Saturday, October 21, 2017

Inside the Trenches of the Prinicpal: Week 14

This will be a short post this week. Unfortunately, my friends and I were burglarized last night in Atlanta and all of our belongings were stolen from the house, including my laptop, so I'm typing this from my phone.

Anyway, I jokingly deemed this past week with my staff as "survey week." Using Google Forms, I sent a series of surveys to my staff, ranging from what movie the kids wanted for PTA movie night all the way to a 1st quarter check-in, which I used questions from the North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions Survey to draw thoughts from my staff on how we're doing this year. I never understood why you would wait until the end of the year to see how we did this year, so I'll be checking in periodically with my staff throughout the year. I will also be creating a parent survey to gauge parent input as well. I am hopeful that from these results we can make changes along the way that will benefit the staff and students. I've tried to lead this year with the mindset of we're able to examine any topic in the school and make changes as necessary. Hopefully over the next couple of weeks I'll be able to share a few of the changes we made based on staff and parent feedback. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 13

I want to start off this post endorsing the power of positivity. I had the opportunity to spend the first part of this week in Chicago with the Get Your Teach On (GYTO) team, along with four of my Moore Elementary teachers. Without fail, each time I am able to come together with my fellow presenters, we have unbelievable conversations about ways to improve our instruction, leadership, and how to influence education. Along with friends like Hope and Wade King, Amy Lemons, Joe Dombrowski, Chris Pombonyo, Deanna Jump, Holly Ehle, plus some new friends like Elizabeth Raff, Brooke Brown, Rachelle Smith, and our behind the scenes superstars Megan, Chelsea, Kori, Chloe, and of course Mama Pam I left that trip feeling more excited to go back to my school, inspired to work even harder because I had so many positive conversations with these people.

It's amazing what a positive conversation can do to our day. The nature of the principalship brings many negative conversations - the schedule that doesn't work, the disgruntled parent or teacher, the student that is misbehaving - so it makes complete sense as to why it is so easy to fall into that negativity hole. I feel blessed that I am able to present and travel to conferences where I can meet up with these friends who aren't going to bring negativity into the conversation. I worry for education when educators don't have those opportunities to embrace positive moments or have positive conversations.  To fix this, I believe it's going to require a shift in attitude from our leaders who have the ability to make decisions about professional development, resources, and budgets.

On that note, I am so thankful that I have had the most unbelievable support from my central office team, superintendent, and board of education since getting this position. I have gone out on a limb on a number of occasions in what I am asking permission to do and I have received nothing but support. As I have traveled around the country, I have met so many educators who are limited in doing such simple things like painting a wall or bringing in a guest speaker.

I had a visit from five of my board of education members to my school on Friday. As we walked around the school, I was showing them how many of my teachers have painted their rooms this year. I said to the board members that several of my teachers have said to me that even though they've been teaching for many years, that simple act of painting their room made them feel like it was a fresh start for them this year. Whether it's paint or a new table or a professional development experience in Chicago, my goal this year is to find ways within my power to give my staff positive moments and memories.  

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 12

I'll be honest, I had a number of arduous moments this past week. People are frequently saying to me these days how much fun it looks like we're having at Moore. Don't get me wrong, we are having fun. And I am proud to share the pictures and videos of the amazing things we're doing. The fun moments also outweigh the heavy ones, but it's the tough moments that tend to sit heavier on your shoulders.

This week brought many crucial conversations with parents, students, staff, teachers, and even myself! The conversations ran the gamut of topics, but I found myself sitting in my office at the end of the day feeling discouraged at what I was not doing right, rather than remembering the things that I did do right.

