Monday, September 3, 2018

Learning from a New Teacher's Journey

As the school year begins I was curious about what is going on in the minds of first-year teachers as they embark on this exciting journey of teaching. During their first year, teachers can be bombarded with information that they may not need immediately, but at the same time, they may be too nervous to ask questions. Too many new teachers leave the profession within the first three years of teaching. So what are the best ways for administrators to support new teachers?

To learn more about what new teachers are thinking about, I spoke with Susan Jachymiak who just began her journey as a 4th-grade teacher. She is from Orland Park, Illinois and recently graduated from Illinois State University this past May. She is passionate about growth-mindset and helping students achieve their full potential. During the 2017-18 school year, she blogged about her year in student teaching and this year she is chronicling her first year as a teacher. On her blog she writes, “I would not be where I am today without my former teachers, and I am lucky that I get this chance to shape the future”.

Through our conversation, I was reminded of the excitement of first-year teachers and as well as the kinds of questions about teaching that they are trying to figure out.  Susan helped me to remember that new teachers are driven to develop their own personality as a teacher but also need the support in order to grow.  You can read her blog at and you can find her on Twitter @MsJachymiak where she uses the hashtag #newteacherjourney.

You just finished the first week in your first year of teaching. How did it go?
Well, I have a few chatty students so I’m trying to figure out a new system that would work because students were not buying into the one I was trying. My fourth graders are very into tangible rewards, so I'm trying to figure out a classroom economic system that I'm implementing this week to see if that will work. It is based on rewards. I'm hoping it teaches life skills and builds the financial literacy that they might not have at this age. I thought it'd be interesting to see how that goes.

What were some of your best takeaways from student-teaching?

As a new teacher, I feel more confident due to having done a full year of student teaching. I was able to see how my cooperating teacher figured out the classroom management and got to figure out other classroom procedures. I felt like I have a better take on those procedures going into my first year, but of course, there's a lot more to learn.

Describe your job search process? What were some of the strategies that you used that helped you get this job?

I went to the job fair at my university (Illinois State University) which was helpful because I got to interact with a lot of principals and employers who were interested in hiring new teachers. It was nice to be able to talk to them and get tips and feedback going forward. I initially didn't have a narrow search because I was kind of interested In going wherever I could find a job as a first-year teacher. But after a while that I started to decide that I wanted to go back home. So focusing on that area helped to limit my search a little bit. But then again, it also opened up doors because I was able to get calls from my district and it all ended up working out in the end. But the job search is a process of trying to figure out how to showcase myself positively.

Was there an interview question that you heard pretty regularly?

The most common questions were about how I incorporate technology into a sample lesson. I talked about some lessons I did during student teaching. I do not have a lot of experience so a lot of it was based on student teaching and figuring out like which lessons worked and what I could have improved on.

Twitter helped as well. It was good to be able to interact with other people that were helping me during the job search because they would have connections from their district and they would message me things that I could apply to my process.

What advice do you have for administrators on how they can best support a new teacher?

I would say to be open to suggestions. I think that as a new teacher we're afraid to share out ideas that we have because we don't want to be pushed down. When you're new, you come in with these bright ideas and you want to change or you want to try out some new things and, I think, just having an administrator that is supportive is beneficial. Today I just emailed my principal about trying this new classroom management system, so she knew that what I was trying that out and to see if she had any questions. I don't want to change the status quo, but I also want to do things in my own way. So I think to be supportive and realize that new teachers don't have all the answers. Also, I know that new teachers are afraid of asking questions. And while I'm trying to steer away from being afraid I sometimes still forget to ask. I have to write down all of my questions because I end up getting distracted by things. When you're new, you don't know what to expect, and you’re just figuring it out on your own. I think administrators forget that we have a lot on our minds.

I also wonder if new teachers don’t know what questions to ask either.

Yes, I get caught up in situations where I'm like oh yeah I should have asked about that.

Through your blog, you chronicled your student teaching and now you are chronicling your first year teaching. Also, you are also using Twitter regularly. How has social media helped your development as a teacher?

