A Few (lame) Reasons Why I Haven’t Been Blogging

Pressured to Blog

It’s enjoyable for me to take a trip down memory lane, all the way back to November 2012. I was 2 months into my first year as an elementary principal and I decided that I wanted to continue to grow as a connected administrator. While looking at the “7 Steps to Becoming a Connected Principal” checklist, I realized I was ready to move to Step 4: Start Blogging!

Hooray! I can do that no problem. I enjoy writing and I have plenty of ideas and even more time to get those ideas into my blog. Boom! Principalreflections.wordpress.com was born. 3 posts the first month. I rule!

Flash back to reality, 3 months since then, 0 blog posts and a guilty conscience that people actually took the time to read, follow, and comment on a blog that breaks all the rules on being responsible and reader friendly. Telling people that I was a blogger was a bit like telling someone that you have a girlfriend you have never met. (Insert obligatory cultural reference joke) Looks like the training wheels came off a bit too early. Back to step 3 😦

Well, as you can see, I am back to the blog (I debated starting a completely new blog to avoid the embarrassment of my previous hiatus). I have picked myself up, dusted myself off, and am ready to recommit to producing a blog that gives me an outlet to discuss the questions, concerns, and comments I have regarding the principalship and education in general.

But before I could fully recommit, I had to reflect on the reasons (excuses) why I haven’t produced a post since the Obama administration (the first one anyway).

I Never Have Any Time!
Probably the most common excuse for not blogging, and may have the most validity. As Willy Wonka says “So much time, so little to do”. People who write on blogs must have nothing better to do with their time. It is hard for me to rely on this excuse too much because there were plenty of instances where I said “I should really write a blog post today” but to no avail. For me, blogging is therapeutic and I need to make time to do it more regularly

I Don’t Know What to Write About
Not much I can say here. I come across many situations every day and think “I could blog about this”. Currently, there are 4 post-it notes in my office that say “Blog About ________” I have to remember that I don’t blog for other people, I blog for myself. If people don’t find my posts interesting, my blog will not self destruct.

I Have Writers Block
There were a handful of times when I sat down to write, stared at the screen for a minute or two, didn’t know how to start, then gave up. I have to remember the writing is a messy process. Some posts (like this one) fly from my finger tips and are cranked out in less than an hour. Some may take days and that is OK.

I Want to Keep My Readers in Suspense!
In my head, people are awaiting my next post more eagerly than the next installment of ’50 Shade of Grey’ (Calm down ladies, I don’t even know if they are working on a 4th book) In reality, there are millions of blogs and people really only follow ones that are regular and relevant to their interests. If I don’t post it, someone else will.

No One Will Read My Posts Anyway

I know for a fact this is not true, but I have a feeling it is a common thought for reluctant bloggers. I know it is what I thought when I started blogging the first time. Truth be told, some posts draw more attention than others. But as I said before, blogging is more of an outlet for the writer than it is a necessity for the reader. I enjoy getting the thoughts out of my head for awhile. Sometimes it even gives me a new perspective and presents solutions I wouldn’t have come across had I not typed them out. And in respect to your audience, I have found that ‘if you blog it, they will come’. 🙂

So there you have it, my (lame) excuses for not being a better blogger. However, I am committed to another go around. I have even scheduled appointments on my calendar to remind myself that taking the time to do this. It is important. Although my blog is professional, keeping it up helps me to maintain a personal/professional balance.

Until next time my faithful readers. Thank for sticking with me!

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For the Next 3 Hours, I Will Tell You All About…

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(I am publishing this post exactly (to the minute!) one week in advance of my first public speaking engagement. I am presenting at the Wisconsin SLATE Conference on the use of Google Forms during informal classroom observations. Riveting, I know. But once you’ve crossed to the dark side of Nerdville, it’s hard to contain yourself)

In education, professional development comes in many different shapes and sizes. Some have withstood the test of time (conferences, keynotes, workshops, presentations, courses) and others are emerging as cutting edge and innovative (Edcamps, Twitter, Blogs).

