Saturday, March 17, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 34

This week started out with an unexpected (and hopefully) final reminder from Mother Nature that it was still winter. Snow kept us out on Monday and with a delayed opening on Tuesday. With my lead custodian sick, my assistant principal, lead secretary, and I jumped into clean-up mode and shoveled and salted the sidewalks. I obviously didn't have to wait long to figure out what my next new "role" was going to be after trying out secretary and cafeteria staff in weeks prior! All of these chances to try out different positions in the school inspired an idea for my staff in April! Details soon ...

I also got to observe several of my teachers who went with me to RCA last week come back fired up and already making changes! I had three teachers get lab coats and start decorating them like my friend CJ Wallace! I walked into Ms. Stauffer's room on Tuesday and she already had the students standing on chairs and rearranging her room. While I have "given permission" for these types of things to happen since the beginning of the year, I know it requires people to "see it" firsthand to truly understand, which is why I've been so pleased being able to bring almost 2/3 of my staff to conferences this year to experience quality PD.

We also did a "Kindness Campaign" on Friday at Moore. I saw on Facebook several posts about the "walk outs" and "walk ups" across the country in middle and high schools, so I wanted to try something that would be appropriate for elementary to go along with the theme of simply being kind to one another. I sent out a Remind message to my staff Thursday night to ask them to think of ways to have the kids show kindness to each other on Friday ... writing post it notes to each other ... writing kind words about a person on their desk with dry erase markers ... and so on. My assistant principal and I did a presentation on our Kindness Campaign at Friday Rally as well. I saw amazing efforts from students and classes on Friday, including a kindness quilt, notes for each other, and words of appreciation.

Finally, with St. Patrick’s Day here, a couple of my kindergarten classes did the “leprechaun destroyed the room” trick. I’ve never been able to see that up close and personal since I traditionally was teaching upper grades. Oh my goodness, their reactions are priceless. The pure amazement on their face is worth the efforts. I have a great video from one of the classes on my Twitter that is worth the view!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 33

Not only did I have a chance to bring down a group of my teachers to the Ron Clark Academy this week, but I was also joined by five of the Instructional Superintendents in my district. Interestingly, as I was presenting at RCA, and after I shared that I was now a principal at a public school in North Carolina, several visiting educators asked me about the kind of support I receive in my district for doing the kinds of things I am doing. I explained that I think the proof is in the pudding by having the Instructional Superintendents down here with me this week.

Support is a giant piece of moving schools forward. I feel supported by my bosses, so it encourages me to take risks and try new things. I aim to support my teachers, and I have seen so many of them try things that they never had before (room transformations, interactive games, themed lesson). At the end of the day, if what you are doing is best for students, I'll put my support behind it! As Ron says, you need to support your "runners," who are the people going above and beyond to make that difference.

I also had a chance to reflect upon my year this past week by having my summative evaluation with my supervisor. Donna and I went through my year and we really broke down everything that went on at Moore. It went quite well, and I was able to think forward about my goals for next year, which will be based on managerial leadership. This was hands-down the biggest learning curve for me this year. Learning how to work with so many budgets and aligning purchases with local, state, and federal guidelines was a nightmare at times. Title 1 money is great to have, but it also comes with more red tape than you can imagine (understandably so since it's taxpayer money). Also learning the dozens of programs and systems we have in place in my county and state for teacher evaluations, communication portals, grade books was daunting at times. Of course, all of these can be learned, so I have no doubt by this time next year I will be far more comfortable with the systems in place.  

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 32

It was somewhat of an unexpected week when my family traveled to Pittsburgh for the funeral of my wife's grandmother on Monday and Tuesday. Those kind of events obviously come out of nowhere and it can be challenging to refocus even after returning. I was thankful that my leadership team stepped up for me and covered everything that needed to be covered! The rest of the week was somewhat a blur to be honest. It was a lot of catching up and trying to get things finished that needed to be finished. I found myself getting overly-frustrated at things I normally wouldn't, and was a complete jerk to my boss (sorry Donna!). My wife and I are in Asheville this weekend for a little getaway, and hopefully that will clear things up in my head and next week will start fresh and back to normal!

