Classroom Practices, Education, Leadership, Learning, PLN, Uncategorized

Building Strong Supports

nails2As the 2017-18 school year begins, I have been thinking about the idea of serving others. I wear many hats and each day finds me responding to the needs of many different people.  I am fortunate in that I get to work with students, parents, teachers and staff, fellow administrators, district personnel and community members — all with a common goal of building an incredible and productive school year – of building futures. What an awesome gift we have of being a part of such a magnificent journey!  But that also means that on some days we are all sdpread pretty thin. I begin each day with the goal of serving others, but if I’m honest I will tell you that I often fall short. I can serve some of the people, some of the time, but it is a challenge to be consistent in that with all stakeholders, day in and day out.

I had the idea of “serving others” in my mind as I sat down and wrote out my goals for the upcoming school year. This year, my goals include:

  • Getting into classrooms daily
  • Attending PLC meetings regularly
  • Giving consistent and effective feedback to teachers
  • Analyzing/reflecting on classroom data frequently
  • Making a few positive calls home to parents daily

I started thinking about what type of impact I can make if I work hard toward meeting these goals.  By getting into classrooms daily and giving consistent feedback to teachers, I am supporting students and teachers. I am also supporting the campus mission and district vision for each student. By reflecting on data, I am supporting campus needs, goals and decisions going forward as they relate to student achievement. By making regular contact with parents, I am supporting my campus’ core values and through my attendance at PLC meetings I can help to support the learning and teaching environment.

What I noticed when I wrote this out, is that the word “support” comes up again and again. I realized that “serving others” does not just fasten itself to my job, to anyone’s job, without the nails of support. It takes a consistent mental focus on goals, along with the flexibility to adapt to the ongoing needs of others, in order to support the learning organization and ultimately serve an entire community of learners.

I am reminded of a quote by Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt: “People don’t want a quarter inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole.” Taken a step further, it isn’t the hole they are after, either. It’s an end result. This past month I moved and during the fixing up of my new house, I drilled a hole in my bathroom. But I didn’t want a drill or a hole. I wanted a shelf.

When applying this same thought to our roles this year, we can say that our daily tasks, everything from meetings to bus duty to classroom visits, these things are the “nails” that will help build our capacity to support and ultimately to serve, our campuses and districts. To serve our communities.

I am excited about the upcoming year and I have a renewed appreciation for the many hats I wear – because I know that each one serves a very important purpose.  Each act, each function of my job, will be another nail of support in my overarching desire to serve others and build a strong school  year.

I wish you all a wonderful year as you, too, strive to support, serve others and build strong futures.

Classroom Practices, Education, Uncategorized

So You’re Starting Reading Workshop!

books in stairwellThis year our curriculum team has revamped the curriculum with a reading workshop framework. I am thrilled to see this! I truly believe in the power of a reading workshop classroom and have seen so many kids thrive in this type of environment. While there is no one program or method that is the “end all, be all” of reading instruction, I think it is an awesome move on the part of the district literacy team to spread the workshop model throughout the district.

When I first starting teaching reading workshop, it was a big change and I will admit I did not like it. I really felt like I was not truly teaching because I wasn’t up in front of the room instructing. It took me quite a while to realize that letting students read was the most important reading instruction I could give! Small group and individual conferencing took a while to get the hang of, as well. But once I did, I saw the powerful results of students having ownership of their goals and taking charge of their own progress as readers. Ten minute mini-lessons replaced whole class lessons…another big change that was a bit scary at first! I learned how to use read aloud picture books to kick off my openings and wrap up my closings. They soon became my most favorite times of the day! But the most important things I noticed with this change in teaching style were that my students became lovers of reading, and I became much more knowledgable of them as readers. By the end of that first year, I fell in love with Reading Workshop.

Below are some resources I used which helped me start building my own Reading Workshop classroom.

Using Ipads in Guided Reading

Beth Newingham Videos

Complex Texts: Guiding Readers

Level Your Classroom Books

Units of Study / Mini Lesson Videos

If you are moving to a Reading Workshop format or have been engaged with this style of reading instruction for a while, please share your ideas, thoughts, questions and suggestions so that we can all continue to grow together!

Classroom Practices, Education, Leadership, Learning, Uncategorized

Your School’s Vibe

IMG_2387Have you ever noticed how certain places just give you a good feeling when you walk in? Some places just feel good. It’s nothing you can see, or touch, or even point to and say, “Yes, that right there. That is what’s making this a positive environment”. No, that kind of vibe can’t be artificially created. It comes from the feelings and the morale contained within that particular place.

In a school, it will come from the collective community: the students, the teachers, the office workers, the custodians, the administrators and the paraprofessionals. It comes from all kinds of places and it floats through the building and it gives away all the secrets that place holds. The “vibe” of the school is felt by visitors when they walk in. Depending on the culture, that vibe can be one of our most important treasures, or it can be one of our most troublesome symptoms. But either way, each school has its own unique vibe–one we all hope is positive and palpable.

