Uncategorized

Making Your Mark

 

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Our theme for this year, as designed by a student, is “Make Your Mark”. I think this is such a great theme for a new year—so full of possibility and opportunity! Isn’t that something we all want to do? Our students want to do that, as well. To make a difference. Change the world. Inspire others. Making our mark to me means to keep discovering who we are and why we are here, and keep making sure that what we do means something.

Maybe you are a brand new teacher. And maybe you’re afraid you won’t be able to make your mark because you aren’t quite sure you know what you are doing. And you, first year teacher, will have days when you start to question if you are making a difference. You’ll wonder if you should even be teaching at all. And yes, you’ll probably have days when you cry!  But you will also have days when you laugh out loud. And days when you see those light bulbs go on! When that one student who you thought you would never reach, thanks you for not giving up and you realize you are exactly where you are supposed to be—doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing. And you’ll realize that even though you are a brand new teacher, you are indeed making your mark.

Or maybe you are a veteran teacher given a new program to learn and you are feeling the uncomfortable feeling we sometimes feel when we take risks like that. And maybe you’re afraid you won’t be able to make your mark because you aren’t quite sure you know what you are doing. And you, veteran teacher, will have days when you start to question if you are making a difference. You’ll wonder if you should even be teaching at all. You might even have days when you cry.  But then, you will have days when you laugh out loud. And days when you see those light bulbs go on! When that one student who you thought you would never reach, thanks you for not giving up and you realize you are exactly where you are supposed to be—doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing. And you’ll realize that even though you are a veteran teacher, you are indeed making your mark.

I have a list of goals for myself going into the year and one of the goals I am really going to focus on is giving teachers more meaningful feedback. This is an area in which I need to grow. So when I think about making my mark this year I think in terms of instructional coaching and my role in the area of teacher growth.  Developing deeper, richer relationships with our families is another area that I would like to put focus on this year. These are just a couple of examples of how I am thinking about our school theme and how I might apply it in my role as an AP. And if those are the marks I make, I think they will be fine ones, indeed.

The thing is, nobody’s mark will look the same. We are not on the same journey. We might dream similar dreams or share common visions. But our journeys, our “marks”, will look different simply because of where we are and with whom we are interacting. But we can each make our mark and in doing so, have a tremendous impact on our students, our communities, and each other. We end up giving what we are meant to give; at least, that is how I see it. What a difference we can make in our world if we all commit to making our marks this year…whatever those may be.

I don’t know if you are a new teacher, a veteran teacher, or somewhere in between. Maybe you are a new administrator or a veteran administrator. But my wish for you is that, no matter where you are and no matter what you are doing,  you will make your mark this year.

And that it will be a fine one, indeed.

 

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.

Uncategorized

Add a Little Spice

Yesterday I made chili. Normally, such a mundane task would not inspire a blog post. But I am at my mom’s lake house and it has been pouring down rain for 2 days so I can’t get out and explore anywhere (like that funky vintage shop 20 miles away that is full of stuff I don’t really need and which I am just dying to visit). Where my mom lives, two days of rain means the road is washed out, so we are not going anywhere anytime soon.

So I made chili. And I thought I had done a pretty good job, too. I have a solid recipe that I’ve used for years and which has gotten rave reviews. As a matter of fact, one year I entered my chili in a contest at school and it took second place. And even I had to admit that the first place chili was the definite winner. Suffice it to say though, my chili  is good.

So after finally getting it the way I wanted, I had my mom come try it out. Taking a spoon from the creaky wooden drawer beside the sink, she made her way to the stove. She dipped the spoon into the cast iron pot she keeps for just such a meal, took a taste of the chili, and then, as only a mom can, she gave the following review:

“It’s good alright. But if it were mine, I’d add a little more spice.”

What? Was she kidding? That chili was on point. Onions. Peppers. Tomato. A few secret ingredients. Sure, it’s not the kind of chili that sets off three alarms, but really?

“You can’t have too much, but you sure can have too little.”

And then it hit me.

