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!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 35

I saw many wide-eyed looks this week as we get closer to spring break. There is a tiredness and wear that is coming over all of us and fuel tanks are nearing the "E". The challenge, then, of course, is to figure out how to add fuel to our tanks! I think for each of us the fuel is different, but for me it's finding positive moments throughout the day that I can smile, laugh, or simply have fun. On Friday, during kindergarten specials time, I jumped into PE and joined the my little friends in a game of floor hockey. I was also so pleased with our Food Lion Math Night on Thursday night. It brought dozens of Moore families together to learn real-world math inside the local grocery store. We hosted an author at the school on Friday. All these little sparks to my day continually give me the energy and excitement to keep going.

I handed out a letter to every staff member this week that laid out the expectations moving forward for next year. In addition to continuing the pieces of Moore that we’ve installed this year, there will be more changes next year. I believe in transparency, and I want to make sure that no one felt shocked or frustrated next year when we begin these changes. I had a handful of conversations with individuals who had questions about some of the changes, and I rested them assure that I wanted them to be happy, and if Moore doesn’t fit your style or pedagogy, it would be okay to transfer. I would never, ever want someone to have to go to our school each day annoyed or upset about what we’re doing.

On Saturday morning, I had one of my proudest moments as a presenter. I've stood on hundreds of stages before, but this was the first time I was able to do a speech as a principal alongside my students. I've had many of my RCA students join me before for speeches, and they are fantastic, but I think it means a lot to bring my "public school kids" up on stage with me to show that when given the training and opportunities, all kinds of students can do remarkable things. They did a great job and I think I’ve got a couple of future “stars” in the making!

I had a sweet moment as well on Friday during my Ambassador meeting. At the end of the meeting, a few of them stayed after to tell me that they had  been talking and they wanted to know if they could come back next year as 6th graders to help me with Ambassador and Greeter training. They wanted to continue to be a part of the school and the things we have going on! I was touched by that and it's moments like that that give me the fuel I need to fill my tank back up!

Wanted to end with a quick thank you to everyone who has picked up a copy of The Limitless School! It’s humbling to have people read the words you wrote and it’s still a bit surreal at times! If you want to pick one up, you can a copy on Amazon:

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 34

This week started out with an unexpected (and hopefully) final reminder from Mother Nature that it was still winter. Snow kept us out on Monday and with a delayed opening on Tuesday. With my lead custodian sick, my assistant principal, lead secretary, and I jumped into clean-up mode and shoveled and salted the sidewalks. I obviously didn't have to wait long to figure out what my next new "role" was going to be after trying out secretary and cafeteria staff in weeks prior! All of these chances to try out different positions in the school inspired an idea for my staff in April! Details soon ...

I also got to observe several of my teachers who went with me to RCA last week come back fired up and already making changes! I had three teachers get lab coats and start decorating them like my friend CJ Wallace! I walked into Ms. Stauffer's room on Tuesday and she already had the students standing on chairs and rearranging her room. While I have "given permission" for these types of things to happen since the beginning of the year, I know it requires people to "see it" firsthand to truly understand, which is why I've been so pleased being able to bring almost 2/3 of my staff to conferences this year to experience quality PD.

We also did a "Kindness Campaign" on Friday at Moore. I saw on Facebook several posts about the "walk outs" and "walk ups" across the country in middle and high schools, so I wanted to try something that would be appropriate for elementary to go along with the theme of simply being kind to one another. I sent out a Remind message to my staff Thursday night to ask them to think of ways to have the kids show kindness to each other on Friday ... writing post it notes to each other ... writing kind words about a person on their desk with dry erase markers ... and so on. My assistant principal and I did a presentation on our Kindness Campaign at Friday Rally as well. I saw amazing efforts from students and classes on Friday, including a kindness quilt, notes for each other, and words of appreciation.

Finally, with St. Patrick’s Day here, a couple of my kindergarten classes did the “leprechaun destroyed the room” trick. I’ve never been able to see that up close and personal since I traditionally was teaching upper grades. Oh my goodness, their reactions are priceless. The pure amazement on their face is worth the efforts. I have a great video from one of the classes on my Twitter that is worth the view!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 33

Not only did I have a chance to bring down a group of my teachers to the Ron Clark Academy this week, but I was also joined by five of the Instructional Superintendents in my district. Interestingly, as I was presenting at RCA, and after I shared that I was now a principal at a public school in North Carolina, several visiting educators asked me about the kind of support I receive in my district for doing the kinds of things I am doing. I explained that I think the proof is in the pudding by having the Instructional Superintendents down here with me this week.

Support is a giant piece of moving schools forward. I feel supported by my bosses, so it encourages me to take risks and try new things. I aim to support my teachers, and I have seen so many of them try things that they never had before (room transformations, interactive games, themed lesson). At the end of the day, if what you are doing is best for students, I'll put my support behind it! As Ron says, you need to support your "runners," who are the people going above and beyond to make that difference.

I also had a chance to reflect upon my year this past week by having my summative evaluation with my supervisor. Donna and I went through my year and we really broke down everything that went on at Moore. It went quite well, and I was able to think forward about my goals for next year, which will be based on managerial leadership. This was hands-down the biggest learning curve for me this year. Learning how to work with so many budgets and aligning purchases with local, state, and federal guidelines was a nightmare at times. Title 1 money is great to have, but it also comes with more red tape than you can imagine (understandably so since it's taxpayer money). Also learning the dozens of programs and systems we have in place in my county and state for teacher evaluations, communication portals, grade books was daunting at times. Of course, all of these can be learned, so I have no doubt by this time next year I will be far more comfortable with the systems in place.  

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Inside the Trenches of the Principal: Week 32

It was somewhat of an unexpected week when my family traveled to Pittsburgh for the funeral of my wife's grandmother on Monday and Tuesday. Those kind of events obviously come out of nowhere and it can be challenging to refocus even after returning. I was thankful that my leadership team stepped up for me and covered everything that needed to be covered! The rest of the week was somewhat a blur to be honest. It was a lot of catching up and trying to get things finished that needed to be finished. I found myself getting overly-frustrated at things I normally wouldn't, and was a complete jerk to my boss (sorry Donna!). My wife and I are in Asheville this weekend for a little getaway, and hopefully that will clear things up in my head and next week will start fresh and back to normal!

There were also positive highlights this past week, including getting to serve lunch with my assistant principal in the cafeteria. I was fitted with an apron, gloves, and a hairnet! And when those kids started coming in, it got real! I had a blast and I was able to make sure that the kids were utilizing their Moore 4 during lunch. Each time I didn't hear a please or thank you, the student got sent to the back of the lunch line and had to try again. It usually only took one example in the class to ensure everyone knew the expectation. I am enjoying stepping into different roles within the school. A couple weeks ago I was in the front office and this week in the cafeteria. Thinking about what I should do next?!

Abe and I continue to be thankful with everyone who has been reading The Limitless School! We've gotten so many messages and social media posts, and we truly appreciate it! The biggest test now, as Abe and I frequently discuss, is making sure that we are living out the Limitless School in our own schools! It's not easy. Our motto in the book "solving the school culture puzzle" can be frustrating and challenging. The "T" in limitless does stand for "Time," and it certainly does take time to make these changes. But we are both chipping away at it each day and having a blast!