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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

New Administrator? You CAN Make a Difference!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/judybaxter/447180352/sizes/l/in/photostream/
July 1 is the beginning of a new fiscal year for many schools and districts. There are now many new administrators in the ranks, and many who have moved to new sites. After a career in the ranks of teachers, I recognize that these new leaders are often brought in to situations which are wildly dysfunctional. The dysfunction has grown for years- it rarely develops suddenly, but we often cross our fingers and hope that the new person will have a magic bullet.

In fact, in a dysfunctional faculty, there are many factors which will work against new leadership- almost daring the new leader to “fix” things at the site. While it is not too difficult for a new leader to spruce up the building, institute new policies, and make changes on the surface, deeper improvement is very difficult and it will take time.

How often is the staff morale healthy when a new leader joins a team? Rarely, I believe. And, I also believe that staff morale is of the utmost importance to any lasting change and improvement. Just as the teacher is the factor most responsible for student achievement in a classroom, the faculty as a group has the greatest potential to change student achievement at the school level- for the greatest school improvement.

So, the question: HOW does a leader make changes in staff morale? While the answers are varied, and I certainly can’t claim to have that magic bullet, I came across some interesting answers related to technology use which may actually help.

Problems leading to staff morale slip*:

  • Isolation
  • Negative tone
  • Lack of celebration of the good stuff
  • Lack (or perceived lack) of support

You can help turn these perceptions around by*:

  • Encouraging collaboration
  • Creating a focus on positive tone
  • Reminding your team frequently of the value of their work.


*This list and many of the solutions are taken from notes on an ISTE presentation by Rushton Hurley. His notes can be found here.
I’m going to give you a basic list, certainly not all-inclusive, of technology tools which you might find useful to encourage collaboration, create a positive focus and remind your team and others of the great work being done at your school. I’ll address subsequent posts in greater detail.

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Collaboration:
For a faculty meeting: Use a backchannel chat with a moderator to get more feedback from faculty.
Tools: TodaysMeet  Free! Easy set-up
Other tools may be found here.

For group discussion outside a meeting:
Pose the question(s) using a Google Form. Send the form to each faculty member or team (such as a grade level team.) Answers are gathered on a Google spreadsheet for you. Discussions may occur as a team fills out the form or when you present the results to the entire group.
For group brainstorming, document creation, feedback gathering: use TypeWith.Me  You create the document, send everyone a link (Better yet, shorten the link URL using TinyUrl.com  and make it available to everyone.) Everyone may add to the document simultaneously, and their contributions will show in a unique color.

If you have a set of clickers (individual response system) available, use those to gather input from the faculty and staff. If you don’t have those, tell them to whip out their cell phones and use PollEverywhere.com  to get their opinions. You have to spend a few minutes ahead of the meeting setting it up, but it’s worth the effort.

If you would like to really see your faculty working in teams on a particular project, initiative, or mission, you will want to set up other ways for them to collaborate. There are many ways for people to work together these days, even when they are physically far apart. Make a comment on this post if you would like to know more about how this could be arranged.

Positive tone:
It’s always awkward when we try to adopt a new tone. However, if you acknowledge that with your faculty and ask them to push through the awkwardness, for many of them, the new words and phrases will become second nature to them. Ask your group for things that are good about the school or district. List their responses. You might consider using one of the collaboration methods above! Remind them frequently that their attitude is a choice! Model the positive behaviors you wish them to adopt. Whether it is picking up trash they see in the hallways or saying hello to school visitors, you will be the prime example for teachers and students.

As you do walk-throughs (and every time you walk out of your office, you are on a walk-through!) make notes about positive things you see. I mean physical notes, not just “mental notes.” You will forget what you see if you don’t write it down. Take the time to send an email or even a personal note to the person you see exemplifying positive interactions. Quote them when you write the note. Believe it or not, this will be worth any amount of time you spend. Give 15 minutes a day to positive notes, keep track of those to whom you have sent them, and seek out positive interactions to observe with every member of your staff. They will be so happy when you single them out for a comment. No need to do this in front of the group. Individual compliments are very powerful!  How can technology help?  Use your smartphone, your iPad, your iPod Touch or even pencil and paper to keep track of what you observe.  Then use your email to send the notes to your team members.  Use a Spreadsheet to keep track of which staff members you have already appreciated and those you still need to thank.  Want to gather it all together?  Make yourself a Google Form, bring it up on your iPad or other device, and when you submit it, all your notes will be gathered in a Google Document (spreadsheet) for your records!

Valuing the work of the team:
I’ve come to believe that at least 50% of what every person does during their day is “invisible” to everyone else. Your faculty and staff are working hard to make your school great and make every child a success. If you begin to show that you notice what they are doing, they will work even harder. And they will feel so appreciated! This can go hand in hand with the positive tone actions you are taking. If you do not know what one of your team members is doing to further the work of the school, sit down and ask them. You may be surprised! Then you will have a better idea of what to look for and how to thank them for their efforts.  Be sure to reference the initiatives you have put into place as you express specifically what you value about what they are doing.  Then, watch as they begin to express similar appreciation to one another!

I hope you are able to effect the changes in the coming year that you have set as your goals. Let us know how it works for you by commenting on this post.