Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Your Students, My Students, Our Students

Slackwood Elementary School is a small suburban K-3 Title I school located in Lawrenceville, NJ, between Princeton and Trenton. We have 285 students from a very diverse population. Between 50-60 percent of our families do not speak English in their homes and about 40% are on free/reduced lunch status.  These numbers are given so people who don't know us have some background about our school and community, but these numbers by no means define our community.

What I'm about to write about now defines the community that is Slackwood.

This year, and really every year, the Slackwood family provides holiday gifts for families in need. OUR families.  This was a record year for need.  This year we had a record number of families (36) receive gifts for the holidays and children (84).  That's right,  thanks to the efforts of Mrs. Seaman, our school counselor who coordinates the gift program, 84 children have presents under their tree that they might not have had.  These presents were donated by staff, community members, local churches and anyone Mrs. Seaman can talk to.  Staff from our school donated presents for 55 of these students. Let me say that again 84 children will have presents under the tree thanks to the efforts of Mrs. Seaman and the kindness and generosity of the Slackwood Community.  

I tell this story because at this time of year we are supposed to talk about what we are most thankful for. I am thankful every day that I get to work with such golden-hearted people in a community that gives and gives and gives to our children.

Oh....and one more thing I forgot to mention. Mrs. Seaman also coordinates a backpack program for about 90 of our students where every other week they get food sent home to support their needs. This food comes to us through grants that Mrs. Seaman has written and from our local food bank. Every other week when the food is delivered on a pallet, Mrs. Seaman and a community volunteer sort and distribute the food for the families. Again, 90 Families receiving food for their homes.

So this holiday season remember to give something back. Even if it's just loose change in a bucket at the shopping center. Help those in need. Our kids need us to show them the kindness, compassion and empathy that we expect them to learn.

Thank you to the Slackwood Family for all that do for our students and families. Remember, they are: Your Students, My Students, Our Students.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Now That I Know Better, I Do Better - Maya Angelou

The message to my staff this week: IF YOU KNOW BETTER; DO BETTER!.

Each of us does things that we know are not good for us.  Or... maybe I should just speak for myself. I do things that I know are not good for me. I drink too much caffeine. I eat too much processed food, I barely sleep. Sometimes I forget to eat.  So the question becomes, If we know it is not good for us, why do we do it?

The answer is not so simple.

When speaking of these personal no-no's I do them because it's easy. It's delicious. It makes me feel good. My mind won't stop. Or.... I'm just too busy and forget.

So the question becomes why do we continue to do them in our professional lives?  Why do we still see popcorn reading in our classrooms when there is no research to support it's effectiveness? In fact, the research negates it's effects. Info on Popcorn Reading
More Info On Popcorn Reading

Why don't we see real independent reading times in the classroom when we the research supports it and, in fact, says it may be some of the most authentic reading practice a student can get?
Information on Ind. Reading
More Info On Ind. Reading

Why do we spend millions and millions of dollars on canned programs when we know that it's the people, not the program? People Not the program

Why do we still see some teachers withhold recess as punishment when again, research shows that there is no positive effect on student behavior? In fact, research shows that it actually has a negative effect.
Recess Research
Recess and behavior

Why do we use classroom behavior charts or stop lights when we know that students can be shamed or embarrassed by them?
Research on Behavior charts

There are a lot of educational practices that have been around for a while that have been proven to be

ineffective or less effective than others. So why are they educational practices?

I believe we maintain these educational practices for two reasons:  It's easy and we are just to busy to change.

In fact, maybe there is a third reason.....We are afraid.  Afraid that the educational landscape has changed so much that we can't keep up. We are afraid that technology is moving so fast that there is no way that we can keep up so, why try.

Why try?  Because that is why we became educators and got into this profession. That is why we do what we do. Try because each student needs you. Each student needs you to do what is right. In order to give our students everything they need, we need to take risks and try everything we can to reach them.  If someone gives us research that supports a practice or doesn't support another practice, we need to use it! Use it and use it, and use it! Make it our practice and our philosophy! Take the leap. 

