Saturday, December 30, 2017

18 for '18

Welcome to the 4th annual (even though I swore last year was my final one) new year's educator bucket list! I'm coming at it from a slightly different perspective this year being in the principal role, but the theme will stay the same. Check out 15 for '15, 16 for '16, and 17 for '17 as well! Here are now 18 ideas that you can try out in your classroom/school for the new year:

1) Ditch that worksheet: Save a tree or two. Raise engagement. Fuel that creativity deep inside! Ditch the drill sheet and challenge the students with something exciting!

2) Make a video: As smart phones get smarter, so are the apps. It is so easy to make and edit videos these days. One of the easiest apps I have found is iMovie for the iPhone. Use the videos that you record on your phone and bring them right into the app to easily edit into fun videos for your class.

3) Flipgrid: Probably my favorite app of the year. I just love how it allows individuals/groups to not only record their own products (videos), but you can share them on a common platform so others can see.

4) Chalkboard paint: The first thing I did when I got my new office was to paint a wall with blackboard paint. It opened this world of opportunity to create and celebrate. More on that next. If you get permission from your administrator, I totally encourage you to try it out! 

5) Celebrate the AWESOME: One of the primary uses of my chalkboard wall is to celebrate students being "AWESOME." It's so easy getting inundated with the bad behaviors that we forget how many kids are always doing the right things. I love when teachers send kids to my office for being AWESOME so they can sign the wall. But after they sign the wall ...

6) Make positive phone calls home: This simple phone call home to tell a parent that their child is being awesome has been a culture changer for me. Parents are always scared at first when I call since they think something is wrong, but you'll change their day if you just share that their kid is being awesome and you wanted to let them know.   

7) Pajama Day: Tell the kids it's pajama day tomorrow! Head over to Walmart. Find yourself the most ridiculous adult onsie you can find and wear it like a champ! You'll never have so much fun!

8) Ride the bus to school: Get some colleagues together and surprise the kids at the bus stop in the morning by riding the bus to school with them! It's a lot of fun and the kids are shocked! It helps to have someone drop the group off so there's not a car left behind.

9) Watch DOGS: One of my proudest installments as principal has been the implementation of the Watch DOGS program. It's a great way to bring positive male role models into the school. I've loved seeing our dads, uncles, grandpas, and community members take part in this program!  

10) Get an author to Skype with you: Authors are real people too. And most of them that I personally know are quite friendly. With technology so accessible these days, it's not hard for an author to Skype or Facetime in with your class after you read their book. Plus the kids think it's amazing. 

11) Get a classroom pet: Hamster, fish, gerbil, snake. It doesn't matter what kind of pet it is; the kids will flip out! Just make sure you check out for allergies first!

12) Bowtie Tuesdays: I'm definitely not the creator of this idea, but I've loved jumping on board with many other schools by wearing bowties on Tuesdays. Why Tuesday? Who knows. But it's a lot of fun and the kids get into it as well!

13) Social media goals: Set a goal with your social media outlets. Don't have Twitter? Create a profile. You have 100 followers? Aim for 150 by the end of the year. You post once a month? Set a goal to post once a week. Raise the bar wherever you are and join in on the social media fun and learning!

14) Visit another school: You can learn a lot just by seeing what others are doing. Ask your principal to visit a neighboring school, but also invite them to come watch you. 

15) Share your story: Everyone's got a story to tell. Use platforms like blogs or podcasts to share your story. You could even try to write it in a book. You'd be shocked how much people will love hearing about your life.

16) Rethink homework: This is mostly for elementary folks, but there's virtually no research support that shows homework in the primary grades has impact on learning. Consider ways to engage students in family tasks or social-emotional learning outside of school. It's a huge shift, for sure, but one that many have reported changed the dynamics of their classroom.

17) Recognize talent: As a principal now, I am always looking for ways to bring out the leadership potential of my staff. Whether it's art skills, social skills, organizational skills, the more distribution of leadership you have around you, the stronger my school will be. The same can be said for your students. The more opportunities you give to students to be leaders using their strengths, the stronger your classroom will be.

18) Check out The Limitless School: This last one is a more of a PSA, but my buddy Abe and I are excited to release our new book this spring, The Limitless School: Creative Ways to Solve the Culture Puzzle. We'd love for you to check it out!

Happy 2018!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 23 (last week before break!)

Not going to lie. I was secretly dreading this past week going into it. I knew how tired my teachers were and how excited everyone was for winter break. The potential for craziness was high. It was anything but though. We had a fantastic week, filled with food, a lot of food, no seriously, everyday had an enormous amount of food (maybe that's why everyone was happy?). I really enjoyed seeing my teachers do many creative lessons and activities. It was a fun final week of 2017 with my students and staff and we got to end it with a fun Polar Express Pajama Day!

As the calendar year comes to an end, I can look back and say that 2017 was quite a year! Writing a second book, transitioning into the principal role, and having my son start kindergarten has made it a memorable one for sure. I've enjoyed writing this blog each week, not only as a way to share this journey with others, but to reflect on this job and hopefully see growth along the way.

