Tuesday, March 21, 2017

District Leaders Should Get Out of Their Office!

The post below was published on EdWeek the week of March 17th.
A few questions for district leaders... 
1. How many hours per week do you spend at school sites?
2. How many of those hours do you spend in classrooms when you visit school sites?
3. How many teachers do you know by name?
4. How many teachers know your name?
5. How many kids know your name?
Even at the district office, our students should know our names...
In July 2016, I've moved to the district office level and no longer work at a school as a principal. To make matters more complicated I work in a completely new district - most adults didn't know who I was, and certainly none of the students knew me. I've always believed that relationships come first, before solid relationships the work with curriculum, classroom design, thoughtful integration of technology and anything else really can't happen with fidelity.
Our students are our business...our bottom line...our revenue stream - they're the reason we work in education and just because we work in the central office doesn't mean we shouldn't know any of them, or any of them know us. We should break the myth that the central office is the ivory tower.
A couple of months into the job I was walking around one of our schools with another director who is a colleague. Classes were coming back from recess and headed to class. Out of nowhere a bunch of students start calling my name - "Adam - Adam - Adam!" Running towards me they all start talking super fast asking how I was, telling me about the robots they've been coding in class and it's been so much fun!
We leave with high-fives as they head back to class.
The question from my colleague was "Uh, how do those kids know you?"
In a district of more than 50 schools and over 30,000 kids, it was a surprise to my colleague that a group of students would know my name. However, the answer to me was so obvious. I don't build relationships out of my office, I do it by going into schools.  Actually,  I spend on average about three hours each week in my office. 
We have a team that includes two Teachers on Special Assignment and our awesome secretary. Even though I see them very little, we talk every day, throughout the day on numerous different communication channels which really enables us to work as a really strong team!
Those students who stopped to talk with me?
A few weeks ago I connected with their teacher and showed the class how to create accounts on Code.org and let them borrow my Sphero after we did a demo lesson with the entire class. A week later I went back and worked with small groups on the Sphero. They were so engaged with Sphero we worked together and wrote a Donors Choose grant so they could get their own.
In a large district the only way to scale the work we're trying to achieve is to build capacity and forge strong relationships. That capacity and those relationships cannot be forged from a district or central office. Boots on the ground, in the trenches and with the people is in my opinion the only way to scale in a deep and meaningful way.
Even if you work in a district of just a few schools, you're probably stretched more than most, wearing numerous hats across multiple departments - you still must build capacity and forge strong relationships. As district leaders, we should reinvent or at least re-define the district office level position so we can more thoughtfully integrate ourselves into the schools that we support. 
The following is how we can do it:
  • Empower the people on my team to make decisions without including me first - have trust and you'll build capacity.
  • We use Voxer all day long to stay updated on what the entire team is working on a learning. I can hear a message from them about a new project at a different school and then keep that information in my memory bank for potential use later on.
  • Set up a Google Voice number. Any call to my office phone, automatically goes to my mobile phone and I also get an email and text transcription of the message simultaneously. I don't need to be at my desk to get my phone calls, they come to me wherever I am. And it's free.
  • We share all information on Google Documents with my team.
  • Talk out loud.  I've found the more that I talk out loud about what's on my mind, what I'm planning, or just ideas that are percolating - the entire organization benefits. People around you hear what's being said, they process and often times can offer a better idea and solution that wouldn't have come to fruition if I kept things to myself. Talk about the project you're working on, who knows what piece of information will benefit the organization. Blast what's on your mind, don't hoard that information for yourself.
  • Make your office as boring as possible and put nothing there that you need to do your job. My office is virtual, I'm busy connecting with teachers and students and can access nearly everything I need from my iPhone. Set up your systems so anything can be accessed from the cloud.
  • I don't get many emails because I don't send many emails. Email can takeover so much valuable productivity time. Don't initiate an email correspondence and you won't have to answer many. Call people, text, Voxer or show up in person.
  • Don't just teach people - show them how to learn. It's very hard to build capacity with people if you make them wait for you to teach them something new. 
Your ChallengeThink about the schools you support. How often do you visit them? How many teachers do you know by name and how many know yours. And most importantly how many kids have you impacted in a thoughtful way so the next time they see you - they know your name!
If you're spending more time putting out fires, responding to emails, being tied to your desk with operational issues - it's time for a reboot. Reverse engineer your day and spend 95% of it at schools sites. Start this immediately, if you force yourself to make this change with a strong commitment, all you can do is improve. From there, figure out ways to stay connected to your office, your team and everything else that you need access to in order to do your job.
Please make a commitment - our schools will be stronger, relationships will be more developed, you'll build more capacity and I guarantee more students will know your name! Go be awesome for kids, they deserve it! 