It is difficult to get a consensus about which method of professional development is best, but there is one thing that everyone can emphatically agree upon: when PD is bad, it is bad, regardless of the format. If given the choice between a day of terrible PD and sitting on a cross country flight between two portly gentlemen after an all you can eat baked beans buffet, I would be at the airport with nose plugs in my carry on.

Ask the next person you see who has participated in some form of professional development to share the worst PD they have ever experienced. I will shovel your driveway for a month if you find someone who doesn’t share, in gory detail, each and every painstaking minute they were forced to endure, as Joe D. Presenter explained the subtle intricacies of effectively completing TPS reports.

Please tell me that I am not the only one who has eventually zoned out during these sessions and imagined myself standing up and screaming something like “HOW IS THIS THE BEST USE OF MY TIME?” or “IT’S FRIDAY AT 3:45! PLEASE JUST END IT NOW!”

All kidding aside, this is a huge problem because the value of effective PD is priceless. When finding a career, people are not equipped with everything they will ever need to know about that profession. They need to experience other learning opportunities. They need to participate in multiple forms of professional development throughout their career in order to keep up. This applies to every job on the planet: continue to learn, adapt, and grow, or find something else to do. Would you want your heart surgeon to have last opened a book in 1967 when he graduated from medical school?

In preparing to offer my own professional development, I spent time reflecting on what makes professional development good or bad, effective or ineffective, though provoking or mind numbing? I am trying to harness the strategy of “here’s what not to do” for next week. So here is my list, based upon my experiences, of the most common mistakes made during professional development sessions (I’d really like to call this “Top 10 PD Mistakes” but I’m writing this off the top of my head and I can’t promise I will think of 10. If I do, I’ll delete this sentence, no one will ever know, and I’ll look like a genius!)

1. “For the next 3 hours, I will tell you all about…”
My favorite is when this person is presenting on something like student engagement or classroom best practices, then talks at you the entire time without movement breaks, hands on activities, talk time, etc. Some people prefer PD like this because it can be a great time to get caught up on old emails or filing fingernails. A first grader has the attention span of about 6 minutes. A first grade teacher is about half that. PD could be more effective if keynotes took this into consideration.

2.” I know you’re really focused on these 3 things, but I’m going to talk about…”
aka “initiative overload”
The amount of change in education is surreal. We could take an entire month off of school for PD and still not sufficiently cover CCSS, Smarter Balanced Assessment (or PARCC), technology integration, teacher accountability, new curriculum, etc. So rather than taking a month off, we try to cram all of these topics into a 2 hour, early release inservice. This accomplishes two things: it creates even more questions about important topics that were unjustly, but necessarily skimmed over. It also creates anxiety out from “fear of the unknown” about what these changes really mean.

3.  “Hmm? It was working when I tried it last night?”
To be fair, this isn’t always the fault of the presenter, but still annoying all the same. There is nothing worse about being promised a mind blowing, out of this world experience, only to be left disappointed and wondering what could have been, am I right!?

I was a part of an interview team for a teaching position in which the candidates had to teach a lesson to a group of students. Moments before one of the lessons that involved quite a bit of technology, all of the power went out in the building. The candidate didn’t bat an eye. “Don’t worry, I had a backup plan in case something like this happened” WHAT!? We were shocked by the candidate’s level of preparation.

Bottom line: expect the unexpected and then some because your audience has high expectations.

4. Here are 5 new ideas! Got it? Great!

Often times PD can seem inspirational and engaging, only to fall through on the back end. We can acknowledge that there are a multitude of resources that we can take advantage and when we are first exposed to them, we feel inspired and motivated to try them out.

Fast forward two weeks and we are right back into the old routine, with the “new tricks” sitting on the shelf. For PD to be effective, it should not only help participants grow, but also give them time to fit into their new selves. Planning time, follow up sessions, etc.

