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A Staff That Serves

So, I often write about the incredible school I call home and the people and things that make it such an incredible place. So often, these “things” are collections of moments; some so small and seemingly inconsequential that you might actually not even notice them if you weren’t paying attention. And I try to pay attention. Because other times those moments are great big things that happen — the type of things that cause one to be filled with inspiration and appreciation for the people who are creating them. So I try to pay attention because quite frankly, I don’t want to miss a single tiny or big moment.  I don’t want to miss them because this incredible school, with the incredible people who make these incredible moments happen, really must be shared. Last night, I experienced another of those moments. This one was part of one of those great big moments we have here, one that deserves it’s own post.

For a little backstory, two years ago couple of teachers got together with some students and formed a club called “The Giving Tree“. The club meets monthly to volunteer in the community.  Here is a feature story about this club. Last night the club had one of those events. We went out at 6pm and, for a couple of hours, we helped the “Feed the Hungry” campaign. This is a national campaign and we sorted and packed meal kits which will be delivered to places like Haiti, Dominican Republic, Kentucky…all over the world. There were about 40 of us there, including staff, students and a few parents as well.

Feed

All the credit for these moments, these acts of love and service, go to the wonderful educators that plan and organize them and inspire so many of us to get involved as well. What a difference these teachers are making in the lives of so many others…including myself.

I can’t tell you what a blessing it is to stand together as a group and serve others. It was such a great opportunity to make a difference that had nothing at all to do with school, but everything to do with school. What I mean by that is, there is just something special about working together like this. We laughed, we packed, we got tired, we danced (there was music) and we celebrated as we announced the completion of each box we filled with meals.  All in all, we helped pack enough food to feed aroud 35,000 people. And we did it as a group. A family.

We have had the opportunity to get involved in so many other activities like this as a staff, some as part of the club and some not.  Making cards for veterans at the local assisted living facility. Helping at the local food bank. Working on a house with Habitat for Humanity.  This is a school that serves.  Those moments are big, but inside those big moments are the small, tiny ones. The ones that make you smile. The ones that make you feel like you are a part of something very special; something unique. Something bigger than each of us. We are a staff that serves. That loves. That cares. That makes a difference inside and outside of school.

We are a staff that thrives on making moments and celebrating life. Do you think this spills over into the campus? The kids? The classrooms? What about instruction? Lesson design? Collaboration? You better believe it does. But, those incredible moments I will save for another post….

 

 

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The Teacher in Me

“Why are you writing a lesson plan? You’re an administrator now!” “I know, but I have a lesson to teach Friday and I had this great idea….I guess it’s just the teacher in me”.

That conversation happened at home the other day. I am in my third year as an Assistant Principal and I can tell you without a doubt that I am in love with my role on our campus. There are so many hats to wear and I find myself involved in so many different things. From scheduling to testing, from curriculum to classroom observations, and yes, even things like dismissal duty and textbooks make this the most unique and compelling job I have ever had. The one constant is that none of my days will be the same and I never know what is coming next! But there is one part of my job – one new facet – that is the so near and dear to my heart and I have only just started doing it this year:  Teaching.

So, we have an incredible and dynamic group of teachers who work their tails off with our students. Every day I pop in on a lesson or observe a teacher at work and I am telling you for a fact that these folks would put me to shame as a teacher (and I taught for 15 years!) But even in a building of experts, sometimes it seems like there are never enough hands and we always welcome more rolled up sleeves to help support our kids! So one day, I asked a couple of our teachers if I could work with a group of students who needed some additional time and instruction in reading. My “lunch bunch” was soon born! We met once a week and we read Roald Dahl’s The Witches. We read, we talked, we inferred, we predicted…and we had a blast together! This was such a wonderful time for me because I got to reach back into my “teacher” roots and once again be involved directly with instruction and the other “love of my life” job – teaching kids.

