2016 By The Numbers: My Reading List

I’ve written in this space before about the importance of setting goals, both personally and professionally, and right around this time last year I was feeling a bit low and run down.  Since I have always enjoyed reading, I thought setting a goal of reading a certain amount of books over the course of 2016 may help to keep me actively focused on doing something I find enjoyable and restorative (instead of just finding time for it whenever, because let’s face it, there’s never any time to just do things – we have to make time).

Last December – quite by surprise – I came across Goodreads’ infographic that outlined the books I read in 2015.  At that time, I set a goal on my Goodreads account of reading 12 books in 2016 (I had read 11 in 2015).  I admit to forgetting all about this goal until about a month or so ago, when I logged into Goodreads for the first time in several months and saw my un-updated progress toward the goal I set myself.

Happily, I’ve surpassed the goal I set for myself, reading 15 books in 2016 – although, as I noted on Twitter, one of them was Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, which really should count for 3 or 4 books by itself.  Here’s my 2016 reading list, in (more or less) the order in which I finished them:

What’s interesting to me in reflection is that this year – more than any year prior – I took advantage of multiple formats for reading.  Of the 15 books above, I read only four in traditional book form (Atonement, Great Teachers, Ride, and Unselfie).  Five I read as e-books via my Kindle app (Hacking, Invent, Thrones, Hamilton, and Kings) and the remaining six (Zealot, World, Furious, Children, Patriot, and Barrel) were audiobooks, either CDs or digital downloads from my local library.  This wasn’t necessarily by design, though I will say that audiobooks are a great solution for somebody who wishes to read more but also spends upwards of 10 hours per week commuting (much safer than e-books or traditional books during that time, too!).

I know some folks are stans for their preferred formats, but I honestly didn’t have a preference – I just love reading, and I like all of the above formats equally.  The only edge, if you can call it that, that downloadable audiobooks have is the adjustable speed setting (my library uses Hoopla and Overdrive, among others, as their digital content distributors) – I often find it more comfortable to listen to audiobooks at 1.25 – 1.5x normal speed.

On deck for the first part of 2017 are The Collected Essays of James Baldwin, George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords (I’m trying to catch up in case Book #6 actually drops in March, as I’ve heard whispered), and Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting sequel The Blade Artist.

As always, I’m eager for your recommendations for must-reads, especially those about education.

#SAVMP Prompt 2: #Thankful

This post wasn’t originally intended to be part of the SAVMP series, but it really does fit the theme, so I’m going with it.

Let’s share what we are THANKFUL for. Do you have amazing colleagues? A student that makes it a joy to come to work each day? The most amazing office staff on the planet? Tag them, celebrate them, and let them know they are appreciated. Share the GOOD.

Between staff observations, curriculum work, program development, budget planning, meetings (oh, the meetings), and the everyday “putting out fires”, school administrators are a busy bunch.  It’s very easy to get carried away in the crush of it all, but that’s also precisely why it is so important to intentionally pause to share your gratitude for the people who make the work possible.

On this day, the day before Thanksgiving in the U.S., I wanted to pause to let the staff I supervise know that I see them and I appreciate them.  I sent them this message this morning:

Good morning everyone,

In the spirit of the season, I thought I would share with you some of what I am thankful for.

  • I am thankful for our art teachers, who teach our students to view the world and express themselves through a multitude of lenses.
  • I am thankful for our business teachers, who teach our students to navigate the ever-changing economic landscape of today and tomorrow.
  • I am thankful for our music and theater teachers, who teach our students to tell the great stories of history, as well as their own, with equal passion.
  • I am thankful for our librarians, who teach our students critical information literacy skills and foster their love of reading.
  • I am thankful for our technology teachers, who teach our students to be critical and ethical consumers and creators of technology.
  • I am thankful for our family & consumer science teachers, who teach our students to understand the importance – and foster the well-being – of the “cultural kaleidoscope” of individuals, family, and community.

Thank you for all that you do for students everyday, which are far too numerous to list but are most definitely appreciated.

Have a relaxing holiday weekend,

Damian

Our challenge moving forward should be to demonstrate our gratitude regularly – not just on holidays – through both our words and our actions.

#SAVMP Prompt 1: Connecting with Community

The SAVMP collaborative has issued its first prompt for discussion between mentor & mentee, as well as blogging:

What are some ways you connect with your school community?

