educational leadership

School Violence: Who Should We Blame? ~In Memory of Innocence Lost

The horrible tragedy at Howard HS, in Wilmington, DE this past week hit my professional and personal communities hard.  Just now coming up for air, after many difficult and powerful conversations with children as they attempt to cope and understand many of the issues evoking from the sad, senseless, loss of another child in their presumed safe place, school. Conversations about violence, social media dangers, revenge, mental illness, death, grief, compassion, forgiveness... Howard HS is less than a 15 minute walk from my HS,  we have many varied close personal connections with students in my school to Amy (16 year old Howard HS student who died after allegedly being assaulted by at least two other female students in the school bathroom), her family as well as the other Howard HS students involved and impacted. My work life bleeds into my personal life so this irrational tragedy was even the first topic of conversation at our late dinner that evening Amy died, and every other meal we have eaten together since then.  Our children read my emotional state like a book and therefore, I really have no choice sometimes in choosing whether to share the events of my school day. I am heart broken; heart broken that it takes losing a young life to outrage so many about these issues I, and so many of us, deal with every day. My heartfelt condolences go out to all the families impacted, there are no words to describe the sadness and anger I feel, and the hope I have for their hearts to be healed and comforted over time.

There are countless issues, concerns and what-ifs that we could use to rally behind this tragic event. We could blame parents, schools, video games, the kids, poverty, lack of religion, music lyrics, internet, politicians, drugs, stages of the moon, or you name it. Anything and everything to help us make sense out of a violent attack (at the very least a violent fight), an act of violence that had Amy not lost her life, would have never elicited any attention to the needs, given us the opportunity to blame soo many, let alone nation-wide media attention to young violence and the even more prevalent underlying issues. More than likely, even less than a half mile away, my school would have never heard of the incident had it remained just a fight. Even with our connections to the students involved. Incidents like these happen every day, every where. As a system, as a society, we are completely desensitized to much of what occurs to our youth and families.

Ultimately in my opinion, the reality is our children and families need support. The planned fight by itself at Howard HS, as a means of conflict resolution of any kind (Note: this is not an attempt to explain the events of the day) demonstrates the need for intervention, the need for support, and not just for the children, for the community. Our children and families need supports and services ranging from mental health to financial services and every kind of support in-between. The commonality with any and all of the supports we have available, however, is accessibility. It can be nearly impossible to connect and/or navigate the established systems to complete the process and secure said services.

As educators with over 40 years of experience combined in urban education leadership, with a doctorate in Ed Leadership, masters in Ed Leadership, many certifications and a letter of superintendent eligibility, my wife and I have barely been successful in navigating our way through garnering the support systems available EVEN when we needed them for our personal children. One of our children literally had to wait months before being able to receive the treatment that multiple medical doctors suggest he receive, and then, only after an insurance company mess up, were we able to garner those services by default, through the grievance process.

We are one of the many professionals trained and able to recognize the indicators that initiate student referrals for additional services. But how, when, where do we learn the ins and outs of navigating the systems for the services that we connect families with to meet the social, and emotional  needs of their children. We are one of many who tend to blame parents and families when children are not receiving the services they need, often assuming that the family must not want assistance, they must be negligent. After all, if families wanted the support, they would follow through to get it,  correct?  Many of the services can be on a sliding scale for families or have no direct charge, we gave the parent a name and the contact at an agency, all they had to do was follow up and take the time to secure the service, right? We blame out of ignorance and frustration. We believe the child or family would benefit from the service and that is why we make the referral. Even after we complete our part, the parents may be unable to make their part happen. We begin to assume that the parents must not have tried hard enough, or waited too long. From our perspective we know the student is struggling, supporting the student's needs is not within our capacity, yet "we," as a support system, do not fully appreciate the entire process. We haven't a clue about how to guide families in navigating through the system once they leave our schools. It is messy and far more complicated than it needs to be so we must do better. Get better at understanding it, navigating it or fixing it!


