Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Lest we forget

It's now our second day back to school after Sandy Hook.  Fortunately yesterday went as well as can be expected in a school full of 4th-8th graders the week before Winter Break.  Parents are thankful for the security procedures that we have in place.  The students had a very normal day full of classroom instruction, lunch, and recesses.  Few students asked any questions about Sandy Hook or our school security measures and that's both alright and not alright.
It's alright because our students feel that they are safe.  They know about our school security and they know that we practice intruder drills, fire drills, and tornado drills.  Most of the students take these drills seriously and will even question whether we are doing a drill or whether it's an actual fire, actual tornado, or actual intruder.
It's also not alright because our students feel they are safe.  The students in Sandy Hook felt safe, too.  Our school in Merton has very similar procedures to Sandy Hook.  Sandy Hook followed their safety procedures and we follow our safety procedures, too.  Sometimes when you practice drills and follow procedures, bad things still happen.
And this leads to the title of this blog, "Lest we forget".  I am concerned that because yesterday went so well, we might not be as diligent today as we were yesterday.  Coach Bob Knight, former basketball coach, used to use a term called "game slippage".  This refers to the desire he had for his players to work harder, run faster, jump higher, and move more quickly in practice than they would in games.  If the players did this in practice, game slippage would still allow the players to be successful in games.  I don't want us to have game slippage when it comes to the safety of our schools.
We must not forget what happened in Sandy Hook.  We can't forget to practice our drills.  We can't forget to comply to our safety procedures.  Yesterday, none of our visitors questioned our procedures.  They even thanked us for having them.  Will the same be true today, or when we return from break in January, or on a warm afternoon in May?  Honestly, I would rather offend a visitor by having them ring a doorbell to be let in, ask them to sign in, and have them wear a name badge.  It's our procedure and if you want to visit a classroom or a teacher, you must follow our procedure.
I challenge all of us in schools to not forget about Sandy Hook.  They did everything right for their students and staff.  We all do everything right for our students and staff.

Friday, December 14, 2012

My message to staff about Newtown, CT thanks to Angela Maiers

As I was following the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, throughout the day, I couldn't stop thinking about the students and families in Merton, Wisconsin, a town not unlike Newtown.  Below is an email to our staff in Merton that references Angela Maiers' blog about how teachers can help students as they return to school on Monday.
"Good evening to you all, Merton family.  As I think about the horrific events of Newtown, Connecticut, a town much like Merton, I am thankful that each and every one of you will be in front of our students on Monday morning.  Our children need each of you more on Monday than you can even fathom.  I was on twitter most of the day, reading about what happened and when I wasn't on twitter, I was thinking about what happened.  As I was outside for recess this afternoon with our 4th graders, I was more diligent as I looked around the property, often looking past the students to the horizon or down the parking lot.  I was outside at the end of the day making sure, as much as I could, that our students were safe.  I hugged Lauren in her Science class, reassured her in her Spanish class, and explained, as best as I could, the tragic events that took place in Connecticut.  Being stronger than I am most of the time, she reassured me that she would never let anything happen to me in our school.  And this from the mouth of an 11 year old 7th grader.
Our students will have questions on Monday, and my hope is that the tweet that I have included here will help you with the questions that our students will have.
If you have children at home, give them an extra hug tonight, and tomorrow, and the next day.  If your children are grown, give them a call, like my mother did today to her three grown children.  If you have nieces and nephews or grandchildren, surprise them with a phone call or an unexpected visit.
We may never understand why today's tragedy occurred, but we can still discuss it with all of our kids, whether they are students or relatives, and let them know that we are here for them to protect them, to love them, and to reassure them that we will do all that we can to keep them safe.
May you all have a weekend filled with family and friends.
I hope that we will all be prepared for our students on Monday, greeting each and every one with a smile, a hug, a fist bump, a high five, or any other means you normally use in your school.  They need to know that we love each and every one of them, not just on Monday, but every day of the year.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Leadership is a dialogue, not a monologue.

