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

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

The New Ohio Teacher Evaluation System-Updated August 2014

A couple of weeks ago, I spent three days at the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) Training with a number of district and other Central Ohio administrators. The days were long, but the information was well presented and the process was very collaborative.

The new evaluation system is based on 50% teacher performance and 50% student performance (growth). Because the student performance aspect of the evaluation is not yet determined, the training focused on teacher performance. I was encouraged by the training because our current evaluation system is very similar to the OTES model. Following are my takeaways from the three days:

· OTES is a GROWTH model to help teachers improve. This is not a “gotcha” framework, but a model that relies on vetted, tested, and analyzed best practices.

· The rubric is a holistic scoring of teacher performance, which means it includes the observation, the pre and post observations, information observed through walkthroughs, PLC/department collaboration, etc.

· The rubric is comprised of three Organizational Areas: Instructional Planning, Instruction and Assessment, and Professionalism.

· Evidence for each organizational area is based on ten standard areas:

o Focus for Learning
o Assessment Data
o Prior Content Knowledge/Sequence/Connections
o Knowledge of Students
o Lesson Delivery
o Differentiation (major definition change for us all)
o Instruction and Assessment
o Classroom Environment
o Assessment of Student Learning
o Professional Responsibilities

· The three organizational areas and ten standards are very similar to our current evaluation system, so this should not be a significant change.

· The model has four ratings: Ineffective, Developing, Skilled, and Accomplished. Proficient is where a vast majority of teachers will be, which is a “rock solid” teacher.

· Every teacher will be evaluated at least twice per year, once per semester. Teachers that earn “Accomplished” will be evaluated every other year, while “Ineffective” teachers will be evaluated three times a year.

· Every teacher will have a plan. It will either be a growth plan (developing, skilled, or accomplished) or an improvement plan (ineffective). Again, the purpose is to help every teacher improve.

· Pre and post conference are best practice for the most effective way for us as educators to reflect on the planning, teaching, learning, and assessment process. Personally, I thoroughly enjoy the post-observation conferences I have with teachers.

· It’s extremely important for us all to learn the language of the rubric so that we are on the same page in terms of expectations. We should start having informal and formal discussions about this now.

· During the post-observation conference, we are to focus on two areas: reinforcement, which is a celebration of what went well and then refinement, which is an area for improvement.

Linda Romano, one of the OTES trainers, made two very profound statements about how OTES will impact the role of educators:

“The highest priority of professional development is helping teachers get better.”

“Helping teachers get better is the greatest priority of an instructional leader.”

I truly believe these two statements capture what most districts are about. This will help us have an even greater focus on instruction, learning, planning and assessment. Don’t get me wrong, this is probably one of our greatest challenges we face due to the number of evaluations we have to do. However, we are up for the challenge! Feel free to share comments, questions, or concerns.

Be Great,

Dwight

INSPIRED: Reflections from the 2012 Jostens Renaissance National Conference

I’ve attended the Jostens Renaissance National Conference I think 7 times, the first time in 2003. As I stated in a previous post, this is one of the most rejuvenating conferences for educators because of the way they treat the participants, the breakout sessions, and quality of the presenters. This year’s conference had a different feel, which left many of us not only rejuvenated, but inspired. INSPIRED:

“Aroused, animated, or imbued with the spirit to do something, by or as if by supernatural or divine influence.”

The opening day began with a number of dynamic presentations, including a three hour pre-conference session about cyber-bullying and school climate by Dr. Justin Patchin and Dr. Sameer Pincha. After a moving welcome by Charley Nelson, the head of Jostens Educator Services, we were prepped for a surprise concert by the band, Parachute, whose song, Something To Believe In, was the inspiration for the conference theme!

Saturday was filled with over 70 breakout sessions during 6 time slots, and a Stars Wars inspired pep rally that showcased the talented staff of Jostens employees who volunteer their time and talent to participate in the conference. During the rally, all the educators in attendance were recognized for our years of experience. All the first year educators were called to the stage and given a standing ovation for joining the most honored profession, but there is no celebration like the one for the educators who have 30+ years under their belts! There were tears of joy, hugs and geniune appreciation for these dynamic role models!

A personal highlight was Todd Whitaker’s (@ToddWhitaker) session about Shifting the Monkey! As you can imagine, it was standing room only. He educated, entertained, and challenged us to identify the monkey, figure where it should be, and come up with ways to get it there. His message was applicable to educators and students alike. More about Shifting the Monkey in another post.