I am ashamed to say that there have been occasions, as a parent, I have failed to get one of my children all the support they deserve, unable to complete the process of navigating this system or that system. I am ashamed to say that there have been far more times, when I have laid my head in my hands in frustration, unable to connect a family with the services they needed or to convince them that long process they were knee deep in was worth their continued effort. Trust me, by personal experience, each process, each agency for emotional, social, judicial, health, financial, housing support is different, but each requires persistence, time, and patience. Most also require technology (ie. internet, fax, email, word, scanner), documents, conference calls, financial forms, notarized forms,...endless forms to be filled out- and if your documents are not correct, incomplete or missing documentation... the process can not continue.


How many of our school-aged parents have the resources (time and abilities) to persist through a lengthy process? How many of our school leaders know how to support and guide our parents all the way through a grievance process in hopes to get a child and family the much needed resources, the help they so urgently need? How many school leaders understand the process of obtaining and securing resources they recommend for children and families? How many school leaders even know what questions to ask families to discern how they could be of service in the process of connecting supports they are referring for the child?


We MUST do better, we have far more resources then ever available but connecting to services is often complicated, not inclusive, inconsiderate of times, work, school, transportation and support. "I understand you and your son can not read, but I need you to fill out these forms, in triplicate, bring them back, with a10 dollar money order made out to the name on the front of this form with a notarized narrative from you of why you believe he is acting out, and in need of these service. Oh and we also will need another official copy of the referral from his school, mailed directly to us. We will take care of the rest, okay? See you tomorrow, our schedule is on the back along with our contact information.” Are you kidding me?

Personally I should be grateful, finding better ways to support schools, leaders and parents/families in support of ALL of our children and their success has fueled my passion for our business. It is why we work hard in support of leaders and families, it is why I go to work each and every day, but mostly after weeks like this past week, it just makes me sad, tired and frustrated…

The Pope As Building Principal?

by: Sherry and Kristina Macbury We were tickled to read a recent article written by William Vanderbloemen on the 5 Leadership Lessons From Pope Francis.

 

What can you learn and reflect on from Pope Francis' Transformational Leadership Style as an educational leader?

  1. Be Accessible

The Pope emulates this as evidenced by his actions taken on his first day – he switched up tradition and invited people to bless HIM as opposed to the long practice of blessing the people. Later, he made the choice to ride in a bus as opposed to a bulletproof limousine – he can even been seen riding around touring the U.S. in a Fiat.

 

And we see this being applicable to your schools and building leadership in two main ways: Customer service and Engaging ALL of your constituents.

 

Nothing replaces good customer service in a school than when your community can see that you can take care of the "little" things like answering and returning calls and emails, personalizing experiences for staff and students, and handling a busy main office with smiles and knowledge, it gives them the confidence that you can "handle" the big things like respecting and inspiring staff and students and for families, the education of their loved ones in a safe and inclusive environment.

 

How are you emulating being accessible to your “customers” in the principalship?

 

  1. Don't Ignore Social Media

Did you know the Pope has 7.3 million English account followers on Twitter?

 

Social media is a great way to leverage relationships and engage our families and communicate. Remember the most important information families want to hear about is their children, not about what you are doing for their school.

 

The main take away from this message is to exercise humility and inclusiveness via social media, just as the Pope does with his tweets.

 

  1. Flatten Your Organization

One of the first orders of business for the Pope after evaluating his organizational structure was to change his own title. He changed it from “Supreme Pontiff” to the “Bishop of Rome”. Again, he switched up tradition and rearranged his team, to be less hierarchical in nature.

 

Does your leadership team and building know your vision? Do they know their roles as it relates to the implementation of your school plan? Have you designed your leadership team and responsibilities in a way that allows you to remain the visionary and chief monitor of your vision – and ultimately built upon SUSTAINABILITY? If not, you need to consider stepping back and taking the time to make sure efforts are all going toward common goals and are vision and mission aligned. Otherwise, you likely will not reach your goals for your school and most importantly, your students.

 

  1. Take Risks

This one, for us at educate4hope, really resonated. You see, Pope Francis, has taken some BIG risks early met with controversy but, without sacrificing his faith in the Catholic Doctrine. From reaching out to atheists and agnostics, to embracing and engaging women who have had abortions, the Pope’s leadership in the area of taking risks is grounded in inclusiveness. How many people might say, before Pope Francis, that they have felt shut out?