Monday Motivation - Give Kids What They Deserve

It was a blast being interview by Vicki Davis for her new podcast, you can listen below!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Just Start Doing #CUE17 #KidsDeserveIt #tlap

There's too much planning going on.

Too many meetings about the plan.

Way too many conversations about what the plan can look like.

Too much looking at other peoples plans.

Who's going to do what and when for the plan.

We don't have enough money for the plan.

Let's start with the plan next year.

Can someone start a Google Doc for the plan.

Let's make sure we 'go slow to go fast' - What does that even mean?

There's too much planning for the meeting you're going to have after this meeting is over - you don't need another meeting.

We need to push on the gas pedal and shift into a higher gear.

You don't need a plan. Throw kids the keys to the car and let them drive.

Just. Start. Doing. 

Do you think Gandhi had a super well thought out plan when he decided to take on the British government? I highly doubt it.

Two guys started Instagram in the Mission District of San Francisco and sold it to Facebook eighteen months later for $1,000,000,000 - do you think they had a detailed plan for their photo app. Probably not.

When I was a Principal it seemed like a great idea to start a coding club on campus, here's what I did within an hour of having my idea.

I created a super simple Google Form (Name, teacher, why do you want to learn how to code)

Any student who submitted a response was invited to my coding club. I turned on the computers in our lab and we worked together as a group to help each other learn how to code. I didn't teach the kids how to code, I facilitated the learning process for them.

I didn't have the idea and then form a committee to talk further about 'next steps.' The club started two days after I had the original idea. Forget the plan, just start doing.

The before school coding club turned into Genius Hour in our upper grade classrooms, that turned into an App Development class co-facilitated by myself and a parent at school, which turned into our entire school going 1:1 with devices - this was five years ago.

When you have a 'just start' doing mentality, awesome ideas grow exponentially and spread like a wildfire on your campus.

We also decided our school needed a 3D printer. The day it arrived I called one of our 5th grade classrooms and asked the teacher to send up two students.

Me - "Ok, this 3D printer just arrived and I want you two to set it up. Here's the box, the company has a YouTube channel, let me know when it's ready to print."

Thirty minutes later my walkie talkie started chirping.....it was done.

Just start doing!

For years I've seen school leaders and district leaders order 'stuff' and have it sit in a closet until the staff was 'comfortable' and you guessed it - a meeting to plan how it would be used. Stop wasting so much time, stop overthinking it all, get over the fact that you don't know everything and that your school doesn't need you too, have the kids start doing.

If you want to start a Makerspace on your campus, grab some kids, cardboard, send an email to your community asking for old legos they don't want anymore - and start your Makerspace. It will take off from there, don't overthink it.

Don't fear the failure and loss - embrace what you'll learn and discover next time you try again - try again, try again, try again!

If kids aren't a part of this process, they need to be - this starts tomorrow!

Stop talking. Stop planning. Start doing. and Don't. Give. Up.

I believe in you. I know you can do it. I know you will be successful. I know you will figure it out. I know you will create amazing experiences for kids!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

My #OneWord2017 - Suffer

For all of my ten plus years of blogging, this is my first #OneWord post. After reading so many inspiring and reflective blogs from educator friends I decided it was time for mine. 

