Monday, December 31, 2018

19 for '19

For the past four years I have offered up my New Years Bucket List Challenges (18 for '18, 17 for '17, 16 for '16, and 15 for '15). I'll be honest, I'm kind of out of fresh stuff, so I decided to make the 19 for '19 Challenge with a little twist. Simultaneously, I wanted to create something that I could offer my staff as a challenge. So to kill two birds with one stone, I created the 19 for '19 Magic Maker Challenge. I have 19 challenges (some are specific to my school, others are more generic) that my staff can complete if they wish to enter the contest!

Side note: We did a 20-day challenge at my school before winter break and it was a lot of fun. Everyone who finished received a jeans pass and then the names of those who finished went into a drawing for a big prize.

Below is the 19 for '19 Challenge if you are interested in creating your own version for your school (no I don't have an editable version, sorry). Thank you to my dear friend Katie Mense (@littlekinderwarriors) for making the challenge look good! I hope everyone has a fantastic New Year and 2019!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Break the Script

When you walk into Carley Parker's 2nd grade classroom, your eye is immediately met by a floor-to-ceiling sized sunflower mural that is glistened by the sun when it peeks through the window blinds. The students have a variety of seating options, commonly called flexible seating, from stools to wobble seats to cushioned floor seating. She has a beautiful wooden stage that students use to present upon or gather around during morning meeting. As students come in each morning, they take part in a schoolwide practice called Morning Choice, where puzzles, board games, Legos, and art have replaced morning work and busy sheets. As she starts her instruction, students take a look at the Smartboard to see their small flexible literacy and math groups for the day.

In August 2017, I began as principal at Moore Magnet Elementary, a Title 1 public school in Winston-Salem, NC with approximately 600 students. As I did my initial walk-through of the school, it resembled many of the previous 200-plus schools I have visited around the country over the past eight years as a professional development trainer and presenter. It was a clean building with experienced teachers and a positive history. Staff and students were kind and it was a place that people spoke positively about.

But I also saw untapped potential. When I saw a white wall, I pictured color. When I saw rows of desks, I pictured flexible seating. When I saw worksheets, I pictured collaborative work stations.

As principal, I was not going to settle on being like everyone else. I previously taught at an innovative school in Atlanta called the Ron Clark Academy, a middle-school-meets-Harry Potter-meets-Disney World, where teachers combine rigor and high standards with a loving culture and endless engagement. This "potion" has produced amazing results for over a decade, and I wanted to bring this formula to a public school in North Carolina.

You see, school is different than when we were there. Higher standards are holding all students and educators more accountable, rapidly evolving technology is forcing educators to learn what students already know, and social media makes us that much more connected (for better or for worse). The need to evolve our classrooms is my non-negotiable, and it was my personal mission as principal to make my school feel like a place where students wanted to come everyday.

Carley Parker was one of my first teachers to join this movement. She began strategically transforming her classroom throughout the year, and piece by piece she would experiment with new ideas, getting rid of desks for tables, exchanging chairs for stools, putting up projects on DonorsChoose for new technology and materials for her classroom. As my teachers saw her results, they began jumping on as well. Teachers transformed their classrooms and their teaching. We are moving from a fact-regurgitation and skill-and-drill mentality to problem-solving and learning through multiple perspectives. White walls are being replaced by colorful paintings and murals. And teacher-talk time is being evaluated and reassigned to the students.

Let's be honest, unless you're playing bar trivia, the need to memorize facts is generally unnecessary these days. Siri and Alexa are at our disposal 24/7. What we do need are adults who can collaborate, imagine, trouble-shoot, and create. When our classrooms mimic environments where students have the opportunity to hone these skills, we are aligning our classrooms to the workplaces where students will one day work.

I see my teachers and my school moving more each day. As a person who likes things done yesterday, it can be hard waiting for change to occur. Even harder can be those people who do not believe that anything needs to be changed to make those changes. My goal then becomes to convince, not convert. While they may never be able to convert their classroom to the place that I believe it could be, I want to convince them that we do have a need to make our classrooms function differently. And belief is half the battle.

So in 2019, I challenge you to do school differently. Rethink, reimagine, and break the script of how school is done.

*You can follow Ms. Parker on Instagram at


Monday, September 3, 2018

One Chip

Math has always been my strength. I understand concepts and catch onto new ones quickly. It could be baffling, then, that my favorite game when I am in Las Vegas is roulette. For those unfamiliar, roulette involves a wheel with numbers equally spaced around it. As the player, you place chips down on a mat that has corresponding numbers to the wheel, hoping that a ball spun on the wheel lands on your number.

Mathematically, it is a tough game to play. The odds of winning are far lower than most casino games. I have learned various strategies in the game from observing others. My approach, frequently, is to have a chunk of go-to numbers that I play, spreading out my chips to try to increase my chances of winning. I do hit a number usually, but my return is smaller since I usually only have a dollar chip on the number. 

I promise this post is not about gambling! Something happened over the summer that provided an amazing “a-ha” moment in connection to teaching. I was presenting in Vegas this summer, and one night some friends and I went to the casino. I naturally gravitated to the roulette table, and my friends stood around to observe. I gave the dealer $100 and asked for my $1 chips so I could extend my time and go about my usual strategy.

Between spins, a man came over to the table, threw down $100 bill and said to the dealer, “One chip.” He proceeded to put his $100 chip on black, which meant that if the wheel stopped on a black number he would double his money, and if it did not he would be out $100. It landed on red. He shrugged his shoulders and walked away.

