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.