The Vastness of Our New Geography; Friendships That “Come Out of Left Field”



                 Giggles abound…Google enabled. Hey it’s like you’re in the room with us!!

We don’t need to meet someone in person to be inspired by them, or to consider them a friend.  David Theriault (Mr. Giggles in the above picture) and Kenneth Durham are two good examples.

This has always been true; we continue to read and be changed by thoughts written hundreds (thousands) of years ago.  21st Century Google-searchability has only made the process of accessing and being influenced by ideas from another era – or from contemporaries that live beyond our geographic reach – quicker.

October is Connected Educators Month – so what better way to celebrate #CE14 than pay homage to two people I’ve met through digital communities and whom I consider to be amongst my closest colleagues AND friends?  I have never stood in the same room with either of these guys, yet I continually draw on their voices, perspectives, spirit and attitude. Both have been pivotal in keeping me committed to pushing against established (archaic) models of school leadership, and both inspire me to be me while doing so.

And they both love baseball – another October pursuit!!

While I believe we all must invest more energy into connecting with our nearby colleagues – to contribute to our own growth and foster healthier, more loving working environments (yes, I said “loving”) – becoming “connected” two years ago really was for me an “out of left field” experience.  The digital age has changed what it means to “meet” someone; we can communicate in real time with people around the globe; ideas can be passed around, crumpled up, and re-imagined between people that are 1,000s of miles away from each other.

The Digital Age has transformed the geography of our lives; when we can post an image or thought to a global audience from a handheld device, we experience a sense of vastness that pre-digital media could not offer.


Umping, like leadership, is a constant act of observation, interpretation and decision-making.

My memory is a little shaky, but either David or Kenneth first dug up this article from the Washington Post and shared it on Twitter.  David then opened up a Google Doc as a conversation starter – the remainder of this post is that document verbatim.

Why share this? It’s another great example of the digital age landscape – despite its vast dimensions it allows people to get into a thought-huddle and produce something unique.


The article I’m responding to is here: (This is just a quick response I threw together during passing period.)

David’s (@davidtEDU) original comments:

In my response I’ll just leave the elephant in the room, the standard for efficacy,  for another day/discussion “The outcome measure of interest was student learning gains, as measured by standardized tests.” (GiGo)

Besides a formal evaluation there is a well-documented process of non-formal observations with effective analysis of teaching. At Fountain Valley High School, CA we use a modified Instructional Round approach. You can learn about our methods and exploration here:

Instructional rounds are usually conducted by fellow teachers, but I have had five principals at once in my room and several superintendents. Once everyone is used to the Instructional Rounds approach then observations no longer live as an interruption or anomaly in the class.

There are other reasons for informal walk-ins by school leaders. Often I’ll invite my principal in my class when I’m trying something new. I’m hoping he will keep it in the back of his mind when he is thinking about our current and potential learning environment during conversations with parents and our district office. I also enjoy when a principal sits in a class and actually participates in discussion, writing, reading, etc… What better way is there to show students that we never stop learning as adults and that our leadership enjoys the class environment we create.

This article brings up good points and I love that we can have these conversations on a national and global scale.

Eric Saibel’s (@ecsaibel) 1.5 cents:

The concept of “instructional leadership” is key. The biggest point here for me is that site/district administrators are NOT the only instructional leaders.  Teacher-led instructional leadership (formal, informal) is critical to building an all-school (district) culture of shared practice. If there is incredible work happening at your school, but you never see it, does it make a sound?  Admin can be key at working more flexible time into the schedule to facilitate collaboration and peer visits.  That might mean fewer minutes students spend in class (gasp!).  But one thing we know is that a teacher doesn’t have to be standing in front of a room of kids for them to be able to learn.  We need to be unleashed from the concrete-boot time schema in our bell schedules and creating embedded, ongoing opportunities to learn from each other.  This also ensures that the adults have more time to build/sustain healthy professional relationships, it’s not the “I see you in the copy room only, if I’m lucky” syndrome.

One elephant I’m happy to trot out: teacher tenure.  There is a certain perception that tenure = diminished commitment to being professional.  Yeah, my wife is a 14-year science teacher who could get by on ¼ of the effort she puts in – but she doesn’t.  Why? Because 95% of teachers care deeply about what they do.  The key to more sustained, thoughtful focus on great teaching/learning practices is to help teachers work LESS on the day-to-day and free them up to help individual learners more (tech is key here).  Alan November (@globalearner) talks about this in “Who Owns The Learning?” – students need to work harder than teachers.  Teachers see their role changing to something more powerful: coach, facilitator, mentor, learning space engineer.

I really like what David says above: admin should be a part of the learning experience alongside the students.  Yes, a part of the visit could be to give feedback to the teacher – AND, it is to show that all of us at school belong at the table together. Better yet: get LOTS of people providing feedback.  Kristen Swanson just posted this great piece on this very topic:

You know who else needs to be in classrooms?  The principal’s secretary.  The nurse.  The athletic director.  The lead custodian.  They all have relationships with students and teachers, and they are all a part of the learning community (an athlete is ineligible below a 2.0 GPA – I think the athletic director has an interest in that).

I don’t need to hype the Instructional Rounds at FVHS here, just check my blog for about 8 different references to it.  Why? It’s a wonderful example of a staff deciding that their classrooms belong to the public space, not private space.

Added 1/10/14: Last thing (for now) – what about an evaluation process (like a sabbatical) where teacher makes/produces something – like a book! A graphic novel! A software! A non-profit! Something that gives back to the learning (and broader) community.  “Evaluation” might be the wrong word to use beyond the probationary period (which I think needs to be longer than 2 years); perhaps “professional review” is better.  To me this puts the ball in the teacher’s hands to drive their own learning trajectory.  Then I think admin + peer panel come in as committee to assess growth and merit of this contribution.  Teachers are creators.

Kenneth’s (@principaldurham) Contribution

The results showed that principals spent, on average, 12.6 percent of their time on activities related to instruction. The most common was classroom walkthroughs (5.4%) and the second was formal teacher evaluation (2.4%).

This, the sixth paragraph of the story, says it all. The administrators shadowed spent 5.4% (approximately 21 minutes) of the instructional day in classroom. The average California school district spends 84% of its budget on personnel ( with the vast majority being individuals tasked with teaching student (teachers, paras, aides). I do not understand the concept that devoting an average of 21 minutes a day to developing a district’s most valuable resource is ethically or professionally a sound organizational practice.

I have worked as a site administrator for the last three years and as the article and comments point out it is all about priorities. Will paperwork help student achievement or will getting into classrooms to learn with teachers? Now I understand that there is paperwork associated with the job, but there are many ways to reduce or shift paperwork away from “instructional leaders” so that they can lead with teachers from inside the classroom and not from behind an office desk.

As the article states, the way in which an administrator works with a teacher is important, but administrators will never get to improve that skill until they begin to work on it. Get in there and do the fun and challenging work, our students need us.

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