Healthy Relations Create Equity

By Jamon H. Flowers, M.Ed., SURN

equity
As a principal, highlights in my day were visiting classrooms, interacting with students, and witnessing learning and teaching. By far, my students across grade levels were fortunate to have some great teachers and if I ever had to select the most effective teacher I worked with, indisputably, I could not. Although different in their approach, but sharing the same beliefs about students, these teachers did whatever it took to ensure students received a quality education. They made sure that students were present and engaged. They never allowed their students to fail; this task was easier said than done.  Like most teachers, it was not unusual to find these teachers staying after school to provide extra help, spending their Saturday mornings conducting tutorials in the local library, and communicating with parents on a regular basis. In my previous school, these behaviors were demonstrated by a majority of teachers, at different degrees respectably. However, there were several teachers in particular that received the most accolades from students, parents, and community members. What made these specific teachers so effective and highly requested among students and parents? In my quest to supporting my hypothesis, I visited a kindergarten classroom taught by Mrs. Kaufman, perhaps one of my favorite kindergarten teachers.

Daily, she worked hard to ensure that her students received the best education. This dedication meant never giving up on her students or parents. Throughout the school year, she remained sincere in her teaching style, yet brutally honest in her academic diagnoses, but she would always end those conversations with “we will get them there.” Her classroom was full of energy and love, yet there was a noticeable distinction. Easily to discern to a naïve individual would be race; Mrs. Kaufman was White and her students were Black. While accurate and an essential factor in the equation, race was not the most notable distinction. It was the healthy relationships she had with the students.

The much-needed campaign to recruit teachers of color is germane to the advancement of all students, and vital to building a better narrative for students in education. Some research suggests that teachers of color are likely to be more effective in producing positive academic and behavioral outcomes for same-race students. However, it is not a requirement to have a shared race, background, or experience in order to connect. Mrs. Kaufman’s success illustrates how building a relationship, setting expectations, and working to keep your students engaged are key to creating a conducive learning environment.

While there’s been an increase in the racial diversity in the public school teacher workforce, it is still dominated by white (82 percent), female teachers (76 percent). Local and state agencies struggle with recruiting and retaining teachers, especially teachers of color, for many reasons, and this problem will not be solved quickly. Yet, we are making great strides as programs, such as Call Me MISTER, work tirelessly to help increase the 2 percent of Black males teachers in American schools. More urgently, school districts should focus their efforts on trying to improve the quality of instruction for students of color now.

One necessary part of that work: schools must examine and reform their disciplinary policies and practices. Black students, boys especially, continue to be referred for discipline or suspended from school at alarmingly disproportionate rates. This means that these students become less engaged in their coursework or school as a whole. The instructional time they lose affects their academic progress. State and local educational agencies must work to reduce these referral disparities — and classroom teachers and school building administrators must be at the forefront of this work, increasing their efforts to build healthier relationships with students.

Although administrators are vital key players, teachers play the most critical role in engaging students in learning. Joint efforts among principals, teachers, and students can collaboratively develop effective interventions targeted on improving teachers and schools’ discipline practices — exploring their beliefs and raising expectations for students of color. A clear focus on building relationships with students — much like Mrs. Kaufman did — is likely to reduce biases teachers might hold and increase student engagement in the classroom and the learning process.

Being culturally responsive and sensitive are critical to these efforts, regardless of the race of the teacher or the student. Do not misinterpret me; a teacher’s race matters when teaching students of color, and so does a teacher’s ability to build relationships.

 

Focusing on Classroom Assessment

By Sarah P. Hylton, M. Ed., SURN

We spend a lot of time talking about assessment. Often this conversation is focused on year-end SOL tests, and to be sure, this conversation is warranted. After all, these tests can have significant impacts on our students, our teachers, and ourselves, our schools, and our communities. But these yearly summative evaluations are not the whole assessment picture. Every day, teachers engage in classroom assessment, which Stiggins and Duke (2008) assert is the foundation on which effective systems are built. However, conversations about how best to support its design, implementation, and use have been virtually overlooked.

focusing_assessment

Classroom assessment is fundamentally a teaching tool, intended to provide information about the nature and degree of student learning so that teachers can make sound instructional decisions. The goal of all classroom assessment is to improve student learning. Research has consistently demonstrated the positive impact of effectively designed and implemented classroom assessment on student learning and achievement, yet many teachers report struggling to understand and apply general tenets of assessment in their classrooms. All assessment has intended and unintended consequences, and when classroom assessment is not done well, students suffer. It is imperative, therefore, for all teachers to be assessment literate. They need to know general principles of assessment and be able to apply them in order to design high quality assessments and to use them effectively.

