Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Committed in 2017-2018

Thanks to all of my #PrincipalsinAction #LLAP #DadsasPrincipals and #MomsasPrincipals colleagues for pushing me this summer to step back, reflect deeply, and commit myself to following for the coming school year. A huge shout out to my Dexter Park team, who push me to better leader and serve them with more energy, enthusiasm, and passion. For them and the students of Orange, here are the things I am taking from my summer learning and committing to this year:

I committed to showing my team the North Star, pointing all of us in a direction that asks us to think big and imagine what is possible.  When the road gets bumpy and we get off track (which it will), I will guide us back towards our North Star with positivity and encouragement.

Change is inevitable. We can't control it, but we can control our perception. I am committed to leading change like a shark and seeing the possibilities.
I am committed to small change that is realistic and ultimately serves the needs of the school community. I will protect our time and energy from the "noise" that isn't about teaching and learning. 
Our job is to produce well-rounded humans who contribute to society. I am committed to teaching the whole child and to supporting my staff in nurturing the social-emotional well-being of our students. 
I am learning that the word manage means "to work through others". I am deeply committed to working more efficiently so that I can be out of my office where the action is happening. More importantly, I am committing to leaving the work at work so I can do my most important job, which is being a present father and husband. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Dexter Park Staff Book Study: Week 1 Reflection

First of all, let me say how excited I am to be trying out this new format of books talks, and thank you to Anna for bringing it to us! I have done a little bit of blogging but not nearly as much as I'd like, so I am hoping this will give me the push I need to get back into it. I have already enjoyed the reflections posted already and am certain you will see blogging as another way to deeper reflect on your practice and learn from others.

I did not take the quiz. Actually, I started to take the quiz but found it very challenging. I went in thinking I would take it with the best knowledge I had during my last year of teaching, but then I realized my responses would not be accurate- even though it was 4 years ago, I would have trouble figuring out if it's what I wanted to be, or what I actually was as a classroom educator.

I will say, in reflection, what resonated with me is that teaching is such a complex act. As a leader, my goal is to be present in classrooms as much as possible and push educators' practice forward. In my first couple years, I leaned on the evaluation process to do this: visiting rooms, giving my perception of strengths and areas for growth, then coming back in a few weeks to check-in on progress. What I am learning is this does not move practice the way I had hoped because that process if heavily one-sided: it is my interpretation of just a sliver of an educator's year with students. Robyn points out something that I believe strongly, it's not as much about skill as it is mindset. In my years working with educators and leaders, there is no doubt that reflective practitioners are the most skilled and successful in their work. It is having a growth mindset, knowing there is always something for us to learn and grow in (which is why you are all in this book study!). It is also being honest and willing to admit when you have challenges or a lesson didn't go well, but then striving to make it better.

My goal for this book is to help grow educator capacity not through the evaluation system but through regular dialogue and reflection. I want to be able to support all of you as you are exploring these strategies in your practice but I also want to help others reflect on their practice. I am hoping each chapter will bring to light reflective questions that I can use to further promote the 7 principles not just in your classroom but throughout the building.

Again, so excited to take this journey with you!!

Friday, June 9, 2017

A Fond Farewell

Good afternoon graduates, parents, families, community members, School Committee members and Superintendent Thomas to our 2017 graduation ceremony. My name is Chris Dodge and I proud to the be principal here at the Dexter Park Innovation School. Today we honor, recognize, and celebrate our 6th grade students and you, their families and support networks.

This time of year for me, for the students, and staff is one of great excitement. But it also brings with it a flurry of other emotions: grief as another year comes to a close, pride in our students as we see them move on ready for the next grade, and even sadness as we say goodbye to the students and staff that we have worked so tirelessly with and invested so much to. Students, you are probably feeling the same mixed emotions. Maybe a little sad about leaving a place you know so well, a little scared about what is next to come, and hopefully proud of of you have done in your time here. I want you to know that the adults feel the same way, and it’s okay. It is completely normal, you are human.   