I think I will try to eat better and sleep more.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

I Didn't Do My Job Today - But It Was Great

I am the lead learner and school principal. It is my job to put on a smile and glow with positive energy. I try to do this daily. Some mornings, when I get the substitute list and find there are no subs, I really struggle with being overwhelmingly positive. Today we had three teachers out, the office secretary out, and the custodian out. We did get a sub for the custodian. Woohoo! Positive! (sarcasm Sheldon)

I started the day by finding period by period coverage for one of our classes. This was based on the goodwill of some teachers who were willing to give up their prep period (for pay). We still had no help for the office or my first grade class. Some supplementary staff gave up some time to help in the office but we still didn't have our normal coverage.  So guess what, I get to teach first grade for the day. Yes! (no sarcasm, I am really happy)  Sorry, have to shut the office down when no one is around.

My day in first grade was great with an awesome group of kids. I would love to say that I was amazing, but I probably wasn't. It was my first time teaching first grade for a whole day (ever). I think it went pretty well. I followed the plans (somewhat) but I hope I added some flair to the class. The read alouds gave me the chance to use some different voices that I had been practicing. The students seemed to enjoy them. The kids were great and the day went quickly. When the students went to lunch, I quickly googled and got my Pinterest on. I set up a scavenger hunt throughout the building to find the Gingerbread Boy. This was a variation to the teacher's original plans, but I needed to entertain myself. The kids had a great time traveling around the building, looking for the Gingerbread Boy. It was an awesome activity. I wish I had more time to plan because my mind races with ideas to improve each thing that I did today.

On my original agenda today (the one that didn't get done) was:
- 2 Teacher Observations
- 3 Walkthrough observations
- 2 Meetings with administration
- Budget corrections or the budget meeting next week
- Teacher of the Year paperwork
- Preparation for my evaluation next week

I didn't do my job today. At least the job that I thought I would be doing and the job that they pay me to do. I probably missed some important information in the meetings and I definitely have my work cut out for me to get caught up.

I did do a job that I love and I had a lot of fun doing it. Getting into the classroom helps remind us how hard it is to be 'on' all day, everyday. I think I'll do more of it. In fact, I am planning on setting up a schedule after the break to plan and teach lessons in every classroom. I don't know if I can get it done, but I hope so. My teachers don't know it yet but I guess if I put it down here, they will know very soon.

Actually, I did do my job today. I took care of kids. I gave them a fun and (hopefully) positive experience. I found a way to make the school run and the students learned. Maybe tomorrow, I'll get to teach third grade (they might get my jokes).

Many thanks to Beth Houf, the lead learner at McIntyre Elementary School in Fulton Missouri for her post The Best Day Ever: Why Every Principal Should Take Time To Substitute in The Classroom 
This post helped me to look at today's opportunity in a positive light and make it a positive experience.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Background Noise - What I Think of Test Scores

Schools are continually discussing data and test performance.  In TurnAround Schools: Creating Cultures of Universal Achievement, Lopez  says, "The most commonly spoken language at a school should be the language of data." As the principal, data pertaining to student achievement is the way our school and our students are measured against all others. I study data. I know my school's data. I talk to my teachers about data. I get it.

While I agree with Mr. Lopez about data, and I love talking about "Creating a Culture of Universal Achievement," I do not believe that testing and the results are the be all, end all to measure our students and their learning. In fact, I have told my staff that it is background noise to what our real mission is.  Our students are so much more than their scores. Our school is so much more than those scores. I will never stop working until every student achieves their full potential.  In fact, I have been told that it would be irresponsible to set a goal that "Every student, without exception and without excuse, will be academically proficient in the core academic areas of reading, writing and math." (Lopez and King). Well then I'm irresponsible!

"Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go." T.S. Eliot

I have high expectations for my students and even higher expectations for my teachers. I continually challenge them to take risks and step outside the box in order give our students amazing experiences. Dave Burgess says about education in Teach Like A Pirate that it should be, " altering product that can transform the human spirit and literally change the world, one student at a time."

What does this have to do with test scores.  Nothing. As Mr. Burgess so ably puts it, "It is not about raising is about raising and fulfilling human potential."   Our mission must be to continually find ways to reach our students in ways that were never before thought of (did  you see, I ended this sentence with a preposition and I've been told that this is now acceptable. I'm crazy). We need to live outside of the box. We need to inspire creativity and greatness in our students. We need to make sure that we continually move forward and never, ever settle for mediocrity. If we do all of this, then the test scores will take care of themselves.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

We Did It and It Was Awesome!

