Saturday, May 19, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 42

I have two sons: Ryder is six and a half and Maddox is three. Ryder has had a rough month at school. He has an amazing teacher and he is at a great school; he is simply not following directions. He's showing out at home as well with attitude and disrespect. My wife and I are working with him on making better choices and he's facing consequences for his actions. I'm not saying I am a great parent or that I am doing all the right things, but I accept that my child is not perfect and he is the one making these choices.

I explain all this because I sympathize. I sympathize with many of the parents who I meet with or call who also have children who are getting into trouble and not following directions at school or at home. I make calls daily to parents at my school and have to explain that their child got into trouble. The reactions vary, from complete denial that their child would do anything wrong to overwhelming apologies that their child disrupted the classroom. No matter where on the spectrum the parent lies, I definitely understand that it can be embarrassing, frustrating, or an inconvenience when these calls come through.

As a teacher, the challenge is being accountable for 20+ students when one or two are taking up 90% of your attention. As a parent, the challenge is needing your child to be in school so you can be at your job, but also ensuring that your child is not taking away the learning opportunities from all of the other students. And as an administrator, I want to ensure that students are in a safe, productive learning environment.

The reality is I don't have an answer on what to do. I am going to continue holding my child accountable for his actions, and I will continue holding my students accountable for their actions. At my school, we have made big pushes for restorative practices that aim to align consequences with actions. We also try our best to keep kids in the learning environment, since they can't learn the content if they're not in the classroom. As a staff, we've discussed classroom environments and tones of voice, options for discipline, and moving forward we'll be doing training on verbal de-escalation.

I will be spending this weekend with Ryder working on ways he can better respond in class and at home, and hopefully we can end May on a high note!


Saturday, May 12, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 41

I found out that if my principal gig doesn't work out, I'm going to enter the grilling world. Not that I'm a great griller, but I really enjoy it. I got to spend a few hours on Friday grilling for my staff to wrap up Teacher Appreciation Week. It was a beautiful day and my assistant principal and I threw burgers, hot dogs, and chicken onto the grill and got coverage for our teachers to have duty free lunch outside. My teachers work so hard, and I ask so much of them, so I wanted to make sure there was some way to thank them for everything they do.

I spent the first part of the week in Non-violent Crisis Intervention (NCI) training. I had gone through this training over eight years ago when I taught in Charlotte, so it has definitely been a while, but it was an outstanding course. Yes, you do learn restraints for extreme situations, but the more intriguing part for me was the verbal de-escalation training, which truly makes you reflect upon your approach with children and how to approach contentious situations. It can be easy to let emotions drive decision-making or reactions to situations where the students are being irrational, and this training provided good techniques to make sound decisions in those situations.

Several puzzle pieces were able to get filled this week for next year as I was able to hire a magnet coordinator and instructional facilitator, two key leadership positions in the school, plus two amazing teachers for first and fourth grade. I also received the first shipment of resources for our new multiple intelligenes lab for next year. While there is still much to be done for this year, it's impossible not to get excited for what's to come next year.

We also had our Fashion Show to model next year's dress code changes. One of my kindergarten teachers organized the show and we had a huge turnout by parents as our scholars showed off their fashions. We showed that while there are standard items that need to be worn during the week, we are encouraging the individualization and fun that can be accessorized in celebration of the Houses.

Someone asked me the other day if I was stressed with all of the things that have to be done over the next few weeks, and I honestly replied "no." I love pressure situations, plus I have a great team of teachers and leaders around my school who will make sure that we get done what we need to get done.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 40

40 weeks!

Not that 40 has any specific significance, but it's round enough to be excited that I've completed 40 weeks of the principalship! In reality, we're in the final stretch, 25 more school days, and the big state test looms above us.

Maybe I am taking the ill-advised approach, but I am not stressing about the state test. As a teacher, I never stressed about it either. In my head, if I worked hard enough during the year, the kids were going to reflect the work that we did. Not every kid's score will reflect their true ability, but by and large, good teaching yields positive results. I am hoping that the same mentality comes to fruition with the school. If we have done our job this year, and we have taught the standards and engaged students in the learning process, the results will come.

This past week was full of celebrations in the district - 4 banquets - and it kept principals and district leaders busy! In between those events, however, I am learning what May feels like as a principal. It's stressful! My days are filled with EVAAS, teacher allotments, recruitment/hiring, student enrollment, staff evaluations, testing, parents concerns, student concerns, budgets/spending, end of year prep, and anything else that rolls across my plate. May feels a lot like September did in many regards. There is a sense of urgency in the air to get a lot of things completed and checked off by the deadlines.

