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80. “Think About What Kind of School You Really Want” with Dr. Kevin Ahern

by Lindsay Lyons
August 9th 2022

It’s been said many times that your budget reflects your values—how you prioritize money speaks to what you care about. And this applies on a personal level, but als... More

Our guest today is Dr Kevin Ahern who is in his 26th year in education and serving in his seventh year as the principle of mana vista high school in danville California, manifest as part of the san Ramon Valley Unified School District is a 2021 California Distinguished School and a designated no place for hate School. Before moving to the East Bay, kevin served as the principal at Golden Sierra Junior Senior High School in the Black Oakman Unified School district for five years before becoming the principal. He spent one year as a high school assistant principal, one year as a K eight assistant principal and 13 years as a german teacher and football coach. Dr graduated from U. C. Davis with a degree english, earned his teaching credential, administrative credential and master's degree in curriculum and instruction from Chapman University and earned his doctorate in educational leadership from ST mary's College Dr and his wife have five grown Children and three grandchildren. They are both excellent cooks, avid hikers and cross trainers. They are currently living in the East Bay with their two cocker spaniels.

I am thrilled for you to listen to Dr Atkins conversation and for reference, this conversation was recorded october 5th 2021. Let's get to the episode. I'm educational justice coach, lindsey Lyons and here on the time for teacher ship podcast. We learn how to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice design curricula grounded in student voice and build capacity for shared leadership. I'm a former teacher leader turned instructional coach. I'm striving to live a life full of learning, running, baking, traveling and parenting because we can be rockstar educators and be full human beings if you're a principal, assistant superintendent, curriculum director instructional coach or teacher who enjoys nursing out about co creating curriculum with students, I made this show for you. Here we go, dr kevin Ahern, Welcome to the time for teacher ship podcast. Thanks for having me, looking forward to a fun time. Here needs to be awesome, awesome. I'm so excited. I just read your professional bio. So if there's anything you want to add to that um any school context, any you know about you information that you want the listeners to know, please feel free to do that.

I'd love to hear some more. Sure this is my 26th year in education, 13 years as a, as a teacher and my, among other things was I taught, I taught German and I also was the head football coach. So how many people have that conversation? But I did, I did grow up bilingual e experience of having, you know, learning language the same, you know, two languages at the same time. And then um and then made that transition into in the, in the administration kate principle and then um and then vice principal and then it's just, this is principal and then um the rest, this is my 12th year now as a principal, my seventh year at Monte vista high school danville California, 2400 kids, 100 and 50 teachers and support staff and just an amazing place to be and really just just growing like crazy and and really excited to be back after the pandemic. Oh that's great, thank you so much for sharing that. I think one of the first things I like to ask is just this idea of, you know, thinking big is really important to me. And so I think our listeners, a lot of educators and so dr Bettina Love talks about the idea of freedom dreaming and she says, you know, their dreams grounded in the critique of injustice.

That's just a quote I just absolutely love. And so with that in mind, you know, what is the big dream that you hold for the field of education? I think that that that a lot of it based and I think that that we tend to think on society and societal levels and and what we need to do what every single school needs to do based upon what society thinks and I think that there's going to be that on the ground work as well. But I don't think that has a lot of meaningfulness unless your community can buy into what you're about. And so one of the things that really pushing our community is yes, we were a high academic school, yes, we're good in athletics, we have amazing vap a programs is to get connected to school. But despite all that the grades despite all the activities, what how does that unique experience shape our kids and because we live in a very privileged community, you know, how does that privilege allow look deeper into ourselves and come out with an experience that helps that privilege is a way to make things better around around us and as we move out to the student's school from the school, all over the US all over the world. And so what what tools students and lens is gonna give students just take a look at what, you know, what what needs to be done, what needs to be handled how they can, they can empower others to make those, those positive things happen.

