The One Thing We All Need

TrustTrust is the most important characteristic that exists within any successful team, classroom, group, school, organization and relationship.

The feeling of trust can help resolve conflicts much quicker, mistakes to be forgiven much faster, and learning to occur at a much deeper level. The existence of trust draws people together because there is freedom to take calculated risks without the fear or judgement or ridicule. There also exists a sense of security and vulnerability coupled with a greater level of responsibility.

Without trust, things are just a shell of what they could be.

Be Great,

Dwight

Photo credit: http://blog.worksnug.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Trust.jpg

Connecting With New Teachers

connecting-with-othersA couple of years ago, a second year teacher stopped by my office after school and asked if we could talk. The look on her face had me concerned so, of course, I welcomed her to have a seat. I thought she was going to share her concerns about student behavior or wanted help to solve a problem. Man, was I was wrong. What she said to me made a lasting impression…

As soon as she started to talk, tears started to flow from her eyes and she apologetically said, “I accepted a position in another district.” I shallowed hard because I was completely shocked. I felt blindsided, and immediately started to ask myself where we went wrong, where I went wrong as the principal. She said she needed a change, that she didn’t always feel supported or heard. Her comments were difficult to hear, but I appreciated her honesty. It was at the point that I vowed to myself to do everything within my control to prevent this from happening again under my watch as building principal.

One of our goals at Gahanna Lincoln High School is for every student, teacher, and parent to have a sense of belonging. It’s a lofty goal and we take it seriously. Losing that young, promising, and passionate teacher showed me that I, we, needed to do a better job of connecting with our new teachers. We hired 17 new teachers this school year; some with zero years of experience and a few with 4-6 years of experience. Nevertheless, I decided to meet with them once a month in an informal setting to simply give us an opportunity to connect, share, reflect, learn from each other.

It’s key to keep these meetings informal. There is no agenda, the teachers don’t have to prepare anything, and they aren’t assigned anything to do. We just talk. We first met in our Library Media Center in September, but decided together to meet at Panera, which is on our campus, for the rest of the year.It’s been amazing to hear their stories, their reflective thoughts about their craft, their suggestions on how we can get better, and to see how they support each other.

Admittedly, not all of them come each month and I’m fine with that. It’s simply an invitation to attend, not a mandate. I have asked a few questions to guide our discussion, but most of the time we go where the conversation takes us. Some of the questions asked are as follows:

*What has been the most successful thing you’ve done so far?
*How are you taking care of yourself physically?
*What do you do for fun?
*Have we lived up to what we promised you?
*What’s one thing we can do differently?
*What are you planning to change second semester?

Once I ask a question, I simply sit and listen. It’s great to hear their responses and how they build on each other’s comments. Before we concluded our most recent meeting, I asked, “Are these meetings helpful?” Following are some of their responses:

*“I think they are fun. I look forward to them each month.”
*”It’s good to see and talk with people outside your department. It’s good to learn from others.”
*”You make us feel like we are important to you.”
*”It’s good to hear what the other new teachers are thinking.”

I appreciate their time, their honestly, and their commitment to the GLHS Family! I can only imagine how much better we will be as we progress through the second half of this school year. If you have any ideas of how you connect with new teachers or suggestions to make this process better, please feel free to comment.

Be Great,

Dwight

Photo credit: http://www.erelationshipcoaching.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/connecting-with-others.jpg

Remember Sydnee

“Remember Sydnee 10-20-13: Buckle Up. Dnt txt n drv. Give Life.”
This is a very simple, yet powerful message that the parents of Sydnee Madison Williams would like for you to remember. Sydnee was a junior at Gahanna Lincoln High School and Eastland Career Center.

Sydnee Williams

On Friday, October 18th, Sydnee, along with two of her friends, were in a tragic, single car accident and in an instant, the lives of many would change. Unfortunately, Sydnee was texting while driving and lost control of the car. However, Sydnee is so much more than the victim of a tragic car accident. She was a daughter, niece, friend, and confidant. She brought joys to others and had a bright future. As I listened to many stories others shared about Sydnee in the hours and days following the accident, I learned so much about her.