Afterwards, my friends and I were a bit aghast at this maneuver and the “all-in” approach in which this man took. Later, I thought about it more and realized that as educators, we have parallel approaches to our teaching and schools: 1) the small chunks of deposits that we put into our students and classroom over time, or 2) the “all-in” strike that can blow the roof off a place. 

In the end, we hope for a “payoff,” namely, student achievement. With the first approach, this usually comes in incremental gains. Examples of this might be small flexible groups, book studies, debate, Kagan strategies, or inquiry-based learning. These strategies do not produce instant results in isolation, but spread out over time, and you can make gains with consistent use. On the flip side, you have the “all-in” approach, where you are putting a lot of stake into one focused experience. Examples of this might include a room transformation, professional development speaker or conference, or a presentation. 

With both approaches, there are naturally going to be pros and cons. With the first, mistakes usually go unnoticed. If something is going wrong, it is not hard to make the correction the next day. The downside is that results take time. With the latter approach, your eggs are in one basket. If it works, you are a hero, if it fails, you may not get a second chance. 

In my opinion, good teaching and leadership involves both of these approaches. Balance is important and finding strategic ways to pace your teaching, but also throwing in there occasional “all-in” moments provides students with consistency and excitement, which is important for maintaining engagement for teachers and students.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Houses at Moore

One of the most frequent questions I get is how we did our "House System" at Moore Magnet Elementary. Instead of explaining over and over, this blog will give a detailed overview. Context is important, though, so let's start there.

What is a House System?

Houses are a way to build family within a family. The concept originated, of course, from Harry Potter, and includes students/staff members in different groups/teams who compete for some type of prize or recognition.

Why is it popular?

By having students/staff in Houses, everyone is included. There's no tryouts or qualifications. People like to feel included, and this system allows individuals to feel a part of something. It is competitive, but in a positive nature; it gives people something to get behind and cheer for.

How did this get so popular?

As previously mentioned, this all began with Harry Potter, but the Ron Clark Academy perfected this system. And as an educator training facility, with over 8,000 educators visiting the school a year, it's been witnessed by tens of thousands of educators and one of the more popular things taken back from the school.

Why should you listen to me about this?

Having worked at the Ron Clark Academy, and having helped many schools begin and refine their House System (while in the Implementation Specialist role for the Ron Clark Academy), I have seen this system change the cultural landscapes of schools. I know how it works in small and large schools; elementary, middle, and high schools; urban and rural settings; and public and private schools. I consider myself multi-lingual. I know how the system was effective at the Ron Clark Academy, but I also know how to translate it to other settings.

So with all of this experience and knowledge of the House System, would you believe me if I told you I did NOTHING at my school to put it together? Well, sort of. I'll explain.

I knew from the second I got my principal job at Moore Magnet Elementary that I wanted to have Houses at my school. I recognized at the same time that if I came in day one and told my staff that we're going to have this thing called Houses, I would get many blank stares and perhaps push back. I have seen Houses come and go like the wind at other schools because there was no context or buy-in from staff.

To rectify this, I put out a call to my staff to visit the Ron Clark Academy last October. The caveat of attending this professional development, however, was that upon their return they would become the "House Committee," tasked with creating, rolling-out, and maintaining the system.

The team of seven attended the PD in October, and spent the following month and a half planning out the details of the Houses at Moore. In December, the Houses were rolled-out to the staff. It included each staff member receiving a document answering all of the questions that people would have: What are Houses? Why are we doing this? What will it look like? How do you give points? It also premiered the names, colors, symbols, and crests of our five Houses (Agatohvsdi, Ionracas, Quantum, Huruma, and Sisu). One of my 2nd grade teachers and art teacher also collaborated to create the crests:

In preparation for the roll-out to the staff, the House Committee blew up black balloons and had the name of each staff member (teacher, assistant, cafeteria worker, custodian, administrator, etc.) on them. Everyone received their balloon and popped it at the same time. Inside the balloon was a piece of paper in one of five House colors to welcome them to their House. The Committee was strategic about dividing up staff so most grade levels, administration, and support staff had at least one person from each House represented.

Over the next month, the teachers began talking about Houses. They started drawing their House name in their classrooms, wearing House colors, and getting competitive. The idea behind it was to get the kids excited about what was about to come for them!

How did we decide what House students were in? Good question. Luckily, we had an existing system in our school that allowed us to make it fairly easy to figure out what House students would be in. For decades, our kindergarten classes at my school were designated by colors (blue, purple, yellow, red, and green). So students would be proud to say they were in the "purple kindergarten room," even as 5th graders. Instead of reinventing the wheel, the House Committee decided that any student who had been at our school since kindergarten would be a member of the House that matched the color of their kindergarten room. Students who had not been with us since kindergarten would spin an online wheel that we created to determine their House. In the end, the student and teacher numbers were fairly even. 

On the last day of school before winter break, we gave each student an invitation for January 3, 2018, our first day back to school. The invitation was in the student's House color, to add that first hint of House pride. We welcomed the students back on January 3rd with a House Party, which includes music, strobe lights, dancing, and a complete failed balloon drop! We tried rigging up a balloon drop with plastic sheets across the gym. When we went to drop the balloons, they all fell in one spot and the kids jumped on top of one another to get them. It was like a mosh pit. #Fail

Outside of that, though, it was a great kick-off! I introduced the Houses to the students, then we broke into Houses and met for the first time. We explained to the students that they would be trying to earn points by showing good behavior, working hard, being kind, etc. We kept all of our points in Class Dojo. We had a master page that every adult in the building had access to. The five Houses were there and you could add points as appropriate. Many teachers also had an individual class Dojo page, and would track overall points during the week there (so it communicated with parents), and then transfer them at the end of the week to the school Dojo page. I did allow teachers to do negative points in their individual class Dojo page, but once they were transferred to the school Dojo page, they were only positive.