There were also positive highlights this past week, including getting to serve lunch with my assistant principal in the cafeteria. I was fitted with an apron, gloves, and a hairnet! And when those kids started coming in, it got real! I had a blast and I was able to make sure that the kids were utilizing their Moore 4 during lunch. Each time I didn't hear a please or thank you, the student got sent to the back of the lunch line and had to try again. It usually only took one example in the class to ensure everyone knew the expectation. I am enjoying stepping into different roles within the school. A couple weeks ago I was in the front office and this week in the cafeteria. Thinking about what I should do next?!

Abe and I continue to be thankful with everyone who has been reading The Limitless School! We've gotten so many messages and social media posts, and we truly appreciate it! The biggest test now, as Abe and I frequently discuss, is making sure that we are living out the Limitless School in our own schools! It's not easy. Our motto in the book "solving the school culture puzzle" can be frustrating and challenging. The "T" in limitless does stand for "Time," and it certainly does take time to make these changes. But we are both chipping away at it each day and having a blast!  

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 31

So yesterday (Friday) afternoon we were extremely short staffed in the front office. Ms. Wharton was the only person left to cover, and Friday afternoons tend to be an extremely busy time because many parents check out their child early and naturally crazy things happen as soon as the week is about to come to a close. I brought my laptop up to the front desk so I could still get some work done, but also help out with answering the phone, helping parents check out their child, take questions as parents came in through the door, etc.

.......and I thought being principal was hard. Holy cow! Needless to say, I got no work done. I have never had to multitask as much within a two hour time frame as I did yesterday. I deal with plenty of diverse issues as principal, but I can usually complete one task before I go onto the next. I am not used to having answer the phone while a parent is still talking to me in person while a child is coming in sick while another child needs to give you Jump Rope for Heart money while flowers are being delivered for staff members. I have so much respect for my front office ladies who make it seem so stinking easy!

This week brought warmer weather to my area which I think raised some spirits as well. We had two successful events this past week, including a STEM night with our local STEM magnet middle and high school and Winston-Salem State University. With those events also come long nights though, and I'm not going to lie, I'm pretty drained! The adrenaline will kick in though tonight for Abe and my book release party! It was so exciting this week to finally get my hands on our book, and even more surreal to start seeing people posting about it on social media!

I also had an awesome professional experience this week when an admin team from a school from Clemson, SC drove up to Moore Magnet and spent the morning with my admin team. Their reading coach reached out to me on Instagram to see if we could arrange the day and it worked out great! Rarely do you get to spend uninterrupted time with people from another school in another state and share practices. Ashley, their principal, and I walked around my school together and discussed things that we saw and how we would deal with it. We brainstormed and collaborated in real situations, and that is honestly the most authentic professional development.

If you haven't had a chance to pick up your copy of The Limitless School yet, Abe and I would love for you to check it out!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 30

As this week comes to a close, I think back to the tragedy in Florida on Wednesday (Valentine's Day) and am angered by another senseless shooting. This anger and despair is nothing new, sadly. In fact, as I looked back over my blog posts over the years, I came across one from June 2015 that I wrote about the shooting in Charleston, SC. In this post, I wrote about the murderer in that situation from the educator's perspective. About how every killer we hear in the news once sat in one of our seats at school. And as an educator, it's a numbing thought to think that that could have been one of your students.

I come at this thought from an even deeper perspective now as a principal. As I look each day at my roughly 600 students, there is no way I could ever picture them doing something like this. As I get hugs, handshakes, handmade cards, and presents each day, could one of them truly do something like this in the future? Simply, I pray not. But I also know that I have a responsibility to ensure that those students who show signs of depression, mental illness, or self-inflicting thoughts do get the help they need and we document these experiences. I personally don't have the answer as to how to fix it, but like I tell my staff, if we each do our small part, we can make a difference.