A couple of weeks ago, I read a tweet from Erin Paynter (@erinpaynter) that sparked my interest and really made me think.  I have included it here.
#leadership is a dialogue, not a monologue.” Kouzes and Posner, The Leadership Challenge. 
Being the only administrator in a building of approximately 40 staff and over 500 students, I began thinking about how often my leadership style is more monologue than dialogue.  I must admit that I was unpleasantly surprised to find that I am often the only one speaking and I don't even allow for the opportunity to listen.  This realization will hopefully impact my future involvement in any leadership group that I am involved in.
As with most administrators, I am looked upon as the leader, but I feel that this is based more upon my title as principal and not because I have all of the answers, or for that matter, even some of the answers.  The students, staff, and parents with whom I work every day have great ideas to improve upon all that we do in our school each and every day.  Now I need to find more ways to be more of a listener than a talker and to provide the environment that will allow the students, staff, and parents the opportunity to be a part of a leadership dialogue.  If I don't do this, I fear that the leadership monologue I currently utilize will stagnate any progress that our school can make.
As I reflect upon the meetings I was a part of over the last couple of weeks, I noticed that I made the agendas and therefore I was seen as being "in charge".  I often send out the agendas in advance and have "anything else" as the last agenda item.  Not only do I make the agendas, I lead the meetings.  My goal is to have the members of the group develop the agenda and allow those who have suggested the agenda item be the leader of the discussion on that item.  I then need to sit back and listen, really listen, so that I don't take over the meeting.
Moving more to a dialogue than a monologue will take practice on my part and the part of our students, staff, and parents.  My hope is that providing the opportunity to lead during these meetings that I will facilitate leadership in everyone.  I need to listen to the students, staff, and parents more than I talk.  That can be difficult, but I plan on doing my best to listen attentively every time someone speaks to me.
As Ernest Hemingway once said, "When people talk, listen completely.  Most people never listen."  Coach Bob Knight also has a quote that I must aspire to- "Everybody hears, but few listen."  I guess what these two quotes are saying to me is that I need to be a better listener.  Without listening, my leadership will remain a monologue instead of a dialogue.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

They are all our kids

On Saturday, I saw this tweet from John Gunnell (@gunnellAP), "Stop treating Special Ed students like they're someone else's responsibility. All kids deserve teachers who are dedicated to their learning."  It really struck me as I remember at one of my first staff meetings five years ago I had stated something that was nearly identical.  After those five years, I wonder if they are just words.  Is there any action that I have taken to make sure that the words come to life?  How can I make sure that the staff believes these words as much as I do?
In Wisconsin, as I'm sure is the case in all states, all staff are going to be judged by how much progress each of our students makes.  It makes no difference if they have a label (gifted and talented, learning disabled, or others) or not.  We will be judged by the progress that is made.  I think back to another quote, it takes a village to raise a child, and the notion that one person cannot raise a child.  In the same vane, it takes more than one person to help a child progress.  We, as educators, are responsible to do all that we can to make this happen.  It can't be the classroom teacher alone, the special educator alone, the gifted and talented coordinator alone, or any other staff member alone.  We must all work together to meet the needs of each of our students.
Please don't think that I'm naive when discussing this.  There is so much that each teacher and staff member must accomplish each and every day with our students.  Working solo or in a silo is a very lonely way of trying to meet the needs of all students, and it limits the opportunities for meeting these needs.  It is important to find the time to collaborate as a team to find the best ways to meet the needs of every child.  Time is available before school, at lunch, after school, during specials or electives, or with the help of a staff member providing the necessary classroom coverage to meet.  Finding the time is important and necessary.
My hope in writing this post is to gather suggestions for assisting with sharing the responsibility of educating all of our students.  Your thoughts and ideas would be greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


I have the distinct honor and pleasure of working with a great staff.  I also work with great students and a supportive community, but there is another time for a blog about them.  This blog is all about the staff at Merton Intermediate School, my second family, my Merton family.
Over the last year or so, many changes have come to our little school in Merton, Wisconsin.  Actually, there are too many changes to even mention.  Through all of these changes, I have seen nothing but the highest degree of professionalism from the staff.  If there are topics that need to be discussed, we discuss them face to face in small groups or individually.  Never have we discussed these topics in front of our students.  These topics are handled like a family.
As with any family, there is a hierarchy and I guess, based on my current position as the principal, that kind of makes me the father.  Being the father means that I ultimately make the final decision on current topics.  I gather as much input as I can, from as many people as I can, and then make the best decision possible.  Above all, decisions are made based upon the best interest of our students.  But sometimes the best decisions don't work out as well as we had planned.  At these times we meet again to discuss and determine a different plan.
On Monday night I was involved in #vachat (chat for teachers in Virginia even though I live in Wisconsin) about school climate and culture.  I saw a tweet from @philgriffins, an AP in Virginia, that said "reason why I start all of my emails Norge Family".  After thinking about the tweet, I realized that I have another family, my Merton family, that I actually spend more waking hours with than my "real family".  My Merton family has gone through many highs and lows but we always know that we can count on one another.
This morning my Merton family had a brief meeting with math as our topic.  As the staff was coming in, I was playing this video about perseverance.  It is our main math topic, but it also describes the great people I work with who are all a part of my Merton family.  My wife, bless her heart, made some great pumpkin cookies for us this morning.  She knows how much the Merton family is a part of me, and it's growing on her, too.
May you all find the joy of family outside of school and within your school.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