I started going on Twitter chats after being connected to an educator that I met at ISU, and then I started going on Twitter weekly. I started interacting with other teachers who are also passionate, and from there I expanded my use. So now I’ve started my own chat and I've been able to start a blog. It's been amazing to start off my career like this because I feel like I have the support. If I'm afraid of something or I need advice on how to handle the situation, I reach out, and I get answers. It's been so helpful to have that support system. Blogging has helped because I’m able to reflect on how my week went. Blogging is how I thought about switching my classroom management system. I was thinking about writing a post today about my first week and in the process of writing I was like, “what can I do to provide rewards that motivate students.” And then I was like “oh, maybe this will work, and I can reflect on that process.” If I end up not using it in the long run, at least I have a starting point. I find blogging is a great way to reflect on my teaching practice and I can go back to my blogs down the road.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Looking to Become an Administrator? 3 Things You Can Do This Summer to Get Started

All too often I hear from aspiring school leaders who are interested in applying for administrator positions right when school districts begin to post these positions.  It is important to remember (at least in Massachusetts) that school districts post for principal positions as early as November and they fill many jobs by March.  It is always a good idea for aspiring administrators to prepare themselves for the hiring process as soon as they can.

“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” –Arthur Ashe

Here are three things that you can do during this summer to prepare for the job hunt:

1.  Setup Informational interviews with administrators.  Many administrators work during the summer, and there is a good chance that they would be willing to sit down with you for an hour or so to chat.   So whether it is the principal of your school or an administrator in your area, reach out to a few of them and see if they would be willing to sit down with you over a cup of coffee or in their office.  Regardless of whether they know you or not, I have found many principals and other administrators willing to sit down with aspiring leaders to share their story.   Reach out to administrators who are new to their position as well as those who have been in the job for a long time. 

Consider questions such as:

Why did you want to become an administrator?  Do these reasons still hold true for you?
What was the hiring process like for you when you were looking for your first administrator position?
What was the interview process like for you when you were applying for this position?  If you have been in this position for a while, what has the interview process been like for other new administrators in the school district?  
What tips do you have for someone who is going to interview for an administrator position?
What is a typical day like for you?
What are some of the details of your job that you wish you knew before you started?
Are there aspects of your job that you spend much time doing that you didn't realize you would spend so much time on before you took the job?
What are some of the most significant issues that you are dealing with right now?
How do you create your budget?
How do you manage all of the demands of your day?
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were a new administrator?
While it is is excellent networking to sit down with local administrators, Google Hangout is an excellent tool to connect with administrators and have a "virtual coffee."  Use this tool to communicate with the National Principal of Year or a principal in another part of the country or world whom you follow on social media.  You would be amazed by how many people are willing to give up some of their time to help you reach your professional goal.

2.   Work on your resume.   Summer is an excellent time to have people review your resume and give you an honest assessment of whether you are ready for the next step and whether you describe your professional self well enough.  During your sit, down with other administrators ask if they would look over your resume.   Also, use the summer to think about ways that you can build your resume.  Are there committees in your school that you can join in the fall or is there a project that you can work on with your principal in the fall?   Look to gain experience for areas where you are least experienced.  Perhaps ask some of your colleagues if you could observe them in the fall or reach out to your assistant principal to see if you could shadow them for the day.

3.   Get on social media.   Social media is one of the most effective ways to connect and learn from other educators. 

Get on Twitter to learn from other educators.  Participate in group chats such as #edchat to learn about what topics are on educator minds or #Leadupchat to connect with school leaders and other aspiring leaders.  Many states have chats as well. In Massachusetts, we have #MSAAchat, the hashtag attached to the Massachusetts School Administrators Association.  Use Cybrary Man's educational chat list to learn how to use hashtags and to find the right chat for you. 
Get on LinkedIn to build your network.   More and more school districts are looking on LinkedIn to recruit possible candidates.   In fact, I applied for my current position after someone reached out to me on LinkedIn and asked me to consider using.
These few steps can make a huge difference before the hustle and bustle of September.  Also, taking these few steps will build some momentum for you so that you will take further steps and take on new projects during the school year.   Feeling prepared for a job search establishes confidence, and you will learn a lot along the way!

