Onboarding New Faculty and Staff

I’ve noticed a theme in my leadership career. Ok, actually, I’ve noticed a few themes. However, one of those themes is really coming to light as we round the bend to the start of a new school year. What is that theme? I have either created or completely re-envisioned (from the ground up) the way the school on-boarded its new faculty and staff.

Having a comprehensive faculty on-boarding program is a serious consideration for all schools, be they public, independent, charter, private, parochial, and especially international schools. Bringing new hires into the fold, so to speak, presents a unique opportunity to express what the organization holds up as most important, it allows the school to share its values, and it also begins weaving the fabric of community among the new hires – both among themselves as well as with already established employees. It seems so easy, and yet, doing this well actually takes a lot more planning, coordination and effort than many realize. And the larger the school, the more complex the process can become.

So, you might ask… what are the key components of an effective on-boarding program? I would contend that a good program would include three phases: 1. Lead Up, 2. New Employee Seminar, 3. Ongoing Support.

Today we’ll talk about the Lead up phase and the key parts to include.

This phase would include: 

Pre-Planning: Before the hiring season even begins, the leadership of the school needs to come together to ensure they are on the same page about important information, the answers to key questions, vision/mission, and also to set up the dates for the New Employee Seminar (and ongoing support sessions). There also needs to be a clear “hiring path and process” so that new hires have a smooth experience from initial contact to signing the contract, and then through their on-boarding. While this may seem like an obvious point, you would be surprised at how many schools just don’t do this… which then leads to mixed messages to new hires, uncertainty, lack of clarity, and in the worst case, it can sour a new hire’s perspective about the school before they even start.

Communication: Immediately on acceptance of contract from the new hire the principal or division head welcomes them verbally if possible and definitely by email. That first email shares information about the new teacher and staff institute (on-boarding week), how to reach the direct supervisor, and if the person is relocating, an offer to assist connecting them with resources in the local area. It also should include a way for that person to ask any and all questions they might have and a contact person they can reach out to with those questions.

Personalized, Individual Contact with HR: A phone, Skype or in-person session with the HR Director to review the myriad documents, insurance forms, and other assorted required docs is essential. This can include technology agreements, process for fingerprinting or clearing other back ground checks, vehicle registration, etc. Ensuring folks know who to contact for questions and what steps need to be completed when helps immeasurably.

Email Connection: Some institutions prefer to not “turn on” employee email until their start date, and in some cases, email connection can’t happen for legal or contractual reasons. Fair enough. But I would contend that once the technology use agreement is turned in by the new hire, there is no reason to connect them to their enterprise email. This serves several purposes – one, it lets them “listen in” to the various groups, divisions, and teams to which they would be assigned, so that they get a bit of a leg up on what is being planned for the new year (as we all know, many teachers take those final few weeks to get the new year’s planning started). Second, it makes it easier for the school to reach the new teacher and gives an official line of connectivity that helps with summer questions. Finally, it allows the individual to tell their departing school (and the numerous friends they may be leaving there) how to reach them when they move on. It is just a great way to score a big “W” with new hires.

Identifying a Mentor and/or Support Person (People): Introducing the new hire to a non-evaluative support person can be a big plus for new hires. Some schools use existing leadership structures to fulfill mentor roles, such as tapping department or team leaders. Other schools identify mentors who might be similar in terms of outside interests or hobbies so there is a connection point in addition to the formal structures in the school. Either way, identifying this person to the new hire well in advance gives them someone to reach out to, and also provides an additional channel of support.

Sharing Summer Updates: Most schools have some manner of end-of-year communication to faculty and/or parents, as well as summer update information that goes out to faculty and/or parents. Having folks looped in on this, whether through their new school email or their personal email, gives the new hires an idea of what plans are on the horizon as well as perspective on focus areas, the first week of school, and allows them to see what parents are seeing about the year ahead. Part of the summer updating would include sharing the teaching schedule with the new faculty member so that they’re able to get their head around the work day’s flow ahead of time.

