Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Time Well Wasted

In today's fast paced and ever changing world of education, one constant in our field is the need for more time. Administrators juggle it. Students are trying to figure it out. Teachers beg for it. Me? There are some days I wish were 25 hours long, but I cannot say I think about "time" too often.

My wife and I recently completed (hopefully) a really bad stretch of funerals this year, low-lighted by losing both of her grandparents within two months. I was reminded of Grandpa's death yesterday at parent-teacher conferences when I found his funeral card in the suit I was wearing. Though few negative emotions compare the finality of death, funerals get me thinking about "time" more than I ever do.


Remember when they told you that your lesson must last from "bell to bell?" Seven years ago when I first started, this was a big point of emphasis and even today, I try to make sure that my classroom is productive from start to finish. I understand why this is a principle of best practice and classroom management.

But I have to say, I think some of the best teachers allocate their time a little differently. I've observed teachers who sing or dance in front of their class. Others teachers will spend 10 minutes every Monday asking the students about their weekends. One of my colleagues hosts "cookie Friday." There are plenty of ways to skin that cat, but none of them really fall in line with "bell to bell" teaching or something Charlotte Danielson would be proud of. Yet, by "wasting" those 10 minutes, I find that some teachers are able to make the other 35 minutes of class even more productive. Moreover, students are drawn to the classroom experience they are getting with those teachers, and feel compelled to work even harder because of the connection and relationship that teacher has forged.


When I reflect on someone's life as I've had to do several times recently, I come back to how they spent their time. How we spend time is a reflection of our priorities and a statement of who we are. Beyond our faith, our family, and our friends, I think time is our most valuable asset.  I don't mean to sound holier than thou by writing that, because I believe it.


We have 45 minutes in a class period to model skills, teach content, facilitate discussion, encourage innovation, foster creativity, and do everything else our teaching rubrics tell us to do. But we also have 45 minutes to encourage our students' passions, to invest in their talents, and be the best part of their day. We are the guardians of the future generation and we bear the responsibility for the academic and non-academic futures of our kids. Do we use that time well? Or do we 'waste" that time well? Either way, it reinforces what an asset time truly is.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Buzzwords: Modeling

I think I am at my best as an educator when I am in the trenches learning with my students.

I feel funny sitting in a desk with a scantron in front of me. Picture, "Buddy the Elf" sitting in a midget sized desk. That's me. Even the students in the class took awhile to get used to it. But there was a method to the madness I suppose, and I feel like I was contributing to one of the biggest and baddest buzzwords in education today.


I made the decision three years ago to be a student with my students. Once I established order in my classes early (I hope) in the school year, I start to weave my way into group work, singling out a partner who needs my help. I take all of our tests with my students and point out my mistakes, too. I never grade papers alone. I read my students work with them, side by side after school, and agree with them on a grade. All of these activities afford me the chance to model best practices in reading, writing, and thinking.

As a teacher, I think its easy to see the benefits of modeling academic and non-academic behaviors for our students. We cannot expect our students to reach certain objectives without seeing examples of what it looks like. But as an administrator, I think modeling becomes paramount in creating the culture and work environment that we envision.

1. Modeling work habits will help you pass the "eye-test."

Show up early. Stay late. Dress professional. Be on time for meetings. Work diligently in all that you do.  For those faculty and staff who do not interact with you on a daily basis, this is what they will see. At the very least, you will pass the "eye-test." Moreover, this gives a school leader the opportunity to model basic work habits we expect from everyone.

2. Stand with your staff, not in front of them.

Modeling is the driving force behind any school initiative. So when a strong idea is making its way through the school, a great leader doesn't push, they pull. At our school, our administration has really encouraged our staff to become connected educators through Twitter and personal blogs. It hasn't really been dictated to us, but it has been modeled. When someone is doing great work with a tool that I am not using, I want to use that same tool. In this case, modeling the initiative became a motivating factor for me to begin. Great leaders do not constantly remind me that they are in charge but great leaders do remind me that we are in this together.

3. Administrators can model their decision making, too. 

No decisions are made in a vacuum and school leaders should make sure their staff knows this. We ask our teachers to make curricular decisions as a a team. We ask our head coaches to collaborate with the staff of their program. We even ask our students to run their clubs and activities together. So as school leaders, shouldn't we model decision making as a democratic process? Its a fine line between, "being in charge, and empowering others," and I understand that. But I think there is true power in allowing others to hold a stake in important decisions for the school community. If we model, others will create, initiate, and collaborate. And in that moment - we find our vision unfolding exactly as we modeled it.