Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sunshine Award- Thanks to Matt Renwick (@ReadByExample)

Two weeks ago, I was nominated for a Sunshine Award by Matt Renwick (@ReadByExample).  I appreciate the acknowledgement and will do my best to live up to the shoutout.  I first met Matt, a fellow #WiAmigo, at a Principal's conference in Wisconsin. Matt, Curt Rees (@curtrees), Jessica Johnson (@PrincipalJ), and I presented on the use of Twitter, YouTube, Google apps, and blogging to a group of fellow administrators.  We had an hour to share our ideas and encouraged the attendees to move from spot to spot to learn what they wanted.  It was our attempt at offering a choice and a little bit like an EdCamp experience as we learned from one another.  I think it was well received.  Matt was in charge of sharing about blogging so it doesn't surprise me that he jumped at the chance to blog and offer his own Sunshine Award.  Here is a description of the Sunshine Award started by Ben Gilpin (@benjamingilpin).

The Sunshine award gives others an opportunity to learn more about me as a blogger and then, in turn, I will send sunshine the way of 11 other amazing bloggers for you to get to know.

Here are the rules Ben lists in his post.
Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
Share 11 random facts about yourself.
Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
List 11 bloggers.  They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot mominate the blogger who nominated you.)

Here are my 11 random facts.
1.  I am married to an awesome woman (Jenifer, with one "n") who keeps me grounded when I get too big for my britches.
2.  Jen and I have a wonderful 13 year old daughter who keeps us on our toes with all of her dancing.
3.  My daughter attends the school where I am principal.  She's in 8th grade and lets me know if I'm doing a good job.
4.  When I was a teacher, I also coached high school and middle school sports.  I coached basketball, volleyball, track and field, soccer, cross country, and wrestling.
5.  I used to coach softball in Land O'Lakes, WI and got to coach against Yankee great Tony Kubek.
6.  I taught 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grades during my teaching career.  I taught 7th grade Language Arts and Social Studies and 8th grade Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science.
7.  I love to fish and golf in order to relax.  Being in the outdoors is what matters and not whether I'm successful fishing or golfing.
8.  I believe I am addicted to technology and what it has to offer our students and staff.  I often need to be reminded to power down, especially by my wife and daughter.
9.  I was born in Connecticut and have lived in Indiana (Kokomo and Lafayette), Kentucky (Louisville), and Wisconsin (Waukesha, New Berlin, and Merton).
10.  I worked at an ice cream stand in Land O'Lakes for three summers to help put myself through college.
11.  I have run every day since August 30th of 1987 (Currently 9640 days in a row).

Here are my answers to the 11 questions Matt posed.
#1.  What songs/bands are on your favorite playlist right now?
I don't have any playlists, but I currently have Pink and Lynyrd Skynyrd on my favorite stations in iheartradio.
#2.  What book would you recommend that you own in multiple formats (print, digital, and/or audio)?
I don't have any books in multiple formats at this moment, but my favorite book is "Shifting the Monkey" by Todd Whitaker.
#3.  Apple or Microsoft?
Chromebook.  We are a GAFE school and I wouldn't trade my Chromebook for anything.
#4.  "If I could live in any country other than my own..."
I would live in Canada.  I have connected with many great educators in Canada and I love to fish!
#5.  "When I am not thinking about school, I am..."
thinking about how I can be a better husband and father.
#6.  Who is the most important person(s) in your life right now"
My wife Jenifer and daughter Lauren are the most important people in my life right now.
#7.  "If I could meet anyone..."
I would want to meet Coach Bob Knight.  He was in inspiration to me when I was a high school coach and I admired his ability to get the most out of his players and coaching staff.
#8.  "During the holidays..."
I got to inbox zero!  It helped that the district moved from Groupwise to Gmail so that I could start over.
#9.  What will be your 2014 new year's resolution?
I want to get to know the Merton students and staff and allow them to get to know me better, too.
#10.  "If I wasn't an educator, I would..."
probably not be as happy as I am today.  I love what I do for a living!
#11.  "On Fridays, I like wearing..."
jeans and school spirit wear.  The staff in Merton jokes that I will have a t-shirt made for just about any reason.

I have decided to put a twist on choosing 11 bloggers.  Each of the individuals listed below are teachers in Merton.  Some have started their own blogs and some have their students blogging.  My hope is that each of these great Merton teachers will take on the challenge of blogging so that everyone can learn more about them.
Julie Reuter (@jgbluedevil)
Heidi Jones (@MrsJones_Merton)
John Rheineck (@rheineckj)
Mary Shannon (@shannonm)
Mike Budisch (@headlearner)
Linda Kircher (@Livethelove)
Sarah Kasprowicz (@SarahKasprowicz)
Mary Iwanski (@maryiwanski)
Matt Pomeroy (@Physed_Pomeroy)
Katie Francoeur (@MsFrancoeur)
Sarah Luberda (@sluberda_physed)

Now here are my 11 questions.
#1.  What is your favorite thing to do with your family?
#2.  If you could be anyone other than yourself, who would that be?
#3.  What one thing are you most proud of?
#4.  If you could change one thing about education, what would it be and why?
#5.  When you have one hour to yourself, what do you like to do?
#6.  If you could visit any place in the world, where would you go and why?
#7.  If you won the lottery today, what would be the first thing you did?
#8.  If you could start your own school from scratch, what would be the three things you must have to make sure the students are successful?
#9.  What book(s) are you reading now and why?
#10.  How would you like your friends to describe you?
#11.  How many pairs of shoes do you own?

Got to run!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Bringing Parents into the Learning Process #SAVMP

I must admit that I've been thinking about this post since I first read the prompt.  Now, almost two weeks later, I am still struggling with my response.  It's not that I don't try to speak with our parents about the great things that go on in our school, it's just that I don't know how many of our parents really know what is going on.  I feel that most of my communication with parents falls into two categories- reactionary and sharing.

The reactionary communication almost always centers around behavioral expectations.  I do my best to communicate with parents about their child's behavior but it seems that these conversations always occur after some sort of negative behavioral issue.  I call parents or meet with them in person and almost always have the child involved in these conversations.  Most often when I call a parent, they think I'm calling about something bad that has happened (the dreaded call from the principal) so I also try to call when I have noticed a positive change in behavior to keep parents informed.  These calls are celebrations and often leave the parents, the student, and me laughing about the "trick" I have played on them.

I do my best to share with our parents, but it sure feels one way.  I use smore.com to communicate with our parents in a weekly email.  Here is my most recent example.  The parents have told me that they like this format as I've been able to include pictures of our students and staff in action.  I also have a school twitter account (@mertonint) which is linked to our school webpage as well as my personal webpage.  I include pictures and updates as well as posting articles that I think will be helpful to our parents.  One other method I communicate with parents is through school board updates (latest example here) and my monthly Thematic Wednesday assemblies (latest example here).  Although I share something on twitter almost daily and provide weekly communications, the one way feel of this communication leaves me less than happy about how I let parents know about what's going on in our school.  The parents know that I have an open door policy and welcome them to come in to speak whenever our schedules allow, but it isn't often that parents stop in to see me.

So, nearly two weeks after reading the prompt about involving parents in the learning process, I am looking for more ways to have two way communication with parents.  What do you do to provide more opportunities for this communication to occur?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Critical conversations #SAVMP

As I think about critical conversations in education, I think that any conversation that we have with students, staff, and parents can be considered critical.  That may seem like a "cop out", but I really believe that any conversation that an educator has should have a purpose.  The purpose should always be the same- to make the educational opportunities relevant, meaningful, and important to our students.  I am fortunate to work in a great school with fantastic students, teacher leaders, and supportive parents.  Let me explain each conversation in more detail.