• I learned that she was a fighter. She overcame a challenging childhood with the help of her aunt and uncle, who later adopted her.
• I learned that she had a very special relationship with one of our elementary guidance counselors. Sydnee found refuge in talking with Mrs. J. Sydnee visited with her days before the accident. This proves the significance of positive relationships.
• I learned that she was a close friend to many. She would lend an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, and a warm embrace to others often.
• I learned that she was unashamed in her faith. She was a worshipper and did so freely and openly whenever she felt the urge.
• I learned that she was a “child-whisperer”, meaning little children would instantly calm down when she was present.
• I learned that, like most teens, she had her struggles.

As I talked with her parents in the hospital the night after the accident, I distinctly remember her mom saying, “She always wears her seatbelt. I just don’t understand why she wasn’t wearing it…” I believed her and still do…

The next 24 hours were unbearable. We waited for news, any news about Sydnee. Finally, I received a text message around noon on Sunday, October 20th from Sydnee’s Youth Pastor. She was gone. It was so tragic and all I could think about were her parents’ faces as her dad stood at the foot of her hospital bed and her mom sat closely at her side holding her hand and talking to her; tears streaming down their faces. I thought, “How are they going to going to make it through this? How can we help?”

Her mom and dad are hurting, no doubt. They long to see her smile, hear her laugh, or hear her sing again, but they have found the courage to use this as an opportunity to save others’ lives. They are courageous. They have embraced what has occurred and have found the strength in sharing a very simple, yet powerful message:
“Remember Sydnee 10-20-13. Buckle Up. Dnt txt n drv. Give Life.”

So, in honor of Sydnee, I encourage you to wear the beautiful sky blue bracelet with the above message on it and when you are tempted to text while driving, glance at the bracelet. Take a second to buckle your seat belt before you turn on the ignition of your car. Remain focused on the road and eliminate as many distractions as possible while driving. I am embarrassed to admit that I have texted while driving. However, I’m also proud to say that it hasn’t happened since Sydnee’s accident. I signed a pledge at her viewing and vowed to my wife that I will no longer text and drive. I “Remember Sydnee 10-20-13. Buckle Up. Dnt txt n drv. Give Life.”

A Path to Career and College Readiness

Career and College ReadinessA common phrase in education and the news today is “career and college readiness.” Schools have developed graduate profiles, mission statements, and strategic plans to ensure students are career and college ready. However, this really isn’t anything new. We at GLHS, like most schools, have had a focus on career and college readiness for decades. We’ve become more intentional in our efforts and one way is by providing a three hour delayed start schedule for students to take the PLAN and PSAT.

On Wednesday, October 16th GLHS is offering the PLAN Test for our sophomores and the PSAT/NMSQT for our juniors from 7:35-10:25, and an all-day ACT Boot Camp for seniors. Freshmen students will have a specific program that day which will be outlined in another post.

The ACT PLAN is essentially a practice ACT to help sophomore students identify their academic progress and strengths midway through their high school career. In addition, it’s an exploration of career and training options. The results of this test will help sophomore students develop a plan for the next two years of high school to ensure they are career and college ready. So far, about 400 of our sophomore students are registered to take the PLAN. Our goal is 100%, so if you would like your student to participate, please contact the Guidance Office at (614)478-5508 to get more information. There is a $12 fee to take the test.

The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) is for junior students. The purpose of the PSAT is to measure students’ critical reading skills, math problem-solving skills, and writing skills. Some reasons why it’s important for students to take the PSAT are to:
• “Receive feedback on your strengths and weaknesses on skills necessary for college study. You can then focus your preparation on those areas that could most benefit from additional study or practice.
• See how your performance on an admissions test might compare with that of others applying to college.
• Enter the competition for scholarships from NMSC (grade 11).
• Help prepare for the SAT. You can become familiar with the kinds of questions and the exact directions you will see on the SAT.” -(CollegeBoard, 2013)

Currently, nearly 340 juniors have signed up to take the PSAT. If you want your child to participate and he/she has not signed up, please contact the Guidance Office as soon as possible. The registration fee is $14.00.