Of course, this week also had many positive highlights!

I got to accompany a group of my 5th grade students to a Wake Forest University Women's Basketball game. The students got a chance to sit with members of the Wake Forest women's soccer team during the game, and it was exciting seeing them using the training we've done about making SPECIAL first impressions with these college students.

We had a very excited Morning Rally on Friday at Moore! During Wheel Spin, one of the members of Quantum ended up getting 75 points for his House and putting them into first place. And then, we started a new tradition for the wheel. We had a new student start at my school this week and to induct him into a House, we had him spin the wheel to see what House he would be inducted into. He ended up in my House, Ionracas, but I was even more taken back by how excited the students were to all want this new student in their House. They were cheering and high-fiving and generally just being excited about this young man. Life is about making moments, and I think this new student definitely had a special moment on Friday!

Abe Hege and I also had the official pre-release of our new book, The Limitless School! He and I have been busy planning our book release party for next weekend and for a workshop we'll be doing in a couple weeks. Having this book finally printed and in people's hands is a surreal experience (even the second time around), but it's been valuable for me to reflect upon my own words in the book as I lead Moore Elementary each day and how we can become a #LimitlessSchool.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 29

At the conclusion of last week's post I mentioned I was nervous for our first Educator Playground this past Wednesday. It was a new concept for us and the success of it was completely in the hands of my staff. They were tasked with offering 15-minute sessions on engaging topics of their choosing during our early release day. We had 11 different sessions offered, ranging from digital learning topics like Reading A-Z and Flipgrid to Get Your Neon Read On (led by my teachers who went to Get Your Teach On) to ideas for room transformations. I had a number of teachers come up to me after to say that it was the best early release day they've had! I'm so proud of the staff for embracing the great learning they can get from each other! It shows that there is so much talent in a school and teachers just need the platform and boost of confidence to show it off!

The other personal highlight from this past week was being able to deliver what I called the "State of the School Address." This was obviously inspired by the annual Presidential delivery, and it gave me a chance to share my reflections on our year thus far and add thoughts on where we are headed. I also tried to share my gratitude towards those who have joined me on this journey, as I know that is a weakness of mine that I need to improve! I am going to paste the speech below. Warning: it's lengthy. But it was a great reflective activity as a school leader, written from the heart, and one that I hope to be able to do annually.

On July 17th you all entered my life, and I entered yours. Over the course of the past 204 days, we’ve started a revolution of what school can look like. You as a staff have taken on things that were often unknown, untested, or downright strange. As the weeks went on and you continued to push yourself into new territory, we struggled, we problem-solved, but ultimately we persevered. 

As I sat down with Ms. Fullerwinder, Ms. Hart, and Ms. Timmons to reflect upon what has happened over these 204 days, I found myself flabbergasted at what has truly occurred. It doesn’t always dawn on you what you’re doing when you’re in the moment. And as the page of notes grew, one event or initiative sparked another thing we did, and what resulted was an inspiring and breathtaking list of what we have done for 204 days. 

I started the year in our first meeting with the proclamation of our three pillars: engagement, rigor, and culture. And those three pillars would be tied together by three cohesive bands: collaboration, celebration, and consistency. It’s no secret that school culture was my first focus, as we introduced the Moore Four, SPECIAL, Morning Choice, Harmony, and Morning Rally right off the bat, and started off the year with a fun Block Party to welcome scholars back. This lent itself to consistent practices across the school, and has been helpful as we’ve had many, many guests tour our school. Whether I’m in Ms. Moyer’s kindergarten room or Ms. Ashton’s 5th grade room, I know I will be greeted by a student, will see students standing to respond, and will have students tracking the speaker and using manners. 