We hear a lot about how schools need to tell their stories. Our stories are told on Twitter, and Facebook, and at the grocery store, and PTA meetings, and at baseball games. But a school’s story is also told through that vibe you get when you enter the place. What’s your school’s vibe? Do you know? Can you feel it?

We are very fortunate to have had many visitors over the last couple of years who have commented about the positive vibe they get when they visit our school. Educators from other schools, parents, delivery people, you name it. They tell us how the place just “feels happy“. We love to hear this! I’m not saying this to brag (ok, maybe a little). I’m saying this because Monday is #LoveMySchoolDay on Twitter (more info on that further down). We have encouraged our school community to participate by sharing out what they love about our school throughout the day on the #LoveMySchoolDay hashtag.

We have also tailored this week’s staff blog to this theme. The principal shared what she loves about our school. Our teachers wrote their thoughts via an online staff poll that we created and have included in the blog. You can view our poll responses here. Even our students got into the spirit and created a video giving our school and teachers a big shout out and sharing all the wonderful things that make us who we are.  We put that into our staff blog this week as well. You can view the blog for this week here. We roll our blog out on Fridays and this week it all leads up to Monday’s big Twitter movement, #LoveMySchoolDay. So in honor of this fun event, I jotted down a few things that I think go into making a school an awesome place to be.  Not surprisingly, they are all important components in our school’s student and teacher Core Values documents, which we created and adopted this year. If you’d like to read those, the links are included below. So here are what I consider to be some important things that come together to create a school’s vibe–in no particular order:

  1. Relationships. The staff is very close. They feel like a family and they treat one another like family. How does this happen? Well, there are some things I think leaders can do to help their staff build these relationships. Providing opportunities to collaborate, to have fun together, and finding a variety of ways to encourage teamwork are all important in helping the staff come together. They respect one another as professionals and they like one another as people. That does not happen just because we hire a bunch of people and throw them together in a building. Leaders have to purposefully plan for and allow team building,collaboration, and teacher leadership to flourish. Building relationships is at the center of our school’s Core Values, which we recently designed. Our Teacher Core Values are here and our Student Core Values are here.
  2. Autonomy. Many reported that they feel empowered to design learning experiences and take risks that they feel are important for their class/team. They are not micro managed, but rather they are seen as and treated like valuable and knowledgable professionals. They are held accountable while also being trusted. As administrators, our role is more of guiding rather than directing. We share our own thoughts, mistakes, ideas, and concerns. We are not afraid to admit that we don’t know something or to seek input from our staff. I think they appreciate this and it definitely goes to our Core Values.
  3. Purpose. What is our purpose? To sum it up in two words: teach kids and have fun. (Let me credit our district Asst. Supt. Buddy Bonner with that bit of awesome!) We hire teachers who love kids and love teaching. And whatever else they may not be experienced with, we teach them. And we have fun every day. That’s mandatory. 🙂
  4. Prioritize Happy. We prioritize happy. Walk into our lounge on any given day and you might see a bulletin board asking teachers to share some awesome quotes from kids that they have heard lately. You might see a hall display of Acts of Kindness that a student has randomly put up and onto which others have started adding. We love being happy and we think it is important to teaching. And learning. And living.
  5. Gratitude. The entire school community shares with others what they are grateful for. Our parents. Our students. Our teachers. We are grateful and we express that gratitude often. And that just makes people feel good. Gratitude is purposefully written into our student and teacher Core Values document.

These are just a few things, but I think they are very important things. What are some of your thoughts? What makes up your school’s vibe? If you are interested in learning more about the #LoveMySchoolDay Twitter event, scheduled for April 11, 2016, you can find all the information here.

Education, Uncategorized

Spring Reflections

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 6.27.01 PM

Well, the excitement is in the air. Spring Break is right around the corner, and while this is always a welcome break, it also ushers in a very hectic time!  Just to give you an idea, here is a quick run down of what may be on an administrator’s plate come Spring (and I am sure you could add to this list for your own campus):

  • State Assessments
  • Finalizing Teacher Appraisals
  • Kindergarten Parent Meetings
  • Spring Carnival
  • Book Fair
  • Various Music Programs
  • Employee Recognition Banquet
  • End of Year Volunteer Brunch
  • End of Year Textbook Inventory
  • SSI/Grade Placement Meetings
  • Finalizing ARD/504 Meetings

That pretty much captures the “big things” that I can think of off the top  of my head, which must occur alongside the “little” things that are just part of day to day school. For me, what sometimes gets lost during hectic times like this is dedicated time for reflection. If you also have trouble staying focused and dedicating time for reflection during this busy season, read on and maybe this will be beneficial to you, too!

