Archive for the ‘Goals’ Category

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.

Arts Advisory Council: Year in Review & Looking Ahead

In my last post, I described the origins of my district’s Arts Advisory Council.  This post describes how the first year of implementation went and how things may change in the year to come.


The Past Year

We planned to meet a total of 5 times this past year; we actually met 4  – October, November, February, and May (I ended up having to cancel our April meeting due to PARCC preparations across the district).  The general structure looked like this:

  • October: Establishment of purpose, brainstorming goals for 2015-2016, set “mini-goals”/benchmarks to be achieved by next meeting.
  • November: Check in on progress toward goals, work in subcommittee as necessary, revisit mini-goals to be achieved by next meeting.
  • February: Same as November; also, I solicited feedback from staff on new district curriculum document format
  • May: Re-cap of goals achieved this year; preliminary discussion of goals for 2016-2017, including developing mission/vision for department aligned with district strategic plan

I need to stress that when I say “accountability”, I do NOT mean accountability to me.  There are no administrative consequences attached to achieving or not achieving goals set here; if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.  In this context, it is accountability to the group that matters, and we help each other meet the “mini-goals” along the way in order to get to the bigger goal at the end.

One major success to come out of the AAC was our spring Arts Festival at Lawrence High School, which our teachers resurrected this year after a few years of not doing it.  The AAC also sparked conversations between our intermediate, middle, and high school instrumental music teachers that got them collaborating on inter-building activities with students, with an eye toward retaining and recruiting students for the instrumental music program as they advance through the grades.  We also discussed other things we’d like to see happen with the program eventually; we weren’t able to do them all this year, but they’re up for discussion for 2016-2017.

It’s worth noting that while most of our time was spent on goals we collectively set, the AAC was also a good way for me to get feedback on initiatives that may not be exclusively arts-related (e.g., district curriculum documents) but that impact our department.  If I was a building principal, I might be able to address this with all my staff at once at a faculty meeting.  Since my staff are spread out across 7 buildings, the AAC is a chance for many of us to all be in the same physical location for a discussion.   Folks who do attend the meeting can then return to their respective buildings and speak with their art/music colleagues to share the discussion highlights and get their input as well.

Looking Ahead

In retrospect, you could say I got a little ahead of myself by implementing the AAC before we had a unified departmental mission and vision.  After all, if not for that, how do we prioritize and make informed decisions about how to grow the program?  I’ll concede that valid point, but I stand by my decision.  This year was experimental, and I said as much to my staff at the very first AAC meeting.  In the first year, I was more concerned with feeling out the format and seeing how folks would work within the structure.

So what’s next for Year Two?  In keeping with the spirit of things, that’s the council’s call, not mine alone.  Given my druthers, these are some things I’d like to see us improve upon in 2016-2017:

  • More art teachers represented.  I’m not sure why this was, but of the 10-11 regulars at the AAC meetings, only two were art teachers.  They did a great job, of course, but it definitely tilted our discussions toward the music end of things.  I plan to speak to more art teachers individually about joining the AAC and finding out if there are any barriers preventing them from attending, or if it’s just a question of priorities.
  • Develop an arts program mission & vision.  We spitballed this a bit at our May 2016 meeting, and my ‘mini-goal’ for this coming October is to create a first draft of each from the bullet point ideas we brainstormed.  The council will refine it from there and align it with the district’s five-year strategic plan that lasts until 2020.
  • Develop ‘ground rules’ for our meeting time.  This is more preventative than anything else, but I think it probably makes sense to establish some behavioral norms or expectations.  By and large we are a very mutually supportive group, but there are bound to be disagreements at some point.  I think having a mission and vision to refer to can help with some of that, but it’s probably worthwhile to have something to point to that outlines how we disagree with each other, and we need to have it in place before we actually need it, if that makes sense.  I think I need to bring this to the council to flesh out a bit more.
  • PD on how to make it better.  Once we collectively reflect as a council on how last year went and what the group wants to improve, I’d like to research more formal models of what we do to see if we can make it even better.  I like a lot of what I’ve seen of the World Cafe Method, and my friends Rich Wilson and Mike Ritzius are doing some wonderful things with Art of Hosting.  Undoubtedly, they would take issue with some of the language I use in these posts (I don’t have to “give teachers a voice” – they already have one; it’s not my place to give them one!), but that’s what I mean – I don’t even know what I don’t know, but I know there are organized models out there for this sort of work we’re doing, and if nothing else, it’s my responsibility to make sure that if we’re going to do it, we are going to do it well.  Mike and Rich offered an AoH workshop in Philly earlier this year that I couldn’t make, but I’m keeping my eyes peeled for future opportunities (and of course, bringing as many council members as I can with me).