I am reminded of my intro to Twitter last year. I left the session excited about the opportunities it presented. I think I sent my first 5 tweets during the 45 minute period. 2 months later, I sent out tweet number 6 and debated deleting my account. Many great ideas are presented to teachers, but then it’s business as usual after that and the implementation is not supported. PD is not a 45 minute process.

5. This Doesn’t Apply to You? Oh, Well
If I told you that you would be asked to attend a 2 day workshop on the latest techniques for manure disposal in farm fields, you would probably volunteer to take my seat on the plane with the bean buffet boys instead. When PD doesn’t relate to our field, it just becomes development. I can watch Ice Road Truckers and Pawn Stars to get development in other careers. If I want to grow professionally, I need development with things that relate to….? You guessed it! My profession.

Again, this can be difficult in a school setting because there are such a variety of specialty areas. I’m sure the speech teachers would love to spend their PD time with world renowned audiology Charles Berlin, but the physical education teachers would rather hear from  Arnold Schwarzenegger.

6. …um…er…damn…

So that is all I got. There goes my top 10 list. Do you have any ideas? Leave a comment with another common PD mistake and I’ll update my post with your idea! (giving you most of the credit of course 🙂 )

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Give Up or Get Up!

It has been a rather hectic week in my neck of the woods. We are right in the middle of state testing, school report cards were recently released, and for the first time in my life, a pair of pants in my closet no longer fit! It’s been a struggle to even get out of bed.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention that  our school district overwhelming lost a referendum that, among other things, would have given my school (which was last renovated in 1968) a new gymnasium, new library, new HVAC system, new parking lot, new classroom cabinetry, and a new lazy boy in my office! Perhaps it was the chair that swayed 65% of voters?

I woke up Wednesday morning with a pretty bleak outlook on the world and on the future of my school. If you’ve never met me, I am usually a pretty upbeat person. The words “funny” , “humorous”, and “drop dead gorgeous” have been thrown around on multiple occasions. But for the first time in my career, I was anything but, and I wasn’t looking forward to going to work, which I am ashamed of looking back.

Thanks to several great people in my life (@jrgrac, @maggiemay629, and my wife) I was snapped back to reality. I realized that in this situation, and in every situation personally or professionally, you have two choices: give up or get up. And in education, you had better make the decision to get up every time because that’s what we expect from our kids and that is what they need from us.

On Wednesday morning, 3 buses pulled up and unloaded 120 kids who could have cared less if the referendum passed or failed. They had smiles on their faces and excitingly chattered because “it was a gym day!” The referendum would have been nice, but at the end of they day, it’s the people in the school that make a difference. I would follow my students and staff anywhere, at anytime, because I believe in them. They make it easy to get up.

There aren’t many victories in public education today. We are constantly being told that we have to do more with less.  It is probably natural to get beat down every once in awhile, but don’t stay there too long. Your job is too important.

(Wow, that post was kind of serious! Sorry about that. I’ve got to end on a positive note…)

Q: What do you call a lazy kangaroo?

A: A pouch potato!

Have a great weekend! 🙂

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“Ask Not What Your PLN Can Do For You…”

Whew! It has been quite the 24 hours for this little blogger. Yesterday at this time, I was nervously typing away, wondering if anyone would even waste 5 minutes to read the 1st installment of ‘Principal Reflections’. Fast forward to today: 100 views from 3 different countries (Yeah France!), and 8 comments from dedicated members of my Personal Learning Network.

It was incredibly empowering to know that people were reading my ideas and responding with connections to my experiences. A calming sense came over me when I found out that others are feeling the same way that I am, and they have been doing this much longer than I have (which is only 2 whole months).

