A 30,000 foot View
“Let’s take a 30,000 foot view.” “This is what I see with a 30,000 foot view.” These, and similar phrases are used in many organizations. It usually denotes strategic thinking. I found this explanation recently. “A 30,000 foot view could be looked at as a way of getting clear as to where we are, where we want to be, and how we’ll get there.” That makes a lot of sense to me. I’m taking a 30,000 foot view of ES 28 in a strategic and figurative manner.
Where We Are
We are at the start. We are at the beginning. It is the preface. Physically, the building is moving along in the construction phase. At last check, I was given an estimate of being about one-third completed. The opening of a school is much more than having all bricks in place. What I am doing now is painting a picture, but I haven’t begun to use the paint. I am defining the picture.
There is a big advantage to starting with a blank canvas. A school is like a small community. Schools, like small communities have a culture. A culture is built over time through the people who inhabit the community or the school. Often the work of the leadership is to change the culture. As a new school we do not have an existing culture.
Where We Want to Be
We want to create a shared community that values timeless human qualities of curiosity, exploration, and innovation. As humans we are naturally curious. Watch the actions of a toddler. Nearly everything in their world can bring about curiosity and adventure. Think about how our societies have evolved through the natural human inclination to innovate and make things better. We are constantly exploring aspects of our world to gain knowledge. These are all natural tendencies that we want to nurture and encourage.
How Do We Get There
We certainly are not there yet, but we are farther along than we think. We have the vision. The key ingredient of reaching this future is people. So many experts smarter than I espouse the ideas that any success, particularly in schools; is due to people not programs. From day one, and even now, we are working to establish a welcoming, relationship based community. We work relentlessly with our focus on the target. We want each and every student to be excited about attending school. We want each and every student to be connected to their school. We want each and every family to be proud of their school.
Let me throw in one more question.
What Does This Look Like
Words are one thing, but a visual is something else! I have located this YouTube video of another elementary school led by Dr. Brad Gustafson. He is the author of Renegade Leadership: Creating Innovative Schools for Digital-Age Students. Our purpose and focus will be to create a school with a culture that shares many of these same values.
Top Ten Reasons to attend elementary school in The Groves
A New School: My Beliefs
Over the last few months and into the future I will be connected with the building of this new elementary school. I am often asked, “What is like, building a new school?” “What will this new school be like?”
To date, and again into the future, many of the decisions will center on the “stuff.” Decisions are made on materials, furnishings, colors, layouts, themes, etc. What is missing and what will have the strongest influence upon the new building is people. This holds true for any school. The defining attribute of a successful school is the people who inhabit it.
The most important decisions that I make as a school leader are related personnel. It is so critical to have the right people to form, support, and maintain the culture and excellence of a school. To that end, I am firmly rooted in my beliefs and I will seek the kind of people who can promote a culture that aligns
I believe that a school should foster an atmosphere of innovation and risk-taking. Someone once said that “everyone and everything is either getting better or worse. Nothing stays the same.” As individuals and as a school we should be in a mindset of continuous improvement. As leaders and educators we model this practice so that students can attain the same mindset.
I believe that a school should encourage creativity. Rote learning is increasingly unconnected to the world we currently inhabit and certainly will provide no advantage in the future. We must encourage students to seek and develop their passions. They will then refine them through creativity. This characteristic is certainly prevalent within the arts, but goes beyond to how we approach problems. Students need to develop creativity in order to solve the real-world problems related to math and science as well. “Every child is an artist.” Let’s not forget that and let’s not inadvertently discourage the creativity associated with it.
I believe that a school should provide opportunities for collaboration and leadership. Everyone is a leader. The only way to hear the voices of all is through collaboration. Teachers must move beyond collegiality toward true collaboration for the benefit of all students. Collective thinking and solutions provide long term gain.
I believe that all students can learn and want to learn. Everyone is born with natural curiosity. The school must adapt to this natural curiosity. Learning must be relevant and interesting to our students. Our students must see and believe that the learning and the products associated with it have meaning. Students must have opportunities to share their knowledge with an authentic audience. As educators we must keep that curiosity alive and not squelch it.
