“Hello/Is it me you’re looking for?”

Her voice grew in strength as she told her friend, “With this technology, kids are able to create documents and share it with other kids.”  Sitting on this line at the Commack Shoprite, I was thrilled to hear that parents were happy about the collaborative power of Google documents.  She then continued and shouted indignantly, “And these documents!  Nobody knows about these.  Kids can create hidden notes to each other.” I laughed.  Out loud.  As in LOL.  What is with this fear of technology? Should we just freeze time to prevent change?  I couldn’t believe how upset this woman was getting with the possibility of her son or daughter writing to another student.  I mean, he/she wasn’t asked to log it and get it signed?  I was immediately thrust into a similar situation that Danielle Mammolito analyzed in her blog post, “Dangerous Territory.”  She wrote, “Surely the people commenting were mistaken.  If they only knew the opportunities afforded to all children through technology.”  I felt as if I wanted to ease this woman’s pain and share my positive experiences with technology integration.  Yet, I also wanted to whisper, “Secret Google documents have the best voice.”  I remained silent, but I almost felt the need to soliloquize about how technology is often misrepresented and misread by those who truly believe in the phrase: “We have always done it this way.”  In a way, we have.

The brief exchange on the Shoprite line forced me to think about my teenage years and the culture that these mothers were bashing.  What did we do before hidden Google documents? How did we get away with writing in secret? Love notes. I smiled in reminiscing the passion that lived within writing a love note to a girl, folding it up tightly to prevent others from seeing my drawn hearts, getting it to her in class through a process of four students passing it without the teacher knowing, glancing up to see her reaction, and praying that a return note would be on its way.  Although fun, the process was slow and required too much risk! Imagine having access to collaborative documents with a timestamp and a revision history?! I could have even saved five dollars on the New Kids on the Block poster and just pulled in a picture of Donnie/Jonathan/Joey/Danny/Jordan/Mark using the Explore feature.  By the way, the poster didn’t work.  I was sent home from Shopper’s Village crying.  If only emojis existed to express and assuage my sadness.

In addition to risky note writing, I remember the process of placing two pieces of paper in the top holes of a blank cassette tape to make a mixtape containing songs that would speak to my teenage feelings.  I would throw in Lionel Richie, 112, some Mariah Carey, NSync, Celine Dion, and Jewel. Jewel…she always seemed to work.  A mixtape. Somebody reading this blog post is saying, “A mixtape. Ha! We had eight tracks and we walked six miles to school.”  That is the point.  Although culture shifts, the same acts that we all did as teenagers still exist today.  Just on another platform. Maybe even on a shared Google document.  How do we embrace it?  Why would we try to deny and defy it? Let’s brainstorm ways to be fine with being techie. Perhaps this mother just wanted reassurance that her child would be fine.  Next time, I will break out in Lionel Richie. I will now use Pandora for practice.

At least Graze

On my way to work each morning, my phone’s various alerts signify that I have a mention on Twitter, a message on Voxer, a like on Facebook, a text, etc.  The conversation loops in which I engage are constant and delightfully flowing.  So are the funny pics, gifs, and sounds that are shared.  The majority of these conversation flows are focused on enhancing my craft and my work as an educator.  Within the digital walls of these chats, we continue to discuss grading practices, the problem of homework, reasons why principals should have their doors open to the hallway, mobile principal stations (how awesome is that idea from Dennis Schug), bottle flipping, the power of the mannequin challenge, and a recent tweet from Dennis Dill that really has me thinking.  He tweeted, “If you’re a teacher and you won’t do 30 minutes of PD every night, why would you assign homework to your kids.”  Hmm.  Wow.  His analysis of PD and homework is very interesting.  If we see homework as a way in which students can enhance their skills so they can better perform in class, shouldn’t we as educators do the same?  If we see homework as a way in which we can flip instruction so instructional time is maximized, shouldn’t we collaborate with others at home to maximize our workflow?  If we see homework as a way to add a grade to the gradebook, shouldn’t we…shouldn’t we…shouldn’t we…shouldn’t we.  And it is through this comparison where we see why graded homework is flawed.  We don’t learn on our own for a grade.  We don’t practice our skills on our own time for a grade.