What do teachers need to consider to increase their classroom assessment literacy? To plan and enact effective classroom assessment, teachers should consider the following:

  • the accuracy of the assessment – Does it actually measure what it’s intended to measure? Is it aligned with the content and cognitive rigor of the intended learning outcomes? Are we able to make appropriate inferences about student learning based on this assessment?
  • the quality of the feedback – Is feedback provided regularly and in a timely manner? Are comments to students constructive and specific rather than evaluative? Do they provide information that will help students know how to improve?
  • the involvement of students in the process – Do students know where they currently are? Do they have a sense of what they are supposed to learn? Are they aware of success criteria? Are they being given opportunities to learn how to effectively assess their own efforts?

Teachers need to be championed as they work to enhance their assessment literacy, and principals as instructional leaders, can support their teachers in a number of ways:

  • by creating a culture that values a balanced system of assessment in which assessment is understood as much more than the summative evaluation at the end of the year,
  • by providing space and time for teachers to create assessments together as they plan,
  • by conducting classroom observations with an eye to assessment (yes, principles can observe on a day when a teacher is giving a test!) and engaging in follow-up conversations,
  • by inviting teachers to reflect on objective data about their current practices,
  • by securing training for teachers in all forms of assessment, and
  • by ensuring their own assessment literacy as instructional leaders.

As the second semester begins and attention often turns in earnest to the SOL tests, make room for conversations about classroom assessment. As Stiggins and Duke (2008) contend, “if classroom assessments aren’t working effectively day to day in the classroom, then accountability tests and benchmark assessments cannot pick up the slack…” (p. 286).

 

What’s the Good Word?

By Amy C. Colley, Ed.D.
Executive Director, SURN

Happy New Year, SURN friends and supporters! As we move toward the end of the semester, many of you are collecting data, taking stock, and planning ahead. Me too!

As leaders it’s easy to get bogged down and feel fragmented mid-school year. Thankfully, the calendar year changes too, and we are reminded of the opportunity to re-set and focus our intentions on our aspirations, creating for ourselves some accountability measures and asking others to join us as we move forward. For the past several years, I’ve chosen a word of the year, prompted by Lisa Nelson’s blog at See In Colors. Her template allows me to print, draw and post my word of the year.

This year’s word is PERSIST.

Persist

Implicit in the very definition is the need to carry on, to see something through, despite obstacles, failures, and difficulty. Our work as education leaders during times of accelerated change is challenging, and yet we know we must keep moving forward for our students and the future of learning. I will persist.

What’s your word for the year? What will move you forward with purpose? Think about it and if you choose a word, share it with us!

Leaning into Crisis as an Administrator

Guest post by Jane Core Yatzek

As I write this post many schools are still welcoming students for the first nine weeks of school and establishing routines and procedures.  Children are still learning classmates’ names and nuances, the new bus stop routes, and may even still have a few unsharpened pencils in their school supplies.  Everyone is enjoying the newness and hope that infuses the beginning of the school year.  This is a beautiful time in each school year; until abruptly, one day it is not.

Inevitably someone in your classes, on your staff, or in your school community will experience a crisis this year.  It will cause ripples across your school much like a stone thrown into a calm pool.  Crisis takes an infinite number of forms; it is the death of a parent, the house fire that displaces a family, the tragic accident that injures students in your community or on a national stage, or a staff member diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.  The crises may have different causes and names but they bring out the same fear, hurt, and vulnerability in our school families.  There will be similar symptoms too – tears, withdrawal, anger, acting out, and confusion.

crisis

Our response is what can be unique.  What if instead of just tissues, time, and “soldiering on” we encouraged our students, staff members, and school communities to share our raw feelings and lean into the crisis?  What if we talked openly about the fears and hurt, aware and kind to our own vulnerability and that of others?  What if we acknowledged our self-perceived weaknesses and defined the questions we have as we try to figure out if and how we move forward?  Could we model for our students how to not be paralyzed by our worry?  Would we find that we are almost always more supported than we ever thought possible just by sharing our crises with our trusted school friends, colleagues, and community?

