Monday, June 30, 2014

Worth Hiring?

Almost eight years ago I was asked to be on a committee to select two teachers to join our staff. I was happy to be a part of the selection committee...but I quickly found out that it was a very difficult process.  I remember looking through nearly one-hundred resumes, I remember sorting them into piles and having lengthy discussions about candidates.  The process was tedious and a bit frustrating.  The frustration came from the fact that nearly all candidates looked strong on paper.  Eventually we narrowed to eight candidates.  

At this point you would think things would gain traction and the real excitement would start. Unfortunately that wasn't the case.

As we sat in our air conditioned computer lab and interviewed candidate after candidate I was simply amazed. Each one of us on the committee took a different approach, in hindsight this was a good thing.  We all had unique perspectives and thoughts.  Yet after the interviews concluded things became awkward.

I'll never forgot sitting in that room and listening to the comments of my colleagues.  Not one comment focused on who would be best for kids.  The comments were -

"They would be a great fit with our staff."

"I could really team well with that person."

"Their positive attitude would lift up our morale."

"I would love to work with that person."

As I listened and took in these comments I began to wonder, do educators hire the best candidate or a possible friend?

You may be reading this and thinking, Hire a Possible Friend?  Yes, I've witnessed it first hand...going back eight years ago the teachers I was on the committee with had a selfish viewpoint.  They focused on who they wanted to work with, not who the best candidate was.  

What I've learned through participating in nearly two dozen interview committees is this: The person that is best for kids will likely be a great fit with staff.  The focus must be squarely on, who is best for kids.

I feel compelled to offer a few ways I look for the best candidate...

I've been told the first three minutes are crucial.  Some even say you know if you want the person within the first three minutes of the interview.  My personal viewpoint is, you can't be hired in the first three minutes, but you can shoot yourself in the foot in the first three minutes.  It's important to come in positive, upbeat, happy and ready to share.

Does experience matter?  I would say no.  My personal viewpoint is, I want the candidate that has a growth mindset and shares a passion to work with ALL kids.

Finally, when interviewing a candidate the answers do matter, but the connections and personality matter more.  Here is why, if the candidate has a growth mindset, I'm confident they will learn new methods, strategies and procedures.  I don't expect candidates to know everything, in fact, I appreciate the honesty when candidates admit they don't know something.

If you have had the opportunity to be on a hiring committee I hope you have kept the core values of teaching at the forefront.  Hiring a new teacher is a life changing decision.  It's life changing for the individual, but more importantly it's life changing for 25+ students.

This week's big question: Would you be comfortable hiring a candidate that pushes you as an educator?

Articles Worth Reading:

When Teachers Bully Teachers +Pernille Ripp @pernilleripp

A Balanced Approach To Social Media for Teachers +TeachThought @TeachThought

The Thin Line Between Passion and Anger... +Jeff Zoul @Jeff_Zoul

Common Core or Guided Reading? @ReadingShanahan

Reflections of a 1st Year Administrator +Colin Wikan @ColinWikan

Excuses Hold Us Back +Eric Sheninger @NMHS_Principal

16 Things You Shouldn't Have to Justify to Anyone Else +Marc Chernoff @marcandangel

Videos Worth Watching:

5 Things that make Summer Awesome! (3 min)

Jim Gaffigan makes me laugh out loud! (3 min)

Easily one of my favorite speeches of all time... (17 min)

What makes a hero? (4 min)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Letting Go

Has anyone ever said to you, "Kids grow up way too fast"?  I have heard these words for years...I've heard them as an educator and as a dad.

My philosophy with my kids has always been, Be the engine to get them started...and then get out of the way.  When my kids were younger the activities would include kicking a soccer ball, sliding down slides, attempting the monkey bars and playing the game "lava" around the edge of a park.  I have wonderful memories of our visits to the park.  As time has passed the activities have changed.  Now we ice skate, golf, build things, swim, read and explore.  Whether it is past or present I have tried to make activities fun and entertaining.  

As a classroom teacher I took a similar approach.  I wanted to make learning an enjoyable experience.  I remember a time when I was able to step back and watch with sheer pride.  Our class was working on a project, and each student had the choice of how they could show what they learned.  Years ago this would have been my version of Project Based Learning. I had a few students that wanted to use music or song to show off their learning.  One young lady that struggled to show what she knew in a typical setting really blossomed with anything that involved music.  Her name was Macy.  Macy approached me and asked if she could memorize and sing the Star Spangled Banner.  During the final quarter of the school year we had discussed the song and I thought that this would be fitting for Macy.  I told her to learn the basics, who wrote it, when it was completed, and then I had one more caveat for Macy...I told her I would be videotaping. Macy smiled and got nervous, she knew she would be in front of her peers, but also being taped...I thought that might be a deal breaker.  I was pleasantly surprised when Macy excitedly took the challenge!  The day finally arrived and Macy dressed up in red, white and blue. Then the moment of truth...Macy absolutely hit a home run!  All year long she struggled to fit in and find her niche.  I was so proud to watch her excel and nail the Star Spangled Banner!  As I reflected I was happy that I gave Macy the freedom to be herself...but I was most proud she stepped up to the challenge and did it!