I've already set a pretty large goal for 2017, in which I'm going to run twelve marathons this coming year, one each month. Maybe you're already wondering how my #OneWord and running a marathon every month in 2017 has any relevancy in education at all, let me explain.

I really hesitate to just focus on my work and career, and having actually taken a few steps back from blogging, social media and other 'career' enhancing endeavors that were taking a toll on my family and other passions of mine. I'm fanatical about running, eating well and taking care of my body and that really defines how I live, more than my work in education.

This brings me to my #OneWord choice for 2017........ SUFFER. 

When I run 26.2 miles I suffer. I'm able to see inside my body and find ideas, solutions and capacity I would not have been able to access if it wasn't for the suffer. Suffering for me brings clarity. I've run nine marathons in my life so far and I'm constantly forced to hone in on minute details that are swirling around in my brain. All other noise is pushed out - because I'm running a long way and only that which really matters gets revealed.

 For me it's really a form of mediation, sifting out the clutter to reveal the nuggets of goodness that have risen to the surface for more attention.

I've had the taste of it, and I want to suffer more. I want to find more clarity. I want to bring out what's really most important in my body and mind, so I can analyze it even deeper and reach my full capacity. Hard work and dedication has really been at the core of my life for a long time, and it's time to ramp it up a few notches.

Suffering this year will strengthen my body for sure, but also my work as an educator and author. It's those moments at mile 17, mile 25, those 4am training runs - that it all becomes crystal clear. I'm optimistic my #OneWord and goal for 2017 will have a delightful relationship together as I run throughout the year.

Come run with me if you're looking to suffer a bit and find something you didn't know was inside you, it's going to hurt but benefits are so worth it.

Carlsbad Marathon - January 15th
Iron Horse Trail Marathon - February 11th
Los Angeles Marathon - March 19th
Santa Rosa Marathon - August 27th (At mile ten you run through a winery tasting room!)
Night Sweats Marathon - September - 9th (Night Marathon starting at 8pm, on trails in Marin Headlands!)
Lake Tahoe Marathon - October 15th (Lake Tahoe - amazing!)
November - TBD (Any suggestions?!)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

It's A National Emergency

This is my thirteenth year in public education, I've been a teacher - Assistant Principal - Principal and am now a Director of Innovation, my dad taught 2nd and 3rd grade for thirty-eight years, my oldest child is now in Kindergarten. 

I'm connected with educators all around the country, and many that I talk with feel the same frustration. 

No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core - in my thirteen years there's been so many new programs from the federal level. Yes, when I started teaching the iPad and Chromebook had not yet been invented. Google Docs hadn't been created yet either. And of course, we have much more educational research at our fingertips in those thirteen years.

It's so great working with smart, caring and passionate educators. As a country are we just spinning around and around though? 


Do the people making these decisions that hold public office know what it's like to work in a public school, day after day? That many of our teachers rely on Donors Choose to fund new and innovative ideas for their class.

A Chromebook is 100x more powerful than a pencil, yet so many of our students, classrooms, schools and districts don't have them or don't have enough. I believe this is a national emergency, spend less money on politics, politicians, aircraft carriers, weapon systems, fancy flights for dignitaries and do what's best for our kids. 

Get all kids connected, get all kids access and provide quality programs and pathways for teachers to support our kids.

I just wonder how many articles I'm going to read everyday in numerous different media outlets about the importance of coding in school. How many jobs we're going to outsource to other countries because our kids in our schools are not being taught how to code, why they should code and making it an actual part of the curriculum.

Just yesterday I was visiting one of our middle schools and EVERY 6th grader is taking a coding rotation. They're learning how to code in Scratch and it was an absolutely amazing sixty minutes that I observed. I truly believe that it's a national emergency that our students learn to code.

They all won't become programmers after high school or college. But they all will learn extremely valuable problem solving skills, communication skills, working in partners/teams, and they'll have the satisfaction of building something and then seeing an outcome based on what they've done.