There are many resources for administrators wanting to create a culture of trust for their staff and for helping teachers create a culture of trust in their classrooms.  One idea is to utilize the structures we use for inquiry to support our questions that arise in times of tragedy (Daniels, 2016).  Another idea is to work on building safe spaces to be open to our fearful or anxiety-ridden experiences (Brown, 2016).  Still another idea is to build upon our natural compassion for those feeling distress and reach out to folks within and beyond our circle when they express their uncertainty or discomfort, building a deeper and wider net of compassion and active listening. Finally, offering debriefing time and professional support for all school community members impacted initially or peripherally by crisis is important for physical and mental well-being (UCLA-SMHP, 2016).

Whatever the method, it is universally reassuring to know we are not alone when facing the situations that leave us struggling with hard emotions or feeling exposed.  It helps people to know that others care for them even when their emotions make them feel that they are unlovable. Crisis will happen this year, and when it does, let’s take time discover the growth that can occur in us as individuals and within our school communities when we grapple with the reality that our collective power may reside in our shared weaknesses.

Jane Core Yatzeck is a doctoral student in Curriculum Leadership at William & Mary School of Education.  She has 20 years of experience in education; first as a special education and general education elementary school teacher, and then as a school administrator at the middle and elementary levels.  She can be reached at jacor2@email.wm.edu or on Twitter @jcoreyatzeck.

Resources:

Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead.  Gotham Books:  New York, New York.

Daniels, H. (2017) The curious classroom. Heinemann: Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Lichstein, R., Schonfield, D.J. & Kilne, M. (1994). School crisis response: Expecting the  unexpected.  Educational Leadership 52, 3, p. 79-83 Retrieved from:  http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov94/vol52/num03/School-Crisis-Response@-Expecting-the-Unexpected.aspx

University of California Los Angeles Mental Health in Schools Project (2016).  Responding to a crisis at school: A resource aid.  Retrieved from: http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/pdfdocs/crisis/crisis.pdf

Nurturing Curiosity in Our Students and Our Teachers

By Sarah P. Hylton, M.Ed., SURN

We all want students who are inquisitive and engaged, and the 6th annual Joy of Children’s Literacy & Literature Conference on October 5 provided a multitude of ideas and strategies for creating classrooms that capitalize on students’ natural wonder, passion, and curiosity. Breakout sessions on using inquiry learning, teaching with images and dialectical journals, creating games and text sets, and engaging with poetry every day were bookended by keynote speakers Harvey “Smokey” Daniels and Georgia Heard.

Pictured left to right: Associate Dean of Teacher Education and Community Engagement, Dr. Denise Johnson; SURN Director, Dr. Amy Colley; and Keynote Speakers Georgia Heard and Harvey “Smokey” Daniels.

Pictured left to right: Associate Dean of Teacher Education and Community Engagement, Dr. Denise Johnson; SURN Director, Dr. Amy Colley; and Keynote Speakers Georgia Heard and Harvey “Smokey” Daniels.

Smokey Daniels, author of The Curious Classroom, contends that our students are already curious; in fact, they come to us that way. Our task is to tap the power of their amazing and interesting questions by creating classrooms that honor this curiosity. Citing the research on curiosity, creativity, project-based learning, persistence, and genius hour, Daniels offers a “ladder” of ten key strategies for creating a culture of student-directed inquiry:

  1. Demonstrate your own curiosity
  2. Investigate ourselves and our classmates
  3. Capture and honor kids’ questions
  4. Begin the day with soft starts
  5. Check your news feed
  6. Hang out with an expert
  7. Pursue kids’ own questions with mini-inquiries
  8. Address curricular units with mini-inquiries
  9. Lean into a crisis
  10. Learn with partners and pioneers

Although Daniels’s ideas can certainly foster classrooms that engage primarily in inquiry learning, he encourages teachers to start with small commitments of time. Many of his ideas take fewer than fifteen minutes to implement, allowing teachers to start small and to continue as they see the positive results of engaging students in seeking answers to their own (and each other’s) questions.

Daniels also focuses on using images to spark student inquiry, reminding us that “text” can be interpreted broadly. He invites us to move beyond the narrow definition of text as printed words on a page and to understand that in addition to the written word, student wonder can be also be engaged by working with photographs, artwork, cartoons, diagrams, charts, and music.