I remembered that moment this week after I took my youngest son to his first ever junior golf event.  Troy is nine years old and for the last four or five years he has joined me on the links during the summers.  Last year I could see that Troy had a little drive to improve, so this year I decided to get him started in the Spring and then ask him if he wanted to join the Junior League. He excitedly accepted.  The Saturday before his first event I took him to the course and we walked nine holes.  I got to listen to his grumbling about being tired and carrying his bag, but I was also able to encourage and give him some tips.  I felt fairly confident that he was going to be just fine. Finally, on the morning of his big day I drove him to Sharp Park.  My plan was to watch him on the first tee, encourage him and then leave.  At this point some might wonder, why would I leave? The fact is, I could have walked all nine holes, I could have watched, caddied or even been the score keeper.  I told my wife that I thought it was important to let Troy grow up. Letting Go is a tough thing for adults.  My approach is to try my hardest to put my kids in a spot to succeed and then, let them take it from there.  That's what I did.  I let go and allowed Troy to figure it out.  I could go on and tell you all about that first tee shot, but I won't...I'll let you see it for yourself. (Yes, Troy is the one that looks like he should be on the basketball court...not the links.)

As I drove away from the course I had mixed feelings.  I was proud that he was growing up...he wasn't the little baby anymore.  As a dad I wanted to stay and watch, I wanted to see all the good and bad and just take it in.  Finally, my feeling was one of peace.  I was letting him grow up and figure things out.  (I'll admit, I was pretty proud that he ripped one up the right side about 150 yards!)

The two stories are very different...but they do have parallels.  Both Macy and Troy had the ability to show their stuff.  They needed opportunity, trust and for adults to get out of the way. These two moments will always be with me; they teach me two important things: 

1)  Every kid can succeed...we as adults need to figure out how to bring it out and let them show their stuff!

2)  It's okay to let go.  Our kids are growing up fast and our responsibility as adults is to help put them in a spot to succeed and then get out of the way.

Letting Go is very difficult. I encourage adults to be the engine that gets them started, and then get out of the way.

Articles Worth Reading:

Videos Worth Watching:

Hilarious!  (4 min)

Validation...great short film, you won't regret taking the time to watch. (15 min)

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Fun Filled Learning?

For many educators school is out, or about to end for the year.  The educators I know have completely dedicated themselves throughout the school year and a bit of a break is well deserved. I do believe it is unfortunate that educators receive a bad rap for having summers off.  The fact of the matter is, many educators use the summer to re-connect with family and to organize themselves for next year.

I, like many parents, try to get my kids into summer camps.  These summer camps allow for learning, fun and new experiences.  Personally I think summer camps are great for kids.  It teaches our kids how to adapt and that learning can happen at any moment.  

As we grow older we as adults sometimes lose this perspective.  Can we relax and still learn?  I believe the answer is yes...

I do want to encourage all educators to never stop learning.  It's vital to keep balance and to spend quality time with family and friends, but you can also keep learning.  

Learning looks different to everyone.  Here are some ideas for summer learning:

1)  Start a personal or professional blog.  Reflecting = learning and this would be a great way to step out of your comfort zone, while also being in a safe summer environment.

2)  Meet with other educators/colleagues.  During the school year we always feel strapped for time.  Summer allows for conversations about practice and it allows for collaboration on new ideas.

3)  Read a book.  Possibly the easiest way to keep learning is also the most basic.  I would encourage you to read for professional growth as well as for pleasure.  If you have trouble sitting down and reading, why not look into downloading the audiobook.  Whether you read it or listen to it, I'm confident you will have your thinking pushed.

4)  Challenge yourself to trying something new in your classroom/school.  The possibilities are endless...create a weebly page, use twitter in your classroom, flip a lesson, have students blog, redesign your classroom space, try Genius Hour, Mystery Skype, create student eportfolios, or even utilize tools such as Edmodo or Evernote.  Making small tweaks to what you do can re-energize your craft.  Don't be afraid to try something new.

5)  Reflect.  In the safety of your own space honestly reflect on what you believe is a strength, and what is an area to work on.  Set some goals for the upcoming year and never stop learning.

These are just a few simple ways to use your summer as an opportunity.  I don't expect people to fill up all 10 weeks of their summer, the key is balance.  I hope you find your balance.


Monday, June 9th:  KDG trip to Potter Park Zoo
Monday, June 9th: Fire Drill in the AM
Monday, June 9th:  Volunteer Luncheon located in the library
Monday, June 9th:  4th grade to Discovery Center
Tuesday, June 10th:  5th grade Graduation 10am
Wednesday, June 11th:  Last Day of School (1/2 day for students with dismissal at 12:05)

*  Is it safe to say we are going to line the hallways for our 5th grade send-off?  Please let me know so we can be organized.

*  Before you leave for the summer please be sure to complete the checklist and paper work.

Panthers Podcast:

Panthers Podcast 5 - Paul Wiley

Panthers Podcast 5 - Paul Wiley (iTunes version)

Articles Worth Reading:

A new chapter begins... +Todd Nesloney @TechNinjaTodd

11 Bad Teaching Habits That Are Stifling Your Growth +TeachThought @TeachThought

The Beginner's Guide to #20%Time +A.J. Juliani @ajjuliani

5 Steps To Better Lesson Planning +Lisa Dabbs @teachingwthsoul

4 Things You Must Give Up To Move Forward +Marc Chernoff @marcandangel

Videos Worth Watching:

Helping students with Autism find jobs in tech... (3 min)

@TheEllenShow sums up awkward encounters... (3 min)

Brian Regan...Spelling Bee humor (3 min)

Warner 5th Grade chant! (30 seconds)