Saturday, September 16, 2017

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 9

Each week when I write this blog, I typically go back through my schedule and look at pictures to see what happened in the week to think about what to write. Looking at my photos from the week, I stopped and paused for a second when I thought about how many things truly go on in a week. Just this past week, I had our PTA meeting, the PTA picnic, media interviews, snack carts for teachers, morning rally fun, lunch with Board of Ed members, teaching 4th and 5th graders, walk through observations, district meetings, PDP meetings, parent conferences, Awesome Office Visits for rock star students, mentoring students, and so on and so forth.

With so much going on, the analogy I am using is that there's 1,000 dodge balls being thrown at your face every moment. What I have to decide every moment of the day is which balls to deflect and which ones to catch. The ones I deflect can be caught or picked up by other people, or I can deal with them later. But the ones I catch I need to deal with immediately. I was trying to catch a lot this week, and in return I deflected a couple of balls that should have been caught. I missed a deadline with my financials, for example, because I caught a ball with a parent that should have been deflected, so I need to scramble on Monday to get that straight. It will get fixed, I know, but I personally don't like missing deadlines and I should have been smarter about those calls.

I did have a reflective flashback moment this week. I was in a challenging parent meeting with one of my newer teachers. Without going into detail, the teacher was upset afterwards because it was one of those tough meetings. Veteran teachers know what I am talking about, we've all had them. It brought me back to my own first year though, as I had a couple of those meetings myself. I could remember thinking that I wanted to quit right after because it really hurts when you are working your tail off day in and day out and a parent is still upset with you. Plus, you love the kids so much, so it hurts when a parent thinks otherwise. I am so proud of my teacher though because she bounced back quickly and is doing great!

This week also planted a few seeds for some upcoming school additions as well. For one, we will be initiating Watch DOGS in the near future! We already have great interest from dads, and we hope to continue to build that up! There are a couple other projects that have to remain secret, but I have a feeling that they are going to be well-received when they are done!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 8

This was a shortened week because of Labor Day, but the four days we were in school still kept us plenty busy at Moore! Instruction picked up pace this week, and it was great to see the Moore Four put into place across the school. The Moore Four is a personal philosophy of practice that I brought with me going into the principalship. It was a little risky, I admit, bringing a school-wide practice that I made a non-negotiable into the mix right off the bat, but after 5 years of using these practices myself as a "traveling teacher" in hundreds of unfamiliar classrooms across the country, I felt good about the impact that they can have when implemented correctly. If you are curious, the Moore Four includes:

1) Tracking the speaker
2) Using manners and respect ("Yes, ma'am/sir," "No ma'am/sir," "Please," "Thank you")
3) Making SPECIAL introductions (greeting adults with a handshake, smile, strong eye contact, and greeting); each classroom also has classroom and hallway greeters
4) Standing up and responding in a complete sentence when giving an answer

The proudest moment for me this week came when a student brought me an "Awesome Office Visit" form. This is a new initiative where students who are consistently doing great things, being role models, helping others, etc. get recognized by being sent to my office to sign my chalkboard wall and receive a phone call home to tell their parents what a great job they are doing. The smile on their faces is priceless!

On Thursday, a 5th grader named Tristan came to me during dismissal with an Awesome Office Visit, which I thought was odd because we were ending the day. Tristan is one of our safety patrol, and it turns out that during dismissal, a parent who interacted with Tristan when picking up her child was so impressed with his manners and respect, that she recommended Tristan to my office staff for this recognition! That was a great moment as a principal and it was one of the coolest phone calls I got to make so far.

It has been intriguing making these positive phone calls to parents. When I call, and the parents answer, you can hear a trepidation and nervousness in their voice. Most of these kids have never been in trouble, so to get a phone call from the school is unusual. I want to change that culture at Moore, so that when the principal calls, it's not automatically that your child is injured or in trouble. I hope Awesome Office Visits are a start to that.

On Wednesday, we had a district principal meeting, which meant I was out of the school for the day. It was hard being away for an entire day, but it was also nice catching up with other principals, hearing about what they are doing at their schools. The most common question I got from colleagues was "How's it going?" It's a fair question to ask, but I also have no idea. I have no means of comparison, both from an longitudinal standpoint of experience or lateral standpoint of seeing what's happening around the district. I wanted to say we're doing great, but I also don't truly know.

