Reflection: The purpose of #schooldiscipline #bedu0202

Thank you again to the MC Innovations Lab for producing the #BACKCHANNELedu podcast and providing the opportunity for leaders to continue to learn.

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In this release of the scenario-cast, a high school principal reaches out to members of his virtual #PLN to get feedback on how he should proceed with a recent event in his school community. A few students participate in, video, and post the video of them playing the choking game. The principal is now seeking input to make the best decision possible for the students and the school community.

He wants to make sure the school addresses the following:

When faced with these scenarios, it is wise for school leaders to have a clear understanding of what their purpose for school discipline is. For me, the purpose is to help students correct unwanted behavior. If a student requires a punishment in order to modify behavior, then one will be issued. However, I know from experience that I do not always need to be punished to change my negative ways.

During the scenario-cast, this principal spoke of feeling the need to suspend for the incident. I would not judge any administrator that felt this was the correct course of action. However, if asked for input I would ask the principal:

Is suspension the most impactful way to change the behavior? Does it help the school community fully understand and repair the harm created by the instance?

In the group Voxer conversation, Jimmy Casas correctly reminded us that these situations are complex and we must have a sense of our community, school, and individual students in order to effectively lead through these events. He also shared the importance of building relationships with the entire community before unwanted behaviors manifest. Reminding me of the following tweet

Given the desire to have students correct unwanted behavior and the potential for students to die from these types of games, I would not suspend the students in this scenario. Instead I would enlist them to help educate the school and community about the dangers of the choking game. These students are probably not the only ones playing this game. Furthermore, I do not believe that suspending them alone will prevent others from continuing to participate in the game.

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As an educator, I aspire for our students, staff, and community to embrace our vulnerability together. By empowering students to find a solution to a relevant problem which they find themselves in the midst of, we are not only helping them learn from it, but we are equipping them to see opportunity where only concern thrived previously.

Are you having students turn their screw-ups into PBL opportunities?

What alternatives to suspension have you tried?

Which ones have you only dreamed of?

5 Powerful Takeaways from #cuerockstar Admin

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Last week I attended the second ever of what I know will be many transformative experiences at #cuerockstar Admin camp. It was especially enjoyable for me because five of the six presenters are in my #PLN. Many of the session topics have been fodder for discussion in our Voxer group over the last several years so, during the sessions, I found myself able to let go and be an active listener. The questions asked, the perspectives represented, and the insights shared helped me identify five takeaways.

  1. Phenomenal People Attend: Without question, the facilitators and attendees who attend #cuerockstar Admin are phenomenal individuals. Each person I had the pleasure to interact with shared a deep passion to help students and support adults. We all were at different points on our journey, but everyone had a hand to offer, a question to push thinking, and most importantly a humility that created an environment where we could be vulnerable. As someone who makes a tremendous number of mistakes, I found this aspect of the group most appealing.

    Yoda sharing wisdom at Skywalker Ranch.
    Yoda sharing wisdom at Skywalker Ranch.
  2. There Are No Answers: We often attend a meeting, training, or conference looking for an answer. However, there are no answers. There are no silver bullets. Don’t get me wrong. There are solutions, and the effectiveness of each depends on many factors. You cannot simply be handed a solution out of a box and expect to see the results someone else had with it. Look at companies who hire new CEOs from companies like Apple or Google expecting those solutions to solve their unique issues. It does not work like that. The secret is having your stakeholders develop solutions for your particular circumstances.

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  3. When Given a Chance to Speak, Ask a Question: Near the end of a session Joe Sanfelippo asked, “What obstacles are keeping you from sharing your school’s story?” Outstanding question that got me to realize that we need to search for solutions to overcome the language barrier. We use Facebook, and the translation function is helping us reach some families. Additionally, we are a Remind school and thanks to the hard-working and responsive folks at Remind we also have families using the new translate feature embedded in the tool. But we can do better. Thanks for the question Joe. #GoCrickets

Note: Read Humble Inquiry, Hacking Leadership, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, or A More Beautiful Question for insightful thoughts about asking questions.