So, um, so as a, that's my, my big dream and it's obviously it's just a micro level compared to the high schools across the US at the same time is how does that, how do you scale that comes out that if we were all working towards those ends, you know, and and then you know, what we do with that, how much better would we be? That's a wonderful dream. That's, that makes so much sense. Right? The community level and the society level and thinking about that duel like way to hold both of those things right in our minds change. So that's that's brilliant. Um, and I think one of the things that is a struggle for some people who are in a very traditional school or you know, a way in a way they may feel isolated, you know, like I want to do these things, these things sound great, but maybe no one else in my school talk about this or no one else is thinking this or maybe they're thinking it, but they're not taking action and I'm just curious to know what mindset shifts do you think are required or what mindsets do you hold or does your staff hold that would really like help people buy into and fight for the dream you describe or in the case of you and your staff, you know, that have really helped to elevate kind of that dream in your own community.

So I think we got to always start with what we have, you know what and you know what connects gets when I, when I speak with with incoming freshmen parents always say that, you know, our goal always have your student wake up in the morning excited about coming to school because they're to be doing work in a new work in a safe environment and going home feeling fulfilled. It's just, you know, it's not, it's just kind of Simon Sinek type concept, but I think that as a vision, you know, we want, we want adults feel the same way if I'm a teacher and if I feel as if I'm just passing papers across and I'm not giving latitude to change anything outside of my, what I'm being scripted to do, then, you know, then then boy of teaching becomes just a chore and we do and so I don't want people that want teachers to feel that their paper dispensers just as much as as um as kids feel as if there's this transaction about, you know, here here's, here's a worksheet, I'm pairing it in for x amount of points. So the question goes back into the of what latitudes do we have to create meaningful opportunities for kids because that creativity really helps keep.

So one of the first things I done when it came to my office, it was, you know, we don't want to be risk averse. I want to be open to the idea of trying to do things and and this whole the whole yes and concept where you know that sounds like a great idea, you know, let's take a look and and start small and and then take a look at, you know, is this and, and let's say that you have a very, you're trying to do and you and you're listening feedback from your kids and you're getting observation observation from, from your your administrators and so on what you know, what are the results, nothing's ever 100% success the first time through and nothing is ever 100% failure. Is this something that you want to be, you need to work through and and and work with if a thing that's that's you struggled with was a complete success, what do you do to further refine it in the case, it was more like this because the school has always been very high achieving school. Um, I, as, as a, as a metaphor of Formula One racing, how do you, how do you get that, that super multi million dollar car to get, you know, half a mile a gallon, better gas mileage and go five miles an hour faster.

I mean, so we have to, so we have to ask that question is as we walk into the new principal, you're walking into a new school, is this a complete tear down? And, and I might need to, you know, take that role or I'm gonna take some time to listen to the staff and understand the culture and then think about how I can optimize in certain areas. So, and then you might have a combination thereof, you might have to break some structure, you might have to optimize others. So go back to the original question, how do we, so, so, you know, a needs assessment going around and just really listening to people where the strengths, how are students connected to school and, and how do you build out from there because, and again, listening to parents and students and, and staff is extremely important to be able to, you know, make those changes. But I think that coming in and thinking that coming in like a wrecking wrecking ball doesn't necessarily work either. So I think that there's there's things people hold on to and most schools have have some assets to hold on to and I think you need to take a look at how those, how those are working And then how do you branch out? And so like for example you have one really strong bachelor program, how do you if you're marching band awesome but requires not what's happening, you know, where is the disconnect and then also you then and then gradually here in year seven we also have over 40 new staff members.

And so what happens is is that over time you can start bringing in people whose values and then you get that further tipping point for change. I love that. I love that recognition that I always think of adaptive leadership and and the idea of resistance as lost. And so sometimes when we think about like making this new change, there's there's this resistance and it's like, well I see it as like a loss of the identity I once held or the school culture we once had and I love that you're response really honors that. Like honors that loss and like okay well sometimes we're going to make these changes and then other times we want to hold on to those good pieces so we can have both. And I think that really speaks to the challenges of navigating change and leading change in those ways. So I really appreciate you saying that thank you as we think about when you started talking about this a little bit in terms of like doing a needs assessment and, and you know, what specific actions we want to take to, to really bring out those mindsets. You spoke to, you know, hiring two people who share the same values and, and there are all these these little actions that were kind of in your previous answer as well. Is there anything else you would add in terms of, you know, what can educational leaders do to continue to build those capacities in their staff and really lead an equitable school?