Following the sessions was a first class banquet that honored the Jostens Renaissance Coordinators of the Year and 2012 Hall of Fame Inductees. The inductees’ stories were motivating; however, I was especially moved by the two Congressional Medal of Honor recipients who introduced the Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s Character Development program. They spoke from their hearts as they expressed their love for our nation and their desire for educators and young people to continue to serve others with passion. They shared that out of the 400 Congressional Medal of Honor recipients in our history, only 81 are still alive. Their message was not only a call to action, but they reminded us to continue to believe in the power of the human spirit to serve a greater cause than ourselves. That sums up why educators do what we do!

The closing speaker, Kevin Carroll (@kckatalyst) did not disappoint! He reminded us to BE BOLD and believe in the power of connection: connection for sharing, learning, service and play. Kevin’s message is clear: a ball can and has brought people together from across the globe and we must keep play in our lives.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve thought about what I need to do to be an inspiration to others at Gahanna Lincoln High School and following are the things that came to mind:

*Write thank you notes to people. Email is nice, but there is something classic and genuine about a hand written note of appreciation.

*Be present. Presence makes a huge difference. What this means is that whomever I am talking with, they will get my undivided attention. This means I need to actively listen and learn from whomever I am listening to.

*Carve out time daily to visit classrooms to show my appreciation for the dynamic work of some great educators. I sometimes forget how good I feel after I spend time in the classrooms where the action is!

*Follow through! In other words, be a man of my word. If I say I’m going to do something, then I need to do it. We are all busy, so using “I was busy” as a reason why something didn’t get done is a poor excuse.

*Make time for me. The first couple of months of the school year, I’m committed to working out. However, as the year progresses, I get to school earlier, leave later, and eliminate my workouts. This has been disastrous for me personally. Kevin Carroll reminded me (again) to keep play in my life.

*Hold myself and others accountable. This goes without saying.

The Jostens Renaissance (@J_Renaissance) Conference was exactly what I needed to prepare myself to give my staff, students, and the GLHS community “Something To Believe In!” So, what do you believe in?

Be Great,

Dwight

Disconnect To Reconnect

“Dwight is connected all over the world through Twitter and blogging, but he is not as connected here.” These are words spoken by one of my teachers and man, did they sting…

There are a number of ways I could have reacted to this, but I decided to take the high road and look within. After all, reflection is at the heart of our practice.

I asked myself if there was any kernel of truth to this statement. Well folks, I hate to admit it, but it was true. I began to relish in who I was connecting with across the country. I became so focused on telling stories about what was happening at GLHS through Twitter that I no longer made time for face to face interactions with my staff. I got away from walking the halls in the morning and, at times, throughout the day. I felt myself becoming increasingly impatient with small talk and I was no longer willing to be inconvenienced. I was quickly irritated, overly sensitive, and became less talkative. I started to dislike how I was doing my job.

As I reflected on the statement I referred to at the beginning, I made a deliberate effort to put away my phone (mini-computer) when I spoke with individual teachers throughout the day, I put it away when I got home so I could just relax with my wife and dogs, and I stopped blogging for a while. Actually, I went from late February to early June without posting anything to this blog. Some of that was intentional and some was simply a lack of desire to do so. Nevertheless, it enabled me to reconnect with others who were physically present. I had to intentionally and purposely reconnect with others, not just for them, but for me…

I absolutely love being an educator; a building principal more specifically. I love sharing what is happening at Gahanna Lincoln High School, I love it when we overcome challenges together. I love talking with members of my staff about their lives, and I love spending quality time with my wife when we have date nights or walk our dogs, Lilly and Lola.

And yes, I love positively promoting my school through social media, but it only matters if the people I serve feel that I am emotionally connected and present with them every step of the way. The bottom line: it boils down to the realness of relationships.

Be Great,

Dwight

Something To Believe In!

Images from Jostens Renaissance Facebook page

One of the most uplifting, exciting, and celebratory conferences for educators and students is the National Jostens Renaissance Conference which takes place every July. I’ve had the privilege of attending the conference for 7 years and each year I leave feeling recharged, rejuvenated, and valued as an educator. Yes, it’s that great!

Jostens Renaissance is a philosophy that focuses on creating a positive school climate and culture by inspiring students and staff to celebrate educational performance.  Learning, risk taking, collaboration and play are celebrated throughout the entire conference. The energy comes from the participants including students of all ages, teachers, support staff, and administrators.