Students- The conversations I have with students can be either academic or behavioral.
When I speak with students about academics, I always ask them if there is something the teachers or I can do for them that will help them be more successful.  Can we provide extra assistance during class, study hall, lunch, or before or after school?  What would this extra assistance look like?  Are they giving their best effort at all times?  Because of these conversations, we have started a Homework Club after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays that are staffed by one to three teachers and myself.  This started as a small group of students but has steadily grown to around 25-30 students.  The students love the extra help and time and the parents have come to realize that the "homework battle" at home has become less of an issue.
When I speak with students about behavior, I always tell them that school is a place to learn and that we are trying to assist all students to become life long learners.  I then ask them if their behavior allows for learning to occur.  In almost all situations, even those involving recess, the honesty of the students never ceases to amaze me.  We discuss how their behaviors need to change and that part of being in school is to learn behaviors that will make school a success for them and their classmates.  It's a learning process for the students and I almost always see a positive change in their behaviors.

Staff- The conversations I have with staff always go to the point that we are here to do what is best for kids.  I have spoken to staff about specific student concerns, how to communicate with parents, and teaching practices.  For the most part, these conversations have been pretty easy, but I do remember some conversations that ended with tears, both mine and theirs, when the discussions did not go so well.  Some of my most difficult conversations were about termination due to workforce reduction, but if you have all of the facts organized in advance, these discussions should go as well as expected.

Parents- The conversations I have with parents are some of the most challenging for one reason- parents want what is best for their child.  When I discuss behaviors, the parents can be frustrated with their child, or with me, and emotions can run high.  I document student behaviors and can share my documentation with them when appropriate.  We then try to develop a plan to improve upon these behaviors.
When I discuss academics, we try to develop a plan that involves the student, the teachers, the parents, and me.  Part of this plan involves getting extra assistance at school but also involves what the parents can do to assist at home.  I follow up with the parents a couple of weeks later to see if they have noticed any changes and if not, we adjust the plan that we have put in place.

None of these critical conversations can be successful without two things- trust and relationships.  I have been the principal in Merton for almost seven years.  The students, staff, and parents know me and know that I do my best to find the time for them in their busy schedules.  I speak with them in person or on the phone before school, during school, after school, and, if necessary, on the weekends.  I have been able to build trust and relationships due to my sincere belief in our students, staff, and families.  If you show a true interest in people, the critical conversations become a lot easier.

Instructional Leadership- Learning together #SAVMP

My hope is that the students and staff in Merton see me as an instructional leader.  I am fortunate to work with a very professional staff who truly believes in the abilities of all of our students.  As an instructional leader, I am involved in a number of committees (math, reading, writing, and Response to Intervention) as a participant and contributor.  Most of the time I feel that I need to do more in these leadership roles, but the teachers on these committees are truly the experts and I believe that they are very capable of leading the conversations.
One exceptional opportunity that I had involved a week long trip to New York City to attend a Writer's Workshop training at the Teachers College at Columbia University.  This week long trip involved a lot of learning with five teachers and a principal and our experience was unbelievable.  We spent most of our waking hours together and even during "down time" we talked about writing.  It was a tremendous week of learning that I will never forget.  Being able to learn with the teachers provided all of us the opportunity to discuss how we teach writing in our district.  Our discussions were rich and deep and have provided us with a direction for teaching writing to all of our students.  When we returned, we met to organize how we would share our learning with the staff and our discussions continued to be great learning opportunities for us all.  The staff loved what we had to offer and we are now the "experts" that many of the staff come to for advice and to share our successes.
What did I learn about this experience?  I learned that diving in to learn with your teachers cannot be taken lightly.  We learned from and with each other during the week long trip and we continue to meet to discuss our next steps with students and staff.  I also learned that you don't need to go on a week long trip to learn together.  I need to continue to learn with the staff to become a better instructional leader.  This learning can happen in a one hour meeting, a half-day inservice, or at any time.  All you need to do is jump in with the proper frame of mind and learn together.  The students and staff will thank you for it.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Lest we forget- Sandy Hook one year later

Last year, on Tuesday, December 18, 2012, I wrote this blog about our first day in school after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.  As I reflect again on this event, I decided to share the blog post, quoted below, again in order to help us remember that awful day.  May we all keep the victims and school community of Sandy Hook in our thoughts and prayers not only on the anniversary of this event, but at all times.

"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."

Monday, November 25, 2013

My Thanksgiving note to staff #SAVMP

As Thanksgiving is only a few short days away, I sent this out to all staff this morning in an effort to show my thanks for all that they do for our students, our families, and each other.  Here it is in "smore" form.  What follows is the text of the message.

It sounds cliche, but I cannot thank you enough for all that you do for our students, families, and each other. You always step up to the next challenge with great effort and a true belief that what you do is ultimately what is best for kids. Your conviction to get better for our students is incomparable. In the following paragraphs, I will try to explain what my "THANKS" stands for not just during the Thanksgiving season but all of the time.

You are a thoughtful group. You reach out to support our students and one another. Last week, many of you came to me to see how I was doing. I cannot thank you enough for taking the time out of your busy day to talk with me, either in my office or in the hallway. This is my own personal example of your thoughtfulness. I'm sure that our students and our colleagues have a multitude of examples of how we support our Merton family.

You are a helpful group. There have been so many times that you have stepped up to help out a student, a colleague, or me. Just this last week, six of you joined me on a Friday night to chaperone our 7th and 8th grade dance. You could have stayed home and spent time with your own families, but you knew that I needed your help here. Once again, like the examples of your thoughtfulness, I'm sure that there are many more examples of how you step up, daily, to help our students and one another.

Never in education has attitude been more important. The changes to the landscape of education, from curriculum to schedules to negative perceptions of teachers, could have stifled and altered your attitude. You have not lost your positive attitude. You say your piece, vent at times, but your attitude always returns to the belief that we are doing what is best for our students.

No matter the grade level, I see the nurturing nature that you have for our students. You want what is best for them and they, in turn really do their best for you. You may get frustrated with a student now again, and I do too, but then you take them under your wing, develop a plan to move forward, and celebrate their new found success. Just last week, a teacher came to me to show off a test score from one of her students. I have seen how hard she worked with this student, and in turn the improvement in the effort and understanding of this student, and it was truly a celebration of their work and perseverance. I know that you all have your own personal examples of this and I encourage you to celebrate these as well.

You are a kind lot. You truly believe in and encourage one another and our students. It's so much easier to be kind than mean and the benefits you reap from being kind can carry you through the day. Let's continue to be kind, and foster that in our students. They learn a lot more from us than just curriculum and whether you realize it or not, they model nearly everything we do.

You are all superb. What else can I say? The dictionary definition is excellent, superlative, first-rate. This definition fits you all perfectly. Continue to share with one another, push each other, and support each other. Together we will keep working on becoming the best that we can be.

I hope that you enjoyed the message.  I truly mean it from the bottom of my heart.

