and districts… I think tossing the “what’s best for kids” phrase around can be harmful to our school and district cultures.  Here’s why:

  1. If I use the phrase “I’m going to do what’s best for kids”, it is incredibly easy for the person who I am talking to to reach the conclusion that I believe that they, in fact, do not have the best interest of students in mind.  While I can acknowledge that there are times when people make decisions based solely on their own best interests, I actually think that in our profession it’s pretty rare. In my experience most educators I have worked with typically make decisions based on their belief that they are doing what’s best for kids.
  2. “I’m going to do what’s best for kids” has a finality to it that makes it hard for someone to respectfully disagree with me. It’s a “last word” phrase as opposed to a phrase that invites discussion and dialogue. After all, in our business, who can argue against doing what’s best for kids?
  3. Where does that argument stop?  Let’s say that I believe we should have a 30 minute after school reading program for struggling readers because it’s “best for kids”.  If 30 minutes is good, what about an hour… is that better? What about two hours? If a couple of hours after school in a reading program is good… wouldn’t a half day Saturday program every week be better? What about a full day?  Maybe it would be best to add four weeks… six weeks… 12 weeks to the school year for all of our struggling readers.
  4. We don’t all have the same beliefs about “what’s best for kids”, and the research can be contradictory.  I could make a case for that after school reading program being what’s “best” while one of my teachers could easily make the case that it’s “best” to have small group reading interventions during the school day so that after school, kids have time to play sports, take music lessons, or to just play and be kids.
  5. What’s best for one kid isn’t always what’s best for another.  Each child is unique in their gifts, their talents, their motivations, their quirks, their needs… A “one size fits all approach” to what’s best runs the risk of merely being average for all kids as opposed to what’s best for any one of them.

So… the challenge is this: let’s just presume that all of the educators we work with have the best interests of kids at heart.  We may disagree from time to time on what those are, but not too many committed educators show up to work each day making decisions they think will be bad for kids, so why would we want to use a phrase that might convey that we are the only ones who know best?

As an educational leader, I really do want to do what’s best for kids, but presuming that only I know what’s best is a quick way to dissolve relationships, create mistrust and erode culture.  Sometimes our ability to do what’s best for kids simply lies within our ability to inspire, influence and support the adults on our team.

 


3 Comments

Start by Picking Up the Phone

pick-up-the-phoneWe talk (and complain) a lot about parent engagement and parent involvement or the lack of it in our schools and districts.  In my experience our default is to blame the parents for the lack of engagement – it’s easier than taking a look at the practices and policies we have in place at our schools. Does what we have in place actually make parents feel welcome? valued? important? I have had a few experiences over the last couple of months as a parent that make we wonder about the environment we are creating in our schools for parents.  I’m sharing them with you below, and I would love to hear your thoughts!

I actually just spent about twenty minutes of my morning trying to get the answer to one simple question at my daughter’s school. “What is the state testing window for the school this spring?”  My mom wants to take our daughter on a quick trip in May which would mean she might miss a day of school.  Before agreeing to the dates, I wanted to make sure that her absence wouldn’t fall during the State testing window.  As a former principal, I know what a grueling task it is to plan those schedules and the difficulty that comes with scheduling make-up tests for students who are absent.

So I started with the school calendar on the website and found nothing.  I went to the link they have on the site for testing and found nothing, so I called the school.  The first person who answered was a student, and I asked my question.  She placed me on hold and without anyone ever coming back on the phone to speak with me, I was transferred to a generic voicemail box.  I hung up and called again.  This time, instead of a person the standard recorded message giving me the school address, the school hours and the address to the website where I was told I should be able to find answers to most of my question were recited to me.  I was then told I could “press 1” for this office and “press 2” for that office… I think there were nine choices all together, so I started with the school counselor for students with last names “A-M”.  The phone rang four or five times and I was sent to voicemail.  I hung up, called back heard the address, school hours, website information and number options again.  I pressed the button for the second counselor “N-Z” as I just had a generic question anyone should be able to answer. I was sent to voicemail.  I hung up and called back.  I tried the attendance office, both assistant principals, the principal’s assistant and every other extension except for the cafeteria.  Every attempt was sent to voicemail. I kept trying as my mom was sitting with me and hoping to confirm the dates.  Eventually on one of my calls another person answered instead of the machine.  I asked my question and was placed on hold for a few minutes.  The gentleman who had answered came back on the phone and told me testing was “during the month of May”. When I explained my situation and asked if he knew when in May, he didn’t know and told me I should check the website.  I let him know I had done that and nothing was posted.  He told me I should call back later, “like maybe after 2:00”. He didn’t offer to take a message and have someone call me back.  So I will try to call again in another 3 or 4 hours.

