[cross-posted from Connected Principals, posted there on July 23, 2012]

“Although it was a bit too long, I really appreciated your letter this summer,” is something I have heard many times in the past 15 years.   Like many of you, I write a “welcome back to school” letter to parents every summer, and I think it is a very valuable practice—but be sure to make the most of it.

Last summer I happened to post my letter to my blog, something I wasn’t sure was worth doing because it tends to be mostly “inside-baseball,” material primarily pertinent just to my own immediate constituents.   To my surprise,  it generated quite a bit of traffic, all of it from web searches for various variants on the term “welcome back to school letter.”     What I have learned from my search engine traffic is that the welcome back to school letter is something about which every summer hundreds or perhaps  thousands of school-leaders go to the internet to seek advice.

Accordingly, I thought I’d share a few thoughts for my principal colleagues about writing these important missives.

1.  Don’t be afraid to write at some length.   (Or, alternately, do as I do: apologize for it being too long without shortening it very much.)   Summer is the one time of the year when parents may actually have the time to dedicate to a longer letter, and even it if it is a relatively small proportion of them who will read its entirety, take advantage of it.   Remember that the ones who do read you carefully are the ones most able to share and inform other parents (the ones who don’t read) in the ongoing and inevitable chatter that happens about your leadership. (more…)

With this post I come to the end of  three terrific years as Head of School for St. Gregory College Preparatory School in Tucson, Arizona.  It has been an honor to serve, and I know I will treasure always these years as an extraordinarily high point in my educational leadership career.

In our three years together, we’ve seen enrollment stabilize and grow (after ten years of nearly continuous decline), and expanded external financial support to the annual financial aid/scholarship funding by several hundreds of thousand dollars– allowing us to considerably diversify enrollment and provide new opportunities to students who otherwise wouldn’t have this chance.  Each of the three years has ended financially with a good, positive balance sheet.

From the St. Gregory 2012 yearbook.

I am most pleased about the ambitious twin initiatives,  “Roots and Wings:” Advisory and Laptops, which we launched in 2010.   First, we dramatically overhauled what was previously a small homeroom program into our new, teacher-student advisory program, strengthening student “rooted-ness” with a home base over the course of each week and strengthened relationship with a teacher and other students.   Advisory has also become a new home for service learning, teacher mentoring of students, parent-student-adviser conferencing,  and much more.  We’ve also, especially in the middle school, developed several new bullying prevention programs, which brought a national award from Teaching Tolerance, and significantly revamped our bullying and harassment policy for the entire school.

Wings” is our nickname for our 1:1 laptop program, which has had two years of fine success, with students doing great project-based learning, developing fine research skills, practicing terrific on-line collaboration, and exploiting social media and other tools to connect, share, and learn together.  This project also demanded a significant expansion of the campus WiFi infrastructure and fiber-optic bandwidth.   Students need to learn how to use digital tools responsibly, and we developed and implement a fine, three day, digital citizenship “boot camp.”

We launched a trio of new student outcome measurements, CWRA, HSSSE, and MAP, and I believe we are the only one of the 1400 NAIS member schools to be using and learning from all three of these fine new tools.   We use them because we are more serious than ever about academic outcomes, and want to use the best tools we can to track, monitor, and intervene to improve our educational program.  Believing that we must assess what matters to us, new report card extension, providing goal-setting and formative feedback for our students on a set of 21st century  and mission-central skills we call the EGG: the Essential Goals for Gregorians.  We’ve also worked in both the middle school and upper school to increase and enlarge academic requirements: now 8th graders must take 8, rather than 7, classes, and our graduation requirements for high school students include four years of math and history (up from three), and have gone from 24 to 26 credits in total.