A goal is only a dream until you act on it. #SAVMP

Our latest #SAVMP post is about setting goals.  I heard or read the title I used for this blog somewhere, but I cannot remember where.  I have been a goal setter for as long as I can remember.  Some of my goals were academic but the ones I really remember were about athletics.  Like most boys growing up in Kentucky, I dreamed of playing college or professional basketball.  Neither came true for me, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

After failing to reach my basketball goal, I set my sights on becoming a teacher.  I received an outstanding education at Marquette University and, after graduating in 1987, became a teacher in Waukesha, WI, the same district where I graduated from high school.  I taught there for 15 years but I had another goal, leading a school.  I received my Master's Degree from Marian University and this provided me an opportunity to become an administrator in Elmbrook, a neighboring school district.  I was an assistant principal there for five years but knew that I wanted to have "my own school", so I pursued a principalship in Merton, another neighboring district.  I have been in Merton for nearly seven years.

Now that I realize that my goal to play professional basketball is only a dream, I have set goals for myself in education.  I want to lead in the way that I would want to be led.  I have learned to listen, really listen, and then share when I have something that may help someone move forward.  I rely on my twitter and voxer friends to help keep me grounded and to help me think through the daily opportunities that come my way as an educator.  But I still have goals, and I need to act on them or they will only be dreams.  Here are two examples, one from running and one from education.

I have been fortunate enough to have a family who supports me with my addiction to running.  I started my running streak in August of 1987, the same time I started my career in education.  Within this streak I have had three times when I thought my streak would end.  One was a severe ankle sprain, but I wanted to extend my streak so I ran in the high school swimming pool until my ankle was healed.  Another was when I had walking pneumonia.  My wife helped me continue my streak one day by standing behind me while I ran on my treadmill.  The last was when I had surgery.  I ran the morning of the surgery and then waited until my wife went to work to run on the treadmill.  The goal of continuing my running streak has become a compulsion and I will either get up extra early to run or run extra late.  This goal would only be a dream if I didn't plan out how I would keep it going every day.

My educational goal is something that I have posted on the keyboard of my Chromebook.  It says, "Growing all students and staff academically and behaviorally every day."  I must admit, the reminder helps to keep me focused as it is with me at all times during the school day and when I am at home.  I search twitter for the latest ideas and try to "Mertonize" it.  "Mertonize" is the term we use in our district to take an idea so it fits our students and staff.  I have one on one conversations, grade level conversations, and leadership conversations and they all focus on this one goal.  My meetings with students and parents focus on this one goal.  And when I run, my thoughts often are about this one goal.

What would be your one goal for your students and staff, and what have you done to take it from a dream to a reality?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What I (try to) do to ask staff what school is for? #SAVMP

I hope that the title caught your eye.  I have been thinking about this question for over a week now and have come to this realization.  I can do nearly anything with staff but ultimately it is about what the individual staff members do after I meet with them or provide them with information that is of most importance.  Here is a list of some of the things I do with staff.

  • Face to face meetings (these can happen anywhere- classroom, office, lounge, hallway)
  • Weekly grade level meetings
  • Building Leadership Team (BLT) meetings
  • Response to Intervention (RtI) Leadership Team meetings
  • RtI Wednesday meetings
  • Staff meetings
  • Weekly "nuts and bolts" email
I purposefully put the above in the order in which I think I have the best opportunity to really ask the "What is school for?" question and really listen to the responses.  Face to face meetings are a time that it is just the staff member and me, no distractions, just a chance to talk about all things school.  My weekly "nuts and bolts" (see my latest example here) are sent to all staff, and some of my PLN in other schools, but I don't know how many actually read what I share.  There isn't a test as a follow up, nor do I think that there should be.  I use this email to take care of housekeeping items and to share thought-provoking messages.  If I receive an email response or a request to meet, that's great.  If not, there will be another nuts and bolts email the following week.
So, did I answer the question?  I think I did in a round about way, but ultimately, it is the professional responsibility of each individual staff member to determine what school is for, with guidance and suggestions from the students, their colleagues, and me.  What do I think school is for?  School is the opportunity to grow all students and staff members academically and behaviorally every day using a variety of learning activities.  What do you think school is for?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Individual learning and mass sharing #SAVMP

Once again, George has given us all something to think about.  This is one of those topics that I struggle with as I go from classroom to classroom in our school.  I see wonderful examples of innovative practices nearly every day (not as many the last two weeks due to state testing) and I try my best to share them with our staff.  Right now I am covering a class (proctoring one of our state tests) so that one teacher can watch another teacher teach.  I have spoken to the staff about the great things I see, either in our short staff meetings or in my weekly "nuts and bolts", and teachers are now more willing to watch their colleagues teach as well as inviting their colleagues in to see them teach.  It might not be "mass sharing", but it is an important step to get to this point.
As educators, we often don't do a good job of sharing what we do well.  We need to do a much better job of this.  If you have a lesson, activity, or unit that has gone well, share it with your colleagues.  You might think it's bragging, but it's actually sharing good teaching practices.  Aren't we all in the business of educating students?  It shouldn't be a competition.  It should be a cooperative atmosphere where we learn from one another.
One thing that I have done to promote mass sharing is my weekly "nuts and bolts".  Here is my most recent example.  There isn't a lot in this example of what I saw in classes last week, but I do have links to twitter posts, blog posts, and quotes that hopefully touch some of the educators I work with.  I need to find other ways to promote mass sharing and look forward to reading some of your suggestions and ideas.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Communicating with our parents #SAVMP

One of my goals each and every year is to communicate better with our parents.  I am currently in my 7th year as principal and the way that we communicate with parents is much different than seven years ago.
Way back then, we had only four methods of communicating with parents- our weekly all school newsletter (I had a paragraph that I wrote every week) that was posted online but also sent home in paper form with our students, telephone calls, emails, and face to face meetings.
My how things have changed.  We still have the same four methods listed above, although we did away with the paper form of our newsletter.  We have added in recent years a mass email component to our student information system.  I use this for weekly emails to all families (We only have four families without an email address, which I must admit is astounding.), important reminders or information (conferences, snow day, concerts), and my weekly letter to parents.  I have recently changed the format of my letters to smore (Here is my latest example.) and it has been well received by parents.  As soon as I get over 30 views, I can also check out the number of people who have viewed my smore and where they were when they viewed it.  I also have a school twitter account (@mertonint) which is also directly linked to our school's website and my website.
Now I know what you are thinking.  These are all technology tools for communication, but we need to start somewhere.  Sometimes what I email or tweet gets a reaction from parents, either good or bad, which leads to an email, phone call, or parent meeting.  I think that's great!  Sometimes we are looking for the catalyst for a conversation and each of these tools can lead to that.
We did encounter resistance, especially when the paper copies of our newsletter stopped coming home.  We made these copies available in our office and every week the extra copies seem to be recycled.  I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or not, but I think we have directed the parents well enough to our school's website and the staff websites to provide most of the information they might need.
I'm trying something new at conferences this week and next week, too.  I'm going to station myself in the lobby with our school's website on a screen and meet with any parent that stops by to see me to show them all of the information that is available at their fingertips.  If you are interested, here is the link to my own website that has daily announcements, Friday parent emails, board presentations, and RtI Wednesday presentations.  I'll let you know how my conference idea works out.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The end of the 1st quarter, and goal setting #SAVMP

Below is the first paragraph of my nuts and bolts to staff for November 1st. I don't know about you, but I often reflect about the success of my efforts, whether it's for school, with my family, or with my running. I thought I would share this reflection with the staff as a way to model reflection and goal setting for staff. I will be sharing this with the students at my monthly assembly in November, too.  