For seniors who are scheduled to take the ACT on Saturday, October 26, we are offering a six hour ACT Boot Camp in the Commons Area on the 3rd floor of Clark Hall. The focus of the camp is test taking strategies and it has a proven track record of improving students’ scores in other Central Ohio districts. The camp costs $45 and it’s facilitated by Test Prep Seminar, an ACT/SAT Prep organization. The number of our students who take the ACT has steadily increased over the last five years so we want to provide another way for them to be successful on this test. Through the Boot Camp, each student receives a workbook with twenty-seven practice tests and detailed answer explanations AND a test-taking strategy guide. Seniors who are interested should register by October 14th. To do so, please return the registration form that was sent to you a few weeks ago along with a $45 check made out to Gahanna Lincoln High School. One of the benefits of this camp is that it’s offered during the school day.

For sophomore, junior, and senior students who are not taking the PLAN, PSAT, or participating in the ACT Boot Camp, first period will begin at 10:35. It’s a normal school day for freshmen who are to report to first period at the regular time.

Be Great,

Dwight

Talk About It

compassion
This is my 20th year as an educator and I’ve had the privilege to serve in the Gahanna Jefferson Public School district during this entire time. I’ve grown very close to many staff and faculty, students, parents, and community members over these years, which is easy to do when you spend so much time in the same place. I care deeply about our students. I always have and always will.

I have seen many changes in young people over time (which is something all adults say as we get older and wiser) and I am in awe by the opportunities they have these days and what they can accomplish. I am also in awe by how cruel they can be at times. I am a strong advocate for technology, mobile devices, and using digital tools to learn, share, and communicate. What am I not an advocate for is cruelty towards others.

As I was watching my daughter, Gabrielle, play with her toys on the floor yesterday evening, I read an article about a 12 year old girl who committed suicide because she was relentless tormented by her classmates who posted cruel and anonymous things about her on a number of social media sites. It has become so easy to post anonymously, which is nothing more than a cowardly way to communicate. There is no courage, accountability, or a sense of responsibility with anonymous posts or comments. I encourage you to read the article and use it as a guide to begin a conversation with your son or daughter.

One of our goals is to create a safe, positive school climate where there is a sense of belonging. However, what can undermine this sense of security is talk about itcruelty towards others. This is not a society problem, a school problem, a parent problem, or a problem with “those kids.” It’s our problem because we are society; however, we can do our part to solve it in our community. After you read it, take one small action by talking with your son or daughter about their digital lives. Ask them to show you their social media sites (Instagram, Twitter, ask.fm, Vine, Facebook, Kick, YouTube channel, etc.). Talk to them about their experiences and ask for ways they can be a part of the solution.

October is Anti-Bullying Month and for the last three years, we’ve launched a Pause Before You Post Campaign to remind us all to think before we post anything on social media, email, or text message. It’s been successful and I would like to do more. October is also when we begin our Community University Workshops for parents. I am considering a Digital Citizenship workshop that will focus on ways we can encourage our students (and ourselves) to be good citizens in the virtual world. Our digital footprint can open doors or close doors based on how we represent ourselves through our posts. Google is the new business card. I will let you know the date and time of the Community University workshop.

Be Great,

Dwight

Staff Expectations

20130720-011613.jpgI’ve taken the last couple of weeks off to spend some quality time at home, recharge my battery, catch up on some reading, and reflect on last school year. As the new school year approaches, I recently reviewed what my staff expects of me in order to prepare myself to meet their expectations.

One of my teachers named, Shawn Johnston (@shawnjohn3399), recently recommended I read Tony Dungy’s book, The Mentor Leader. It’s a great read and there is a common theme woven throughout the book: leadership is about others, not about the leader. What my staff expects of me can be summarized by this theme. The principals I admire most not only know this, but their actions demonstrate this. With that said, following are the top 5 characteristics my staff expects of me:

Be Visible- I often over-promise and under-deliver in this area. It’s not intentional, but every year I fall short of my own expectations when it comes to being visible. Well, I guess it is intentional since I don’t schedule it on a daily basis. I haven’t followed through with my “No Office Day” the last couple of years! Todd Wittaker recently posted on Twitter that administrators should do the “Daily Five: visit five classrooms for five minutes every day.” This is very doable and I’ve already shared this with my administrative team. Also, this year will be different because of the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System. OTES requires walkthroughs so this will force me and my administration team to not only be visible in classrooms, but to provide meaningful and timely feedback. They also want to see me (us) in the hallways in between classes and at extracurricular activities. Visibility=I care.