Overall, I’m quite satisfied with our first year of the Arts Advisory Council, and am excited to see what it becomes in its second year.  I like the idea that we were able to adapt something that is typically used for decision making at the building level for use with our academic department, and I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has done this and is further along in the lifespan of their own committee and can give me some hints or advice.

Arts Advisory Council: Origins

In my last post, I spoke briefly about the Arts Advisory Council, a new initiative in my district aimed at K-12 program development in the arts.  I’ve alluded to it in several posts over the last year, but haven’t sat down to put metaphorical pen to paper until now.  This first post of two discusses where the idea came from and how I pitched it to my staff.

Oh, and happy ninth birthday to my blog!


Origins

The basis for the AAC came out of my dissertation research on distributed leadership.  My review of the literature found that some element of shared decision making was a hallmark of schools with positive cultures and climates and successful distributed leadership initiatives.  To vastly oversimplify for the sake of this blog post, including teachers and other non-administrative staff members in such initiatives lead to high degrees of trust and open lines of communication between teachers and administrators and high degrees of investment in implementation of school initiatives.  Assuming (!) these initiatives are tied to advancing the organizational mission or vision, the logic then goes that you’re more likely to have more people on board with moving together toward the goals of the organization.  Again, a VAST oversimplification, but if you want more details, click the link above and read my dissertation and check out the citations.

In addition to the lit review, I heard first-hand about similar shared decision-making structures put into place when I interviewed the administrators and staff members of two middle schools in the pseudonymous Wellbrook School District in Delaware.  While each school does it slightly differently, both schools use a committee structure comprised of not only teachers and administrators, but also secretaries, custodians, food services staff, and anyone else who wishes to contribute to the discussions at the table.  Any member is welcome to bring a topic for discussion to the group, and all ideas are given fair consideration and ‘kicked around’ from various viewpoints.

Of course, this research is all relevant to building level decision making; as a K-12 department supervisor who oversees the arts program across 7 different buildings, I have different issues and topics for consideration that could benefit from the same approaches outlined above.  Putting research aside for a moment, though: if I have 21 talented, dedicated teachers, all experts in their respective fields and grade levels, why would I not seek to harness their professional opinions and perspectives as I seek to grow the district arts program?  To think I could do it all myself – even if I wanted to – seems to me the height of hubris, arrogance, and ignorance.

I decided I wanted to adapt this idea to the departmental level and involve any K-12 fine/performing arts teachers who wished to participate.  Our first meeting was in October 2015.

Getting Off the Ground

I emailed my K-12 music, art, and drama teachers in September 2015 with a brief explanation of what I was planning, and when/where we would meet to discuss.  Of course, this wasn’t the first most of them had heard of the idea of the AAC.  I had also brought it up in personal conversations with many staff members around the district – as early as the end of the previous school year (2014-2015) – partially to feel them out as to their interest level and partially to sow the seeds so the email wouldn’t be the first they heard of it.

I made sure to hold the meeting during a pre-scheduled meeting time.  Staff who attended the AAC meeting would not be staying beyond the end of their contract day or going to any additional meetings; they were just meeting with me in lieu of their respective building faculty meetings.  Armed with enough coffee & donuts to feed a small army, I made my case for the AAC to about half of the district’s art, music, and drama teachers (plus a French teacher who, while not technically a teacher of the arts, directs the middle school musical.  She asked if she could join the meeting and I was only too happy to oblige).

In my explanation, I laid out four broad outcomes I hoped to see come from the experience:

  • Give teachers a voice in the direction and development of the district arts program, both curricular and extracurricular
  • Give teachers a forum to voice concerns and problem-solve with content area colleagues (many art & music teachers in our district are ‘singletons’ in their buildings and don’t have others in their subject specialty with whom to talk during the day)
  • Develop a forum for proposing new ideas and collaboratively fleshing them out, with the benefit of multiple grade level and subject area perspectives
  • Develop actionable plans with built-in accountability for bringing solutions and proposals to fruition

As I said in the meeting, I was happy to come up with ideas and initiatives on my own, but I knew that the collective wisdom, experience, and creativity in the room far outweighed anything I could hope to do on my own.  To their credit, my teachers didn’t need to be asked twice – they ran with it, and the brainstorming began that afternoon.

In my next post, I’ll speak to what the first year of implementation looked like and what changes we might make as we begin the second year of the Arts Advisory Council.

Self-Care

If blogging for the last 8+ years has taught me anything, it’s that writer’s block is usually temporary, and that sometimes all I need to knock the cobwebs off is to push out a quickie post like this one, almost as a statement of purpose or resolve or something – even as a pseudo-cognitive-behavioral approach to getting back into the writing groove. I don’t know why it works, just that it usually does. So here’s hoping this is sufficient to get me going again.

Heh. Well.