"So the first quarter of the school year is over.  It is hard for me to believe that Monday will start the second quarter.  I don’t know about you, but whenever I end something as big as a quarter of school, I like to look back on what I did, both good and not so good, and set goals for what I need to do better the next time.  So here’s my list of “accomplishments” from the first quarter.
Two positive all school late start assemblies
Lots of time in classrooms speaking with students
Almost daily lunch and recess with the students
Walkthroughs for all teachers at least 4 times
Formal observations underway for staff
Homework Club up and running
Grade level meetings almost weekly
Staff presentations during Summer Academy and PD day
Not so good
Fewer handwritten notes than I wanted to write
Fewer positive phone calls home than I wanted to make
Not enough formal observations completed
Fewer pictures on @mertonint twitter account than I wanted to post
Fewer blog posts than I wanted to write
Not enough time with family and friends
As with you, I’m sure that there is more to add to the list.  As I look at the “not so good” list, this becomes my area for goal-setting.  I’d like to do what I can to make the “not so good” list become a part of the “good” list.  To do this, I’m going to focus on writing more handwritten notes to each of you, making more positive phone calls home, completing the first round of formal observations by Winter Break, posting more pictures of the great things the students and you are doing on @mertonint more often, and spending more time with family and friends.  I would appreciate any feedback you have for me."

As I begin to blog more often, I am really starting to find the benefits of reflecting and goal setting. Please let me know what you think.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Principal as manager #SAVMP

As I sit reflecting on a full Monday of school following a four day weekend for our students, I realized that I spent half of my day in quadrant II while the students were in school and the other half of my day, when students were not in the building, in quadrant I.  Unfortunately I also dabbled a bit in quadrants III and IV, both when the students were in the building and when they were not in the building.

Covey time management
Image from Steven Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People"

Quadrant I activities for the day included meeting with a group of students while investigating an issue which occurred last week (pressing problem), restraint training with a couple of staff members (deadline-driven meeting), organizing restraint training for five staff members (deadline-driven meeting), and a formal teacher observation (deadline -driven report).
Quadrant II activities for the day included meeting with a student and his teacher to develop a better relationship (relationship building), preparing for the EXPLORE test administration with a teacher (preparation and planning), meeting with a teacher who just found out about a terrible family tragedy (relationship building), enjoying lunch and recess with our students (relationship building), meeting with a teacher about the best learning environment for one of our students (values clarification), and visiting classrooms to interact with students while they were learning (relationship building and values clarification).
Fortunately, there were no activities from Quadrant III.
There were only a few irrelevant e-mails (unimportant e-mails) which falls into Quadrant IV.
Some days are just like this, but I need to do a much better job of spending more time in Quadrant II, especially when the students are in the building.  Then I think back more on the day and realize it was a Monday.  Tuesday will be here before I know it, and I will do my best to focus my efforts on Quadrant II.  But I also know that I'm a principal and even my best days are filled with things I never learned in "Principal School".
Addendum- I wrote this earlier today and went back to reread and revise.  Here's is what I have come up with after reading all of the ways my day fit into the four quadrants.  My goal is to have everything I do be for and about the students.  Some days I am highly successful.  Other days I am less successful.  On those days that I am successful, I am definitely in quadrant II.  On those days that I am less successful, I find myself in quadrants III and IV way too often.  Doing what is important, whether it is urgent or not urgent, will make the experiences for our students much more impactful for their learning and success.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Power of Consistently Being in Classrooms #SAVMP

One of my favorite aspects of being in classrooms every day is the opportunity I have to provide teachers with feedback and talking with students about what they are learning.  I have made it a priority to do walkthroughs with teachers at least once a week.  I use a Google form (If you'd like to see what I use, please email me at posickj@merton.k12.wi.us and I can share it with you) for each walkthrough and send an email to the teachers with two statements- I noticed... and I wonder...- as I leave the classroom.  For the most part these statements are meant to be rhetorical or thought-provoking and don't require a response.  But sometimes the statements lead to great discussions or a response to my email.  Here is an example of what I sent out yesterday and the emails that followed.
"Here are my notes from today's walkthrough.
"I noticed that the students were seated on the floor near you while you were discussing scenarios from a book.  I wonder how you might use this for a blog post by the students."
Enjoy the day!

The teacher's response-
"I noticed that you came in right after our social studies lesson where we filled out a flow chart on indians and explorers."  "I wonder what you think when you come in during a content area and see me doing something else."
After I got this response, here is how I replied.
"I notice that you are building relationships and critical thinking skills.  I wonder why we as educators don't do that more often."
The teacher's response-
"Oh - em - jee!  I love your answer!  Thank you!  If I could build relationships and discuss topics all day long with students, I'd be in heaven! That is right up my alley!  Although I would have to sprinkle in SOME lessons in reading, math, and writing every now and then!"
If I wasn't in classrooms as often as I am, I don't know if I would have received an email like this from the teacher.  I hope that I have developed and fostered a culture where teachers feel comfortable speaking with me about my walkthrough notes and, frankly, just about anything else.
I have made walkthroughs a priority and it has been a perfect venue for me to provide consistent and timely feedback to teachers.  If you make it a priority in your day or week, walkthroughs can really help to foster a culture of trust and honesty that will benefit the teachers and the students.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

We are models, whether we know it or not #SAVMP

Saturday morning I started my day like I normally do.  I went on Tweetdeck and began to participate in #satchat.  I live in Wisconsin and 6:30 comes pretty early on a Saturday, but I do my best to not miss the engaging conversation.  I was able to watch the live feed from #edscape, follow the tweets, and add to the comments about being a connected educator.
Because #satchat was broadcasted from #edscape, I thought I would follow the hashtag and found that there was a link to George Couros' keynote so I just had to watch.  It was a great keynote, and one thing jumped out at me- We are models for learning for our students and each other.  George shared the following picture in his keynote.

Image from 929thebull.com
I was checking my emails from time to time during the keynote (Don't we all do that?).  I have to provide a little background before I share an email I received.  I was surprised by the staff on Wednesday for Boss' Day and received a running shirt and gift certificate.  Because I almost always wear a shirt and tie, I knew the staff wouldn't be able to see me wearing my shirt so I decided to have a "Workout Clothes Day" on Friday.  Many of the staff dressed in comfortable clothes for the day and I wore jeans and the shirt I received.  Here is the email I referenced before from Janine Stolpa, one of the great teachers I work with in Merton.
"Hi Jay,
I have to share...At the end of the day, someone in my class told me they liked my tennis shoes and asked why Mr. Posick was dressed in cool clothes.  Alex said that you "kind of scared him"  because you looked so cool!  Then he said, "I'm not going to lie, his shoes were awesome!".  I realized again, that we are observed not only in our teaching, but our attire!  Thanks for a "cool clothes" day!
Happy weekend,
The second to last line- "I realized again, that we are observed not only in our teaching, but our attire!"- made me really think about how our daily interactions with students model the behaviors that we hope they will acquire.  I know that I need to do a better job of modeling behaviors, like participating appropriately in class, in the halls, in the cafeteria, and in the gym each and every moment of each and every day.  They see how I interact with students and staff and learn the value I place on respecting people.  They see the clothes I wear every day.  They see what I eat and what I drink at lunch.  They see how I use technology to share great things about our school.  They know I run every day.  I am a role model and it doesn't scare me.  Does it scare you?