At the very first staff meeting of the year I told the staff that we were going to have our first Teach Like A Pirate Day on September 19 in honor of International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Some of the staff had already read Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator.  Many staff had not read the book, so I introduced the the concept of TLAP and talked about the three different types of Passion that Dave Burgess, the author, discusses in the book; Content Passion, Professional Passion and Personal Passion.

As I presented this idea and some of the new, risk-taking, outside the comfort zone, ideas, and   
concepts I envisioned for our school, I could see that I had raised some eyebrows.  Many of the staff were genuinely intrigued and excited. Some looked at me like the crazy man I might be (By the way, I was dressed in full pirate regalia at the time). Others just looked at their watches, waiting to get to their classrooms so they would be ready for the children to arrive the next day. I did not let this deter me as I continued to work to inspire my staff toward developing life changing lessons. Mr. Burgess says in his book, "Light yourself on fire with enthusiasm and people will come from miles around to watch you burn!" I was hoping they weren't just sitting there roasting marshmallows as I burned for almost three hours. 

At the next staff meeting, I talked about TLAP day and I explained for our first try at this, we would use an early dismissal schedule and do our TLAP activities for the last hour and a half of the day  on Friday, September 19 (I have a vision of a full day of student inspired TLAP activities).  Since there were many questions, I decided to give the staff some direction and I told them to come up with an activity that demonstrated one of their personal passions. Since I know some of my staff fairly well, I was able to give some examples of things they might decide to do with the students. I also told them it was okay if they wanted to do it by grade level, either each teacher coming up with half hour activities or the entire grade level doing one big activity with different facets.  Each grade level met and discussed their ideas and plans.

The beginning of the school year can be stressful and trying new and different things that you are not completely sure of can cause some more stress. I had teachers tell me that it was too much.  That they liked the ideas but they were overwhelmed.  Some just looked at me with that look that says, "Is he kidding?" I considered cancelling, thinking that it might help to lower the stress levels, however, I had this vision of something amazing and I couldn't postpone it.  I had seen what other schools had done and I was convinced we could have that at my school.

Yesterday came.  The morning went by quickly and, with the early dismissal schedule, classes were a
little shorter. Lunch came and went and I could feel a little buzz in the air.  Maybe it was just my excitement, who knows?  One teacher asked me to take her class for 15 minutes so she could set up her classroom for the activities. She didn't want them to see it.
There was excitement and it wasn't just me.  Awesome!

When time came to start the TLAP activities I made an announcement to introduce the Pirate activities and then it happened.  BOOM!  Students everywhere, engaged in fun and exciting activities.  Teachers sharing their passions with the students and students totally engaged and enriched through the many experiences.  Teachers laughing, smiling, and interacting with children in totally different ways than usual, while students are still learning. Dave Burgess was right, "When you interact with someone who is fully engaged and filled with passion, it can be and overwhelming and unforgettable experience." The staff was fully immersed because it was their passion.  The students loved seeing them interact in this new and exciting way.  

Comments from students in the stairwell and from parents afterwards:
"That was awesome!"
"This is the best day ever!"
"My child had a lot to tell me when he got home and he never talks about school." 

Thank you to the Slackwood Staff and community for always thinking about "Kids First." You made this day AWESOME!  The video will be out soon and I will share it with the world because it is AWESOME!

I can't wait until the next time.... Or wait, maybe we can do this everyday.  That's the idea anyway. Hmmmmm.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

My Favorite Day

In NJ, this was a busy week for school teachers, administrators and students.  School started this week on Thursday.  Before that, we had two days of professional development and meetings. There is always so much to do and so much to prepare before the students arrive. We often wish for another day or another week, just to make sure everything is perfect. When the students got here, we were ready... or as ready as we could be.

On Tuesday all of the staff returned and our superintendent opened the meeting with an inspiring and well-thought out speech. For the first time since I've worked in the district, we had a guest speaker, Dr. John Draper.  He had an inspiring speech about the myths about public schools.  Guess what, things aren't so bad, and... they are actually getting better every day.  For the rest of the day the teachers and administrators were engaged in professional development and meetings.  This was definitely my favorite day.