In the 2+ months since I wrote those prophetic words, I’ve been doing pretty much everything BUT blogging:

  • Grad school: I did a Rodney Dangerfield and went back to school to take two additional graduate courses in curriculum development this year.  Exhausting but beneficial… glad I did it but glad it’s over.
  • Dissertation reviews: I’ve started a nice little side gig reviewing doctoral dissertations for APA format for my doc program alma mater.  Profitable, and it’s taken a serious chunk out of my student loan balance… but since I do it in the evenings and weekends, also very tiring and time-consuming.
  • Work: Now that I’m past the first year of “what the hell am I doing” in my position, I’ve gotten down to the nitty-gritty work of program evaluation and development.  I’m excited about the work my staff and I have been doing this year and into next, which includes expanding course offerings at the high school in the Music, Family & Consumer Science, and Business departments.

It’s really the grad school and dissertation review work that has taken the wind out of my blogging sails, so now that the grad work is over and there is going to be a lull in dissertation work until probably mid to late summer, I finally have some time to breathe.   Never one to look a gift pause in the mouth, I finally have a chance to focus on the near future; namely, my plans for the summer.

At the risk of beating the “lifelong learner” trope to death, I’m excited to be able to set aside some time for my own learning this summer.  I’m not sure if/how they will make me better at my job, or a better husband/dad/person, but I don’t see a damn thing wrong with learning for learning’s sake.

  • Guitar: I got my first bass guitar 25 years ago for 8th grade graduation, and I picked up guitar about two years later.  While I was an avid performer in my younger days and coordinated (and performed in) rock shows with my students as a teacher, my Tele has taken a backseat in recent years to caring for infants/toddlers and two rounds of grad school in 12 years.  Life circumstances prevent me from committing to guitar lessons (my first preference), but I am committing to getting my gear in good shape and woodshedding with the help of YouTube tutorials and Android apps.  I’m trying to spend at least 30 minutes a day with guitar in hand for the remainder of the school year, hopefully more once summer hits.
  • Programming: This goal is not particularly well-defined yet, but with the anticipated addition of programming courses at our high school over the next two years, I want to get a better understanding of coding principles and some experience in Java and/or Python. My Comp Sci-major floormate Lee taught me some basic HTML my freshman year of college in 1995 so I have the most basic of understandings on which to build, but that’s about it. I haven’t explored this in any depth yet, but I hear good things about Codecademy.

If you have any suggestions to help me with either goal, I’m all ears; please leave me your thoughts in the comments.

What A Difference A Year Makes

Today was New Year’s Day for 10-month administrators in my district.  After a summer that was equal parts restful and profitable (thanks to a good summer job), I started back today relaxed, focused, and looking forward to the new school year.

It was a welcome contrast to how I started last school year.  While I was excited to start my first administrative position, I was coming off The Summer That Really Wasn’t, thanks to the time I had to put into finishing my dissertation draft in preparation for a late fall defense.  Spending all summer writing meant I didn’t work last summer.  Fair enough, as we tend to budget well enough during the school year to compensate for the dip our bank account takes in the summertime, but then we got slammed unexpectedly with some urgent household repairs (including a busted central air unit and sump pump) that swallowed up a lot of money between August and October.

Between the financial uncertainty and the uncertainty of being in a new position (indeed, not only new to me, but a position that had heretofore not existed in the district, so I was really without a blueprint), I felt more than a little adrift last August – not a good place to be for anyone, let alone a supposed educational leader!

Fast forward to August 2015.  I’ve got a year’s experience under my belt, and my life situation this summer allowed me to work enough to make some money while still enjoying downtime.  Both my bank account and my sense of purpose in the job are more stable than they were last summer, and I feel much better equipped to attend to both the immediate demands and long-range plans in front of me.

Administrators in our district set professional learning goals for themselves that focus on self-identified areas for growth and learning.  For one of these goals, I’m very excited to put into practice in my department some of what I learned during my dissertation research.  I’ll be continuing to read and refer to the literature base on distributed leadership and collaborative decision-making as I try to implement it within the framework of my district’s arts program (I alluded to it here, but don’t want to say much more publicly until it’s up and running, after which I hope to reflect periodically about it here on the blog).

I’m also taking steps this year to learn more about the ins and outs of building-level leadership.  As a K-12 supervisor, I’m all over the district, which doesn’t give me much opportunity to set down roots and develop relationships with staff members outside my department.  I’m grateful that one of my principal colleagues has agreed to take me under her wing and mentor me, so to speak, in the art of building-based leadership this year.

It’s amazing how much more confident, less stressed, and more in control of my life I feel compared to a year ago.  While I think I did a decent job for my first year, I felt like I was holding on by my fingertips for most of it (much like my first year of teaching and much like my first year as a school psychologist).  I’m looking forward to building upon what I’ve learned and taking advantage of this improved frame of mind to improve my practice, and by extension better serve my staff and students.