The above ideas work well for local schools, independent schools, and charter schools. For international schools, I would also recommend that there is a personal “general session” Skype invitation from the direct supervisor to all new hires to just answer the big questions that any major relocation sets up, as well as establishing some kind of monthly newsletter that updates all new hires on things they need to think about as they plan their move, complete required paperwork, secure visas, and think about housing as they prepare for the relocation. International hiring happens so early in the prior year that there are several months where questions and worry can build to “boiling points” – by proactively providing information on a regular schedule, many of these concerns can be alleviated or even avoided.

Next blog post: The New Faculty and Staff Seminar! Stay tuned.

Formative Classroom Walkthroughs

One of the things that I am most looking forward to in the coming year is once again having a significant time to be in classrooms. This year, I will be partnering with our divisional leadership to engage in formative classroom walkthroughs as a part of our larger work around faculty growth and development.

We talk a great deal about formative and summative assessments with our student learning, but rarely have I heard this language used via the lens of faculty or adult learning in a school house. And yet, if we wish to have world-class faculty, we should be focusing on growing their teaching and leadership skills much the way we would focus on helping our students achieve their very best day in and day out in the classroom. Study after study demonstrates that formative feedback benefits students. It just makes sense that formative feedback would similarly benefit faculty.

Over the summer I had the opportunity to read more about the effective use of formative classroom walkthroughs, and essentially, the practice involves three lenses:

Micro view: Am I giving direct, evidence based feedback?

Snapshot view: What did the teacher learn from the feedback?

Long point of view: What changes happened as a result of applying the feedback?

We will be loosely basing our practice on the book Formative Classroom Walkthroughs by Moss and Brookhart, with a focus on applying the three views when observing faculty teaching or leading, and then using those views to shape solid formative feedback loops. We are going to strive to maintain a balance of feasibility (for both the division heads and the faculty members) as well as really focus on the growth and development of our faculty members. The three lenses described above will serve as the basis for feedback. Divisions will also continue their work on refining the faculty’s use of learning targets in the classroom. The book has a great deal more to the process, however, jumping in full-throttle right out of the gate felt a bit onerous to all involved – so we will think big, start small, and go slow with this process.

What do you believe are the integral components of effective growth and development of teachers? How would you approach that work?

Renewal

As I scan my Twitter and Facebook feeds recently, a number of memes and “teacher humor” bemoaning the end of summer have come across my screen. Most of them share a strong sense of dread about the end of summer and the upcoming start of school. I’ll go ahead and possibly label myself as a quintessential dork, but I just can’t get behind those memes or the feelings of dread…

Don’t get me wrong, I had a fantastic summer. I was able to indulge my love of diving and traveled to some very fun locations, including Alaska, to dive and spend some time playing in the snow. I enjoy my time off of work the same as everyone else. The chance to unplug and spend time on my hobbies and visit with friends and families gives me a kind of special energy that fills my bucket.

But. I can’t help but get excited about the start of a new school year. I thoroughly enjoy the renewal and energy that comes through the door as faculty, staff and students return to campus. I like the planning and conversations as we think about, dream about, and increase our hopes for the new year. The slow steady increase of energy and momentum is tangible during the month of August. And then, in September, it is all systems go!

I’m elbow deep in big plans and dreams as we get ready to greet our new faculty in a couple of weeks, followed quickly by our faculty August inservice, and the first day of school in September. And I couldn’t be happier. It looks like it will be a very busy, very productive, and very fun year ahead, and I am excited to see what it holds. 🙂

The Promise of 3D Printing

During my daily perusal of articles, books, and interesting talks, I stumbled across this incredible presentation by Avi Reichental about 3D printing. His premise? 3D printing will not just catapult us into the future – it will actually provide us with deeper connection to our pasts. The case he makes is a solid one. The promise of 3D printing to afford all people access to customized products, be they custom printed joints for their knees, or sunglasses that fit them perfectly, or even perfect foods, is a radical game-changer.

3D printers are making high end production shoes, teeth, sunglasses, knee replacements, guitars, cakes, and even prosthetic devices that are custom-conformed to one’s body and even go so far as to allow paralyzed persons to once again walk. The revolution is real, and it is here.

It is becoming clear that 3D printing will become a part of our daily life the way the smartphone or the internet has. As such, as teachers and educators, those in schools have an obligation to foster maker-mindsets into their students, and expose students to the tools and processes involved in 3D printing.