I’m particularly proud of our 5th grade scholars, who have been thrusted into many leadership roles and risen to each occasion. They have proven that when given the training and opportunities, anything is possible. From safety patrol to ambassadors to morning news crew with Ms. Timmons to the Amazing Shake, I have seen so many of these students begin to evolve into fine young men and women. One of the most touching moments came from our Amazing Shake when Ms. Crouse stood there with tears in her eyes as she watched her class have thoughtful, professional interactions with the judges. Their leadership is now being paid forward as the ambassadors train our K-4 greeters. If you haven’t seen them in action, I strongly suggest you watch their leadership!

One of my biggest focuses going into this year was ensuring that I was providing opportunities for your growth as well. We have had a wide range of professional development offerings this year, including two trips to the Ron Clark Academy, two groups who have attended Get Your Teach On (with a memorable extended stay for the New Orleans group), Dr. Cunningham bringing in a whole new way to look at spelling, and teachers who have attended Orton-Gillingham training, Academically Gifted PD, music and digital leadership conferences, Really Great Reading, and more. You have also shown excitement about sharing your learning, and I am ecstatic about our Educator Playground this afternoon. I also thank you for opening your doors to each other during our Pineapple Chart peer-to-peer observations. My goal is to continue to provide opportunities for you to grow as a professional and bring in innovative ideas to Moore. 

Ms. Fullerwinder, Ms. Hart, and I have worked hard to provide coaching and feedback for growth through our new walk through form, which gives you immediate feedback. Lesson plans have also been revolutionized, as creative lessons, engaging ideas, and most importantly, the elimination of worksheets have become the new norm. I was so inspired just this past week as I read through Ms. Ashton’s lesson plan and saw that she is having her students create their own Multiple Intelligences choice board to demonstrate their learning. This is student-centered learning at its finest!

We have also shared our ideas with those from the outside, as evidenced by the dozens upon dozens of tours we have given. From potential families to Community Day and business partners to other schools and educators, you have graciously opened your doors to those who want to see what is happening at our school. I thank you for that and I hope you know that you are making an impact on those who step into your room. Continue to be proud of what you are doing and showcase our scholars and their abilities!

Our stakeholder excitement has grown tremendously as well, as evidenced in our growing Watch DOG program, partnerships with Wake Forest, Salem, WSSU, and business partners. Our PTA attendance and curriculum nights is at a high, and parent surveys show that they are pleased with the changes we have made. I also greatly appreciate you all for your growing communications with parents, including the use of Dojo, our presence on social media, weekly newsletters, and willingness to travel to our students’ neighborhoods to meet with families. Celebrations have also brought our families closer with the presence of Awesome Office Visits, which have shown that a trip to the principal’s office can be a celebratory experience. 

You have shown bravery this year in taking risks and “rethinking” so many aspects of your day. For some of you, I know this was challenging. For others, this was a welcomed opportunity to dream big and try something you’ve always wanted to try. I was encouraged to see how many of you ditched your teacher desks at the start of the year. Grade levels have also worked together to rethink and challenge the status quo: 2nd grade has team taught math, 3rd grade is rethinking their reading instruction, there have been room transformations, vertical alignment meetings between grade levels, and several of you have had Donors Choose projects funded. I’ve appreciated you being willing to be experimental as well, especially as we’ve looked at alternative ways to help our at-risk students, including push-in tutoring and small groups for our frequent behavior challenges. As a result, our referrals are down and we are finding ways for students to continue their learning in the school.

Your leadership and dedication beyond the call of duty has shown brightly on many occasions. The many teachers who have made Girls on the Run a great program, our new cheerleading squad, the ballgames and concerts you attended, Ms. Vogel, Ms. Hayes, and Ms. Stauffer making our new students from Africa feel so welcome are just a few examples of how you all are going above and beyond to make our school “limitless” (shameless plug for new book). 

