Saturday, May 5, 2018

Teacher Appreciation Week - Why We Do What We Do

As Teacher Appreciation Week begins throughout the country, we will see many ideas on social media and Pinterest of how students and parents show their appreciation for the work their teachers do. As a principal, this year, my teachers are getting a book and a chocolate bar along with a nice little note.  I love to share good books with my staff.

I really can't remember too many of the Teacher Appreciation gifts I have received over the years... Until now! Although I'm no longer a teacher, on Friday I received the most amazing and inspiring gift I have ever gotten. It was a letter written by a former student at our school. She was not a student I had, although I was here when her brothers were here. But she is a former student who I had many times seen and talked to. I had seen this young lady come to pick up her brothers from our school when she was in just 6th and 7th grade. I have seen her working at various jobs. I have seen her when she would come to visit our staff. Now she is a senior in high school and about to graduate. She was inspired to write a letter that she could share with every educator or school staff member who had helped her, inspired her, or just took time for her over the years.  She took the time to deliver this letter to 65 staff members in our district. 

I hope you'll take a moment to read this and I'm sorry I couldn't enlarge it anymore. I wanted you to see the original: 

Educators, if you ever feel like it's not worth you don't know why you do it, remember Zuleima.  It is worth it, in fact it's the reason we do it.  Keep being that teacher that takes the time to find out, to ask the questions, to check in on your students. Keep being that teacher that inspires love and learning, that makes the day better instead of worse. Keep being that teacher who makes the day better and saves lives, literally. Be that teacher! It's WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO!

Happy Teacher's Appreciation Week!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

We Do It For That Smile: Building a Culture of Joy!

I admit it. Sometimes I have days where I'm sitting in my office at the end of the day and I think to myself, "What am I doing? Am I really having an impact? Some days it seems that the message isn't being heard and there are so many that need so much. Look at all the office referrals I had this week. #KindessMatters????  How am I doing getting that message across ?  Maybe not so well.

Last week, before the break was that kind of week.

And then "It" happened. I'm walking down the hallway and I hear music. It's not coming from the music room. It's coming from the first grade hallway. As I get closer I recognize the song. It's Jingle Bells and it's not just one voice. It's about 85.  As I walk down to see what's going on I see smiles and and hear laughter. I see joy!  I join in with my "family" and we sing for about 15 minutes. It's only a few songs. Peter Dowd, who is a classroom assistant, brought his guitar in and just starting playing and singing in the hallway... and they came. All of the classes emptied out from what they were doing to join him. It was amazing. It was uplifting. It was joyful. It was awesome. What do you think the kids told their parents when they were asked, "What did you do at school today?"

This is what all of the hard work is for. This is what Dave Burgess talks about when he discusses creating experiences instead of just teaching lessons in his book, Teach Like A Pirate.  We know that the last few days before winter break can be challenging. Why not do something different? Many of the teachers re-framed their lessons so that they became experiences. They made sure that learning was fun. They made sure that the students were excited. If the kids didn't have to be there, would they be? You bet they would. No one wanted to miss it. Plus... the impromptu experiences like the hallway sing-a-long will be talked about forever.

The best part about all of this is that everyone knows that it's okay to go off script in order to create those experiences. Mr. Dowd didn't ask permission to break out his guitar and play. It was spontaneous joy! He started playing and the classrooms emptied out. The kids, staff and parents joined him and it was awesome.  Slackwood School staff know that I'm good with this. They expect that I'll join in on the fun. Usually, I'm the one starting it. I (sometimes) interrupt lessons by doing something crazy or silly in order to get a laugh or a smile. They know why I do it. Sometimes they get a little frustrated because I arrive just after they get the kids settled and I get them all wound up again, but that's also why they know that they can go off script and doing something, just to make school amazing. Like Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf say in Lead Like A Pirate, "Culture First, Culture Next, Culture Always!  This is what I want the culture of our school to be! Joy!
As I reflect on last week and everything that occurred, I can't help but smile. I know we're on the right track and that Kindness does Matter!  Our students are learning and growing and they will make mistakes along the way. We are here to help them and we are having an impact and making a difference. I know that Slackwood staff and students feel empowered to make choices and take risks...and thy know they don't have to ask for permission.  I know that if we can find a way to a put a smile on the face of just one more person, we've succeeded in our mission of Building a Culture of Joy! 

