Tuesday, December 30, 2014

One Word Challenge

In my #PT camp PLN voxer group, we have challenged one another to pick a word to guide us for 2015.  It's a twist on New Year's Resolutions, most of which fail anyway.  Here's a link to a website that provides some direction for us.  I have thought of a number of words (balance- I need to be much better at this, commit- find one thing and do it with all of your heart, perseverance- work on something I'm not good at until I get better at it) but one word sticks out- FOCUS!


Focus is something we can all strive for.  In the words of Jim Detwiler (@JimDetwiler1) from his most recent blog, we must live in the moment.  In order to do that, we need to have focus.  Put all other thoughts out of your mind and give your all to the person or topic at hand.  Live in the moment.  Put all of your efforts into what you're doing at the time.  Listen more intently.  Find a distraction free environment.  Unplug.  Pay closer attention.  Put the important people and things at the top of your "to do" list, and then do them.

I also thought about ways that I can be more focused at school.  Get out of my office when the staff and students are around.  Hang out in classrooms and learn with the students.  Be more available for the students at lunch and recess.  Meet with staff in their classrooms and not in my office.  Provide more valuable feedback more often.  Block off times on my calendar every day to not be in my office.  Totally unplug when meeting with all individuals (staff, students, families).

The list of things to focus on seems long but that's alright with me.  The key is to focus on the moment at hand.  That's really the only thing I have control over.  And I would tell you it's the only thing each of us has control over.  We can't change the past and we can't alter the future.

So that's my challenge- focus on the moment and make the most of it.  It's quite a challenge for someone like me who pretends to do many things at one time.  If I don't focus on one thing, I'll do nothing well.  Focusing on one thing will ultimately lead me to being more successful.  And for those of you who know me well, don't hesitate to remind me to focus on the moment.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Back in the classroom- a challenge to administrators

As I sit in a Language Arts classroom, teaching for the first time in a long time, I realize the incredible effort needed to be prepared to engage students in this ever changing world.  I really enjoy the relationships that I have been able to build with our staff and the trust they have in me to teach their students without worrying about whether I will provide the instruction that they would have delivered.  I may not do the lesson exactly as they would, but every teacher is different and that's what makes teaching so awesome.
(from @iamkidpresident)

I am in classrooms every day, interacting with students and occasionally with staff, and see their awesomeness on stage.  They provide thought provoking lessons, work time for the content of their classes, opportunities for discussion and conferring, and the chance for our kids to be kids.  The kids are why we come to school every day.  (Sorry, I had to step away to confer with students about including figurative language, today's mini-lesson, in their essays.  I told them I would be writing while they were writing.  Just modeling that we all write, even if we're a 50 year old principal!)

The teaching profession is the most important profession in the world.  That may sound cliche, but it's true.  Without teachers, none of us would be able to do all of the things necessary to be successful in our chosen occupation.  Teachers need to meet the needs of a variety of students with a variety of abilities, backgrounds, and confidence levels.  There is no cookie cutter approach that works for all of our kids.  They are as different as the families they come from and the teachers who teach them.

This morning my daughter said to me, "You are in an exceptionally good mood this morning."  I couldn't deny it and told her it was because I was going to teach all morning.  I do love being in the classroom as a principal, but it is completely different when you are in the classroom as a teacher.  You are guided by the students and their needs, both academic and behavioral, each and every moment you are in the room with them.  It is their classroom after all.  They are the ones doing the learning, although we learn more from them on some days.  I recognized that again in my morning of being a guest teacher.  And recognizing, in my opinion, is more important than realizing.  I need to recognize our staff more for all that they do each and every day.

I had a great morning being a teacher again.  Lunch and recess duty, something I do every day, was great, too.  Now I'm getting ready to go back into classrooms with kids and teachers learn with and from each other.  It's the reason I come to school every day.  But truth be told, if I was asked to be a guest teacher again tomorrow, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

Now, to complete the assignment I gave to the students in Language Arts this morning, I'll include three pieces of figurative language in my blog.

Zowie!  Teachers are awesome!  (Onomatopoeia)
Teachers are like artists.  They find the best in all of us.  (Simile)
Administrators are teachers, too.  They should offer to teach a class, or two, whenever they can, even if it's unexpected.  Are you up for the challenge?  (Personification- a little humor that gives human characteristics to administrators.)

Friday, November 21, 2014

A small moment with a huge impact

On Tuesdays and Thursdays after school I have practice, a chance for students to work with me and other staff on their school work.  We used to call it Homework Club but the students and I changed the name to practice.  Now when their friends ask them what they're doing after school, they just tell them, "I'm going to practice with Mr. Posick."  I love my time with the kids during the school day and extending my day with them is even better.

Last night, I was working with a student on his math and he reached up and grabbed my goatee.  I looked at him quizzically and asked him, "Why did you touch my goatee?"  He quickly responded with, "I don't have a dad and I've never felt a beard before."  It made me pause and think about the small things we sometimes take for granted or don't realize.

I shared this story with my wife later that night and, not surprisingly to those who know me, I teared up and became a bit emotional.  I share this story with you as we approach Thanksgiving so that maybe you won't take for granted those things that are always there for you, whether they be family or friends or pets or your health.

What's a small moment you can share?  I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Three- inspired by Tony Sinanis

On Sunday, one of my great friends, Tony Sinanis (@TonySinanis), wrote a blog with the same title.  You can find his blog here, under the blog he wrote on Monday.  In the blog he named three characteristics of a building principal (The ears, the voice, and the culture) that he realized he was for his school.  He then challenged his readers to do the same, so here's my attempt.

#1.  The storyteller
As a principal, I need to make sure that I am telling the school's story.  We live and breathe our school each and every day, but it's important to also include the voices of our students, staff, and families.  I utilize twitter, my webpage, and a weekly email to my families.  As Tony and Joe Sanfelippo (@joesanfelippofc) have said to me over and over,"If you don't tell your school story, someone else will."  I love sharing all of the things our students and staff are learning and doing so I try to tweet out at least three times a day.  The pictures I am able to share just add a little bit more to the great things we are doing at Merton Intermediate School.

#2.  The heart and soul
In the words of Todd Whitaker, if the principal gets a cold, so does the school.  One of the things I take the most pride in is trying to make the culture of our school as positive as it can be.  As with life, some days at school are better than others.  I would like to think that I am a positive person and share my positive vibe with others.  Working with a great staff, eager students, and supportive families doesn't hurt either.  I truly believe that being positive is contagious.  Hopefully when people see the image below they see me more on the left side than the right side.

#3.  The cheerleader
I do my best every day to be a cheerleader for our staff and students.  I share the great things they are doing on twitter (@mertonint, our school account, or @posickj, my personal account) nearly every day.  I am proud of them.  They are the reason I come to school every day and they should be celebrated.  You won't find me in a cheerleader skirt with pom poms, or so I hope, but I am there for them every day to encourage relationships, risks, and learning.  I enjoy watching them and cheer them on to grow every day to become the best they can be.

Well, Tony, here are my three.  Thanks for the push to reflect and share my thoughts.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why not take a risk?

