Saturday, January 27, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 27

I don't know about anyone else, but I am personally ready to get back to a "normal" schedule. The past few weeks have been a roller coaster. Between delayed openings and early closings, getting stranded in New Orleans, closed schools, mid-year testing, mid-year observations and meetings, and catching the flu, I'm ready to return to a normal schedule (though that's a relative term in this position)!

This past week was definitely highlighted by a special birthday surprise from my students and staff. I don't think I have ever been surprised like that, and I am greatly humbled and thankful to those who made that happen!

One of the more entertaining moments came yesterday (Friday) during arrival. I usually try to do a quick lap through the school during arrival just to make sure all of my rooms are covered, seeing if anyone needs anything, and so on. As I was walking by my first grade classrooms, there were a couple of teachers with their phones out taking pictures inside the room. I also heard music and laughter. As I got to the door, I see my teacher, Ms. Pratt, standing atop an extra table she had in the classroom dancing to "Can't Stop the Feeling." As many of you know, I'm no stranger to the tops of tables, so I made the easy decision to join her up there!

Afterwards, I wondered how many principals would have freaked out and told their teachers to get down? Or how many teachers would have never have even thought about getting on top of a table because they thought they would get in trouble? I refuse to let my school run that way. I want my school to be a place where my teachers are brave enough to take risks, put themselves out there, and most importantly HAVE FUN!

With all that fun, though, comes a lot of pressure I put on my staff and myself to teach at the highest level possible! We've had a lot of discussions recently about our pedagogy and what is and is not acceptable for teaching practices at Moore. I've forced many to rethink what they've been doing for years and with that comes a natural frustration. I've heard the complaints that "It's never good enough" and "What does he want from me?" Just as we ask our students to have a growth mindset and continually push ourselves, I have the same expectations for my staff and myself (since I complain to myself about myself sometimes as well).

The tough conversations are all worth it, though, when I get to experience what I did at the beginning of this past week. On Monday (which was a teacher workday), one of my 5th grade teachers texted me and was telling me to come to her room. When I got up there she had the biggest and proudest smile on her face. It reminded me of when my son wants to show me that he cleaned up his room. I walked into her room and she COMPLETELY redesigned the room! She had previously had traditional rows, but after going to New Orleans with me to the Get Your Teach On Conference, now made small groups with all sorts of shelving for the kids and fun designs. It was an amazing transformation and I was so proud of her! I could tell how excited and proud she was of herself, and deservedly so! She has completely taken a new spin on her teaching and it has given her this fresh perspective on everything! It's moments like this that stick with me and make me want to continue fighting to send my teachers to these conferences and giving opportunities to rethink everything about education! 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 26

It was an interesting week for sure! I spent Monday and Tuesday presenting at Get Your Teach On in New Orleans. We had 900 excited educators from around the world! I was able to bring four of my own staff members to be a part of the magic as well. During the trip we got to celebrate my friends Hope and Wade King's new book The Wild Card with a rock star party at the House of Blues! If you haven't picked up your copy yet, do it now! And it's not too late to join us in Washington, DC in March for the next GYTO!

I was scheduled to fly home Tuesday evening, but Mother Nature had a different plan, as airports shut down everywhere and my teachers and I were stranded in New Orleans all the way until Thursday morning. It was adventure indeed! Then luck be have it, as I got home Thursday night, I came down with some nasty illness, and for the past 36 hours I've been cooped up in my bed.

Needless to say, it's been an unconventional week, but I think there were some solid takeaways from it:

1) Positivity trumps everything. Even with many flight delays and cancellations, being surrounded by many friends who had smiles on their faces definitely helped make it through the experience (shout out to Stranded Teachers crew).

2) My bosses rock. Long story short, I had a nightmare situation when I had to switch flights and extend hotel stays, which is not as easy when you're using school funds. But my boss and Title 1 director were superstars and helped me get through everything!

3) Sometimes you meet people for the first time and it's like you've known them forever. Our Get Your Teach On team grew this conference and our new team members are simply all amazing. They are such positive influences in education and had a huge impact on the educators in attendance.

Finally, a neat story that I wanted to share. On Sunday in New Orleans, during check-in for the conference, I met three ladies. They introduced themselves to me and then shared how they all came to this conference by themselves, but through social media, had discovered each other and had become great friends. They live in New Jersey, Arizona, and Australia. How often can three people from such different places connect like that for a common cause? Social media has a powerful reach, and I thought this was such a great story to show how connected we can become when we choose to be!