This year’s conference will take place July 13-15 in Orlando, FL and the theme is “Something to Believe In.” The line up of featured speakers is top notch: Todd Whitaker, Keith Nord, Emmy Award winning speaker, Mark Sharonbrauch, Jessica WeinerJustin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja, Ruby Payne, and the “Red Rubber Ball” man himself, Kevin Carroll! While this line up is outstanding, the power lies in the hundreds of presentations by educators like you and me.

There will be a list of breakout sessions that highlight what schools from across North America are doing to increase student achievement, attendance, citizenship and service in connection with local communities.  To top it off, for three days, those of us in attendance are treated like royalty! There is no talk about what educators aren’t doing, only appreciation for our service and dedication to the young people we have been blessed to work with. Carve out some time in July to attend this awesome conference! Not convinced? Check out Jostens Renaissance on Facebook. If you believe in inspiration, creativity, collaboration, celebration, unity, and learning, I look forward to seeing you there! In the meantime, check out this song by Parachute, which is the inspiration for the conference theme!

Be Great,

Dwight

When Will You Light the Fire?

Recently the Gahanna Lincoln High School Orchestra and Chorale collaborated on a meaningful performance that raised thousands of dollars for those in need. This was the second year of the event and both years the audience walked away feeling proud, overjoyed, and appreciative of how we focus on the arts in the Gahanna Jefferson Public Schools. This year I was much more aware of the time commitment and hard work it took for the teachers and students to prepare for this performance because of the use of social media. The final product was simply a masterpiece. I asked GLHS Orchestra Director, Kevin Dengel (@KevinDengel) to reflect on the collaborative process and share his thoughts:

What Drives You?

What drives you? For me, it is the creative process; developing unique experiences and facilitating collaboration. It helps to continually energize and refresh my battery – and those of my students. Collaboration also makes me a better educator, because it gets me out of my comfort zone. You know  ‘the comfort zone’, that forlorn cubical far away from any windows or humans. It’s adjacent to the fire escape and tornado shelter, and has not been dusted since 1943. Your comfort zone is where you keep your red Swingline stapler and await the next ‘TCP’ report (Office Space). Fantastic mentors instilled in me an appreciation and understanding for the power and impact collaboration has on individuals and communities, and I pursue these within my own department and across the curriculum. I have been able to find a new, more exciting and interactive, comfort zone.

Reaching Out

We were not created for isolation and must be cautious to not withdraw ourselves into it. “Think outside of the box” … well for heaven’s sake, who put me there in the first place?! In the Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools (@GahannaJeffersn), I am blessed to work with amazing colleagues and students. Many have thrown the box out with the trash – the same one with all the pre-scripted lesson plans. We are always pursuing new endeavors and initiatives, both personally and professionally, making the learning environment exciting and fresh, if one choosing to engage with it. Few quarantine themselves into isolation, but it is an educational travesty when they do. If we are all experts in our field, we should be engaging in authentic community. If nothing else, to show students that our world is not departmentalized.

Inception

Two years ago, I approached Jeremy Lahman (@JeremyLahman), LHS choir director, interested in combining two of our ensembles. This collaborative question is flourishing into something we could not have anticipated. Since then, our Chamber Orchestra and Chorale have joined musical-forces to perform Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem Mass and Antonio Vivaldi’s Gloria. We now hope to collaborate every year. It is not only fun for everyone, but it benefits Gahanna Residents In Need (GRIN) – a local charity! Preparing for this performance is always a tall order; however, I have learned that the best growth and learning occurs when we experience challenge and difficulty. To teach and not allow for these is … well, poor teaching. Do you always play it safe?

Light the Fire

Had Mr. Lahman and I not capriciously discussed collaborating that one day, Gahanna Residents In Need (GRIN) would have not had their yearly budget triple for two-consecutive years. Had our students not been exposed to these pieces by Fauré or Vivaldi, they would not have performed masterworks in the classical repertoire. Had the community not rallied behind the arts, our most-needy residents would have little hope. Had that ‘acorn’ of an idea not germinated, this collaboration would not have grown to bear fruit. 

What fruit? Firstly, the proceeds from ticket sales allows GRIN to improve the quality of life for many struggling families in our community. Secondly, it is service-learning; the process of aiding others grasp that one person or group can become a change-agent. Remember always that a Giant Sequoia (Redwood) starts as a seed no larger than a pea – and the seeds require a fire to germinate. What “seed” are you holding onto? When are you going to light the fire?

