Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Really?!?! Recess at the middle level?

When the principal of our building said to me, "What do you think about giving our students an opportunity to get outside at lunch?"  I have to admit that while I gave an affirmative response (Sure, that sounds great!), the inner educator cringed.  All that I could imagine was wasting time, students being distracted, chaos and bedlam would ensue, students in 7th and 8th grade DO NOT NEED RECESS!  After all this is a junior high and we have a responsibility to get our students prepared for the high school, and life.  We have so much content to cover...couldn't this time be better served in an academic fashion?

But as the conversation continued, it became more evident that in order to have more successful students, we needed to give them a break.  The American Academy of Pediatrics has said that "free play" or "free time" is beneficial to serve as a break from the rigors in the classroom. Here, we have subjected our students to, in some cases 4 consecutive hours of study with only a 3 minute passing time to break up the day.  By giving students a chance to "rest" their directed attention by providing them time in a natural, active setting we are engaging their involuntary attention.  We let them go to places we don't want them to go during class.  Daydreaming, wandering, focusing on friendships, discussing what they are doing after school, playing tag!

The biggest critique has been that "recess" during the 30 minutes of student lunch (they eat first and then have 10-12 minutes of time outside) is that it has become a distraction.  
I haven't heard any students tell me they are it the adults that are distracted? Have we created lessons that are engaging enough so that students don't notice their peers outside during that small window of time?

image source:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Opening Day

Today we opened school.  We welcomed students.  Finally.  After several weeks of uncertainty, confusion, flailing about, laughing and honestly, nearly crying...the students arrived.

BEST. DAY. EVER.  I have to admit...I felt pretty good today.  I also was fairly nervous to start the day.  But they came to school, opened lockers (some better than others), ate lunch, saw their friends/classmates, had an assembly, and went home.

700+ lunches served, 48 buses in, 48 buses out, 1 student missed the bus...NO SCHEDULE PROBLEMS!!!

That's the management part of the the real question, "Did we do enough to ensure that they WANT to come back tomorrow?"  Here is what I saw in classrooms...

  • Adults making relationships with kids
  • Teachers sharing their Twitter, Instagram, Remind usernames (no students actually following or liking)
  • Students excited to go to lunch
  • Seating charts, assigned seats, awkward looks from a boy to a girl and vice-versa
  • Humor
  • Worksheets, worksheets, worksheets
Did we do enough to convince them that it will be an enjoyable YEAR?  We only have one chance to make a first impression...what is the forecast?  Dark and stormy OR Bright & sunny.  If the forecast isn't favorable, what are we going to do to change it?

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Learning Curve

Here I am several weeks into leading a book study/chat (my first) and I am filled with a mix of emotions.  I honestly thought that this was a no-brainer!  Summer reading...perfect topic for the "down time" in schools...the continuation of a year-long discussion.  Not so much!  To this point, 4 other participants.  These questions immediately pop into my head.

**Was the book choice (Digital Leadership) right?

    • I stand firm on this one.  The book was right for me and the few others that have participated so far.  The chapter topics and designing appropriate questions each week to this point have been eye-opening.  I have never read a book with such depth as I have over the past 2 months (kind of ashamed to actually put that into print)
**Broader audience next time?
    • Assuming that folks who have had limited interest/experience with Twitter would jump both feet into the deep end was a stretch.  Those that have participated to this point did not surprise me.
**Too aggressive timing/schedule?
    • To some extent, as I reflect, perhaps the summer was NOT the best timing  Or it certainly could have been the schedule...early on a weekly chat.  Was the 9 pm time slot too late? Too early?
What have I taken away from all of this.  
  • I have participated in more Twitter chats in the last 2 months than the previous 12 combined.
  • The school I serve has both a Facebook and Instagram account (Likes and Followers) with several posts on each.
  • I've entered the blogging world to share my journey and growth.
  • I am more excited about what the future holds as I continue to grow and help lead our students in a digitally responsible way.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

An important story to tell...OURS.