On a final, final note, my co-author, Abe, and I had a call with Dave Burgess this week about the release for our new book, The Limitless School! We are excited to share the release date very soon! Stay tuned for big news!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 25

It was a fun week kicking off the Houses in full force! As a school, Houses accumulating over 4,000 points just this week! That's a lot of positive recognition going on! I am hoping to find data moving forward that supports the Houses leading to a decrease in office referrals and discipline issues. On Friday at Rally, we revealed the House Wheel to the students, who also learned about how it will work. I had many questions about that this week on social media, so I'll do a brief explanation below. This game was obviously inspired from Ron Clark Academy, and thankfully having worked there for many years, I was able to recreate it with a few new twists and turns for my school!

First, each adult House Leader selected a student from their House who exhibited great character, excellent behavior, and stands for what we look for in a Moore scholar. One at a time, the student would come up and spin the wheel. On the first spin, the segments on the outer rung are what are used. If the wheel stops on a space that simply has a number, the game stops and student earns that amount of extra points for their House.

If the wheel stops on a space that has a number and a down arrow, the student may elect to keep the number of points, or spin again. If they spin again, you now look at the second rung to see where it lands. Again, the same rules apply here. A number space stops the game and earns the House that number of points and a down arrow gives the option. The third rung acts the same.

If a student manages (on a rare chance) to make it all the way to the fourth level, which is the center of the wheel, there is one spin that occurs. That spin can land the House 100 points if the wheel lands on the House's color, or 25 points if it lands on another House's color (it also earns the House in which it landed 25 points).

As you go onto rung two, three, and four, there is greater risk/reward present. There are spaces that give you 0 points, but also spaces that can give you 20, 25, 30, etc. There are also fun spaces like Double or Triple Up, which doubles or triples your final score; Double the High gives that House double the points that the highest score from that day earned; and Quick Stop, which has the spinner spin and then I stop the wheel at a random moment.

Another funny thing happened on Friday. As I walked around the school, I saw a large number of my teachers wearing their House colors. I didn't make it an official House color day, but I think that may end up being one of those organic things that blossom from this program. I would love it to because I am starting to build up my purple collection!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 24

It was certainly a unique way to come back to school this week after the winter break. And no, I don't mean the frigid temperatures that led to a two-hour delay each day. I mean our House Party to kick off our newly installed Houses!

The Houses has been a piece of my roll-out plan since I got this job, as it's been an integral part of my life since 2010 working at the Ron Clark Academy. But instead of bringing it on in August, I needed to have a group around me who could support this vision and be at the forefront of the creation. I had a dedicated group of teachers who committed to this effort who spent the better part of late October through December designing the House system and roll out to the staff. After a fun House day for teachers and staff in December, the plans began for the student party that we had this week.

In the end, it honestly wasn't anything complicated. Music, lights, and balloons (more on that later), coupled with dancing and big smiles made the kids excited for this new piece of the school. We unveiled the five House Crests (shout out to Ms. Wiles and Ms. Parker for making that happen!) and our new school nickname and mascot, voted upon by students. Then our students broke into their Houses and had their first House meeting where they learned their House's symbol, handshake, chant, cheer, and so on.

I definitely reflected upon a few things from this experience:

1) Kids buy in so much more when adults do.
2) Balloons with 600 kids is the worst idea ever. We had a balloon drop during the party and you would have thought I was dropping hundred dollar bills. No more balloon drops as a whole school.
3) When you have a group of dedicated adults leading a charge, you don't need to micromanage. Trust and belief goes a long way as a leader!

The Moore Magic is definitely an appropriate nickname for our school because in five short months, there has been nothing short of magic that has been going on! To make the amount of things occur that we have shows that I have a team of #MagicMakers. I have staff members open to putting in the extra hours to transform their classrooms, brighten the hallways, and create memorable lessons. Beyond the building, we are building an array of community #MagicMakers! I was able to unveil our new school wheel, created by the husband of one of my teachers and two of his friends. They volunteered their time and skills to make this happen for our kids!

I was also elated to have my good friend Todd Nesloney visit Moore this week. Todd is the author of Kids Deserve It and the principal of Webb Elementary in Texas. When I think of the things that we've been doing at Moore and the ridiculous amount of extra hours that my staff is putting in, I can only think that the most relevant rationale for it is because simply ... kids deserve it!

Our five House crests along with our new Moore Magic logo!

Todd Nesloney, author of Kids Deserve It
Thank you Bryan Timmons, Mike Bridges, & Chris Nixon for building the wheel and Ms. Wiles for painting it!