 

So, as an educational leader – what risks do you or have you taken to be inclusive of ALL staff, students and community?

 

  1. Value Input From Subordinates

Pope Francis has impacted his reach and influence by valuing all people. What does that look like in his world? Well, he switched up tradition again as he washed the feet of prisoners, women and Muslims as opposed to the tradition of only priests. He also transformed the Synod of Bishops into a decision-making body as opposed to a ceremonial body.

 

As you know, every human being in your building is value added. It is your job to embrace, engage and leverage everyone's worth and authentically value it. Many may say we have lost our way as educational leaders in valuing input from our constituents. Don’t fall victim to this practice!

 

 

For leadership case studies, infused with much more humor, written from the school and district trenches of Philadelphia and Delaware…please be sure to click below to get your free copy of the Principal Pro (while supplies last). The Principal Pro is written by best-selling author, mother of 11, and educator, Kristina Diviny-MacBury.

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How to stay focused on what is important, when you’re waist high in sand!

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  At first, the image of being surrounded by sand might be appealing. Personally, being on any beach with loved ones is one of my favorite places to be, but that is not the imagery I am going for in this post. Additionally, in the era of high stakes testing, and the burden of ultimate accountability for a school’s success or failure resting squarely on the shoulders of the building leadership - not “sweating the small stuff” is a message that can be hard to swallow. Nonetheless, if you are an urban educator you do not want to feel like you live in a sauna (no matter how difficult it is to stay out of the sand some days, weeks or longer). So, let this serve as a reminder about staying focused on what is truly important, what is going to maximize the capacity and the number of blocks you can fit in your proverbial bowl, jar or bucket. Let me also state, there are many days I find it difficult to get “off the beach.”

 

Regardless of where we were in our school improvement process, I found it important to take my staff through a personal and professional goal setting activity at the beginning of every school year called everything from “Filling our Bucket” and “What’s in our Jar” to “Not Living in the Sand.” In essence this activity served to frame, present, and remind my staff of my core values and to specifically state our instructional priorities - setting the tone for the upcoming school year. As we approach the common educator fatigue months that late Fall/Winter brings (especially exasperated with daylight savings when you leave in the dark and come home in the dark), it serves as a great activity to regain traction and focus (or finally take control of the focus).

 

You can find many different interpretations and presentations of this demonstration of priorities, most of which are about time management. The following is how I adapted it to fit my leadership style. I would dramatically start with an empty glass bowl of some sort - a round fish bowl, a glass vase, or a mason jar and I would ask my staff to identify 3-5 of the most important components of their personal life, critical to their life’s fulfillment and happiness (i.e., Family, Health, Faith). I would then take 3-5 blocks to represent these critical components and fill the glass bowl to capacity. I would then say to my staff, “These blocks represent those 3- 5 priorities in your life and if all else were missing from your life, and only these blocks remained, your life would still be meaningful and fulfilled.” I would verbally share my “blocks” with my staff: Family, Health, Service/Value-Added, Integrity.

 

From there, I would add into the glass bowl marbles that would fill in the space between the large blocks, until the bowl was full of blocks and marbles; and then, finally adding in sand that would fill in the space between the marbles and blocks. With the addition of each new item, I would ask my team to consider the things in life that were important to them but not essential to life’s fulfillment. I provided examples like: work, school, and participating in sports, traveling or a hobby of some sort. These priorities were represented by the marbles in our “bowls” and then the things that were of convenience to them or materialistic (the small stuff) well…that was represented by the sand in our bowl. I then acknowledged to my staff, “If we were to fill our bowls with marbles or sand first, we would have no room for our big blocks, our priorities, the things that really mattered.” I’d like to think that I always speak from the heart, and I told my staff I cared about their Big Blocks as well and they needed to make sure their “Big Blocks” always came first, and to let me help them make sure that they made that a reality by providing support and modeling it.