Personally, celebration has been one of the most enjoyable pieces of the past 204 days. The admin team has loved doing the Room Service Cart and Admin Days of Joy during the holiday season. Our Houses have given opportunities to recognize students on a consistent basis, and I would personally like to celebrate the fact that we have a mascot now. We also have five amazing crests and many beautiful additions to the walls of our school thanks to Ms. Wiles, Ms. Parker, and many others who have assisted. We have a House Wheel now and we’ve had a blast with Minute to Win It challenges. We’ve also given away bikes thanks to Mr. Bowers and we will have a chance to give away more bikes moving forward thanks to community partners. It’s no secret that my personal joy this year has been celebrating our hearing-impaired program and having sign language taught across the school.

Hindsight is, of course, 20/20, and I would be remiss to think or say that every decision was good or every initiative has been successful. I have aimed to be open to your feedback and reflective with your suggestions. At the end of the day, I am absolutely proud of the steps we’ve taken and the progress we’ve made in just this short time. 

Finally, it is time to look forward. As we continue to evolve as the Magic, we will maintain our focus on our three pillars, but look for new ways to demonstrate our goals. Examining our school uniform policy, rethinking homework and instruction, upping rigor and engagement, eliminating unnecessary worksheets, transitioning teacher assistants to instructional assistants, increasing collaboration vertically and horizontally, digging deep into our data and interventions, and finding innovative ways to integrate our magnet are just a few examples of where we are heading. 

As I mentioned last month, I am truly thankful to all of you who have joined this venture. And I am even more grateful to those who haven’t felt that this has been the change for them, yet have been selfless team players throughout the transition. I continue my promise to help each and every one of you get to a place that you want to be, because you truly deserve to be excited about going to work each day.

To close, I want to share a story about a conversation I had with one of you a couple weeks ago. I was in a meeting with this person and after it was done she asked me “So how are you doing?” I replied with a generic “good,” but inside I wasn’t good. I had had several tough things pop up earlier that day and I was honestly beaten down. I’m not sure whether she could sense that on my face or not, but this person said to me afterwards “I just want you to know that I’m really enjoying this year.” 

I know it seems small, but that simple sentence meant the world to me. I want nothing more than for you to enjoy being here. When I do speeches, one of my favorite phrases is “There is nothing more important inside my building than the adults.” I mean that. The children will change each year, the policies may shift, but there is nothing that can replace a great adult. You make Moore successful. You make Moore great. You are magic makers. And you are AWESOME. Thank you.


Saturday, February 3, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 28

As I was thinking yesterday about what to write on this week's blog, I was content with explaining how this was probably my toughest week yet as principal. There just seemed to be one rough thing after another at every angle. Then this morning I was posting a quote from my new book on social media and thought how hypocritical it would be to spend an entire post complaining about a bad week when there were so many victories that happened. One of my teacher's Donor's Choose projects got funded, a parent called me about how to donate to the school to help with field trips for those less fortunate, I got to teach 2nd and 3rd grades wearing ridiculous suits, just to name a few. These little victories are what I should be concentrating on, not the negative stuff.

It's lonely at times as principal. You have so many things that you want to tell to people, but can't. You have so many situations where you are getting blasted by a parent and just have to defend your teachers. And it's typically those things you can't share that get bottled up inside, making it harder to find the victories. At the end of the day, though, it's the recognition of victories that will make me excited to go to work each day, not harping on a negative.

I had a meeting with my beginning teachers recently, and our topic was "getting through this long stretch before spring break." Any educator will tell you it's a marathon going from January to April, and if you look at it as a four month stretch, it can be intimidating. I encouraged my young teachers to find something to look forward to each week. Create a lesson, plan an event, or do something fun outside of school that you can anticipate each week to build your excitement up. The kids naturally feed off of it and it makes for a better day for everyone.

I know my "anticipated event" for next week is going to be our first "Educator Playground" during our early release day on Wednesday. I had a sign-up for my teachers and staff to present a 15-minute workshop on a topic of their choosing that others could benefit from. Many are showcasing their experiences from their trip to the Ron Clark Academy or Get Your Teach On. We have others sharing technology or just great teaching practices. I'm extremely excited for this event and I love that I had so many teachers willing to step outside their comfort zone and present!