I believe that future success of students is connected with communication. Students learn to receive information as well as transmit it. Reading and other forms of literacy are a foundation of gaining knowledge. The tools are continually changing, but it still comes down to understanding the message. Next, is the ability to use the information in some manner and transmit it to others in usable methods. These methods and forms, though also changing, still come down to writing and the transfer of one’s thoughts and ideas.
All of these beliefs can certainly be supported through the environment and through resources, but the primary mechanism for success is the people.
Recently, the majority of my creative thinking has gone into brainstorming ideas for the themes, graphics, visuals of the new elementary school. Of course, I have not engaged in this alone. I have talked with many other people within the district. I have gathered their ideas and shared my own. I have spoken with former colleagues that I grew to value and trust.
I have connected with several experts who publish and present about school design. I want to put in a plug for getting on Twitter as the primary vehicle that made this happen. These individuals from Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, etc. have been part of my #PLN (professional learning network). Prior to these conversations I had no connections outside of Twitter with them, but those connections certainly made it easier and possible for the conversations to occur.
Words and pictures are so important…and decisions are being made about what will adorn the walls in 2017 and for many years into the future. It has to be timeless. It has to carry relevance. I believe that these words and images have to inspire and send the message of what our school is about.
We are still into the iterative process, but I will share some of the words that are being considered for the walls that will tell the story and share the vision of the school as well as inspire teachers and students to great heights.
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
I am sure that there are many jobs and/or positions that require decision-making. I can really only speak to this as an educational leader. As an elementary principal decisions are made each and every day. In fact, in this position you must decide upon which decision may have priority over another. You must decide whether a decision should be made by you alone or through collaboration. Decisions are made all day, every day. With 24/7 access, the demand for decisions is constant. I often get home in the evening or on a weekend and have no desire to make even the simplest decision.
I am in the process of listening to the audio book edition of #Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath. I listened to it several years ago, but I am very glad that I have pulled it off the shelf to have another listen. We all have things that we can learn and improve, and based on the nature of the job of elementary principal, decision-making ranks high.
The authors propose a process that they coin as WRAP for making decisions.
Widen your options
Reality test your assumptions
Attain distance before deciding
Prepare to be wrong
I am not too deep into the book on this second go around. I have only heard and reflected on the first section, but it has many ramifications.
As the authors propose, we too often make either/or decisions. This is shown to often lead to narrow thinking and being wrong. Just as the title suggests, it is best to create or find options that exist outside of A or B. Too often we want to solve the problem and get it off the to-do list. I know that I can be guilty of doing this.
Schooling is changing. We are moving outside of the confining box of the 3 Rs. We are well into the 21st century and it is necessary to embrace the kind of thinking and learning that is present in our current world. One example of this change is through the adoption of the 4 Cs. These are critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication.
The idea of Widening your options certainly fits into these skills that we wish to develop in our students. As school leaders we need to practice them as well. I can have decision-making as a place to apply this.
I have recently been reading the October issue of Educational Leadership. There are many fabulous articles that have encouraged my thinking about teaching and learning, and in particular the theme of lesson planning. Two articles or columns that I read separately really intertwine into my thoughts.
The first was the monthly principal column by Thomas Hoerr. The second was the monthly column by Charlotte Danielson. Both writers address the topic of engagement.
Mr. Hoerr emphasizes three factors necessary for students to truly be engaged. These are relevance, high interest, and the feeling of success. If these are present students will be engaged for the sake of learning and not for the sake of a grade or compliance. These factors all present allow for curiosity and wonder. These factors allow for the learning to be joyful and fun. Students are engaged because they want to be, not because they have to be.
Ms. Danielson writes about effective lessons in the metaphor of a dinner. She asserts that we cannot become so focused on the standards that we are teaching that we forget about the student who is to learn it. In her metaphor the standards become merely ingredients. As teachers we have to combine the ingredients and consider who we are feeding. If we don’t make the dinner inviting and delicious the students may not eat it, or may bite and chew simply out of compliance.
It is my desire to be a leader of a school that has an intriguing menu. The classroom/dining areas are inviting and promote the discourse of learning. The students/patrons visit each day and can’t wait to return again.