Friday, July 27, 2018

Getting Back on the Journey

Thank you for joining me as I re-engage on the journey of this blog, "Leading to Learn: the Education of a Principal".  My goal for this blog is to regularly post short reflections about what I am learning about leadership, school, students, etc. as I continue this wonderful journey of learning to be a leader.   Over the past six years as a principal, I am continuously reminded that the journey of learning about leadership will never end.   I hope these reflections can help others on their own journey and lead me to new areas of insight.

"Leadership and learning are indispensable of each other"--John F. Kennedy

The past few days I was at the Massachusetts School Administrators Association Summer Institute in Hyannis.  It is always wonderful to learn from Massachusetts leaders who are innovating in their practice and throughout their schools.  While at conferences my goal is to a few small ideas to incorporate in my work.  Here are two takeaways from this conference that I hope to incorporate this year:

  • Community card to students---Beth Houf presented a wonderful idea of a holiday card that she sends on behalf of her faculty to all of the students and families in her school.  The holiday card has photos of all of the teachers in the building and is a wonderful way to build and celebrate her community.  

Community Card from Beth Houf's Fulton Middle School
  • Pineapple Charts--My buddies Marty Geoghean and Brian McCann sold me on the concept of creating a pineapple chart.   Based on Jennifer Gonazalez and Mark Barnes Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School, Pineapple Charts is a simple and welcoming strategy to encourage teachers to observe each other.

Always entertaining presentation by @casehighprinc  and @MGeoghegan22 on Pineapple Charts
Brian McCann showing a teacher in his school observing another teachers classroom...Great stuff!

I was also inspired by participating in the "Women in Leadership" discussion.  As the only male in the room, it was an incredible experience to learn from female leaders about the challenges that women administrators face and ways that we can support current and aspiring women leaders.  I look forward to our book group where we will discuss The Confidence Code:  The Science and Art of Self-Assurance--What Women Should Know by Katy Kay and Claire Shipman.

Finally, I was pleasantly surprised and energized by the new Massachusetts DESE Commissioner, Jeff Riley, address at the conference.   It is refreshing to see the perspective of an educator represented in the Commissioner's office and to hear a Commissioner who recognizes the need to "get back to celebrating our teachers again". Commissioner Riley ended his address with this video of Derek Redmond during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.  Redmond, who was one of the top 400M runners in the World, tore his hamstring in the middle of the race.  After collapsing, Redmond picked himself up to try to finish the race.  His father ran down on the track and helped Redmond finish.   Commissioner Riley said that the actions of Redmond's father reminded him of the actions of teachers--we pick up our students when they need us and then we let them go so they can reach their goals on their own.  With this perspective appearing at the state level, I look forward to a positive future for Massachusetts education.  

Joshua Redmond's incredible story

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Mindful Leadership

In response first  blog post on Exit Plans, Boston College professor Andy Hargreaves encouraged me "to care of myself".   I didn't recognize the gravity of that comment until recently when I had a moment to recognize my stress and felt that my schedule was felt out of my control.  Many of these feelings are not unique to only exit, but feelings that principals report regularly.  Stress and exhaustion are common reported feelings that principals feel and often can lead to burnout.  As the school year winds down, I have noticed that these feelings are also present during my exit and transition.   When I began my exit I wanted to celebrate the remaining days of the school that I love. Since realizing this stress, here are a few ideas that I have tried to incorporate into my practice to help me regain control and feel present.

Take care of myself--These two practices are more hopes than actual practice.
-Sleep--I recently read that that adults need at least 7 hours of sleep.  This is an area where I regularly fail.  Waking up between 4:30 and 5:00 on work days makes getting 7 hours of sleep difficult if I want to spend time with my wife after my daughter goes to bed.  All of the research here is clear that more sleep makes you more productive, able to manage your emotions, reduce stress, etc.  As this exit becomes more fast paced and closer to an end, I'm setting a goal of 7 hours of sleep.   We'll see  how it goes.
--Calm--Over the past few weeks I started incorporating Calm, a Meditation App, into my regular practice.  I have come to learn that mediation as a practice to all me to stay present.  It teaches you to pay attention to your emotions and recognize how you are feeling.   Instead of shutting out my feelings, which has been a life long practice, I am working on accepting these feelings and learning to work through them.  I recently learned of other leaders using mediation as a way to help them stay present as they take on the difficulties of leadership--decision making, difficult conversations, and managing many moving parts. While I have only been able to incorporate 5 minutes of meditation into my daily practice, Calm provides you with shorter and longer practices.