Our faculty culture of collaboration and planning has been greatly improved by the addition of two hours weekly (previously it was one monthly) for time dedicated to this, and the valuable work of our new Critical Friends groups.    I should add that an important priority of my leadership, and a critical recommendation to us from our accrediting association, was that we progress in diversifying racial/ethnically our faculty and administration, and we’ve done that significantly,  taking the percentage of professionals of color in three years from under 3% to about 15%.   In these three years we’ve also doubled the number of Ph.D’s on our faculty, from 3 to 6, with the appointment of three new Ph.D’s to our upper school.    Knowing that a high performing and always-growing faculty is of the highest priority, we worked as joint admin-faculty team to completely revamp our teacher evaluation system, taking it from every four years to annual, and building into it a stronger goal-setting and growth orientation.   I also implemented in 2011 St. Gregory’s first ever annual written evaluation for senior administrators.

A major theme for educational program development has been developing innovative mindsets and habits for our students, and we’ve developed several new elective courses, new project-based learning units, new experiential education elements, and a new special diploma program, to advance this important theme.   Dennis Connor in particularly has built his physics lab into a robotics and engineering lab, and it is a very exciting place, complete with a 3D printer.   (Some of our initiatives on this front are featured in a forthcoming book (July, 2012) by Suzie Boss, Bringing Innovation to School).

We’ve installed more than 600 solar panels on the roofs of 5 of our buildings,  providing more than 30% of our energy usage, and re-engineered air conditioning for our gymnasium, dramatically reducing our carbon footprint.  We’ve built out a new community garden on campus, and a new goat and chicken pen in the middle school.    Through a variety of initiatives, including the new Youth Leadership Summit for 7th graders from 20+ schools, the continuation of the Rotary Car show, hosting a new 5K/10K charity run,  new speaker and film events, and other activities, we’ve made good progress in better sharing our campus resources with the wider Tucson community.   Summer at St. Gregory has also been transformed; we brought back to campus the elementary day-camp Summer Fine Arts, which had left us in 2008, and we launched a brand new, now thriving,  academic enrichment summer day-camp for middle school students called Minds Alive: Leadership and Innovation camp.

Looking forward, I’m anticipating a very different and very exciting several years learning, writing, sharing, speaking, and consulting on the topic and cause I am most passionate about: advancing 21st century learning and schools of the future.   I’ll be blogging regularly, and I have several other writing projects in the works.  I’ll be keynoting and speaking at educational conferences and for faculties, boards and parents at schools around the country and beyond; I’ve already confirmed about eight  such “gigs” for the coming year and new invitations and opportunities are arriving each week.

To expand the breadth of the work I do supporting schools, districts and associations, I’m developing and promoting my new educational consulting practice, JonathanEMartin Ed. Services.  At the same time, I’m forming affiliations, formal and informal, with a wide variety of national educational organizations and consulting firms, including Educational Collaborators,  for whom I’ll do some consulting on strategic planning, technology integration, and professional development.

As a family, we are staying here in Tucson, most of all because both my sons are happily enrolled in schools which suit them well, including my older son, who will be entering the 9th grade right here at St. Gregory, which my wife and I believe is a perfect match for him.   My wife, Carman Ryken, has accepted a terrific appointment as a math teacher at an exciting, dynamic, progressive charter school here in Tucson, Paolo Freire Freedom School, a middle school of about 75 students.   The school is a great match for her educational philosophy and ideals and also for my own views:  the school uses a very interesting and exciting problem-based learning math curriculum called “Connected Math,” out of Michigan State University. I’ll surely blog about the qualities of this math curriculum in the months to come.   With my wife employed full-time, I’ll be, happily, picking up a larger share of the household management and parenting.   As a family, we’ll also continue hosting in our home international students enrolled at St. Gregory, something we enjoy greatly.

We’ve relocated to a home closer to both boys’ schools and within walking distance of shops and cafes, so we’ve downsized to just one car and are happy to be conducting a relatively more urban lifestyle, walking and cycling around Fort Lowell neighborhood.  I have a home office, but I expect I’ll spend as much time working at the two nearby Starbucks (Swan/Camp Lowell in the Basha’s, and Swan/Grant) as I do in my office, so Tucsonans can look for me there and say “hello.”