So let me take a moment to reflect upon great moments this week:

- My AP and I managed to get all of our PDP meetings complete and in on time
- I began my formal observations and completed 6 this week
- There were more students wearing bow-ties on Tuesday and I think it's going to keep on growing
- We had a fantastic turnout at the Chuck E Cheese fundraiser 
- Got to begin planning a brand new workshop with two of my former Wake Forest students
- Had lunch with a buddy
- More students got to sign my wall for Awesome Office Visits
- Got to celebrate my son Ryder's 6th birthday
- Learned A-F in sign language
- Rolled out two new schoolwide practices for instruction that were introduced to staff and then modeled to students
- Wore a fantastically tacky jacket on Friday just got the heck of it

I am currently in a hotel room in Chicago preparing for the Get Your Teach On Conference tomorrow and Tuesday. I have four of my teachers with me, who I am excited to have bring back new strategies to the school. Today also happened to be the Chicago Marathon, which was somewhat symbolic to what I've been thinking about recently. This year truly is a marathon. It's a long school year and I am enjoying finding strategic moments to insert feedback, initiatives, and changes to Moore. There's definitely been a few missteps, but the good thing about a marathon is that you have 26 miles (or 8 months in my case) to make up a stumble.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 11

This past Tuesday we had Community Day at Moore, which was an effort to bring community members and business owners into our school. I wanted them to see the work that our teachers do, and also show off our great students. In preparation, I've spent the last two weeks training a group of nine fifth-grade ambassadors, who would be tasked with greeting the guests and providing tours. The event went well and I was proud of the fifth graders. While they were certainly nervous, they rose to the occasion and implemented what we had practiced: good posture, eye contact, firm handshake, asking questions, listening, showing charm, how to give a tour walking backwards, sharing stories and not just facts, and so on.

On Tuesday night I put up pictures on Twitter and a popular educator Twitter group called @teacher2teacher replied to my tweet and asked what was the biggest takeaway for the students? It was a good question, and I responded that I think the students realized that these were real-life skills that they were learning. This wasn't an abstract math formula that they may never use again and it wasn't a story passage that they didn't connect to. Instead, they were practicing the skills that they are going to use when they apply for a job or have a big encounter with someone.

Going through this process with my students made me reflect upon my time working at Ron Clark Academy. Student-led tours and conversations with students is a valued and expected skill set for students to learn while in school there. Week after week I would meet people who would say at the end of the visit something along the lines of "I wish I had those kids, I could do this too" or "Those kids are something special." And yes, the RCA kids are great and I love them very much, but they are still ordinary kids at the end of the day.

What I'm trying to say is any kid can do this. It's the adult behavior that dictates how far students will go. Currently, I have 574 Pre-K-5th grade students who have learned how to shake my hand as I pass them in the hallway each day. And I have 84 fantastic staff members who support these efforts by training their students on being a classroom or hallway greeter, and model with me how to greet another person.

It ain't perfect! We've got a lot of room to grow and there are many more things on the horizon I'll roll out in due time, but I feel good about how my students, in particular my ambassadors, have begun their training for their future.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Morning Choice: The Full Implementation

In February, I co-wrote a blog with one of my former Wake Forest University students, Allison, a first year teacher at the time, who implemented Morning Choice in her classroom. Morning Choice was a way to rethink traditional morning work, which is commonly a worksheet or set of problems that students have to complete before the bell rings.

Allison brought in materials like paint, board games, play-do, technology, etc. so the students had something to be excited about when they entered the building. It was received with great reviews from her 5th graders, but it was isolated to her classroom. Luckily, as educators read the blog, they too made changes, and over the past 6 months, we've seen hundreds of classrooms rethink their mornings.

Flash forward to the present. I am now a principal at Moore Magnet Elementary in Winston-Salem, NC. It just so happens that our magnet is based on Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, so Morning Choice seemed like a natural fit into the school's magnet. I explained to my staff that I would like us to rethink morning work this year, which had been more or less traditional at Moore as well, which led to talking about Morning Choice. I was admittedly nervous, seeing how I was new to the school and this was going to be a fairly large change to how many teachers had done things for years.

I sent out a Google Forms survey to gauge teacher comfort level on when to roll out Morning Choice (Phase 1 - right away, Phase 2 - by October 2nd, Phase 3 - by October 30th). Over 85% of the teachers responded "right away" (results below)! That was encouraging! 

Of course, to implement Morning Choice schoolwide, we needed materials. I spoke to my lead financial secretary, Ann, and talked about this initiative. She took on the task and researched games and materials that would be appropriate for elementary school and she made me a spreadsheet with what it would cost to bring this into every homerooms. In the end, it came to about $8,000. I didn't have $8,000 needless to say.