Time and Priority #SAVMP

It's interesting to me that I am blogging on time and priority on a Sunday morning.  I seem to find time every Saturday and Sunday to do "school work" while my wife and daughter sleep in.  Let me clarify sleeping in.  That just means that they sleep until about 8:00.  I'm an early riser and always have been.  I use the time before my family wakes up to catch up on emails, take part in #satchat on twitter, check out Google+, confirm my weekly calendar so that I'm prepared for meetings or observations, read blog posts, and write blog posts.  I do all of this while my family is still sleeping.
I mention this because it's the same process I try to use at school.  I'm in my office as little as possible every day while the students and staff are in school.  Before school during the week is my time to catch up on emails and paperwork.  Sometimes the same is true for after school, but that's only if there are not any after school activities or Homework Club.  While the students and staff are in school, the only reason I am in my office is if I have a meeting with a student, staff member, or parent.  I spend the majority of the school day with the students and staff in classrooms, in hallways, in the cafeteria, or on the playground.  I need to be in the school environment to know what is going on with our students and staff, both academically and behaviorally.  To paraphrase Todd Whitaker, "You can't lead a school from your office."  Being with the students and staff during the school day is what it's all about.  It's just my priority.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Gentle Nudge #SAVMP

I have been doing my best to keep up with the blogs through this exciting #SAVMP journey.  This one really hit home, not because I needed the nudge to reflect, but because of the way that I reflect.  Every day since August 30th of 1987, I have gone for a run.  I do it for myself as it is a time for me to be alone to think and reflect.  I haven't been in the habit of writing my reflections, but instead just use my alone running time to let my thoughts flow.  Sometimes my reflections are about school, sometimes about things going on in my personal life, and sometimes about things in my surroundings.  What I realize is that these reflections were my own and I rarely shared them with others.
Now that I have a reason to reflect and blog about these reflections, I have found that I have more in depth conversations with people, either through social media or face to face.  What is interesting to me is that I have, until today, shared these blogs only on Twitter or Google+ and not with those closest to me, my family and my staff.  Some of my reflections may be considered profound while others are just my ramblings about a certain topic that either George suggested or a topic that comes to mind on my daily run.  Either way, I am modeling reflection for my staff and I need to let them all know what I am thinking and how I feel.
Thanks for the nudge, George.

Boss' Day surprise #SAVMP

This morning, Holly Sutherland from Hoover High School in Alabama, wrote a post about Boss' Day and the qualities of leaders that she has encountered in her life.  This gave me a push to share what the caring and committed staff at Merton did for me this morning.
This morning I was surprised by the staff before school even got underway.  They called a meeting in the lounge and, as is normal, when I haven't called a meeting, I asked if I was supposed to attend.  Barb, my secretary, played along with the staff and told me that I was supposed to stop in.  I did, and the staff was positioned around the lounge and broke into song.  I was completely caught off guard.  They had a gift and card for me on one of the tables.  I thanked them and told them that I appreciate all that they do for our students and our school.  I told them the two reasons I come to school every day- because of the students and because of them.  One teacher told me to stop, and told me that this was my day.  I must admit, I was embarrassed.  My least favorite title I have is "boss".  I prefer "leader" or "facilitator" and my hope is that I am a leader and facilitator for the staff and the school.
Here are pictures of the card I received.

I work with the best staff ever, and I cannot thank them enough for all that they do for our kids and each other.  And it was really cool that they surprised me this morning to recognize what I do for our kids and for them.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Rethinking Staff PD #SAVMP

Although I have been an administrator for eleven years, I still remember back to my days as a teacher.  My least favorite day was the first teacher day.  It was excruciating for me to sit in a meeting, often for over three hours, listening to the Principal, Assistant Principal, Department Chairs, Superintendent, and various others spew information that I knew I wouldn't remember.  Those who work with me, as well as my family, will tell you that I probably have adult ADD.  Not that that's a bad thing, but I just can't sit still in meetings and keep focused on the task at hand.  With that in mind, I have been "flipping" our staff meetings whenever it is possible.  I also choose activities that either allow us all to move around or have conversations with one another.
Here is what I did for our first meeting as a staff this year.  I sent out this google doc at the end of our district-wide Summer Academy (three days of learning together) in preparation for our meeting the following week.  These were items that I was used to providing during the meeting.  If the staff had any questions about what was in the google doc, they were encouraged to ask them during the meeting or to see me individually or as a grade level team.
Our meeting began at 8:00 and was over by 8:40.  I didn't meet my goal of 30 minutes, but I was close.  We would have finished on time but we spent an extra 10 minutes discussing our copy machine, which is nothing short of a lemon.  This is the google presentation, which I titled "Two Ships", that I shared with the staff.
I know that some times we need to sit and get, or give, information, but I found this approach to be successful and a better use of our time together.
I welcome your comments.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Empowering Student Voice #SAVMP

I must admit, this is one area that I need to improve upon greatly.  Although I have used the occasional survey to gather information from students, I don't do this nearly enough.  As I think about this, I realize that I need to develop a survey to ask the students how I am doing as their principal.  Some questions come to mind.
  1. What can I do to make your school experience more enjoyable?
  2. What can I do to make your school experience more individualized?
  3. Are there any clubs or activities that you would like to add to our school?
  4. What do you really enjoy about our school?
  5. What would you like to change about our school?
  6. Would you be interested in being a part of a Principal's advisory team?
I'd love your suggestions for any other questions that I should include.  My plan is to put this survey together this week and get some responses.  I'll share my results with you at a later time.

Promoting Critical Conversations #SAVMP

As I read George's comments regarding promoting critical conversations, I realized two things.  The first is that critical conversations can only be impactful if a relationship has first been developed.  The second is that all conversations are critical.
In order to have critical conversations that will impact both you and the person you are conversing with, there must be a high degree of trust in the relationship.  Without this trust, the conversation will do little to change either you or the other person.  These critical conversations allow both parties to express their thoughts about a topic and provide reasoning that is valid for both.  The thing to do is to build trust with those you work with.  Trust cannot be developed overnight.  It takes time and often occurs in incremental steps that need to build upon one another.
I believe all conversations are critical.  Even the most simple conversation helps to build a relationship.  It matters not whether these conversations occur in an office, in a hallway, in a meeting, or elsewhere.  If we are talking about kids, the conversation is critical.  Enough said.
In order to promote critical conversations, develop a strong relationship built on trust and keep talking about kids!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Roads to Innovation #SAVMP

Innovation in education to me is all about staff and students taking risks and receiving support from colleagues, administrators, parents, and the school board.  I work in a school where innovation occurs on a daily basis, and it doesn't always involve technology.  Staff are providing a variety of learning experiences within their classrooms- Friday projects and STEM, for example- and we are seeing great results from our students.  Ultimately, when you take a risk, you are learning something.  It most often is what to do but it might also be what not to do.  I love it when teachers invite me into their classrooms to see their innovative ideas.  The discussions afterward lead to exciting conversations.  I often find ways for the teacher to share what they did or I share it for them, with their permission.
I try to model risk-taking and this morning was an example.  I am participating in a book chat using Dave Burgess' book "Teach Like a Pirate".  I started the chat dressed as a pirate.  It's a blurry picture, but here it is.  The teachers and I spoke about three questions (Why did you choose to join the book club?  Have you incorporated any ideas from the book into the first two weeks of classes?  How do you share your passions with your students?) and had them pair-share their responses.  I have received some great responses from the participants who liked the chance to speak about the pirate mentality.  I took a risk being in costume and providing a format for quality discussions to occur.  I am hopeful that my modeling of risk-taking will be taken to heart by more of our teachers.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Developing Leadership #SAVMP