This morning I took a big risk with 430 students.  I shared my idea with colleagues and my PLN (Professional/Personal Learning Network) before moving forward.  Sometimes as educators, we take risks but keep them to ourselves.  I understand why.  What if it's a complete flop?  What if the kids don't learn what was intended?  What if the kids don't understand the purpose of the activity?  What if the kids don't participate?  But those are negative questions.

I would prefer to focus on the positive question.  Why not share my idea with colleagues and my PLN?  They are bound to have a myriad of suggestions, dos and don'ts, and things to think about.  They became my cheerleaders and support system since I first began planning my idea on October 29th.  I even saved a vox from Scott Capro (@ScottCapro) of #BFC530 fame who got me thinking more clearly about the risk I had promised to take with our students at Merton Intermediate School.  (If you don't follow the #BFC530 hashtag on twitter, you don't know what you're missing.)

So here's some background.  The second Wednesday of every month I have an assembly in the gym with all 430 of our students.  Two instructional assistants and I are alone with them for 30 minutes.  This 30 minutes of time provides an extra hour and 15 minutes total for staff collaboration time.  It costs the district nothing and has had a limited impact on me, mostly involving less sleep than normal due to being nervous.  I share personal stories and motivational stories and review school procedures.  Most of the time, however, I spend talking with little interaction for the students.  So I decided to take a risk this month and many of my colleagues offered to help me out.  I laid the ground rules and my colleagues (Mr. Rheineck, Mrs. Oppermann, Mr. Binney, Mrs. Niemczyk, Miss Luberda, Mr. Pomeroy, Mrs. Behnke, and Mrs. Clague) started with me.  Many others joined during the event.  I cannot thank them enough.  They certainly helped to reduce my stress (see yesterday's post entitled "Are you scared by risks?") and made for an even better experience for our kids.

Here is what I did this morning.  I had the students come into the gym and sit on the floor.  They are used to coming in and sitting in the bleachers so this was the first risk.  I had a short presentation with minimal directions on the screen in the gym.  Then I sent them to work to design their ideal learning spaces whether they be classrooms, outdoor learning spaces, or in their own homes.  They were able to pick groups and some of the groups had a mixture of all four of our grade levels (5th-8th grade).  Then they spread around the gym and the commons, which is the hallway outside of our gym, and they went to work.  I have not had a chance to see all of their ideas, but what I have seen is fantastic.  Once I have a chance, I'll put these ideas into another blog.  Before they left, they turned in an exit slip which asked them three questions-

  1. What should we keep doing as a school?
  2. What should we stop doing as a school?
  3. What should we start doing as a school?
The responses to these questions will also be a future blog post.  With both activities, I told the students I would be meeting with Student Senate to discuss the results.  Anyone can be a member of Student Senate so everyone can attend the meeting.  I'm really looking forward to these follow up conversations so that the students know that their voices are being heard.  I have shared some pictures from this morning on our Twitter page, @mertonint.

This morning was awesome!  The kids were great.  They were creative.  They shared their voice in designing learning spaces.  They were honest answering the questions on the exit slip.  They cleaned up after themselves.  There was only one thing I would change and I'm sure someone had reminded me to think about it.  I laugh about it now and even said to a colleague, "I forgot that when I had students get paper in my class that I only had about 30 students, not 430!"  Next time, I'll remember to have the paper ready in advance, that's for sure.

My message to you, whether you are a principal, a teacher, or a superintendent, is this.  Don't be shy about taking a risk.  Share your ideas with one another.  You may not be able to replicate an idea in your own school or classroom, but it sure can provide some excellent ideas and conversations.  So go ahead, take a risk.  Take a chance.  Share an idea.  Your students will thank you for it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Are you scared by risks?

As I begin this blog, one day before taking a risk with all 430 of our students, in the gym, with limited supervision, my heart begins to beat faster and I begin to sweat just a little bit.  I am nervous, but I'm also excited for what might be the biggest risk I've taken with our students in my seven years as their principal.  Ask my wife and daughter and they will tell you that I live to be at school every day.  Even the worst day at school is better than any other day at any other job I could have chosen for my career.  I have shared the risk I am about to undertake with my PLN, in person, on twitter and on voxer, and their support and suggestions have been overwhelming.  I even have some staff members who have volunteered to help me supervise the experience tomorrow.

Here is a little background on how this came to be.  Every second Wednesday of the month during school, I spend 30 minutes with the students to start their day.  We started these late starts for the students so that the staff had an extra hour and fifteen minutes of collaboration time, at no cost to our district.  After doing these assemblies since 2011, I realized that I'm the one who is sharing information with them that I think will have an impact on them.  Sometimes the students provide me some ideas, sometimes the families provide me some ideas, and sometimes the staff provide me some ideas.  But, for the most part, the ideas and ways of sharing information are mine.  This means there is limited student voice in those precious 30 minutes that I spend with them once a month.  So this month I have decided to do something that focuses on student voice.

This is my plan for tomorrow.  The students will all come in to the gym as normal, but they will not be seated in the bleachers.  We will sit on the gym floor and I'll do announcements and the pledge of allegiance.  After that, I will give them two tasks for the rest of our time together.

  • First of all, the students will get into groups and design learning spaces they would like in our school.  There will be no pictures or ideas shared.  I want them to do this on their own.  They will be able to provide suggestions for classrooms, other learning spaces, our gym, and outdoors.  I want them to be creative and not be limited by any factors such as cost.
  • Second of all, they will be asked to complete an exit slip which consists of three questions.
    1. What would you like us to keep doing?
    2. What would you like us to stop doing?
    3. What would you like us to start doing?
Before we begin, I will let the students know that we will take all of their suggestions seriously and do whatever we can to adjust the learning spaces to match their ideas.  I will be putting these ideas up throughout the commons for all to see.  As for the exit slips, I will read each one of them and take their responses seriously.

This is a big effort, and a big risk, to include student voice in what we do in our school.  I have promised myself, and I will promise the students, that I will read all of their suggestions.  I am planning on meeting with the Student Senate at some point to discuss these ideas.  But I have to admit, my heart is beating faster and I'm starting to sweat again just thinking about tomorrow.  I will let you all know how this turns out in a future post.  I can't wait for tomorrow!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

"Hope" dealers

We are all “hope dealers”.  This comment came from a discussion I had on voxer with my #ptcamp group.  Jeffrey See (@JeffreyASee), a new administrator in Wisconsin, attended a conference and the keynote speaker, Roberto Rivera, spoke about how he used to be a dope dealer and now he's a "hope dealer". Jeffrey jokingly said he could see me with a tilted hat as a representation of a "hope dealer" so I gave it a try with this picture.
Think about it.  Every day we have the opportunity to either expand and foster a student’s hopes or crush them.  Do we always have this in mind when we have a chance to speak with individual students?  Do we ask them what they hope to do with their life and explain how what we are doing in class is assisting them in this endeavor?  My guess is that the answer is mixed- sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t.  Think of the power of our conversations, no matter how long or short, and how they can provide the opportunity and support for reaching these hopes.  We all had hopes in 5th through 8th grade.  Mine was to become a professional basketball player.  My coaches spoke to me about becoming the best I could be and obviously I didn’t have the skills or height or speed to make this happen.  But my coaches continued to support this hope.  Their support may not have helped me reach my hopes, but I have the same types of conversations with students as often as I can.  Now I know what you’re saying- Jay, how can we have these conversations with our students every day?  Here’s what I would say- How can we not have these conversations?  It doesn’t take long.  I’ve seen you all have these conversations with students, and the students respond to them.  Show them you care.  Give them a little of your time.  You are all “hope dealers” and I’m proud of you for that.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Only the best...

