My Hopes as an Assistant Principal

This upcoming school year I will begin my journey as an Assistant Principal. I am filled with feelings of gratitude and enthusiasm; I am honored to have the opportunity to serve and to learn from such a remarkable administrative team and staff.

Throughout my experience as a leader, while taking on various leadership roles within the school community, I have grown and developed my vision and beliefs. I know that without a doubt, I will continue to do as I learn even more within my new role. I look forward to what my insights will be and how I will evolve.

But for years, I have written down my goals, dreams, and questions to keep in mind when I continue to help make decisions for kids, staff, families, and the school.

This past week, while visiting my new school, I saw that our Head Principal had this amazing question posted on her door- “This principal will ask what is best for kids?”

Her question inspired me and sparked an idea. I decided today to put my goals, dreams, and questions into an acronym that will display some of the internal and external questions I will ask myself and others; Since we are a Leader in Me School, I felt that the word “leader” was a good fit.


Here is my draft copy that I will continue to revise and post on my office door. I want to live by these questions each day. I do not plan on simply asking others these questions because these prompts are for myself just as much. By posting these questions, I hope to make them more visible and real, while holding myself accountable.

  • L – Are we LOOKING towards the future?
  • E – Are we doing what is best for EACH child?
  • A – How can I be ATTENTIVE and help?
  • D – Are we focusing on the DISCOVERY and joy of learning?
  • E – How can we EMPOWER our students, staff, and families to lead?
  • R – What are we doing RIGHT, yet how can we improve?

Closing thought: Thank you to everyone who has lifted me up, inspired me, believed in me, and given me the opportunities of leadership that have helped prepare me for this moment. I am eternally grateful.

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7 Ways to Let Students LEAD!

 

Of all my passions, nothing holds more meaning to me than empowering students to LEAD! When we allow students to lead, we are more likely to empower them not only in their day-to-day learning but in their LIFE. And in my opinion, that is one of the greatest things, if not THE greatest thing, we can do for the kids we serve.

On this same note, although I could write a post that included 100 ways to let students lead, I wanted to synthesize as much information as I could in 7 easy to remember examples, that are also some of my favorite launchpads for learning:

1.  Start student-led class discussions

What I have found from experience is that student-led class discussions are not an “activity,” it is an experience and a meaningful one at that. Too often, we structure our classrooms so we are the sage on the stage and the sole person who can take and answer questions. Rather than building upon students curiosity, we inadvertently and accidently squash them. I must note that there are important and worthwhile moments for teachers to deliver content and field questions in this manner, but it does not have to be the only way.

Helping students lead discussions is a life-long skill that is crucial to build even at the youngest of ages because it proves to be even more important as the years go on. Rather than being terrified that students will argue with one another or will not know what to do during a student-led discussion, think of it as a learning opportunity that will pay dividends in their future. Show them the way and watch them soar. You will run into obstacles at first with this approach, but stay persistent to see student engagement and overall love for learning rise. This article by

This article by Education Week on student-led discussions, with strategies on how to get started, was written two years ago and still rings true today.

 

2.  Choose student tech experts to teach students & teachers new ways to integrate technology

Whether you start a Student Tech before/after school program, or you choose a few students in your class to be “tech experts,” students LOVE teaching other students new ways to integrate technology into the classroom. It never ceases to amaze me how much students know about technology. I often ask my students to teach me what they are doing and how they are using technology outside of school. We then spin the conversation to determine how we can integrate that technology in a meaningful way for their learning at school, too.

 

3.  Ask students their input on how we can improve school and put that input into ACTION!

Students have so many ideas on how to improve the school culture and day-to-day procedures, but we often forget to ask. Whether you ask them about how to better your lessons or how to improve student behavior during unstructured times, students often are untapped resources. Not only that, but they desperately want to help!

I will never forget, when I asked my former sixth-grade students on how we could improve our classroom climate to help all learners feel apart of our team. They immediately came up with the idea of “Leader Jobs.” Although having leader jobs is not new in the classroom, they wanted to put their own spin on it and to CREATE the jobs that would exist in the classroom, rather than me creating them. Having said that, through this experience, I allowed them to lead and saw students who were more ecstatic to come to school than ever before because they had a PURPOSE. Students designed jobs like “Twitter Expert, Instagram Leader, Inspirational Leader,” and more.

Moral of the story: Ask for their input and then make valiant efforts to do something about their feedback. If we only ask and forget to do, we will lose the trust of our kids.