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    Fear Has Imprisoned Schools: In session after session, during informal conversations in the beautiful spaces at Skywalker Ranch, and at meals when we chatted in small groups about our problems of practice, fear was the underlying issue facing every person who attended the camp. Let me paint a picture for you. Michael Niehoff just wrote a piece about paying every teacher at least $100,000 a year. Let’s imagine that we paid every teacher that well or better. We also had devices for every student, technology in every classroom exactly the way the classroom teacher wanted it, and the Internet always worked with web filtering that meets the needs of each teacher. If the school funded every desire and supported classroom teachers in every way imaginable, what effect would that have on student achievement? I ask this question because I believe that even if we eradicated every obstacle facing classroom instruction that the school can control, we would still be left to face our real hurdles. These hurdles are different for all of us, and this is not the place to list them. However, if we are bold enough to accept that funding, devices, professional development are not the biggest concerns facing our schools and courageous enough to face our real fears, our students will be better off for our efforts.

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  2. We All Need to Reflect More Often: As much as I enjoy sitting down to write down my thoughts, I do not do it nearly enough. I know writing is not the only way to reflect, but it is a practice I would like to make a consistent part of my life. Here is a list of questions I came up with during and after #cuerockstar Admin:
  • What is my real job? What is my Why?
    • What am I about; Identify my purpose
  • Do I structure my day to accomplish this?
  • Do I have balance in my life?
  • Am I leading to allow others to have balance?
  • I cannot do it on my own; am I empowering others?
  • How do they respond to being empowered?
    • How can I scaffold empowering others to make it more effective?
  • Am I asking the right questions?
  • If leadership is about influence, how am I influencing my supervisor and those above me? Those adjacent to me? Those I supervise?
  • What is the REAL issue facing SNTHS?
    • I believe it is FEAR
  • Why do we inherently fear failure?
  • Do we inherently fear failure, and if we don’t what causes us to develop this fear?
  • Are our practices developing fears or eradicating them?
  • What would an outsider do if they walked into my organization today?
  • How can I lead others to focus on outcomes/opportunities and not fears?

Please share your thoughts and enjoy your journey.

From Around the Web October 2, 2015

Every week I will try to share resources (articles, tweets, videos) from around the web that might help in your efforts to learn and grow. If you aren’t using the Pocket app, you might want to check it out. It now reads articles to you :)

Articles Worth Reading

What Parenthood Taught Me About Being A Better Manager – Fast Company

What to Do When You Don’t Trust Your Team – HBR

Empowerment Does Not Happen Without Ownership – Connected Principals

How to Hold People Accountable without using Authority – Leadership Freak

New Managers Don’t Have to Have All the Answers – HBR

If Owning The Learning Is The Goal, Student Voice Is The Means – Michael Niehoff

The Proximity Principle – Leadership Freak

What You Think Makes A Good Leader Probably Doesn’t – Fast Company

6 Habits Of Aspiring Leaders – Fast Company

5 Ways to Help Your Students Become Better Questioners – Edutopia

Tweets that made me reflect/smile/think

Videos Worth Watching

From Around the Web September 26, 2015

Every week I will try to share resources (articles, tweets, videos) from around the web that might help in your efforts to learn and grow. If you aren’t using the Pocket app, you might want to check it out. It now reads articles to you :)

Articles Worth Reading

The Anatomy of Inspiration – Leadership Freak

First-Time Managers, Don’t Do Your Team’s Work for Them – HBR

Empathy Is Still Lacking in the Leaders Who Need It Most – HBR

Starbucks Kills Its Line With An App – Fast Company

Why Leaders Don’t Listen – Leadership Freak

Six Elements of High Performance Culture – Leadership Freak

Four Things I Wish Bad Bosses Would Do – Leadership Freak

Six Extras that Build Power and Leadership – HBR

Opinion: Suspending Students is the Easy Way Out – WNYC

Five Character Traits Of Innovation Leaders – Forbes

Tweets that made me reflect/smile/think

Videos Worth Watching


A Guide to Using Google Forms with autoCrat

Before you read this post, try filling out one or both of these Google Forms to see how autoCrat works. Just submit the Form and then check your email.