Through my journey with #ptcamp and our study of Beyond the Bake Sale this summer, and the conversations that continue, I have realized one important thing.  Everyone gives us only their best.  Families send us their best children.  Families do their best for their children.  Our school staff gives their best for the students and for each other.  I believe this to be true.  Call me naive.  Call me an eternal optimist.  Call me someone with pie in the sky dreams.  Call me whatever you would like.  But I believe this to be true- everyone gives us only their best.

Over the first month of school, I have had a nearly uncountable number of phone calls, emails, and meetings.  Some of these have been with students.  Some have been with families.  Some have been with school staff.  All of them have been about our students- their success in class, their behavior, their friendships.  The important thing about each of these meetings has been my desire to make sure that all involved are giving their best, and that includes me.

We have a motto in Merton.  Well, it's really an acronym.  We want to be the BEST.

Believe in each other
Encourage each other
Share with each other
Trust each other

This has been something we've discussed as a staff, but now I think it's really important to include this in all aspects of our school.  We need to have this in mind with our conversations with students and their families, too.  Imagine the power of everyone having the mindset that the person they are teaming with is doing their best.  Now that would be awesome!

As the school year continues, my goal is to keep this mindset.  I know that it will be difficult at times, but I also have to do my best to keep that mindset.  I hope others notice that I'm doing my best as well.  After all, that's really all we can ask of anyone.

Friday, September 19, 2014

My incredible educator journey

In learning with my #ptcamp PLN this summer, we occasionally posed a question that left us pause to reflect.  Our most recent question is about our journey as an educator and how we arrived at our current position.  While thinking about this, I began to remember those who have been most instrumental in my journey so I decided to share a little bit about these great mentors.  This list is far from all inclusive, but today these are the ones that are in my thoughts and reflections.  There are 15 of them, and they all deserve more than just a paragraph, so this might be the start of a book.  But more on that later.

Bill Swartz (coach)
Coach had a huge impact on me as a competitor, as a leader, and as a coach.  A coach, after all, is an educator first.  His attention to detail and relationships are what I admire most about him.  Thanks to Coach, I was able to attain a high school head coaching position at 25 years of age.

Peter Rempe (former teacher)
This man could flat out teach.  I really think he was the original Dave Burgess of "Teach Like a Pirate" fame.  You wanted to come to his class because you really didn't know what he was going to do in class to engage you in learning.  I don't like to pick favorites, but he is my favorite teacher ever.

Pastor James Wilch
I can't say enough about this man's impact on my life.  He treats everyone as his equal.  He is a leader beyond compare and those who know him would follow, and support, him anywhere.  He saw enough in me to guide me as a leader and a follower.

Joe Vitale (former principal)
The first principal that I ever worked for was Mr. Vitale.  I was right out of college and he visited my classroom often, not in a formal sense, but he still provided me with invaluable feedback.  He is the reason that I am in classrooms every day as a principal.  He built positive relationships with students, families, and staff and I hope that I can continue to do the same due to his modeling.

Dick Luther (coach)
Coach has the unbelievable knack of finding the best in each of his players.  Hustle and defense are just as important to him as being the leading scorer.  His constant flow of positive comments is something that I emulate to this day.

Bob Tolbert (coach)
Coach is the best motivator that I have ever been around.  He seems to always know what to say to cause you to give nothing less than your best effort.  He also motivated you to be a team player, a cog in a wheel of success.  His guidance and leadership is the main reason our team won a state championship in volleyball in 1981.

Deb Gerner (teacher)
Ms. Gerner was my middle school math teacher and, early in my teaching career, a colleague as a middle school teacher.  She taught me the importance of working with individual students and guiding us toward success through persevering even with the most difficult concepts.  She is why I find time to meet with students one on one whenever I can.

Joe Schroeder (former colleague)
Joe is an education leader in Wisconsin and I know that I can contact him at any time and he will be there for me.  We worked together in the same district when I first became an administrator.  He is a leader who develops leaders beyond even where they think they can go.

Mark Flynn (former colleague)
Mark is a true relationship builder.  He makes you want to work for and with him and no task seemed too big when he was on your side, which was nearly all of the time.  In every student, staff, or family conversation, I have him in mind as I try to further foster relationships.

Mike Budisch (current colleague)
The man just exudes education.  Even when we aren't talking about school, we're talking about school.  He has knowledge of Primary School students that he shares willingly and without reservation.  He knows the names of every student in his school, something I strive for every year and then fall short of accomplishing.  Above all, he is my closest educational friend and I rely on him for more than even he can comprehend.

First Voxer PLN
I won't mention all of these people but they know who they are.  This group talks about #eduwins and #edustruggles every day.  They are my go to people on my best days and my worst days.  I cannot thank them enough for their friendship and wisdom.

#ptcamp Voxer PLN
This group of educators and parents are an incredible resource.  They share willingly and often and we have become close friends even though many of us have never met face to face.  I look forward to meeting as many of them as I can in June of 2015 at the National Family Engagement conference (Conference will be posted at iel.org).

Joe and Liz Posick (my parents)
My mom and dad have truly been the greatest influences in my life when it comes to doing things for others.  It's a rare occasion when they aren't doing something for someone else.  They are active with friends and their church and are willing to chip in to help out anyone at just about any time.  I am continuously striving to be as giving as they are of their time and talents.

Lauren Posick (my daughter)
When you have your own child or children, I really think you become a different educator.  You begin to more clearly understand how a child "works" as you see your own child grow and learn and thrive.  Lauren and I spent the last five years being not only father and daughter but principal and student.  Both points of view are important and I often wore two hats- father and principal, sometimes at the same time and sometimes once at a time.  She has grounded me in both of my roles and I cannot thank her enough for that.

Jenifer Posick (my wife)
Jen has been my guiding force for as long as I have known her.  She is extremely supportive of me, is a sounding board, shares her ideas and suggestions, and, most importantly, reminds me when it's time for our family and to forget about school.  Above all else, she is my greatest cheerleader and wants me to continue to strive for professional success each and every day.  Without her, I would not be the principal, parent, or husband that I am today.

These 15 people have molded me into the educator that I am today.  Aside from the last three, who are the most important to me, the other 12 could be in any order.  There are many more who I have not mentioned, not because they weren't influential in my life but because these are the ones I'm thinking about today.  If you remember the last line of the first paragraph about writing a book, Jen is the one who continues to remind me that I should write a book.  I'm sure that I will, someday.  Maybe this blog is the first step in the process.