 

4.  Have students create individualized learning playlists that differentiate learning

Several months ago, I heard this idea of creating individualized learning playlists for kids. Before I even researched how other educators have used this practice, I decided to give it a try myself with a few students first; I wanted the creation process with my students to be as organic as possible.

After students have tried these playlists for a couple of months, I have learned an abundant amount from my students about what they like, what does work, and what has not been beneficial for their learning process. I have a post in the works on this topic, but I wanted to share that I have found HUGE student participation and leadership through students being able to learn and create their way at their own pace.

Until this next post on this is created, check out Jennifer Gonzalez’s blog post on this subject.

 

5.  Try a student-led edcamp

This has to be one of my favorite student-led ideas I have tried this year. Read my blog post here on how to get one started!

 

6.  Embed Genius Hour, Project Based Learning and Makerspaces to gain more hands-on approaches to learning

When students are able to learn LIVE through trying, they are leading their learning. Here are a few experts and resources on these topics to get these ideas started in your classroom or school:

  • Genius Hour
    • Check out Don Wettrick: Author of Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level – He is a guru on all things Genius Hour.
    • Genius Hour Twitter Chat:  chat = 1st Thurs of each month at 6 pm PST/9 pm EST
    • One of the most passionate educators I know who uses Genius Hour in her classroom is Jen Schneider– Connect with her on Twitter; She loves to share ideas and resources.
  • Project Based Learning (PBL)
    • Check out Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy, authors of Hacking Project Based Learning: I can honestly say that this book was such a worthwhile read and broke down the thinking and action behind project-based learning, in addition to giving meaningful ways to embed it within your class.
  • Makerspaces
    • You cannot say “Makerspaces” without mentioning the queen of Makerspaces, Laura Fleming. Follow her on Twitter, if you do not already, and check out her book and website on Makerspace learning here.

7. Empower students to show their learning with new and innovative approaches.

Do not be the keeper of all the knowledge, be the caretaker of student talent. Ask students to show their learning in ways that you have not even thought of- Allow them to be the designers, too.

Kara’s Tweetable: When we help students live outside the box in their thinking, they will also gain outside of the box success with their learning as a result.

Take risks with your kids- You will learn abundantly more than you would have ever before if you simply played it safe.

 

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4 Steps to Risk-Taking

Risk-taking is not an art form; It is a conscious choice that we can choose to make. It is also a normal part of the learning process.

Each day we ask our students to take risks in our classrooms. We ask our kids to:

  • Dive into activities that they may or may not be good at
  • Share their ideas and opinions, even when they may be introverted or lack confidence
  • Try something the second we ask them, without hesitation or apprehension

But, when do WE find time to take risks as the teacher, as the adult? 

The most successful educators that I have ever met, who are the best at reaching kids, are masters at taking risks in the classroom every single day. Some days these risks may be mini-risks, while other days they are full-blown, terrifying, and monumental risks.

The other week I earned a free year of ClassCraft premium. One of our brave teachers, Molly, decided to literally jump into ClassCraft with her students one day and allowed HER STUDENTS to take control. Although she watched video tutorials on the process ahead of time, she still trusted students enough to learn and teach her. Since students were already familiar with games that include Warriors, Mages, and Healers, they were able to teach us more than we would have known through our own personal experiences alone. Never underestimate the knowledge that students can bring to the table.

What I have learned is that it is OKAY to be scared, it is just NOT OKAY to not try or give up.

How can you start with risk-taking? Start here:

1. Find your mission

Although taking random risks on a whim can be fun and still have a purpose, it is more meaningful to take a multitude of risks based on a mission you are focused on.  Determine your mission first. Do you want to be more innovative? Take more risks based on that vision. Do you want to improve on your specific teaching strategies in a content area? Focus on taking risks in that specific area. Once you see success and small progress in one area, you are more likely to take bigger risks in the future.

2. Commit to it

Nothing feels worse than saying you will take a risk and then you end up never following through. Just go for it. Commit 110%. I have found personal success by informing others about my risks and goals so they can be my accountability partners and hold me to it.

3. Be patient and persistent

I have a promise for you: You will fail and you will fail again. Change your perception of failure and realize that risk-taking and failure go hand-in-hand; You cannot have one without the other. I also can guarantee you this: Although failure can hit you in the stomach sometimes, failure will always bring new insights, new pathways, and new journeys…we simply have to be able to see the positives right in front of us. Without failure, we would never get better.