My teachers also discovered an option on Class Dojo where you can add your own graphic for each student, so many put the House crest as the student's picture. You can also group kids within a class, so many teachers created House groups within their class, which made it much easier come the end of the week to know how many points for each House to transfer to the school Dojo page.

Hundreds of points were added each week, and at our weekly Friday Rally, each staff House leader would announce the student they wanted to represent their House and spin the wheel for extra points. A couple of clarifying terms:

House Leader: Each House has two staff House leaders. One was a member of the House Committee, the other was not. This gave a balance of perspective when making decisions. We also had each House select 4th and 5th grade House leaders. Their role wasn't as clearly defined as we wanted it to early on, but it may transition into a student government type feel moving forward.

House Wheel: One of my teacher's husband was kind enough to make us a House Wheel, which serves as a weekly game to earn extra points for their House. My art teacher designed the pieces of the wheel. Click here to see a picture of our weekly wheel spins.

We also met once a month as a House during our usual Friday Rally time to do team builders, develop chants/cheers, and build House pride. The House Committee was typically in charge of creating and distributing the agendas for these meetings.

At the end of the year, we named our House Champion (the green House, Sisu). The staff members of Sisu were in charge of creating a House celebration. On that day, we had the other four Houses line the hallways of the school and cheer and congratulate Sisu on their victory. From there, Sisu enjoyed a championship party, which included duct taping me to the wall!

What's next?

This coming year will continue the foundation of the Houses that we began, but we will also introduce new initiatives and ideas to make the Houses even stronger, like more House competitions and community service. The PTA will be selling House shirts this year. Many students began making their own House shirts, so we are excited about the potential this has as a fundraiser for PTA! We are also going to do direct donation this year for our PTA fundraising, and we will be matching each dollar with a House point!

We will be fixing a few issues we had with points and adjusting to not having each House represented on each grade level (since teachers have moved grades but remain in their House).

The greatest (and hardest) thing for me in this entire process is stepping back and letting the committee make the decisions. I believe the success of this program has been the people making the calls. My teachers know our school best, and I trust them to make student-centered decisions.

The bottom-line with making the House System work in your school, is "make it work for your school." You do not need to copy everything you see at the Ron Clark Academy or what I did at Moore. If your school doesn't buy in, make it work for your classroom. I am blessed to have experienced this fantastic system while working for the Ron Clark Academy, and want to pay it forward now by hopefully inspiring other schools to build a positive school culture by developing your own Houses!

If you are looking for other school culture ideas, check out Abe Hege and my book, The Limitless School, available on Amazon.  

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Limitless School: Year One Culture Changes at Moore Magnet

I posted a Tweet last night that listed out a handful of the cultural changes that we implemented at Moore Elementary last year in my first year as principal.

I was bombarded with comments, messages, and emails afterwards that inquired about the background on many of these changes. So the simplest way to address this would be to get it into a place that everyone could hear the same thing:

Classroom & Hallway Greeters: Each classroom (Pre-K-5th) is required to have a classroom greeter and hallway greeter, with backup greeters as well. I allow the teacher to decide how they are selected and rotated. I trained every student in my school on my program called S.P.E.C.I.A.L. I also had my Ambassadors do additional training with them. Greeters job are self-explanatory; when an administrator, guest, parent, etc. enters the classroom, the classroom greeter gets out of their seat, approaches the individual, and provides an appropriate greeting to the person. In the hallway, if the class is walking down the hallway, the hallway greeter (may or may not be the same person as the classroom) steps out of line and does the same thing. We train the students to understand the difference between talking to me (someone they know well) versus a community partner (someone they will need to get to know more).

Ambassadors: This is an elite group of 5th graders who are the face of my school. I give them weeks of boot camp that involve learning every nook and cranny of the school. I teach them how to greet, give tours, present in front of crowds, and many other things that allow me to trust them to represent the school when I cannot. To become an Ambassador, students must apply, get recommendation signatures, interview, and try out. The Ambassadors must maintain strong academics, behavior, and skills.

Moore 4: These are four consistent, visible behaviors that we expect to be demonstrated on a consistent basis at all times in our classrooms: 1) Tracking the speaker, 2) Using manners and respect (yes/no ma'am/sir; please/thank you), 3) Using SPECIAL greetings, 4) Standing to respond when it is your turn to speak.

Painted Halls and Classrooms: Check out my Instagram page (@adamdovico), where you will see many of the painted halls and classrooms that we have done this year at Moore. My staff has taken it upon themselves to paint their rooms, anything from a solid color to elaborate designs and murals. My amazing art teacher has continued throughout the summer to transform our hallways and front lobby. Next year I will be continuing this effort by forming a "paint" committee of parents who can help with this initiative.

Room Service Cart: My assistant principal and I roll around a black computer cart with snacks, drinks, and candy to classrooms to surprise the staff with treats. We tried to be random about it so it was always a surprise. We did a couple of themed one, including "100 calorie snacks" for the "100th Day of School."

Community Outreach: I'm very fortunate that my school is in a densely populated part of our city, with hundreds of businesses around us. I spent the first week of my principalship walking around to businesses meeting people, and then invited community members in for our first Community Day at Moore. Throughout the year, we have invited the community into the school to see what we are doing and more importantly, celebrate our scholars.

Friday Rally: Each Friday, we come together as a school in our gym from 8:45-9:30, where my assistant principal and I lead our Rally. It includes student celebrations, a character education lesson, sign language lessons, House Wheel spins, guest speakers or presentations, and more. I give my teachers extra planning time during Rally, and this coming year we'll be using this time for strategic vertical and team meetings for teachers. Once a month, we use this Rally time for House meetings instead, where each of the five Houses meet to do team builders, challenges, cheers, and more.

