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."