*If you decide to leave a comment, please make sure that you mention one or more people who have influenced your journey as an educator.  Each of those that I have mentioned will receive a copy of this blog so that they know how much they have meant to me.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tubing on the lake, and how it mirrors teachers

Last weekend, I noticed a big change in my daughter and her attitude toward tubing.  My daughter is 14 and has always enjoyed the lake home my brother-in-law owns.  There is a pool which she enjoys with her friends and family and of course there is the lake.  We have gone on many boat rides and some of them have involved tubing behind the boat.  Her confidence in tubing has progressed throughout the years and this progression made me think about how tubing is like teaching.

The early years
My daughter's first tubing experience was with me.  She and I sat in the tube together when she was very little and I remember her falling asleep in my arms.  She was obviously very comfortable with her daddy right there with her but it wasn't a very risky ride.  She was relaxed to the point of sleeping.

This comfortable state is one we find ourselves in from time to time.  It's easy to do those things we know are safe, but sometimes this can put our students, and us, to sleep.  The students are in need of engaging teachers and the lessons they provide.  But that can be difficult because it's risky and unknown.

She's growing up
As my daughter has grown up, she no longer needed me in the tube with her and I became her driver.  She didn't tube alone yet.  She would tube with her cousins and friends but she didn't like going outside of the wake.  She smiled and laughed and seemed to be enjoying herself, but the risk involved in going outside of the wake was something she wasn't ready for just yet.

This testing of the waters (no pun intended) is the beginning of taking risks with our lessons and our students.  It can be scary, but it is exciting at the same time.  We notice our students becoming more engaged in our lessons and have an extra sense of pride in our new ideas.

Last weekend
My daughter and her cousin enjoyed the tube rides they had last weekend.  They are just like sisters and enjoy each others company.  And when her cousin suggested going tubing, my daughter was "all in".  The tube ride lasted for nearly a half an hour, and most of the time was spent outside of the wake!  That was a huge step for my daughter and, aside from being a bit sore, she had a fantastic time.  She took a risk with someone she trusts and I'm sure that it will lead to her taking more risks on her own.  I was still her driver, but the tow rope seemed longer and she was more willing to step out of her comfort zone.

This risk taking, with someone she trusts, is something we can all do as educators.  Trying something new with a colleague and actually sharing the risks involved can make the risk taking not seem so scary.  And the risk doesn't need to be that big to change the engagement level of our students.

Next steps
As the summer winds down, I'm sure that my daughter will be more confident in her tubing opportunities.  She might try tubing on her own, or try it with her friends, or maybe she won't.  Whatever the outcome, she feels more comfortable taking a risk that she wasn't comfortable with even just two months ago.  But she tried something new and she enjoyed it.

These next steps are the same for educators.  Maybe we'll try something new on our own or maybe we'll try something with a colleague or maybe we won't.  The progression and comfort with taking risks and trying something new is different for all of us.  If we don't feel comfortable taking risks alone, grab a colleague and try something new together.  It just might be the spark you need to get your school year off to a great start!

So what are you going to do to get your students, and yourself, outside the wake?

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Best School Year Ever

A welcome back letter to staff 2014

Well, the 2014-2015 school year is quickly approaching.  I would like to share three things with you all as you begin to mentally, and physically, prepare for the school year to come.  You and I will need to focus on three things that I promise will make this your best school year ever.

If we want our students to be successful, we must begin to build relationships from the first time that we meet them.  For some it will be at Open House and for others it will be the first day they are with us in school.  It is important that the first time our students and families meet us that we smile, welcome them into our school, and make them feel comfortable coming to us with concerns or compliments.  These relationships must be fostered over the course of the school year and cannot happen only at Open House, conferences, or meetings.  Greet the students in the halls, in the cafeteria, and as they enter your room.  Relationships must include an occasional email or phone call so that the students and families can really see that we care.  Imagine the power of a phone call or email when you have “caught” a student doing something amazing.  It will be time well spent as the school year progresses.  I challenge you to find the time in your week to reach out to five families.  6th, 7th, and 8th grade staff may need to divide the wealth involved in these contacts, but it surely can be done.  I plan on contacting at least five families a week as well.  If we all call five families a week, we will be able to reach out to all of our families once a month.  Wouldn’t that be awesome?!

Our PBIS team has been working feverishly to have a plan for a roll out to students and staff.  Videos have been created, a kick off will occur during the first week of school, and students and staff will know what expectations we all hold as critical for each other.  Some decisions that have been made were done with input from staff (passes, Skyward forms, volume levels, dress code) others have been decided by me (no hats, no gum).  The most important part of having a PBIS plan is that we need to hold the students accountable and each other accountable.  The PBIS team will be sharing our plan with all of you when we meet on Tuesday, August 26th, and will provide ample time to discuss the implementation process.  The purpose of PBIS is not to tell you what to do in your classrooms to engage our students.  The purpose is to provide common expectations, rewards, and consequences.  You will still be able to set up your own classroom rules and procedures. The true power of PBIS is our ability to communicate with one another regarding those students who struggle with expectations and those who succeed our expectations.  I will be sending out information in advance so that you are all aware of the plan.

Family engagement
I have spent the better part of the summer learning with educators from around the US and Australia about family engagement.  The learning was called PTCamp (Parent/Teacher Camp).  We have used the book Beyond the Bake Sale to guide our learning and the conversations on Voxer and Twitter have been rich, eye opening, and validating.  Family engagement looks different for every family.  Some families are able to attend every conference or email or call you often.  Other families may be engaged in more subtle ways.  Either way, families are doing their best every day to be engaged in their child’s school life and as such need to be validated.  Families also send us their best children and finding ways to interact with them that includes more two way than one way communication is vital.  If you have an interest in seeing some of our learning, you can check out the #ptcamp hashtag for more information.  Thanks to those of you who have volunteered to be on the family engagement committee and if you’d still like to join us, please let me know. Once we have a common vision, we will be inviting families to join our committee to get their input.  Then we will move forward with some exciting ideas to get more families involved in our school.

Enjoy your last days of summer.  Find the time to spend with family and friends.  Reach out to a colleague you haven’t spoken to since school ended in June.  Get fired up for our return on August 18th as we learn together about Educator Effectiveness and the opportunity to become better at our craft.  And when Summer Academy has ended on August 20th, find time to contemplate the school year ahead.  What will you do differently this year?  (I will be contacting families starting on the first day to share the great things their children are doing.)  What will you do the same this year?  (I will visit classrooms regularly.)  What will you not do the same this year?  (I will not stop in a classroom without providing feedback to a student or staff member about the learning and relationship building that I see.)  I know these are deep question but they will help set the tone for the school year.

When the you and the students arrive, there will be a banner that reads “Let’s make this the best school year ever!”  What are you going to do to make this happen for our students?  What will the students do to make this happen?

Looking forward to a great 2014-2015 school year!


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

First and Lasting Impressions #ptchat

As our journey together on #ptcamp comes to an end, and our "cabin" groups are finishing a week together, one common theme keeps coming to my mind, first and lasting impressions.  Let me explain why this seems to be the foremost take away from my experiences over the last five weeks.  But first, a brief story about our latest 8th grade graduation and the short speech I shared with our 8th graders, their families and friends, the staff members in attendance, and all others who attended the ceremony.

My message was about first and last impressions.  The last impressions were about how the 8th graders grew as learners and became better and more mature people during their time in Merton.  I will remember seeing their growth and will do my best to keep those positive images close.  The first impressions were about the 8th graders move to the high school, whichever one they will be attending, and how those first impressions really say a lot about someone.