Reaping and Sowing

Pastor Claude Davis, at New Life Church, Gahanna, says, “Whatever is sown will give 1) what was planted, 2) after it was planted, and 3) more than was planted.” It’s a Biblical principal that is as real as gravity. Mr. Lahman and I hope that our first two “harvests” will pay forward for Gahanna, illustrating to our students the power of reaping and sowing for the benefit of our brothers and sisters. Who knows what our current students will do to improve others’ lives in the future, because of the collaborative experience in service-learning now.

“I had to keep pinching myself.”

Retired Director of Bands, Jeff Shellhammer said these words to our students, at the conclusion of our final rehearsal before GLORIA! “I had to keep pinching myself. Are we really in Gahanna?!” Gahanna has top-tier arts, from music to theatre to visual arts. We are able to offer our students high-quality opportunities, because our administrators, community, and staff value the arts. Parents encourage their students to enroll in our courses because of this! It is due to the convergence of ALL these that our students are able to thrive.

Moving Forward

So I ask, “What seed are you keeping in your cubical?” Become an agent of change and accept the challenges associated with it . Allow the words of Jeff Shellhammer to be your community’s reaction, “Are we really in ________?” Push the quality and opportunities to a new level. The process is not easy. It requires creativity and collaboration, but it is worth every drop of sweat. What will you sow? When will you light the fire?

In Arts Education, 

Kevin Dengel

@kevindengel

 

Educon 2.4 Takeways

Educon 2.4 was a unique conference experience because it’s more a conversation than a typical conference of presentation after presentation. Many of our conversations continued at lunch, dinner, during breaks and on Twitter.

 The backdrop was the Science Leadership Academy, an inquiry-based, student-centered public school that has an extremely diverse and eclectic student population. The word “community” is an obvious part of the school’s culture and the students were very much a part of the Educon experience as they served as guides, conversation facilitators, and tech crew.

 I spent quite a bit of time reflecting about my three days at Educon and have come away with several key takeaways to think about:  

  1. Ask “what if?”– We often have the case of the “yeah, buts” when new ideas are shared instead of thinking about possible ways to make something happen. Have you ever said, “Yeah, that’s a good idea, but…..” followed by a list of reasons why a particular idea won’t work. Creativity and problem solving are stifled before given a fair chance to cultivate into something meaningful.
  2.  “Why should I use it?”-When sharing a new web 2.0 tool, such as Twitter, Diigo, or Google Docs explain how it can make one’s life easier before sharing what it is. We often get caught up in the excitement or “cool factor” of a new tool and leave out why and how the new technology can increase efficiency and productivity. Time is at a premium for everyone these days and there are a number of tools we can learn to use in the classroom and share with our students to capture time. The more we share with them and explain “the how” the more prepared they will be to thrive in an ever changing future. 
  3.  “Culture matters”– Innovation is a not a “flash in the pan experience,” but a process that occurs over time. We have to create and maintain a culture at GLHS that makes risk taking and failure safe for our students and each other. A part of the learning process is failure with a chance to recover and reflect. 
  4. “Be Resilient!”– Resilience is defined as the ability to cope with stress or anxiety. We live in a pressure cooker as educators and the release seems a far way away.Therefore, we have to review our systems and ask how we are adding to our own stress and students’ stress. For example, we assign projects, papers, presentations, and performances at the same time and expect quality work from our students. We have hard deadlines because we are teaching responsibility. Yet, do we take into consideration the scope of a student’s entire day at school? I constantly push my staff to “try this new tool,” “read this article,” “review your grading practices…” on top of the other general demands of being an educator. It’s no wonder we are so tired and on cognitive overload. What in our system, that’s within our control, can we change to provide time for us to talk with one another and give our students time to work, breathe, and decompress?  
  5.  “Tech Savvy”-Being a tech-savvy educator is more about a willingness to learn, share, fail and reflect than mastering a particular tool. Embracing technology is an example of one’s desire to learn new ways to make learning more engaging and relevant to our students. The phrase, “I don’t do technology” is not only unacceptable, but it’s a declaration that “I’m done learning.” If we are not willing to learn then we are not willing to help our students learn. It seems we see new tools daily, so mastering a tool is maybe not the best approach. 
  6. “Laser-like focus”– Upon entering the Science Leadership Academy, the mission, core values, guiding principles, and rules were posted everywhere and recited by every member of the school community. More importantly, they were evident in the way the school functions. “Recite” is not the best word choice here because it conveys a message of memorization as opposed to belief. They believe in what they are doing. They not only share a common belief, but a common language that provides clarity of purpose. Whether talking to the principal, Chris Lehmann, a teacher, freshman tour guide, or senior facilitator, each spoke confidently and clearly about what the school is all about:

           Mission-How do we learn? How can we create? What does it mean to lead?