This is my mom we are talking about. My mom, you see, loves spice. She always has.  Not only in her chili. She adds spice to her life. She does this by seeking out adventures, taking chances, making little moments special and squeezing every last drop out of life. See, my mom rode horses until she couldn’t anymore. She flew across the lake in her jet ski until she couldn’t anymore. I remember her telling my son that he went too slow on it. “You just go too slow for my liking” she said to my son after their jet ski ride was over. My son is an Army vet and served a one year combat tour in Iraq. She loves boating and antique shopping and making wood crafts. She has been hot air ballooning. Years ago, she actually climbed this mountain called Whitt Mountain, which looks down upon her house by the lake:

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She has slowed down a little these days. And when my stepdad passed away a year and a half ago, she lost a little of her spunk. Actually, I did too. But now, after some time, she has started looking around for that spice again. That flavor that has always made her, her. And she’s finding it.

She is currently wrapped up in the presidential debates and has very strong opinions which she shares with whoever will listen (and some who would rather not — such as the guys at the local pizza joint we visited a couple of sunny days ago). She loves to watch The Voice because she just loves “that funny guy who wears those neat clothes” (Pharrell Williams). Recently, she planted daffodils next to this old tree stump, left over from a storm that took out the tree a couple years ago. Why did she plant it there? “It needed something”, she said.

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And this all got me to thinking. I also love spice. And not just in my chili. I want my life to matter. I want to make a difference and I want to have adventures. I want to love deeply and laugh often and loudly. I want to look back on my life and be really impressed with all the awesome people who are in it, the fun I had and the beautiful moments I enjoyed. And like my mom, a little spice has always made me, me.

Until the last couple of years, when I lost some people and my life lost some of its flavor and I, like her, lost a little bit of my spunk. But a few months ago, I too started looking around for the spice once again.  And you know what? She is right. You can’t have too much, but you sure can have too little. And those times are going to happen in life, we can’t escape them. But they also have an expiration date and if you are currently in those times, and are missing some spice, then maybe I’m writing this for you. And maybe you’ll want to read it. Because even though loss is just a part of life, maybe your life can’t go back to the flavor it once had. But you can still add some spice and you can create some new flavors. And maybe I can even pinpoint five things in particular that have helped bring out new flavors in this life I’m living now:

Give To Others.

Finding ways to give has been an experience that has greatly enriched and deepened my life. Recently, I helped build a house with Habitat for Humanity, and let me tell you this is not glamorous work. It’s hard. But the day we got to turn the keys over to the new, proud owner was a day filled with tears, hugs, smiles…I won’t ever forget that experience. And I have already signed up for the next house build in April. It’s just a part of my life now. There’s just something about giving that brings a smile to your soul.

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Getting Out of Routine.

Recently, my son & I stumbled upon a really cool lakeside restaurant that has a blues singer on Saturdays and an awe inspiring view of the sailboats at rest. Even more spectacular was that we happened to stop in as they were having a crawfish boil in celebration of Mardi Gras. What an incredibly fun night this was! We don’t live in Louisiana but that night, we sure did celebrate like we did. I visit this place a lot now.

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Discover New Passions.

I’m starting new little hobbies. For example, I am learning to crochet. This might not seem all that spicy, but the lady I found to teach me? We meet on Saturday’s at the most cool, hidden coffee shops we can find around the city. We laugh, talk, swap stories…and we crochet. It’s taking me a little while to learn. After two months I have only progressed to a pot holder. I’m not saying I’m a slow learner on purpose. But, I’m not saying I’m not, either.

Make Time For Friends.

When I made a conscious decision to purposefully plan time with my friends,  it instantly added  a huge amount of joy to my life! I have some great friends that I have taught with over the years, whom I normally kept in touch with basically through random texts and holiday cards. We can all get so busy with work and the daily grind that we just don’t make time to just enjoy and cherish friendships like we should. Now, we have standing monthly “girls day” outings and it’s a lot of fun taking turns planning what our next adventure is going to be. Spend loads of time with friends. They are definitely spice.

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Look For Beauty.