After a great start to our school year, I have had a chance to reflect on my own leadership as well as that of the staff with whom I work.  On the first teacher day, I shared this google presentation called "Two Ships" with the staff.  The two ships I discussed were relationships and leadership, what I believe are the two most important characteristics of a quality educator.  I will continue all year to go back to these two characteristics while sharing examples of each with the staff.
As I think about the leadership in our school, there are the obvious examples as well as hidden examples.  The obvious examples are the staff who are on our leadership teams.  We have two teams that provide direction for our school, our Building Leadership Team (BLT) and our Response to Intervention (RtI) team.  These teams meet once a month and each team has one grade level representative and a special education representative.  Our BLT also has a representative from our specials teachers (music, PE, art).
Our BLT meetings are a place for the staff to keep me informed of those things that should be celebrated as well as those things that need to be fixed.  Although I am the "leader" of this team, we develop our agendas together.  This year I am using this rubric from New Tech Network as a focus for the next steps for our school.  I have asked the team members to share this rubric with their grade level teams and we will use the results to lead our discussion at our first meeting.  I am excited to see where this process will take us.
Our RtI team has been instrumental in keeping RtI as a focus for our staff.  Their passion for RtI is the reason we now have RtI blocks in each of our grade levels every day.  As a school staff we meet once a month, with our RtI team leading the meeting, to share how things are going with our RtI blocks, share student successes, and provide suggestions for struggles that we might be having.
Just yesterday I received an email from a teacher that is one of those hidden examples.  The email was to all staff and the teacher invited herself into classrooms so that she could observe a colleague teaching Math or Reading/Language Arts.  I was so excited she asked to do this because I have been trying to get our teachers to observe one another for six years!  I have agreed to cover any class so that teachers can observe one another.  The funny part of this example is that she asked me, after she had sent the email, if it was alright with me.  I told her that it was absolutely fine with me and thanked her for taking a chance.  My hope is that this example of hidden leadership becomes contagious with the rest of the staff.
As I have told the staff often, they are all leaders.  They may not like the title, but there is no question that they are all leaders for our students and each other.  My goal is to continue to grow our staff as leaders in any way possible and to celebrate these leaders every day.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

An email to my #SAVMP mentees

As I was visiting classrooms the last six days, I often wondered if I was providing the proper support for my #SAVMP mentees.  The four of us are from different parts of the world (Wisconsin- me, Texas- Kelley, Darshan- Massachusetts, and Brad- Australia) but I know that we are all educators who strive to do the best for our kids.  Just barely a week into school, I sent them all this email to provide any support that I can.

"Good morning, afternoon, or evening, depending upon when you have a chance to read this email.  I hope that all is going well in each of your schools up to this point.  I feel like I have been less than a proper mentor as I have started the school year.  We are in day 6 and things are going pretty well.  Many staff have mentioned that this is the best start of a school year that they can remember.  I believe it's due to the expectations, routines, and relationships that have been established since day 1.  Please know that I think about each of you throughout the school day and while I'm at home on twitter.  If I can be of any assistance to you, please reach out and ask.  I'll do my best to provide you with direction and my thoughts on any situation you might bring forward.
On a personal note, I thought I'd tell you all a little bit about myself.  I have been married for nearly 21 years to the love of my life and we have a beautiful daughter who is an 8th grader in the school where I am principal.  We love to travel to Fox Lake, a short hour trip away, to relax and get away from it all.  I honestly need to do more of that, especially once the school year is firmly underway.  I enjoy running, golfing (which I don't do well), fishing, and being in school with the kids.  I work with an incredible staff who all go out of their way to do what's best for kids.
If you are willing and able, please share a little bit about yourselves with the rest of us.  I am excited about the school year and the learning we will do together from Wisconsin, Texas, Massachusetts, and Australia.
Enjoy the day!

The reason for the email was to extend a hand, either to walk with them or to guide them along.  I look forward to continuing this mentor/mentee relationship throughout the school year.  We have so much to learn from each other.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Reflections from "TEACH" and #satchat

The following is an email I sent to staff this morning after reflecting on "TEACH" and #satchatoc and #satchat discussions last night and this morning.

"Good morning!  I wanted to reach out to you this morning for two reasons.  The first is how impressed I am by how you and our students did this first week of school.  You have provided expectations and activities that I know will carry us through the school year.  As I watched "TEACH" on CBS last night, I thought of each of you and what you do for and with our kids.  I saw many of your attributes in the stories of the teachers highlighted in the program.  I'm looking for a way to share the show with you all.  Jen and I were even inspired enough to stop watching "Bridezillas"!  As I watched, I spoke of you and how these teachers were meeting kids' needs just like you do every day.
The second is a reflection on #satchatoc and #satchat discussions I was a part of last night and this morning.  The topic was leadership and connecting with staff, students, and families.  I am open and willing to listen to any suggestions you might have for me to improve my capacity as a leader.  My calendar is on my door and this week is pretty open to talk except on Wednesday morning when I have three grade level meetings.
Now to the two important items.
#1. Please provide me with a name of a student in your classes who would benefit from a call home.  Either you can make the call or I will.  That choice is up to you.  I need to do a better job of reaching out to families for feedback on how we are doing.
#2. Please have a book handy in your classroom.  I started carrying one around yesterday.  When I wasn't interacting with students or checking emails or twitter on my Chromebook, I was reading.  Imagine the power of that image for kids if we all did that!
Thanks for all that you do for our kids and each other every day.  You are awesome co-workers and even better teachers.
Enjoy your weekend.

I would like to thank all of you who are a part of my PLN and especially those of you who participate in #satchat for pushing me to think, reflect, and act due to the myriad of conversations we have on twitter.  You all make me want to be a better principal each and every day.  I cannot thank you enough!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Why we do Parent Information Nights

I have been the Principal at Merton Intermediate School, a school of about 500 4th-8th graders, for six years.  During my tenure in Merton, we have had Parent Information Nights for each grade level.  It has been my expectation and at times I have been asked by our staff the reason for these nights.  In thinking about the reasons, I have come up with four that I see as the primary purpose of these nights.
#1- Parent engagement
This is by far the most important reason for me.  We are always struggling to have parents come into our school.  Open House draws in parents before the school year begins and we have nearly perfect attendance.  Conferences bring in most of our parents as well.  Concerts are well attended, too.  I see Parent Information Nights as a venue to allow parents to learn about our teachers, our grade level expectations, and our student information system.  This doesn't really happen at Open House.  Students and parents get to meet their teachers but having an in depth conversation about curriculum or expectations is difficult to accomplish.  We hand out curriculum guides and other pertinent information but seldom do parents get to ask questions about the materials they are given.  Parent Information Nights provide this venue and allow the staff to share a little about themselves.
#2- Parent volunteers
At an Intermediate School, it is sometimes difficult to get volunteers.  This is especially true of our middle school parents, partially because the students don't really want their parents in our school.  Having a Parent Information Night allows the staff to let parents know of the variety of volunteer opportunities- room parents, chaperoning field trips, running copies, leveling reading books, and making bulletin boards.
#3- Sharing student work
What a great venue to show off what the students have done to this point in their classes.  Teachers could share activities and projects that the students have completed or are working on to showcase the great things they are doing with kids.  That's a win-win in my book.
#4- Professional responsibility or "Because I said so"
In my time in Merton, I have required grade levels to have Parent Information Nights.  This allows our staff the opportunity to share the awesome activities that occur in their classrooms.  As educators, we are not really good at discussing the great things that we do with students each and every day.  It is a great opportunity to spread the good news as well as opening the lines of communication with our parents.
Do you have Parent Information Nights and if you do, what else could I add to my list?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Trust- An example of trust lost and trust gained