I'll end on a lighter note this week with a solid "inside the trenches" story. I had a kindergarten student with me in the office who needed a snack toward the end of the day. I let him pick from my snack box and he chose Cheetos. Afterwards, his hands were orange and dirty, so I told him to go wash them in the bathroom. When he came back to me, I told him to hold out his hands so I could see them. The student holds out his hands in front of him and I bend down in order to examine if they were clean. Well as my head was near inches from him, the loudest, most colossal sneeze came from the boy. For those who know me, I am not a fan of germs, so I dove backwards faster than a speeding bullet. Naturally, those around the office at that time had quite a laugh, as did I, but it's moments like those that facilitate the laughs and memories (even if tremendously disgusting) that make this the best job in the world.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 39

I kept a close eye on the weather throughout the week in anticipation of our school's spring fling on Friday night! We planned to have it outdoors, which means rain could have easily ruined those plans. Luckily, the sun came out at just the right time and we had a successful event. I committed myself to the dunk booth, which equated to an hour and a half of getting submerged in ice cold water! Thankfully, one of the dads saw me shivering atop the tank and offered to relieve me for the final thirty minutes!

It was a quick turnaround from Spring Fling Friday night to Saturday morning, where we had our district job fair. Each of the 83 schools in our district had a table and perspective teachers and staff came around to share resumes and chat about what they were looking for in a school. I ended up with 78 resumes in my hand at the end of the morning, and a lot of conversations scrolling around in my head. After talking to so many people, it made me think about why certain people stood out to me. I wanted to share a few thoughts on good and bad strategies that stood out to me from people:

  • Good strategy: Approach with a great smile, firm handshake, good eye contact, and a greeting that shows you're enthusiastic about your life.
  • Bad strategy: Approach and start talking for three minutes without coming up for air. There's a difference between an elevator pitch and a stream of consciousness where I zone out and stop listening.
  • Good strategy: Seem interested in learning about the school. Behind me at the job fair we had a table that we set up with items like our dragon display, five large painted eggs in our House colors, a backdrop with our House crests, etc. I was far more impressed when people asked something like "Tell me about these eggs" or "Can you talk about your magnet program?"
  • Bad strategy: When a candidate is not comfortable having a conversation with my fifth grade student there, that's a bad sign! You're a teacher, you should be able to talk with kids!
  • Good strategy: Making yourself memorable! Be different! How do you stand out? For me, I am looking for people who can bring something to my school that makes it better. The fact that you've been teaching for 20 years or you have a masters doesn't make my school better. I want people who can bring something to the table that I don't already have.
Overall, meeting so many people in a short amount of time is challenging. I sit here today with a large stack of resumes I am going to start going through to see candidates I will contact for potential openings (since I don't have any currently). For those I invite to the next round, I will be requiring video submissions or live lessons so I can see the candidates teaching. It's important to see if a great resume matches great instruction!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 38

On Thursday we had our kindergarten screening. It went smoothly and I am so proud of my 5th grade Ambassadors who acted as guides for the families as they walked through the building. They made great first impressions!

The experience also opened up my eyes to something that I had already known, but to see it laid out in front of my so plainly in a short amount of time was quite surreal. My job during screening day was to review the results for the parents. The screening we used included letter and number recognition, one-to-one correspondence, writing their name, cutting, identifying colors, shapes, and so on. As I went through the packets with the parents, seeing the gap between students was simply astronomical. We talk about "the achievement gap" all the time in education, but seeing one student who is already reading sentences and the next who can't name a letter yet put this truly into perspective for me.

I assured parents that these screening activities are simply to help us as a school learn about their child, which they are, but they are also a blaring reality that there are great discrepancies in the 0-5 years of life. Again, this is likely not a secret to anyone, but for me, this was an eye-opening event due to the ability to see results back-to-back-to-back throughout the day. As a former 5th grade teacher, I typically saw the results of "the gap" after 5 years of schooling, but never truly thinking about how they got there. I had students reading novels in 5th grade and students still learning to decode words, never thinking that this "trajectory" really started well before they ever stepped into the school.

I'm not saying I have the answer or the fix, though I truly believe an increase in free Pre-K starting at 3 wouldn't hurt, but I had a personal learning experience this past week that I will continue to focus on as a principal and look for ways that we can increase early educational experiences for our families. But more importantly, making sure that we provide resources for those who need help the most early on when they enter my school doors.

Moore also had a great time with our visit from my dear friends Wade and Hope King this past week! My staff was treated to excellent model lessons, workshops, and conversation with these two great educators. I had a number of staff thank me afterwards for bringing the Kings to Moore, but I said the biggest thank you will be for you to bring the ideas back into your classroom! That's why it was great seeing one of my kindergarten classrooms this week transforming her classroom into a race track!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 37

It was our first week back from Spring Break this week and we got to surprise the kids with a beautiful new mural that a group of us worked on over break. I'm appreciative to have staff members talented and willing enough to come in and make "magic" happen over a break! The kids' faces and reactions on Monday made it all worth it! We have at least one hallway now that is that much brighter!

