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!

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