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!