Awesome Office Visits: I wanted the principal's office to be a place where students wanted to go. To change that perception, I began Awesome Office Visits, which allow teachers and staff to recognize students who show achievement in areas such as academics, behavior, character, demonstrating the Moore 4, continual growth, etc. When students bring the form to my office, I sign their referral, the student gets to sign my chalkboard wall, and I make a phone call home to tell their parents the good news. On Friday Rally that week, I call the names of those students who got Awesome Visits. At the end of the quarter, we do a drawing of names for those students who had Awesome Visits to earn a big prize (like a bike).

Amazing Shake: This was inspired by my time at the Ron Clark Academy, which I was able to help begin many years ago. The competition at Ron Clark Academy has grown to tremendous proportions, and so this year I wanted to start fresh with my school. This was a competition for my 5th graders that challenged their social skills, ability to think quickly, use manners and etiquette, and more. I encourage you to check out the National Competition that the Ron Clark Academy holds and consider entering it if you teach grades 5-8.

This is just a pocket of the cultural changes that we made this year at Moore Elementary, but it has helped grow our school to a place where we are heading to some great things. We are certainly not there yet, but we have a number of the pieces in place to continue to align the pieces to become a Limitless School. I have been able to use my book, The Limitless School, as a handbook for building a positive culture in the school, and encourage you to check it out if you are looking to make those same changes at your school!

Amazon Link for The Limitless School


Saturday, June 16, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: The Final Post

11 months.
47 weeks.
334 days.

Around this time of the year, it's commonplace to be asked "How was your first year as principal?" I feel obligated to reply with a simple answer, like "Good," "Great," "Tiring." And while all of those are true, there's so much more to it. You can't measure the year with a word, or a number, or a caption.

I am currently reading a book by my favorite authors, Dan and Chip Heath. My introduction to them was their book Made to Stick, and now I am reading The Power of Moments. In a nutshell, it's about how we are so greatly impacted by significant moments in our life. I suppose when I look back on this year, that's what I will ultimately remember. The moments. There were highs and lows, or as they call in the book, peaks and pits. There were also pivotal moments that changed the course of my direction, which they call transitions in the book. Either way, I think this final post for my first year as principal would be best explained by a few of those moments that have stuck with me most:

1) July 17, 2017: This was my first day on the job. I remember walking into the school for the first time (I had never seen it before getting hired) and the previous principal handing me the keys to the building. It was a surreal moment, but one I will never get out of my head. I was proud, overwhelmed, scared, and exhilarated, perhaps all at the same time.

2) August 28, 2017: The first day of school. The dreams, the planning, the sweat that went into getting the school together in one month was here. We had a block party to welcome the kids back, and I'll remember the faces of these 560 students who had smiles from ear to ear getting to be welcomed back by music, bubbles, and their teachers.

3) First sign language: I was doing my daily car rider name calling and I saw my 1st grader Colin, who is deaf. I had just learned "How are you?" and "Have a good afternoon" in sign language and I told him those two phrases. I know it sounds small, but just having him understand what I was saying was a proud moment and I have latched onto sign language since then. I continue to be a student of sign and will hopefully continue to learn more next year.

4) Morning Choice Bins: In late September we constructed all 31 of our Morning Choice bins. I had promoted Morning Choice so much to other schools and teachers, so now having the chance to do it school wide at Moore was exciting. Seeing those bins lined up across the lobby floor was such a pivotal moment for the shift in our morning routines.

5) Community Day: I had spent several days over the summer when I got this job walking around the neighborhood, introducing myself to local business people. I invited them to Moore to see inside and meet our students. On Community Day, it was my Ambassadors' first chance at putting into place their training by conducting tours of the school for our guests. It was a proud moment to see my 5th grade team put their skills into action.

6) Critical Conversation: I will never forget my first "critical conversation" early on in the year with a staff member. It was hard, uncomfortable, and trying. We made it through, however, and it was really encouraging the positive relationship this other person and I have developed since then.

7) The Amazing Shake: December 1 was our 5th grade Amazing Shake competition! 93 students, 29 judges, and hundreds of interactions between individuals solidified that we were going to teach "soft skills" at Moore and give students opportunities to apply them. The excitement for this competition continued the following week as we had Rounds 2-5 and named a champion. This was all capped off by taking two of my students to the Ron Clark Academy National Amazing Shake Competition.

8) House Party: January 3rd was our first day back from winter break and we welcomed the students back with our "House Party," which was the official kick-off to our House system. The Houses have become a pivotal piece of Moore and will expand to even greater lengths next year. The students and staff have taken great pride in their House and we were able to crown our first House champion at the end of the year.

9) Discipline Data: I was heart-broken at the end of the year to find that our final discipline data had not improved to the degree that I had set or had hoped for. As I sat in my office with my assistant principal looking at the data, I just shook my head in disbelief that all of the initiatives and efforts (Awesome Office Visits, House points, Moore 4, engaging teaching, incentives) had not done more to vastly improve our discipline referrals.  

10) My Birthday: I am not one for surprises being done to me, but I got the surprise of a lifetime when my assistant principal arranged for the entire school to go to the gym and surprise me by singing happy birthday.

11) Book Release Party: Having so many of my staff members and friends there to help celebrate the release of The Limitless School meant a lot, and having the opportunity now to make the book come to life at Moore has been the most rewarding part.