How will 3D printing change YOUR life?

Design Thinking as a Means of Realizing the Constructivist Ideal and Developing Critical Habits of Mind

This summer I will be back in the beautiful Pacific Northwest to present at a Global Symposium on Innovations in Education. The topic will be Design Thinking. I’m sharing the abstract for my paper and presentation here. If you’d like the full length paper, feel free to contact me via email – the address is on my “About Me” page on this website. Read and enjoy!

Abstract

Despite a rapidly changing global environment, K-12 education in the United States has remained frozen in time. Educational ideas and innovations come and go, with minimal impacts on student achievement outcomes. Despite these ideas and innovations, classrooms look remarkably similar to what they looked like at the beginning of the 20th century. Even the most significant change in schools, the introduction and integration of technology, has served to only change procedural aspects of learning in most schools and has had only spotty success in significantly changing student learning at a foundational level. But it is not just stagnation in our teaching and learning that is the only concern. Certain new deficiencies have emerged or have become more notable in recent years as a result of societal pressures, changes in student populations, and popular psychology for parenting. Employers have provided overwhelming evidence pointing to a lack of innovative thinking and a lack of perseverance in today’s graduates. Theorists have provided a strong research basis pointing to the need for learning experiences that cultivate stronger creativity, that foster an innovative spirit, and which cultivate greater resiliency in our students.

How might we instill a sense of self-efficacy and self-regulation in our students while continuing to provide content knowledge seen as essential to success later in life? Design thinking provides a potential avenue by which we can foster a spirit of innovation and resiliency in students while simultaneously instilling a passion for learning and knowledge. As defined by David Kelley, one of the originators of the process, design thinking is “a deeply human process that taps into abilities we all have but get overlooked by more conventional problem-solving practices.” In other words, design thinking is a structured approach that fosters creative thinking in situations where it may otherwise be overlooked. It integrates elements of many “best practices” in educational pedagogy and methodology, including but not limited to inquiry-based learning, metacognitive strategy use, problem-based-learning, and collaborative learning.
This presentation will focus on the origins and principles of design thinking, as well as sharing the relevant literature regarding design thinking. Finally, possible approaches for the integration of design thinking into established programs, schools, and curriculum will be shared.

Maslow’s Hierarchy in Education

As I scrolled through my Twitter feed a few weeks back, I stumbled upon THIS great article about Maslow’s hierarchy and how it might be extrapolated to the classroom setting. I had to admit, I was interested.

For most educators, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is not new or revolutionary, and so the pyramid itself was not the a-ha for me. My a-ha came from the realization that many teachers and leaders, all of whom were at least acquainted with Maslow at some point in their studies, forget to incorporate routines or structures in their day that allow for the meeting of basic needs for learners and collaborators.

In any case, I appreciated both the “educationalization” of the pyramid so that it might be applied to classroom use and the very friendly provision of some guiding self-reflection questions. For each tier, basic suggestions are shared about how to meet needs at each level. This could apply to classrooms or faculty gatherings. Also provided are some good “Questions to ask myself” that help a practitioner to become more self-reflective about where they might stand in the ordering of things for each level of the pyramid. An interesting twist could be to educate students about the levels and the indicators for each level, and then lead them through some reflective dialoguing about their status or state of mind/being on a weekly basis. With all of the discussions “out there” about grit, metacognition, self-regulation and self-efficacy, this would appear to be a  slam-dunk way to engage students in meaningful thinking about how they are learning within the context of how they are doing in terms of their needs being met. As the research shows, this is precisely the kind of reflective practice that helps students develop long-term skill sets that set them up for future success in “the real world.”

 

Curating Makes a Difference

I have always been a big believer in displaying student work. First, there’s just nothing else that really communicates what is going on in the classroom or with student learning to those who are not in your classroom each day like seeing visual representations of the work that has been recently accomplished. Second, you get instant parent buy-in to your teaching and classroom when they see their kid’s work displayed publicly. And third, and most important, the twinkle of pride that you see in a student’s face when they recognize that their work is being displayed… well, there’s no substitution for that. The delight is obvious with younger students, that is true. However, upon displaying student work at the high school, I always noticed a palpable shift in attitude and behavior from those students who had their work up on display. It’s such a simple way to boost student morale and get a “buy in bump” from students.