Life is busy.  It sure is.  In fact, my nights are saturated with so many tasks that usually surround having two children under the age of four.  I always aim to join a Twitter chat at night, especially #nyedchat and #hacklearning, but recently with the busy holiday season, I haven’t logged on.  But, I still graze.  By grazing the chats when I have time, listening to the Voxer messages while on the go, clicking the Twitter notification as I walk, I am able to stay connected and remain committed to growing because I know this commitment will eventually make its way to our students.  I know we all have time to graze.

As educators make their New Year’s resolutions a week from tomorrow, I hope they add connectedness to that long list of things they know they should do.  Unlike the gym (I plan on joining the tenth gym of my life this coming week with probably fewer than 100 visits), this resolution is realistic and one that we all can and should sustain.  #KidsDeserveIt.

A Firehose of Leadership

I remember my entrance into the Twitter world during an LIASCD workshop titled “Accelerated Learning” which was led by Bill Brennan and Tony Sinanis.  In speaking about the power of being connected and developing a network on Twitter, Bill or Tony commented, “There is so much to learn.  It is a firehose of information and you just need to know what to swallow.”  I always think back to this comment as it is so on point and real.  The connections I have made and the learning that has saturated my daily life is invaluable to my craft.  In fact, the time I spend learning heightens my enthusiasm for educational and instructional leadership.  I let my excitement drive my decision making.  But…

I woke up this morning and immediately grabbed my phone as I do every Tuesday morning.  Like a kid rushing out of bed to find where the elf has been strategically placed by his/her parents (we go crazy to inspire compliance), I look forward to seeing if my fantasy football team has won.  I didn’t catch the end of Monday night’s game and I wound up losing.  I shouldn’t have started Wentz.  That is another story. Back to the blog. So, I grabbed the phone and opened the Twitter app instead of CBS Sports.  I guess I do this unconsciously now.  I see a tweet from Don Gately as part of last night’s #nyedchat and it opened my eyes!  Don tweeted, “I have to be careful–my enthusiasm can drown out dissent/other voices that need to be heard.”  WOW!  This comment is the mark of an amazing leader.  I agree with Don.  We have to be cognizant of allowing all voices to be heard so our leadership matches our audience’s needs.  I couldn’t stop thinking about my last post on evaluation.  Do I allow others to freely comment and speak their minds?  Do I provide a safe space so dissent can have power?  At my last meeting with my librarians, I used Andy Greene’s commandment, “No parking lot conversations.”  Are my enthusiasm, passion, and learning providing a spark for these parking lot conversations that have no power and no true impact? Am I allowing the supposed Debbie Downers, Negative Nellies, and Raincloud Johnnies to speak?  How many times do I hear, “I hate to play Devil’s Advocate, but….”  Why should an apology preface an opinion or perspective?

I have been asked the following question on ninety percent of all interviews for various jobs for which I applied: “What is your biggest weakness?”  When I ask this question of potential candidates, I always get the planned answers.  The answers that weaken a candidate’s position.  How many of you have heard one of the following–I am a perfectionist, or I work too many hours, or some similarly contrived response?  My answer is going to be that I sometimes swallow too much water.  Of course, I will explain it.  But, maybe I do.  Am I so saturated with networked enthusiasm that I am drowning out the voices that need to be heard?  Is that even a bad thing? The firehose that fuels my learning is growing…each minute.

I kept this post short to hopefully get honest reactions.  Gulp.

Flipping the EVALUATION Cycle

“Many conversations that I hear from administrators focus on

how to deal with educators, yet often don’t focus

on reflecting what they can do different.”

