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!