I had my mid-year evaluation with my boss on Thursday and she asked me "What my long-term goals were for here at Moore." I told her that I wanted to make sure I had the right people here. I want people to be here because they want to be, and they believe in what we're doing. I truly believe that you need to be happy where you work. Personally, I spend more time at school than I do at home most weeks, so I can't imagine going to a place where I was miserable each day.

So I have to ask myself, what makes me happy here at work? It makes me happy getting handshakes and hugs each morning at the car rider line. It makes me happy dressing up in ridiculous clothes and having the kids and adults smile and laugh. It makes me happy having a leadership team who supports the mission and vision of the school. It makes me happy having teachers who are pushing themselves more than ever before and trying innovative and engaging ideas. It makes me happy learning sign language and learning about the deaf community. It makes me happy getting to bring my teachers to the Ron Clark Academy and Get Your Teach On. It makes me happy working for a district that lets me try new things. And it makes me happy having fellow principals who I have been able to learn with and from.

There's not a day that goes by that doesn't have some tough moment - a kid misbehaving, a parent or teacher upset, a deadline for paperwork. But I have chosen to highlight the things that make me happy at the end of each day. I think that has helped make this job so much fun.

It's time to wrap up 2017. I'm excited to spend time with my kids, see my parents for Christmas, and maybe even be lazy for a few minutes. I'm looking forward to ringing in the new year here at Moore with a blow out party and lots of surprises on January 3rd!

Happy holidays and happy new year to everyone!


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 22

The holidays are definitely upon us, which is both exciting and eye-opening at the same time as an administrator. There are definitely times of celebration around the school: we had our holiday performance this past week, parties in classrooms, teachers created innovative projects and activities that showed fantastic collaboration, and more. But I'm also seeing the tougher side of this time of the year. Family or neighborhood issues escalate and get carried into the school setting, students are threatened with phrases like "Santa isn't coming if you don't behave," and people are just straight up worn out! Consequently, you end up seeing behaviors from individuals that you had not seen previously. 

This is also a time of reflection for me. Four months into this job has brought much joy, excitement, and fulfillment. It's also brought much growth. One of the most important areas of growth for me has been not letting minute issues stick to me. As a teacher, I would often hold onto a negative interaction with a parent, a kid who had an outburst, or a bad lesson and let it bother me. As a principal, you don't have time for that. Literally, as soon as something happens, the next thing happens. 

This past week, I was in a meeting with a parent who was quite upset with something, and the second she left I had an AWESOME office visit come down. The highs and lows of the job are so quick and so frequent that the day doesn't allow for anything to really stick with you. So perhaps this area of growth has been de facto, but nevertheless it has been, I believe, the most important element of maintaining a positive attitude during the school day. 

As we enter the final week before the holiday break, I am admittedly holding my breath for what I hope is a smooth week. I have put a few things into place for this week that I hope will maintain the peace and help us avoid any last minute issues. Good luck to all the educators out there! 

On a final side note, I want to give a shout out to my friends Wade and Hope King on their new book, The Wild Card and my buddy Todd Nesloney on his new book, Stories from Webb. Abe Hege and I also have a new book coming out in the spring called The Limitless School. All these books are under the Dave Burgess Publishing company! 


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 21

Let it snow! It was quite a week, capped off by a larger-than-expected snowfall that left us scrambling to get kids home safely! I definitely learned a few things I need to change for situations like this that we'll be putting into place moving forward!

But it was an amazing week for sure! The staff rolled out our House System. I can't tell too much about it here right now because I have students who read this and it's still a secret to them, but I'll just say that the staff is already getting competitive!

I also had the honor of announcing our first Moore Amazing Shake winner: Venise! In a fun twist, however, I got the chance to invite BOTH of the finalists to the Ron Clark Academy's Amazing Shake National competition in February. I know Venise and Eliana will both represent Moore fantastically! 

I had many people over the week ask me how I set up my Amazing Shake. Here is a recap for those interested:

Friday, 12/1: Round 1 - All 93 5th graders participated in a "first impression" circuit, which included 30 second interactions with a panel of judges. Each student had 10 interactions. After each interaction, the student was evaluated on a rubric with 8 categories (handshake, eye contact, social grace, poise, engagement, confidence, je ne sais quoi, and sense of humor). The Top 8 were announced after this round.

Monday, 12/4: Round 2 - The Top 8 went to the Wake Forest University Department of Athletics and competed in a "working the room" contest, where students had 15 minutes to network with 12 student-athletes and athletic staffers. The Top 5 were announced after this round.

Monday, 12/4: Round 3 - The Top 5 had no idea that Round 3 would immediately start! These five students had to conduct a two minute interview with Wake Forest University Hall of Fame basketball player and former NBA player, Skip Brown. He selected the Top 3 from these interviews.