Trust is something that we all work to earn.  Once it is lost, it is difficult, if not impossible, to earn back.  Trust is not something that can be developed unless you first have developed a relationship.  Without a relationship there can be no trust.
This week there were two glaring examples of the impact of trust on specific situations.  One worked out better than could be expected.  One took a turn for the worse.  The direction of these situations was determined by the trust that the individual had developed with the people involved.
Antoinette Tuff, a bookkeeper in an Atlanta area school, gained the trust of an armed gunman and averted what could have been a very deadly situation.  She was calm throughout the ordeal and gained the trust of the gunman by being personable and making a real connection.  She was the right person for this situation.  Listening to the 911 call I was amazed by her calm demeanor and one of her comments really resonated with me- "Sweetie.  Everything's going to be OK."  The trust that Ms. Tuff developed in such a short time with a mentally unstable individual is remarkable.  This level of trust and caring is something that we should all model as educators.  I challenge all educators to develop relationships with our students, families, and each other so that we positively impact their lives.
Ryan Braun, leftfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers, lost the trust of baseball fans in Milwaukee and throughout Major League Baseball.  The Most Valuable Player in 2011, Mr. Braun denied the use of performance enhancing drugs and along the way threw a number of his teammates and others under the bus.  He was believable in a news conference during Spring Training in 2012 stating that he had never put anything illegal in his body.  We now know that he lied about his cheating ways and recently apologized in a written statement.  I live in the Milwaukee area and I'm a big fan of the Brewers.  I have a naivete about me and want to believe everything that people say to me.  When it is clear that someone is not truthful I lose trust in them.  I have now lost the trust I once had in Mr. Braun.
I do not know Ms. Tuff or Mr. Braun but I have learned something from each of them.  Ms. Tuff was able to build trust with a mentally unstable stranger and was instrumental in keeping school children and staff safe.  She was personable, caring, calm, and nurturing.  Ms. Tuff will remain a trusted member of her community because of her actions this week.  Mr. Braun lost the trust of many because of his lies.  He was deceitful, arrogant, and self-centered.  Mr. Braun will have a difficult if not impossible time regaining the trust of his family, friends, and fans.
My hope is that all of us as educators will build trust with our students, families, and each other.  Let's learn a lesson from Ms. Tuff and positively impact our students each and every day so that we can tell them, "Sweetie.  Everything is going to be OK."

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

My philosophy of education #SAVMP

I have been contemplating this blog about my philosophy of education all weekend and it has come down to two acronyms that I have shared with the students, staff, and families of Merton.  The two acronyms are BEST and PRIDE.  The first I read in an education magazine during the summer of the year before I began as the principal.  The second I heard when Lou Holtz, at the time an ESPN College Game Day host, was discussing a pregame talk he would have with his team before a big game.  I keep both of these acronyms in my thoughts when making decisions that will impact students, staff, and families.
BEST stands for Believe, Encourage, Share, and Trust.  Each of these words have power and meaning for students, staff, and parents.

  • Believe- As educators and leaders, we need to believe in our students, our staff, and our families.  I believe that each of our students wants to learn and is willing to give their best effort.  We just need to find out what connections we can make to help this happen.  I believe that our staff wants our students to learn each and every day and that they will do their best to make this come true.  I believe that our families want the best possible education for their children.
  • Encourage- As educators and leaders, we need to encourage our students, our staff, and our families.  I believe that we need to encourage risk taking in our students and staff so that they can learn about new topics and topics that interest them.  I believe we need to encourage our families to be involved in our school, whether it is to volunteer, to attend conferences, to attend after school events, or to stop in and speak with us about the direction of our school or the education we are providing.
  • Share- As educators and leaders, we need to share with our students, our staff, and our families.  I believe we need to share personal stories of success and defeat with our students so that they can learn about us.  I believe we need to share as a staff our lessons, our struggles, and our successes.  One of our teachers, Brian Fleischman, once said, "We are our best resource."  If we don't share, we are unable to learn from one another.  I believe that we need to share with our families the successes of our students and staff, the changes in our schools, and the opportunities that we provide our students each and every day.
  • Trust- As educators and leaders, we need to trust our students, our staff, and our families.  I believe that we need to trust that our students are making sound decisions and are doing what they believe is the best for them.  I believe we need to trust that our staff is doing everything that they can for our students, our families, and each other.  I believe that we need to trust that our families only wants what is best for their children.  This is the most important of the four words in BEST because once we lose the trust of our students, staff, or families, it is difficult to regain trust to its previous level.
PRIDE stands for Personal Responsibility In Daily Excellence.  As students, educators, and leaders, we must put our best foot forward each and every day.  We only have one opportunity for success each day and we owe it to our students and families to give it our best.
Ultimately if we do our best and have pride in what we do, everyone in every school will learn to the best of their ability.
I welcome your thoughts.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Why do I lead and why am I an educator?

Thanks to George Couros (@gcouros) for setting up a great opportunity for administrators to connect.  You can follow our journey on twitter at #SAVMP (School Admin Virtual Mentor Program).  George posted two questions- "Why do I lead?" and "Why am I an educator?"- for us all in his opening SAVMP blog.  I attempted to write this blog by separating the two questions but I found that to be quite difficult.  I think that leaders are educators and educators are leaders.
Case in point- I am with six colleagues (another principal and five classroom teachers) this week at the Teachers College in New York City learning more about the Writer's Workshop.  We learned a lot the first day and had a chance to share our thoughts at lunch, on the subway, at dinner, and on a walk that evening to find a good place for ice cream.  Educators are always learning and I love to learn, not in isolation, but with others.  We are also charged with returning to our district and sharing what we learned.  We will be the leaders for the staff, sharing what we have learned, answering questions, and providing support.  Now back to the questions.
"Why do I lead?"  I lead because I have been given opportunities throughout my career as an educator.  The administrators that I worked with, whether as a teacher or coach, saw something in me and fostered my growth.  I hope that I have been able to do the same for the great teachers I have worked with in my time as an assistant principal and principal.  I lead to help develop well-rounded students and staff.  I lead to help others have a positive impact on students.  I don't have all of the answers, but I'll let people know that we will work together to find the answers.
"Why am I an educator?"  I am an educator because I am a learner.  I want to reach as many students as I can.  I want to help prepare our students for a future we don't even know.
Why do I lead and why am I an educator?  It's just who I am.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Developing relationships with our students