I’m not sure I would be writing this post if it were just this one instance, but it comes pretty quickly on the heels of an experience I had with my son’s school a few weeks ago.  I had received a “robocall” and an email from them reminding me about my son’s absence the day before and informing me I needed to clear the absence. I appreciated the reminder.  The email was one that did not allow replies, so at about 1:00 that afternoon I called the school to let them know my son had been sick. The phone rang seven or eight times, and no one picked up, not even a machine directing me to “press 1”, so I waited a few minutes and called again – the phone just continued to ring – no answer and no machine for me to just leave a message about the absence. So I went to the website to see if there was either a direct number for the attendance office or an email for the attendance secretary.  Neither were listed on the site.  I called the school again, and still no answer.  I tried a few more times over the course of the afternoon to reach someone on the phone.  I never was able to get ahold of anyone nor could I leave a message.

Eventually that evening, I made a decision that I would email one of the assistant principals… I honestly wasn’t contacting her to complain.  I have met her a few times, she has always been very responsive, she is a PIRATE fan, and I know she cares about the school. I reached out because if it were my school and a parent had been trying to call all afternoon without getting through, I would want to know.  So I went on the school website, clicked on the link for the assistant principal’s email and shared the experience I had just had.  Later that night, I received a response to my email from a principal at another school in the district… she was very nice, but also let me know that I had the wrong email address and that for whatever reason the link on the website for the assistant principal at my son’s school went to her inbox at another school, so my initial email to the assistant principal never went through to her.

The next morning,  I tried to call the school again and I still had no answer and no machine.  I live very close to the school, so I ultimately just decided to drive down to the school and go to the office to clear my son’s absence since I was having no luck calling or emailing.

While I have others I could share, the final incident I will highlight is one that also happened at my son’s high school.  He is typically a straight “A” student with excellent citizenship grades, so calls from his teachers are rare (those phone calls home to share something good your child has done haven’t really caught on in our neighborhood). So I was surprised when he shared with me that we might be getting a phone call from one of his teachers.  We were in the car with my son and a few of his friends who all happen to be in this same class.  We asked them what happened and they proceeded to share their version of the story which apparently involved all three of them, so I was well prepared to talk with the teacher.  The phone call did in fact come that night, but to my surprise, it was not the teacher on the other end of the line when I picked up the phone.  It was a call that his teacher apparently scheduled through the automated system.  In a robotic voice I was told, “This is Ms. _____. Your child was (pause) disrespectful in class”.  That was the extent of my parent phone call home.  No teacher, no description of what happened, no opportunity for me to hear her version of what happened (as I’m almost certain it would have differed from the one three teenage boys told us), no opportunity to discuss consequences or for me to offer support.  Just a “robocall”.

I’m sharing these stories not to blast the schools that my own children attend… they actually have wonderful people who work in their schools, but I’m sharing them because I think they really highlight a problem that we as school and district leaders need to be cognizant of when we are establishing policies, procedures and practices in our schools. Situations like the ones I described above don’t make me want to be more involved as a parent… they actually do just the opposite and have caused me to believe that communicating with the schools my children attend is actually a rather frustrating experience.  They don’t leave me feeling that the schools actually want to talk to me or want to engage me… they feel instead like there is a firewall system designed to keep me out.  I understand that schools are hectic places and people are busy doing their work, but isn’t being responsive to parents part of that work? We say we want more involvement, more engagement, but I wonder if what we really mean is that we want parents to do what we tell them to do according to our rules at a time that’s convenient for us.

I am certain that the installation of all of the robotic message systems have been put in place with the intent of communicating more and with the intent of being helpful to both staff and parents, but the reality is that I wonder if we have taken them too far.  Rather than helping, they have created extremely frustrating situations and in these instances at least, I have felt like communication has gotten worse rather than better… more impersonal rather than personal.

Dave and I talk about  the importance of creating experiences for students and staff in our classrooms and schools, but shouldn’t we be creating them for our parents too?  And while I would LOVE for our neighborhood schools to embrace the use of social media, create YouTube Channels and share video newsletters and so many other wonderful strategies we know some schools are using to engage parents… Maybe it starts with simply picking up the phone.