We had a great visit on Friday from my friend and presenting colleague, LaNesha Tabb, to Moore. She taught lessons in K, 2nd, and 5th grade, showing off her passion and talents in social studies. Culture was an overriding theme throughout each of the lessons, and she was able to show that through strong story-telling, research, and high expectations, we can make social studies relevant and prominent in elementary schools. Discussing culture, I believe, is more relevant than ever, and opening our students' eyes at a young age to different types of people is essential for a more successful future.

On Monday, Moore will be visited by two more of my good friends, Wade and Hope King, as we continue to push quality professional development and transform and rethink what our teaching can look like. My strategic plan for my first year as principal was to ensure that my staff was provided with opportunities to witness and experience professional development that pushed them. Throughout the year, I have tried my best to give anyone who has asked the chance to attend professional developments that will further their abilities to be a great teacher.  During my administrative license program I did a research project/paper on professional development, and to no surprise, it showed that schools that put an emphasis on quality, on-going professional development with a strategic focus yielded higher results in testing, retention, and working conditions.

The returns this year on PD have been noticeable: I have had teachers transform their rooms, add rigor to their lessons, include chants/cheers, music, debate, and more. As I move into next year, and have the ability to hire new staff to Moore, I'm looking for teachers who are excited about the change that we have going on at Moore and are "bought in" to what we are doing.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 36

It was a crazy final week before spring break! I started my week off in our nation's capital for Get Your Teach On! We had amazing energy and positivity there and I got to meet many great educators from around the country. I consider myself very lucky. Getting to present at Get Your Teach On and Ron Clark Academy throughout the year gives me a chance to get rejuvenated and energized when I need it. I completely understand how there are so many people who are worn down at this point of the year, but have no outlet or opportunities to "fill that tank" back up like I talked about last week. I think it's important for schools, districts, and leaders to find ways to give educators chances to attend quality professional development to get new ideas, meet positive educators, and renew their passion when the tiredness sets in. 

When I returned to school on Tuesday we had our spring learning walk from our central office. This brings in a group of central office folks who walk through the school with the administrative team and collects data on areas we are focusing on as a school. For Moore, we had three areas that I wanted the team to measure: 1) Lesson Plans/Lesson Plan Execution, 2) the Moore Four, and 3) Rigor. I really appreciate these learning walks because it brings in outside eyes into our school. It's easy for anyone to get clouded with successes or weaknesses when you're in it each day, so to have a fresh perspective coming in is much appreciated. The results showed that we have areas to celebrate, particularly where we have dedicated much time and effort into. But we also have much room for growth in other areas, and that is something I'm planning for moving forward into next year.

The week ended with a couple of very special highlights. The first came when my assistant principal and I were walking through our kindergarten classrooms and we walked into Ms. French's room. They were doing literacy centers, and I noticed that two of the girls sitting on the floor were practicing their sight words, which is not uncommon for kindergarten. The difference here was that the girls were using sign language to finger spell the words and then giving the sign for it. The reason I was so touched was that only one of the girls was deaf. Her friend was learning sign language right along with her and is able to communicate without her interpreter. Then I noticed that there were another few students next to them on Chromebooks who were learning sign language as well with videos.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, our sign language program is one of the most special parts of my school. We are not an immersion program or a magnet for sign language, so the teaching of it for typically developing students is not required, but the fact that my teachers have embraced it and are using it to make our deaf and hard of hearing students feel included and a part of our school is heart-warming and important for later life lessons.

The other great moment came when one of my teacher assistant's sons came to visit Moore. He is a Winston-Salem police officer. After he and I chatted for a few minutes, I invited him to come see our end of quarter PBIS celebration in the gym. He gladly accepted and he got to see our kindergarten and 1st grade students dancing in the gym. He jumped right in and was dancing along with them and giving hugs and talking about being a police officer with the students. Then he joined me as we went to watch 2nd grade do a math review game in the front lobby. They were doing a game that involves putting petroleum jelly on your nose, running across the floor, getting a review question stuck to your nose, then running back and solving it. We were encouraged to participate, and once again he joined Ms. Fullerwinder and myself in a round, much to the delight of the students.

It was important for the students to see this officer in a positive light. Many have had negative experiences or perceptions of officers, so for Officer Strange to come out and simply have fun and laugh with the students will hopefully put a positive outlook on their minds as they see police officers moving forward.

It's spring break time now! So there won't be a post next week, but I'll jump back in the following week as we start the 4th and final quarter!