So I think the other piece too, and this has to do with really understand the priorities and, and, and let's let's take a step back and talk about what, what is your operational definition of equity. And so, and so quite often we throw that word around and we and really really understand what that means and, and, and and looking through a variety different districts and their and their visions and their and their equity statements that they've made. Um, there's some very good ones out there and and bring it down to brass tacks and kind of keep it out of the education lingo. You know, my, my, my working definition for staff is every student gets what they need just to experience success and and that and that. And then we were always in the process eliminating barriers and their race, just pretty gender. Um, you know, their sexual orientation, you know, whatever, whatever talking about um that that's not gonna that is not gonna they're not gonna have a barrier that that that there are people working towards sort of creating these pockets that were different kids. And another thing for these kids, it's we're going to eliminate barriers.

And insurance kids are gonna be successful and we need to listen to the students when when things come up where, you know, I mean, I have a degree in english um as well. I mean, I speak german from home so I can make it so that sounds terrible. But I but having being being bilingual, it gives you some gives you some some tools and for getting jobs. And I did enough courses to be able to get in german but also have a potential english. And it always porters when people say I want to teach this novel, and and it's always it's always the same novel, right? And it's and I think to myself, you know, why we always focus on dead white guys. And I recall when I was a student student teacher, when we were in the school I was at was was contemplating house on mangoes. And so the idea of bringing more, um, you know, in the nineties was multiculturalism into the into into into english departments. And and because there was there was there was a scene that didn't necessarily fit the maybe goes PG 13 regarding schools. People were very averse to, to, you know, having that book included in the curriculum and myself, wow, have you read experience recently?

There's a lot of dirty jokes buried in there that that that we seem to be okay with done, you know, 500 years ago sometimes gets the past. So I think that that really thinking about what, what's out, what books are out there that engage more kids because, you know, students want to hear about who they are too. And so as as as our our schools, you know, you know, broader diversity and broader cultures coming through and and understand we have a better understanding of that. And I think that that having our curriculum reflect that is extremely important. So the kids really listening and listening to our, to our community. Um, One of the more poignant things we did as a community, we actually, we did, we all read stamp in the beginning, the student version as so we bought, I don't know, like 2000 copies of the book and and and the we read the good parents and kids and and and and staff all read and we and we got together numerous times throughout the year to check in and talk about, you know, that the all the concepts brought up and what how we can grow as a community and make sure that we're thinking about that part of our history.

Uh and and it really brought some very interesting conversations. Obviously now we're gonna go and do it again, coming back from the pandemic what the next book is going to be. So I think that you can take curriculum and abroad and not just engage students and what's happened in the classroom, but also think about what really represent your community, What sort of conversations about race or ethnicity or gender, you know, L G B T Q status, whatever. I mean all these things are important because these are all examples of all representatives of people who are in our community. Yes, there's societal pieces to it. The community piece is really important because that's really where the tough conversations go on and where and where the and where we can bear fruit as well. Yeah, I love oh my gosh, I love so much about what you just said and I love that you did this book study in a way that I think sometimes schools do book studies in a way that is just restricted to teachers or educators or people on staff. But I love that you incorporated like all of the members of the community because I think like you said, that's where that's where the fruit comes, right? Like that's that's the that's the generative conversation that really move move the needle forward for your immediate community because everyone's gonna have different responses to the book, right?

Everyone's gonna have different ideas about how to move forward, and if we don't actually have that conversation with everyone having the same context going in of like, alright, we're grappling with these ideas and then we're bringing our own personal ideas and experiences, we're never going to get to that point of generative conversation like you did, So I'm really impressed that you guys are doing that, and I love that idea of repeating it, you know, each year with the new book. Um I also wanted to ask you a little bit about, you know, the idea of how school culture more broadly, and I think you've spoken to this in a variety of ways already really supports equity and you know, how how how was it that you kind of set up these systems and what systems, I guess, and structures exist to have family members and students and teachers have these ongoing conversations with one another, because I think just hearing, you know, that that the book was extended to all these stakeholder, there's probably would feel like a really large undertaking for a school that has not a great history in terms of having that familial involvement in the student involvement in these kinds of large scale conversations.