I think we've made some good moves these first few weeks. I know personally I still have lots to learn, and not all my decisions have been super popular, but I feel good about the direction we're heading. This week will begin our beginning of the year assessments, so we can begin putting data behind our conversations to see where we are starting. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 7

If I were to write down the complete events, emotions, and happenings this week, I would have my third book ready I think. So for readability purposes, I am going to highlight the top successes and learning moments this week:

Successes:
1) First Day of School Block Party: We had an amazing first day of school. The staff came together to create a memorable welcome back for our students and families. Students arrived to school and were ushered to our bus lot party, which included music, bubbles, chalk, an Iron Man and Batman, a fairy princess, and a frog. Students were also jumping rope with teachers, drawing with chalk, and hula-hooping. And, of course, the GIANT Moore wooden letters. There were many smiles and hugs.

2) Morning Rally: Each day this week, we started our day with Morning Rally, which is where the entire school came together in the gym to learn the Moore Four, PBIS expectations, classroom and hallway greeter procedures, and more. The custodial, office, and cafeteria staff were introduced by name. We learned school wide chants and cheers (AWESOME, Eyes on Me, Oo-Oo-Ah-Ah). We modeled appropriate hallway, classroom, and cafeteria behaviors. And we ended the week with a minute to win it challenge. Lots of fun, but we built consistency in practices, which I hope helps with behavior and expectations.

3) This one may seem minor, but I truly think one of my favorite things this week was learning my first words of sign language. We are the primary site for hearing impaired students in the district, and they are amazing kids. I want to be able to communicate with them though, so I have been working with my amazing interpreters at the school to learn signs. Just today I learned "Good morning," "My name is Mr. Dovico. What's your name?" "How are you?" "Fine" "Good" and more.

4) I am most proud of my scholars who have bought into the schoolwide expectation of introducing yourself and making great first impressions. Students from kindergarten to fifth grade have been taught and are implementing proper handshakes, strong eye contact, and making conversations. While I had guests with me walking around the school, they were greeted by the assigned hallway greeter. We're going to continue to grow this as the year goes on!

Learning Moments:
1) The day flies by quicker than I would have ever imagined. I literally blink and it's 2:00 already. There is never a down moment, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes it much harder to get the things I truly want to done. I struggled the first couple days finding the time to get into classrooms, but toward the end of the week I started putting specific classroom time into my schedule, which protected me from (most) other things. Inevitably, things pop up regularly, but I am learning how to delegate things that can be delegated so I can be present in the classrooms more.

2) I have a really amazing office staff, but I was not doing a good job keeping them in the loop with things happening around the school. Because they are not always in the meetings or Morning Rally that we have (since the office needs to be covered), they were not getting the pieces of information they needed. That was on me, and I'm glad they talked to me about it so I could do better.

3) I certainly knew this going into the job, but I had many instances this week where you can't make everyone happy. I promised myself that my decisions would be based on what is best for the students and being consistent with my vision for the school. I think I managed to maintain that this week, but in the process, several people were disappointed, frustrated, or angry with me. Luckily, because the day moves so quickly, there's really not much time to let it get to me, so it hasn't been an issue really, but more of just a realization.


Overall, this opportunity has been a blast. I've had so much fun, and I hope my staff and students have as well. I get hundreds of handshakes and hugs each day from fantastic scholars, which makes the endless work and tasks well worth it. The tough times have been outnumbered by the good, and I have a great team around me helping put Moore Magnet on the map!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 6

Things got real this week! For the past five weeks, things were being put into place for students to come back to school. On Thursday, we welcomed our 600 Moore Magnet families back to school for Open House in style!

When I presented at my friend Hope King's Get Your Teach On Conference this summer, she created giant 6 foot letters spelling out GYTO. I immediately decided in my brain that I "had" to have these at my new school, since I found out about the job while I was in Texas at this conference. Long story short, I asked everyone in my local network who had carpentry skills to build them. Luckily, my talented friend Will volunteered to make these and donate them to my school. The magic came from many places, however, as a handful of my teachers also had an important hand in creating the stencils for the letters and painting them.

You can see it on my Instagram account @adamdovico.

To add to the "Hollywood" feel these letters produced, for Open House we also rolled out a red carpet and got several gold balloons to make it feel like a premiere event. Families took full advantage of the setup and took hundreds of pictures in front of the letters. Music was blasting and people were joyous, which was exactly what I had hoped for!

This week proved that the small things can make the biggest differences. Whether it was getting giant letters constructed, pushing my teachers' PDP submissions until Monday, or having Ron Clark give our school a shout out during his convocation speech, it's attention to detail and making the pieces come together that builds culture.