Some questions to consider:

  • Do you know the user experience for phone calls coming into your school?
  • If you have students answering phones, have they been trained in customer service techniques?
  • Does the experience parents get when they visit or call your school make them feel welcome and more comfortable doing so again?
  • Is contact information easily accessible and updated regularly on your website?
  • Do contact links go to the right places?
  • Are important dates easily accessible?
  • How many robocalls go out from your school each week? day? hour?
  • Do you know how teachers use the robocall system in your school? Have you communicated expectations about use?
  • Is the way you use your robocall system making communication better or worse? Have you asked your parents?
  • What’s one step you could take to ensure customer service for parents gets better at your school next week?


2 Comments

#LeadLAP Challenge: L is for Learner

change learnerDuring my time as a principal coach, I’ve often worked with people to help them overcome what can only be described as a “fear of having to be the expert”.  Something happens to our brains when we step into administrator roles that seems to make us think we can no longer let people see that there are actually things we still have to learn about teaching and learning.  I’ll be the first one to say that when you decide to step into an educational leadership role, you should know a lot about curriculum, instruction, assessment, sound pedagogy and effective practice – your competence in these areas (along with your character) are a big part of what will start earning you trust.  There is no way you know all there is to know, and that’s ok!  What’s awesome is that you are surrounded by a team of professional educators who can help you fill in your own learning gaps and contribute to your own professional growth on a daily basis… How cool is that?  But for whatever reason, when we walk into classrooms and then later engage in coaching conversations, we feel we have to wear the hat of “expert”.  We observe the lesson and decide what we think worked well and what didn’t and we package it up into feedback that we hope will “fix” the teacher, then we assure them that our conversations and feedback aren’t evaluative and then we ultimately we scratch our heads and wonder why they don’t find our feedback all that valuable and why they get a bit stressed when we walk into their classrooms.

One of the biggest challenges people have with leading ANCHOR conversations is the “Collaborative Conversations” piece, and I think it has a lot to do with them maintaining the “boss” or “expert” role during the conversation.  The administrator does most of the talking or telling and the teacher listens politely (most of the time), says “Thank you” and happily exits the conversation.  A truly collaborative conversation is one where there is no perception or belief by either party that there is an imbalance of power in the conversation.  You both believe that what you say carries equal weight. In other other words… the administrator’s ideas don’t automatically trump the teacher’s just because they carry the title of “boss”.  As leaders… one of the things we need to work hard to do is shake this perception that comes with the title – at least we do if we want to be invited into the real conversations that are happening on our campuses about teaching and learning.

One way to begin to shake this perception is to take every opportunity to show your team that you are a learner too… that you appreciate feedback and learning from them just as much as you enjoy helping them learn and grow.  So, this week’s challenge is all about showing your team that you are a learner (and it will get you into classrooms, too!)

Take at least two hours this week in any configuration that makes sense on your calendar to visit classrooms (but get it on your calendar now or the time will slip away from you).  Try to visit at least 15 classrooms. While you are there, erase any thoughts of things you see and want to fix and instead focus on what YOU are learning from THEM and then tell them.  One of the most amazing opportunities I have had as an administrator is to observe thousands of lessons, and I have learned a TON from what I have seen other teachers do, and I’m certain you have too.  We just have to be open to it and then be willing to share our learning with them.  One of my favorite things to do is to get an opportunity to sit down with a teacher and say to them… “That strategy… method… tech tool… app… content… is new to me.  I learned a ton just by watching you for five minutes. I want to know more – can you teach me?”  Putting ourselves out there as learners, too goes a long way in building the trust and rapport with our colleagues that we need if we want them to find value in the coaching and feedback we provide to them.

So… get into those classrooms this week and drop ANCHORS of LEARNING!

  1.  Set aside two hours to visit classrooms – visit at least 15 over the course of the week
  2. Focus on what you are learning from the teacher during the observation
  3. Drop an ANCHOR of LEARNING… tell the teachers what YOU learned from THEM
  4. Be sure to share how it goes using the #LeadLAP challenge all week

Shelley and Beth

 


Leave a comment

#LeadLAP Challenge: Continue the Appreciation!

Happy New Year to All!  We hope this week finds you back into the swing of things in your schools and districts and ready for a new #LeadLAP challenge!