Wednesday brought the staff in to their own buildings. The staff at Slackwood are so inspirational and so energizing.  I love to see everyone and get them ready for the school year.  We opened with a meeting.  Since we are really trying to bring the "Teach Like A Pirate" philosophy into our school and our district, I decided to go all the way and be a Pirate as I led the meeting.  I think some of the staff were a little taken aback, but the student teachers, who had never met me before, really didn't know what to think.  The meeting went great and I was really proud of my staff for their full participation and buy in to the new technologies and ideas I brought to them. I know they were chomping at the bit to get to their classrooms but they were fully engaged in all that we were doing.  What was really nice was the feedback after the meeting.  One of my teachers used to gather feedback from the teachers, without my knowing.  It was her first attempt at using this tool, which I had modeled at the meeting.  How nice to see words such as inspiring, enthusiastic, super and (maybe because of the pirate outfit) surprising.  It was so much fun. This was definitely my favorite day.

Well Thursday arrived and the along with it, came the students. It was great to see so many families
Clap In 
arrive with their children and the excitement was evident everywhere you went. We "Clap In" all new students and staff.  It was awesome to see the new kindergarten students as they entered the gym while the rest of the student body cheered for them. We have more students this year than in recent years and we had a large number of students join our upper grades so it was really crowded but so exciting.  In the afternoon I had the opportunity to do a virtual Read Aloud to the whole school. The students gave me great feedback. It was such a great day and definitely my favorite day.

Friday came and it was to be the first day with no interruptions and the first day that the teachers
Cooling the kids off!
really have the opportunity to dig deep with the students.  I was so proud of my staff for all of the relationship building activities they were doing. They were really getting to know the kids and giving the kids opportunities to get to know each other. Teachers were modeling behaviors, using students to role play, practicing routines and working on classroom rules. Students were totally engaged and immersed in learning. Friday night came and our PTO ran a Popsicles on the Playground get together.  100's of families showed up and mingled while the kids played. What  a great event and it was definitely my favorite day.

But I have the feeling that when Monday comes, it may be my REAL FAVORITE DAY!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Little Cold Water Goes A Long Way

Everyone has heard of this "Ice Bucket Challenge" for ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis).  You can see pictures and videos everywhere on the internet and Facebook.  People pouring ice water over their heads in order to bring this disease to the forefront so more money will be donated and more research will take place to find the cause and possibly some type of treatment.

This challenge has a little more personal connection for me.  My mother passed away 14 years ago from complications caused by ALS.  I was lucky to have her for 62 years but she shouldn't have gone so early. ALS is a horrible, debilitating disease and there is no known cure.  

My parents lived in a little town in Ohio, where I grew up.  When I moved to the East Coast, I didn't get home enough but we did make sure that we got together at least twice a year.  About 14 years ago I was talking to my mother on the phone and it sounded like she was slurring her words.  I talked to my dad about this but he said he did not notice.  Then I talked to my sisters and they said they also noticed but didn't think much of it. My sisters and I talked to my dad and had him take her to the Cleveland Clinic, where she was diagnosed with ALS.  Over the next three and a half years, my father took her for treatment and took care of her as she slowing deteriorated. She went from a lively, active, over-involved Grandma to a bed-ridden shell of her former self.  What is the most difficult about this disease is that often, the mind keeps working while the body stops.  My mother had so much to say but couldn't speak at the end.  She was there in her mind, but her body didn't respond.  That was the most painful piece of this disease, her mind was still working. Luckily, I was able to get there in the end and hold her hand and she did get to hold my 14 yr. old daughter, who was just a month old. 

Whatever you think of these types of challenges, this one has brought a large amount of money and attention to the cause.  A cause that is close to my heart.  If you know someone who had ALS, or even if you don't, please donate and help find a cure.

Thank to my fellow administrators who took on the challenge from one of our teachers and donated in my mother's name. Also, thank you for the professional and informational way you presented this:

Also, thank you to my friend, Pam Hernandez, who did the challenge and named my mother in her video.  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Collaboration.... I Am Working On It

Sometimes being a school administrator can be a very lonely job.  When a problem or difficult situation arises, we tend to internalize and make decisions quickly in order to “take care of business”.  When planning for programs and school years, I usually sit in my office and develop plans based on the available data and what we know is ‘good for kids’.  I do take input and I do listen to my teachers, families, and administrators, but…I make the decisions.  I like it that way. 