Shortly after reading these columns in the journal I came upon the ad for a LaVonna Roth conference session on Twitter. It all came together and this student is showing and saying exactly what Thomas Hoerr and Charlotte Danielson are sharing.
The Classroom for Today and Tomorrow
We are already in the planning process for furnishing classrooms in the new elementary school that will open next August. I have been reading about ideas, seeing some ideas, and forming my thinking and philosophy of this.
I am drilling down to the basic thoughts of having the space being both functional and flexible. Those ideas work with each other interchangeably. I also work from the most basic premise that schools are for kids, not for adults.
My reading has taken me to books and blogs on the subject of classrooms and innovation. A recent blog by George Couros shared three questions that would be most appropriate for thinking about equipping a classroom for learning in 2017 and for many years beyond.
How can we be innovative given the constraints that we have to work within?
Is this better than what we have had before?
How do we share this with others?
This is a new building so one might think that there are no constraints. There might be fewer than an existing school, but they are still there. Of course, cost is a constraint. A set amount of dollars will be used for equipping the school in all areas of operation with classroom furnishing just be one. The limit then is being prudent. Getting what is desired at a reasonable cost.
I have no doubt that this will be better. Currently, schools here and around the country are moving away from the status quo in fits and starts. It might be a classroom or two in this building. It might be a hodgepodge of items that move away from the standard desks and chairs. First of all, I see us being very purposeful. There is and has been a push for instruction to change. There needs to be more student ownership and voice in the process. Learning is more process oriented as opposed to content driven. A classroom needs to have the functionality to promote this. We know that learning can occur anytime and anyplace and our schools need to model this as well. I have a caution hanging in the back of my mind though as we proceed. What we do here has to be better, yes. Better for today and tomorrow. What we must avoid are fads. Education is great for ideas that come and go quickly. We will avoid furnishings that may look great and seem like the best thing, but if they don’t meet the rule of functionality and flexibility it may just be a fad.
Lastly, how do we share this? Of course, the school will open in less than a year and that will create an avenue for sharing, but what can we do prior to this? I am already working to be able to have created, at least for a short period of time, a model classroom. This classroom in an existing school will show furnishings as we envision for the new school. In this space we can have visits from all stakeholders and decision-makers to actually see what we are visioning. We can have teachers view it. The best thing is that we can have students see it and react to it, not in just a quick “touring” kind of way, but with a lesson or two taught in the space.
My thinking around all this goes back to instruction and learning. We know that learning is evolving. We know that teaching must change to match the way children are learning. It must be relevant and engaging. The atmosphere in which this will occur must be conducive to support and encourage this to happen.
Engagement vs. Empowerment
In recent years there has been much written and shared in Education regarding Engagement. It is said and written that students must be engaged in order to learn. I’ll admit that I jumped on that train as well. I often discussed with teachers the need for engaged students in their classrooms.
This summer I read Innovators Mindset and came across two profound quotes cited in the text by Bill Ferriter. The quote related to engagement was this, “Engaging students means getting kids excited about our content, interests, and curricula.”
More recent discussion has taken engagement a step forward or perhaps in a different direction. This new thought for educators is on empowerment. Innovator’s Mindset also had a quote in the text from Bill Ferriter regarding empowerment. This quote was, “Empowering students means giving kids the knowledge and skills to pursue their passions, interests, and future.”
I started thinking about these two terms from a personal perspective. I am an active triathlete. It seems that I am constantly in training for that next event, always striving to improve. Training, though enjoyable for me can, at times, become routine. I can become disinterested. This is when I see myself as “engaged in the training.” I am completing the laps in the pool. I am finishing the miles on the bike or on the run, but is there any real purpose? Am I profiting from the effort? Am I improving through this engagement?
In contrast, there are times (and I hope it is a majority of the time), that I am truly empowered. I am highly motivated. The purpose is clear. The desire is present. When I am empowered I am invested in the training. I am focused on the effort. I see the purpose within the big picture of improvement.
There is a difference. When I am engaged I am doing what is written on the training plan. When I am empowered I am instilled with the purpose of the training activity and invigorated with desire.
It seems that we need to get students “empowered to be engaged.” We need to look at the bigger picture of inspiring our students to be curious and motivated about learning. Sure, there are times that we have to teach things that are of little interest to some students, but that is when we need to work hard to make it relevant and meaningful, which can raise the curiosity. We need to help students see the big picture for the learning. We need to help students be empowered about their own learning and progress.
I would venture to say that a curious student is an empowered student, and yes, an empowered student is an engaged student.
What Are You Doing?
I heard a story at church that goes something like this:
Three people were working and were asked the same question: What are you doing? The first responded by saying that he was laying bricks. The second individual explained that he was building a wall. The third person stated that he was constructing a cathedral.
What a difference in the mindset of these people who were all doing the same thing. It’s not hard to realize which person had more passion and purpose for the work. I bet there would be a difference in the quality of the work based upon this passion and purpose.
Hearing this got me thinking about how this simple story applies to education, and for that matter, probably all walks of life. Having passion and purpose is so important.
I’m not there, but I bet the third person had more autonomy in the job and was included in the development and formation of the bigger picture of the work. There is a good chance that the other two were simply told by their boss what to do and where to do it.
We want teachers who are passionate and purposeful as well. For many years I have worked with pre-service teachers who are learning the profession and/or completing internships within the schools. I can say from experience that nearly every one of these individuals is overflowing with passion. They are excited about teaching. They want to make a difference. They graduate. They obtain a teaching position and then in some cases that passion is lost.
We can prevent that as leaders. We can keep their excitement and passion burning. We need to continually have conversations about the big picture, about inspiring students to be curious about their world, and to be innovative toward creating a brighter future. Each and every day can be an opportunity for a child to find or refine their passion. As educators we can model this every day. We can be excited about what we do. We can approach students with lessons that are relevant, meaningful, and have purpose. We can help students build lives that are cathedrals. We can keep the passion burning so as to avoid the job of “laying bricks.”
Dear Parents and Friends,
It is with great honor and excitement that I write this letter of introduction to you as the newly appointed principal of the elementary school that will open in The Groves in August of 2017. This will be elementary #28 within Humble ISD. I am thrilled to be able to lead the launching of a new school that will support and enhance an already established reputation of excellence in education in Humble ISD.
I am starting my 28th year in the field of education that includes experiences in many areas of teaching and leadership. This is my 4th year in Humble following many years in State College, PA. My philosophies as an educator have been framed by experiences as a classroom teacher, instructional coach, curriculum director, and building principal. I am elated to bring my skills and knowledge as an educational leader to The Groves and to work with you as a partner in education to allow all children to grow in a safe and stimulating environment.
“I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.” Ultimately, family is what pulled me here. All of my wife’s siblings live in the Houston area. My daughter settled in this area following her graduation. She lives in The Woodlands with her husband and my two wonderful grandchildren. My son is a Pennsylvania hold out living in Philadelphia.
After meeting with the development team in The Groves I see that my personal beliefs and interests fit well within the philosophies growing with the community of The Groves. I am active and curious. I enjoy being outdoors. I have enjoyed many adventures of hiking, canoeing, and camping in the forests and mountains of Pennsylvania and Virginia. I have recently been able to explore some of the natural features of this part of the country. I strive to remain physically fit, which assists in working with young children. I swim, bike, run and participate in triathlons of all distances. I have two successful finishes of Ironman Texas. I must not forget that I am an enthusiastic sports fan. My favorite teams are the Pirates and Steelers in Pittsburgh, but I pay attention to the Astros and Texans as well.
I love to read. I am curious about our world and enjoy learning new things. I read to learn and read for enjoyment. I consider myself a student of learning. I recently completed an educational journey of obtaining a PhD from Penn State University in Curriculum & Instruction.
Music has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. I enjoyed involvement in music groups and performance in high school and in college. I continue that passion through participation in the Connexion Worship Band at Atascocita United Methodist Church.
I look forward to future opportunities to meet you, to talk to you, and to discuss and share ideas as we proceed closer and closer to the opening of the elementary school in The Groves.
Dr. Brian Peters
Principal ES 28, The Groves