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!

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. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Inside the Trenches as a Principal: Week 2

This past week can be summed up in one word: humbled.

I have interacted and worked alongside many principals over my career in a number of capacities. But ultimately, I was never the principal at the moment. This past week I took part in one day of a new principal training and then a three-day district leadership retreat with every principal and assistant principal in my county.

In addition to seeing many old friends and making even more new ones, I was humbled at the expertise and wisdom that my colleagues shared at all levels. We learned from each other. We shared ideas. We collaborated and grew. It was inspiring.

We also had fun. I was always told that "principals talk" and to never burn a bridge because your new principal is probably friends with your old one. I now see why this is absolutely true. Being in this group of principals now, it feels like a small community. A fraternity of sorts. Yes. we are all vying for the best teachers and all want to have our school be recognized, but ultimately, we are looking out for each other as well, and want to find ways to support each other.

The most common sentence I heard this past week was "Let me know how I can help you." That was refreshing to hear and I appreciated the immense support that my new colleagues gave to me and the other new principals.

This week was not all just learning though. It was action too! I was able to hire, continue transforming my office, working on my Title 1 budget, meeting with my admin team, working on back to school items, planning secret events (in case one of my teachers is reading this, I can't give it away!), organizing meetings, and much more.

Next week I have one-on-one meetings with my staff planned. I also meet with my PTA and many other district personnel who I will be interacting with throughout the year. I'm excited to start putting faces with names as we get closer to the start of the year!


Friday, July 21, 2017

Inside the Trenches: Being a Principal - Week 1

July 17, 2017, 12:30PM

Ms. Smith, the outgoing principal at Moore Magnet puts the master key into my hand. And I stood there for a second, frozen. I was officially principal.

I had dreamed of that moment for a long time, and wondered how it would feel. I found out quickly, as a sudden rush of excitement, confusion, and nerves set in. I had spent the morning going over a pile of forms, budgets, documents, data, to-do lists, and directories with Ms. Smith, and now it felt like I needed to tackle everything at once.

I didn't have much time to consider what needed to be done, though, since phone calls started coming in and I needed to start to meet with people. Tuesday came around, and the pile still sat on my table, untouched. The outgoing principal kindly and thankfully made me a detailed list of items that needed to be addressed most urgently, so I started studying that. By Wednesday, I finally had the time to start organizing my life and getting settled in, and most importantly, getting things done.

It felt good getting things checked off: meeting with my financial secretary to go over budget, finalizing the agenda, sitting down with my AP and Instructional Facilitator to go through resumes for the four positions I have to hire, making calls to Exceptional Children and Title 1 offices, unpacking my boxes of stuff, joining a webinar on the new hiring system in the district, calling in grade chairs to help reflect upon the schedule and finalizing it, hiring a counselor position, learning the school system's programs and tools, setting up meetings with teachers, making a video to welcome the staff and inviting them in to meet with me, learning the school halls and rooms, and so on.

I am learning that I need to rely on the people around me to make this all happen. I have always been a "I'll just do it" kind of person, but this job requires depending on my team to truly be successful. My AP, IF, lead secretary, central office staff, and teacher-leaders have all been so supportive, welcoming, and eager this week to get the ball rolling (even though most of them are technically on summer break), and if that's a sign of things to come, I can't wait to see what happens when we're all back together!

When I wrote Inside the Trenches, I shared stories of amazing principals and leaders I had met along the way in my travels. I spent many moments with these leaders, not always appreciating the behind the scenes work that went on, even though it was evident that it had happened. This first week on the job has given me an unprecedented appreciation for that work, and I am already looking forward to what next week will bring.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Rethinking Morning Work

The days of being an elementary school student, walking into class in the morning, completing a worksheet silently, and pulling out a book to read when you're done are over.

Wait. No they're not.

This age old practice continues in classrooms across the country and I am curious as to why. Teachers (including yours truly) have expressed frustration as a teacher with this routine:

- Students who always do their work complete it quickly and find it easy. Those who need practice the most either don't do it or can't do it.
- Students who come in late are either rushing to finish morning work or don't have time to do it.
- Even though students complete the work, you don't have time to review it.
- Students are talking to each other or are distracting each other when it is supposed to be quiet.
- The routine of morning work is boring and does not increase rigor since it's frequently comprehension or knowledge based problems.
- If you photocopy morning work you're battling for copy machine space. If you have a problem on the board, kids are finding gum-wrapper sized pieces of paper that they're solving the problems on.

.... and so on.

What if we were to rethink our mornings? What if mornings were a time where students were excited to come into class? What if students were doing activities that involved collaboration, strategy, creativity, rigor, problem-solving, critical thinking, or addressing various learning styles?

I first saw the idea of "Morning Choice" floating around on social media, but then saw it implemented in a basic version in one of my student teacher's classrooms last fall. Naturally, I was curious what it would look like in a true, full blown fashion!