This week’s challenge has three sources of inspiration…

  • First, our continued belief that as educational leaders, we need to be in classrooms as much as possible – it’s where the magic happens!  When we first come back from break it’s easy to get caught up in other things, so if that’s happening to you – this is the week to get back out there!
  • Second, our commitment to ongoing appreciation of our staff and the work they do day in and day out.  If we want to grow a PIRATE culture in our schools, then we need to appreciate the daily efforts our team is making to grow, learn, change, and create amazing learning experiences for our students.
  • The third source of inspiration, actually comes from my 12-year old daughter, Ashlyn.  I host a weekly chat for educators… #satchatwc and this past Saturday, we did something very different.  We had my daughter, a seventh grade student, host the chat.  She wrote the questions, crafted her responses, and interacted with easily 100 educators over the course of the hour long chat.  It was clear from her questions and her responses that she has some pretty strong opinions about school and what works and doesn’t work for kids.  But what also came out is that she has a true appreciation for teachers.  As we were working on the chat and as we chatted afterwards, she had story after story to tell about what she APPRECIATED about different teachers over the years.  She shared memorable lessons and described why they were engaging or she gave specifics about what the teacher did to help her learn.  Dave and I enjoyed watching her light up when she described a particular simulation her social studies teacher created for her class on feudalism

Inspired by all three of the items above – here is this week’s challenge….

  • Get back out into those classrooms.  Visit at least an average of 3 per day (or a minimum of 15 total throughout the week)
  • Spend 3-5 minutes in each classroom and then talk to the kids…  Ask THEM what they are appreciating about the lesson, their teacher and/or what they are learning.  Encourage them to be specific – even using a frame like this if you need it:
    • I appreciate when _______ (my teacher) does/did _____________ (be specific about what he/she did exactly) because _____________________ (how did it help you? push you? engage you?)
  • Then drop that appreciation ANCHOR for the teacher, but instead of telling the teacher “I appreciated… ” start with “When I was in your class today, I had a chance to chat with _____________ (Insert student name here).  I just wanted to share with you how much he/she appreciated _______________ because ___________________.

When we take the time to appreciate (whether it is big things or small, routine things) it helps raise self-awareness in the other person.  They become more conscious of the choice they made or the work they did and are more likely to repeat it because you have pointed out that it made a difference… and the fact that the appreciation comes from a student takes it up another level.  So let’s take this week to get back into the appreciation routine.  It will help you shape that PIRATE culture and make for a better week for your staff AND you!

We hope you will take the challenge and share with us how it’s going over the course of this week using  #LeadLAP on Twitter.

Enjoy!

Shelley and Beth


Leave a comment

#LeadLAP Challenge… E is for ENTHUSIASM

image

Enthusiasm is contagious! When you are around enthusiastic people or surrounded by good, positive energy – you feel it – it’s palpable. As we have hit the point in the year where we are coming off of Thanksgiving break and have just three weeks before our winter break, it’s easy to allow ourselves to fall into the trap of “just getting through” until the break. So we are embarking on a three week #LeadLAP challenge focused on injecting enthusiasm into our schools, districts and communities.

 
There are so many negative stories out there about education. Stories that beat up our schools, our principals, our teachers. As leaders in our buildings, we need to commit to rewriting the stories… to combatting the negative with an insane amount of positives. We need to radiate enthusiasm for the great things happening in our schools, and it’s up to us to share hat enthusiasm with others. Great things are happening in your district, in your school, in your classrooms. What are you doing to showcase them? To share them?

 
We encourage you to start this week by thinking about the communication that goes out directly from you to you your staff… to your students… to your parents and community. What percentage of that communication focuses on the amazing things happening in your school? If you were to scan your school newsletter, would you see more reminders of parking rules and dress code or would you see more stories and pictures of students engaged in deep and meaningful learning? If you were to keep a log of the phone calls you made to parents, would there be more negative messages or more positive ones? What about interactions with staff… Are there more “do’s or more “don’ts”? Which are YOU more enthusiastic about?

 
So as the holidays are approaching and 2015 is winding down, we think there is no better time than now to stop, take a look around your district, your school, or your classroom and ask yourself… “What is it that is AMAZING about who we are and what we do?” “What are students, staff, teachers doing that make you incredibly proud of them?” We know it’s all around you!