If Daniels invites students to explore their curiosity by opening their minds, Georgia Heard invites them to do so by opening their hearts. Heard, author of Writing Toward Home, Awakening the Heart, Heart Maps and others, relayed her passion for helping students explore their innate sense of wonder through writing. Working from a simple heart drawn on the page, Heard urges students to explore those people, memories, places, and ideas about which they feel passionate by drawing and doodling images, supplemented by words and phrases for clarification or expansion, that resonate with them. The opportunity to slow down, to ponder their beliefs and ideas, and to commit them to paper creates the foundation upon which students build pieces of writing based on their own natural sense of wonder.

Although Daniels and Heard’s ideas center primarily on creating deeper student learning and engagement, savvy instructional leaders may well consider how to adapt Daniels and Heard’s ideas to promote a learning culture among their faculty.  Given that “today’s students urgently need to see as many thoughtful, curious, resourceful, and critical adults as they can” (Daniels, 2018, p. iii), it is incumbent upon school leaders to promote a school culture where faculty can develop their own curiosity and use it for school improvement. Design Thinking for School Leaders by Gallagher and Thordarson (2018) urges leaders to cultivate wonder intentionally by building empathy through curiosity, by routinely posing questions to all stakeholders, by honoring their creative ideas, and by designing opportunities to challenge the status quo.

Many of Daniels’s suggestions for how to honor and pursue students’ questions can easily be adapted to foster adult learning among faculty. Modeling curiosity, building relationships, honoring everyone’s ideas and questions, providing outside expertise, and engaging in research to satisfy our curiosity all promote a learning culture within our schools. Heard’s ideas, too, find a place in such leadership by inviting faculty to explore what they feel passionate about when it comes to students and teaching and learning.

SURN Principal Academy Delivers Powerful Messages: Communicate, Value Relationships, and Create Your Tribe

By Jamon H. Flowers, M.Ed., SURN

By now the wave of school openings has ended and the school year is well underway. The challenges that accompany the start of the new year are now giving way to the day-to-day work of meeting the high standards we have set for ourselves, our faculties, and our students. Meeting deadlines, managing conflicting obligations, providing direction for teachers, and supporting students can be overwhelming and make it easy to lose sight of our optimism. To help mitigate this, I’d like to remind you of some things you already know but may forget in the daily shuffle.

School leaders model and discuss the importance of communicating SURN Principal Academy expectations to their teachers at the September workshop.

School leaders model and discuss the importance of communicating SURN Principal Academy expectations to their teachers at the September workshop.

Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate! 

Remember to communicate! Effective communication leads to an effective organization. Communication with all stakeholders is a crucial ingredient in the recipe for a productive school year. As a principal, I tried to balance written communication with the powerful communication of my presence. It is no longer enough to just mail documents home. We must also embrace systems such as ConnectEd and School Messenger to stay connected with all members of our community. We also need to remember to post information and publicize school events and accomplishments on the school website and on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Technology has increased the number of outlets for us to communicate and has made information more accessible to our stakeholders. As a result, we may sometimes worry that we run the risk of over communicating, but this is a preferable position to be in than not having communicated enough. Remember, effective communication builds trust. It puts people at ease (especially newcomers!) and keeps people from having to guess about our expectations.

Being present is a powerful form of communication and a characteristic of effective leadership. It is easy to get trapped in your office, but it’s essential to satisfy the high demand for your presence from both internal and external stakeholders. First and foremost we communicate the value of education by being present for our students. This includes being in the hallways, cafeteria, and extra-curricular activities. Every organization, department, grade level, central office person, and family that is associated with your school wants a piece of your time, and it is important to provide each of them with an opportunity for a face to face meeting. Try to schedule these meetings during your least busy time.

Familiar faces in new places as SURN leaders connect, re-connect, and discover the value of relationships at the SURN Principal Academy.

Familiar faces in new places as SURN leaders connect, re-connect, and discover the value of relationships at the SURN Principal Academy.