book club

Right now, I have a math “lunch bunch” and we work on their facts and basic concepts. I have been having a blast with this group of kiddos and really value this time with them. I find myself online looking up resources and ideas I can use with my group and asking them at the end of our lesson about their ideas for our next session. A teacher brought me a DVD that we can use during our time together with some very neat learning activities! I found myself really anticipating the day we could finally pop that baby in the DVD payer and get to work!

girls

Before becoming an AP, and even since becoming an AP,  I have found myself researching, asking questions, and learning all I can about the “must do’s” of an effective AP.  I, like so many other APs, am committed to doing the best possible job of supporting my principal and teachers,  and helping lead our campus in the development and execution of a shared vision. Our role is unique, interesting, and important! But I think if I were to share with you a “must do”, it would be to stay involved with teaching and working with kids in some way. Along with having lunch with kids and sitting and talking with them during class visits, this is another great way to build relationships with students in the building. I also think it really enhances my role as an administrator. One thing I never want to do is lose touch with the teacher in me. Not to mention it just makes me a more joyful leader and person.

Being in education is truly an awesome way to spend a life.

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:

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.

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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.

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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.

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5 Important Things From My First Year as an AP

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I can’t believe that my first year as an Assistant Principal is in the books.  Recently, I was asked by my district to share some insights with the next crop of new APs at the July leadership training. I am supposed to talk with them about the transition to administration, what advice I would give, and so on. What’s funny is, as I sat down to think about what I might want to share, I couldn’t come up with any big…significant…”Here is what you must do/not do” things to share. Instead, I ended up jotting down some pretty simple, basic things. But, these simple things really helped my first year go smoothly.

Disclaimer: I’m not going to list the “learn everyone’s name” or “get to know the kids” stuff because you already know those things. These suggestions are more concrete things that basically kept my head above water and helped make the first year day to day stuff more manageable. Or at least made it appear that way 🙂

1. My “Need To Do” list.

I realized pretty quickly that there was just no way I was going to come into school and start working through a list. Too many things come up unexpectedly and, as an AP, I found that I could sum up my role like this: I am here to respond.  Seriously, I am here to respond to whatever comes up, from whoever, and at whatever time. That being said, I did keep a “Need To Do” list. But, I worked on those things as my day allowed — and not the other way around. I decided early on that if I let them rule my day, I would not be an effective administrator. I let go of my need to check things off a list. Instead, I focused on being present.

2. Keep a daily journal.

I used Mead Composition Notebooks. Each day, I started with a blank page that I wrote the date on.  Every phone call I made, or question that came my way, I wrote it down. Every time something came up that I needed to take care of, I wrote it down.  Sticky notes or supporting papers (even if just scratch paper) got taped or stapled into that day’s pages.  This was invaluable to me.  It is amazing how much stuff comes at you each day and there was no way I was going to remember it all. Especially being in a new role and a new campus. I was constantly referring back to earlier pages to refresh my memory on what I did or who I talked to, or what I was told. This was probably the most crucial thing I did. It’s also pretty cool that I have a record of my first year that I can look back on!

3. Save up questions.

I was completely amazed at how many questions I had on a daily basis. Seriously. Questions about things that I didn’t even know existed. Questions that I never even imagined would come up. As they say, you don’t know what you don’t know. I decided early on that instead of going to my principal with each question (which on some particularly crazy days could have been like, 10 times), I would do this instead: Every time I had a question, I wrote it down. I saved them up. When I got to, say 5, I would go in with my notebook, sit down, and say, “I’ve got 5 questions”.  I did this usually at the end of the day. This accomplished several things. One, it limited interruptions for my boss. Two, it allowed me to sit down, ask the questions, and jot down information. Sometimes when you are just asking on the fly, you don’t take time to store that information in your memory, or ask follow up questions. Overall, I think this was a pretty good strategy for me in dealing with my own many questions.