I guess there are a few ways to read this prompt.  If we’re talking about the community of people within the district – the students and employees – then there are a few ways I have tried to make these connections as an administrator:

  • Be visible in person.  I am an instructional supervisor with staff in seven buildings across our district.  Although our buildings are (mercifully) all within a few miles of one another, it can still be challenging for me to get out to each one on a regular basis, given the “desk jockey” portion of my job.  I do try, however, to touch base with folks in all buildings across the K-12 spectrum at least once a week.  I may not see everybody every week, but I try to get into each building once a week.  I won’t always achieve this goal, depending on how my responsibilities and obligations ebb and flow over the course of a month, but it’s always something I’m shooting for.
  • Be visible online.  As I make my rounds, I (and many of my admin colleagues) do our best to document the great work our staff is doing by snapping pics and/or Tweeting about what we’re seeing or doing.  When we tag our tweets with our district hashtag #LTPS, anyone searching the hashtag (as many of our staff and community members do) can get a snapshot of what’s happening around the district.  This helps close some of the geographic gaps that separate us, and also do at least a little bit to break down the silos in which we often work in education.
  • Make time for people.  When people reach out to me with questions, concerns, or for any other reason, more often than not, I will drop what I’m doing and make time to speak with them.  This isn’t necessarily the most time-efficient thing for me to do, but I do feel that it has helped me to build relationships and trust with my staff members.  Not that I necessarily do everything that is asked of me at that moment, but I hope this sends a message that my staff and their needs are more important to me than paperwork.
  • Shut up and listen.  Super hard for me to do, but super essential.  When my staff does come to me, I close my mouth and listen to what they have to say.  My natural inclination is to immediately want to start talking and problem-solve; while I freely admit I’m not always successful in suppressing that urge, it is something I have worked on and continue to work on.  I never want my people to feel that I’m de-centering their needs or feelings and making anything about me.  Once I’ve heard everything and made sure I understand, I can then ask clarifying questions and start to brainstorm solutions with their input.  Sometimes asking, “Well, what do you think we should do?” is all it takes – more often than not, folks have a sense of what needs to be done; they just want to know that the admin trusts them to implement their solution.

If we’re talking about engaging with the community in which the school system exists – parents, businesses, organizations, etc. – then there are some other strategies you can use.  What follows is not necessarily a list of things I have done in my position, but that leaders in my district have done:

  • Community Conversations:  In the run-up to developing our five-year strategic plan, the district hosted a series of evening Community Conversations, in which we invited all stakeholders in the community to share their concerns and thoughts about the direction of the district.  We did this in a structured way, in breakout sessions, and distilled major themes from all the feedback received in the various sessions.  From these, we developed not only our four-point strategic plan goals, but also many of the objectives and actions needed to achieve them.  Through this process, the community had a voice in the movement of the district.
  • Take it to the streets: Sometimes it’s difficult for the community to come to us.  Work obligations, child care issues, and any number of other barriers exist that prevent some members of our community from coming to our evening Community Conversations.  In an effort to increase outreach to more of our community, our superintendent recently began taking our show on the road.  She has scheduled a series of Conversations in the Community: opportunities for community members to speak with her in relatively informal settings like local businesses and private residences.  She also conducts these events during “non-traditional” school event hours, e.g., 1pm on a Sunday afternoon.  Our Board of Education has begun to follow suit, holding meetings in remote locations.

Re-reading this post, nothing in the top section seems particularly groundbreaking to me; however, I think the difficult part is not necessarily knowing what to do, but rather figuring out how to do it while balancing the myriad other responsibilities of an administrator.

How you engage with your school community can – and probably will – look different depending on the role you play within a school district.  Regardless of position, however, connecting with the community – within the school and without – is a crucial part of building a positive, inclusive culture in your building and district.

#SAVMP 2016-2017

Moving ever onward out of my comfort zone in the name of professional growth, I signed up to participate in SAVMP for the 2016-2017 school year. SAVMP is the School Administrator Virtual Mentoring Program, and I volunteered to serve as a mentor to aspiring and novice administrators.

I know I’m only just beginning my third year, but in my experience, being in a position such as mentor or student teacher supervisor has helped me to clarify and codify my own thinking on any number of topics, situations, or challenges.  I’ve spent the last two years learning by the side of some excellent mentors in my own district, and while I’ve also tried to pay it forward to my admin colleagues who joined the district after me, I’d like to think I also have something to offer a fledgling administrator elsewhere in the Twittersphere.

Back in the heady days of 2007-2009, edu-Twitter seemed to me to be more about connecting with and learning from one another (it’s felt more like a self-promotion engine/mutual admiration society to me for the last few years, but that’s another post for another day).  The teachers we interviewed for The End of Isolation called out the networking and professional collaboration aspect of Twitter specifically as a primary benefit of the service.  Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s something else, but when I heard about the call for mentors, I thought this would be some small positive step I could take to help someone out as I’ve been helped as I transitioned to this new professional role.

An additional benefit (for me) is that apparently there will be blogging prompts.  I look forward to those, as I’ve been lacking for structure and focus for blogging of late.  I anticipate this will be a mutually beneficial project for both my mentee and me.

If you’re interested in seeing what this is all about, check out the hashtag #SAVMP on Twitter.

ICYMI: My Faves 2014-2016

I tag each post on this blog with some categorical classification, and one I started using a few years ago is Damian’s Favorites – this tag represents what I feel are the best posts on this site (or at least the ones I wish got read more than the others).  Periodically I like to do “Best Of” recap posts; I did one in 2011 and one in 2014, so I figured I’m due.  Below are some of my favorite posts I’ve written since my last rerun post recap in September 2014:

Happy New Year, everyone; let’s make 2016-2017 the best one yet.