Relationship over Achievement

 Student achievement is a source of strength, both for the division and the individual schools. Achievement creates energy which, in turn, fuels further improvement, but too much focus on achievement can actually damage student performance.  For example, as the principal of an unaccredited school, I relentlessly focused on tasks and goals. In the beginning, I commanded and coerced, and as a result, my faculty became more concerned with meeting my expectations than with meeting the needs of students. I should have heeded the caution of Spreier, Fontaine, and Malloy (2018): “Too intense a focus on achievement can demolish trust and undermine morale, measurably reducing workplace productivity” (p. 45). In other words, I should have remembered to coach and collaborate, to take time to learn my faculty, staff, and students. Relationships take time and are made one open-house, one faculty meeting, one classroom visit, and one hello at a time. With relationships and trust fully established, we can get down to the business of improving student learning for every child in our building.

Mentor leaders encourage collaboration, pride, and networking as they develop their tribe.

Creating your TRIBE!

The principalship is a high-demanding, complex, and lonely job. Therefore, experiencing a supportive community of fellow principals is necessary. Principals rarely have opportunities to collaborate with their peers to share ideas, reflect on leading and learning, and discover how to improve their performances. At the beginning of my administrative career, I worked in isolation, but I quickly learned the power of having a community of leaders as a muse. In my latter years of being administrator, I was introduced to SURN. Being new to VA, the network in the Principal Academy helped develop my VA educational leader profile. To this day, I remain in contact with members of my cohort as well as my mentor. I encourage each of you to take advantage of your cohort members and our time together during the Principal Academy. By surrounding yourself with positive people who are in the similar roles, they are going to push you towards greatness.

Our Voice Matters

By: Jamon H. Flowers, M.Ed., SURN

child-care-advocacy

We are in a day and time where public education is under constant scrutiny which makes advocating for schools, teachers and students a top priority for administrators. As a principal, I never imagined constant communication with local, state and federal representatives would be a priority to ensure a high-quality education for all students. However, sharing their stories with those individuals became a norm. Their stories mattered and it was my responsibility to be sure they were told.

So, what can you do as a principal or assistant principal to ensure politicians understand the impact their decisions will have on your students and school?  Below are lessons I have learned as a principal and by participating in the Holmes Scholars program.

Although you may feel uneasy with becoming politically active, I was, at a minimum you should get to know your school board members, city council members and state representatives. This knowledge extends beyond their names. During my own journey of advocacy, I put myself in spaces that provided opportunities for encounters with those individuals. For example, I became active in local and state professional organizations, such as Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals (VAESP). You will be exposed to and become familiar with the latest matters that may affect your community. Within organizations there will be individuals that are familiar with advocacy work and will be happy to guide you in the journey. Trust me, I know this to be a fact!  Additionally, city council members and state representatives sometimes attend functions sponsored by those organizations. More importantly, I invited them (elected officials) to attend and participate in school events, such as Real Men/Women Read and honor roll ceremonies, which provided first-hand opportunities to witness the “stories.”

Benefits of establishing healthy relationships with elected officials include having the space to have open and honest conversations when issues arise. Emails, office visits, telephone calls, and social media, used appropriately and professionally, to make your position known are excellent avenues for advocacy. While completing an Ed. Policy course and participating in events on Capitol Hill, I was reminded that the more a concern is brought to the attention of elected officials, the more likely it will become a priority. We can agree that elected officials do not know what they do not know, and if administrators are not telling the stories then someone else is. We must control the narratives. Sharing stories is critical in getting your message across.

Recently, I attended the American Association for Colleges Teacher Education (AACTE) Washington Week. Colleges and students from across the nation gathered to focus on educational policy and advocacy. “Washington Week showcases many of AACTE’s partnerships and highlights the importance of coalition and coloration, particularly among education organizations here in Washington, to advocate for educator preparation at the federal and state levels,” said Dr. Lynn M. Gangone, president and CEO of AACTE. During this uplifting conference, we were reminded of the importance of our voices being heard. The American Dream of high-quality education for all students is in danger, and we must hold elected officials accountable. If we keep silent the livelihood of education as we know it will continue to be attacked and altered at the expense of students. We cannot afford to forfeit our place “at the table.” Dr. Jane West, Vice President of Government Relations & Advocacy for AACTE, stated “if we are not at the table, then we are on the menu.”

For many of us that are advocating for our students and schools, we must not be discouraged if it seems that your efforts are not being noticed. We must be persistent and keep our message alive.