I employed one of my former students at Wake Forest, now a first year teacher in Atlanta, to test this out. Here is her story:



When I first introduced the idea of Morning Choice to my class, the students’ faces lit up with excitement. The thought of coming into school and having the opportunity to work with their peers while doing something enjoyable was incredible to them. The thought of not having to come in silently, unpack, and be forced to complete a worksheet was a dream and unlike anything they had ever experienced! But, first thing’s first – clear expectations had to be established for this new morning routine to be successful!
I explained to my students that the goal of Morning Choice would be to provide them with alternative morning “work” that would promote critical 21st century skills, such as teamwork and collaboration. Ideally, after a few weeks of mastering the routine, they would be able to come in and choose a choice to go to independently each day. However, to start it off, they would be assigned to a choice each week until the routine and expectations were mastered. I gave my students the opportunity to complete a survey and rank their preferable choices. Then, I created a master schedule based on these preferences each week that listed the choices and which students were assigned to that specific choice. This was posted on the board and the choices were labeled around the room, making it very clear to each student where they were supposed to go and who they were working with for the week. At the elementary school I teach at, there is a five minute countdown until the announcements are on and the day officially begins. My students know that their choice station has to be cleaned up and they must be seated and ready to go by the time the countdown reaches zero and the announcements begin.
What if a student fails to meet the expectations or is not on task during Morning Choice? Well, in this class discussion, I also allowed the students to communicate and decide on consequences. By allowing the students to devise the consequences, I felt that they would be more likely to take ownership of their actions. The consequences my class agreed upon for being off task was eliminating the choice for the next morning and silently reading at their desk.
With the expectations set and the consequences established, Morning Choice was ready to go! I have 24 students in my classroom with six different “choice” options. These options provide for the students to demonstrate independent critical thinking skills, collaboration, artistic expression, communication, leadership, and problem solving. With only four students per group, it eliminates chaos and provides an opportunity for all students to work together and foster relationships with one another in a small group setting. The groups change weekly, as the student locations at each choice also change weekly. This provides for variation and allows students to constantly be working with different classmates. Additionally, all groups can function with one person at a time, so when the other students arrive they can join right in and the first person is not dependent upon the arrival of their classmates.
Here’s a look at the choices in my classroom:
Choice 1 – Artistic Expression. The students have the option to paint, draw, or color at this choice. Students will have the entire week to complete their creation, or two. At the end of the week, their artwork is framed and hung up on a wall in our classroom, giving the students a sense of ownership of their learning space and they are proud that everyone who enters the classroom gets to observe their success!
Choice 2 – Problem Solving. There are a variety of different problem solving activities at this choice for students to choose from and can be completed independently or together. These activities include, Balance Beans, mazes, and Jigsaw puzzles. All activities encourage students to challenge themselves and use critical thinking skills to complete a task or create a design.    
Choice 3 – Computer Time. As students are assigned this choice, they enhance their math fluency skills by supporting our school wide program – FirstInMath. Within this program, students compete against one another in the class, in the grade level, in the school, and in the district with different math fluency games and problem solving activities. For each grade level, there is a “Player of the Week” and a “Team of the Week.” Students are motivated to come in and get to work to win for our grade level and help our classroom be the team of the week!


 


Choice 4 – Collaboration. At this choice, students use Legos to design and build different structures. Students can either create their own or look at a task card and complete the task to the best of their ability. Sometimes students will also challenge each other and race to see who can be the first to successfully complete the task.  The students are very excited about this station and often want me to photograph what they have created!
Choice 5 – Leadership. One goal I had for my students this year, as they are in their final year of elementary school, is to feel a sense of leadership. They are the oldest students in the building and I strive for the rest of the students, faculty, and staff to view them as leaders as well. One way this has been achieved is by teaming up with a kindergarten classroom to have some of my students review sight words with them or read them stories in the morning. Not only does this help the kindergartners grow and learn, but my students are challenged with devising creative ways to help them reach their success! They love having the younger classes look up to them and wave at them in the hallways as we pass by!
Choice 6 – Game Time.  This choice promotes good old fashioned fun and team work by playing games with one another. There is an independent game for the first student that arrives. However, once more classmates arrive, students will engage in games such as Headbanz, Guess Who, and Trouble - all games in which critical thinking and problem solving are required for winning.
Overall, Morning Choice has drastically transformed the culture and classroom atmosphere early in the morning to start the day! Students rush to unpack their things so they can get to their choice for the morning. They appreciate beginning their day completing a task they enjoy without the stress of having to ensure they complete a worksheet or something that will count as a grade. From a teacher’s perspective, it is a much more enjoyable start to the day to have students come in and working together. It provides for much opportunity to build relationships with the students, communicate with them, and help them work on skills that are essential in the 21st century.  This positive classroom environment early in the morning sets the stage for a successful rest of the day! 
Thank you to Ms. Siragusa and her 5th grade class for sharing her Morning Choice!

For more ideas for your classroom, check out my book Inside the Trenches! You can also follow Adam on Twitter and Instagram @adamdovico.

New pictures from Ms. Siragusa's classroom during Morning Choice! (It was mustache day, so don't be alarmed, they're still regular 5th graders!)