You may also be sitting here wondering, as the adults here do this time of year, did I do enough with my time? Was I enough for those around me?  Was I the best I could be all the time? Well, I am here today to tell you the answer to those questions: no, you weren’t, and it is okay. When you find yourself asking these questions, shift your mindset from one of regret to one of acceptance. Accepting you for who you are, the mistakes you make, and the effort you put forth to making you and the people around you better. And as you sit in front of me, ready to move on from DP, accept this moment as it is and all the feelings and emotions that live inside you. It is what make you, you.

It is always funny for for me to be giving this kind of advice because I don’t always practice what I preach: about slowing down, letting go, and letting things be. So I was recently looking for some inspiration and found a poem that I’d like to share.

Friends, when you move onto new adventures, my message if simple: remember how small things grow. We cannot do it all, change it all, solve every problem, but as Mark Nepo writes “we can feed each other”. We can offer small, nearly invisible kindnesses that can take flight into some unknown future, effortless, alive. Bring everything you have to others around you; all your passion, humor, intelligence, weakness, and challenges. Be content with you are at this very moment, accept yourself and others for who they are, and seek to make others’ lives better in your presence.  These small moments make a big impact, and the world need more of that. Take big risks, give it all you have, don’t forget to laugh, and always choose kindness.


Monday, January 2, 2017

One Word for 2017

My word for 2017 is very simple-

In 2017 I hope to slow down, breathe, and let things "be"; to step back and observe things as they are, without judgement or trying to fix it, which is particularly challenging in this line of work. It is funny how as leaders we preach often but sometimes do not practice what we preach. I am guilty of this, as I often stress to my staff and students to be more mindful, to take in the moments, and to take care of themselves. In a typical day, though, you will find me moving from one thing to the next, hoping to check things off the list that never ends. There are times of quiet when I actually catch myself running out of breath and my heart racing, thinking about what is the next fire is that I need to put out. Getting ready for work in the morning sometimes feel like a race to beat the clock, though I don't even know why I am hurrying. My days typically end exhausted and wondering how long I can keep up this lifestyle, tending to my school community as well as my family of 5.

So as I enter the new year, I hope to "be" the husband, father, leader, and colleague that doesn't just talk the talk but walks the walk. To be more present in the moment, to take time for those who need me most, and to let be what is right and also what is not. Most of all, I am going to be kinder to myself, be the leader that I want to be, and not apologize for it. What else can I "be" but me?

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Look Back

For me, the start of the new year is a time for reflection. Reflection on the past year's celebrations, challenges, successes and failures. In January of 2016 I chose my #oneword, which was "Connect", and I have been thinking deeply about my choice, where that came from, and the status of my goal to date.

In 2015 I made a professional leap and took the role of Principal at The Dexter Park School, a school that serves students in my hometown of Orange. What became clear to me from the start was that there were tremendous things happening in the school and talented staff members who wanted to do things better for the students and families of Orange. Dexter Park, like many rural schools, has been through the educational policy ringer over the past decade, and I could see a school community who was reeling from that, knew what needed to be done, and wanted a voice to do so. Changes in leadership, the closing of a school, being labeled "underperforming" by the state all resulted in staff who felt powerless, beaten up, and sometimes in competition with each other. What was clear to me was that we needed to get the focus back to where it belongs: supporting our students and educators. My choice of "Connect" was to bring together our adult community around some common goals/beliefs, connect and build relationships with students and staff, and show off all the amazing things that happen each day to parents and the community through social media. 

In these moments of reflection, I am still in awe of the things we did over the last year. Together, we completely revamped our special education delivery model to co-teaching and became the Dexter Park Innovation School, with a focus on inclusion. We have established core and a School Improvement Plan that reflects those beliefs and unites our school around some common goals. To be perfectly honest, along the way I had moments of excitement, uneasiness, and questioning whether this work was too much too quick. Personally, I doubted myself, wondering if I could lead a school through such dramatic change in a short period of time. What I am learning is that change takes time, the work is never done, and what hinges on the success or failure are the people on the ground doing the work. These things seem fairly obvious but this last year has reinforced for me the belief that a leader is not a manager/director but a listener/supporter. I am very honest with my staff when I tell them that I don't have all the answers but together we can find solutions. Giving staff a voice for change and path to that change has made all the difference for us. I knew at the very beginning that we had the people in place; my job was to provide the vehicles to support them and the work that they knew needed to be done. It has been the highlight of my career to see our vision in action and the impact it is having on our school community, and to be the one cheering our students and staff on as they go has been an honor. I will continue to build better relationships, make more connections, and continue to celebrate our school community in the coming years.