In recent years, the display of student art has emerged as an art form in and of itself. I know that during a recent visit of many innovative schools, we saw student art formally “curated” around the school community. It was incredible! I also know that as we looked on this incredible and impressive displays of student art, that many in my group felt like it would be truly impossible to undertake “curation” of student work; it was just too complicated, required too much time, and would require tools and items that weren’t readily available at the school.

Well, I am here to say that is definitely not the case. Student work can be curated very simply and very easily. Some basic guidelines on curating student work include:

1. Symmetry. Find 2 or 3 projects or visual items that are the same size and/or same proportion, and display them together in a group of 3-5 items. Be sure they are hung evenly with good spacing between individual pieces. Voila!

2. Pattern. You can take differently shaped items and “frame” them within a given size on a wall. Have the outside edges of a few of the items create the “corners” and “edges” of the large area and place items of different sizes within the bigger space.

3. Get kids involved. Students love owning creative process and love having their work displayed. Give them a space and a few guidelines, and you will soon find that they will transform the area into a gallery. This could even be incorporated as part of the overall exhibition of learning or project: demonstrate your learning with visual representations in this designated space using these guidelines. As a part of their learning process, students could visit or research curating works so that they understand basic design principles themselves. Kid involvement can be a very teachable moment when it comes to curating their own work. 

4. Make it interactive. There are no rules that say curated work must only be looked upon and not interacted with by the viewer. The interactive component could again be used as a design challenge for students.

5. Make it elevated. Take a look at how several museums (especially modern art museums) display visual pieces and emulate their approach. It is clean, well organized and arranged, and interesting. Simple pre-cut frames add an element of sophistication. Proper arranging makes student work look like treasured art. Having small information cards that are printed on cardstock, of identical size and formatting, for each piece again lends to the feel of museum quality student display.

In short, you don’t have to spend hours of time curating student work. This two-minute “how to” video walks you through some of the basics on how to curate student work effectively. There are many low-cost, low-time ways in which student work can be shared with the greater school community in a meaningful, classy, and empowering way. And remember, no construction paper backers unless your last name is Matisse! 🙂

Go on, give it a try. And please share your results!

Mindfulness

Recently there has been quite a media hubbub around “mindfulness” or the “mindful revolution.” Someone has dubbed 2014 as the “year of mindfulness” and even TIME Magazine ran a cover story on the concept. Until recently, I will admit that I did not buy in to meditation… mostly because I was limited by my mind’s eye perception of just what meditation was and what it involved. To me, meditation conjured up visions of hippie-garbed individuals clustered in a very earthy setting, sitting with their legs crossed and indulging in chanting “ohm”s and breathing deeply. I guess it just seemed to me that the “look” of meditation had become more important than the actual effects of meditation; at least, that’s how it appears from the way it’s been portrayed in media and by proponents of the movement in earlier iterations.  Meditation also always seemed to have some element of religious underpinning to it that focused the process in a particular bent, thereby limiting the outcomes of engaging in the practice. That just didn’t hold appeal for me.

However, there is an emerging new look at just what meditation really is, what it can look like, and the benefits of engaging in such practices. The term “mindfulness” seems to help clear away prior contexts traditionally assigned to the word “meditation,” thereby allowing the concept to transpose traditional boundaries and emerge into the daily lives of people from all backgrounds. The gist of mindfulness is that it does not have to be limited to yoga retreats, religious rituals or specialized settings or times. One can engage in mindfulness just about anywhere, anytime. It would appear that traditional approaches to meditation are giving way to a new, more generally applicable approach. This is interesting.

In essence, mindfulness is engaging in heightened self-awareness as well as engaging in objective reflection. As you know from prior posts I have made, the idea of individual reflection and awareness or tenets that I believe in deeply. Mindfulness is not something that must be done in a particular place or in a particular way. It is simply being aware of yourself and opening your thoughts to reflect and process what has happened or to future-vision what might yet come. It is a way by which one can process complexities presented and frame mindset in a more positive light.