Over the course of what potentially will be 25-30 more years of professional work are many possible career paths and projects, I anticipate: among them are returning, almost certainly at some point, to independent school leadership positions; joining a national educational reform organization on a full-time basis;  and taking on state/regional or national association management roles for independent schools or other school groups.

To my St. Gregory colleagues, parents, students, and supporters, thank you very, very much for inviting me to join this community and serve this school’s excellent and extraordinary mission.  To my readers, please know that the blog carries on and the best is yet to come.    Onwards.

Our new policy is below, after the top few paragraphs and videos.

It has been great to see the swiftly growing national attention to and concern about bullying in our schools in the past year, although the attention brings some increasingly challenging management issues.   As school leaders, we must take stronger action to elevate our vigilance; communicate emphatically our disapprobation; educate our students, teachers, administrators and parents;  facilitate and advance intentional, pro-active, bullying prevention programs; and respond to acts of bullying with vigor and consistency.   That said, there are many, many grey areas in evaluating and judging events that appear very differently to different observers.

Among those deserving praise and appreciation for leadership in this movement are Dan Savage and the team of danah boyd and John Palfrey at Harvard’s Berkman Center.  Dan Savage is the creator of the youtube “It Gets Better” campaign (video below), and was a featured speaker at the NAIS annual conference in Seattle this past March.   At that convention, Savage spoke with tremendous compassion for all, gay, straight, and everyone else, who is bullied, and directly confronted and challenged school administrators to take a stronger stance, suggesting that we have betrayed the trust families put in us to provide a safe school environment.  (President Obama’s  video contribution to the “It Gets Better” project is available here.)

Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society has a new project which offers some valuable resources, the Kinder and Braver World Project, with funding and support from Lady Gaga’s Born this Way foundation.   In preparing our new policy here at St. Gregory, we reviewed these resources closely, and took especially from the paper What You Must Know to Help COmbat Youth Cruelty, Meanness and Bullying, co-authored by Law Professor (and the new Headmaster of Andover), John Palfrey and the terrific social thinker about social media and new technologies, danah boyd.  A few key quotes:

Bullying is a serious issue.  It leaves scars and makes learning hard.  Both those who are victims of bullying and those who bully others face serious  educational, social, and psychological challenges.  We need to address bullying in order to make certain that all youth have the ability to grow up healthy and happy.

Not all aggression is bullying. Bullying refers to repeated psychological, social, and physical aggression propagated by those who are more physically or socially powerful.

“Zero tolerance” school policies are ineffective. They sound good, but they do tremendous damage in schools and are often correlated with a rise in bullying and other forms of aggression.  Consequences for bullying should be clear, but support structures must also be put in place to help youth learn from their mistakes.

Cyberbullying is not a discrete practice. It should not be addressed separately. While digitally mediated interactions can complicate bullying dynamics, what happens online is often deeply entangled with what happens offline.

Cyberbullying is more visible, but not more common.  Studies consistently show that face-to-face bullying is still more common – and youth consistently report that it has a greater negative impact – than what happens online. Technology can be a valuable venue to communicate messages of love, acceptance, and bravery and to engage youth who are struggling at home  or in school.

We must create a positive youth culture that reinforces kindness and bravery. And we must help encourage youth to be courageous and loving, respectful, and tolerant. This is hard, but it starts with each of us.

At St. Gregory, we have taken new, sincere, and I think significant action to enhance our efforts to prevent and combat bullying.   Our terrific new school counselor, Kim Peace-Steimer, has teamed with our (also terrific) Middle School head to launch several new programs in the middle school, one of which garnered a national award as can be seen in this video below.

We also have worked hard this spring to review and revise our anti-bullying policy, which is pasted in below and which will be published in our 2012-13 parent and student handbooks.  Note that at bottom of the policy is a set of references and resources, most of them which links to online published documents, which readers might find valuable.