4. Look Up.

You will soon see that when you stop and get on the computer to take care of that email, inventory, form, or other paperwork that has been hanging over your head, someone will walk in. It’s totally ineveitable. Sometimes it’s a question or problem, but for me, a lot of times they are just stopping by to say hello and chit-chat. It can be really tempting to just keep typing away and answer them while multi-tasking. There is just so much to do!  And besides, in this job you get really good at doing many, many things at once. Or thinking about one thing while doing two others. It’s a necessity. But don’t get lured into this. Instead, make yourself stop and look up, giving your full attention. No matter how much it happens. Relationships are what your job is all about. Nothing that you do as an AP matters as much as the relationships that you build with everyone. So, no matter how fast you feel like you are going, or how much you really need to do this or that, right now…stop and look up. An AP’s job is about people.

5. Schedule Class Time

I didn’t do this until late in the year. This is something I need to improve on next year and I think the calendar scheduling will help me do that. It’s amazing how many things can slip by if not booked into your calendar. My calendar quickly fills up with 504 meetings, trainings, parent meetings, ARDs, RTI meetings, testing duties, and so on. When this happens, there is little time left to go walk classrooms. What I found is that I used that unscheduled times for other things. The result was I was not in classrooms as much as I wanted to be and should be. Classroom time needs to be a priority.  It is also a great way to work some magical moments into my day—something we all need, especially new APs!

These five things were particularly helpful for me this year and I plan to continue them next year. I still can’t believe the first year is over!  It was such a geat year…this is the best job in the world! If you are an experienced AP, what tips might you share?

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Teachers and Students Leading Professional Learning

One of the unique ways we have found to support teacher collaboration and growth on our campus this year is through a weekly Staff S’more.  This started out as a one-way communication from admin to teachers, but we quickly discovered that this is the perfect vehicle for teachers to share their ideas, learnings, failures, and risks. It’s also a lot more interesting and has led to many more “conversation starters” than if it’s just admin to teacher. More information on how that came to be can be found in this blog post I wrote a while back.

Teacher Led Professional Learning

So we started off by approaching teachers and inviting them to write the weekly S’More. We were hoping teachers would be willing to share a little bit about what types of things they are doing in the classroom, or want to try, or just what’s on their mind. Soon, teachers began to ask if they could write an upcoming S’More, on a topic that they feel pretty passionate about. For example, next week a teacher will be writing on the topic of teacher burnout.  We are thrilled with the teacher ownership we are seeing in this! Our weekly Staff S’More has enjoyed tremendous success, with lots of views each week and conversations in the hallways that sound something like, “Hey I read your Smore article, can you tell me more about how you...”  It’s one of those rare things that just takes off right from the moment you introduce it and just seems to power itself.

Student Led Professional Learning

This week, one of our fifth grade teachers was working on her S’More feature, which is about Book Clubs.  She had some artifacts, handouts, and descriptions that she wanted to share with teachers along with her article. After a few minutes of discussing the content, she suggested the idea of having her students produce a video, in which they “taught the teachers” about how she implements book clubs. What a fantastically unique idea! Soon, I received the email below, a student-made video explaining to the staff how Book Clubs look in their classroom:

Here is a link to the final S’More for this week, our Book Clubs S’More, which includes the article written by our teacher, the student made video, corresponding instructional ideas from our principal, and additional articles, videos, and other resources that I curated which support the topic.

Throughout this year we have learned alongside each other through this S’More, on topics ranging from formative assessment, differentiation, performance assessments, technology, learning spaces, growth mindset, Genius Hour, math stations, guided reading, and so much more! And now, our plans are to continue to invite students to add to our learning through our weekly Staff S’More.  We are going to ask students to begin sharing their ideas, learnings, failures, and risks…right alongside their teachers. We truly believe that as a learning organization, we can exponentialy grow in our practice by listening to the voices of one another, and that includes our students.  We are very excited for this next phase!

Up Next

In a future S’More edition, our P.E. teacher Mr. Rob will share with the staff about the 21 Days Of Healthy Snacks Challenge, which he launched in his classes this week. He will ask some students to create a corresponding video share to with our staff about how they are engaging with the program. Is the message of healthy eating important to them? Why or why not? How are they implementing this at home, if they are? What challenges have they faced? What solutions can they offer?

