Month: February 2017

3 Ways to Get More out of Conferences

logo_headerThis week, teachers and leaders from Salisbury Township School District attended PETE&C, Pennsylvania’s  Education and Technology Conference, in Hershey, PA. Professional conferences can be valuable learning experiences, and they often require a significant investment of human and/or financial resources? How can you make this human and financial investment meaningful for your district?

  1. Before the conference – Prepare! 
    1. Build the team who will attend.  Hopefully, your team will include some veteran attendees as well as first-timers.  Additionally, if possible bring a team which is comprised of teachers, building and district leaders, and even relevant support staff.  In the past, we have brought members of our tech support staff to this conference.  Conferences can be a great venue for learning together!
    2. Plan and provide all “operational” details.What are the details teachers/leaders need to know? Are there hotel reservations or reimbursement details they need?  What information can you provide ahead of time in order to avoid confusion later? For example, I provide a list of district-led presentations, information about limits/reimbursements for meals, etc.
  2. During the conference – Engage! 
    1. Embed opportunities to develop your relationships and connect with each other.
      So what does this look like?  Maybe there is a central meeting place in a lobby where teachers can meet and share informally.  Perhaps it is possible to schedule a lunch where everyone can meet and debrief their learning.
    2. Support your teachers/leaders who are presenting. Take the time to participate in presentations which your teachers/leaders are facilitating.  Share their work through a quick tweet with the conference hashtag.  Celebrate your presenters!  Provide positive feedback and offer to have a reflective conversation about their presentation. (I like to send a handwritten follow up note to our presenters. Hand-written notes can go a long way!)
    3. Attend Keynotes together. This is easier said than done… Sometimes seating can be an issue. Plan ahead and meet in the same spot each day or ask the early-birds to save a row for your team.
  3. After the conference – Empower!
    1. Provide opportunities to share your learning and build capacity.
      How can others in your district benefit from this team’s attendance?  Can you provide opportunities to share during faculty  meetings, morning meetings, Summer Academy sessions department meetings, etc.?  As a leader, how do you model the way?
    2. Allocate resources to support attendees’ learning. Hopefully, attendees will return from the conference motivated and eager to implement what they learned. How can you allocate some financial and human resources to encourage this risk-taking?  Sometimes a small investment can result in additional intrinsic and/or extrinsic motivation.

What other strategies do you have to make the most of professional conferences?

 

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Leading #YourSalisbury – Session #2

screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-4-47-09-pmIn a previous post, I shared our vision and some background on the Leading #YourSalisbury professional development cohort.  Although I am leading the cohort, two of my colleagues (Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D. and Ross Cooper) are also supporting the work.  The collaborative effort makes for a higher quality professional learning experience!

During our second Leading #YourSalisbury whole team session, we focused on developing a shared understanding of our Learning Beliefs. Prior to getting started, we reviewed our work from our previous session together.  We celebrated our successes and challenges with developing a shared understanding of our Profile of a Graduate and 4Cs. Each school shared its work so we could all benefit from our colleagues’ learning!  The sharing process also served as an informal formative assessment for our planning team.

We asked teams to work together and develop a Frayer Model for one of the beliefs (open-walled, personalized, learner agency, and socially embedded).  The graphic organizer asks the learner to create a definition, characteristics, examples, and non-examples.  By creating these graphic organizers we were able to assess where the group’s thinking is at this time.  (We actually created these by building teams. If I were to do this again, I would use mixed grade level groups for these conversations. I think the responses would include more diverse perspectives.)

We will meet with individual building teams to clarify their learning and help them determine how they will share this content with their faculty and staff. I am hoping this shared leadership will lead to shared ownership.

Here is what our teams developed!  I am looking forward to seeing how these ideas evolve over the next couple of years.

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Developing Communication Systems

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-5-36-33-pmIn January, my colleague (Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D.) and I presented at PA’s Association of School Administrator’s New Superintendent Academy. The focus of our presentation was district communication systems.  What are communication systems, and why are they important?

We began our conversation by surfacing four key questions.  We asked participants to think about these questions through their individual contexts. Resources, culture, attitudes, perspectives, perceptions, etc. could all affect how one leader responds to these questions.

  • Who are our/your stakeholders?
  • How do we/you communicate with different groups of stakeholders?
  • How can systems promote consistent, efficient and effective communication?
  • How do effective communication systems improve school culture?

We then shared ideas for communicating with some of our key stakeholders:

Students – How can you engage with students?  Think Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!  Our students even have in-district gmail accounts.  Social media and virtual communication can be efficient, but it is also important to have face-to-face communication with students. I volunteer as a Mystery Reader, participate in a quarterly Superintendent Advisory Council, and even visit the school cafeterias.  The past two years our administrative team completed Shadow a Student!

Faculty/Staff – It is easy to become distanced from the faculty and staff, and I make time to engage formally and informally.  I try to walk through each of our buildings once per week. I share blog posts about successes teachers are experiencing. Click here to view a recent blog post which celebrates School Counseling Week. I will often jot a quick hand-written note to faculty members thanking them for their work. For example, today a special education teacher told me she spent her snow day reviewing some IEPs.  I sent her a tablet with a handwritten note as the top sheet. Randy and I conduct quarterly faculty meetings.  We share updates and invite teachers to ask questions – all to keep the lines of communication open!

Administrators – I really value the relationships I have with our administrators.  I work hard to communicate effectively and be responsive.  We have implemented a couple of structures – monthly administration team meetings and  monthly one-on-one check-in meetings. Additionally, I try to stop by the buildings and spend some time informally hanging out in the office.  This gives us time to catch up, explore any current challenges, and develop our relationship.  We did try to use Voxer with our team, but it did not fit our needs, and the team did not value using another tool.

Board Members – Communicating with the board is essential to developing trust.  Our board works diligently to allocate resources for our students. They ask thoughtful questions, share perspectives, and make difficult choices in the best interest of the organization.  We spend time with committee chairs prior to each meeting so there are no surprises on the agenda. In addition to a written bi-weekly report, we collaboratively share an update each month during the Superintendent’s report at the Board meeting.  We also invite our board to our state School Board conference and spend time learning together.

Parents – I have spent a lot of time getting to know our parents over the last couple of years. I visit the parent drop-off/ pick-up lines at the elementary schools, attend PTA/PTO meetings, speak briefly at all Open Houses, and participate in Coffee and Conversation with Randy and parents.  It is my hope that all parents know who I am and are willing to contact me if they have a question, concern, or compliment!

Associations/Unions – We have two unions in our district (teachers/professional and support staff). We have strong relationships with both of our unions. Meeting with the leadership informally every month keeps the lines of communication open! When there is a concern or issue, either side shares the challenge and we discuss solutions together.

Effective communication is one strategy to develop strong relationships with stakeholders. Click here to view our collaborative presentation on developing communication systems. Who are your stakeholders, and how can you develop systems to communicate with them?