So, I'm curious to know, you know, what did that look like in terms of building that base or foundation, so it's a lot of a lot of trust a lot of empowering people, I mean, um I think that the biggest pieces is with starting with staff because we we we talk about what we could, like, I don't like to use the term that we can control, but we can be responsible for our actions in our relationships and I think that really getting the building the trust that you know, that that our our staff can trust me to do to make a tough, it may not necessarily be the most popular sometimes, but, but I will I will make it make a decision based on what, you know, um what, you know, what's what's the best for the most people and I will listen feedback. I mean, I mean my leadership team, I work with, you know with the principles, but our activity or activity director director, a number of teacher leaders are, department chairs are always involved in the decision making process, so that that trust is that we know that if you have a decision that I'm going to elicit conversation in the staff, so there's that first piece and then there's the empowerment of people that you want to really empower your teachers to, as I said earlier, doing different things, you know, give them not be risk averse start thinking about what kind of a school you really want to have.

And so and at that point identifying who the players are and then think about, you know, who's gonna help build this out, who's, you know, if the english department really excited about something you know that's you know let's lay it out and then and then figure out hey you know how else can we run with this? You know if you if you if the goal is to create a more diverse set of novels for students to read, how are you going to how we want to roll it out, what approvals do we need or what rears workshops you want to do and what funds are available to make that happen. Um in the shift. And so so in in the shift to two N. G. S. S. Our biology team is completely gone gun you know and taking a leadership role as initially as a school but then as a district program that they're just you know running kinds of stuff in regards to not just not just equity and and and and overall access for students and recognizing science accomplishments from all over the world. I mean it just really amazing program. So I think that giving people that latitude empowering them to make those changes then there's a student element.

How do you bring students in and in those conversations? And so one of the we have our site council also includes parents you know um it used to be that it was we had to harm to us people to come. We had one student rep and we had like two parents we now have contested elections for for both student and parent representatives. And so our state council is a full full group um with teachers, you know, teachers and parents and students. Um One of the first things we say is we're all equal in this in this conversation. And so this is that we're listening feedback here. And so when we're including students in the conversation and parents in the conversation and knowing that they have a role in decision making process of the school. Um And and anything, we say it's related to department chairs and then turn around and also being related into our into our staff meetings, that constant condo what is going on as well. Then we also create leadership groups on the campus. Um We obviously have your traditional S. B. Student council, We meet with the SB cabinet twice twice a month, helps meet with the senior class officers twice a month.

And then we also um meet what we call the the affinity affinity groups. Um So any club that's associated with an affinity group um whether it's black student union um G. S. A. Um muslim student organization, agent student. I mean we have a number of different different groups tightened but we also include, you know, um you know, for traditional fellowship of christian athletes, christian club. I mean we try to include as many of these affinity groups as possible. We meet, we meet we try to we didn't do a very good job last year, but we try to meet quarterly. Um The pandemic hit. So we'll go back into that now. Um end of this month. The point behind that is is that we want to get the feedback from those students. You know are are we really reflecting you know as a as a school community, what are we really reflecting what we're doing and how are decisions affecting you? So all those things tied together and you know with students empowerment is it creates that additional connection. Um That kind of flows active staff were brought into that content. And last we have we have very active parent groups, we have a very active um we have a very active P.

T. S. A. Over 1000 members. And then um and then we also have um you also have an athletic boosters boosters and numerous visual boosters clubs we meet we meet monthly um with a patient monthly boosters. Um athletic boosters meets meets monthly. Well P. T. S. A very active with them as well. So I mean basically it's from from a principle standpoint you want to make these contacts but people understand what you're trying to do and you're communicating those consistently to those groups and we're hearing the same message and and and as an offshoot as well for panda are a tendency means of growing substantially it's much easier to turn on, turn on the uh a zoom meeting or google meet, google meet as opposed to having to show up at school. So I think that all these things are ways for getting messages out and getting by into what's going on and also creating a two way opportunity to just communicate, then I also have one more less formal devices I've used in order to get communication out involved.