I wish we could all get in sync. I wish we could all be on the same page. I wish the elected officials making the decisions that impact us, were previous teachers - Principals - district office personnel. Then they would actually know what we're going through. That quite often many educators feel like they're in a hamster wheel. Spinning around and around and around. Working super hard but not really going anywhere. Not being supported, encouraged or guided in a direction of success.

This is a national emergency - we must all come together, it's not about the adults - it's about the kids. We need to stop listening to lobbyist and text book companies who try and package the new shiny curriculum. We need more coding, more recess, more kudos, more technology that's integrated thoughtfully, more relationship building and less profit margins.

We can do this, I really hope we come together as a country to do what's best for kids - they deserve it.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

I Like Computers?

It happened again. Of course I'm use to it, but it's a bigger problem than what's really on the surface.

Yes - I'm a Director of Innovation and Technology. Yes - I use to set up Google Apps domains for Principals when I was still a teacher. Yes - I really love enhancing the curriculum in classes with laptops, tablets, coding and robots.

Spoiler alert - it's not just me. I do like computers in education and my life, but kids really do too!

Very recently I was around some teachers and I could hear their chatter about technology, iPads, their iPhones etc. To be transparent I was really only half listening but then the group addressed me directly. 

One teacher said - "I know, I know - you like computers."

It was accusatory almost, like it's my fault. Like I invented laptops, iPads and the app store. Like I'm the one who started this digital revolution as a way to enhance the curriculum in school.

(Some thoughts racing through my brain)

Don't make me the scapegoat because you don't want to learn, you don't want to transform your classroom into a mecca of digital learning that kids can't wait to participate in on a daily basis, because sometimes the wi-fi is slow, because you only have six Chromebooks, because you're scared to admit that your students know more about computers than you do.

Spoiler alert #2 - those same students probably know more about computers than I do, and that's totally ok! You don't to know everything about computers to integrate them into your classroom. You only need to facilitate the learning, exploration and discovery with kids!

Blaming, finger pointing, complaining and making excuses doesn't help. It doesn't benefit anyone, it's not encouraging, it actually takes away positive energy and only hurts the cause.

So I thought for just a second before I responded.

"I do really like computers, but kids REALLY like them too, it's not just me."


Me - "Don't your students really enjoy using computers, tablets and online programs?"

"Yes they do."

That interaction stayed with me the rest of the evening, and even into the next morning during my run. 

Computers are all around us, like everywhere. I almost can't think of a profession where computers/phones/tablets aren't used. My cousin married a guy who owns a 10,000 acre farm in Iowa. His entire crop is digitized, all the way down to his tractors and where he plants the seeds. Because he uses satellites and past data to know where exactly he should plant so he gets the highest yield.

And he's a farmer in Iowa!

My goal is to make everyone a 'tech person' - it's the language our kids speak, we must speak their language - it's about being relevant! Their language is tech and if we don't speak that language then we're teaching an entire generation of kids in the wrong language. 

Just yesterday I was reading an article from Inc magazine about coding skills and how they are so desperately needed for so many different reasons - read the article here but see some highlights below!

- Coding helps develop logical thinking and problem-solving skills.

- Coding requires working in teams.

- Learning to code opens the door to job opportunities.

- Learning to code gives non-coders confidence with technology.

Educators must embrace computers and technology, the future of our children depends on it.

Spoiler alert #3 - computers aren't just in technology companies! Remember my cousin and his farm! John Deere the tractor company is currently hiring a Senior Software Engineer right now. Tech and computers is not relegated to just technology companies, tractor companies hire people with these skills as well.

Please don't find a scapegoat,  please don't have that mentality, please don't have that attitude. If you're uncomfortable with integrating technology or have questions there are plenty of resources to help you out.

It's not about you, what you like, what you think kids should be doing (it's for sure not learning cursive) or what you think they're ready for. By the way, Kindergarten students can log into Google Apps - they can. I've seen it, I've done it, they can do it. Please don't limit kids based on your perception.