GForms and autoCrat

Any School-House Walkthrough Observations

For the past several years I have used and refined a system of using Google Forms and the autoCrat script to accomplish the following:

  • Hold myself accountable for getting into classrooms.
  • Eliminate the paperwork and tracking associated with traditional methods of classroom observation.
  • Identify critical questions regarding instruction on our campus.
  • Provide teachers with immediate feedback that informs and encourages dialogue in a manner that teachers embrace.
  • Produce artifacts that evidence collaboration focused on mutual growth and refinement of instructional practices.
  • Inspire others to adopt a similar approach thus improving instructional practices beyond my campus.

In Provide Teachers Feedback and Turn Data into Information I wrote about how the summary in Google Forms is useful to my work as an educational leader.

However, the purpose of this post is to outline the mechanics of how you can setup Google Forms and autoCrat into something that works for you. Please note: It took me months of trial and error to get this right, but with this guide you should be able to figure it out with little to no trouble. Also, I encourage you to adopt an innovators mindset that says this tool can do this type of function for me and then tailor the setup to fit your needs. Try to avoid falling into the trap that you need to use Google Forms and autoCrat the exact way I do. By learning the mechanics of how to use the tool, you can adapt the setup to help you solve a multitude of issues that you might be facing.

Elements of Main Folder

There are five steps to using Google Forms and autoCrat.

  1. The Main Folder
  2. The Form
  3. The Template
  4. The Generated Response Folder
  5. Installing autoCrat

The Main Folder

Whether you are new or old to using Google Drive, you probably have experience organizing and categorizing paperwork or other things in your life. If you do not use folders in Google Drive to organize projects, you will soon have a Drive that is full of unrelated files. An analogy that comes to mind is a single box that contains a year’s worth of paperwork. You will have everything in one place, but might have difficulty finding the single item you are looking for if you do not setup folders for various projects.

So the first step is to simply create a new Folder that will contain everything related to this specific project. For the purposes of this project I will title my Folder “Mechanics of GForms and autoCrat”.

The Form

The Form

Next, create a Form that you collect information on. Whenever I make a Form I almost always sketch a rough draft on paper and then create the Form in Google Drive. When you create the Form, make sure that you make it inside of the Main Folder that you created for the project. If you forget to do this, you can always move it to the Main Folder after it is created.

If you have created a Form in Drive before, the system will probable generate a Spreadsheet as a destination that will hold the responses from the Form so that you can view them. For this project I will call my Form “GForms and autoCrat” and Drive will create a Spreadsheet in the Main Folder that is titled “GForms and autocrat (Responses)”.

One consideration when making a Form is the question type. If you use text or paragraph question types, the summary analytics cannot be used. There for I recommend that these types of responses on a Form are limited as often as possible.

You can see samples of Walkthrough Forms here.

The Template

The Template is the scaffold for the PDF or Google Doc you will create and share to provide the intended feedback. The Template should be created inside of the Main Folder. It is important to note that you do not have to share everything collected on the Form, and only information that has a Merge Tag on the Template will be shared.The Template

To create a MergeTag, you follow the format of a word or phrase with no spaces, no numbers, or no special characters enclosed by a double inequality symbol. Here is an example of a Merge Tag <<anywordyouwantinsidehere>>. As you can see from this example, your Merge Tag must be letters and can be any combination of words as long as there are no spaces. The Tag should be descriptive enough that you know which column in the Spreadsheet it corresponds to.  The Template can have graphics, colored font, and any other formatting features you wish to add.

Merge Tags

You can see samples of Templates here.

The Generated Response Folder

This is a folder inside of the Main Folder that will store generated responses. It is a folder inside of a folder.