I would not be anywhere close to the leader I am today without the support and encouragement of my PLN. The educators around the country who I have connected with on Twitter and Voxer have pushed me to think and act differently. I have always said that I am principal I want to be, not the principal I thought I should be, because of them. My #Mespachat and #principalsinaction colleagues reaffirm for me that schools across the nation are in good hands. Even though I have not met many of them in person, I consider them colleagues and friends. I cannot wait to see what 2017 has in store for all of us working together and creating schools that are places of joy, fun, and where there is excitement in learning. 

I am still contemplating my #oneword for 2017 so stayed tuned, but in the meantime enjoy "Dexter Park's Year in Review"


Monday, July 25, 2016

Empowering Innovation

I just got back from day one of our annual district leadership summer retreat. Perhaps my favorite part of the retreat is when we learn together through reading and sharing, and this year we read The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros.

We typically "jigsaw" the book, each of us reading and sharing a chapter or two. By far the best is the conversation that is sparked, as we connect new learnings to our practice and stretch each other to think different.  Though hard to summarize, a couple things resonated with me that will apply to my work this year:

-The world around has changed dramatically over time due to new technology and advances in science, yet schools typically have not made the same changes. We still tend to operate on the same system created decades ago when most students were working on the family farm in the summer.

-Innovation is a mindset, not a tool or a technology. Innovation is the ability to question, create, struggle, collaborate, invent, fail, and reflect.

-Innovation is about empowering our learners, staff and students included. Motivation to do anything, for kids or adults, comes when we have choice over what we do.

-The internet and social media has brought connectivity and idea sharing to new heights, as we can now be connected locally and globally. Rather than technology replacing face to face interactions, it can enhance human interactions.

Most important is the role we leaders play in modeling and fostering an innovator's mindset in our schools. As I sat listening to my colleagues I realized that we make each other better. Not because we agree on everything, but because we collaborate through questioning each other, creating plans for change, learning about and struggling with new ideas, failing (often!), and reflecting so we can readjust our path for the district. I feel so fortunate to be able to work with a group of innovators who truly keep students and staff in the forefront, so thank you for pushing me to be better each day.

I hope you take minute to view our work here to see what the leadership has been learning and contemplating for our work in Orange and Petersham, and I'd love to hear your thoughts/feedback. Feel free to comment or email me anytime!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Summer and the 3 Rs: Reflect, Refine, and Recharge

I must admit, that as a teacher, the summer months were particularly tough time for me. Not because I didn't appreciate the time off but because I struggled with the transition. For those who don't work in a school setting, the final months of the school year are so jam-packed, many of us don't know whether we are coming or going. State testing, end of year programs and trips, celebrations, and evening programs are all scheduled into 8 short weeks. Add to that, many students are struggling to make the transition to summer themselves, which produces heightened stress and anxiety and ultimately, more problem behaviors that require support. Then all of a sudden, in the blink of an eye, it all STOPS. At the drop of a hat, you now find yourself not having to work 10 hour days, eating your lunch in 15 minutes, or performing 5 tasks simultaneously while walking through the halls. For me, that was hard, and even as a principal it is strange to all of sudden have the building empty without the buzz of students and staff filling the halls. As someone who likes to have a purpose and clear action plans (as I think most educators do) to feel effective, here is are the 3 things that I hope to achieve in the summer months, both as an educator and as a principal. I believe that our students and families could also find some of these helpful practices at home as well.