PS. Mr. Dowd is now the coolest teacher in our school. He took his guitar upstairs and and sang with the 2/3 graders and later brought it out for bus duty... Putting a smile on my face.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Celebrating Leadership This Month - National Principals Month

I was reminded, this morning, that today is the first day of National Principals Month. This hit me as a time to write, not because I need a whole month to celebrate me, but because I don't know how I could do it without my PLN and those leaders out there that have been so supportive. I wanted to  to thank so many who have shared their stories and listened as I shared mine, offering not only an ear to listen but thoughts and ideas to help me move on.  There are so many great leaders that have impacted my career so I thought I'd take a minute to thank some of you.  This is not intended as a comprehensive list of individual thank yous because there is no way to recognize each of you out there for all you have done.  Thank you PLN!

I want to thank Chris Turnbull, Principal of Bear Tavern Elementary School, in Hopewell Township, NJ.  Chris and I used to work in the same district, often sharing ideas and afterschool phone calls to discuss ideas and troubles.  Although we don't talk as much as we used to, we still make time to talk and even make time to run together. While running with Chris this morning, it occurred to me how much I miss our daily interaction and his brilliant and hilarious ideas.  Thank you Mr. Turnbull!

I want to thank Beth Houf, Principal of Fulton Middle School, in Fulton MO.  Beth and I met in 2014 at the NAESP conference in Nashville and have stayed connected ever since. Whether it's through a quick Direct Message or a periodic Google Hangout, I appreciate her input and insight into the art of being a school leader. Her vast knowledge and experience continue to help me to think outside the box as well as organize my thoughts in way that can support my staff.  Thank you Mrs. Houf!

I want to thank Pam Hernandez, Principal of John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Jamesburg, NJ.  Pam and I began working together about 11 years ago and she has since become an amazing leader and principal in her own school. Pam's phone calls, while driving home, help give me another perspective on this difficult job as well as lending another ear to the daily trials and tribulations of leading a school.

I want to thank Kathy Robbins, my comrade within the district and Principal at Eldridge Park Elementary School.  Kathy's experience, organization and calm demeanor remind me to read my emails a second time before sending and helps me to make sure that my paperwork is done (almost on time) and that I show up to meetings when I'm supposed to.  Thank your Mrs. Robbins!

I want to make sure to thank all of the other principals and leaders in my district, Lawrence Township Public Schools. Thanks for putting up with me and for listening and being there. Thank you LTPS Leaders!

I want to make sure to thank Jeanne Radimer, my former boss and mentor, at Mercer High School, at Mercer County Special Services School District. Jeanne taught me to be organized (well she tried) and to be empathetic when working with students who need so much and staff who give so much. Thank you Jeanne!

I am thankful for all the leaders and principals that have come before me and will come after me. I know how hard you work. I want to thank all of you in my PLN who continue to do the hard work of running a school while making it look easy.  I know what you're doing so that your staff, students and families can have a school where miracles occur and love is felt.  Thank you for your leadership and for all of the time you spend away from your families and loved ones so that others can have great experiences in schools. 

As we celebrate principals across the country this month (and we should celebrate principals because you all rock), I want to make sure that everyone knows how thankful I am to be able to do what I do ... every day. I am truly the luckiest principal in the world... AND I'M THANKFUL FOR THAT!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Building A Community of Learners

August 21st, 2017 - I will remember this day for a long time.  We just finished the Slackwood School Solar Eclipse Party. Even though we weren't in the Line of Totality, we did get to see about 70% of the sun, covered by the moon.  Yes, I know that doesn't really happen, but, Wow! It was amazing.