Installing autoCrat

Finding #Balance as a First-Year Principal

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In July I began my first principalship and like many first-year principals, I probably possess too much passion and not enough patience. I’m working on it, I promise :)

In spite of my desire to do well at work, for the first time in my life I truly understand the importance of balance in my life. I have asked the staff to labor with me in creating an environment that amazes our community. We freely admit that none of us knows exactly what that type of environment looks like, or feels like. However, we agree that we all want to be at a school that is moving towards this ideal.

For me, working at a school where life/work balance is encouraged is essential in creating an amazing environment.

The girls before our first day of soccer games.
The girls before our first day of soccer games.

So on August 5th I did something I never thought I would do, I missed the new student orientation at our school so that I could coach two of my daughter’s soccer practices. I was at our school events on the evening of the 4th and the 6th, but I asked our assistant principal if he could cover for us on the night of the 5th and he magnificently did so.

Chloe and her friend at Apple Camp.
Chloe and her friend at Apple Camp.

We began school on the 10th of August, and we all know how busy the week before school is, but on the morning of the 6th I took two-hours off to go to Apple Camp with my 9-year-old Chloe. We had a fantastic time and when she sent me away so she could make a surprise for me on her MacBook Air, I had an opportunity to make connections with Apple so we could get new device for our teachers (unintended bonus of leaving work to be with my kid).

Father/Daughter date to Panera for an early morning breakfast.
Father/Daughter date to Panera for an early morning breakfast.

The morning of August 14th, instead of going to the gym before work, I went on a date to Panera with Chloe. I was packed and headed for the gym, but she woke up early so I asked her if she wanted to go on a date with dad and she answered yes with a massive bear hug J

The morning of August 20th I was at the school by 7:00 am and had a meeting with a concerned parent at 7:30. By 8:30, I was back home in time to walk Chloe (9) and Colby (6) to school for their first day of school.

Colby and Chloe on the first day of school 2015-2016.

Before this year, I would have never dreamed of missing work to do these types of activities. Yet, with a focus on having people at our school be more energized at the end of the year than at the beginning, I realize that we must all find a balance that helps us be at our best so we can best serve others.

What I am also discovering by developing a mindset that as the principal, I do not need to be the pillar that holds the school up, we are empowering others and increasing leadership capacity as a site.

There will be times that I must be present at work, but there will also be times that I must be present in my family’s life. I look forward to seeing what a year with balance looks and feels like for every member of Sacramento New Tech.

What does balance look like for you? What does a school that seeks to amaze its community look like? What does it do? I look forward to reading your comments.

From Around the Web August 23, 2015

Every week I will try to share resources (articles, tweets, videos) from around the web that might help in your efforts to learn and grow. If you aren’t using the Pocket app, you might want to check it out. It now reads articles to you :)

