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!