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about next year and the focus that should be first and foremost for myself and the staff.  I keep coming back to relationships.  I truly believe the only way to assist students in learning is to have a positive relationship with them.
Oftentimes we find it easy to develop relationships with some students and what motivates them but there are the occasional few that we struggle ever truly connecting with.  How can we find the personal connection with these students when each of us seems to have contact with an ever increasing number of students and responsibilities?  A better question is how can we not find a connection?
Relationships are all about connections, finding those one or two things that are of importance to specific students and then building upon them.  Finding these connections can happen through individual meetings, a time consuming process for middle and high school teachers who are in contact with 100 or more students, or through surveys but I think the best way is to let the students get to know you as an educator and, more importantly, as a person.  Let the students know about your interests, your family, and why you became an educator.  Allowing the students to see you as a person will help them develop connections with you and with these connections comes a better opportunity to assist students in learning.
I have been very fortunate in my career as an educator feeling comfortable sharing personal stories.  I have shared things about my family, my passion for sports, my struggles, and my successes.  This sharing has led to discussions with students in the classroom as a teacher, in the hallways, in the cafeteria, and on the playground as an administrator, and in different sports venues as a coach.  I truly believe that the students saw me as a person first and an educator second so they felt comfortable speaking with me about their goals, their successes, and their struggles.  I have found that the students sometimes see me as their uncle, their father, and, now that I'm getting older, their grandfather.  I may be the only person they feel comfortable speaking with about a variety of topics.
I think, above all, that relationships are fostered by listening.  Listen without judging.  Be an active listener.  As an educator, you need to listen to what your students are saying, however hurtful it may be to you as a person.  Listen to their comments and concerns because they are just telling you how they feel.  Some students don't have a "filter", not because they are trying to be mean or cruel, but because they have an opinion that they need and want to express.  Listen to what they are saying and make the appropriate changes to meet their needs.  This may also lead to personal discussions that can lead to a stronger relationship and an even greater opportunity for learning to occur.
In the May 7th edition of MiddleWeb SmartBrief, there was an article entitled "What if Your Students Don't Like You?"  There are a number of questions posed by Fawn Johnson at the beginning of the article for guest blogger Renee Moore.  Although she is a Language Arts teacher, the responses are applicable to all content areas.  It is well worth the read.
Relationships are the bedrock of education.  In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, "Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care."  So I have a question for you.  How will you go about developing relationships this school year?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Finding a balance

I must admit that I have a problem and it has created imbalance in my life.  I have a propensity to be on twitter at all hours of the day and night.  I am getting more connected with more educators on twitter and they really push my thinking, validate my thoughts, or present counterpoints that I need to consider.  I guess I just think I'm going to miss an idea or a conversation that is going to push me to the next level.  It drives my wife and daughter crazy and I understand why.  They just want me to be unplugged and spend quality time with them watching a movie or doing yardwork or just sitting around watching "Dance Moms".  I have to let go and be a husband or a dad more often, especially during the summer.  Does anyone else feel this way?  How do you unplug in order to spend more time with your family and friends?  I need your help.  Or maybe I just provided myself with the answer.  I just need to unplug and enjoy those who mean the most to me.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


On Monday I read a post by Justin Tarte (@justintarte) entitled It's our personal responsibility.  As I read the post, it reminded me of a quote I heard from Lou Holtz, famous college football coach and ESPN college football analyst.  In one of the pregame shows, Mr. Holtz put the following letters on the chalkboard- PRIDE.  Next to each letter was a word that began with each letter.  PRIDE, to Mr. Holtz, means Personal Responsibility In Daily Excellence.  What a powerful message from one word.  I had t-shirts made for each of the teachers (I'm famous for t-shirts and spiritwear in my district) and we often wore these shirts on spirit days.
After reading Justin's post, I began wondering why I haven't brought out my shirt in a while.  I still have PRIDE in all that we do in Merton, but sometimes, with the day to day responsibilities of school for our staff and for me, we forget the PRIDE that we have in our school.  We do great things with our students each and every day.  Why don't we let more people in our district and in our community know more about all of this?  Maybe this is also our personal responsibility, that and providing engaging and meaningful activities in each of our classrooms and schools every day.
I welcome your comments and thoughts.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The "Awesomest Day"

Yesterday, our district took a big risk in providing an EdCamp style professional development opportunity for all of our staff.  Our district has a Primary School with about 450 students in grades 4K-3 and an Intermediate School with about 500 students in grades 4-8.  It was a regular school day, but the afternoon was an unannounced surprise for the students.  The Primary School followed this schedule with a couple of speakers and Jump Rope for Heart with the principal and parent volunteers helping out with the students.  The Intermediate School had a DJ, Wii games, board games, or silent reading time with the superintendent, myself, and teaching assistants helping out with the students.  As the principal of the Intermediate School, I can say that the options for the afternoon were enjoyed by nearly every student.  I got a chance to dance with the students from time to time so I was able to join in on the fun.  During and after, the students asked me questions like, "How long have you been planning this?", "Can we do this every year?", "Can we do this again this year?", and my favorite, "What are the teachers doing?"  I answered this by saying, "The teachers are learning while we are having fun!"  The students thought that was awesome.
The teacher learning was what the day was really about.  We have a team in our district called TILT (Teachers Integrating Learning Today) that planned the afternoon for the teachers.  They divided the staff into four groups that moved to different rooms every 25 minutes.  Each room had a different theme that was based upon the four C's (Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, and Critical Thinking).  Here is a copy of each of the google presentations that were created during the afternoon.
Critical Thinking
Because I wasn't a part of the teacher learning for the afternoon, I asked some of the teachers what they thought of the day.  The majority of the teachers thought that it was a great afternoon.  The only comment I heard to the contrary about the afternoon was that they didn't have enough time in each session.  Isn't that a great problem to have to solve?  The teachers were able to learn from one another and as we say in Merton, "We are our best resource".
All in all, the day was the "Awesomest Day" for students and staff alike.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

And the excitement builds...

This morning, our TILT (Teachers Integrating Learning Today) team met with the entire staff of our district to preview the great learning experiences they will be involved in tomorrow afternoon.  Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Communication are the four main themes of the afternoon.  The staff buzz around the Intermediate School is evident and bubbly.  They have been reminded not to spoil the surprise we have in plan for the students in the afternoon.  We are having a DJ for the students for two and a half hours while the staff is learning and sharing with each other.  As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, we are taking a risk with this new format of learning for our staff.  I wish that I could learn with them but someone needs to be with the students!  I will, however, get to walk around the building tomorrow afternoon for the last half an hour when the staff will be sharing what they have learned with the students.  I can't wait to be able to share the success of our day!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Anticipating a risk

On Thursday of this week, the staff in the Merton Community School District will be having its own "EdCamp style" of professional development at little cost to the district.  The staff will have two and a half hours to learn from one another while the students are having fun in supervised activities (structured for our Primary School 4K-3rd graders with speakers, Jump Rope for Heart, and other activities and a little less structured with a DJ we hired for our Intermediate School 4th-8th graders).  The principal of the Primary School will have a number of volunteers available to help supervise the activities at the Primary School while the superintendent and I will supervise at the Intermediate School.  The cool thing is that we are not even telling our kids what will happen on Thursday.  The TILT (Teachers Integrating Learning Today) team has organized the day for our teachers and they are excited.  It's amazing what a group of teacher leaders can do when given the opportunity to think like there is no box.
We know the kids will have a great time.  We know the staff will have a great time, too.  But this leads to the title of my blog- anticipating a risk.  I am anticipating a great learning experience for the staff based upon the great teachers we have and the variety of topics they will be discussing but it is also a risk that is fully supported by the administration.  Shouldn't we allow and support all teachers taking a risk in their classrooms?  Shouldn't these risks lead to greater learning opportunities for our students?  Like most school districts, we struggle with providing time for teachers during the school day to collaborate with one another.  I'll follow up with a reflection of the day this Friday.