Advocating for your students can lead to unexpected territories. Through involvement in professional organizations, relationship building with an array of individuals, and being in the right place at the right time your voice can be heard by those responsible for policies. For example, while completing a fellowship at the U.S. Department of Education, I had the honor and privilege to speak on a panel at the Black Congressional Caucus convention. During this time, I had the opportunity to meet elected officials to discuss current issues in education and discuss matters such as diversifying the teacher workforce. Who would have thought an individual from a small rural town in North Carolina would have the honor of representing educators across the nation? It was through my passion for educating all students that my advocacy unfolded.

It is true that every school has a story. These stories are powerful when it comes to advocacy. It is imperative that we, as administrators, are aware of the political dilemmas facing schools and what can be done to ensure all students have a shot at the American Dream despite their demographics. Opportunity gaps will continue to widen if we do not remain a constant member at the table.

Below are links to information concerning advocacy:

NAESP (National Association of Elementary School Principals):

https://www.naesp.org/advocacy

NASSP (National Association of Secondary School Principals):

https://www.nassp.org/policy-advocacy-center/

AACTE (American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education):

https://aacte.org/policy-and-advocacy/advocacy-center

 

Learning Leaders: Find Your Joy in Leisure Reading

By Jamon H. Flowers, M.Ed., SURN

The famous Charles Dickens quote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” refers to both the French Revolution and my first year as a Ph.D. student at William and Mary. This year provided me with meaningful personal and professional growth that I never anticipated.  The first anxiety-filled day of each class was saturated with requirements, explanations of assignments, and seemingly impossible reading lists. I felt like I had been thrown into an extremely difficult culture that provided no time to become acclimated. Despite the initial impossibility of each class assignment list, each semester becomes easier to manage. In a word, Ph.D. means “sacrifice.” It demands late nights and less and less time with friends and family to survive. My initial frustration and self-doubt morphed into self-growth, and all the sacrifice was worth it at the end.

Summer is finally here, and I am no longer committed to a schedule that consumes my time with academia. What will I do with my free time? I will read; I will read for pleasure. This epiphany came to me when I realized I had read the entire May 2018 edition of Educational Leadership in one sitting. I was not compelled by guidelines of an assignment, therefore, I lost track of time while reading each article. Sure, I annotated sections that were thought-provoking, but it was what I chose to do. I became reacquainted with a familiar stranger. For the past nine months, required reading coupled with completing written and oral-speaking assignments temporarily halted my reading for pleasure. Now, I have the opportunity to resume this passion, and I am excited.

leisure

As administrators pleasure reading is often not a routine. We become bombarded with pouring ourselves into our students, staff, and community, and we tend to neglect feeding our appetite for personal and professional growth. Our blazing fire of motivation extinguishes as the school year progresses. However, a great way to rekindle our drive is to read. Reading helps to replenish and to stimulate, setting the stage for novelty and ingenuity. For example, as I read the latest edition of Educational Leadership titled, Bolstering the Teacher Pipeline, Herrmann’s article, Rethinking Teacher Recruitment, triggered in me a “wonder,” a “want,” and a “will.”

  • I wondered how might innovative practices, such as “schools offering internships through which younger college students could shadow teachers, work closely with K-12 students, and support enrichment activities” (p. 21), be implemented in more school divisions, with the hopes of attracting a wider range of candidates.
  • I wanted to learn more about hiring and retaining millennial teachers. Abrams’ article, What Matters to Millennial Teachers: A guide to inspiring, supporting, and retaining the newest generation of educators, provided 6 principles that all administrators would find helpful as they enter the recruiting season.
  • I will share the article, To Diversify the Teacher Workforce, Start Early, with peers in human resources and high school principals. This piece presented by Goings, Brandehoff, and Bianco discusses the power in grow-your-own model and 6 guiding principles to recruiting underrepresented community members into education.

Needless to say, reading something I chose to read for less than an hour resulted in an abundance of learning and pragmatic approaches to improvement. (By the way, I strongly recommend reading this month’s edition!)

The end is near for another school year. I am sure you are exhausted and in need of a well-deserved vacation. As part of self-care, I encourage you to read. Reading literature that piques your interest. If you are like me, you start books but never finish them due a long list of demands. However, this summer I have committed 30 minutes a day to reading. For some of us this time will be the only professional development we receive, so let’s do it! Practice what we encourage our students and staff to do. Reading is a magical portal.

May books always be with you.