12) Dance Parties: There have been some fantastic spontaneous dance parties this year. From dancing with Ms. Pratt up on her table to having a dance-off with my first grader N'Kya in the gym before Morning Rally, it was always nice to be able to laugh and dance away with my staff and students. 

13) Professional Development Trips: Having the chance to travel with 25 of my staff members to professional development this year has allowed me to bond more with my staff. There were many funny moments and great stories (and adventures if you were stuck in New Orleans!) that have allowed me to get to know my staff more.

14) Room Service Cart: Getting to travel around the school with my assistant principal using the Room Service Cart was always a highlight. Seeing the excitement on my teachers' faces when they had that cart enter their room made my day.

15) Teacher Appreciation Grill Out: On the Friday of Teacher Appreciation Week, I brought my grill from home into school and grilled for about 3 hours for the staff. I have never been so relaxed at school!

16) Spring Break Painting: We have done our fair share of painting this year at the school, but over spring break I had a group that put in some serious hours to create the first mural at the school in the hallways. It's just so much better than looking at white walls!

17) Crazy Clothing: My wife is starting to get angry with me because my crazy clothing is starting to take up an entire closet! From fun suits, to costumes that includes bacon, Avengers, and turkey hats, there was never a dull moment when I got to look ridiculous at school.

18) Special Visitors: It was an honor to host some of my friends from all over the country at Moore, including Michael Bonner, Todd Nesloney, Wade and Hope King, LaNesha Tabb. We also hosted over 300 people on tours, including district folks, educators from my county and others, local business people, perspective families, and community members.

19) Racing: On April 20th I got invited by my Let Me Run boys running club to race their coach, Neb, and Wake Forest football quarterback (and NFL prospect) John Wolford. Needless to say, I got burned in the race, but it was fun to let my students see me in a different light and trying to relive my track days.

20) 5th Grade Celebration Surprise: Admittedly, I'm not the most emotional person in the world. One of my students got me though at the 5th grade celebration. As Eliana was making her speech about her memories at Moore, she said she was going to go "off script," at which point she shared some very special words for me. It really made the tough days, long hours, and endless decisions all worth it.

There were plenty more special moments this year, of course. There were also many other "pits" as well that I am choosing not to dwell on. I've aimed through this blog to share a bit of what it can look like in the principal chair, especially for someone doing it for the first time.

Year 2, like any job, will inevitably be smoother. I have more awareness of what to expect, how to handle issues, and how to get things done. I've been able to bring on amazing new staff members, who are going to help carry the mission and vision forward. But it will also be more daunting in other ways, as we are digging deeper into rigor and raising expectations even more for students, staff, and myself. The work truly begins in year two I believe, and I feel good about the prospects going into it. 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 45

It was the final full week for my district. We still have Monday for our final day, but all of the major events and celebrations have taken place. Next week will be my final blog for the school year, looking back at the entire year and trying to figure out what in the world just happened over the past 10 months!

But this past week was a lot of fun. We had our 5th grade celebration, field day, and our first ever House Champion celebration for Sisu. I also did a quick trip to Atlanta to help out at RCA for a day. So all in all, it was a busy, but fun week.

One of the moments that really stood out to me was on the 3rd-5th grade field day. I allowed my PE teacher to have water events, and as I watched the kids as they got soaked, it was the most innocent and joyous laughter and excitement I have ever seen. Scholars who have been the biggest behavior challenges this year all the way to kids who have been the quietest were all laughing together in this ridiculously fun environment.

As I watched the fun happening all around me, I could only think that this is what being a youth should be about. Our students are encumbered with high pressure testing, news of violence in our country, being glued to electronics, and so on. It was refreshing to see them simply being kids for a little bit, laughing, and having fun.

Our first ever House Champion celebration was a success. The Sisu adult leaders did a great job preparing the event and the scholars got to play games, have ice cream, and even duct tape me to a wall! My art teacher (who is in Sisu) also began a new tradition in the hallway, where we now have a "tree of champions." Each year, the winning House will add their thumbprint in their House color on a new branch of the tree.

As Sisu was coming into the gym for their celebration, I made the entire school line the hallway to cheer them on. I decided to do this because I have not been overly impressed with my scholars' ability to show sportsmanship this year, and if we want to make a change, we need to teach it.

So at the last Rally I talked about being a good winner and loser. We have to give scholars opportunities to practice this though, which is why I had them line the halls and cheer on Sisu as they entered the gym. I asked the staff to keep an eye on any scholar who was not showing good sportsmanship during their walk to the gym, pull them out of line, send them to the media center, and they had to write me an essay on sportsmanship and why they couldn't handle showing it. We only had a couple who had to do that. Overall, it was a positive and uplifting celebration for the winning House.

I'm looking forward to year two of the Houses and the many new ideas we've been kicking around for it for next year!

I got to have one of those "career moments" this past week too. During the 5th grade celebration, we had a handful of 5th grade scholars, who were selected by their peers, make speeches. I've been working for weeks with them on their speeches. They ALL did a wonderful job. The special moment for me came, though, when Eliana towards the end of her speech said "I'm going to go off script." I was sitting in the front row with all of the scripts in my hand so I could help them if they got stuck. At this point, I'm freaking out because we hadn't practiced this. But Eliana went on to thank me for being there for her not just when the good things were happening, but when there were tough times as well. It was one of those moments that makes all of the hard work worth it and it reminds you why you do what you do.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 44

This past week can be easily summed up into one word: TESTING.