If I could share my message again, I would change it to "First and Lasting Impressions."  I realize now that our first impressions must be followed up by lasting impressions.  Many of my new Voxer friends not only "talk the talk" but they "walk the walk".  In an effort not to forget anyone or their impactful stories, I won't mention any names, but their stories will stay with me for a long time to come.  These impressive educators have developed an atmosphere in their schools where everyone is respected, opinions are shared, and students are kept in the forefront of all that they do.

It is now my passion and focus to open up our school to better and deeper family engagement.  I know that I will "steal" some ideas from the group and I hope that a few of my thoughts and ideas have resonated with those whom I have learned from all summer.  Here are my first steps to improve the engagement of all of our families.

  • Develop a family engagement committee (staff and families) that will work together to improve the culture and atmosphere of our school to make it more welcoming.
  • Provide opportunities for families to share their time and talents with our students.
  • Be intentional about having conversations with families when they visit school for conferences, concerts, sporting events, or dropping off or picking up their children during the school day.
The first step is something new for our school.  The second two steps are things that I need to improve upon.  We have had families share their time and talents in the past, but there is so much more that I am sure they would be willing to do for our school.  Honestly, some of my conversations are shallow "How are you doing?" types of conversations.  When families come into our school, I need to be intentional, asking for feedback even and especially when it might be difficult to hear, to make our school better.

So now I need to begin, before the school year even starts.  I will develop a family smore for each grade level, sharing information about each grade level and the staff who will be working with their children, to be sent out next Friday.  I will also be interacting with as many families as I can during our Open House and working on finding ways to support them during the school year.  I will also ask them how they might be able to support our school as well.  My hope is that these efforts, in concert with families and staff, will help our school become a partnership school.  With the staff and families in our school, I'm sure that we will get there.

Friday, July 25, 2014

What would I do without my PLN?

This is, by no means, a rhetorical question.  I must admit that I rely on my PLN (Personal/Professional Learning Network) nearly every day.  Sometimes it's for a serious question- How would you handle this situation?  Sometimes it's for a laugh- Anyone know someone who has hilarious "auto corrects"?

But seriously, my PLN is my source for so many answers, thought provoking questions, sharing, and fun.  I love to learn but sitting in a classroom, listening to a professor lecture, reading "last year's thoughts", having shallow discussions with classmates, and writing papers that seemed more like regurgitated information really weren't getting it done for me.  Then, thanks to @chris_reuter and his introduction to Twitter, my world of learning opened up in a big way.  It started small, with following a few educators and following a Twitter chat or two, and now it's a big deal for me.

My social media PLN, people I have connected with on both Twitter and Voxer, has opened my eyes to new ways of thinking, stretched my thoughts and beliefs on education, and provided suggestions for improving my educational practices and the educational practices of those with whom I work.  Because of Twitter, our school has done a book chat for Teach Like a Pirate written by Dave Burgess, celebrated #eduwins, and developed an #edcamp style professional development afternoon for staff.  My PLN helps me to become a better principal and lead learner each and every day.

My PLN validates me, challenges me, makes me laugh, makes me cry, and ultimately makes me a better person.  Before connecting on social media and developing a PLN with so many great educators and leaders, I was a loner, afloat in an ocean with little direction except for that provided by the waves that moved me in a variety of directions.  With my PLN, I have a rudder, paddles, and a direction.

What would I do without my PLN?  I'd still be drifting aimlessly, searching for a direction.  Thanks to those of you in my PLN for accepting me for who I am, for molding me each and every day, and for sharing your wonderful thoughts and ideas.

Blogs from my PLN about this topic.
Amber Teamann
Tony Sinanis

Monday, July 21, 2014

"They are there and they care" Week 4 #ptcamp

Thanks to Chad Caddell and his thought provoking words on Monday, July 21st, I was inspired to begin this post before reading both of our assigned chapters.  Chad shares with us each and every day about the great things going on his school and the true care and love he has for each of his students.  It is not fake or contrived but instead is as real as it gets.  That is the true meaning of an advocate in our schools, someone who wants only the best for their child and is often the voice for those who are unable to communicate their needs, dreams, and struggles.  Advocates come in all forms- parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, neighbors, teachers, teaching assistants, you name it.  The fear of the word advocate is one that we must remove from our thoughts.  Replace advocate with partner and think of the possibilities that will exist.

As is mentioned on page 151 of Beyond the Bake Sale, advocates do the following things for students.

  • Set high expectations and follow the child's progress
  • Help with goal setting and future plans
  • Steer the child though the educational system
  • Intervene for the child when they are under pressure, have a problem, or are being treated unfairly
  • Get assistance when needed
  • Monitor the child's out-of-school time
  • Line up other activities
These advocacy skills may need to be taught or fostered in our families for each child to have a better chance at success.  Imagine if we could have a get together (sounds so much better than "meeting") to discuss each of these aspects of advocacy.  There are plenty of school staff and family members who have experiences that they could share regarding each of these aspects.  This is when the true partnership can begin.

Another line on page 171 also caught my attention, and it relates to the "fear" that can sometimes occur when advocacy is mentioned.   "Teachers deserve to know how cultivating a two-way relationship with parents (insert "advocate" here) will help improve student behavior and performance.  They need specific training and coaching about how to do this.  Telling them to "just do it" without training and support won't work."  The same is true when we discuss how to improve how people advocate for our students.  We must find ways to provide this support that can bring together teachers and families to foster this partnership.

Advocates are truly partners with schools and will improve education for all of our students.  As I think about the students I work with every day, I am trying to determine who are advocates for each of them.  Some have strong families who visit school often.  Those are the visible advocates.  Some have strong families who rarely visit schools.  Those are the invisible advocates, but they are just as strong.  It may take some time to realize these advocates exist, but they are there.  Reaching out to them is necessary and oftentimes difficult, but we must begin to make the effort.  The students that I worry about the most are those without family advocates.  They need us to advocate in school for them, stand up for them, and get to know them.  We are all advocates for these students, and we must continue in this role.

It takes me back to Chad.  He has a true love and energy for his students.  I can see him reaching out to them each and every day to provide the support they need, both in school and out of school.  All of our students need an advocate like Chad.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Looking Through the Window or Looking In The Mirror #ptcamp

During the summer of #ptcamp, an awesome book chat of Beyond the Bake Sale initiated by Joe Mazza (@Joe_Mazza), the Leadership Innovation Manager at Penn, one comment has jumped out at me and slapped me square in the face.

Are you looking out through the window or are you looking in the mirror?

The comment slaps me in the face every day while I take part in the Voxer chat or read someone's blog.  And the slap hurts.  Every time.

Image from dreamstime.com

The look through the window is so much easier.  I look out to see what others can do for me, for our school, for our students, for our staff.  Looking out the window is passive.  Frankly, it's the easy way out.  But sometimes I need help with my ideas or for someone to tell me my ideas just aren't practical.  The view out the window, however, can guide us as we look in the mirror.