And it's been probably for parents as at least once a month, they have a coffee and once again, pandemic has gone from like five people who willing to brave early morning school traffic to, you know, anywhere between 20 to 75 people in the morning. Um and basically those are chances to sit and once again have some real one on one conversations. We do have a question sheet that goes out a couple of days earlier to kind of create some big, some big piece questions if necessary, like something's going on, but typically it's just an opportunity for parents to ask me questions about what's going on at school and, and build in the empowerment where, you know, it's it's it's b you know, you have to have to pay your way in to get an audience with the principle, it's it's it's it's, you know, just being as available as possible. I think I also, again, there's two pieces of advice for parents for principle, 11 would be to show up, you know, that that it's important for you to go to these various events and and because parents want to see you in the, in the, in the, in a less formal light, I mean we just had homecoming this last, this, um, this last weekend and one of the things that we always do for football for horse ball games and we tailgate and one of the pieces to it is, I'm, I'm, we will put this in my bio, I'm having a barbecue or grill or you know, I'm like, you know, I have, I have a smoking rig and all the different things going on, well, I always barbecue and so I barbeque for staff and students, but this time we keep the whole community and so we had all kinds of stuff rolling out and, and probably 1000 people just outside the stadium game and, and, and my activities director and I are just, you know, putting down burgers and putting down hot dog, but people see that and it's like, wow, you know, it's like, what's up with this person?

So I think that being out there and being engaged in the process as as opposed to, you know, um, yes, it's great if you, if you're not good at that, then find something you're good at to put yourself out in those positions and it may put your comfort level a little bit, but you know, it's, it's, it's important to be, not meet with people and be accessible to parents and students in a more informal way, whether it's walking around campus at lunchtime walking into classrooms or or or in in community events like that. And then the second piece is, this is interesting is that when I was in my doctoral program, we said, we see a lot of golden indeed. And so and these the four lenses and so you have a cultural lens of political, political, lens of human resources lens and an organizational and, and you know, and so when we, um, and when we, we did this four corners activity and, and and our instructor asshole. Where do you land? And so I went towards cultural and anyway, everything that spread from only one person in the political realm. And, and I think that people, and what's, what's the political realm about education, It's about organizing assets to prioritize, You know, it's, it's and so how do you, among other things?

How do you, how do you get your your your your message across? And so in thinking about that now is is that is to really, you know, how do you have to have that effect be effective? You need to be able to have at least a nugget of that where you can go out and you can, you can talk about what you're about, You can talk about what you're trying to do and really communicate that to your to the people in your community and and find a way to fit, you might have to adapt that message a little bit. Sometimes I have to tell somebody, tell people what they don't want to hear. But at the same time as you're being honest and transparent, there's also goes back to where, you know, we're talking about programs and kind of creating these, you know, honoring what's been successful, but it also means the perception something's been successful but you really doesn't fit within your concept that you might need to wait it out. And so how do you, how do you take resource? Whether it's a budget, which I always think is a value laden statement, but where your ties, um, or you know what you are or how you, how you organize your master schedule. However, it might be your assets need to reflect that what your vision is and I think that programs that, that are less effective that need to be to be worked on or or need to be removed.

That can be, that essentially can start working towards something else and then maybe that teacher who would be less inclined to participate in that grade english PLC might be more inclined to want to get participate because, because the, there's more assets going to those who are playing than those who are not. So, so the really forcing people to make a decision, but doing it the way that, you know, hey, you know, something, I'm not gonna take take your livelihood away, but I want you to do it my way and you get all this if you follow that direction, if that makes any sense, It's just, it's just it's just an interesting way of political lens that to get what you want. Sometimes you have to really feed you wanna feed what you're trying to um what you're trying to work with, essentially you're watering the green grass and not worrying about the brown grass, the dead grass over there. So wow, there are so much wisdom and what you just shared so many actions that people could take. And and I love, I was just thinking as you were talking about the prioritization piece and the value statement is like your budget is a value statement of what you prioritize. Oh my gosh, yes. And I also think for just what I was hearing and please correct me if this is wrong.

