Friday, August 29, 2014

The Learning Never Stops

The learning never stops. No, seriously, the learning never stops. If you are alive, you must continue to learn. It is required; it is essential; it is vital. In my third week as the Headmaster of Saipan International School, I know that this year will be a huge learning adventure, a challenge, a large learning curve, but totally worth it. There are a thousand little things to learn and one of the large ones is Admin Plus. I've work with PowerSchool for years, so it is strange to work with Admin Plus, but I'm getting better with it all the time. The telephone support they offer is quite good, although the time it is available on Saipan isn't the best, it still is a huge help. Korea International School used Admin Plus the first two years I was there and then switched, so I do know the program a little from the past, but not as the main administrator. I've never really been a data base guy, so I have dipped into the memories of things that Ben Summerton told me about working with data. One thing I remember him saying was that errors are 99% human made when it comes to data bases and today I saw that first hand as I tried to fix a problem with a teacher's grade book.

The teacher contacted me and explained that two of his grade books had the same file number and he couldn't save or change one of them. This seemed fairly odd and I was cursing myself because I would have to get up early on a Saturday and come to the office to call Admin Plus support or the problem would have to wait until Wednesday on Saipan due to Labor Day. Progress reports are due on Tuesday, so the only way to solve the matter was to come in early... Or so I thought during the mad rush of the morning. But as I ticked off other jobs on my giant to-do list, I kept hearing Ben's words. Something was wrong, but it wasn't the program, it must be something I did or didn't do. I thought back to the very beginning of the year when the some teacher told me that the schedule should be Advanced Math and not Pre Calculus. I remembered changing the print version of the schedule to reprint, but did I actually change the course in Admin Plus? That's it! I went looking through the course schedules and sure enough, the G12 students were still having Pre Calculus, not Advanced Math. A few simply changes later and the problem was corrected and a lesson learned: make the changes in Admin Plus first and then make a change to the print schedule. The learning never stops!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Make One Thing Better Each Day

Being an educational leader can be an overwhelming experience. Your time is rarely your own and the demands on the little time you have are quite staggering; especially when you are the only administrator in the school. Parents have questions and concerns, students have questions and concerns, the faculty have requests, questions, and concerns, and the staff does as well. All eyes are on you and they are all looking for some guidance and leadership.

Even though I'm new to the demands of the job, I think I have found a novel approach; or at least the approach is novel to me and that is worth something to my personal professional growth. The idea is very simply -- make one thing better each day. That's it. That's all. But that is a lot. Make one thing better each day. Improve something each day, even something small. Because if you make one thing better, even if everything else around you went horribly wrong, you can always look at the one thing and feel like something improved today. Tackling one problem that is outside of the regular job to make the school better each day builds momentum. People begin to notice the changes; they come up with ideas and ask to make their own changes; and little by little, day by day, you transform the culture.

During the weekend, Aysem and I came to campus with a group of students to clean up some areas of the school that were in desperate need of attention. Our Yoga and Art teacher, Kim Peterson, also came in to work on her room. The Yoga and Art Studio is our former secondary library, but many old items were still left in there and had been for years. Many, many old textbooks were gathered there for no reason; along with some old reading books that were simply in boxes and unsorted. Dozens of old trophies were also part of the mess. Working with the students, we moved all the old books and removed some old shelves. Now we have a Yoga/Art Studio. It still needs work, but we made headway. Something improved, something got better.

Kim has some great ideas for making the yoga program bigger. On the weekend, she asked me about allowing some of the mothers to have a morning yoga class. The room is available and the mom's like the connivence of dropping off their children and then getting a yoga session in on top of it. How cool is that service? Not my idea, but a great idea. I told her to go for it. Little by little, day by day, you transform the culture.

The elementary team noticed that Amie McRoberts has a great love for art. She inspires her G5 students with interesting projects. Currently, we don't have a K-12 Art teacher, but the elementary students love and want to have art. The team came up with the idea of covering Amie's class once a day, so she can cycle through the elementary classes teaching art. Now everybody gets art once a week. Things are better, there has been improvement. Not my idea, but great idea. I stood back and allowed the team to do it. Little by little, day by day, you transform the culture.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Everybody Is Important, All the Time

I'll be totally, completely honest about my first day has a Headmaster at Saipan International School with my full faculty -- I was nervous and I believe it showed; but, I did survive and the second day was much better. The first day of classes with students went well and I wasn't too nervous. Every day I'm feeling like things are getting a little better, a little easier. So to reflect this early in the year could be a mistake, but I learned a lot during the faculty orientation and the first two days of school. My big take away thus far is -- everybody is important and everybody needs to know that you think they are important. Everybody. When parents come to campus and visit, they need to feel like they are welcome and part of the community. When students come into the office to ask questions, they need to feel like their concerns are important to you. When faculty make requests, they need to feel like you are supporting them. When staff members are working, they need to know that you noticed their efforts. Everybody is important, all the time. This job is about giving, not taking.