Presence- Being physically present is important, but being mentally and emotionally present are essential to my staff. One of our core beliefs at GLHS is positive relationships. Therefore, as I’ve become a “connected educator” it’s expected of me, and rightfully so, to “be there” for my staff- all of them! Be plugged into the moment, embrace each interaction, and make it a priority to make whomever I am talking with feel valued, respected, and honored. Sometimes busyness gets in the way but I realized I view busyness as a badge of honor, when it’s really a sign of being unorganized.

Consistently Follow Through- What I take from this is to establish clear procedures with the staff and stick to them. Additionally, they want students and staff to be held accountable so we can be our very best. A lack of consistency leads to frustration, or the inability to solve a problem. The less frustrated we are, the better we will be for our students and school community.

Support- They want and need to know I and my administrative team have their backs when they try new things, when faced with discipline issues, when they make mistakes, and during tough times. Support looks differently to many people, but the more visible, consistent, and clear I am, the more supported they will feel.

Clear Communication- This includes not only verbal communication, but my ability to actively listen. One of my veteran teachers and good friend reminds me to listen to what they have to say, answer their questions, and show understanding. They will understand if I disagree and will appreciate me simply listening. I reminded the Class of 2013 at the commencement ceremony to “listen to understand not to respond.” I have to practice what I preach.

I’m excited to get the 2013-2014 school year started! It’s an opportunity for a fresh start, it’s a chance to set a positive tone, to review our core values, and to positively change lives and impact futures!

Be Great,

Dwight

Never Underestimate the Significance of Relationships

www.jostens/renaissance

www.jostens/renaissance

The final day of the Jostens Renaissance National Conference was Saturday, July 13th and “The Freedom Writer,” Erin Gruwell’s, closing presentation was on point! She shared her amazing story about how she worked with 150 challenging students to completely transform their lives. It was apparent that she really got to know her students, connected with them on a highly emotional level, and created a collaborative, safe learning environment for them to succeed.

Her story was a reminder that mentoring relationships are messy. It’s hard work and there are many obstacles to overcome. However, if the goal is to significantly impact the life of another person, then it’s worth it.

She used the art of writing to tear down walls and open doors for students. Her story reminded me of a Challenge Day activity called, Cross The Line. This activity helps participants find common ground and it provides a visual of how connected we truly are by shared experiences. Our Athletic Director at Gahanna Lincoln High School, Justin Sanford, was instrumental in bringing Challenge Day to GLHS. We held a Challenge Day for three years and it did wonders for enhancing a positive school climate. Students, parents, staff, and community members still talk about how Challenge Day transformed their lives.

Listening to Erin’s story and watching brief clips from the movie, “Freedom Writers,” reminded me of Todd Wittaker’s phrase, “It’s people, not programs,” or Dr. James Comer famous line, “No significant learning takes place without a significant relationship.” We all have an “Erin Gruwell” experience with students. We are reminded of these stories when we refer to the file of the letters from former students we receive. If you don’t keep a file of these letters or cards, then I strongly encourage you to start today! We all have that one success story that brings tears to our eyes when we think about how we’ve made a difference to someone.

I recently ran into a former athlete I coached, who is now 27 years old and doing extremely well. He pulled me aside to talk. He said,

“You may not remember this, but when I was a freshmen (he was a starter on the Varsity football team as a freshmen), you walked up to me and told me I should run track because it would humble me. You said I hadn’t experienced loss yet, but running track would help me grow as a person and understand humility. I never forgot that and I thank you for caring enough to tell me.”