I saw so many emotions from scholars and staff this week:
  • Jubilation from the scholar who had to go out on medical leave at the end of last year, began this year repeating the grade, got promoted after the first quarter to the new grade, and scored in the 99% on the reading test! Literally tears of joy were flowing from the teacher and scholar. It was one of the coolest things I've ever witnessed in school.
  • Despair from teachers who had scholars score far below what they know they can score and what their potential is.
  • Confusion from scholars who have only been in the United States for three months, know few English words, and were forced to take a test in English that confuses many native-speakers.
  • Tiredness from scholars who tested for three straight days, some of them taking up to five hours a day meticulously checking over every answer.
  • Excitement when the testing was finally finished.
I could not be prouder of my scholars and staff for fighting through these past several days. I was speaking to one of the proctors on Thursday and said that this isn't an academic test, it's an endurance test. Are we trying to determine if students understand the standards or can stay focused and seated for four straight hours?

Personally, I would much rather see authentic assessments measuring our students' achievement: portfolios, performances, projects. Could our students display their knowledge through different mediums? Could we measure other skills like social and emotional intelligence, creativity, and kindness while we're at it? Frankly, I value those skills far more in the long run than if a kid can divide fractions or tell me the kind of wind to expect from the Gulf of Mexico in July.

I completely understand that these tests are not going anywhere. We're stuck with them. But I challenge any law-maker, any policy-maker to come spend a day proctoring for these tests. Spend a day at a school when a scholar receives a piece of paper telling them that they are in the 1st percentile in achievement. I want them to see real faces with these numbers. Real teachers who have to explain to their scholar that "This test does not define you."

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 43

Our 5th grade promotion ceremony at Moore is coming up, just two weeks away, in fact. I decided that I wanted to give an opportunity for the fifth-grade students to decide who they would want to represent their class up on stage to make a speech during the ceremony. We had a vote and they selected outstanding students who truly represent the character and work-ethic that we promote.

I met with this group of students this week to begin composing their speeches. I discovered quickly that their memories at Moore and the topics they wanted to write about all had a common theme: people. Not surprisingly, their fondest memories involved a favorite teacher or a group of friends. The remembered both the good and bad moments, but the memories always had those who touched them. Most frequently, it was moments in time that they discussed. "The time that ..." or "I remember when ..."

Even at a young age, these students are reflecting upon their life through those who impact them. You know what did not show up in any of their speeches? The worksheet that they had to finish or the video that they had to take notes on. It's relationships that mattered most to them. As educators, I think this speaks volumes to what we should be valuing in the classroom. A solid academic experience is vital, but it is the relationships that will be carried on with our students as they look back on their time in school.

As my district prepares to take their state assessments this coming week, I cringe thinking about how my school, staff and students, will be measured by a number. Sadly, many individuals will gauge the success of this year on a number. But, I promise you that number does not tell the relationships that exists in those classrooms, it does not tell the cultural changes we have done this year, and it does not tell you the moments and memories that students will carry with them. As my buddy Todd Nesloney frequently states, we are more than just a number!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 42

I have two sons: Ryder is six and a half and Maddox is three. Ryder has had a rough month at school. He has an amazing teacher and he is at a great school; he is simply not following directions. He's showing out at home as well with attitude and disrespect. My wife and I are working with him on making better choices and he's facing consequences for his actions. I'm not saying I am a great parent or that I am doing all the right things, but I accept that my child is not perfect and he is the one making these choices.

I explain all this because I sympathize. I sympathize with many of the parents who I meet with or call who also have children who are getting into trouble and not following directions at school or at home. I make calls daily to parents at my school and have to explain that their child got into trouble. The reactions vary, from complete denial that their child would do anything wrong to overwhelming apologies that their child disrupted the classroom. No matter where on the spectrum the parent lies, I definitely understand that it can be embarrassing, frustrating, or an inconvenience when these calls come through.

As a teacher, the challenge is being accountable for 20+ students when one or two are taking up 90% of your attention. As a parent, the challenge is needing your child to be in school so you can be at your job, but also ensuring that your child is not taking away the learning opportunities from all of the other students. And as an administrator, I want to ensure that students are in a safe, productive learning environment.

The reality is I don't have an answer on what to do. I am going to continue holding my child accountable for his actions, and I will continue holding my students accountable for their actions. At my school, we have made big pushes for restorative practices that aim to align consequences with actions. We also try our best to keep kids in the learning environment, since they can't learn the content if they're not in the classroom. As a staff, we've discussed classroom environments and tones of voice, options for discipline, and moving forward we'll be doing training on verbal de-escalation.

I will be spending this weekend with Ryder working on ways he can better respond in class and at home, and hopefully we can end May on a high note!


Saturday, May 12, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 41

I found out that if my principal gig doesn't work out, I'm going to enter the grilling world. Not that I'm a great griller, but I really enjoy it. I got to spend a few hours on Friday grilling for my staff to wrap up Teacher Appreciation Week. It was a beautiful day and my assistant principal and I threw burgers, hot dogs, and chicken onto the grill and got coverage for our teachers to have duty free lunch outside. My teachers work so hard, and I ask so much of them, so I wanted to make sure there was some way to thank them for everything they do.

I spent the first part of the week in Non-violent Crisis Intervention (NCI) training. I had gone through this training over eight years ago when I taught in Charlotte, so it has definitely been a while, but it was an outstanding course. Yes, you do learn restraints for extreme situations, but the more intriguing part for me was the verbal de-escalation training, which truly makes you reflect upon your approach with children and how to approach contentious situations. It can be easy to let emotions drive decision-making or reactions to situations where the students are being irrational, and this training provided good techniques to make sound decisions in those situations.