But what I'm hearing too is that you prioritize how you spend your time effectively to like you're thinking about being in classrooms, you're thinking about meeting with affinity groups and student leaders and and that takes time. But I think what I'm hearing is like that that's a priority for you, right? Like it's a priority to make time for those things, especially when educators leaders, people just in the education space collectively just never feel like they have enough time. There's always so much that we have to do, but to be able to do that to be able to make that time. It sounds like that has been a concrete priority for you to be able to be accessible. Is that a good interpretation? absolutely. I think that that's something that um that again, it's the only way I know how to do it and it made it might have helped because I started a small high school and so easier um at a high school of 550 students but experience, you know, the recession hit that community so hard. We end up having to uh to to bring the 7th and 8th grade up.

And so to spend time carving out going from a high school junior senior high school model. Um that was heavy lift because I want to do that. And so it was creating, you know, create some real risks in the community. But once we got through there one of the best, the best validating piece of that, that in our second year we had a, we had a, we had a blast accreditation and received a six year clear and the chair said you would never have thought you went through all this turmoil last year. It's like, yeah, well that's great. But but but but being on the ground that experience and with a smaller school, I mean you need to do it because it's just you and an assistant principal and that's it. And and so it's from a supervision standpoint, you have to be able to prioritize my priorities, my priorities paperwork or he's gonna be making building relationships and so here at a bigger school now, it's a, you know, someone just be overwhelming for you. It's like, well the scope is the same. It's just that instead of having two things to do, I now have five and so I need to be able to delegate differently, but I also imprint that on the un assistant principals and other other other leaders on the campus that it's are all responsibility to show up and be proud to be present.

And so it's just, it's great to have, especially great to see new teachers, we hire who, you know, come to their, that first, that first go that first band concert or they go to that first football game or they go to that first rally and they say go, wow, this is absolutely unbelievable. It's like because we're building this stuff and so, and that's the type of culture you want to be able to have, it is something that people are feeling connected and it feels good to be together and that then then, and that also pushes that idea that, you know, we can do this in the classroom to, we can do this, we can raise academic levels. It can't all be fun at the same time is that we definitely can make it continue making it meaningful and that's it really. And how do you translate those successes into into, into academic success for kids as well, wow, that's amazing. Okay, there's so much good stuff in this episode that I'm excited for people to hear. I'm imagining someone listening and being like, wow, I want to do all of this, but I want to find a place to start. So with that in mind, what would be something if someone is new to all these ideas that you've just presented? What do you think is a good first step for someone who's just finishing the episode and ready to do like one next thing.

I mean, I always think that culture, each, each organization, um, your culture and, and you got to figure out where assets are and so what's, what's, what's, what's great about your school, sit down and write down the great things and, and then who makes them great and you, how do you, how do you water that greengrass, How do you figure out, how do you really emphasize those things? I mean, I mean sometimes like there was, there were times at my old school, we were getting a little school were always in competition with bigger schools and it's like we, we had a really strong math program and our and our algebra one stores that was back in the old api days are our algebra one, scores were higher than than than those at the other other bigger high school, the people that I was lying. It's like, no, we have a really good math program. You just, you're just thinking of because you're small, you can't do it. So I think that you sometimes just, and and for some, some people data like that jumps out and so what what's out there that's that's quantifiable that you can share that you can really emphasize and then what's out there is quality, what qualitative things are out there that you can share.

So I think about just think about all those those assets and then think about how that can be communicated because if if you're a new principal, you know the expectations, it's this blur of people coming, coming to see, you gotta ask yourself, you know, what's this place about? And so I think um and and really paying attention to what's going really going on and then again and thinking about, you know, what's what's great about this place and if you're a veteran principal and you're trying to be trying to optimize and you, you got to think about again what's great about this place and what can we maybe let go? What are we not so proud of? And and how do we make those priorities to make sure that you know, something's not serving all kids then why have it um if it's, if it's something that's a novelty that you know, that serves a small population or it's a deficit thinking or, or I mean one thing we did hear a couple when I got um about seven years ago we had a life science program that was, was a graduation track, we have life science, I'm sorry, and physical science and and these two programs were designed to keep students on, on on track towards graduation, but what were they really were they were they were they were just kind of throw away grounds grounds for, for students in special education for students, for students of color.