He was an extremely gifted athlete, he was charismatic, and he was a natural leader. I also noticed how we interacted with some of the students in the hallways or on the field and was a bit concerned. I wasn’t his specific position coach, but we had a close enough relationship where I thought he would be receptive. Thirteen years later, I guess it worked!

As I think about the quickly approaching school year, my goal is to reestablish positive relationships with members of my staff. I’ve allowed “programs” or other excuses to get in the way of relationships. More candidly, relationships have not been a priority and it has cost me.

As educators, stealing a phrase Seth Godin used in the book, Linchpin, “We have a platform to share our art.” Our “art” is making a difference in the lives of others. As we quickly approach the start of another school year, let’s remember to use our platform (classroom, school building, cafeteria, front desk, attendance office, or guidance office) to establish significant relationships with others, set high expectations, and make a difference, more specifically, a positive difference, in someone’s life.

“It’s people, not programs.”

Stealing the 2014 Jostens Renaissance National Conference theme, let’s find “joy in the journey” of being educators!

Be Great,



Dwight

Reluctant or Resistant?: Day 2 Reflections from the Jostens Renaissance National Conference

http://bit.ly/18f2RIJ

http://bit.ly/18f2RIJ

I’ve had the opportunity to present at several conferences or workshops the last couple of years about how we, at GLHS, use social media to tell our story. Each time I share examples, tell stories, and start with our “why” I notice two different responses: 1. Arms crossed, furrowed brow, and a blank stare as if to say, “this will never work in my school or district” 2. Pen frantically attacking the paper, head nodding in agreement, and hands raised with questions. I get it. I’ve had both reactions and have come to embrace, promote, encourage, and model the use of social media to share stories, highlight staff, make connections, and engage in the learning process through “chats.”

Inevitably, I am approached by teachers at the end of each session who ask, “how do I get my administration to allow mobile devices at school or to embrace the use of social media?” The look of despair in their eyes reminds me that while many educators across the globe use social media and web 2.0 tools to increase learning opportunities, to connect with others, engage learners, and share information, there are far too many who are still reluctant or resistant to it altogether.

Change is difficult, especially when thinking about having to change a mindset. However, we must continue to share successful stories of how teachers and students are using social media to positively change lives and impact futures. We can start by looking within our own building. We can then promote what other educators and students are doing from other districts. The more we share, the better the chance we have of turning reluctance and resistance into openness and acceptance.

If you are an administrator who has jumped on the social media bandwagon, tell your story in the comment section below. If you are resistant or reluctant, what questions do you have? In the meantime, take a look at the this video, which shows the impact social media has on our lives.

Be Great,

Dwight

Creativity: Day 1 Reflections from the Jostens Renaissance National Conference

JRNCI’ve attended the Jostens Renaissance National Conference many times and each year I walk away feeling inspired and enthused about my purpose as an educator. While some of the faces in the leadership team are new this year, the foundational principles are still very much alive: relationships, collaboration, sharing ideas, learning, engagement, and fun.

As always, the keynote presenters, featured presenters, and breakout sessions leave the attendees excited to implement something new in their classrooms, schools, or school community. What’s unique about this conference is that about 30% of the attendees are students! Students who attend are either formal or informal leaders at their schools. They are just as engaged as all the educators and bring a certain level of energy that is contagious.

As I reflect on day 1, the word that comes to mind is CREATIVITY. Presenter, Kevin Honeycutt (@kevenhoneycutt), is an expert on meaningful learning and he shared several tidbits of information that piqued my interest. His presentation was creatively engaging and he stressed how we can harness the power of technology and relationships to make learning more meaningful for ourselves and for our students:

“Administrators have to create a culture that appreciates teachers who try new things.” We are all creative and simply need the freedom to put a creative idea into action, reflect on the results, and try again. It’s easy to criticize what’s new and it takes courage to embrace, empower, and enthusiastically share what risk takers are doing. Protect the risk-takers from the naysayers by publicly recognizing, rewarding, and reinforcing this behavior. The result: more risk-taking behavior by teachers!