Wednesday, 12/6: Round 4 - The Top 3 traveled to Brenner Children's Hospital and had to present a 3 minute speech in front of a room full of pediatric residents and physicians on the topic "What do you believe is the most pressing health issue children face today?" The Top 2 were selected after this round.

Thursday, 12/7: Round 5 - The Top 2 joined our district superintendent as special guests at a luncheon banquet honoring teachers. They had to demonstrate table etiquette and were surprised with the chance to make an impromptu speech in front of the room thanking the teachers.

Friday, 12/8: At our weekly Friday Rally, I announced the winner and surprised them with the news about competing at the National competition.

It was an amazing seven days getting to go through the Amazing Shake with the students. It took an immense amount of planning and teamwork, and I am so thankful for my "magic makers" at Moore who made this all happen. The response to the event was overwhelmingly positive and I am proud of the efforts the students put into it! My biggest desire from here is that these students take the skills that we have been working on all year and implement them moving forward!

So as snow sits on the ground this morning, it is a symbol that we are nearing that mid-way point in the year. With 9 days until the winter break, there is going to be an expected mix of excitement, anticipation, and deep breathing on behalf of all!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 20

I have a steady history of getting a cold once a semester, and this week kept up the tradition! It hit me hard, but a steady flow of Red Bull and adrenaline for the week's events kept me moving just fine.

Friday held the highly anticipated (for me at least) first annual Moore Amazing Shake! This has been in the making for months now, and beyond that, it's been in my head for years as something I wanted to bring to a school as principal. It's an overwhelming experience to produce, so I have to give many thanks to the many Moore magic makers that helped make this a success! From making name tags to designing rubrics to cleaning and setting up the gym, my team came together to make this happen!

We had an extraordinary group of judges who came from many walks of life who helped narrow the 93 students down to the Top 8, who will compete next week in an intense series of challenges to get us to the eventual winner on Friday. I encourage you to check out the Moore Twitter and Facebook pages to see the pictures, stories, and videos from the event!

After the contest was over, I received an email from one of the judges who said that today changed her view of the potential within our students. While certainly some students today had more skills than others, each and every one of them tried and showed that any student is teachable with high expectations and support. Honestly, what we did at Moore today is replicable and feasible in ANY school in America.

Some other highlights of the week included:
- Attending a Silent Dinner with one of my deaf families at the mall. It includes dozens of members of the deaf and hard of hearing community. I was definitely out of my comfort zone, but everyone there made me feel so welcome and was patient as I learned more signs. Additionally, I brought my younger son with me and he ended up being the new favorite kid in the deaf community!
-  Installing Ident-a-Kid at Moore! It was long overdue!
- Beginning tours of Moore for rising kindergartners.
- Finishing the roll-out plan for implementation of the House System.

It was a busy week for sure, but I honestly wouldn't want it any other way. I was talking to a friend at a luncheon I attended on Wednesday and said that there is nothing better than knowing that each day will bring a completely different day than the last, and that most of my day happens to me on the spot. The intensity, unpredictability, and pressure of it is truly what I enjoy most about the job.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 19

It was a short week because of Thanksgiving break, so in the spirit of the season, I want to share a few things that I am thankful for this year:

- I am thankful for my family that is supportive of this new role I have taken on. I am also thankful for my amazing babysitters who we could not do this without!

- I am thankful for being given an opportunity by Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools to be a principal. They are taking a chance on a guy with an untraditional path and giving him support to rethink what education can look like in public school.

- I am thankful for my staff and students at Moore, who have made these first few months so much fun.

- I am thankful for having the opportunity to publish a second book under Dave Burgess, co-written with my buddy Abe.

- I am thankful for my fellow principal PLN, who I call upon frequently to ask questions, advice, and brainstorm with!

- I am thankful for opportunities to still present around the country. I am not able to do what I once did now, but I appreciate the chance to still go out and share ideas with fellow educators!

- I am thankful for another year of good health. (knock on wood!)

- I am thankful that this blog has given me a chance to reflect and document this journey as a first year principal; it's been a lot of fun writing it each week.

A quick public service announcement to wrap up: This Friday is the Moore Amazing Shake! To say that I'm excited about it would be an understatement! We're going to be posting lots of pictures and videos (maybe even go LIVE as well), so check out our Twitter (@MooreMagnetES and @adamdovico) and Facebook pages to follow along! 

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.

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:

Update (September 2019): I have presented on Morning Choice across the country to thousands of educators and shared statistics about how morning choice changed many aspects of the school, including attendance and behavior. For those interested, here are the statistics I share in my presentation:

*Note: Morning Choice was implemented in the fall of 2017.

Tardies 9/26-10/11
2016: 328
2017: 248
= 24% decrease

Tardies 2/1-4/28
2016: 1653
2017: 1081
2018: 1102
= 34% and 33% decrease from 2016

Number of students with 15 or more unexcused tardies:
2016-2017: 87
2017-2018: 49
2018-2019: 43

Office referrals during Morning Choice time (8:15-8:45)
2016-2017: 11
2017-2018: 2
2018-2019: 2

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:

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!)