4. Share your journey with others

Share your risks, share your adversities, share your successes. Through having others join you on your journey, you can be that role model of risk-taking for someone else. Furthermore, once you open up, others will be more likely to share their journey with you as well.

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What Are You Waiting For?

In some capacity, everyone is waiting for an area of their life to change.

As educators, we always want to improve in many sectors, but we often do not feel in the driver’s seat of teaching due to ever changing curriculum, standards, assessments, and more. These factors beyond the control of teachers lead them to feel stuck in a conundrum while thinking, “Where do I even begin when each day something else is the new best practice?”

So, we wait for someone to give us the magic professional development and recipe for success. With an expert’s opinion, we can then be sure that what we are doing is correct, right?

Wait…not so fast.

I am a words and book junkie. I value the art of connecting on a global scale and learning from experts each day. But, I also know that we as educators are professionals. We are good at what we do. We love our kids, and we work hard to do what is best for them each day. We build upon our practice consistently.

So, let us stop underestimating ourselves. Let’s stop waiting. Let us begin to trust who we are and our innate abilities.

Whatever that goal is that you have in mind, just go for it.

What do you want at your school?

Do you want to try a paperless classroom? Try it. Do you want to start makerspaces at your school? Do it.

Be your personal advocate and never look back.

We cannot wait on others. Each time we halt, we become a roadblock to each other and to the students we serve.

Be bold enough to try and be relentless enough to try it again and again.

The results will not always be picture perfect, but you can never improve if you are not courageous enough to take the first step.

 

Go forth and be awesome,

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How Do You Define Leadership?

10-habits-of-positive-educators-2

If you take a step back within the walls of your school, who is making the majority of the decisions?

Through connecting with other educators around the world, I often hear the stories of others in the world of leadership. When many answer the question above, the first answer I hear is usually “administrators and superintendents.” Others sometimes say “teacher leaders.” I rarely hear this response: “students.”

There are many schools around the globe that who are guiding authentic student voice for the decisions they make. But beyond this, I do believe that we have an underlying issue with how we define leadership.

Leadership is NOT:

-The role you have

-An age

-The years of experience you have in your position

-How many people are “below you” in your position

-A fancy name plate

If we look into how our schools are often run, we still have this traditional definition of what leadership is, and it defines everything we do.

In many cases, to become a school leader you need to meet a prerequisite of years even to be considered for a school administration experience. Although experience is important, why don’t we look at people for who they as individuals and what they bring to the table rather than following a set of parameters established before them?

When guidelines set everything we follow, it makes sense why teachers who speak to me from around the nation feel that they need to earn their leadership, even as a teacher.

If we have this mentality for our adults, chances are this can also be reflected in the way we treat students.

Do students walk into your school as leaders, or do they have to earn it? Leadership should not be viewed as a privilege for the few; it should be a right for us all.

As Todd Whitaker says, “The school should be changing more to fit the new teacher, not the other way around.”

We often expect kids, young teachers, and parents to adapt to us, rather than us learning from THEM.

Ralph Nader says, “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” I would like to challenge this; I believe that everyone is a leader, it is not something that we “produce.” If we do not see our own people as leaders, chances are we do not know their strengths. But, we can change this to create environments that help kids and teachers believe they matter.

How we define leadership is crucial. What does leadership mean to you and your kids?

Kara Welty

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Are We Spoon Feeding or Empowering?

Image Credit

As educators, we all start our journey because we love kids and want to help them.

What is interesting, though, is that over time, we learn strategies and develop unconscious habits to “help” students, when in reality we are unconsciously enabling students rather than empowering. Sometimes over helping even becomes instinctual. But even with the best intentions, our over “help” can often resemble spoon feeding.

Empowering students has always been a passion of mine. I am always engrossed in finding ways to stretch brains and mindsets, including my own, in new and different directions. This past week, the phenomenal 4th-grade teachers at my school, @clarkesclass @teammontgomery @msrittsclass, and I have been working on approaches to help students in this area and we have been brainstorming ideas to challenge thinking.

Therefore, this week I worked with 4th graders on a Digital Scavenger Hunt I created that closely resembles a Digital Breakout Edu format. Yet in my scavenger hunt; students had to think critically to think outside of the box, troubleshoot, and to create and solve technical problems they have never encountered before. Each step built on the action before it, and it required deep thinking and trial-and-error to reach the destination. Just like many Breakout Boxes do, I gave each student the ability to use two tips to ask for help along the way.