An example, one of my staff members was asked to move three stacks of chairs; when the teacher pitched in by grabbing one of the stacks and I joined in by grabbing the other stack, I thought her jaw was going to hit the floor. She was very appreciative that the "boss" was willing to help out with the manual labor. A simple gesture, but it meant a lot to her. Little things add up. Another example, a teacher has been using her class to organize the library every week and for three years, she has been asking for an extra shelf to be moved to the library to provide more room for books. The shelf is in another room and not being used. It will be moved this weekend. A simple gesture, but it meant a lot to her. My business office manager told me, "Each one of them (teachers) have a pet project and it means a lot to them." She is absolutely right. If you help people achieve things that are important to them, even if they are small actions, it shows a solidarity as Ben Summerton would say.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Returning to Saipan and Saipan International School

Sunset overlooking the lagoon.
From 2003 to 2007, Saipan was our home; we taught at Saipan International School. We formed some very strong bonds with the community and we were thinking of returning at some point; but when Dr. Jenkins decided to retire at the end of this school year, our opportunity to return came quicker than we had planned. May 2-9 we returned to Saipan to meet the teachers, students, and parents that we will be working with to continue SIS's tradition of being the best school on Saipan. Among the teachers, there were some familiar faces, but many new ones; among the students, we saw many new faces, but some familiar ones, only seven years older; and among the parents, we saw many familiar faces who welcomed us with open arms. I will be returning once again in June to work directly with Dr. Jenkins on more transition items. It was wonderful to be back on the island and we are looking forward to the coming school year and the new challenges ahead. Although the tropical climate is great and the environment on Saipan is amazing, we are really returning for the people. We took some photos during the May visit, the first round with many, many more to come.
PE class playing baseball on the basketball court. 
Front of the high school building.
The elementary building on the left and the middle school building on the right.
One of the many Flame trees on campus.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Attachment Theory Implications for Leadership

Calmer Classrooms
My wife, Aysem, is working on her last course to finish her M. Ed. in School Counseling before we begin working at Saipan International School in August. This particular course is mostly focused on Attachment Theory (AT), which I recall briefly reading about and discussing in an educational psychology course back when working on my B.A. Of course that was nearly 20 years ago, so this course vicariously provided me an opportunity to become familiar with AT once again. While my wife has been studying, I have been using her courses as a way to foster deeper understanding of counseling practices; I feel as an educational leader these concepts can assist me in understanding colleagues and students. Also, I was inspired to learn more about basic counseling due to a panel discussion for budding international educators at the UNI Job Fair back in 2007. John Chandler was on the panel and when asked what advice he would give new school leaders, he replied, "Take a conflict resolution course or workshop, because the whole job is conflict resolution in one way or another." And although, AT has its limitations, it is best to move forward as a practicer with a base in some specific philosophies or theories in mind to ground your practice. As my mentor Larry Creedon was fond of saying, "Theory not applied is useless and application not based on theory is reckless."

I don't want to rehash an explanation of AT in this post, but rather suggest that the theory could be used by leaders to be more sympathetic towards faculty, staff, parents, and students who may display very confusing behaviors. With that stated, a very brief overview at AT is appropriate. AT is based on the idea that a child's relationship with a nurturing primary caregiver is the basis for the child's future development and relationships throughout his/her entire life. If a secure relationship of mutual love, trust, and understanding is built, a securely attached child can explore his/her world and develop other relationships built on trust. Research has found that roughly 70% of children are classified as having a secure attachment with their caregiver. But what about the other 30%? These children will have insecure attachments, which can manifest in three styles -- avoidant, ambivalent, and disorganized. Insure attachments have been correlated with depression, self-harm, aggressive behavior, and psychopathology. Research has also shown that approximately 90% of physically, psychologically, or sexually abused children have disorganized attachments due to the confusion created when the caregiver is a source of love and protection and at the same time fear and a lack of protection.

When a child is displaying very aggressive behavior with other students, it could be a response to early childhood trauma. I'm not suggesting that you call the parents in and beginning questioning them or reporting them to Child Services, but be mindful of the possible implications. Be aware that possibly this child was once traumatized, and when in situations that recall that trauma to the child's mind, he/she may react in seemingly strange or disproportional ways. Colleagues and parents could also be wrestling with demons well beyond our ability to imagine. Before dropping the hammer of punishment or reprimand, consider the situation and the reaction. Does something seem amiss? Out of sorts? Could there be a deeper reason? These questions should be considered and any action on your part should factor these possibilities. Again, I'm not suggesting that wild, out of control behavior be tolerated and allowed and simply dismissed as, "Well that is little Sally's (or Johnny's) pathology. What can we do?" Instead, I am advocating for looking into the matter more carefully, but still executing a firm and appropriate response. The province of Victoria put together an excellent resource for educators called Calmer Classrooms that provides a basic overview of AT, three case studies, and guidelines for working with students who are possibly suffering from insecure attachments. The information is just as useful for educational leaders and can be adapted to elementary, secondary, or even adult interactions.

I still haven't had the opportunity to take a conflict resolution course or workshop, but once Aysem is finished with her current degree, we will probably tackle that one. One step at a time.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

SkyTent -- your inflight sanctuary!

SkyTent -- your travel sanctuary!
I don't normally do product reviews or drone on about products on my blog, because that simply isn't me or what I do, but this situation is different, so please bare with me. My friend Ben Wood, who is currently teaching Art at Korea International School, has created a travel product that is very unique and totally cool for those of us who travel long distances by plane, train, bus, and/or boat. He has arranged a Kickstarter campaign to get additional funding for the product. It is a hat with a piece of fabric to cover your face. It sounds ridiculously simple, right? But it is very wonderful, because the brim of the hat keeps the fabric from touching your face, so you don't have that claustrophobic feeling you would get from a shirt, blanket, or jacket over your face. In addition, the fabric he used to make this sanctuary in the sky breathes quite well, so you can still feel like you are not being choked and you can actually see through it reasonably well, but no one can see in. Cool, right? You can still wear your headphones and use your favor neck pillow, because the SkyTent will cover it all. This is a chance to help out a fellow teacher with his dream and improve the quality of your own travel at the same time. Win-win situation in my book! Plus, if you help out Ben with his Kickstarter campaign, you are helping an average Joe launch his own business. My father owned his own business for most of his life and it was great for our family, but also for our community. Small business owners make the economy run and put jobs and money into our communities. Even if you only go and look at the Kickstarter page, but don't give any money, you are helping out Ben, because traffic on Kickstarter is a big deal. It shows that people are interested in the product which encourages others to contribute. Thanks!