See also my post:  “Stand Up to Homophobic Bullying” An important, effective video for schools

ST. GREGORY’s new and revised Anti-Bullying Policy. 

Bullying/Harassment

One of the principal statements in the philosophy of St. Gregory is that the school community values the dignity, self-worth, and potential of each individual.  Bullying/harassment will not be tolerated.  The school will become involved in cases which occur at school or at a school event, or which substantially disrupt the orderly operation of the school and/or the learning environment for any individual regardless of where they occur.

(more…)

(At the risk of seeming overly flattering and favoring a friend, for which I offer full disclosure and my apologies, I share the following post about an outstanding educational leader.)

Last week in Virginia, speaking to the Commonwealth’s fine independent school heads, I suggested they had a great model of educational leadership in their home state,   Albemarle County Superintendent Pam Moran.   I was asked, entirely reasonably, why I described her this way, and, caught off guard, I stuttered a bit in my answer, and disappointed myself in not providing a fuller explanation.

Curiously, that very same day, only a few hours later, I turned to chapter 7 of the book I was reading on my airplane home, a chapter devoted to the leadership qualities of the none other than Pam Moran.  In his book, Insights into Action: Successful School Leaders Share What Works, author and former school principal Bill Sterrett writes “Moran and other tech savvy leaders believe it vital to help our students and staffs use technology effectively– not for technology’s sake but for learning’s sake.”

Drawing upon that book and other sources, including a recent issue of the New Yorker, I now aim to better answer the question: what makes Pam Moran such a fine educational leader?  She offers, I think, excellent exemplification of what in my presentation last week I explained are the 8 Steps of Leading Learning Forward.

  1. Developing Ourselves as Leading Learners
  2. Articulating the Vision and Modeling Digital Citizenship
  3. Collaboratively determining our intended learning outcomes
  4. Measuring what matters most, using technology.
  5. Strengthening our faculty professional learning cultures
  6. Promoting Aligned Teaching & Learning
  7. Putting in place the necessary tools
  8. Documenting & Sharing.

Step One: Developing Ourselves as Leading Learners

Sterrett’s chapter on Moran opens with an epigraph from her, which by its placement and its emphasis conveys that she too believes that leading learning begins always with a focus upon our own learning.

I’m convinced that we administrative leaders have an obligation to initiate new learning [and] become skillful in the use of tools that accelerate and advance our learning work.

Sterrett goes on to write that

She believes the onus is on the educational leader…to be aware of new technologies.  “I know that if I can’t stay current than I will not be able to get my colleagues to do the same.”

Social media is also, for Moran, a vehicle for reflection and intellectual growth.

Moran finds that contributing to blogs is a good way to reflect on her practice.  By articulating her thoughts in posts that draw on her experiences and refer to her vision, she is able to model the importance of reflection and meaningful conversation for the greater professional community…. “The ‘hurried child’ has become the ‘hurried adult’– I fear– to the detriment of deep learning.

Step Two Articulating the Vision and Modeling Digital Citizenship.   Leadership always contains as a key element strong communication with all constituencies, and sharing a vision of the future toward which one is leading.   Pam does so in many ways, including using powerful social media tools such as youtube, blogging and twitter.

One example can be seen in this compelling, snazzy, and effective video, articulating her district’s “continuing  journey toward quality learning:”

(more…)

The recent Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson is, I found, un-put-downable and compelling: a sweeping, stimulating, poignant narrative of one of the most fascinating persons of our era.

Jobs is not an exact contemporary, being about 12 years older than I am, but he is near enough to make the book that much more connected to my own experience.  I found the book vastly more fascinating when its narrative timeline intersected with my own personal experiences with Jobs’s products: experimenting with an Apple II in the early ‘80s, excitedly acquiring my own Macintosh in 1984, thrilling to my iPhone in 2008.