 
So… This first week of the three week #LeadLAP ENTHUSIASM challenge is to find those moments of AMAZING in your school. Document those moments in pictures… videos… recordings… quotes or any other way that seems appropriate and then SHARE your enthusiasm for them using the #LeadLAP hashtag. You can share them in any other way that makes sense to you as well… but here’s a hint… next week’s challenge will focus on a variety of ways to share these amazing moments with your district, school, and classroom communities. So this week… just have fun capturing the AMAZING and sharing your enthusiasm with the #LeadLAP community.

 

Enthusiastically yours,
Shelley and Beth

 


1 Comment

#LeadLAP Challenge 5: Be a Valued Resource

As an educational leader, I read a lot!  I always have books, articles, education magazines, blog posts from other educators and other reading material at my fingertips.  I love learning, growing and gaining expertise in topics of interest to me and topics that are pertinent to the work we do in our districts and schools.  I also love sharing my learning with others.  I have used the phrase “Oh wow… I was just reading something about that which I think you would love! Let me get you a copy.” on countless occasions which is why I was baffled by a comment my husband made to me a few years back.  After 17 years in the classroom, Dave had not once had a principal share an article with him, give him a book to read, recommend a blog post or share with him any other resource that might help shape his thinking or influence his practice as an educator. WOW!  He clearly has not worked for PIRATE leaders!

add value

As a leader, I want each person to know I value them and the work they do, and I also want to be seen as someone who adds value to their work.  I want them to know that I’m a learner, that I support their learning and growth, and that I can be a valuable resource in helping them on their own personal learning journey to be awesome at what they do.  One of the things I always did as a principal when I was reading something new is keep note of who I thought might like the article, book, or whatever I was reading.  I started early-on with a simple post-it note system and ultimately evolved to using Evernote and “tagging” the articles, blog posts etc. When the opportunity would arise, I’d make sure I’d get a copy of the reading to the person I thought might enjoy it, and I’d make a point of sharing with them why I thought they in particular might enjoy it or how it might add value to their work.  There were things I found that I thought we should read together as an entire staff, but also things I found that were unique to specific people based on what I knew they were working on at the time.   Knowing what each person might like or find of value typically came from being in their classrooms and N-OTICING when they were trying something new or different or from being engaged in C-OLLABORATIVE CONVERSATIONS about their practice where they would share with me different ideas they had been exploring or a struggle they might be having.

While this practice started as a simple way for me to share that I was a reader and a learner too and as a way for my team to start to see me as a resource, there was an added benefit to making this part of my regular practice.  It strengthened the relationships and rapport with my team because the sharing and support was often personalized.  A conversation might start like this:

“You just shared with me last week that you were wanting to build in more time for small group instruction and were interested in designing more meaningful tasks for the students who were working independently during your small group time.  I just came across this article on literacy stations that has some amazing examples of independent and small group activities that students can do on their own or in pairs or triads.  Some of them seem really engaging and have great potential to help sharpen their literacy skills.  I thought of you immediately and thought you might like to read it.  When you do, I’d love to hear what you think!”

Statements like the one above when heartfelt and genuine, say to someone “I am paying attention to you.”… “I’m thinking about you.”… “I want to support you.”… “I’m making time for you.”  All of which contribute to developing strong, positive relationships. When I moved to the district office, I used the same practice with the principals I supported, often sharing articles and resources with them that I knew they might find valuable based on site visits and the many collaborative conversations we would have as well.

So… this week’s #LeadLAP challenge:

  1. Choose at least two people on your team and share a personalized resource with them. (It would be awesome if you choose them because you N-OTICED something they were working on or they shared something with you in your C-OLLABORATIVE CONVERSATION)
  2. Tell them specifically why you thought of them when you read it.
  3. Enthusiastically end the conversation with “After you read this, I’d love to hear your thoughts!” which opens the door for another C-OLLABORATIVE CONVERSATION and possibly a chance to O-FFER SUPPORT
  4. Share with us over the course of the week how it goes using #LeadLAP on Twitter
  5. Join the #LeadLAP chat on Friday at 7:30 CST to share your reflections on the challenge

Cannonballs to avoid:cannonball

  • Don’t just drop an article in their box without saying anything about it – it doesn’t have the same personal touch.
  • Don’t use this practice as a substitute for having a courageous conversation about ineffective practice.
  • Don’t attach a deadline to reading the article/perusing the resource… No adult wants to feel like you are assigning them homework.