Articles Worth Reading

3 Ways to Turn Rivals Into Collaborators – FastCompany

4 Constructive Ways Leaders Can Handle Criticism – Forbes

4 Reasons Great Leaders Admit Their Mistakes – Forbes

4 Things that Drive Employees Crazy – Leadership Freak

5 Highly Effective Teaching Practices – Edutopia

5 Powerful Questions Teachers Can Ask Students – Edutopia

5 Traits of Creative Leaders (and How to Become One) – FastCompany

5 Ways Video can Increase Student Ownership of Learning – ShakeUpLearning

9 Aspects of Emotional Intelligence Possessed by Every Successful Leader – LifeHack

10 Next Steps for EdLeaders: The Advanced Course – EdWeek

10 Pieces of Advice for New Teachers – Justin Tarte

10 Questions to Help Start the Grading Conversation at Your School – Justin Tarte

10 Ways to Cut the Chase and Get Stuff Done – Leadership Freak

13 Things that are Changing my Life and Leadership – Leadership Freak

50+ Tools for Differentiating Instruction Through Social Media – Edutopia

53 Ways to Check for Understanding – Edutopia

A Guidebook for Social Media in the Classroom – Edutopia

A Letter to My New Principal – Edutopia

Admitting You Don’t Know, When You’re the CEO – HBR

Advice for New and Novice Teachers from Veteran Colleagues – TeachingQuality

Advice for Teachers? 10 Things to Not Lose Sight of this Year – TeachThought

Back-to-School: 7 Questions Educators Should Ask – ASCD – Edge

Back to School with Socrative – EdTechTeacher

Build Your Leadership on a Foundation of Trust – Forbes

Cultivating Healthy Teams in Schools – Edutopia

Dear Teacher … – ViewFromTheEdge

Establish Expertise Inside Your Company – HBR

Finding the Gift in Every Student – SmartBlogs

Four Reasons Leaders Are Too Afraid of Making the Wrong Decisions – Forbes

How to Eliminate Passive-Aggressive Behavior in Your Office – FastCompany

How to Engage Underperforming Students – Edutopia

How to Get Over Your Controlling Ways – Switch and Shift

How to Give Tough Feedback That Helps People Grow – HBR

How to Handle Negative Feedback – HBR

How to Hold People Accountable – Leadership Freak

How to Make Your Stress Work in Your Favor – FastCompany

How to Source Suggestions from a Reluctant Team Member – David Marquet

New Teachers: Classroom-Management Fundamentals – Edutopia

Social Media & Students’ Communication Skills – Edutopia

The Leadership Behavior Employees Most Want – Leadership Freak

What Education Organizations Need to Do to Really Change – Michael Niehoff

What’s the ‘Sweet Spot’ of Difficulty for Learning? – KQED

What Navy SEALs Can Teach Your Company About Improving Communication – Forbes

What to Say (and What to Keep to Yourself) During a Confrontation – FastCompany

When to Give Feedback in a Group and When to Do it One-On-One – HBR

Tweets that made me reflect/smile/think

Videos Worth Watching



Remember: You are not alone #BACKCHANNELedu

I would like to begin by thanking those from the MC Innovations Lab for producing the #BACKCHANNELedu podcast and providing the opportunity for leaders to continue to learn.

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In their first effort they present us with a scenario that any school around the globe could be faced with before the end of the today. School is over and a few students never make it home. What do you as a site leader do next when law enforcement informs you of the situation and then calls pour into the school from the community?

Every scenario will be different, but one of the greatest ideas a site leader needs to recognize and accept is that they are not alone. You do not have to have all of the answers and you do not have to take care of everything that needs to be done. You can and should ask for help.

Do you have a team in place to help? If you don’t you should consider building one. At our site we have a crisis management team composed of teachers, staff, administration, and district level support. The team is identified during the summer months in preparation for the new school year and roles are spelled out for each team member. However, more importantly the team members are intelligent and caring individuals who can offer insight in a crisis and care out responsibilities effectively when directed or on their own in an emergency.

Three Reflections from this Scenario

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When this principal is on the phone with her superintendent, the superintendent asks her if she needs anything. If you are a superintendent, please ask this question. In a crisis there is nothing more comforting to a leader than hearing and knowing that your supervisor has your back. If you are a principal and you are asked this question, be humble and ask for help on any aspect that you think you might need help with. At the end of the day we all want to keep kids safe and we will accept any help that can help us do that.

Next, it is important that a clear communication plan is created and our message is shared far and wide. Many reading this understand the importance of branding and being the storyteller-in-chief of their school. The longer we take to share our messaging, the more time we give others to share it for us.

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The final is the realization that our site crisis management team can benefit from practice. We have a team. We all know our roles. We know where to meet and what we need to be prepared to do. Nevertheless, we do not practice for situations like this. Maybe we can start by taking this podcast and work through what we would do and how we would do it. It is better to practice for incidents like this and never need to use that knowledge than be unprepared or underprepared when our students and school community need us most.

Thank you #BACKCHANNELedu.

“That kid”: What does your DNA shout when you hear this?

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If you have worked in education more than one week you have probably heard someone begin an exchange with one of the following:

  • That kid …
  • That student …
  • That teacher …
  • That instructional aide …
  • That teacher …
  • That parent …
  • That assistant principal …
  • That principal …
  • That IT guy …
  • That superintendent …
  • That board member …
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Now I realize this is a generalization, but the views that normally follow one of these openings frequently reveal some degree of frustration.