Several puzzle pieces were able to get filled this week for next year as I was able to hire a magnet coordinator and instructional facilitator, two key leadership positions in the school, plus two amazing teachers for first and fourth grade. I also received the first shipment of resources for our new multiple intelligenes lab for next year. While there is still much to be done for this year, it's impossible not to get excited for what's to come next year.

We also had our Fashion Show to model next year's dress code changes. One of my kindergarten teachers organized the show and we had a huge turnout by parents as our scholars showed off their fashions. We showed that while there are standard items that need to be worn during the week, we are encouraging the individualization and fun that can be accessorized in celebration of the Houses.

Someone asked me the other day if I was stressed with all of the things that have to be done over the next few weeks, and I honestly replied "no." I love pressure situations, plus I have a great team of teachers and leaders around my school who will make sure that we get done what we need to get done.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 40

40 weeks!

Not that 40 has any specific significance, but it's round enough to be excited that I've completed 40 weeks of the principalship! In reality, we're in the final stretch, 25 more school days, and the big state test looms above us.

Maybe I am taking the ill-advised approach, but I am not stressing about the state test. As a teacher, I never stressed about it either. In my head, if I worked hard enough during the year, the kids were going to reflect the work that we did. Not every kid's score will reflect their true ability, but by and large, good teaching yields positive results. I am hoping that the same mentality comes to fruition with the school. If we have done our job this year, and we have taught the standards and engaged students in the learning process, the results will come.

This past week was full of celebrations in the district - 4 banquets - and it kept principals and district leaders busy! In between those events, however, I am learning what May feels like as a principal. It's stressful! My days are filled with EVAAS, teacher allotments, recruitment/hiring, student enrollment, staff evaluations, testing, parents concerns, student concerns, budgets/spending, end of year prep, and anything else that rolls across my plate. May feels a lot like September did in many regards. There is a sense of urgency in the air to get a lot of things completed and checked off by the deadlines.

I'll end on a lighter note this week with a solid "inside the trenches" story. I had a kindergarten student with me in the office who needed a snack toward the end of the day. I let him pick from my snack box and he chose Cheetos. Afterwards, his hands were orange and dirty, so I told him to go wash them in the bathroom. When he came back to me, I told him to hold out his hands so I could see them. The student holds out his hands in front of him and I bend down in order to examine if they were clean. Well as my head was near inches from him, the loudest, most colossal sneeze came from the boy. For those who know me, I am not a fan of germs, so I dove backwards faster than a speeding bullet. Naturally, those around the office at that time had quite a laugh, as did I, but it's moments like those that facilitate the laughs and memories (even if tremendously disgusting) that make this the best job in the world.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 39

I kept a close eye on the weather throughout the week in anticipation of our school's spring fling on Friday night! We planned to have it outdoors, which means rain could have easily ruined those plans. Luckily, the sun came out at just the right time and we had a successful event. I committed myself to the dunk booth, which equated to an hour and a half of getting submerged in ice cold water! Thankfully, one of the dads saw me shivering atop the tank and offered to relieve me for the final thirty minutes!

It was a quick turnaround from Spring Fling Friday night to Saturday morning, where we had our district job fair. Each of the 83 schools in our district had a table and perspective teachers and staff came around to share resumes and chat about what they were looking for in a school. I ended up with 78 resumes in my hand at the end of the morning, and a lot of conversations scrolling around in my head. After talking to so many people, it made me think about why certain people stood out to me. I wanted to share a few thoughts on good and bad strategies that stood out to me from people:

  • Good strategy: Approach with a great smile, firm handshake, good eye contact, and a greeting that shows you're enthusiastic about your life.
  • Bad strategy: Approach and start talking for three minutes without coming up for air. There's a difference between an elevator pitch and a stream of consciousness where I zone out and stop listening.
  • Good strategy: Seem interested in learning about the school. Behind me at the job fair we had a table that we set up with items like our dragon display, five large painted eggs in our House colors, a backdrop with our House crests, etc. I was far more impressed when people asked something like "Tell me about these eggs" or "Can you talk about your magnet program?"
  • Bad strategy: When a candidate is not comfortable having a conversation with my fifth grade student there, that's a bad sign! You're a teacher, you should be able to talk with kids!
  • Good strategy: Making yourself memorable! Be different! How do you stand out? For me, I am looking for people who can bring something to my school that makes it better. The fact that you've been teaching for 20 years or you have a masters doesn't make my school better. I want people who can bring something to the table that I don't already have.
Overall, meeting so many people in a short amount of time is challenging. I sit here today with a large stack of resumes I am going to start going through to see candidates I will contact for potential openings (since I don't have any currently). For those I invite to the next round, I will be requiring video submissions or live lessons so I can see the candidates teaching. It's important to see if a great resume matches great instruction!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 38

On Thursday we had our kindergarten screening. It went smoothly and I am so proud of my 5th grade Ambassadors who acted as guides for the families as they walked through the building. They made great first impressions!

The experience also opened up my eyes to something that I had already known, but to see it laid out in front of my so plainly in a short amount of time was quite surreal. My job during screening day was to review the results for the parents. The screening we used included letter and number recognition, one-to-one correspondence, writing their name, cutting, identifying colors, shapes, and so on. As I went through the packets with the parents, seeing the gap between students was simply astronomical. We talk about "the achievement gap" all the time in education, but seeing one student who is already reading sentences and the next who can't name a letter yet put this truly into perspective for me.

I assured parents that these screening activities are simply to help us as a school learn about their child, which they are, but they are also a blaring reality that there are great discrepancies in the 0-5 years of life. Again, this is likely not a secret to anyone, but for me, this was an eye-opening event due to the ability to see results back-to-back-to-back throughout the day. As a former 5th grade teacher, I typically saw the results of "the gap" after 5 years of schooling, but never truly thinking about how they got there. I had students reading novels in 5th grade and students still learning to decode words, never thinking that this "trajectory" really started well before they ever stepped into the school.

