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.