Never Having to Say “I can’t.”

Connect

As Connected Educator month wraps up, I’ve been reflecting on what that particular word actually means to me. Often we talk about it in regard to our students and whether or not they are making the essential links between what they have been taught and what they are currently learning. “Are they connecting yesterday’s review to the new information I’m presenting today?” I’ve used it in discussions that center around students or families who are having a difficult time seeing value in what we do in our building. “How do we keep parents apprised of our priorities and connected to our school culture of growth through learning so that they can reinforce it at home?” As 21st Century lead learners we use it to denote how we interact with other professionals via social media. “I am a connected principal, and I have a burgeoning PLN!”

Certainly, all of these uses are correct and appropriate to what we do as educators. However, recently the idea of being connected spoke to me on a much deeper level. This weekend was an intense few days of talking, sharing, and learning via two different, but equally important, professional development opportunities. While I packed a great deal of activity in to three days, my mind keeps coming back to the same idea: Being connected means never having to say “I can’t.”

EdCampUNY

It’s been a little over a year since I hooked up with a (best kind of) crazy group of risk taking educators and we started talking about bringing the EdCamp model to Upstate New York. It literally evolved out of one of those “Hey, why don’t we do this here” kind of moments. One person said it, and we all tumbled like dominoes. I really struggle to put into words how valuable the relationships that have developed out of this process have become to me as a person and professional. During the year since we began planning I have very unexpectedly (but certainly not unhappily) transitioned from a high school assistant principal to a middle school principal, and this group has been there for me, supporting my learning, every step of the way. Whether we were laughing together on a Google Hangout or Voxing while driving back and forth to work, I know that I can turn to any one of these individuals (Lisa Meade, Vicki Day, Christina Luce, Peter DeWitt, and Patti Siano), and they will have my back. They are role models in every way, but especially in the way that they fear neither taking a risk nor failing and starting over. They hold a special place in my PLN, but an even more special place in my heart, and I will say that over and over to anyone who tells me that meaningful friendships cannot be forged via social media.

In the end, my biggest takeaway from our first Upstate New York EdCamp was that it doesn’t matter how many people are in the room. What matters is the conversation. We are small, but mighty. We learned about makerspaces, instructional tech tools, best literacy practices, and ways to connect at-risk boys to school. We taught a room of 35 educators how to participate in their first Twitter chat in real time (thanks #satchatwc). The discussions were rich, and everyone in attendance had something to share. This is the beauty of the EdCamp model. But most importantly, the thing that matters more than anything else to me, is the fact that I made new connections and strengthened relationships that I thought were already pretty solid. Special shout-outs to my partner in innovation, Matt Hladun, for opening doors and web filters (among other things) at our site, Queensbury HS, and to Jon Harper and Ross Cooper, who went above and beyond to make long trips from out of state and consistently elevated the level of conversation throughout the day. Meeting you both was a true highlight!

EdCamps bring out the best in us as people and professionals. They get us to think outside of the box, connect us as human educators, and they bring the conversations front-and-center at the ground floor level, which is something that state education departments across the country can’t quite seem to do. We took charge of our own learning, engaged in a tremendous leap of faith in some regard, and it paid off exponentially. I couldn’t be more proud!

Check out our day, and keep your eyes peeled for #EdCampUNY2015!

EdCampUNY

Stay tuned for upcoming Part II of my weekend PD extravaganza reflection: #SAANYS14

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Ready to Ignite!

It’s well-known throughout the world of social media that since WiFi has been made available on airplanes, one of the first things many people do once they’ve been cleared to access it is to tell everyone that they are “Tweeting from and airplane” or “Facebook-chatting from an airplane” or “Taking pictures of the beautiful sunset/sunrise from 30,000 feet and sharing it with you all from an airplane” before they do anything else. Well guess what, I’m writing a blog post from an airplane, and I’m very excited! No, it’s not because I can connect with my PLN from the air, although that is pretty cool, and it’s not because I have an exit row seat (at 6’5″ tall this is as close to first class as I’ll ever get). It’s because I’m on my way, after making a flight switch thanks to winter weather in the Northeast, to the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) national conference, Ignite ’14 , in Dallas, Texas.

I decided back in October that I had to attend this conference. Afterall, it’s really a gathering of some of the best minds in educational leadership, and the geek fanboy in me was intrigued (read: more excited than I should be) at the idea of possibly meeting individuals that I have come to respect for their professionalism, innovation, and general prolific presence and stamina after following them on Twitter. People like Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal), Jimmy Casas (casas_jimmy), Daisy Dyer-Duer (@daisydyerduerr), Todd Whitaker (@toddwhitaker), and Brad Currie (@bcurrie5), among others, are people that I am regularly inspired by online, and having an opportunity to learn along side them was just too good to pass up.

Something I am equally excited about is having the opportunity to participate in the opening thought leader session this evening featuring the insightful Dr. Carol Dweck, author of one of the hot non-fiction books in educational circles right now,
Mindset
. This book is extraordinarily applicable to my life both personally and professionally. It’s rare that I find myself so engrossed with a work of nonfiction, often stopping suddenly to say things out loud like “Yes!” and “This is me. I need to adjust my thinking!” I regularly refer back to Dr. Dweck’s research when talking with teachers and students in my building. It’s easy to connect with her work, and her approach to creating a growth rather than a fixed mindset is something that everyone can begin to implement immediately upon engaging with the book. Stay tuned for a longer post about how I’m shifting my own thought process toward growth, an approach that has really helped me to readjust my outlook and focus on moving forward in my second year of being an assistant principal.

Most importantly, though, I am looking forward to walking in to my school on Monday morning with a renewed energy to lead alongside our dedicated faculty and staff. I am lucky to work in a forward-thinking school district, one that embraces technology, teacher leadership, student-directed learning, and supporting all members of the community. I am excited to be able to come home to this environment ready to contribute new ideas, programs, and approaches to student learning. I’ve got a busy schedule over the next several days, and I think I might find it difficult to fit everything in. But that’s not going to stop me from trying. Attending Ignite ’14 is in line with the idea that I am not a boss or a manager. I am one of the lead learners in my building, and I am ready to jump in with all the other lead learners in Dallas who are looking for ways to better serve our students and families.

My tweets this weekend will be (mostly) dedicated to sharing the sessions I attend with my PLN. Hopefully some of you reading this post are in Dallas. If so, I’d love to connect. Find me @Tim_Dawks. Also, don’t forget to connect with NASSP (@NASSP), and follow along with the conversation at #nassp14.

As my principal would say, let’s light this candle!