Isaacson doesn’t hold back on the negatives: this is not a hagiography.   As fascinating as the book is, it does not lead you to like Jobs as a person, and it leads you only to a very qualified degree of admiration for him as a leader, even as you are (or I was) astounded by his accomplishment.

Of course I was taken aback, even appalled, by his ferocious cruelty toward nearly everyone around him.    Isaascson similarly is repelled, and makes clear in his conclusion that it was unnecessary and at times detrimental to his success.    But—is it possible there is something to learn from here? Is it possible that we could all benefit from being a little bit less determined to spare people’s feelings? Isaacson:

The nasty edge of his personality was not necessary.  It hindered him more than it helped him.  But it did, at times, serve a purpose.  Polite and velvety leaders, who take care to avoid bruising others, are generally not as effective at forcing change.  Dozens of the colleagues whom Jobs most abused ended their litany of horror stories by saying that he got them to do things they never dreamed possible.

I think of some of the cooking competition TV shows I like so much, such as Next Food Network Star and Top Chef,  and one of the things I appreciate most about these shows is the skillfulness by which they give strong, direct, frank, honest, cutting, criticism, and, even more, the way most contestants take that criticism and use it to make themselves stronger.  (more…)

[cross-posted from  Connected Principals]

Heidi Hayes Jacobs:  ”If you’re not updating your curriculum, you are saying that nothing is changing.”

“Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of school administrators who responded to a recent survey said 1:1 computing classrooms where teachers act as a coach for students are the future of education.” (T.H.E Journal)

“Innovative teaching supports students’ development of the skills that will help them thrive in future life and work.” (ITL Research)

One of the most exciting books of the year for those of us seeking to become ever more effective as innovative school-leaders and leaders of innovative schools, and, even more importantly, seeking to facilitate our students’ development of more innovative mindsets, is the new book from Clayton Christensen (et.al), The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the 5 Skills of Disruptive Innovators.

(Bill Ferriter has written brilliantly about this book herehere, and here).

The book is framed around the Five Core Skills of Innovators, a framework highly valuable for ourselves and our students: What are we doing to do more of and become better at

  • Associating,
  • Questioning,
  • Observing,
  • Networking,
  • Experimenting. 

It is my aim to write more about these five traits, particularly for teaching and learning, but here I want to focus upon school leadership and the book’s concluding three chapters, People, Processes, and Philosophies, to draw and offer 15 takeaways for Principals and School-Leaders: What You Can Do to Become Stronger Innovation Leaders in Your School:

1.  Own as Principal the role of Innovator-in-Chief: You can’t delegate innovation:     

Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”  Steve Jobs.

Christensen:

“In the most innovative companies, senior executives didn’t just delegate innovation; their own hands were deep in the innovation process… (more…)

NOTE:  For 2011-2012 the goals deadline is November 1.

Last winter we began a conversation in our Academic Committee about revising the long-standing process of faculty evaluation at St. Gregory.   There was strong interest in this revision coming from our teachers and our department chairs, and in April we made a commitment as a Committee to revamp our process.

A subgroup of the Academic Committee met in May, including department chairs, administrators, and myself, and identified some of our key concerns about the then-current process, and goals for the revision.   It was an odd time of year to start the conversation, as school was concluding for the year and summer broke thereafter, but it did work to stimulate valuable mulling for all of us over the course of those several hot months.

Our shared perception about the then-in-place process was that it was too infrequent (only every four years) for feedback, support, growth or accountability, and that it was too bureaucratic, too paper-intensive, too much a matter of jumping through hoops or checking off a checklis of required syllabi, assignments, papers graded, etc.

Our goals then, as they emerged through our discussion, became increasingly clear: a more frequent and timely process that emphasized goal-setting and growth but still ensured accountability for teaching and learning effectiveness and desired outcomes, and which minimized paperwork and other bureaucratic elements while promoting greater connectedness, communication, and transparency. (more…)

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