           Core Values– Inquiry, Research, Collaboration, Presentation, and Reflection

           Rules-Respect yourself, Respect Others, Respect the Learning Environment         

So, I had to ask myself, “If someone asked me what our core beliefs are, would my answer match that of a department chairperson, first year teacher, secretary, or student of any grade level? It’s something we all should think about and discuss within our school communities.  

Be Great,

Dwight

Community University: Engage Parents and Community with Tech Classes

Early during the 2010-2011 school year, my Principals Advisory Council came up with the idea to engage parents and community members by teaching technology classes once a month. We were cognizant of a potential gap that was occurring in terms of technology tools our students use, we use, and our parents use. If we were having difficulty keeping up, we figured our students’ parents and community members were too.

As we were planning what “Community University” would look like, I read a blog post written by Burlington High School Principal, Patrick Larkin, about the technology classes his school offered to parents. I knew we were on to something! To decide which classes to offer, I surveyed the staff to find out what classes they would be willing to teach and from there, created a schedule and class description for parents. The next step was to inform parents and make it happen!

We launched Community University in October, 2011 with a Facebook 101 class and it was a hit! Our orchestra teacher along with our district Chief Communications Officer facilitated the class for about two dozen parents. Parents were very appreciative of our efforts and left excited about the new information they learned. We saw it as opportunity for them to engage their students in a conversation about digital citizenship as well.

Community University classes are offered the first Monday of each month for an hour. We now offer two classes each month and since October,  we have held a resume writing class, understanding Google Docs class, Facebook 102, and a telescope class, which was faciltated by students. Some of the future classes are as follows: How to use your Smartphone, What is Digital Citizenship?, Twitter 101, Enhance Your Power Point Presentations, Understanding Movie Maker, iPad 101, and Understanding Prezi.

Each class is facilitated by a GLHS staff member who volunteers their time to connect with and engage our community. I encourage you to offer technology classes for your community as well. We see it as an opportunity to increase parents’ and community members’ confidence in using the technological tools that are increasingly becoming a part of our world.

Be Great,

Dwight

This is cross-posted on Connected Principals.com

 

Educon 2.4 was a Stretch

“So how as the conference,” Samantha, my wife, asked when I called her from the airport. “It was incredible!” I exclaimed. “Okay, what was it about?” she asked. I quickly replied with a chuckle, “Well, the essential question was how do we sustain innovation in education?” Her response was priceless, “Wow! That’s…. a lot to take in.” I replied, “Yes, it was a lot to take in and it’s exactly what I needed.” Again, her response was priceless, “so, it stretched you.” Boom!

I have a bad back, mainly because of a bulging disk, but also because I don’t stretch. My hamstrings are in knots so it creates tension in my lower back. I hate stretching! It takes too much time and quite frankly it hurts! It hurts because I don’t do it. I know what you’re thinking, “If you would just stretch then it wouldn’t hurt.” No kidding, but what we are talking about is a knowing-doing gap. I know what to do, I’m just not doing it. On the other hand, I absolutely love learning. I equate it to mental and cognitive stretching. It’s a painful, daunting process at times, but it is also so rewarding.

Many of us who attended Educon 2.4 experienced this cognitive stretch throughout the weekend in the form of conversations and panel discussions. Educon helps to close the knowing-doing gap when it comes to grassroots education reform. You see, the presenters, participants, those who followed on Twitter or watched it from the live video stream, were primarily educators who are “doing” the work, not just individuals talking about want needs to be done. This same group also searches for better ways to do what is best for today’s learner, and not once did we spend an entire session discussing how to make a better standardized test!

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “A mind that is stretched to a new idea never returns to its original dimension.” It is hard to argue against that because what he referred to was the learning process. When we let ourselves engage in the learning process and try to wrap our minds around an essential question, such as the one posed at Educon, we find ourselves in deep conversation about the purpose of school, the future of education, what IS learning, why use technology, and what is innovation. Yes, it can be philosophical, but it also gives us all a chance to dialogue about what we are doing, how we are doing it, how we can learn from one another, and what we can do in our classroom, school, and community right now.

Educon was just the stretch I needed to be a better leader for my students, staff, and community when I return to my building. It gave me a chance to step away to think, listen, reflect and also learn with others. Thanks to Chris Lehmann (@Chrislehmann), the students at the Science Leadership Academy, and The Franklin Institute for hosting this amazing conference.

Be Great,

Dwight