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 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
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!