There is no rest, though, because the rubber hits the road on Monday, as 600 scholars enter Moore Magnet! What they do not know is that the surprises have just begun! 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 5

For years now, I imagined what I would say the first time I stepped in front of my staff as a principal. I had the chance this week, and while I'll leave what I said as a secret between my staff and me, I may or may not have been up on a table wearing neon colored 80's athletic gear while saying it.

Anyway, it was back to school for teachers this week and we finally had a chance to kick off this year! The energy was high, the morale is great, and we are ready to rumble! There are big plans in place to work hard this year on building positive culture, making great first impressions, and building student-leadership. We had a surprise visit from my buddy Michael Bonner on Thursday, and he was so gracious and humble with his words to my staff.

I am adjusting to what I consider the hardest part of being a principal so far - being able to switch content and conversations on the fly. On Wednesday afternoon, for instance, I had a meeting with the Exceptional Children's department about a compliance issue that involved maintenance, immediately followed by a meeting with Child Nutrition, immediately followed by a phone call with HR about an employee's paperwork, immediately followed by a meeting about the first day back for teachers, and then immediately followed by a call to the finance department. With each person I talk to (especially when it's back-to-back-to-back-to-back) the previous conversation's content is still in my head, so it's been a huge learning curve adjusting to the immediate switches that need to be made between conversations.

As teachers are back now, there are many, many conversations that happen as I pass someone in the hall. Most people just have quick questions, others need more planned sit-down meetings, but I am learning how to get people to write me a note or email so I don't forget. I am also learning how to delegate questions to others who can make decisions or complete tasks that I don't necessarily need to take of myself.

This coming week will bring Open House and final preparation for our first day of school! We're looking to go big! Many surprises to come for our scholars! Stay tuned!


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 4

Week 4 is in the books, and another busy week it was. This week was highlighted by a "Meet the Principal Night" at a local restaurant, where families were able to pop in and say hi to me and the many teachers who also joined. Meeting many of my scholars that night made this past month of endless work seem much more worth it. 

Friday morning was also a big undertaking, as Ms. Hart (my instructional facilitator) and I went around to almost 30 businesses to introduce ourselves and invite them to our "Community Day" that I will be hosting at the school in September. I am beyond fortunate that my school sits in the middle of what is one of the mostly densely populated areas for businesses in the city. We have literally hundreds of restaurants, stores, banks, organizations, and small businesses within two blocks. I still have many more places to visit, but this was a great start on Friday. The owners and managers who we met with were beyond friendly (it's a Southern thing) and I learned about businesses that I honestly would not have otherwise would have ever known about.

Thanks to my amazing custodians, I was able to invite the staff back in this week to set up their rooms. Many came in and began organizing, but I also realized the reality of having people in the building - it's hard to get anything done from start to finish since there is always someone who needs you. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I am going to need to learn to get things done in small chunks of time, since a sustained period where no one needs me does not appear to be a reality.

There are a number of dates that once seemed so far away that are now right around the corner, including this Thursday the 17th, which is when teachers officially come back. I am working on something special for the welcome back for my teachers! I just need a little magic to come through! I also have Open House and the first day of school just around the corner, which means it's "crunch time," and I am going to need all hands on deck to make many special things happen! Stay turned ...

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 3

Over 17 hours, 34 teachers and many conversations later, I now have a much better feeling on who the people are on the bus at Moore Magnet ES. I had the pleasure of listening to personal stories, dreams and wishes, and reflections from my teachers this week as I had these one-on-one meetings. It was their chance to let me know about themselves, ask me questions, but most importantly a chance for us to get to know each other.

While each person shared personal narratives, I couldn't help but to find threads that remained consistent through the conversations. I was pleased to hear the word "family" used time and time again as my teachers spoke about each other. I have been to many schools over the years that use that word loosely, almost as a lip service to what you're supposed to say when asked. But the use of the word "family" from my staff was unprompted. It was genuine. It was concrete as well. Several staff members shared stories how the Moore staff, at times, was the only sanity in their lives. I have a handful of teachers who have been there for 20+ years, and said that the staff was the reason they remain there year after year. How lucky am I that I get to walk into a place like that?!

Beyond the meetings this week, there was still much work that had to get done! From the Title 1 budget being completed to meetings with the Exceptional Children supervisors, things are coming together! I discovered that I have several artistically talented staff members, and there are a few who are doing special projects for me! At times I feel overwhelmed and I have definitely questioned if I am made for this job on several occasions already, but then there are the moments that I realize that there are great things going on and I'm having a blast in this new position.