-George Couros

Three years ago, I sat and listened to Glen Eschbach, Superintendent of Schools in North Babylon, at the Literacy Leaders Forum speak about the power of reflection, evaluation, and self-assessment in leadership.  Sharing a document that would assist the audience in evaluating whether or not they are true lead learners, Glen discussed how our own reflection can inform future practice.  I left that conference energized and inspired to allow the teachers who I supervise use this rubric to assess my leadership.  I was interested to see if my own evaluation matched their perspectives.  In fact, as George Couros noted in his description of the power of Hacking Leadership by Tony Sinanis and Joe Sanfelippo, I wanted to know what I could “do different” to serve their needs and essentially, the needs of our students.  This practice prompted my analysis of the following aspects of leadership:

  • Is it possible for effective leadership to take place if a solid relationship is not in place?  What if the leader believes a solid relationship is in place but the others do not?  It was Rita Pierson in her TED Talk who shared James Comer’s statement, “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.”  She goes on to talk about how kids do not learn from teachers who they do not like.  Does the same go for leadership?  I pay close attention to developing relationships with the educators with whom I work.  I agree with Tony Sinanis that relationships are the absolute key to developing strong culture and morale.  Yet, what if some perceive your relationships with others to be richer than the one you have with them? I never thought of this as part of my work until the Eschbach evaluation (if I can coin it that).  Yet, they were right.  I had to adapt and be conscious of my connections.
  • Do we ever check in with others when it appears they are sad or simply not themselves?  In trying to find a quote for this blog from ratemyteachers.com (see bullet five), I just came across something written this past July from someone who went to school in West Islip in 2008.  He/she wrote, “[He] cared about well being and grades of course. I went through a lot my senior year and he pulled me out of class to see if I was okay and ask me how he could help.”  Wow. In reading this comment, a smile immediately found its way to my face.  Did this leak its way into my leadership? Developing this personal connection is the foundation for any positive professional relationship.
  • If a leader expects something new from those who he/she leads, does it matter if some do not agree with the change?  As the new leader of two middle school departments when I shared the aforementioned evaluation tool, I expected that my comments and suggestions on digital lessons plans would not get positive reviews. It was a far different practice than what they were used to under previous leadership. Yet, I was shocked. Those who commented on the practice loved getting the feedback.  My comments and suggestions provided guidance for some and inspiration for others.  These educators were passionate about their craft and they respected my time and effort in assisting with the teaching and learning in their classrooms. What if teachers didn’t agree with the practice?  What if it didn’t even develop their work? Should it continue?
  • Do leaders thank those around them to show their appreciation? Glen Eschbach shared a story with us to highlight the importance of praise in leadership.  I needed to hear from my teachers that I did this enough.  In this era of education, this level of recognition is necessary in building culture.  Through the evaluation, I learned that I often thanked those for their hard work.  But, maybe I thanked others more often.  See bullet number one.
  • Are we unwavering in our decisions to support our students first? Are we sometimes too strong in our convictions?  Can that be a bad attribute?  As a former English teacher, I remember a student writing on the ratemyteachers.com site, “Great teacher, gives many extra opportunities, very opinionated though, and defends his opinions with his life even though most of them are far fetch’d.”  I remember the day he walked into my classroom and said, “Mr. K., I put a comment about you on ratemyteachers.com.  Just to clarify, I think your idea that we should all be feminists is crazy.”  What about leadership?  Are we sometimes blind in our opinions? But, what if our convictions are warranted?

There are hundreds of questions that we can reflect on as leaders.  Yet, there is so much power in flipping the normal evaluation cycle.  Start with a few prompts to amplify your teachers’ voices.  The responses I received were powerful in my growth as a leader.  The fact that teachers trust you to share their honest perspectives is the first sign that you are doing something right.  I think.

reflecting and DOCUMENTING

It always seems that a free Saturday in October motivates my wife to grab her camera, put our young children in adorable outfits, and demand that I drive to a perfect setting to take pictures.  Well, not really demand but strongly request.  I guess you can never pass up an opportunity to capture that ultimate moment for the Christmas card that will hopefully gain an audience when it is posted in the main office.  Let’s face it–the holiday card display in schools in December takes over the conversation. Well, last Saturday we were successful.  Successful in getting my kids to simultaneously smile with a glimpse of the water backdrop in the San Remo section of Kings Park and successful in finding the inspiration for my blog on the letter D–DOCUMENTING.