This one is simple. It involves nothing but nature and random moments– and usually, my Iphone camera. I snap cool sunrises and sunsets when I catch them — and I go out of my way to catch them lately. I noticed the random pink flower growing up through the crack in the concrete on a recent trip to downtown Fort Worth. A couple of days ago, I saw the most amazing display of coolness at that local pizza dive I mentioned. It was a huge collection of motorcycles, parked in an exact, straight row along the metal wall and below the tin roof of this place that sits in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by fields of bluebonnets that are just now starting to appear. I stood there and admired the scene, and I could smell the pizza cooking from inside (it is literally the best you would ever taste) and I am telling you that could be a painting that might sell for thousands of dollars. And there I was, standing in the middle of it. I didn’t get a pic that day. I didn’t even think about getting my phone out. It was just that cool that it transcended getting out the phone. Spice.

How many times do we have this experience on a random outing and never even notice it? Lately. I am finding myself more and more listening to my mom and reaching for all the spice I can get because that’s what makes life worth it. Sometimes, life has a way of knocking us down and we have to make the big effort to get back up and start looking around for that spice. Because life doesn’t have that same flavor when it’s missing. And it can sure go missing. But the thing is, you can always add more. It’s all around us.

And when I look back on my life at the awesome little moments that made it up, I want to smile, and feel joy, and feel love, and feel like my life was a little bit spicy. I want to look back on it from the same awesome kind of place that made it up. Like my mom, who at 74 can look back from the vantage point of a blue ’96 Chevy convertible — which she still drives today, and in summer- with the top down:

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Today, I encourage you to add some spice. Love people. A lot. Notice little beautiful things. Take time to plan special moments and just be in them. Because that’s the thing about spice. It’s all around you. And you can’t get too much. But, you sure can have too little.

Education, Uncategorized

Spring Reflections

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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:

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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.

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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.

 

Uncategorized

Why Me, Here, Now?

berryLast week was our district’s leadership conference and the learning centered around the word “thrive“.  For our keynote, we were honored to hear Dr. Bertice Berry  speak about servant leadership. During this address, she said something that really resonated with me and, judging from our district conference hashtag, many others as well:

Walk with purpose and you will collide with destiny.

I thought about that remark. I thought about the word “thrive” and what it means for our school community. For my relationships. For me. To help us focus in, we were asked to take a few minutes and ask ourselves:

Why me, here, now?

Think about that question for a moment. It’s not as easy one to answer, is it? In fact, it requires a great deal of self-awareness to begin thinking in terms of one’s purpose. For instance, I might start by asking what service I am able to provide– here, and now– that will help both my campus and district thrive. What can I do to help my relationships thrive?

This will be my second year as an Assistant Principal. Last year, my goal was to survive. It was really that simple. Don’t get me wrong, I still have so much to learn. But this year, I want to really focus in on the service I am providing.

And I don’t want to just “do my job”. I want the job I do, to help our campus, and our district, thrive.

I am going to start by asking myself this simple question every day: Why me, here, now?

Look at this tweet that went out one day during the conference:

Relationships. Communication. Empowerment. Trust. Indeed these are the types of things one might find in a thriving organization. In thriving relationships. In a thriving life. So why me, here, and now? How can I contribute to a thriving culture at my school? I believe that to lead, one must serve. So what service do can I provide this year, at my campus, in my district? How can that service help the students and staff thrive? How can it help me thrive?

Here are some more thoughts that I discovered in the hashtag stream that I want to share with you:

These thoughts…how do they shape the ideas I have about purpose? About thriving? About helping others thrive? I am only just now beginning to discover.

I also enjoyed this visual of what “thriving” organizations look like:

And finally, I want to remember this simple piece of advice, given by our Superintendent:

Leave the place better than you found it.

Service. Purpose. Thrive.  The words float around in my mind as I begin getting ready for the upcoming year. Delivering textbooks to classrooms. Checking in with teachers who are starting to put their rooms together. Helping my principal prepare for our upcoming staff development.

Why me, here, now?

These are some things I am thinking about as I get ready for the new year. Perhaps you are thinking about them, as well.