 

Next, we talked about our school wide priorities for the year, our school’s Big Blocks. What was it that we were going to fill our school jar with that if we did not get any other material in our students’ glass bowls, they would be instructionally, socially and emotionally fulfilled? Then we continued with the process of identifying our marbles (the priorities, skills and achievements we would like for our students to leave with, but at the end of the day came secondary to our blocks). Then, there was our sand representing the minutia, all the things that if we put in our student’s bowls first, we would never fit in our school-wide priorities. I found this was a mighty powerful way to keep my staff motivated and on point, and a great way to keep us laser focused on our priorities throughout the school year. It also allowed great opportunities to say, “no more sand,” “not living at the beach today,” “not sweating the sand today,” “focused on my blocks,” or “are you thinking about your blocks?” These phrases often came out of my mouth when adults would attempt to engage me in discussions, requests or complaints about the need or desire to impose misaligned consequences on students or make decisions based on adult convenience over student’s needs or best interests.

 

 

Some years I would display our bowl all year long in a common place like our Main Office where staff signed in each morning to serve as constant reminder of the need to focus on and take care of our Big Blocks. I would also bring the bowl back out during our School Improvement Plan/ Action Plan monitoring sessions, a constant reminder why we set the priorities. I would like to add that there is one additional item for the traditional Prioritization Jar activity where you add a glass of water to the seemingly full bowl…my staff would often joke that should be the final component to our bowl - to demonstrate there is always room for a drink after work. Point well taken - be sure to celebrate growth and accomplishment and take some time for team building. Make sure that celebration of growth and accomplishments is minimally a marble in your glass bowl (or you can bet your message will fade by winter). Not everyone’s personal glass bowl will be the same, but everyone’s school blocks need to be identical. Take care of your blocks and stay out of the sand! May your daily acts be focused and aligned with your personal and school-wide priorities.

#settingpriorities

#EducationalLeadership

Reflective Leadership - it's not just for the health profession

Sara Horton-Deutsch writes about the necessity for effective reflective practices in health related leadership positions. The focal point is regarding the power of reflection in an era of "rapid rate of change" and the need for a "new framework" all while maximizing personal professional development and relationships. How do you connect this to educational leadership? http://www.americannursetoday.com/thinking-it-through-the-path-to-reflective-leadership/

What is Educate4Hope

Educate4hope was founded by our fundamental desire and beliefs that effective leadership coaching is the singular most effective strategy that positively influences and supports efforts of building and sustaining a legacy of academic achievement and positive school culture. The reality is, in many of our nation's school districts, eaders are not supported and professionally developed in a manner that leverages skills sets nor is it done in a collaborative, trusting fashion. Whether it is a capacity, skill set, political, or resource issue - it just doesn't happen in some systems. As a result, our systems, schools and students continue to be impacted by losing potentially GREAT people and leaders. We understand Urban Educators better than anyone and consequently, empathize with the sense of urgency in quickly realizing positive, sustainable outcomes and the challenges of working in very complex environments. Fortunately, we have learned from our challenges and been blessed with awesome experiences and professional development and we want to GIVE BACK. Thus, we have a very purposeful and intentional approach to our work and are committed to the following:

Mistakes are not welcomed here!

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Today in edutopiaDr. Richard Curwin speaks to the lack of inherent worth we as educators place on mistakes and most importantly the process of remedying mistakes. In his article It’s a Mistake Not to Use Mistakes as Part of the Learning Process, he reflects on how he has learned more from his own mistakes than successes. I whole heartedly agree as personally, not only have I learned more from my own failures (when I have had to pick up the pieces and identify specifically what, when or where I went wrong) but, from others and their behaviors or practices.  As an administrator and coach, I have learned so much from observing poor practices (please do not misunderstand, I see awesome practices as well, often).  Most importantly, I take these learnings, internalize them and share with others...so we can all benefit! We are preparing our students for jobs that have yet to be created, and for careers yet to be imagined. Carol Dweck has long identified the "growth mindset" as one that allows our children to rely on effort and grit, not natural talent for success. Understanding that working hard through the process of learning is more valuable than having the right answers will take us much farther. Our students need to have the confidence to take risks, learn from their mistakes, and not fear failure. The only way to create that mindset is to encourage risks, and a mentality that to fail is the first attempt in learning.