While making funny faces behind my wife to get Olivia to smile and admiring this serene setting that overlooks boats, calm north shore water, and pure zen, I witnessed documented love.  On a wood bench, two lovers (or just one lover who assumed the carving role) carved their initials in a prominent heart, G + B.  Cute.  I think I was actually jealous because I can’t remember the last time that I could have just sat on a bench with my wife and potentially carved, E + L.  Next to the deeply dug G + B, two other couples marked their love, J + K (which probably stood for just kidding) and Joe + Syd.  I started to analyze these engravings.  Oh, I was still jumping, clapping, laughing, screaming, making bird noises to get a smile. But, I began to make judgments on these three couples.  G + B were either really in love to dig so deep into this bench or were just fifteen and thought their love would last forever.  Ha!  Regardless, they wanted this moment to last forever.  Well, at least the engraving did.  What about J +K or Joe + Syd?  They barely got into the wood.  In fact, it almost looked like they just used a pen to write on the bench it was so faint.  Their love would certainly be washed away by the salt from the water, the constant use of this bench, or through the analysis from other bloggers (well…).  Do they care though?  Does it matter to them?  Who knows!  Yet, I do know that this bench is symbolic of the power of documenting the reflection of one’s craft.  It is those who go the step further to dig deep in documenting their thoughts who reflect and learn the best.

Even further, joining this blogging challenge with Audra Beberman, Danielle Gately, Danielle Mammolito, Dennis Schug, Don Gately, Hillary Bromberg, Scott Garofola, and Tania Willman (others will join this list once their blogs are shared) has been transformational for me as a leader.  I was already extremely reflective of everything that I do.  I really work hard at it.  I think about how every decision that I make can build relationships, culture, and morale. Or, potentially tear them apart.  But thinking about it is simply not enough.  It is the J + K and Joe + Syd.  Eventually, the thinking will be washed away and the reflection will be gone.  Blogging has heightened my level of reflection and has documented my thoughts so I can truly assess my ability to lead.  Using Voxer, our group has discussed the process of blogging at length.  Similar to teaching and learning, the process is by far more important than the product.

If you are wondering, we will most likely be taking pictures again.  Hey, maybe I can analyze others’ intent to document their love in another setting.  Or, as I look at my two awesome children, savor the moment and find inspiration for my next blog post on E.

 

Carrier: My Father and Me

Haitian author, Edwidge Danticat, captured the importance of tradition and the beauty of assimilating into the path of your mother (father) in Krik Krak.  I must have read Danticat a hundred times since she is without a doubt my favorite author.  Yet, in thinking about this blog post, her writing never spoke to me like it does now.  She wrote, “You remember thinking while braiding your hair that you look a lot like your mother. Your mother, who looked like your grandmother and her grandmother before her. Your mother, she introduced you to the first echoes of the tongue that you now speak.”

My father, rest in peace, began his career in the United States Postal Service as a mail carrier.  A job that his father held in the same post office that would become my father’s second home.  When people think of the West Hempstead Post Office, many would immediately think of Ed Kemnitzer, a man who wore the USPS brand every day.  In fact, he brought that strong brand of work ethic and passion home which seeped its way into our “daily soup” as Danticat would claim.  I remember my mother wearing a t-shirt that stated, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”  I laugh because the t-shirt had holes and bleach stains.  We all became carriers of that message.  Despite the many promotions, my father always shared that his favorite job was the one of the mail carrier.  He adored the value of delivering goods and the conversation that took place with every member of each house.  As a supreme extrovert and master at building relationships, he needed these connections.  I now look back on his life and wonder if Danticat is right.  Do I follow in his footsteps?  Do I “look a lot like my [father]?”