And so we got rid of them. And so essentially we're going to support kids in general classes and so now take biology, students take chemistry and and for the graduation requirement we get them through because we we we we work as our respective biology and chemistry teams and our and if the students in special education to get adequate support from case managers, we do a lot of push in. We have co tots we have a lot of different opportunities for kids to be successful. So we anything we see that that's a pigeon hole we need to get rid of because kids need to be accessed in general curriculum, every student work is beginning again and kids need to be able to demonstrate their success in different ways. And so one of the big focal points in our district, you know right now is in our, in our strategic plan is to figure out what success what success looks like. And so another thing that a little bit of homework for that principle, thinking about how they want to shift some things is what does success look like on my campus and and and think about that really exemplify what we're trying to do, and if the answer is yes, then then then you have to ask yourself, and what else can I be doing?

If it's answer is no, then you have to say, all right, so, now, now, now, now, what's next? What do, what do I need to focus on where the areas need to build on and not be a deficit thinker? I think one of the things we get trapped into an education too much is, oh, the scores in this area are too low, or scores in this subgroup are too low. Let's build this up. Instead of, you know, let's remove some barriers for students and and and see how they can they can thrive by maybe re success and and really getting some narratives from from kids as to what the, you know, and hearing from kids what you know, what's working for them, how they're connecting. So, I think the pieces there to take into consideration, awesome. And so there's so much wisdom you you've shared. And I think one of the things that really makes I imagine you a great leader as well as all the folks who I've interviewed on this podcast is this commitment to like, lifelong growth, right? Like, I'm always learning always growing, always reading that next book and trying this new thing. And so one of the questions I just like to ask for fun at the end of the podcast is what's something you have been learning about lately?

Well, that's a good question. I mean, again, we're always learning, but it was funny is that, is that I get, I get much out of picking up, get a STD magazines every, every every month. And it's like just looking through what the latest stuff is and and, and and what, and a little nugget of information about the PLC and Optimize the PLC conversation or some what key questions to be asked in the PLC or how we make, what, what, what assets are we taking from the, from the pandemic. And one of the more interesting articles remember reading, um, was that, you know, what, which students were successful in remote learning and which, and which weren't really contingent upon the type of teacher in many ways, because teachers who embrace that change. And I remember, I think it was, it was on the Emmy, someone was talking about how leaders came to work today, you know, someone was giving a shout out to teachers and medical personnel that in and fire and police people came to work every day and you were leaders because you had to do something new every day. And so I really, that's a really great way of encapsulating those teachers who embraced the change and, and mind you, those tended to be those, those teachers who under normal circumstances are also going to be the ones who are early adopters just happen to expand the pool that much more.

And so we'll be able to take that and this article focus on what can you take from the, what you learn during the pandemic and really apply it, Like we've gone to 1 to 1 and so, you know, we see people going back to paper processing. Yeah, but but not, maybe not so much and still a lot of things being done on our on our learning management systems. And so I think I think we're we're growing, it's it's definitely it's definitely definitely a learning curve because now you have kids in front of you, but at the same time as um you have um you know, you now have news and new strategies, we have new tools, new tools to build in, what strategies do you have to build in now, they're gonna they're gonna use that tool and effective way to reach that objective. Now on the other hand, is what's interesting in the article as well is that teachers who tended to talk didn't didn't, you know, who didn't really adapt, you know, they're they're students were engaged, I mean it seems very, you know, process simple conclusion, but I think it's important that we understand that that that the teachers who really who who who stuck it out all this time, you know, have been able to adapt some skills from that pandemic experience and remote learning experience and great effective um very effective opportunity, learning opportunities for kids in class in person.

