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?