Reflect: The key to success in education is reflection. You show me a highly effective educator and I would be willing to bet my house they are reflective in their practice. Reflective practitioners make reflection part of their daily practice; they are continually thinking about what went well and what could be done better the next time. They are models for what life-long learning and the growth mindset is all about: learning never ends and there is always room for growth. The summer can be a great time to reflect on the not just a lesson or a moment but the year as whole. This simply can't and shouldn't happen until the summer months, you are too entrenched in the day-to-day and are probably emotionally and physically drained from a long school year. When you have decompressed and given yourself time to look at things objectively, ask yourself: What went well this year? What am I most proud of? Did I achieve my professional goals? What would I like to refine for next year to continue growing and to make my classroom instruction better for kids?

Refine: From reflection comes the opportunity to refine your practice. The struggle I have here, as I think most educators do, is to choosing 1-3 things that will have the greatest impact on students. Currently I could probably name about 50 things that I would like to improve as a leader next year and for our school community. The challenge is that when we are trying to do many things all at once, we tend to do all of them but sacrifice quality in the process. As I am choosing goals for myself, I am considering:
1. What can I do better for the staff and students in which I serve?
2. How does this align with our school's vision and mission?
3. What will have the greatest impact on our students?
4. What action steps are involved in making this happen? How will I check in on my progress and make adjustments along the way?
I must admit that when I think about it, I get very overwhelmed but I also know that things like this tend to show themselves over time. The simple act of reflecting and refining provides purpose, makes you better for kids, and ultimately makes your school better.

Recharge: Those who don't work in schools really cannot understand the toll a school year has on an educator. There is a physical toll but greater than that is the emotional toll. Educators pour their heart and soul into their work each and every day. They often put their personal well-being on hold while they serve others. Balance is something I have been working on, and although I still have a long way to go, I try to model what I tell my staff: before you can take care of others, you have to take care of yourself. The summer is a time to recharge your batteries. To spend time with family, do things you enjoy, and recover relationships that may have been put on the back burner. I am personally am enjoying time with my family and friends, while also catching up on the multitude of books that I have collected over the last year but didn't read. Part of recharging for me is getting inspired; through networking with my PLN, chatting on Twitter and Voxer, reading books that push my thinking and make me a better principal.

Books that I have read or on deck are:

Kids Deserve It! by Todd Nesloney (@techninjatodd) and Adam Welcome (@awelcome)
These two guys inspire me everyday and their book is no different, as they write about spreading positivity and going all out for kids, everyday. I fully embrace their ideas about not accepting the status-quo in education and really thinking about what do we want our schools to be: inspiring, innovative, and full of joy. So often schools fall down to the bad press, lack of resources, and the multitude of other things we don't have, but these guys encourage educators to flip the script, be awesome, and tell everyone about it!

The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros (@gcouros)
We use the term innovation in school a lot (and some schools are adding to their name ;)), and George writes about what it truly means to be innovative in schools. It all starts with a culture of innovation, where the educators are encouraged to take risks, try new things, fail, and try again. Unleashing the talent in our schools and giving the freedom to pursue passions and doing what it right for kids can not only inspire staff but in turn will inspire students to do the same. This book has pushed me to think long and hard about my role in creating a culture of innovation and a school that prepares students for the world they will enter, not the one that currently live in. I have chosen this book to read with my fellow OES/RCM/PCS leaders and am looking forward to their insights and how it will apply to our work in the district.

A Framework for Understanding Poverty: A Cognitive Approach by Dr. Ruby Payne
This is my 2nd reading of this book, as I believe it is the bible for understanding class systems and what she terms the "hidden rules" of the classes. This book has deepened by understanding of my student population and the underlying factors that lead to behaviors that we see. If nothing else, this book will make you more empathetic to people and help realize that all behaviors are result of environment and needs, and often we assume our students have certain tools that have never been given or taught.

I am currently reading Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek (Thank you Chante Jillson for the recommendation!) and Hacking Leadership by Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis. I will be sure to blog my thoughts about them in the coming weeks.

My challenge to Dexter Park staff, students, and families is to share your summer "R's" with me. You can email me messages or photos, or better yet, post on social media and use the #DexterParkPride hashtag. I want hear all the ways our school community is learning this summer. We are all better when we share and learn together!