Monday, August 8, 2016

Note to Self - Wellness is not Selfish

I'm sitting in my office after another great SAI Conference thinking about all that I've learned. A common theme in this year's "Reimagine" conference is to take care of your well-being, so you can take care of those around you (and be a better leader). It reminds me of the airline safety demonstrations regarding oxygen masks:

I'm reimagining my outlook that personal wellness time is time spent selfishly. I'm reimagining how a healthier me can positively impact my work, my life, and my school district.

I know my attitude affects the culture of the building. I believe myself to be a positive person and consider my dedication to my work as a plus. It's that dedication and busy-ness that has helped me let my workouts and nutrition slide a bit. They hadn't seemed as important as getting that email sent, creating a graphic for a presentation coming up, or getting my kids' bags organized or room cleaned.

The closing keynote speaker, Anese Cavanaugh, helped me see something from a new perspective. I had never considered my lack of self-care as a negative toward all the things I care about: my ability to be a good mom and wife, my ability to lead, my role in creating a positive environment. I hadn't considered that giving more to the organization at the expense of my health and well being could actually be negatively impacting the people and the place that I care so much about.

Big Idea #1: If I show up tired and lacking energy, I create a culture around me that reflects that.

At the opening keynote, Eric Wahl encouraged us all to "UNthink" schooling. Creativity isn't reserved for the Picasso's of the world; traditional school makes us think so. Sir Ken Robinson's TED Talk on the subject a few years ago gave me some background to that idea. Hearing and seeing the presentation by Eric Wahl made me think about my role in encouraging and supporting our teachers to be creative themselves. How can our organization have the kind of climate for the adults that we want to foster for our students? Just as I know I have to support each teacher in their role in creating this environment, I was able to see that I have a role in it for myself too.

Big Idea #2: If I believe in supporting teachers to be creative, innovative leaders in our work of educating children and if I believe that they do that better if they are healthy and surrounded by a positive environment, I must also believe that for myself.

Even SAI had a message directly to administrators to support this message of personal wellness. SAI's catch life program operates on the belief that to be the best leaders we can be, we need to have a work-life balance that focuses on our personal wellness as a way to support our organizational wellness.

Ok, I'm in.

So, here's the the little note I'm writing to myself to re-read throughout the year to remind me of the energy, excitement, belief and commitment I have in the 2016-2017 school year:

Dear Jen,
Today you recognized your personal role in impacting culture. You see how you are as important in the culture of the district as the teachers you are working to support. Your health and well-being allow you to come to work energized and to be present for the people who look to you for resources, guidance, and support. You believe the greatest resource this district has are the teachers within it; these adults are the ones that make a child's day - your two boys' day - be what it is going to be. You are not more or less important than they are. You are as important. Your health and well being are important to the work you believe in so much. You are not giving the best of yourself to anyone if you don't take care of yourself first. 
 Choose to make this a great year!
-- Signed your inner voice

Monday, March 21, 2016

Moving Towards Badges - Not so fast!

Google "badges" and a variety of images appear
Let's bring in a badging system to recognize all the great work going on! 

I thought I had this great, quick little idea to generate some celebrations in our school. There are so many teachers doing so many great things that badging seemed like an idea that could really support our culture of continuous improvement and add in some celebration and recognition. More importantly to me, it would be a way to share those great things with others, so great ideas could spread more rapidly.

While the idea was met with support, it was also met with caution. What will this do to the culture of our district? Will it be a competition with a leader board? Will this be another hoop to jump through? "I don't want people to think I'm bragging. What will I have to do to get one?"

To start, I read what higher ed institutions were doing as well as organizations in the world of work. I wanted to see how others were addressing some of the same questions we had as we started creating this system. I enjoyed the resources found here from the educators in Auburn, Maine. I also read an article on the University of Indiana's badging pilot. There are many other sites out there. These are just a couple I found helpful. There are some local districts in Iowa who have used badges too. 

Nevada Community Schools -
Bettendorf Community Schools - Technology badges (as they moved to 1:1)
Waverly - Shell Rock Technology Integration

There are cultural considerations to take into account as we proceeded with the idea. Here are a series of questions and steps we took as we've started to implement badges. My hope, like with all posts, is that maybe by sharing I can help others learn and avoid the mistakes already made. Make new ones!