I will keep you updated on our teacher and student-led professional learning journey as it continues to unfold this year! What unique ways have you found to infuse teacher and student voice within your learning community? We would love to learn from you!

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The Power of A Phone Call

I grabbed my notepad and began my typical routine that morning, stopping into classrooms and watching all the great teaching and learning going on in the building.  The first room I stopped into was a 4th grade math class. The teacher was just beginning to introduce decimals, and the class was having a discussion about what they know (think they know) currently about this topic.  The teacher asked for volunteers to come up and put a mark on a number line to show where they thought a particular decimal number would go.  Well, it was quiet!  It seemed all were afraid to take this risk and be brave! After some coaxing from the teacher, one boy raised his hand and offered to try it out.  He came up and put a mark on the line. Next the teacher asked if anyone else wanted to try it out. This time, a student on the other side of the room volunteered. While she was walking toward the front, three or four others raised their hands in anticipation of being the next to try it out.  He had started a “brave” moment!!

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I asked the boy his name, wrote it down on my notepad, and went on visiting a few more classrooms.  In each one, I saw at least one student who did something extraordinary, who had an impact on others, who added great value to the learning community. I spent the rest of the morning looking for students taking risks and being brave. Taking deliberate steps to “find” those profound moments changed the lens for me. It brought my visits into a different focus.

Later that afternoon, I called the parent of the boy I mentioned in the beginning.  As I told him who I was, I could hear this quiet “sigh” and a shaky kind of “yes”? After all, when an Assistant Principal calls you at work, it is usually not good. I told him I had been visiting classrooms that morning, and I happened to walk into his son’s math class, and “I just feel it’s important to call and tell you what I observed from your son while I was there”.  There was total silence, and then dad said, “Ok, let me close the door”.  He sounded very disappointed.

I then told him how the class was beginning a new unit on decimals. How the teacher had asked for volunteers to come share what their current thinking is on decimals. How nobody seemed to want to be the first to do this. And how, after a few awkward moments of silence, his son slowly raised his hand, walked up to the board, and said, “This is what I think”. How his bravery in that moment inspired another student to share her thinking, and that the next thing I knew, hands were up and students were having to wait for their turn to go to the front of the class. I told him how his son’s willingness to do that had created a sort of bravery chain reaction, and how much I appreciated his engagement in class and contributions.

Again there were a few moments of silence. Then dad asked me, “So, that’s it? There’s no shoe dropping”? I said, “Nope, I just wanted to call and brag”. He then began telling me how he couldn’t believe this, how he had never received this type of call, and how proud he was of his son at that moment. He thanked me multiple times and told me that he was going to take him for a burger that night and let him know how proud he was of his being brave in class. He told me that my phone call had made his day.  After we hung up, I sat quietly for a moment and thought about what had just occurred.

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Even though it was only a ten minute call, that call brought ten minutes of joy and pride to this father. And it would have a lasting impact on him the rest of the day. It would also have an impact that evening when father and son go out for that burger. I could do nothing but smile at the profound effects that one “Good Call Home” had on this family.

Imagine, if we do this every day. Imagine how this might change things for some parents. For some kids. For some entire school communities.

Scott Capro (@ScottCapro) and Rik Rowe (@WHSRowe) have started a great movement for educators everywhere: Placing Good Calls Home, and the power of a simple phone call! There is even a sign up sheet for educators to sign up, committing to making Good Calls Home. (I encourage you to check it out — here).

Using the hashtag #GoodCallsHome is a great way to build momentum and to hold each other accountable.   I shared the idea with my Principal, who enthusiastically supported it, and she made a commitment to do this as well! So we are now both committed to the #GoodCallsHome movement and we are holding each other accountable!  We have created a Google Doc so that we can each enter the name of the student(s) we call about, and we are going to include a space for reflecting on the reactions we have received.

I am grateful to my buddy Rik  for giving me the push to began my own Good Calls Home campaign. He wrote a blog about this movement, which you can find here. There is no way to really express the joy it brings….you really just have to try it for yourself.