On my shelf this summer:

  1. The Principal 50: Critical Leadership for Inspiring Schoolwide Excellence

Author: Barati Kafele

  1. Closing the Attitude Gap

Author Barati Kafele

Jennifer Abrams Helps Us Use Our Best Voice

By SURN Staff

SURN leaders often share the need to continue developing human resources skills and competencies as they strive to cultivate collaborative cultures. This means communicating well, crossing generational divides, and leveraging conflict. We are pleased that Jennifer Abrams, international communications and educational consultant, will join us at the 22nd annual Leadership Conference this year.

Jennifer Abrams is a communications and education consultant and author.

Jennifer Abrams is a communications and education consultant and author.

Jennifer brings a dynamic keynote based on her popular workshop, Swimming in the Deep End – What Does It Take, to open the day Tuesday, June 19. “No matter what role we play in a school or district, we all want to make a difference. However, things move fast in education these days, and often in our communications we are left confused, overwhelmed and not as successful as we could be. We need to build up a skill set of effective decision making capabilities, ‘resistance management’ communication strategies and for the sake of our health, our ‘stress tolerance (Abrams, 2018).’” Additionally, Jennifer will lead a concurrent session later that morning.

Jennifer’s books are best-sellers. In Having Hard Conversations, Jennifer leads us through replicable processes as we navigate work-related difficult situations as leaders. The sequel, Hard Conversations Unpacked: The Whos, the Whens, and the What-Ifs, takes readers on a deeper dive into the nuanced world of communication. The Multigenerational Workplace: Communicate, Collaborate, and Create Community provides readers with tools for navigating beyond their personal “generational filters” as they lead.

We hope you’ll join us as we learn from Jennifer Abrams and our other esteemed presenters at this year’s conference. You will leave with tools, resources, and experiences designed to enhance your leadership performance.

A little more about Jennifer: Jennifer considers herself a “voice coach,” helping others learn how to best use their voices – be it collaborating on a team, presenting in front of an audience, coaching a colleague, supervising an employee and in her new role as an advisor for Reach Capital, an early stage educational technology fund. Jennifer holds a Master’s degree in Education from Stanford University and a Bachelor’s degree in English from Tufts University. She lives in Palo Alto, California (www.jenniferabrams.com/about/).

 

Igniting the Joy of Leisure Reading

Guest post by Blanqui Valledor, York County School Division

In my dream classroom, my students would instantly gravitate to and acknowledge the brilliance of the piece of literature I assigned them to read. We would have in-depth discussions, and they would beg for more insightful pieces of text.  That was the dream, not the reality.

It is a struggle to get students to read and get excited over texts when we are constantly competing with short synopses of text found on the web.  “This is boring. Why are there so many words? Why do I need to read this?” became chanting mantras in my classroom.  I quickly realized that no matter how creatively or enthusiastically I explained the importance of reading and discussion, they could not empathize with the positive power I experienced whenever I read.

class_photo

Enter leisure reading.  In 2014, the International Reading Association published a study on the importance of leisure reading, also known as self-selected, independent reading. According to the 2014 study, “leisure reading enhances students’ reading comprehension, language, vocabulary development, general knowledge, and empathy for others, as well as their self-confidence as readers, motivation to read throughout their lives, and positive attitudes toward reading” (International Reading Association). Out of my need to share my love of reading, I incorporated leisure reading into my curriculum. I had nothing to lose.

At first, leisure reading was met with resistance: “What if I don’t like the book, do I have to continue reading it?” “No,” was always my answer; “I don’t finish books that I don’t like, why should I force you?” I stocked my classroom with a variety of text – young adult, non-fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and best sellers. I read while they read in class.  I shared what I was reading and questions I had, and soon after others began sharing their experiences with the books.  From their interests, we discussed topics presented in the text which evolved into creating text sets as our mode of research.  The chanting mantras I heard for years began to fade and were replaced with ‘You have to read this book!’

Incorporating leisure reading into my curriculum was the best pedagogical decision I have ever made.  By allowing my students to select their text, I have been able to understand my students better.  They have introduced me to new worlds outside the traditional literary canon, and I have reciprocated their enthusiasm by introducing them to “classics” based on their interests. By the end of the school year, the majority of my students have read anywhere from eight to ten different books – more than I could ever accomplish with them in class.

Student Testimonials: