It doesn’t surprise me that learn and innovate in our schools with kids is the story that we need to tell. If you were one of the over 350 principals who attended the conference in Kalamazoo the first week of December then you found out that this conference certainly had a FOCUS-on learning, leading, and loving! And love we did the children who started our conference with song! Choirs from two Kalamazoo Public Schools serenaded us!
For the first time, we had a conference app to use as a guide to find sessions of interest, create an agenda, peruse exhibitors, receive session alerts, and even download selfies! Once again the use of Twitter and #MEMSPA were well utilized as conference attendees tweeted the best learning they were experiencing in real time. We learned from Mike Domalgaski about #MEMSPAchat and the importance of digital professional learning each Thursday night at 8pm on Twitter. Shanna Spickard, our MEMSPA president shared how our leaders are advocating for a strong organization that not only provides learning for members but also supports and provides a voice in Lansing to ensure what is best for our kids. She also reminded us to #lead positive!
Dr. John Draper, our first speaker shared “Crucial Conversations about Americas Schools” He reminded us that we are the chief morale officers at our schools and we must work smarter to change the way Americans feel about our schools. He challenged us to use language that reframes the issues.
Instead of Godless, Government, Schools- try Caring, Community Schools!
Instead of Selfish, Union, Employees- try Sincere, Dedicated, Employees
Instead of Leaving Children Behind- try Every Chance, Every Child, Every Time!
He reminded us that we don’t have a learning gap but a Poverty Learning Gap! Poverty is the common factor among low-achieving children. If time is a constant, then achievement will always be a variable. We need to identify struggling students early, embed remediation, remove time constraints, and provide the multiple options needed for every child to graduate.
He taught us that we have the “Curse of Knowledge” and that we are not sharing the miracles that happen in our schools each and every day. He urged us to Tell the Story! Think and talk about what you believe and why. Belief is contagious . . . Spread yours around! Communicate the importance of your school to your community without confrontation. What are your schools success stories? What stories touch your heart? EVERY child deserves a quality education regardless of where they are located or the parents they have or don’t have.
Standardized tests are just one measure of learning and we need to broaden our assessment of ALL indicators of success including creativity and self-discipline. He shared a story about a Singapore educator who traveled to the United States to observe and study American schools. When asked why they would want to study our schools that perform average on International tests compared to his country that scores number one, he said, “We are good at teaching kids how to take tests, but we are not good at teaching kids the test of life.”
Finally he asked us to commit to do four things during these difficult times in education:
- Shift your attention to the positive!
- NEVER bad mouth another educator in public!
- Share one positive story per week with your PLN!
- Monitor your progress!
After lunch with our region colleagues, we had the opportunity to choose from more than 12 learning sessions from Making Thinking Visible to The Ending is the Beginning: Managing Transitions with Resilience and Positivity.
Our closing session of the day included a Question and Answer opportunity with Brian Whiston, Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction and a legislative update by Paul Liabenow, MEMSPA Executive Director. While Paul was introducing Brian, over 30 MEMSPA principals did a Flash Mob to “We Are Family!” A perfect opportunity to thank Paul and the MEMSPA staff for the creation of a culture of support, affirmation, advocacy, and connection!
After an evening of networking and exploring the City of Kalamazoo for dinner opportunities, we started our morning on Thursday with a keynote breakfast session with George Couros. He presented a session titled: “The Innovator’s Mindset; Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity” The strong message that George threads through his presentation is the importance of digital leadership and innovation. He shares so many inspirational quotes, stories, videos, and is such a compelling speaker that I would do a disservice to try and explain in writing what learning takeaways occurred. Here are some of my favorite quotes:
“Transformational leaders don't start by denying the world around them. Instead, they describe the future they'd like to create instead. – Godin
“How do we embrace change? The smartest person in the room is the room. Use each other!”
“To inspire meaningful change, you must make a connection to the heart before you can make a connection to the mind.”
“If you don’t like change, you are going to like irrelevance even less.”
“Digital leadership is not about technology, but about relationships and learning.”
“Technology will never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of great teachers is transformational.”
“You see technology as a distraction, students see it as an opportunity.”
“It is Not about what you teach, it is about HOW you teach it!”
“The Big Question? Would you want to spend the whole day learning in your own classroom?”
“If you have only taught kids the curriculum, you have failed them!
Powerful learning first, technology second”
“The biggest game changer in education? An educator who looks at him or herself as an innovator.”
After another 12 learning sessions to choose from we had lunch and perused the exhibit hall with all of the wonderful vendors and learning opportunities. The day finished with another six sessions to choose from before a little brain rest to prepare for the evening’s festivities.
At the Leadership Banquet, we honored our region honorees and celebrated with the new Outstanding Practicing Principal for 2015, Nicole Airgood, Principal of Eastwood Elementary in the Sturgis Public Schools. The evening was completed at the Lifetouch Afterglow party where we danced to the great band The Newsmakers!
Friday morning brought more opportunities for learning with a live #MEMSPA chat on various topics moderated by different leaders and six final learning sessions to choose from.
The final general session was given by Dr. Nancy Colflesh and was titled “Going Fishing with Kelly” Nancy described the horrific accident that her son had some 25 years ago and the brain trauma and injury he suffered. She shared how MEMSPA members came to her assistance by providing money to help support her trip to Florida to see her son who was attending school there. She shared seven lessons learned about leading, learning, and loving. Although I have heard many of the stories that Nancy told, it was enlightening for me to hear them again as she re-creates herself as a lifelong learner, leader, and lover! I am grateful for Nancy’s friendship, mentorship, and leadership of my own practice for the last 20 years. My hope is that I can provide similar opportunities of learning and advocacy to all of you as she has done for me! Her son Kelly said it best, “I never knew my mom was so important.”
Thanks to our MEMSPA staff- Annette, MacKenzie, and Angel who worked behind the scenes to ensure a smooth running three days of learning. Kudos to Amy Taranko and her planning committee for developing such an outstanding conference. I leave you with these words of wisdom that Amy closed the conference with: Dream BIG, Work hard, Surround Yourself with Good People and continue to FOCUS!