During this Digital Scavenger Hunts with the classes, numerous students were astonishingly focused on the tasks and determined to reach the destination at all costs! But, there were also many who looked at step 1 and immediately said: “This is too hard, I give up,” or “I quit.” This also occurred once students ran out of tips. Even though it was hard for us to not over help at times; When these moments occurred, it was the perfect opportunities to discuss with students the idea of “YET” and growth mindset. In other words, it is okay to be honest about frustrations when challenges arise, but we have to work hard to train our brains to think: “I may not get it YET, but I will if I keep trying and am patient.” We also discussed the idea of progress; We may not reach our desired destination now, but if we make growth, we should be proud of each stride we made.

Although discussing growth mindset and learning how our brains work helps jump start crucial conversations, what we often miss is to truly challenge students and to help them apply what they learned about growth mindset in real-life scenarios.

Some students revealed to us after the Digital Scavenger Hunt that they wanted to give up many times during this challenge because it was too hard, but they started thinking positive and then realized “Hey, I can do this!” When you empower students to lead with a growth mindset, once they do overcome challenges, their reactions are priceless. There is nothing that can replace a student proud of his or her accomplishments from exerting true grit.

The 4th-grade teachers and I are currently planning mini-challenges that we will embed throughout the school year called Mindset ManiaThank you, @clarkesclass for the clever wording! These challenges will include anything from STEM to collaborative projects and they are designed to positively develop growth and innovators mindsets. I am looking forward to watching students grow as we embed thought processes like this into everything we do.

After all, nothing is sweeter than seeing a student proud of his or her accomplishments while endlessly persevering and learning new ideas along the way. If we aim to empower students today, the impact will last a lifetime.

Growth Mindset
This picture from today displays the joy that occurs when students reach their goals and realize “I CAN do this!”
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Success is Resourcefulness Over Resources

 

Resourcefulness
Image Credit- notsalmon.com

You may remember Xanga as the blogging service that used to rule the world. I remember Xanga as a website that empowered me as a child. Ever since the days of Xanga, I have been engrossed with learning “how” technology works. To set the scene, during this period I was in 5th grade and my family just received our very first computer. At this point, I only knew how to do two things with a computer:

1. How to use Microsoft Word
2. AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) like a pro

Game Changer

Once my parents purchased dial-up internet, I stumbled across Xanga. Xanga was nothing short of a game-changer for how I saw the world. Before this moment, I never saw a website where kids, and people of many ages, posted their thoughts, pictures, and musical playlists.

My mind raced with endless questions; I immediately wanted to post my views, while reading the ideas of others. I also desired to learn how to change a site’s layout, script, font, color, and more. But, even with the internet, I did not know how to figure this out. Therefore, I determined that if I was going to find the answers my questions, I needed to play around with the website so I could learn myself. Through this determination, I taught myself HTML.

When I was in school, these tech skills were not valuable in the classroom, and I spent much of my alone time at home diving into this. I would have loved to be a kid today where coding, STEAM, and Makerspaces flourish in many schools.

What Will Prevail?

With all of this said, even though the tools are exciting, we cannot lose sight that the people should always take precedence over the “things.”

In some schools, even with the greatest tools, teachers wait to learn these technologies until someone shows them how to use it seamlessly. Then, students are often trained to remain at a standstill before trying a new tool, app, or game until a teacher shows them the way.

But, here is the issue- when we continually lead with this ideology, we are inadvertently teaching that the tool is more important than who we are. Also, without directly saying it, we are communicating learned helplessness when it is time to learn a new tool.

We need to shift our thinking to resourcefulness OVER resources. I love learning and teaching new tools when there is meaning behind it, but the tools will never solely propel us to our goals. What will prevail is the tenacity of the team and the students; Tenacity will always prevail over any opposing force. We cannot forget that technology is an essential asset, but it is not the end-all-be-all.

Lasting Thoughts

We can surround ourselves with:

-The most brilliant network
-The newest and brightest technology
-The highest quality of resources
-The largest sum of money

But, all of these incredible assets will not be as valuable unless we are equipped with the resourcefulness, determination, and self-reliance to navigate these assets. Technology is powerful, but WE are even more important; Let us become our best resource.

Kara Welty

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