Saturday, November 18, 2017

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 18

We did an interesting exercise in our new principal meeting this week. It's an activity credited to President Eisenhower centered around Urgency and Importance. I've seen this activity before, but not since becoming a principal. Here is a version of the matrix below:

Anyhow, I found this exercise valuable in thinking about the hundreds of tasks that are presented each day and how I view their importance and or urgency. The next day, I had a meeting with my five beginning teachers before school, as I do each month. I decided to present this same activity to them, as they are in some ways in the same boat as me in a new role. We discussed how oftentimes dissension arises in matters when two parties do not see the same task with the same importance or urgency.

For example, when a parent calls upset about a grade on their child's test, this may not be "important" on the matrix, but that parent sees it as important and urgent. If you treat it otherwise, you come off as uncaring. Similarly, when a teacher calls a parent asking them to help their child with their homework because it's never turned in, to the teacher that might be important and urgent, but to a parent who might be struggling with just keeping the lights on in the house, it's probably not important or urgent.

I definitely reflected a lot on how I view my days with this activity and personally, I think the toughest thing I still face (as I always have) is the "delegate" box, where it's something urgent, but possibly not as important. These are deemed tasks that I can have someone help with, but I usually just try to do it myself. I was joking around with my PE teacher on Friday that the closet in the gym that was cluttered was all cleaned up finally. I heard that one of our Watch DOG dads took care of it for him. As I was messing around with him about it, he said I'm a good delegator. It was true, he knew that was a task that was urgent, but not necessarily important to him, so he was able to find a way to get it done by utilizing a resource we have in our school now. It was a really "a-ha" moment for me.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 17

This week I just want to talk about Thursday. It was a day that exemplified the highs and lows of this job. I had gotten to school about 6:30AM because I needed to get a couple things done before my 5th grade ambassadors got to school starting at 7:00 to do more training in preparation for an event at school that morning.

My school hosted the district magnet meeting that morning. As a part of the meeting, we would spend the first part of it doing a tour of the school, so principals, instructional facilitators, and magnet coordinators from the district could see pieces of the changes we've made to Moore, including Morning Choice, classroom greeters, and other aesthetic changes around the building. My eleven ambassadors (which include 5 brand new ones) nervously, yet excitedly greeted the district employees as they entered. They then got to bring the guests around the school and talk about what we are doing at Moore this year.

Afterwards, those at the meeting debriefed and shared observations and thoughts based on the tour. It was encouraging and touching to hear the comments being made because it affirmed that the work that has been put in this year is paying off. The pieces that these colleagues noticed were the exact focus areas that we've been working on since Day 1. Hearing that kind of feedback truly makes all of the work so worth it!

As I mentioned earlier, it was a high and low kind of day. Obviously, the morning was a great high! The afternoon was definitely tougher. As the day was ending, my assistant principal had to go to a training and my instructional facilitator was out sick. So it left me as the only administrator.

The day was almost done when a student got very sick, so we called EMS and had to take care of him (he's fine). That brought me right up to dismissal time and I was trying to finish paperwork for a behavior issue for a child before she left for the bus. While finishing that I got a call on the bus lot that a bus driver needed to talk to me immediately. As I was talking to the bus driver, a parent came and found me on the bus lot because she needed to talk to me about her child. I walked back inside with the parent to finish the conversation. While that conversation was ending, two things happened at once: I had to go back out to the bus lot to get students who couldn't ride the bus and wait with them while we got a parent to pick them up, and I got a text that PTA needed to have the building open later than 6:00 to distribute fundraiser items, but my custodians were leaving at 6:00 because of the holiday on Friday. That left me to close up the building. Then at around 4:45, I get notification that one of my students was dropped off at another school because there wasn't someone to meet him off the bus, so I was working with that other principal on getting in touch with the parent. I was about to get in my car to pick up the kid myself from the other school when I got notification that he was picked up. While all this is happening, I'm supposed to be at a Teacher of the Year dinner.

It was at that moment that I had a realization (and a huge headache). As an educator, there are hundreds of decisions that have to get made every day. As a principal, I'd say there are probably thousands. Not everyone will like the decisions that you make, but moreover, not everyone understands why those decisions were made. My school needed me that evening, and that is where I stayed. I ended up getting home sometime after 8:00PM after having been at school since 6:30AM. After having a day now to look back on Thursday, I'm happy that a) it's over and b) I survived!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 16

When I look back at the year come June and I reflect upon when things start "clicking" at Moore, I think I can mark this past week as one of those defining weeks.

A few of the "clicking" moments:

- My teachers who went to Ron Clark Academy and Get Your Teach On have been on fire implementing new cheers, chants, games, and so on. They are in the process of building stages, installing special lights, and rearranging their classrooms.
- I got a text from one of my teachers that said that when she met with parents throughout the week, they reported that their kids are loving coming to school.
- My 5th graders went on a field trip to Heritage Theater this week. After they got back, we got a call at our school from the Theater that said that they were completely blown away by the students, their behavior, manners, and focus. My 4th graders also went to Raleigh today and the teachers reported that they received compliments throughout the trip from tour guides and the general public. The students showed the Moore Four (tracking, respectful interactions, SPECIAL introductions, and standing up) while in the state's capital. One of my 4th grade teachers said that in her 20 years of teaching she's never heard those types of compliments.
- I had a number of guests visit the school this week and they were able to witness Morning Choice in full effect. The students were able to verbalize that they are excited about coming to school each day to get to their classroom.

Now that we are in the second quarter, in addition to our first quarter focus on building culture, we will be drilling down on rigor in all of our lessons. If we are to grow our students, we have got to make them critically think. I've charged my instructional facilitator with putting a heavy focus on higher order thinking during PLTs, and I just created a new walk through form for my leadership team that will allow us to collect data on the levels of rigor going on throughout the day across the school.

The second quarter is also bringing in special planning meetings for surprises that will be rolled out come the new year! And since I know there are Moore families that read this blog, it'll remain a secret until then!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 15

I had the immense pleasure of bringing seven of my staff members to the Ron Clark Academy this week. It was an absolute joy seeing the experience through their eyes. Over the past eight years I have been a part of welcoming tens of thousands of educators from around the world into the walls of RCA, but this time I had the opportunity to debrief with a group of teachers who were going to make changes in our school.

While there are still many discussions to come with this group, they have been charged with leading the "House Committee" moving forward, which will help plan the roll-out of houses moving into the spring. I was so excited to hear that before the trip even ended they were already brainstorming ideas for the roll out of the houses at Moore! My job as principal is to now keep that fire going and stay focused on the goals that we are setting forth.

This past week also brought a district learning walk team through the school. This team of central office administrators joined members of my leadership team as we walked through classrooms to collect data on two specific areas: 1) implementation of the Moore Four, and 2) levels of rigor. The team was extremely impressed with how many changes we have been able to implement in just a short amount of time this year. The presence of classroom and hallway greeters, students standing to respond to answers, and manners being used showed the walk through team that we are serious about having a positive culture across the school. Our levels of rigor were not as high as I would have liked, but we are going to be honing in on that during the second quarter. I even had a fellow principal show me how to make a walk through form using Google Forms that auto-populates data collection, which I'll be using to provide feedback on levels of rigor in our teaching! I'm looking forward to rolling that out.

And finally, my assistant principal and I got to have a small celebration when we completed every one of our first round of observations three days early! It's the small victories that you need to remember! 

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. 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.