Archive for the ‘Goals’ Category

Progress Monitoring: Checking In On My 2018 Reading Challenge

At the risk of turning this blog into a reading log…

As I have for the past few years, in January I took the annual Goodreads Reading Challenge and set myself a goal of reading 30 books in 2018 (I also set a goal of running 300 miles in 2018, but the less said about that right now, the better).

At just past 1/3 of the way through the year, I’ve finished 15 books.  As in past years, I have my 10+ hour weekly commute and access to multiple audiobook sources to thank for much of my productivity here.  In reverse chronological, these are the books I’ve enjoyed so far this year:

  • A Higher Loyalty, by James Comey
  • Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, & Consent on Campus, by Vanessa Grigoriadis
  • The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie
  • Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, by Adam Alter
  • Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading, by Kylene Beers & Bob Probst
  • All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire, by Jonathan Abrams
  • The History of White People, by Nell Irvin Painter
  • Dear Martin, by Nic Stone
  • 50 Instructional Routines to Develop Content Literacy (3rd ed.), by Douglas Fisher, William G. Brozo, Nancy Frey, & Gay Ivey
  • Civil War, by Mark Millar
  • Brain Myths Exploded: Lessons from Neuroscience, by Indre Viskontas
  • Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, & Strategies, by Kylene Beers & Bob Probst
  • On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, by Timothy Snyder
  • A Life in Parts, by Bryan Cranston
  • Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, by bell hooks

I’ve got two books in progress right now: the audiobook of Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here is my commute buddy for the next week or so, and I’m just about done with Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele’s When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir.

Next up in the hopper: Morrissey’s Autobiography, and I’m really excited about next month’s American release of the latest book by one of my favorite authors, Irvine Welsh’s Dead Men’s Trousers, a continuation of the events of the Trainspotting universe.

I suppose I like to share the books I’m reading in an effort to provide my fellow educators some suggestions for something valuable to read.  I know I rely heavily on suggestions from friends, colleagues, and social media connections, especially when it comes to books about education.

On a related note, I just wrapped up teaching my first undergraduate course in teaching literacy in the content area classroom, and one of the choice assignments my students could choose was to do a book talk and close reading activity on an education-related book of their choice.

I liked this assignment because it was a low-risk way for students to read something they might not otherwise have the opportunity (or inclination) to read and reflect a bit on why they liked it, and why we might like it too.  While I will definitely refine the parameters of the assignment if I teach the class again, it was interesting to hear my students share their takes on books like Teach Like a PirateReadicide, and Understanding by Design with their classmates.  These are books that I’ve only ever heard discussed through the lens of veteran teachers, so to hear pre-service teachers’ perspectives on them was a treat for me, and more importantly, will hopefully inspire their classmates to read them and consider their messages as well as they head into their own classrooms in the coming months and years.

Resolving to Set Goals for 2018

As anyone who knows me well can tell you, I don’t buy into the idea of New Year’s resolutions.  I find January a completely arbitrary time to change behaviors; after all, if you feel strongly enough about a habit or behavior to want to change it, why wait til January 1?

BUT, despite my obnoxious killjoy contrarian leanings, I’m not entirely immune to popular sentiment and I can acknowledge that a calendar year is a perfectly serviceable frame of reference for goal-setting (certainly no more or less arbitrary than school years, no?).  While you won’t find me resolving to exercise regularly (I already lift weights 3-5x/week and run 2x/week, without fail, barring illness or injury) or read more (I read 67 books in 2017; more on these in an upcoming post), I did decide to set some concrete goals in those areas for the coming year.

At Runkeeper‘s insistence, I set a goal of running 300 miles in 2018.  I set similar goals in 2012 (as I recuperated from hip surgery) and 2013 (read about that here).  I readily acknowledge that 300 miles in a year is really not a huge milestone (it averages out to a little under 6 miles a week for 52 weeks), but as I mentioned above, my fitness priority is on weightlifting.  With only so many evenings in a week, if I’m lifting 3-5x/week, that leaves only so much time for running.

Goodreads issued its 8th annual Reading Challenge today, and, like Marty McFly being called a chicken, I had to take the bait.  I upped the ante a bit for 2018, my third year participating in the challenge.  I committed to reading 30 books this year, twice my 2017 commitment but still well within my reach.

So if I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, why did I commit to these two goals on New Year’s Day?  Because it’s not about New Year’s.  It’s about setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable (oh, you know the rest) in order to stimulate growth or progress.  I enjoy both reading and running and would likely engage in both activities with or without a specific goal, but it’s also an added bit of extrinsic motivation for when the intrinsic motivation is lacking a bit.

Along these lines, one of the 30 books I will read this year will be done along with my friends and colleagues at work.  A small group of high school assistant principals and instructional supervisors are reading The New American High School, the last book written by Ted Sizer and published posthumously.  Starting next week, we’ll be meeting weekly to discuss, and if it’s half as valuable as the last professional book club in which I participated, it’ll be time very well spent.

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.