Image from dreamstime.com

The look in the mirror is much more difficult.  It's all about you and what you can do.  You can still ask for help from others, and you should, but it starts with you.  I think it's a good idea to check your own pulse before you check the pulse of those with whom you work or your family partnerships.  Ask yourself these questions-
What should we start?
What should we stop?
What should we continue?
I have a habit of hearing a good idea (and there are so many in our #ptcamp discussions) and I want to get it going in my school- RIGHT NOW.  I really need to step back, look in the mirror, and determine whether it fits in our school.  If it does, then I need to look out the window and ask for help from others.  But it all starts with that look in the mirror.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Bias, relationships, and involvement #ptcamp- Week 3

There are three topics in chapters 5 and 6 of Beyond the Bake Sale that resonated with me.  The first of these is bias.  I have been involved in training for a new teacher effectiveness system and the instructional coaches, principal, and superintendent I work with have spent the better part of the last two days watching videos of teachers we don't know and calibrating their abilities within the classroom.  Bias comes into play in each one of these videos as we "meet" the teachers and students in these videos for the first time.  We know our own teachers and students and whether we'd like to admit it or not, we have bias regarding our own staff and teachers.  We all can name the teachers and students that provide us with a positive mindset when we encounter them.  And, unfortunately, we all can name the teachers and students that occasionally provide us with a negative mindset when we encounter them.  The same can be true of families and our bias toward them, both good and bad.  I recently read a blog post by Lori Desautels entitled Perspective: A Game Changer in the Classroom and in Our Lives that speaks to bias and how we might be able to change our thinking.  Her three main points, in case you don't have time to read the entire post are as follows:
1.  Recognize Triggers and Challenges
2.  Show a Different View
3.  Offer a Fresh Start
We must keep these points in mind, especially offering a fresh start.  I do my best to provide a fresh start for all students, staff, and families each day.  It isn't easy, but it can be done.

The second topic, found on page 115, is that "all families, no matter what their income, race, education, language, or culture, want their children to do well in school- and can make an important contribution to their children's learning."  I think that we often lose sight of this, especially when families don't visit the school very often.  But all families, whether we realize it or not, want what's best for their child.  And they'll do anything they can to help make sure that they are successful.  It's all about building relationships and learning how families and schools can support one another.  I recently read a blog post by Jennifer Hogan that would be great to share with all of our staff and have them be honest in answering.  The blog post, entitled How Would Your School or District Answer These 5 Questions About Relationships?, is a wonderful place to start this discussion.

The third topic, found on page 125, is that, "We can't go in with this single vision...of what parent involvement looks like or we miss the fact that all parents want to be involved.  There just may be a different script for how they do it."  We all have some families who are involved at school with everything and anything.  They rarely say no to a request.  We all have some families who are never involved at school because of a variety of factors- work schedule, their own school experiences, feeling that the school is asking for them but for someone else to be involved.  And then there is everything in between.  In our recent Voxer chats, we have heard the constant reminder of the variety of ways families can be involved.  We must reach out, not just with an email, an updated website, a tweet, or a blog.  We must meet them at the door, both before and after school, or pick up the phone and give them a call.  It's difficult to say no to someone when they ask you in person.

So what does this post have to do with dealing with issues of race, class, and culture?  Knowing your biases, building relationships, and involving families are the best ways of dealing with these issues.  We must remember that our families give us their best children and are doing their best to support their children.  We must do whatever we can to support our families in this venture.  That's when this partnership will succeed.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Living the core beliefs, with trust #ptcamp

I must start with this- I love the conversations we are having on Voxer.  Although I haven't added much too far due to being on a family vacation, I have listened to and read every Vox.  When I have been able, I have even commented a time or two.  Reading Beyond the Bake Sale has provided us all a common language and allowed for us to share all of the great things we are doing in our schools.  It has also helped me put more of a focus on the best ways for our school to partner with parents.  Thank you for stretching my thinking as well as validating my thoughts.  And now on with the assignment.

Core belief 1- All Parents Have Dreams for Their Children and Want the Best for Them
This is my favorite of the core beliefs.  I have never met a parent who didn't have a dream for their child.  Being a father, I want my daughter's life to be better than mine.  At times I push her a little further than maybe I should, but it is because I love her and want her to live up to her potential.  I guess you could say I'm just like any other parent.  And that's what I remember every time I speak with a parent about their child and the concerns they might have.  Now I'll remember to include this question in every conversation- What are your dreams for your child?

Core belief 2- All Parents Have the Capacity to Support Their Children's Learning
I think we sometimes forget this about our parents.  They are all doing the best that they can do for their child.  They might not attend every school function, including conferences, but they are all there to support their child.  I know that I need to provide more information to parents about our curriculum, but I don't know how best to do this.  We have had parent nights for math and Readers' and Writers' Workshop, but they haven't been very well attended.  Some of the ideas I have heard in our Voxer conversation will hopefully spark more attendance and conversation to help our parents provide more support for their children.

Core belief 3- Parents and School Staff Should Be Equal Partners
This is a belief I hold but I have work to do to help all of our staff believe this as well.  I work with a great staff but sometimes their is a fear of parents that comes from previous experiences.  I'm hopeful to develop a Parent Advisory Committee this year to help foster this partnership.

Core belief 4- The Responsibility for Building Partnerships Between School and Home Rests Primarily with School Staff, Especially School Leaders
I truly believe that in order for a partnership between school staff and parents, I must make it a priority for both the staff and parents to develop this partnership.  I know that I can't do it alone, but there are many great parents and staff in our district who I'm sure share this same belief.  I will be having a table at Open House to try to get this started, but I know that a personal invitation will be much more successful in getting this started.

The three-point joining process seems simple enough, but each of the three points involves trust.  Building trust is not an easy thing to do.  And once trust has been broken, it is even more difficult to rebuild the trust than when it was initially developed.
1. Welcome parents into the school.
We all welcome parents into the school, but do they really feel welcome?  How they are greeted when they enter the school is just one facet of this point.  It goes beyond this, though.  Parents need to feel welcomed at any time, whether its to volunteer in a classroom or the library or during parent meetings or conferences.  I love the idea of having the children invite their parents or significant adults into their classrooms.  This seems like a great way to start making our parents feel more welcome in our schools.
2. Honor parents' participation
I know that our teachers and staff thank parents regularly for their participation, but we still can do this much more often.  We have a volunteer breakfast, but this is no more than a one-time event.  We need to make sure that we honor parents' participation more than just once.  We should honor what they do on a more consistent basis.  A personal phone call would be a great start.
3. Connect with parents through a focus on the children and their learning
Right now, we do this only during parent/teacher conferences or when there is a concern about progress.  Why don't we do this when students have done something well?  That would definitely help foster parent communication and engagement.  My favorite phone calls are those that I make with a student when they have been successful.  There is always apprehension on the other end of the call as, unfortunately, I don't make these kind of phone calls often enough.  Maybe I need to take the lead and make more of these phone calls to show staff and parents the benefits or positive communication in building trust.

I guess I have just reiterated Core belief #4-  The Responsibility for Building Partnerships Between School and Home Rests Primarily with School Staff, Especially School Leaders.  Let the new partnership begin!

Patience- Where can I find some?

