Friday, January 21, 2011

A simple thank you can change your day

I was having a difficult day at school this week.  Dealing with adult issues can do that to a principal from time to time.  I was trying everything I could think of to change my attitude.  I was talking to other adults, but that wasn't working.  I was visiting classrooms, seeing staff and students learning and interacting, but that wasn't working.  I was checking twitter and emails for uplifting thoughts, but that wasn't working.  Then it happened.  One of our special education students came into the office looking for me.  He had something to give me that I wasn't expecting.  He had hand-written a thank you note to me for getting some bean bag chairs for his classroom.  There was even a picture he had drawn showing him sitting in one of the chairs.  We shared a fist bump and a smile.  It made my day.  Can you find someone to thank today?  It could completely change their day.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Student input (originally posted 11/24/10)

Yesterday I had an awesome meeting with about 75 of our 7th and 8th grade students.  That's over a quarter of the total 7th and 8th grade students in our school.  It was an impromptu meeting about curriculum and about changes in our school since last year.  Many of the changes have been due to budget cuts, some of the changes are due to a change in curriculum, and some are due to new teachers teaching new subjects.  Now, getting 75 7th and 8th graders together for an impromptu meeting can be a bit of a daunting task, but these kids behaved in a way I wish the adults in their lives could have seen.  They were respectful of me, but more importantly, they were respectful of one another.  They took turns, expressed their opinions, let others express their opinions (even if it was contradictory to their own opinion), and waited for answers or explanations.  They were given a voice and sometimes I think that as educators we don't give kids enough of a voice in their own education.
I learned a lot about the kids yesterday.  I knew that the kids had opinions about their education, but aside from an informal and less than personal survey from time to time, I never really spent time with the kids to ask their opinions about our school.  On a personal level, I learned something I plan on incorporating on a more frequent basis.  I need to provide the venue and the time to our kids to ask their opinions, to listen to their suggestions, and to give them a voice in their education.  I owe it to each of them.

Conversations (originally posted 11/7/10)

As I think about changes in education, I reflect on conversations that have guided me throughout my career.  Many of these conversations have occurred face to face with other educators- fellow teachers and fellow administrators.  The conversations that have really provided me with a chance to pause and think about education today have been with parents.  Being a parent myself, I understand that parents want only what's best for their children.  My wife and I are no different for our daughter.  Having conversations with fellow educators and your wife about education is one thing.  Having conversations with parents is another thing all together.  For many parents, their only experience in education is that they went to school.  We need to find as many ways as possible to engage them in conversation about all of the global and local changes those of us in education are facing.  Postings on school websites, emails, and newsletters are some ways.  But many people still prefer a face to face conversation.  Many of the teachers I work with and for have had individual conferences with parents.  We have had school board presentations and community chats.  All of these methods of communication are helping to educate our parents about the changes in education, but can we do more?

Thoughts (originally posted 10/1/10)

Have you ever thought back about a two week time frame and realized it has been the most powerful experience of your career?  That's what I've been doing all morning.  In the last two weeks I have been challenged by students, parents, staff, and family about a variety of topics.  Each of these challenging discussions has made me grow, reaffirming or changing my beliefs about education and it's current state.  The discussions have been about both positive and negative changes to our school, whether perceived or real.  Being able to discuss these conversations, both before and afterwards, has made the learning even more impactful for me.  Some of these discussions have been face to face while others have been via email or twitter.  I'm relatively new to twitter, but the impact it has had on how I think about our school is incredible.  Now I'm starting my own blog because of the impact of many of the links from people I follow on twitter.  I look forward to your feedback.

Building leaders

The title "Building leaders" has two different meanings to me.  The first references building staff to be leaders in the school.  The second references staff who are building leaders in the school.  Something occurred last week that made me want to discuss building leaders, but I'll get back to that at the end.
I think that part of my job as a principal is to build leaders in the school.  I see all staff having the ability to lead in some way or another in the school.  They just need the opportunity to experience what being a leader is all about.  The trick is trying to find the experiences in which the staff member will be a successful leader.  I try to provide opportunities for staff on grade level or school teams.  Sometimes the staff members feel comfortable to lead and sometimes they don't.  I can't give up on providing them the opportunities.  I must continue to provide support and encouragement.  Being a leader is not easy and it isn't always a positive experience.  I do know, however, that when I have a good experience as a leader, I want to take on another opportunity to lead.
Now I'd like to discuss the thing that occurred to me last week that brought me to writing this blog post.  As with most principals, I have meetings that I need to attend.  Most of the meetings are called by me.  Last week I was tutoring some 5th graders in math before school.  I found out, after the fact, that I had missed a meeting with members of the school's RtI team.  It wasn't on my schedule because they had set the meeting without me.  At first I was upset because I wanted to be at the meeting with them.  It was a selfish response.  I should have been happy that they met without me.  The RtI team recognizes the importance of their work so they got together without me to discuss how they will share the information with the entire staff next month.  They are definitely leading the way with RtI in the school.  I have provided the opportunity and the support and the teachers have taken on the leadership role.  They are building leaders.
This is but one example of the building leaders in our school.  There are many more examples.  I need to continue to provide the opportunities, support, and encouragement to building leaders, with regards to both meanings of "building leaders".