One thing we we did too, we we went from a seven period day, you know, you know, other than being a high school principal, I don't know how many, how many jobs you have to change, change the subject 77 times, of course of the day, we were now on a on a block system, we have one and we have 17 period anchor day and then we have rotating blocks the rest, so we go, you know, we have, you know, even odd, even odd um um schedule and that also has allowed us to have to support and it's interesting is that we talk about deep learning is one of our strategic plan as part of our plan, um I think that um that that time is so essential for that and so and so how you use time and that's what and what's interesting is and how to use and how to use visible learning book, he devotes a whole chapter of how, how how effective teachers break down time and the point of how much time is wasted doing attendance, how much time is wasted in a warm up activity or you know, and and and and how is that warm up activity connected to different elements, The lesson with yesterday is connected to the house that and so it's interesting how you can use a larger block of time and create more deep learning opportunities because you're not running out of time after 54 minutes and not having the chance to go into some me some some good levels of guided practice and ensuring students know what to do when they, when they, when they walk out the door and noticed already that students have a better understanding of what they're, what's expected of them when they, when they, when they leave as opposed to um we have work assigned and then start the whole wheel over again because I didn't get the home where I understand.

So now I'm gonna spend the 1st 15 minutes of my 54 minute class going over homework from last night and that then the new input is now is now compromised. I gotta rush through that and then you repeat. So it's just interesting how you, how you shape your time can even be a way of, of, of effectively changing your instruction. And so we're still figuring that out, we're still working through it. But there's some real nice glimmers of, of um real nice glimmers of success coming through that and and by and large, the staff is really embraced that concept and I think we're going to move forward with continuing this, this, this this schedule for you know that in fact you might see other schools in our district doing the same. So so these are all things, we have brought it down into that from that pandemic and and that that article I mentioned really resonated with me because those types of things we discovered and sometimes the most adverse conditions to be able to tear some things out and say that this is something we really should have been doing way before now. So now now we discovered it, I love that you name the pandemic as a learning opportunity because I think it absolutely could have been and was for many people and then, you know, if we see it as a barrier that like really inhibits our growth, so thank you so much for sharing that.

I love that idea of schedules too. I think it goes back to prioritization, right? It's like you have block scheduling, like, you know, maybe you have fewer days that you see them, but it's deeper learning each day. So it comes back to what we're prioritizing and and making that conversation part of the, you know, unit planning. But the last question I have for you, because I know you got to get going is where can listeners learn more about you or connect with you online? Um I think people will reach out to me, I'm on, I'm on linkedin, just under dr kevin Ahern. I'm also um I was also reach out, my email here is, is K s r B u S T dot net and and I mean welcome to anonymous website, contact me that way as well. But I'm I'm happy to meet and discuss and talk talk talk educated. It's a lot of fun and we have a number of other interesting elements. We have a A new student support, we do student support four days a week, a 33 minute period for kids or just had kind of a mental mental break and we create a really nice system of how students are checking in. Um we we we use um we use those those those scanners scanners to have kids come and they go to an area and that their their their I.

D. Card or they go into a classroom as opposed to simply having a set schedule. So a number of different things that you know so so if you want to visit I would love to share you know anything that would be interested in. We're just trying any it's all a learning experience for us. Nothing is perfect. But um but we're really growing and I think that we're definitely in a positive direction. This has been an amazing conversation dr arun. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today. Thanks so much for having me take care if you're leaving this episode, wanting more. You're going to love my live coaching intensive curriculum bootcamp. I help one department or grade team create feminist anti racist curricula that challenges affirms and inspires all students. We leave current events into course content and amplify student voices which skyrockets engagement and academic achievement. It energizes educators feeling burns out and it's just two days plus you can reuse the same process any time you create a new unit, which saves time and money. If you can't wait to bring this to your staff, I'm inviting you to sign up for a 20 minute call with me, grab a spot on my calendar at www dot lindsey beth Lyons dot com slash contact.

Until next time leaders continue to think big act, brave and be your best self. This podcast is a proud member of the teach, better podcast network, better today, better tomorrow and the podcast to get you there, explore more podcasts at teach better dot com slash podcasts and we'll see you at the next episode.

80. “Think About What Kind of School You Really Want” with Dr. Kevin Ahern
80. “Think About What Kind of School You Really Want” with Dr. Kevin Ahern
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