Patience is a virtue.  Until I read the definition on Wikipedia, I had no idea that it came from Psychomachia, a poem written in the fifth century.  Fortunately my internet was working well so I didn't have to be too patient to find the definition.  It may be that I do have patience, but I don't know if I exhibit it often enough.  When I want something to happen, I want it to happen sooner rather than later.  With everything that I've learned from my PLN on Twitter and Voxer, I sometimes just need to stop and make things a priority.  So that's where my patience needs to begin.

I enjoyed a post from Joe Sanfelippo (@Joesanfelippofc) recently entitled Learning to Lead that made me think about my lack of patience.  It also caused me to determine the three things I will work on this year.
1. Celebrate a risk with a staff member or student.
2. Model energy and excitement.
3. Share out the great things our Merton family is doing.
I truly believe this will help me with being more patient.  Everything that I do as a principal every day can be done with my focus on these goals.

Celebration of risk is a great way to show the importance of learning something new.  Modeling energy and excitement may seem contrary to patience, but if I choose a few items to focus on (Readers' Workshop and family engagement come to mind), hopefully the staff and students will focus on these items as well.  Having fewer things to focus on will help me maintain some semblance of patience.  Sharing out as much as a I can about all that we do in Merton will help me to pause and be involved in classrooms, allowing me to be more patient.

As many of my friends and co-workers will tell you, I can't stay seated for very long.  I always need to be doing something.  I just spent the last week in Myrtle Beach and couldn't just relax on the beach without jumping in and going boogie boarding every 15 minutes.  But I can feel my patience increasing while writing this post.  I was able to sit for 15 minutes to write on my Chromebook.  Maybe I can be patient after all.

The idea behind this post came from my Voxer family.  Here are posts from some of them.
Jessica Johnson
Melinda Miller
Tony Sinanis

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Principals are people, too.

As I sit in a condo in Myrtle Beach today, watching my daughter and her friends fix their hair and makeup for a dance competition, I realize that I am just a normal person who is a principal.  Now I always felt that way, but some things just bring the realization into more clarity.  Being a dad at a dance competition is one of those things.  So are mowing the lawn, snow blowing the driveway, grocery shopping, and going on vacation.  It's at these times that we are most human to our students and parents because they see us in a different way than when we are at school.  My wife and friends joke about how long it will take until I see a current or former student.  I was given a hat by our real estate agent that just says "NEIGHBOR" on it that I wear to subdivision parties.  And you know what?  I think it's great that students and parents see me as just a regular person.
What do regular people do?  They do great things for and with each other.  They take risks and fail.  They take risks and succeed.  They agree.  They disagree.  They come together.  They ask questions.  They determine next steps.  When regular people have a focus, like what is best for a school, imagine what can happen.  So is it bad for me to be just a regular person?  I think it's the best thing for our kids and our school.

The idea for this post came from my Voxer family.  Here are some of their posts.
Jessica Johnson
Melinda Miller
Curt Rees
Joe Sanfelippo
Tony Sinanis
Amber Teamann
Leah Whitford
Tom Whitford
Tim Lauer

Monday, June 30, 2014

We need partnerships, so what's next? #ptcamp

The opportunity of #ptcamp could not have come at a better time for our school.  I have wanted to have more parents and community members join in the celebrations, and struggles, that we have as a school.  I have reached out a link on our school's website (http://www.merton.k12.wi.us/faculty/PosickJ/) which includes a weekly smore (http://www.merton.k12.wi.us/faculty/PosickJ/fridayparentemails.cfm) that I send out in an email using our student information system.  There is also a link to the school's twitter account (http://www.merton.k12.wi.us/intermediate/) so that parents don't need a twitter account but can still see pictures of students and staff in action.  The unfortunate thing about each of these communication tools is that they are one way, just information from me to parents so no conversation actually occurs.  Aside from my one way communication with parents, our staff does a very good job communicating with parents, but I know that we can all do much more.
As I read chapter two and "ranked" our school, I realized it was just my perspective and that I need to involve many more people- staff, students, and parents- to really do a better job with this.  That being said, as I looked at the rubric, I noticed that we have elements of each of the schools, from the PTA in a Partnership school to a security clearance mentality in a Fortress school.  Overall, we fall somewhere between an Open-Door school and a Come-If-We-Call school.  Now, I need to involve staff, students, and families in taking us to the next level.  In the weeks to come this summer, I plan on sending out a smore to all parents to invite them in to speak with me about what we can do, together, to improve family engagement throughout all aspects of our school.  I plan on having a couple of group meetings but also want to invite parents to stop in for individual face to face meetings.  My hope is that providing these opportunities will spread the word that we are trying to involve and include all of our parents in conversations that will improve all that we do for our kids.  Would't you agree that is the most important reason to develop partnerships?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Thanks to all #SAVMP participants

I remember being fortunate enough to be on Twitter when I saw George's post about the virtual mentoring program.  I was excited to become a part of a dynamic group of people who were more than willing to share their thoughts and ideas about all things education.  I cannot believe how much I learned, on my own time, from each and every one of you.  When I was notified of a new blog, I made it a point to read it as soon as I had a spare moment.  I didn't comment on each of the blogs, but I did read every word.  The messages that you blogged about touched me in ways that attending a graduate class could never have done.
I look forward to staying connected and continuing learning with and from each of you.  Thanks to George and Amber for their leadership with this endeavor.  They were both willing to share their expertise at no cost to any of us.
May you all have a summer that gets you recharged and excited about your next school year.

Friday, May 2, 2014

It's the little things...

In our work with students, we sometimes forget to provide them a voice into what we do with and for them every day.  Due to some excellent art teachers, we have been able to change the look of our entryway and our commons/cafeteria to show off student work and students in action.

Our library became a place that students helped to design and enjoy coming to at all hours of the school day, and even before and after school.

Our students are also able to express their thoughts and ideas with me as part of a Principal's Advisory Team.  We meet monthly to discuss what is going well, and what isn't, and to allow them to help guide the decisions that we make.
One other thing that is bigger for me than it might be for the students is my ability to be with all of the students for lunch and lunch recess.  It has become an integral part of my day and I cherish the time I am able to spend with the students, walking around and speaking with them, and being their referee when needed.  I learn an awful lot about the kids by watching them interact at lunch and on the playground.

Friday, March 21, 2014

What makes a great teammate? #SAVMP

As I think about teammates in my school, I realize that not only do I have a team of people that I count on to push and support me, I am also a part of a team that helps lead the entire district.  I prefer to focus on the school team in this blog as this is the team I spend the most time with.  The school team consists of teaching and support staff and me.  I don't have an assistant principal but that doesn't mean that I don't have great people that push and support me every day.  Each of the staff has helped develop their role to support initiatives for our students.  I rely on the staff to push my thinking, bring new ideas, and support decisions that either a leadership team or I have made.

As the NCAA basketball tournament has begun, I could use the analogy of our school as a basketball team, but that doesn't really work.  Although most of the staff would consider me the coach, the ultimate decision maker, I see myself more like the point guard.  I help guide the team on the floor, putting them in the right position to come up with the best shot.  Sometimes we make the shot and sometimes we don't, but we always have the same goal- to make the shot.  Sometimes the players on the floor change positions or leave  the floor for a substitute, including the point guard.  That's fine with me as each player on our team has a unique set of skills, skills that help make our school team the best that it can be for our kids.