Laugh--It's been said that laughter leads to a healthier life and there is no greater place to laugh than at school.
--Continuing to get into the classroom has helped me to continue to observe the amazing teaching and learning that goes on at BHS.  Furthermore, by being in classrooms I observe the spontaneous fun and excitement that regularly occurs in our classes.  Also, this Spring I plan to join our students in some of the last memorable and momentous events such as the Senior whale watch which will be fun, energizing and....wet!  Additionally, continuing to attend events such as prom will give me an opportunity to celebrate and say good bye to our seniors.

Celebrate--principal transition can be stressful and uneasy for students and staff.  The best way I can support our community is to remind and reinforce the greatest aspects of our school:  the amazing students and talented staff.  The other day I thanked and celebrated with our seniors during their last class meeting.  their leadership this year has helped our school have a successful year.  Furthermore, I have continued to go into classrooms and celebrate the great strategies that teachers are using in the class.  Additionally, I have been meeting with program leaders and department heads to discuss the progress that they have made over the last four years as well as their vision for years to come.

These strategies have also helped me to attempt to lead mindfully--feeling present in my decision making and acknowledging the stress to transition.  Since I have incorporated these practices the past few weeks, I have walked the hallways feeling present and energized.  While these strategies have been good for my transition, they have also helped me to enjoy and celebrate that last few months at BHS.  There are many stressful and challenging aspects of the exit process, but I want to enjoy these last few months and celebrate with BHS's greatest strength--the people. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Making Decisions During an Exit

As my exit process  from one principalship to another continues I have realized the unique challenges that surround decision making during this period.  The decision making process is always challenging in schools and requires collaborative and methodical discussions.  Good decisions are student focused,  allow for diverse opinions to be shared and consider future implications.  Whitehead et. al encourage leadership to allow for more rigorous debate and infuse fresh ideas to make good decisions.   Good decision making requires patience, time and lots of conversations.

Exit further complicates decision making.  My goal during this exit has been to ensure a smooth transition as the school continue to moves forward and grow.  At the same time people are adapting to  the change, which can lead to complicated situations such as some people not bringing issues forward and other folks expecting difficult decisions to be made before the next leader takes over.  Both of these perspectives are problematic and further complicate decision making.  At the same time the school continues to move forward with initiatives still ongoing and new ideas brewing.

To try to navigate through this new complicated environment, I continue to remind myself:

Maintain my decisions on the best interest of students--This has been my mantra throughout the four years and continues to be my focus through my exit.

Encourage others to engage in decision making--After I'm on to my new job, my leadership team will remain.  It's important that they continue to feel important, which can be done by engaging them and encouraging them to take ownership of instructional decisions for next year.

Try not to do stupid stuff--It's important to recognize that not all decisions need to be made immediately..It's ok to allow issues to wait until the next principal takes it up.  Entering principals are faced with the decisions of their predecessors.  As an exiting principal I have tried to allow decisions that can wait until next year to wait until next year.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

"Go Out the Door You Came In"

My father-in-law is famously known within our family for his wise old sayings.  One of our favorite wise old saying is based on an old superstition--"You gotta go out the door you came in".  Usually he makes this statement as he's trying to figure out which door we entered.

This particular saying has had new meaning for me as I think about my  exit strategy, transitioning from one principalship to another.   In my post last week I wrote about the lack of writing about exit plans in contrast to the large amounts of writing about entry plans for leaders.

When I entered my principalship, four years ago, I started my entry plan four months before I even started the position with a focus on listening to students, teachers and parents as I learn about the culture of my new school.   This strategy paid major dividends as I learned about the culture, connected with many people in my new community and learned about the strengths and needs of the school.  My entry plan was a great strategy to help us connect as a school and help me integrate into the community and move forward.