I'm not saying I have the answer or the fix, though I truly believe an increase in free Pre-K starting at 3 wouldn't hurt, but I had a personal learning experience this past week that I will continue to focus on as a principal and look for ways that we can increase early educational experiences for our families. But more importantly, making sure that we provide resources for those who need help the most early on when they enter my school doors.

Moore also had a great time with our visit from my dear friends Wade and Hope King this past week! My staff was treated to excellent model lessons, workshops, and conversation with these two great educators. I had a number of staff thank me afterwards for bringing the Kings to Moore, but I said the biggest thank you will be for you to bring the ideas back into your classroom! That's why it was great seeing one of my kindergarten classrooms this week transforming her classroom into a race track!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 37

It was our first week back from Spring Break this week and we got to surprise the kids with a beautiful new mural that a group of us worked on over break. I'm appreciative to have staff members talented and willing enough to come in and make "magic" happen over a break! The kids' faces and reactions on Monday made it all worth it! We have at least one hallway now that is that much brighter!

We had a great visit on Friday from my friend and presenting colleague, LaNesha Tabb, to Moore. She taught lessons in K, 2nd, and 5th grade, showing off her passion and talents in social studies. Culture was an overriding theme throughout each of the lessons, and she was able to show that through strong story-telling, research, and high expectations, we can make social studies relevant and prominent in elementary schools. Discussing culture, I believe, is more relevant than ever, and opening our students' eyes at a young age to different types of people is essential for a more successful future.

On Monday, Moore will be visited by two more of my good friends, Wade and Hope King, as we continue to push quality professional development and transform and rethink what our teaching can look like. My strategic plan for my first year as principal was to ensure that my staff was provided with opportunities to witness and experience professional development that pushed them. Throughout the year, I have tried my best to give anyone who has asked the chance to attend professional developments that will further their abilities to be a great teacher.  During my administrative license program I did a research project/paper on professional development, and to no surprise, it showed that schools that put an emphasis on quality, on-going professional development with a strategic focus yielded higher results in testing, retention, and working conditions.

The returns this year on PD have been noticeable: I have had teachers transform their rooms, add rigor to their lessons, include chants/cheers, music, debate, and more. As I move into next year, and have the ability to hire new staff to Moore, I'm looking for teachers who are excited about the change that we have going on at Moore and are "bought in" to what we are doing.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 36

It was a crazy final week before spring break! I started my week off in our nation's capital for Get Your Teach On! We had amazing energy and positivity there and I got to meet many great educators from around the country. I consider myself very lucky. Getting to present at Get Your Teach On and Ron Clark Academy throughout the year gives me a chance to get rejuvenated and energized when I need it. I completely understand how there are so many people who are worn down at this point of the year, but have no outlet or opportunities to "fill that tank" back up like I talked about last week. I think it's important for schools, districts, and leaders to find ways to give educators chances to attend quality professional development to get new ideas, meet positive educators, and renew their passion when the tiredness sets in. 

When I returned to school on Tuesday we had our spring learning walk from our central office. This brings in a group of central office folks who walk through the school with the administrative team and collects data on areas we are focusing on as a school. For Moore, we had three areas that I wanted the team to measure: 1) Lesson Plans/Lesson Plan Execution, 2) the Moore Four, and 3) Rigor. I really appreciate these learning walks because it brings in outside eyes into our school. It's easy for anyone to get clouded with successes or weaknesses when you're in it each day, so to have a fresh perspective coming in is much appreciated. The results showed that we have areas to celebrate, particularly where we have dedicated much time and effort into. But we also have much room for growth in other areas, and that is something I'm planning for moving forward into next year.

The week ended with a couple of very special highlights. The first came when my assistant principal and I were walking through our kindergarten classrooms and we walked into Ms. French's room. They were doing literacy centers, and I noticed that two of the girls sitting on the floor were practicing their sight words, which is not uncommon for kindergarten. The difference here was that the girls were using sign language to finger spell the words and then giving the sign for it. The reason I was so touched was that only one of the girls was deaf. Her friend was learning sign language right along with her and is able to communicate without her interpreter. Then I noticed that there were another few students next to them on Chromebooks who were learning sign language as well with videos.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, our sign language program is one of the most special parts of my school. We are not an immersion program or a magnet for sign language, so the teaching of it for typically developing students is not required, but the fact that my teachers have embraced it and are using it to make our deaf and hard of hearing students feel included and a part of our school is heart-warming and important for later life lessons.

The other great moment came when one of my teacher assistant's sons came to visit Moore. He is a Winston-Salem police officer. After he and I chatted for a few minutes, I invited him to come see our end of quarter PBIS celebration in the gym. He gladly accepted and he got to see our kindergarten and 1st grade students dancing in the gym. He jumped right in and was dancing along with them and giving hugs and talking about being a police officer with the students. Then he joined me as we went to watch 2nd grade do a math review game in the front lobby. They were doing a game that involves putting petroleum jelly on your nose, running across the floor, getting a review question stuck to your nose, then running back and solving it. We were encouraged to participate, and once again he joined Ms. Fullerwinder and myself in a round, much to the delight of the students.

It was important for the students to see this officer in a positive light. Many have had negative experiences or perceptions of officers, so for Officer Strange to come out and simply have fun and laugh with the students will hopefully put a positive outlook on their minds as they see police officers moving forward.

It's spring break time now! So there won't be a post next week, but I'll jump back in the following week as we start the 4th and final quarter!