The question in the title of the blog is "What makes a great teammate?"  I would say it's simple- a great teammate is one who will work together with others to do what is best for our kids.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Am I cultivating teacher leaders?

Am I cultivating teacher leaders?  I sure hope so, but sometimes I wonder if I have provided enough opportunities to those staff who want to take charge of something.  We have staff who are leaders in content areas, Response to Intervention, technology integration, and our Building Leadership Team.

But then something happened this week that let me know that I am cultivating teacher leaders.  I have tried my best to develop relationships with individual staff members but didn't know until this Monday that staff are more than happy to step up and take charge.  Two staff wanted to develop a team of teachers to discuss behavior, specifically of our older students, that would reward those students who have significantly good behavior.  They weren't talking about stickers or smiley faces, but something that the students would really want to earn and that may help to change behaviors.  We do Response to Intervention, but the main focus has been on reading and mathematics.  Now behaviors are the focus, and two teachers are taking charge.  I'm going to sit back during their discussions with staff and let them take over.  It won't be easy for me, but this is important for the teachers, and me, to understand that the staff can really take over an issue and make improvements.  I will be there to support them but I need to give them the opportunity to be true leaders.  I cannot wait to see how it works out.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Don't squelch the creativity #SAVMP

This morning as I was checking Zite and my Twitter feed, I came upon this tweet with the embedded video.

from 2CELLOSlive

The first thing that went through my head was the creativity and freedom these two cellists have to play the music they want to play.  The faces in the crowd are especially fun to watch as the song continues.  It made me think of the freedom these two have to follow their passion for playing the cello and AC/DC, not a combination that I would normally consider.
The second thing that went through my mind was how we as educators often put boundaries on our students.  We provide opportunities for our students to do projects and to write and to read, but do we ever allow them enough choice in their schooling?  My thought is that we need to provide more choice whenever possible.  Let's make student choice more of an option for our students.  Allow them to share their knowledge about a topic or their passion for something in new and creative ways.  I promise you that you will be surprised by what they can do.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Being a Student Driven Principal- Will this decision be in the best interest of our students? #SAVMP

I just love the title of this prompt!  Each and every day, I come to school with the attitude that our students should come first.  When changes are proposed, the question that always comes to mind is this- "Will this decision be in the best interest of our students?"  It may seem cliche (can't figure out how to put the accent on the "e"), but I believe in this question wholeheartedly.  Some recent examples are as follows-

Block classes for our students- This is a change for us in the last two years but we are seeing benefits, especially in Language Arts and Math.  We have also blocked Science and Social Studies, every other day, and our Science and Social Studies teachers wanted to try having half blocks every day to maintain consistency with our students.  We have run this adjustment for nearly a quarter and I will be surveying the students, staff, and parents for their thoughts as the third quarter comes to an end.  Student voice needs to be heard when we make any decisions.  After we hear from the students, staff, and parents, we will be able to determine if this change was in the best interest of our students.

Homework Club-  We started a Homework Club for any students wanting to attend from 4:15-5:15 every Tuesday and Thursday.  It is inexpensive for us to run ($20 an hour for staff who attend) and I am there every session as well.  The students absolutely love it and volunteer to come, although some students are "assigned" due to missing work.  The parents are huge proponents as well.  This is definitely in the best interest of our students.

Principal's Advisory Committee-  This year, I have a Principal's Advisory Committee made up of students.  Nearly all of our 525 students completed a form I developed and one of the questions was if the student was interested in serving on this committee.  49 students volunteered!  We had one meeting so far and I look forward to our next meeting the first week in March.  This is definitely in the best interest of the students because they can share their thoughts with me.

My hope, every day, is that the decisions I make are in the best interest of students.  That's what a Student Driven Principal is to me.  What do you think?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Differentiation...for staff? #SAVMP

Maybe I'm just a little bit weird when it comes to PD, but I cannot imagine having every staff member have the same PD.  The worst PD I had was sit and get that didn't allow for any conversations or questioning or movement.  My inability to stay focused for any extended period of time probably didn't help matters much.  It felt like I was just sitting there with Charlie Brown's teacher speaking at me, not to me.

The best PD I've had has been when I was able to choose what I wanted, or needed, to learn.  The SLATE conference and various EdCamps that I have had the fortune to attend allowed me to choose from a variety of offerings.  I was nearly always able to find something that sparked my interest.  If I started in a session that wasn't exactly what I was looking for, I let my feet do the talking and chose another session.

As principal, PD has become one of my most important duties.  I know that I am not the all knowing and all powerful Oz so I use the talents of those around me to develop PD opportunities for the staff.  We have run EdCamp style PD during an afternoon while the superintendent and I chaperoned the students while we had a celebration including a DJ and board games.  We have run TILT Tuesdays when staff can choose to learn from one another.  We have book chats and send staff to conferences whenever the need arises.  We must allow our teachers to guide their own learning, but there are also times when we must direct their PD.  But even when we direct their PD, we need to allow them some ability to have some choice in how they learn.

There are times where nearly everyone needs to receive the same PD, especially when it involves a school wide or district wide goal like Writer's or Reader's Workshop.  Even in these cases, however, we can differentiate how PD is delivered so that it meets the needs of the teachers.  As principals and district leaders, it is important to provide as much differentiated PD as we can.  And if we aren't the expert, there are plenty of teachers that we work with who are more than capable of leading the PD.  All you need to do is give them the opportunity.

Online portfolios #SAVMP

As I read through this prompt by George, I began to wonder about how I could develop my own portfolio.  I have a web page linked on our district's webpage (http://www.merton.k12.wi.us/faculty/PosickJ/) that has many things that I would consider a portfolio, but it's not as in depth or specific as I would like it to be.  Aside from this, I also have a blog (http://jayposick.blogspot.com/) that shares many of my thoughts about education, both with prompts from #SAVMP and some random thoughts that I wanted to share.

Now the real work begins.  I think that the one thing I need to do is find a way to put these two items together to create a portfolio.  I have played around with Google sites and think this may be the best way for me to create a portfolio that shares my learning and documents all that I am doing to lead our school.  What do you find to be the best way to document your learning and your thoughts about education?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Delegation, or should we call it teamwork?

When I first read the week 20 post by Amber, I was struck by the word "delegation".  I guess I never thought about providing teachers with leadership opportunities as delegating.  I consider it teamwork.  All of us should be working together- in our grade level, in our school, in our district- to do what is in the best interest of kids.

No one person can do everything well.  One person might be able to do everything, but it quite possibly could be done better by someone else on their team.  My responsibility is to find the appropriate role for every person on our team.  What does each member of our team bring to the table?  Do they have a passion for a content area?  Are they a natural at developing relationships?  Do they have a good grasp of the big picture?  Are they the one that everyone comes to when an issue arises?  Are they great at planning get togethers to help with the morale of the team?  Are they the voice of a grade level or content area?  If you really tried, I'm sure that you could find a role for each of the educators in your school.

I work with a strong team of teachers.  Each teacher has a role in our school and they do a great job in their role.  I don't call it delegating.  I call it teamwork.