I'll say it again and I may even make a bumper sticker - I. Like. Computers.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Let's Talk About Recess

The conversation of adults taking away recess from students may be a bit controversial with some people. I think it mainly has to do with adults wanting to have control, a lack of creativity on the adults part and kids in our country just simply having the right to recess.

Do we dock a teachers paycheck if they're late to school one day, miss a staff meeting or say something they shouldn't have to a parent?

Of course we don't.

Do we make teachers sit in a three hour training and then...... when everyone gets a break, we tell a few they have to sit outside on the bench because they weren't paying attention, forgot to charge their laptops, were caught talking to their friends and now must sit down during the break.

Of course we don't.

It's my firm belief that recess is a civil right for all kids.

For some reason it's become socially acceptable (in some schools) to take recess away from kids, and parents don't have a problem with this? What do parents say when their child comes home and they tell them that today they didn't get any recess?

My five year old daughter who started Kindergarten last week would be outside of her mind if she didn't run around during the day and was forced to sit on a bench instead. She needs exercise, she needs to stimulate her brain with movement, she cannot sit down for more than 30-45 minutes - it's her right to have recess just like eating lunch, or using the bathroom at school.

What would a parent say if their child got home and they said they didn't eat lunch, because they misbehaved?

What would a parent say if their child was sent outside during math time and didn't receive any instruction?

What would a parent say if their child said they weren't allowed to use the bathroom at school because of something they did?

I've had students misbehave before in the bathroom at school. We don't take away their bathroom privileges, we don't have that right. We may escort them, have them go with a buddy, do a sign-out sheet of some type, etc etc.....but we wouldn't dare tell them they couldn't use the bathroom at school.

If a student isn't being respectful during lunch we don't and can't tell them they don't have the right to eat lunch. We may have them eat at a different table, in the office until they can gather their emotions, or I would sit right next to them during lunch while they ate.

That's called 'building relationships' and 'working through their struggles!' When you take something away with no creative alternative you're saying you have no creativity, you're done thinking about it and not thinking about the child - we owe kids so much more than that.

Recess is no different, all kids have the right to recess each and every day. They need it, their brain needs it, their energy level needs it and all Kids Deserve It as well.

When I was a Principal very early in my tenure I brought up the conversation of recess with my staff. There were just a couple of teachers who felt the 'taking away recess' practice was positive and acceptable. I brought it up with the entire staff at a meeting and a very veteran teacher raised her hand.

"Adam, it's become such a normal thing in schools I haven't thought twice about it for years. Can't we as a staff be more creative than just having a kid sit on the bench during recess, we owe our kids more than that!"

Yes. We. Do.

And we as a staff came up with many options on how to support our students while still allowing them to move around and release their energy before returning to class.

Please fill out this form with ideas that you've implemented at your school instead of taking away a child's recess. Let's work together to be creative and find alternatives, we can do this together and we must stand up against those who think otherwise.

I also understand that all students at school have the right to be safe during recess as well. If we ever had a student who was endangering others during recess, we as a staff worked with them and their family for alternative options. Sometimes at a different time, in a different setting, with additional adult support. We worked with the student and family, we didn't take away.

There are TONS of articles about recess and the huge benefits from having kids run around and take breaks. Here's a great one from EdWeek.

- When a human sits for longer than about 20 minutes, the physiology of the brain and body changes.
The brain essentially just falls asleep when we sit for too long. 

Tim Walker has written extensively about how the many frequent breaks in Finnish schools offer so many positive benefits to kids. We should be giving more recess and more breaks in our schools, not taking them away.

Heinemann publishers has a great book called 'No More Taking Away Recess' that I actually purchased many years ago, check it out if you need some research and new ideas.

I also found an article from the Center for Science in the Public Interest with some horrific statistics. You can read the entire article here, but a few key points are below. 

In a 2016 study of Principals, it was reported that in three-fourths of our schools across the country, kids are punished by loosing recess. I'm starting to think this is a bigger problem than I previously thought.

Here an article on the benefits of recess from Stanford.

Let's talk about recess!