Saturday, February 27, 2010

Forward Failure

"Failure is a detour, not a dead-end street." - Zig Ziglar

Failure is the greatest teacher that I have ever had in my life. I've learned more through my mistakes than I ever have through successes. One of the people I admire and read about often is Abraham Lincoln. Failure was a critical component to Lincoln's success. Here is a short list of the failures that helped him move forward.
  • He failed as a businessman - as a storekeeper.
  • He failed as a farmer - he despised this work.
  • He failed in his first attempt to obtain political office.
  • When elected to the legislature he failed when he sought the office of speaker.
  • He failed in his first attempt to go to Congress.
  • He failed when he sought the appointment to the United States Land Office.
  • He failed when he ran for the United States Senate.
  • He failed when friends sought for him the nomination for the vice-presidency in 1856.
Each one of these failures helped him move forward on his journey towards greatness. The most important thing I can do as a leader is to cultivate a culture of risk-taking and forward failure. This is the culture necessary to help students and teachers move outside of filling in bubbles sheets and into the world of problem solving, critical thinking, and creating new products/projects.

There are three things that we are currently doing to help cultivate a forward failing culture.
  1. Provide opportunities for teachers and students to explore outside of the curriculum to find things they are passionate about and have them tie it into essential learnings.
  2. Provide resources and support when presented with a new idea, approach, or plan to move the school forward.
  3. Show people that forward failure is okay by supporting and assisting people when a project does not go as planned. This will lead to more risk taking and eventually a superior idea/product.
Lincoln is not the only prominent failure that exists in history. The video below shows several more. Keep in mind that Edison failed thousands of times before he revolutionized the world with his invention. Our students hold the key to the next great idea. We cannot continue to try to solve today's problems with yesterday's answers. We need to set up the environment that fosters the surfacing of that idea.

How are you cultivating a culture of "Forward Failure" in your work? Please share so that we can all move forward on this journey. B

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Differentiated Leadership

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." John Quincy Adams

As a classroom teacher I believed strongly in differentiated instruction due to the fact that my 20+ kids came in at all different levels. I always felt I was doing a disservice if I gave them all the same thing, at the same time, in the same way. I've always believed in high expectations for all students. I just knew that some students needed more scaffolding, support, etc. to get to their destination. As I transitioned into administration the concept of differentiation naturally came with me.

Differentiated leadership is really my daily approach/philosophy as an elementary school principal. I have nearly 100 staff members that are all at different levels in regards to pedagogical knowledge, classroom management, technology skills, etc. My approach to each staff member is very similar to the approach I used with students in my classroom. A staff meeting, professional development, etc. for all staff, at the same time, in the same way really just doesn't make sense. This is especially true since I believe strongly in modeling best practices for staff members. That's why the philosophy of differentiated leadership has been a cornerstone for our school's success.

These are the basic components to the differentiated leadership approach that I incorporate into my daily practices.

1. All staff participate in respectful work
2. Conversations, Planning, & Professional Development serve to build a foundation from which staff members can explore and create
3. Planning, Professional Development, and Coaching are based on individual learners and team needs
4. Multiple learning strategies and approaches are used in a coaching framework
5. Assessment and dialogue (formal & informal) occur in a variety of ways throughout the year
6. Administrators and teachers form a learning partnership where strategies are shared in order to move all students forward

You'll see that you can replace the adult in each principle with a student and you have the basic principles for differentiated instruction. There are certainly other principles that you could easily add. Please feel free to comment and add your own.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hello World!

Today is the day that I begin one of my new year's resolutions (better late than never). I was reminded about this resolution when I read @bhs_principal's guest post today entitled "Every Principal Needs A Blog". I agree that the best way to transform a school/education is to model the practices that you expect from your teachers. This is one way for me to accomplish that goal. The other reason is because there are quite a few ideas, thoughts, etc. that I just can't fit into 140 Characters. This is my "Hello World" post, my making good on a resolution, and more importantly a contribution towards moving education forward. We are trying to prepare students for a century that we are already a decade into. Hopefully this blog will provide some food for thought and fuel for change. B