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.


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