Now as I think about exiting my principalship and setting the school in a place to continue to move forward, my father-in-law's saying has helped me to prioritize my focus for the exit plan--"You gotta go out the door you came in".   The most important thing that I can do as I transition is to exit the same way that I entered, to listen to the needs of students, teachers and parents.  Here are some ways that I can listen...

1.  Listen to the fears, uncertainty and concerns of folks about the transition of leadership
2.  Listen to what people and programs need in order to continue to be successful during the transition.
3.  Listen for the issues that people are worried will be forgotten during the transition.

My goals for exiting are to make sure people feel supported and to make sure the school is ready for a successful transition.  In order to accomplish these goals, I think I have to "go out the door I came in".

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Exit Strategy

Last week I accepted the offer to become principal at Newton North High School beginning in July.   While I am excited for the opportunity transitioning into this new position, I will miss my students and colleagues in Bedford.  I owe it to my students and colleagues to first fmake sure that I leave Bedford in a great position for the next principal before I focus my attention on my new position. When I started to research effective strategies for leaders to transition out of their position, I found very little literature on the subject.  In comparison, there are some excellent resources about Entry Planning for new leaders, particularly by Barry Jentz.  Because of the lack of writing on Exit Plans, I feel like I am navigating this path blindly.  Surely, every leader leaves their position at some point, so are there particular issues that leaders must commonly worry about as they transition out of their school?   Based on this question, I have decided to blog my experience as I exit one school and transition to the next stage of my career.

The only quality resource that I found regarding leadership transition is described in   Andy Hargreaves and Dean Fink's Sustainable Leadership.  Hargreaves and Fink argue that leaders should plan for succession even at the beginning stages of their leadership.   Their general guidelines include identifying potential successors and managing changes to ensure that they are sustainable beyond your tenure.  Hargreaves and Fink provide an excellent resource to help leaders to create a school culture focused on sustainable improvement. While these general ideas are useful for leaders during their principalship, they still lack a clear guideline for the last few months before a principal exits in the same way that Jentz provides a framework for a principal's entry.

For exiting principals who care about the success of the future of their schools, it seems essential that the school culture remains strong when they transition into their new roles.  There are too many anecdotal stories of schools declining after the departure of a successful principal. I currently work in a fantastic school and I want to make sure that it remains fantastic as a new leader embarks on their own leadership journey.  Over the next few months I will use this blog to share the story of my exit.   Hopefully, this blog will create a forum for members of my Professional Learning Community to learn and share about the important steps of Exiting.

Generally here are the priority steps that I am currently thinking about regarding my exit.

1.  Take care of your people--People can find change unsettling and grow nervous with a change in leadership.   Therefore, whether they are sad, scared, angry or happy about my exit, my job is to make sure they feel supported and heard during my exit.

2.  Evaluate collaborative structures--This may be a personal endeavor since I spent my principalship developing and ensuring the sustainability of collaborative structures.  Hargreaves and Fink argue that collaborative structures help to ensure sustainable progress in schools.  As I transition out of Bedford, it seems pertinent to make sure that the foundations for these collaborative structures are healthy.  Surveying staff and interviewing a range of collaborative teams at BHS could be helpful strategies to assess these structures and provide helpful data for the next principal.

3.  Address potential pitfalls  for the next principal--Hargreaves and Fink argue that a principal does not work in a vacuum, but as a part of a continuum of their predecessor and successor.  In keeping with this perspective, there were difficult situations that were left over from the previous principal and there will be difficult situations that my successor will have to handle.  Nevertheless, I should try to minimize the immediate crises that my predecessor inherits.

4.  Help others develop their own transition plans--A common comment overheard about leadership change is "the devil you know is better than the devil you don't know".  One way to help to address the kind of anxiety within this statement is to help others develop a transition plan so that they are prepared for the next "devil" or principal.

I will write more about these ideas in the coming weeks.  I invite others to share their ideas of Exit strategies.