What's the purpose? What will we gain by doing this?
  • Recognize: We have teachers doing amazing things and they don't always get the recognition they deserve. Most don't care about that recognition, but we all know that being told you are doing great work matters.
  • Celebrate: We want to bring ideas into our culture that support the positive, continuous learning environment. Badges seem like a way we can create winners in our organization for work they are already doing.
  • Share: Even though we are small and operate as a K-12 culture, teachers are often reluctant to share with other teachers the great things they are doing because they don't want to come off as bragging or boastful. In their modesty, we lose out on ideas spreading more quickly. If someone earns a badge, their idea/work is shared on a Google Site we created to house our instructional framework. Badges help colleagues see that they have a colleague they can go to for more information, ideas and support related to a particular topic.

What is badge-worthy?
  • We had to define what we expect for all teachers before we could say what was above and beyond. We created, "Learning Targets for All Van Meter Teachers" as a way to define what we expect from everyone (and that PD will directly support).
  • Badges are for work toward our district vision that is above and beyond the learning targets we expect from all teachers. See examples of badges here. 
    • Big Discussion Item: Badges aren't required in our district.
How will this tie into performance reviews, evaluations, Iowa Teaching standards and Individual Professional Development Plan's?
  • In our learning targets for all teachers document (linked above), we showed how each of the Van Meter specific items relate to the Iowa Teaching Standards. We listed suggestions for artifacts in a teacher's portfolio as well. 
  • Big Discussion Item: Badges are not part of our evaluation process.
What process will we use to submit work for consideration?
  • We created a Google form to use when a person or team was ready to submit work for a badge. This formal process is a little long yet and is something we are still refining. We want it to be quick yet thorough.
What will a badge look like? Who can create it?
Sample badge created by
  • I started out by trying to create my own. Clip Art is pretty amazing. Then, I realized I needed a system to help organize and track the badges.
    • Big Discussion Item: We want to get the great work communicated out to a larger audience. How will we track badges and why do we want to? For us, getting the names and work of our teachers out to a larger audience was an important piece.
  • There are a variety of systems to help. We used (fee based) for the creation of the badges, digital presence and ability to track a badges traffic online. There are others that are free and can do much of the same. Basno was the only one I found that tracks online analytics though. I investigated,,
  • We want our badges to be digital so staff can link them on their webpages and email signature lines if they wanted. 
How will we communicate with our staff about this?
  • Our teacher leaders were critical in sharing information with staff and bringing back ideas for us to consider as a leadership team. It was from their work that the Learning Targets for All Van Meter Teachers was created. 
  • Administration had to communicate to all staff on more that one occasion the true purpose of the badges. We wanted to be sure it didn't come across as "one more thing". Teacher leaders commented on how they benefited from the administration taking lead on the communication and then they followed up with reassurance and ideas.
    • Big Discussion Item: We don't want this to feel like a competition. At one point we did consider a leader board so everyone could see the badges of their colleagues in one place. Instead, we are using our intranet to highlight the work submitted, not the badge. This way we are sharing the examples of changes in instruction and student learning as the focus.
How will we hand-out the badges so it is seen as a celebration? 
  • An idea we picked up from Waverly - Shell Rock folks was to hand the badges out to teachers in front of their students, instead of in front of other staff members. The idea of being recognized in front of peers was a little more embarrassing, while recognizing a teacher's work in front of their own students seems more rewarding and celebration-like.
What expectations do we have for people once they earn a badge?
  • Share your learning with others. Keep on learning. That's it.
How will we know that it is impacting the things we want it to?
  • We have collected data for the past 5 years on Tracking and Assessing Cultural Shifts as we implement the PLC model. The celebration section of the data has been consistently our lowest category, while others have improved over time. We decided we had enough of the other pieces in place to address this part of the data. 
We hope that implementing badges will make a significant contribution to our positive culture. We are just in our initial phases and I look forward to sharing more about how the work of our teachers is making this such a great place to be!

If you are implementing badges at your school, I'd love to hear from you!