I think what is most compelling about the mindfulness revolution are the stories emerging of how mindfulness is significantly impacting those who practice it. Specifically, I’m interested in the use of mindfulness techniques in the schoolhouse. Several schools have begun incorporating “mindfulness moments” or other structured meditative sessions during the school day with astonishing results. From students about to take the GRE to kids in impoverished inner-city settings, mindfulness has shown to help students gain greater focus and clarity, thereby improving academic achievement. It’s also led to less anxiety and stress (both in terms of anecdotal reporting and in scientific measurement of the stress hormone in several tests).  Axonal density in the brain also appears to be improved through the regular practice of mindfulness. Studies have shown that other effects of mindfulness include reduced depression, better sleep, and greater compassion for others.

It would appear that while I see many upsides to the introduction of mindfulness into the schoolhouse, I have yet to see downsides presented. Some questions I have around the practice come around how schools would gain buy-in from what I imagine to be rather cynical teenagers; I would like to better understand the “how” by which schools begin such a program and ingrain it into the school’s culture. I would be very interested in seeing how schools effectively implement a mindfulness program into their school and sustain it over the long haul. The benefits certainly seem to outweigh whatever difficulties might be encountered during the inception phase.

What do you think about the mindfulness movement? Have you seen it at work in schools? What thoughts do you have about implementing such a program?

Cave Diving Class = Professional Learning Experience

There’s a lot of conversation going on out there about internship learning, experiential learning, real world learning, deeper learning…. each appears to be a slight variation on a theme: Learning that happens out there, in the real world, with real purpose or meaning, is learning that sticks.

I can’t argue with the premise. I have done more “seat time” than most anyone I know in pursuit of my own educational edification, given that I’ve pursued formal education up through its highest levels. All of my formal education has been in the area of… well… education and educational leadership. And don’t get me wrong, I have learned a lot and I’m glad to have had the professional learning journey that I’ve had. My theoretical basis of understanding is vast and fairly deep. I am able to conduct and interpret research in ways I couldn’t have done before. My eyes were opened to thoughts and ideas that wouldn’t have crossed my path without my experiences at the various schools I attended.

But when I think about the learning that has most profoundly impacted my professional practice, ironically enough, none of my formal learning has prepared me nearly as well as informal learning that I pursued, of my own accord and on my own time (and at my own expense) for something that was completely NOT educationally related. Surprised? I know that when I first stumbled upon that realization, I was first surprised… but then it all made sense.

So then, the obvious question is: where did I have the most profound professional learning experience resulting in an impact to my practice? Well, it happened in a cenote (sinkhole) in Mexico. A cenote is a pond created by a collapse, and is fed freshwater by underwater aquifers, usually found deep within the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula. These cenotes are linked to one another in many instances… connected by underground, underwater passages.

In 2003 I was a pretty active diver, enjoying regular dives in the cold waters of Puget Sound. A friend shared their experiences doing a wild and dangerous thing called “cave diving”… I was immediately interested… and researched the topic a bit… and before I knew it, I had signed up for a cave diving course in Mexico. The next January found me floating in a cenote, about to do my first ever cave dive. I was scared, nervous, my brain was firing messages like crazy. I think all of these physical reactions  combined to deliver a powerful and impactful punch to my system. I survived the first dive, even when my instructor switched off my powerful HID dive light and made me exit the cave in complete, blinding darkness.

The rest of the course focused heavily on safety related measures, and featured hour upon hour of in-water practice of safety drills and procedures inside and outside of the cave systems. By the close of the experience, I was proficient and deemed safe enough to go off on my own. Since that time I’ve logged over 300 cave dives and regularly navigate complicated maze-like systems in a confident and capable manner. But back to the topic at hand… what about my cave diving course and experiences made it the most impactful learning for me as an educational leader? The simple answer is:  everything. The more detailed answer includes these elements…

1. I learned that hands-on learning leads to “muscle memory”. And muscle memory is good. When I had to do drills repeatedly, I built what we refer to in diving as muscle memory, meaning that you begin to anticipate where you need to put your hand to look at your gas gauge or find your regulator if it falls away from you. In my work, muscle memory is the thing that allows me to navigate creating a new document in GoogleDrive or easily move through the steps of balancing staffing budgets. If you repeat an action enough times, it just becomes part of learned information. Learning by doing has merit.