After my wife deflated my head (had a hard time fitting through the door) and convinced me that I wasn’t quite ready to quit my job and go on a book tour, I realized that I was getting a great deal of support from my PLN, but wasn’t really returning the favor. The fact of the matter is that when I engage with other educators electronically, I am usually looking for help/answers/ideas to benefit me and my staff/school. It’s all about ME! (According to my wife, it has taken me quite awhile to get to this acceptance stage)

If everyone took this approach, PLN’s wouldn’t exist because everyone would be asking for help and no one would be there to provide it. I understand that getting started with something like Twitter or a Blog, there is a learning curve, which probably starts with getting familiar with what the tools can do and ends with teaching others to utilize the tools (see @principalJ, @Wiscprincipal, @Howeprincipal, @posickj et al). If it weren’t for those that pay it forward, PLN’s would turn quickly into the Shakers (don’t be ashamed if you have to use Google to get that joke 🙂

My personal goals include blogging more often (check), and being more active on Twitter (check), but more specifically, I want to contribute to my PLN so that I am an active, helpful member, rather than an egocentric, self serving mooch (sorry to those who I may have abused up to this point)

Responding to questions, providing ideas that are unprompted, and providing encouraging words are just a few of things that you can do to be a responsible, contributing member to society (well, your PLN anyway)

And remember, ask not what your PLN can do for you–ask what you can do for for your PLN!

P.s. …and still trying to figure out how to indent my paragraphs! 😦

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Jumping In….

Jumping In....

The image of the swimming dog conjures up two personal connections. The golden retriever jumps into the pool with reckless abandon, similar to me and my blogging career. Although, unlike the excitable pooch, I am making a splash after a gentle push from my Personal Learning Network (PLN).

After a recent Twitter chat (#educoach) I realized that to continue my journey as a connected principal, I needed to get my thoughts, reflections, feelings, and most intimate personal secrets out into the world (I think that is what they told me to do…?)
And while the dog does represent my blogging beginnings, I feel a close parallel with the start of my career as a principal: head above water, not sure where I am swimming to, but keeping my arms and legs moving as fast as possible.

To be fair, this is my first year as principal, but I did serve as the dean of students/assistant principal last year while I finished my admin degree. Nevertheless, it is much different this year without the safety net of another person behind me.
Reflecting on the first 2 months, I am cautiously optimistic that I can effectively keep the school afloat for the final 7 months (thanks in large part to a world class staff). I guess my frustration stems from the lack of day to day direction, or general job description. Perhaps it’s the nature of the job, but I feel like I am left to my own devices more often than not.

Please don’t get me wrong, I am by no means bored. In fact, I wonder where people find the time who are at much bigger buildings than I (my school is only 120 students 4K-5). Parent contacts, discipline, morning naps, teaching, learning, district initiatives, afternoon naps, and mid day rounds of golf are just a few of the things that pack my schedule. My daily schedule is usually scheduled to the minute.

(I feel like I should insert a disclaimer, especially for those who don’t know me personally or my sense of humor. I obviously don’t nap or play golf during the school day. The ironic humor is that I don’t even have time to think about golf or napping during the day.)

But I digress. I suppose my point is that I often find myself wondering if there is something I am forgetting. When do I send home testing information for parents? Who is organizing meals for P/T conferences? What do I have to do for Title 1 documentation? What should we discuss at our next staff meeting? These decisions, along with 1,000’s of others, come across my desk every day, and I have never been given the choices until now. Who says I am going to do the best things every time?

But there in lies the awesome responsibility of the job of a principal. I’d imagine one of the reasons I earned this job was the ability to create a vision of where I want a school to go. In 10 years, I’ll probably look back at this post and agree that I had about as much sense as a golden retriever in a swimming pool. (Imagine what my staff thinks!)

P.s. Despite how it may look, I was pretty nervous publishing my first blog post. Please give me your honest feedback! Too long? Too much rambling? Painful attempt at bad humor? I’d love to hear from you 🙂

P.s.s How do I indent paragraphs? This is driving me nuts….!

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