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.