2. I learned that “slow is smooth and smooth is fast”. There will be instances when the world around you becomes frenetic and overwhelming. There will be a time when crisis hits. Rather than be reactionary, be careful and thoughtful. In cave diving, a crisis can kill you, so we train to remain cool, calm, and collected when things go south. Our mantra is “slow is smooth and smooth is fast”, meaning it is better to move slower but more precisely to fix the problem rather than hurry up and likely miss something important. In times of crisis or frenetic work days, pause, observe, and move slow but sure through the things that must be done. This approach will get more done than being gut-shot reactionary.

3. I learned that guidelines are better than rules. Rules are restrictive and make people stop thinking. Guidelines are interpretive and invite dialogue and discussion that usually lead to better solutions. In diving, we have guidelines, because diving situations are different for different environments, and there is no such thing as “one size fits all” when it comes to necessary equipment or team configurations. Schools are much the same. Unapologetic purpose, good structures, strong and regular communication and room for interpretation lead to a more dynamic educational program, stronger sense of team, and a greater sense of purpose for the whole organization.

4. Stop. Breathe. Think. Act. This is the mantra for solving problems on a cave dive. Because of the environment, a diver can’t just bolt for the surface when things go wrong. Oftentimes there are thousands of meters of passage between you and air. You have to cultivate a strong sense of mind over matter, and be cool under pressure. Given the numerous tough situations that go down in schools day in and day out, this has been the most impactful on my professional practice. Prior to learning how to cave dive, I sometimes lived by “ready, fire, aim!” with disastrous results. These days I stop, I take a deep breath, I think, and then I act. And that is a recipe for success, at least for me.

There are several other things that I learned as a result of cave diving beyond these four items listed above. But the powerful thing to me is that this experience I pursued for totally separate reasons from my career has come back to really change how I work in my schools now. And it has me wondering why we don’t more avidly pursue hands on, internship styled learning for our kids. Powerful life long lessons may result that help guide them. I had to wait until I was almost 30 to have that kind of experience; what if I’d had that when I was in high school? Interesting to think about that. Being a pragmatist I get that there are a lot of logistical things and hiccups that can interfere with creating experiences like this. But if you knew the experience could change a kid’s life… forever… wouldn’t that be worth it?

What experiences away from work have impacted you and your work life? Impacted the way you go about doing what you do? What are your thoughts about internship experiences for kids?

Interesting perspective on management

Sometime soon, I will pen more in-depth thoughts I have regarding leadership versus management, as well as the idea of what makes for an effective organization. There is an enormous pile of books on the topic, many of which I’ve read at some point. The volume of writing on the topic of effective leadership or effective management or effective organizations tells me that numerous organizations struggle with functioning at a high level while simultaneously maintaining healthy organizational culture. Schools are no exception to this. We struggle with engagement, productivity, results, and accountability. And our world is undoubtedly getting remarkably more complex in this day and age with loads of new requirements, mandates, expectations, and outcomes.

I don’t have an answer to the dilemma of effective leadership, effective organizations and how to increase productivity and engagement and outcomes… but I stumbled across this TED talk, and found the paradigm shift in terms of approaching the problem to be refreshing and interesting. Yves Morieux focuses on industry, true. But a lot of what he discusses in his “Smart Simplicity” paradigm could apply in the educational context too. When he described the “hard” and “soft” approaches and how they are obsolete, and then focused on the need to focus on cooperation, I found myself nodding my head. I  also liked the idea of managers being “integrators” who have high levels of discretionary power and few rules so that they’re able to empower everyone to use their skills and talents to move the work forward and move to cooperation. And the concept that blame is not for failure, but is instead for a refusal to help or ask for help is interesting to contemplate. Finally, the spirit of cooperation being the focus is a fascinating concept to manage complex landscapes without creating complicated systems.

Cooperation, it would appear, is king. What do you think?