In recent weeks I have noticed the use of these opening on seven separate occasions. In most instances, I listened to intelligent, compassionate, and very well intentioned educators express moderate to extreme frustration with a person. On the first two occurrences, I was actually the person sharing raw emotion and the negative sentiments that usually accompany this type of venting to a close friend or group of people.

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Luckily, one or more members of my phenomenal PLN listened to my rant, allowed me to get everything off of my chest, and then did something that people who genuinely care about me do; they pushed back in a way stopped me in my tracks and caused me to reflect. They asked me about my purpose. They asked me how I intended to serve and support the individual who I just fumed about. They reminded me that as educators and leaders we serve others.

In one of the seven scenarios, an educator spoke about how her school was getting a new student who had a discipline record a mile long and a mountain deep. Fortunately for her, her #IBA group to a person challenged her to consider the idea that her school was the place he had not yet found; the one that would meet his needs. Well, a couple of days ago she thanked #IBA because they were right. It turns out that her school was what he needed. The open arms, the safe environment, the caring and support are working and he is thriving.

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I would like to again thank my PLN for reminding me to remember my why and for the need to be kind.

Educators: What is Your Purpose?

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Curriculum is the moral deliberation on what is right for students to be taught – Glickman, Gordon, and Ross-Gordon (2013)

Glickman et al. (2013) go on to advocate that the educators closest to the students, their teachers, should ultimately decide what is and is not “right” for students to learn. This is a position I completely support; in fact, I believe that it is the role of administrators to serve educators so they can most effectively help student learn and have made service my primary goal for the year. However, I must ask two questions:

What is your purpose?

Do your practices support your purpose, or are they artifacts of the school culture you have adopted?

The catalyst for this post came from a reading on curriculum development I recently did as part of some grad school coursework. In it, Glickman et al. (2013) shared three positions on curriculum (a) transmission; (b) transaction; (c) transformation.

The Transmission Position

In this situation, the function of education is to convey details, skills, and ideals to students. In other words, this is an education that is given to you where teachers are the decision makers and students are the recipients of a body of knowledge that is predetermined for them. A traditional approach such as content based classes broken down into segmented lessons during specific blocks of time is typically utilized to provide students with a structure for learning. This is currently the dominate mode for instructional organization throughout the United States.

The Transaction Position

The goal in this setting is promote critical thinking, problem solving, and to develop cognitive abilities through academic coursework. Students in this position are viewed as capable individuals who are included in the learning process rather than simply recipients of knowledge. This model invites students to become partners in the learning process and encourages students to use their understanding to find solutions. In a classroom where transaction is desired, the curriculum is often structured in an interdisciplinary manner so students can better make connections and tackle more robust problems effectively. This position is typically characterized by teams of teachers working in a coordinated effort to plan instructional units.

The Transformation Position

The focus of this position is personal and collective change and teaching students the skills necessary to accomplish both. In this learning environment, students are in full control of their learning and the emphasis is placed on devolving the ability to find meaningful solutions that serve the individual and their community. Curriculum is designed around common themes, skills, or problems; traditional disciplines and class schedules do not exist. Daily learning is constructed around the topic being studied rather than conforming to content-centered curricula.

This type of curriculum organization can be successful only if teachers are willing to reconceptualize their concept of the school curriculum. A transdisciplinary curriculum organization requires students to synthesize knowledge and skills from various content areas and encourages student creativity and self-direction.

Identify Your Purpose

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So what is your purpose?

Does your homework policy align with it? Do you need to refine your late work policy, tardy policy, discipline practices, instructional pedagogy, expectations, or cultural beliefs based on your purpose? If you need a refresher on what cultural beliefs are check out this post: Climate and culture: What I wish I would have learned long ago.

My purpose as an educational leader is to be transformational.

In my twelve years in education my actions have not always aligned with my stated purpose. However, it is something I am now mindful of and working on.