So today marks the first day of a new chapter in my professional career.  I am now officially the assistant principal at my district's junior high.  For the past 4 years I had the honor of serving as the assistant principal at our largest elementary school.  During the last year, I have become more connected through Twitter and evangelized this to my colleagues (as well as anyone who would listen).  I was anxious to take another step outside my comfort zone.
Recently, I approached my superintendent with the idea of expanding the school's social media presence.  I realized that not all of my fellow administrators would be eager for that journey...but I'm not them...I needed to do it...our community needs it.  I presented that I would charge forward and lead the way.  Model what I have been saying for the past year.  Still, until just a few days ago I wasn't committed.  Sure there was already a Twitter account and I created an Instagram account as well.  But the Facebook page was left unpublished.  Today I read this post from Dr. Spike Cook...

Thank you @ChrisWejr and @DrSpikeCook for sharing.  Thank you @deisley_scott for supporting growth.  While I didn't realize it 3 weeks ago, the sentiments of that parent is EXACTLY why this journey is so important.

Monday, June 9, 2014

As summer begins, so does frustration...

Another end to the school year brings so many emotions...relief, anticipation, excitement, and frustration.  Yes, frustration.  Many school districts in the area were faced with adjusting the "typical" close of the school year.  In the past the students left and then the teachers followed after a few days.  This year, our district end loaded professional development days for teachers.  This year, the offerings feature:

  • A FedEx style opportunity (called DiY PD - Do it Yourself Professional Development)
  • Moodle creation for new teachers
  • Professional choice of technology sessions facilitated by teachers & admin.
  • Hands-on sessions to move to a new email system
  • Curriculum writing & revision
  • Options to complete sessions on your own time and NOT actually report to a building

The overall theme of this WEEK of PD is flexibility.  It is something that, in my 15 years with the district, has not been attempted or accomplished on this large of a scale.  Our leadership team of administrators has worked hard to shift the mindset of each other and the teachers of the district...moving more toward, as Dan Pink describes in Drive, autonomy, mastery & purpose.  Willingness to take risks and be flexible.

Unfortunately, those elements are not yet as widespread as one would have hoped.  I have heard, from both teachers and my fellow administrator colleagues, too many comments about what is WRONG with the professional development "agenda" and not enough about what is RIGHT.

I am excited to see educators learn from their peers, refine curriculum for the fall, make connections with people across the district that they have never met, see plans "revealed" at the end of the DiY sessions, and be challenged by what my colleagues have done and are planning to do.

As I was recently reminded by an excellent veteran teacher while discussing the evaluation for the year..."It is what we make of it."  How true.  Perhaps more colleagues should take that advice.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

And it begins...

I have finally decided to jump into the realm of blogging about my personal growth as a leader.  I am excited to announce that I am planning to lead a book chat and will blog my personal thoughts and reflections about it (and other areas of growth and development) along the way...truly excited to be able to impact education in a broader & deeper fashion.

As I engage in my own professional development, I continue to search for ways to stretch myself and grow.  One of the ways to challenge myself is to lead a book study that has value in our field.  I have been increasingly interested in using Twitter to facilitate this type of professional development.  I'd love to see any of you who are interested participate.  It's open to ANYONE who leads or aspires to lead others in an educational setting.  Please feel free to share with your colleagues/friends.  I'll post updates/reminders via Twitter (@timothy_smith and via the hashtag) so anyone to whom this has been forwarded can participate.  Here are the details...

Book: Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times by Eric Sheninger...available here

Meetings: Weekly on Twitter - Monday nights beginning June 16 from 9-10 pm using the hashtag #digiLION
-You can join from ANYWHERE so long as you can connect to can even join while you are on the beach or watching the Phillies game!
-How to participate in a Twitter
-I will moderate the chat by posing a variety of questions...those who join can answer the questions OR just view the live Tweets....whatever you are comfortable with.

Schedule: Each chapter(s) should be read prior to the chat...

6/16 - Foreword & Ch. 1 The Evolving Educational Leadership
6/23 - Ch. 2 Why Schools Must Change
6/30 - Ch. 3 Keys to Leading Sustainable Change
7/7 - Ch. 4 Leading with Technology
7/14 - Ch. 5 Communication
7/21 - Ch. 6 Public Relations & Ch. 7 Branding
7/28 - Ch.8 Professional Growth and Development
8/4 - Ch. 9 Increasing Student Engagement and Enhancing Learning
8/11 - Ch. 10 Rethinking Learning Spaces and Environments
8/18 - Ch. 11 Discovering Opportunity & Ch. 12 A Call to Arms