“Emotion+Learning=Forever Learning.” I think about the most favorite teachers at GLHS and who comes to mind are the ones who make learning meaningful by making emotional connections with the content through song, performance, meaningful projects,by creating a supportive and collaboration classroom environment, and setting high expectations. The students respond by being loyal, working hard for the teacher, and removing any walls that would prevent learning from occurring. As a result, students stay after school for hours and on weekends working together to solve problems, complete quality projects, or to perfect a performance. It’s amazing to see!

“We have to teach kids how to love to learn.” We are all creative in our own way and the more we foster creativity in our classrooms and schools, the more we will inevitably help students to learn how to love learning like they used to in their primary years. This is the type of culture we ought to strive to create!

The keynote presenter, Erik Wahl (@erikwahl), moved the crowd! His story not only resonated with many in the audience, but it was one of triumph. He demonstrated how we can unleash our own creativity and the creativity of our students by learning how to “UNTHINK”. Following are a few nuggets I gleamed from his presentation:

“If we take ourselves too seriously, we block ourselves from performing under pressure.” The ability to perform under pressure not only sparks creative problem solving, but it opens up more opportunities for personal growth and opportunities to help others. I have a tendency to take myself way too seriously at times and it’s during these times that I am less creative, less effective, and become almost paralyzed with insecurity. I look to my Savior, my wife, my administrative team, and my PLN during these times to help me let go and just do. Eric reminded me of this today as shared passionate, creative stories that fed the audience.

“We are capable of so much more than what we have been preconditioned to do.” Mandates, accountability, and standardization squelch creativity. One would be hard-pressed to find an educator who doesn’t believe this statement. However, we have to break through these mandated, or often times, self-made barriers to be remarkable at our craft. This resonated with me becuase it’s one of the reasons I continue to participate in the Jostens Renaissance National Conference and connect with others via social media.

I am still processing all of the events of day 1 and have not settled on specific ways to fully tap into the creativity of our students and staff at Gahanna Lincoln High School. We do, however, have pockets where creative lesson design and learning experiences for students and staff abound, but I want more of it; for the sake of our students and our school community. So, what are you going to do to unleash the creativity in your classroom or school?

Be Great,

Dwight

Characteristics Students Want in Teachers

I’ve been following the hashtag, #stuvoice, on Twitter for awhile and have been inspired by the tweets, links, and questions about providing a platform for students to share their thoughts about school. We have some very dynamic student leaders at Gahanna Lincoln High School and after reviewing some of the #stuvoice tweets, it dawned on me that It’s been several months since I’ve taken the time to talk with a group of students. So, I set up a meeting with members of my school’s Student Council a couple of weeks ago. We had a great conversation and I was enlightened by their insight!

I went into the conversation with two questions and ended up asking a third question based on their responses. Before I go on, I have to say how impressed I was with their candor, enthusiasm, and maturity! The three questions I asked them are as follows:

* What are the characteristics of a great teacher?
* What does learning look like at Gahanna Lincoln High School?
* What is missing in your school experience?

I will only focus on the first question in this post and will share the answers from the other two questions in a later post. Since it’s the hiring season and we are looking for the very best candidates, I wanted to know, from the student perspective, what characteristics make a great teacher. As an administrative team, we have a list of characteristics we look for, but it’s important to know what the students think.

Question: “What are the characteristics of a great teacher?”

Answers:
* Passionate and Enthusiastic about teaching
* Knowledgeable
* Cares about students
* Flexible
* Understanding
* Willing to work 1 on 1 with students
* Organized
* Shows one’s personality
* Personable/Approachable
* Willingness to connect with students beyond the classroom
* Optimistic
* Devoted
* Creative with school work and working with students
* Engaging
* Able to reflect and grow
* Involved with aspects of school outside of teaching
* Treats everyone equally
* Clear expectations
* Direct communication
* Respectable

As I previously stated, I appreciate their candor. They were really thoughtful with their answers, they added to each other’s responses, and were pretty much in agreement about these characteristics. The bottom line is they want teachers who take the time to get to know them, who will help them learn, and who care about them as people. I plan to share this list with my Administrative Team and Department Chairpersons so that we are better equipped to bring in the best candidates to be a part of Team GLHS!

Be Great,



Dwight