When you search for a definition of the word carrier, you find the following:

  • A person or company that undertakes the professional conveyance of goods or people.
  • A person that transmits a disease.
  • A substance used to support or convey another substance such as a catalyst.

I look at those definitions, and like my father, I have become a carrier.  With EdCamp Long Island five days away, with over seven hundred educators already signed up, I think about my role in carrying a passion for learning.  My role in co-planning an event that will certainly deliver messages that will be the catalyst for change.  Messages that will help brand education so our students would be champions of this age of innovation.  Perhaps carrying this wonderful disease of a love of learning pays tribute to my father’s life.  The commitment and work ethic that exists in helping others along a network of learning is the “first echo of the tongue” that I speak.  Like my father when he was a mail carrier, I have a thirst for conversation.  I love building relationships that serve as the foundation for my work.

Even further, Danticat closed her chapter in Krik Krak with “And this was your testament to the way that these women lived and died and lived again.” This Saturday, I will celebrate being a carrier.  When I read Krik Krak again and again, I replace the word women with men and I swiftly become her intended audience.  This Saturday, I look forward to spreading our powerful brand so our disease becomes viral.

The Power of a Student’s BRAND

I sat today as an audience member of Massapequa High School’s 10th grade assembly led by its principal, Mr. Pat DiClemente, @PatDiClemente.  With my recent middle school leadership position following years at the high school level, I was excited to once again be present in a high school student assembly.  In his first address as the school’s new principal, Pat first invited a student to lead the group in a collective clap.  Pat engaged the students, “I want to hear ten claps.  Not one more and not one less.  Ten.”  With the student’s lead, the group of five hundred or so students provided a thunderous succession of fourteen claps.  Pause.  In fact, there may have been sixteen.  Pat revised the goal.  “Okay, okay, let’s hear five claps.”  Following the lead of the one student, we heard anywhere between six and ten claps. Pause.  Pat then did the unthinkable with a clap: “Okay, okay, let’s get three and half claps.”  A half clap?  What is a half clap?  I witnessed the students’ faces ask the same question.  This round of claps was far off as some kids slowed down their hands to get what they thought was a half clap, others clapped harder on the third clap to maybe get a longer sound to make up the half, and others didn’t clap at all because a half clap didn’t make sense to them.  Loved this approach.  A great start to establishing the brand at Massapequa High School.  This school is about the students.  In his first assembly, Pat put the reins in the hands of a student leader.  The students were able to  speak first.  Not the principal.  Not the assistant principals.  Not the Deans.  The students.  We all know the claps meant nothing.  However, the message was clear: Students at Massapequa High School would lead the noise that comes from this building.

Following this opening activity, Pat shared the following quote from The Other Wes Moore: “When it is time for you to leave this school…you make sure you have worked hard to make sure it mattered you were even here.”  Wow.  Students were silent after this quote was shared.  While students were internalizing this message, Pat reminded students that each student in the auditorium had the potential to leave a mark on Massapequa High School.  “Make it matter that you were even here.”  Powerful.  Similarly, the school’s Dean of Students, Ken Wing, invited the students to make a commitment to make this year the best year for them academically and personally.  He asked, “Can you commit to making this year the best year of your life?”  What if they do?  What if each student works hard to make this the best year of his/her life?  How would that show up and transfer to the Massapequa brand?  Interesting concept that had me thinking about students driving the foundation of our brand.

I left today’s assembly totally inspired and interested to elevate my passion for school branding.  We speak often about telling our students’ stories through digital tools such as Twitter.  We ask teachers to brand their instruction.  We share our success with our communities and professional learning networks.  But, the most important brand is the one that students create for themselves.  This brand tells our real story.  Today was moving.  I know the students felt empowered, engaged, and motivated to achieve their personal best.  If we (they) can do that right, our brand will be the most powerful and secure yet.  Pat knew over 500 students wouldn’t be able to clap in unison.  It would be nearly impossible.  But the message was anything but impossible to comprehend.  Schools are about the kids.  They have to be.  And when they are, students are motivated to brand themselves.  In that process, our collective brand is built.
One clap.