RtI Wednesdays

Today we had our first RtI Wednesday of the year at Merton Intermediate School.  I must admit, it is one of my favorite days of the month. Due to a variety of reasons, we have lost common planning time for our teachers.  We could look at this as a problem or as a challenge.  The principal of Merton Primary School, Mike Budisch (@headlearner) and I developed a way to make sure that our staff would have at least one hour and 15 minutes a month with no responsibilities for students.  The students arrive at their regular time but instead of heading to class, they come to the gym in the Intermediate School or the cafeteria in the Primary School.  Mike and I, with the support of some of our teaching assistants take around 500 students for a 30-minute assembly.  We have a short staff meeting and then the staff goes to work using data to develop RtI groupings of students.  The staff determine who would have targeted, selected, universal, or extension groups and then they plan activities, especially for the universal groups as these tend to be the largest.  This morning the staff meeting was 10 minutes as I "flipped" the meeting, sending the staff a google presentation in advance (Staff RtI Wednesday 9.12.12).  The staff left the meeting, went to collaborate, and I made sure, one more time, that I was ready for the students.  I met the students outside and brought them into the gym for their assembly (Student RtI Wednesday 9.12.12).  As is normally the case for these assemblies, I plan way more than I can get through, but it's always good to have something extra in case a link works at home but doesn't work at school.  Today the assembly ended a bit differently as I had the staff come in to sit with their classes for the last 15 minutes.  We celebrated the great start of both the students and the staff including an amazing statistic that still blows me away.  I must admit, I was nervous the first time, but the personal stories I have been able to share with the students in these assemblies have helped the students see me more as a teacher and not just the person in the office who speaks with the "naughty" kids.  If you're looking for a way to provide uninterrupted planning time for your staff, I encourage you to give this a try.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Striving to be the BEST

When I started as principal in Merton in 2007, I introduced a theme to the entire district.  We discussed making Merton the BEST, which stands for Believe, Encourage, Share, Trust.  As I think about the changes in the landscape of education in Wisconsin, and around the nation, I believe that I need to review and reinforce this theme and the four sub-themes.
Merton is the BEST.  We have great students, a committed staff, and involved parents.  Our students perform well in class, represent our school in the community, and perform well on placement tests and WKCE tests.  The three groups- students, staff, and parents- have allowed Merton to strive to be the BEST.  But we can always strive to be better.  We can do this by concentrating on the sub-themes of BEST.
Believe-  We need to believe in each other and in our students.  We need to believe that we are all doing what is best for kids.  It says that right on the bottom of our district letterhead.  The morale of the staff is declining based on a number of factors, but we must still believe in one another.  We can increase our belief in one another by sharing ideas, visiting classrooms to discover new learning techniques, and focusing on the great things that our students are creating in our school every day.
Encourage-  We need to encourage each other more now than ever before.  There are those not in education who don't see the valuable work that we are doing with students every day.  We need to encourage each other to take risks, develop relationships with each other and our students, and to look for the best in every situation.  This can't be done with words alone.  It must be done with actions, as well.
Share-  We need to share more with each other, and not just the "school stuff".  When we share, we really get to know each other on another level.  We can share about our personal lives, but with each other and with the students.  This sharing really helps develop stronger relationships.  We need to share what we do in classrooms, what we have learned from conferences or conventions, what we have learned from our PLN, and what we have learned from each other.  As educators, we don't do this enough, but to really be the BEST, we need to share.
Trust-  We need to trust each other more.  How can we further develop this trust?  That is a big question, but I think that trust can be built by believing in one another, encouraging one another, and sharing with one another. If, as a staff, we trust one another, we can truly be the BEST.
Your comments, thoughts, and suggestions would be appreciated.