When I first started hearing about the upcoming eclipse, my mind went right to "natural phenomenon"that is the spark of the Next Generation Science Standards (I'm kind of a nerd that way.) I thought, "The eclipse would be such a great phenomenon to talk about with kids, unfortunately we don't start school for another two weeks!"  But then I saw that all of the schools in the Midwest and the South were already in school and many of them had planned to have Solar Eclipse Viewing parties.  Still,..bummer... we don't have kids around to share this with.

Then I thought... "Who cares!"  Wouldn't it be cool to throw a Solar Eclipse Party and see who shows up?  So, I shared this with a few of my teachers and they said to go for it. I put out an announcement via email on a S'more and shared it via Facebook and Twitter.  We gathered supplies for making Pin Hole Cameras and my teachers found a book to share (Eddie's Eclipse by Becky Newsom and Pam Tucker) because we always try to bring it back to reading.  We got some Sun Chips and some Sunny D for snacks during the 2 hours escapade and then we were ready.

Would anyone show up?  I hope it doesn't get cloudy.  Well guess what?  They showed up.  Families and friends. Kids of all ages. 75 students from pre-K to 6th grade. Our students or past students. Friends from the community and neighboring schools because they heard about it.  For almost two hours the kids and their families learned about the Eclipse, made pin-hole cameras, and shared Eclipse glasses to look at the phenomenon.  It was awesome. People running in and out of the building. making and sharing.  Central office administrators came down to see what was going on.  It was amazing.

In Teach Like A Pirate, Dave Burgess asks the question, "If the students didn't have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room?"  The answer is a resounding, NO!   They come to Slackwood school because we are part of the fabric of our community and because it's a fun place to be. They come because of the passion of the staff I work with and families in our community, we have built a community of learners. They know that when they come to our school, they are going to have great experiences that they'll remember for a lifetime.  Yesterday was one of them! --- By the way, I'm pretty sure the adults that were there enjoyed the day as much or more than the kids!
One student noticed that you could look through the glazed window and see the eclipse
#MakeItReal Moment 

I want to thank the teachers and staff at Slackwood School who continue to make my crazy ideas come to life and who take risks daily for the good of our students and community.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

It's Up To Us!

I saw this on social media this morning and decided that I needed to share my thoughts.

I'm not only saddened and disheartened by the events taking place in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend, I'm disgusted! Although I'm usually the last one to see the news or espouse a political opinion, this is not politics. This hatred, racism and bigotry is something that everyone should be disgusted by. My staff and I work very hard teaching kindness and love in our school, not because the state says we are supposed to but because it's the right thing to do.  We teach that not one of us is better than another because of the color of our skin or how we were raised or our country of origin.  We believe this. We share this. Our school and community believe this and want this for our children. They trust that we are sharing these values with their kids.

As the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently stated, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." YES! YES! YES!  This is all we want for all of our children. For them to have a chance based on who they really are!

Every single day, this is what we work for. Yes, we want our students to meet state standards on tests but our kids are so much more than that. They are kind to each other. They care about others and work hard to do their best. We want to give them the skills and knowledge to become good citizens and care about others.  We want to teach them work ethic and collaboration. We want them to care about their neighbors and friends. We want them to care about our country. This was the foundation of public schools from the start. We want to build good citizens in order that the freedoms that our forefathers fought for remain in place. When we say, "All men are created equal," we mean it for all people in our country, no matter their beliefs or skin color. This is the character that we desire. This is the world we want to live in.  What happened to those white supremacists and neo-Nazis in their homes and schools that made them that way? How could this happen in this day and age... in our country? How did we miss our mark in teaching them? This is our country. What went wrong?

