First Day = Best Day

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The first day of school is the best day of the year. Every September holds the promise of hopes and dreams of students, families and staff. Students arrive ready to learn, probably more than any other day. It’s the day to connect with them, have fun, and help kids feel successful so they look forward to the second day. Let’s face it, while the syllabus and notebooks are important, they are not the most scintillating topics for the first day. They can wait.  happy-first-day-of-school-1

Sam Barringer, a student in our district, spoke eloquently at our opening breakfast event about the need for connections between students and teachers to engender motivation and engagement (he calls it e = mc2).  The first day is the best day for making those connections and jump starting the process for really knowing your students’ hope and dreams.

I have a great suggestion for first day = best day activities.  The maker movement in education is sweeping North America. The premise is that students use lots of 21st century skills when they make, including creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking. To be honest, it reminds me of being a kid and having my mom teach me how to knit or cook. Or planting a garden with my dad. Or making scrapbook pages with a friend. Nowadays, these things are still great. But we have even more options that can happen in school. A low tech option is the Marshmallow Challenge.  Videos are within the reach of every student with fun apps like VideoStar and iMovie. You can go even further with 3D printing. Tinkering, inventing and making stuff can be powerful learning and super fun.

Last week, I noticed tweets from Pam Moran, a superintendent in Virginia. She was tweeting photos of first day activities at Monticello High School in her district. That led me to the principal, Dr. Jesse Turner who was proudly showing off a duct tape bow tie made for him by students.

These photos show that this isn’t hard. And look at the expressions on student faces. I know every educator wants to create those smiles every single student who walks through your doors.

What can you do to make sure the first day of school really is the best day? Please share your stories!

3 Reasons I Go to Edcamp

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I attended Edcamp Leadership this week: my fifth time at an Edcamp and a great day! Let me tell you why.

Credit to www.edcampleadership.org

Credit to www.edcampleadership.org

1) The Unconference Model:  Educators want choice and autonomy when it comes to their professional learning. They want to decide what they need to learn to meet student and staff needs better. They want to find out about great resources and ideas. Educators also want to hear about what others are doing in their classrooms, schools and districts. They want to listen, talk and reflect with colleagues.

Unconferences, of which Edcamp is a variant, offer all these to participants. There’s no keynote. There are no vendors. The success of the day is up to you! Participants build the schedule. No one edits or crosses off. If you want to engage others in an issue or topic, put it up on the session board at the beginning of the day. Choose whatever sessions you want to attend. Offer your ideas, opinions and experiences in person, on Twitter, or take notes for your next blog post. If one session doesn’t meet your needs, leave and head somewhere else. Go hang out in the lobby and chat with a new friend. Oh, and it’s free. Yes, free.

2) Connections:  There’s a strong link between Edcamp and Twitter.  Many people who see the value of social media connections also attend these unconferences. I use Twitter to connect to educators around the world, but especially in Canada and the United States. One of my favourite things to do on Twitter is participate in chats like #satchat, #iaedchat, #ptchat or #cdnedchat. It’s a chance to have a real time conversation about interesting and timely topics in education. The 140 character limit forces me to distill my thoughts to the essentials.

It was super to meet many “tweeps” face to face at Edcamp Leadership and especially those I’ve met through Twitter chats. I even got to participate in a live #satchat with Brad Currie (NJ), Scott Rocco (NJ) and Tom Whitby (NY) – what a privilege!!

I have to give shout outs to Vicki Day (NY), Tony Sinanis (NY), Jimmy Casas (IA), Ben Gilpin (MI), Reed Gillespie (VA), Joe Mazza (PA), Tom Whitford (WI), Sue Bruyns (ON) David Fife (ON), Anne Marie Luce (ON). These wonderful educators are worth following through their blogs and Twitter feeds. Each one is making a huge difference to their students and to the improvement of education.

I also met a number of interesting and committed teachers, vice principals and principals in sessions and break time.  I find the atmosphere at Edcamp open and friendly, much more than at a traditional conference. Folks are more than willing to meet and engage.

3) Learning:  I love to learn through conversations. Edcamps offer the chance to engage in deep thinking. When you arrive, you hang out in the main room and watch the schedule being built by participants. It’s a time to chat with people and listen to their realities, successes and struggles. You really can have a conversation about all of that in a few minutes!  Then it’s time to choose your sessions, where the “law of two feet” applies.

My thinking was challenged and stretched by sessions on leadership and struggle and how to put cultural competency in action. These discussions were so rich that I am drafting blog posts to address both.

What’s next? How about Edcamp Toronto, Barrie or London?

You should go.

 (I also blogged about Edcamp here. That post included links to Open Space and unconferences.)

System Leaders with School Responsibilities

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web“We need system leaders with school responsibilities.”

This culture building quote comes from Dr. John Malloy, Director of Education for Hamilton-Wentworth. He said it during a meeting with superintendents, principals and vice principals. It resonates strongly with me, because I see it as a shift in thinking for so many school leaders.

Big picture thinking has always intrigued me. As a teacher, I always wanted to know the how and why of pedagogy and decisions that affected my classroom and the school. I also spent some time in union leadership, and the provincial machinations and interplay as well as their effect on schools and individual teachers fascinated me. I didn’t always appreciate or agree with some school and system decisions and went through times where I could feel disillusioned with “the system”. In my various roles as school leader, I came to a deeper understanding of where and how decisions are made within large organizations like school districts.

My interest in why led me to Simon Sinek‘s work. He talks about how leaders inspire action in his book and TEDx talk, which you can find here.  He talks compellingly about how individuals, companies and organizations need to start with “why?”

Why do we exist? What is our purpose?

Every formal and informal leader in our system must understand our larger purpose and the why. We all need something to believe in so we can come together with that shared purpose but without the narrow focus on our own backyard. That translates into system leaders with school responsibilities. When we know the why, we can explain it and inspire others. Every leader must be willing to engage in measured, thoughtful dialogue with educators, parents, school support staff and students about their beliefs and our purpose.

Of course, school leaders have work to do in schools, but it should never be an us vs. them mentality within a district. It’s easy to focus on why your school doesn’t have the latest in gym flooring and others do. Understanding system decisions helps. Yes, the endless email takes way too much time. Marking essays and writing report cards can be a grind. I, too, can get caught up in the operational side of my work, but that will never inspire me.

Have you thought about deeply about why you come to work every day? Do you know your why? Mine is a strong belief in public education within our human society. I also believe in the power of people to make a difference in each other’s lives, both individually and together. I am privileged to be in a position to influence, in some small way, children and youth’s lives.

Let’s continue the conversation in the comments – what do you believe? Are you a system leader with school responsibilities?