Recently, I began reading “A Reflective Planning Journal for School Leaders” by Olaf Jorgenson. At the end of this post, I will include more information on it in case you want to check it out. I just recently got this book, so I confess to having only read the February and beginning of March sections (the book is divided by months). I must say though, I am really enjoying this book. Not only does it contain quotes and inspirational vignettes from other leaders (always a plus for me), but it also includes weekly reflective questions with places to stop and jot down your own ideas and thoughts. I have worked ahead a little, mainly because the March section is really on point (he mentioned many of the things in my own list above) and provides various ideas for maintaining your balance during this time. To give you an idea of the format, here is a look at the current pages I am working through:

book

So right away you can see where he prompts the reader to think about some ways to stay focused during this busy time. For example, he asks, “What do you do differently in the busy spring months to balance your workload and maintain visibility…”?  What a great question to reflect on!

So when I think about balancing my workload, I think about organization first. I guess I think about that first because the more organized I can be, the more efficient I am. Last year, for example, I had a white board installed on one wall which I use when arranging and rearranging testing groups during spring testing. I like it because, at a glance, I can look and see timelines approaching as well as who I have assigned to do what, and when. I also like to section off various places in my office for the different tasks that are going on simultaneously during this time. For example, the “cart” on the long wall is for turning in benchmark materials, making it easy for me to wheel it down to the testing room when I am ready to scan and put away this material.

testing.JPG

Other things, such as taking time to get out of the office and breaking my day into “chunks” with manageable pieces are also great ways to stay relaxed and productive. One of my favorite places lately is our newly revamped outdoor garden! This area has been made awesome this year and the kids are doing a great job at planting and caring for this space.  We have a pump for the pond now and a butterfly garden will soon be in full bloom! I have been out a few times this week, hanging out with the kids and just seeing how excited they are. Sure, it goes to visibility, but mainly it’s just fun and I love to be out there with them. Here is a look at that space:

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One of the interesting questions asked in the book was about support staff and what we do to recognize them and lift them up during this particularly busy time. Good question! One that I need to spend some time thinking about. Little things make a big difference.

I also find that stopping and writing on this blog is a MAJOR way that I reflect, maintain balance and stay focused. I have a lot of entries that are not even published yet because I have not done any editing or revising to them— and they may never be published here. Still, writing is always a great way for me personally to keep focused, stay clear-headed, and reflect.

This book is really pretty cool and I like that it provides some reflection and brainstorming structure. I am  once again reminded of the importance of making time to just be with my own thoughts, capture my ideas, and find balance in my busy days.  Sometimes the things we think we have no time for, might actually be some of the most important things.

Do you have any reflection tools that you use? If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments! If you might like to check out the book I am using, here is the information:

olaf

Jorgenson, Olaf. A Reflective Planning Journal for School Leaders. Thousand Oaks: Corwin, 2008. Print.

Education, Leadership, Learning, Uncategorized

If You Don’t Feed The Teachers…

 

It’s February. Everyone is tired and stressed out. The students, the teachers….me….I know, I know. I’m not supposed to be. In a perfect world, or a perfect Twitter chat, or a perfect graduate class (and maybe even a perfect blog), I am persevering through this long stretch between January and Spring Break with energy, joy and zeal. I’m checking in with teachers, I’m smiling, the candy dish on my desk is full of chocolate  and I’m high-fiving kids as I walk down the halls. In that perfect world, maybe I would even feel a little bit like this:

joy

But, this isn’t a perfect blog. This is a real blog. So here is what’s really going on.

I’m getting frustrated when the kids are running down the hall and why is nobody answering the walkie talkie and where is the person who is supposed to be on duty and great I left my coat at home because yesterday it was 75 and today it’s 30 (because, Texas) and so now I gotta hope I don’t freeze on car duty and why is that teacher asking me that when I already said…..

Yes. I’m stressed out and tired.

For large parts of the day I’m buried in spreadsheets and binders as I prepare for testing season. I’m finishing up PDAS appraisal stuff and attending lots of meetings because well, it’s that time of year. I’m working referrals…oh boy am I working referrals! More discipline referrals come in during this time than what I saw the entire first semester. And I can tell you why. Everyone is tired and stressed out. The students, the teachers….and me.

Today, I’ve decided that what I really need to do is upgrade my attitude and maintain momentum. Because what kind of services is that? Because yeah, I need to do all that stuff. But guess what I also need to do? Smile,  and high-five kids in the hall, and fill up the candy dish, and check in with teachers. Because I’m the Assistant Principal. Because as a leader, lots of folks will take their cue from me. Because if you don’t feed the teachers, they’ll eat the students. Because everyone is tired and stressed out. Because this is a building full of incredible teachers and amazing students, all of whom deserve nothing less than my very best each and every day. And tired, stressed out me? Well, that just isn’t it.

So this is me, in my not perfect blog, reflecting on my not perfect days and recommitting myself to being the best servant and leader I can be. Even if I am tired and stressed out. In spite of the testing stuff, or appraisal stuff…or all the other stuff. Because that’s what it’s all about. Service. Hey, maybe I’ll look like that picture up above after all….

Or not.

No, I think those incredible teachers and amazing students would settle for a smile,  a check-in, a high-five in the hall and some chocolate in that dish. Yeah, I think that sounds pretty good. As a matter of fact, it might even be perfect.

 

 

Image retrieved from Google Images.