As Senator John McCain stated, "Our Founders fought a revolution for the idea that all men are created equal. The heirs of that revolution fought a Civil War to save our nation, conceived of liberty and dedicated to that revolutionary proposition."“White supremacists and neo-Nazis are, by definition, opposed to American patriotism and the ideals that define us as a people and make our nation special.
Thank you Sean Thom for sharing this on Facebook

And so to my fellow educators, it's up to us! It's up to us to teach and share love and kindness. It's up to us to model these things that make our country special in order that our children respect and love each other and stand up against racism and bigotry. Our children need us. Our country needs us. Let's do our job and teach kindness, equality, freedom and character. Let's be that light. Let's share that kindness.  Let's stand up to hatred. IT'S UP TO US!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Making The Time To Write and Share

Wow!  I opened up my Blogger page and realized it's been 6 months since I've written anything (in this blog, at least).  So much has happened and so much time has passed.  It's not that I didn't have anything to say. People that know me know that, although I'm quiet, I always have an opinion and don't mind sharing and that I'm strong in my convictions.  The reason I haven't written is because I have been busy and it has moved down on my list of things to do.  I know I need to be better about it, but I just can't seem to "make" the time.

That's right, I said "MAKE" the time.  Because if it's not important, you can never "find" the time.  But if it's important, we can always "MAKE" the time. Maybe it's hasn't been important to me. Maybe I haven't really had anything significant to share.  Maybe, I've been a little lazy.  Who knows.  What I do know is, it's time to "MAKE" time to write and share.  I've begun reading Aaron Hogan's Shattering The Perfect Teacher Myth: 6 Truths that Will Help You Thrive  . In his book, he talks about the value of connecting and sharing your thoughts and ideas. He discusses the importance of finding what you need to excel and connecting with those that will support and challenge you.  Although I've been active on Twitter, it's time to start writing more.

So here it is!  My first post in over 6 months.  What do I have to say and share?  Probably not much except that I'm excited to head to the National Principal's Conference this weekend and connect with so many great educators and thought leaders.  I'm excited to see Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf share their awesome leadership talents in their Lead Like A Pirate session. I look forward to finally meeting Julie Smith and seeing her in her Master The Media action.  I'm excited to meet up with old friends and connect with new friends and most of all, I'm excited to be inspired again to write and share.  Big conferences and small EdCamps always inspire me.  I look forward to learning new things and getting "jacked up" for the rest of the summer and next year.

Finally, I want to share something that Angela Watson shared during her #TCT17 keynote.  I think I've seen it before because Jon Spencer shared it over a year ago, but it reminds me to "Quit Wearing Busy Like A Badge of Honor".  Check it out!

 I will work to be better. Have a great summer.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

You Know Who You Are!

I am lucky to have met many people in the field of education who are very smart, very inspirational, and, of course, visionary.  All of these people contribute to who I am because I learn from each and every one of them.  Each book I read and each conference or workshop I attend contributes to my personal and professional growth.  Twitter has opened up a world of learning and friendships that I could never have imagined a few years ago.  Each day, I enjoy reading tweets and blogs from the many great educators who share on social media.  Much of what is written, I steal and share with the staff at my school and my district.

Social media is amazing in that respect. We can learn and converse globally with educators who are inspirational and on the cutting edge of all that is happening in our field.

But this blog is about those people who I've been lucky enough to meet face to face. This blog is about those who inspire me daily. This blog is about the educators that I call my friends. This blog is about those who light up the room the moment they walk in because of their personality and positivity.  You know who you are! 

You're the ones who always have a smile on your face when you greet me and are genuinely happy to see me. You're the ones who seem to be able to dance without any music and sing without being worried about how you sound. You're the ones who say yes when I share an idea or thought and provide inspiration when I need it.  You're the ones that challenge me to be better. You're the ones who always have kids around you in the classroom and adults around you at conferences. You're the ones who bring laughter and joy everywhere you go. You're the ones who I know are in the room, even when I can't see you because there is are positive vibes everywhere. You're the ones that I want to hang around with, hoping some of what you have will rub off on me.

I want to thank each and every one of you for your inspiration and positive approach to life. I know you can't help it, it's just who you are...But for that, I'm grateful. I choose to be around you. I choose to be like you. I choose you! 

Keep doing what you're doing because it's amazing and we all need you.  Thank you!

....And for those of you who I haven't met yet who have this ability, I look forward to meeting you and being like you.