I'm not going to lie, my first thought was a rather negative one. I thought I was going to have to scrap this entire thing and just leave it up to the teachers as to whether or not they wanted to do Morning Choice on their own. But a pity-party doesn't get you anywhere, so I started calling around to resources. Eventually, I came upon a valuable resource in my district and to my school - the magnet program coordinator. Her name is Kim, and she was able to make my dreams come true! 

It turns out that she has a pool of money for magnet schools and since she hadn't funded anything from Moore in a few years, she was willing to offer us $5,000 towards the project. That was extremely generous and we were on our way! I readjusted the materials list to fit within the budget and went from there. Below you will see the games we purchased with this funding and the unit price for each item from Kaplan, the educational warehouse we purchased it from. My secretary ended up taking this on as her little project and organized the materials into bins and distributed them to homerooms. While there are certainly certain games that may be more geared towards older or younger students, many of them are universal, which allows us to trade games throughout the year so students don't get bored of what is in their bin.


Though we got a bit delayed in receiving the order and just got the materials distributed this week, many teachers have been making Morning Choice a part of their mornings since the start of the school year. They pulled together games and materials from home or from friends. We also had a generous business partner down the street (McKay's Books) who donated $25 gift cards to every teacher in my school. They have used games, legos, books, and so much more. It was like Christmas for teachers! Other teachers put messages out on social media and simply asked if anyone had games/resources that they weren't using anymore.

This past week I saw pure excitement and energy in the morning for students to get to class. I am allowing each teacher to decide how they want to set up their Morning Choice. Many of the younger grades are making it more controlled choice, while the upper grades have more freedoms. In upcoming staff meetings we will also be sharing effective stations that teachers have been using. Outside of the games, I have seen teachers use technology, play-do, Legos, independent reading, book club, kindergarten helper, and more. For students who cannot follow expectations, they are either not permitted to partake that morning or are reassigned to a teacher designated choice.

I was in a 4th grade class one afternoon, and we were all talking about Morning Choice. One of the girls said she hates missing it because her bus is usually late. That is a reality of the program, but the teacher has been flexible to allow the kids to do their choice stations at the end of the day or during a small transition time as long as the kids are responsible about cleaning up quickly when it's time to move.

While it certainly helps having an administrator on board with this type of program if it's going to be schoolwide (since they control the money), I've been so inspired to see teachers across the country implement this in their own classroom. You'd be shocked what you can get simply by asking! One of my teachers to start the year received enough Legos for a lifetime just by putting up a message on Facebook.

At Moore, we're still growing and learning what this can look like at the highest level, but I am certainly pleased with these early results and my teachers' response. Here are photos from our Morning Choice:

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 10

I had a visit from a district level person at my school this week. She started off by saying that she had heard there was good stuff going on at Moore and that she was excited to see them in person. As I brought her around the school, she was greeted with handshakes by both hallways and classroom greeters, from kindergarten through 5th grade. Teachers and staff also approached us in the hall to greet the guest. At the end of the visit, she left by saying to me that she had never felt so welcome in a school before.

I felt proud of my staff and students for welcoming our guest, but also inspired to push even more. Obviously, my years working at Ron Clark Academy trained me to be ingrained in the art of school culture and making people feel welcome, and I want this to be the culture at Moore. I have no doubt that it can be done.

This coming week will be a big test, as we are having our Community Day, where businessman and businesswomen from the community have been invited to come inside of our school and see what we are doing. I have been training my 5th grade ambassadors on how to have in-depth conversations with adults and how to give tours of the school. I want the kids to be the stars, but to do that, it takes training and practice ... and some fussing at times. If we're going to take it to the next level, the expectations have to be high!

We also got to kick off Morning Choice this week with the arrival of our materials! Since February when I wrote a blog on this topic, hundreds of teachers across the country have made this happen in their classroom. I made it a goal to make this happen in every classroom in my school, and we're now able to do it! I had 5th graders literally running to class just to start Morning Choice. It was invigorating seeing students excited to get into their rooms in the morning and work collaboratively and explore their interests instead of filling in a worksheet. In the near future I'm going to be writing a follow up blog to the original article with how we implemented this schoolwide.

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!