Most of my joy arises from seeing the smiles on the faces of the students and seeing the great things that my staff is able to accomplish with the students.  I think of our school, including students and their families and our staff as “Our Family”. 

Since I am very competitive and have some ADD, my mind is constantly working on ideas for our school and our teachers.  Trying to find ways to make our school and the programs we offer even better.  My staff will tell you that I may overwhelm them sometimes (maybe a little).  Well, they should now prepare to become even more overwhelmed because I have friends who also have ideas and I have opened my mind to what they are doing and what they have done. 

So now I have become more open to collaboration with other principals in the district and with educators around the globe.  Before… I would just implement an idea or program and go on.  Now I share… And they share with me. We take the best of what each of us has to offer and we use it when it fits.  It makes sense.  Why wouldn’t we see what is working somewhere else and then use it in our own school. 

King and Lopez in TurnAround Schools: Creating Cultures of Universal Achievement write about a three step process for sharing exceptional systems:
1.       Identify an individual or team in your school, or in a school that looks like yours that succeeds in extraordinary and unexpected ways.
2.       Identify the practices that account for their success.
3.       Using your own unique resources, replicate the core principles of those practices and turn them into your own exceptional systems.

One of the best things for me about collaboration is that now I have people to bounce ideas off of and work with.  It has made my job more fun.  Last winter, I began doing on-line read alouds to students who logged in.  It was something fun and a way to engage the students when they were not in school (we had a very bad winter).  Over the summer, another principal in our district and I have been doing these together (not in the same room but at the same time), while mixing our students.  This has made the experience even more fun and has really inspired me in so many ways.  Thanks, Mr. Turnbull  @bfs_ltps.  Collaboration at its finest.

And of course… having a PLN to learn from has been an amazing experience.  Since I found twitter, I have learned so much.  The students and staff at my school and now the district benefit from the ideas and thoughts of so many great educators. We are working on developing partnerships with other districts and around the world.  Think of the possibilities.  

Monday, July 28, 2014

How Lucky Am I?

I have the privilege of being the principal of a small, suburban school in Lawrenceville, NJ.  We have about 275 students, kindergarten through 3rd grade.  Our school is very diverse, with about 45% of our students receiving free or reduced lunch.  About 65% of our students come from homes where English is not the primary language.  Often, many of our second language students need additional support so we run a program called Eagles after school during most of the year and in the summer.   The main focus of the program is to provide second language students with additional academic and language supports.  Basically, give them more opportunities to use the language, especially the academic language they need to be successful in school. 

I push my staff pretty hard and we have not necessarily reached the lofty academic goals that we set for ourselves but I have no doubt we are on our way.  I say this because of the intense dedication and drive that I see from staff members.  Since I am an avid reader and tweeter, I continually draw on my resources to provide challenges to my staff.  Over the last year I read Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess and had the opportunity to see Mr. Burgess in person.  It has been a professional and life-changing experience.  I bring this up because I have tried to emulate and provide TLAP principles to my everyday leadership.  I talk to my teachers about not teaching lessons but providing experiences.  I remind them about the need to “bring it” every day.  One of the most discussed ideals is the question, “If your students didn’t have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room?”

Just the other day, one of my summer program teachers invited me in to hear her students read their letters.  They have been working on different forms of letters, so I figured that I would come in and hear a basic form, like to a friend or relative.  As I entered the class, Mrs. Murphy had me sit in the front of the room because her students were going to read their persuasive letters to me.  As each student read their letter, it became apparent there was a consistent theme.  “Please make the EAGLES day longer. Why can’t we stay until 3PM?”  

Here are 8 third graders, who are attending a summer school program in the end of July when everyone else is home playing video games or still sleeping, asking for a longer day. “If your students didn’t have to come, would you be teaching to an empty room?”  NO! And they would stay longer if we let them.  These students are driven and motivated to achieve by a determined and engaging teacher.  They not only enjoy it and are learning, they want more.  AWESOME!

To make the day even better, one student in this class read me his letter.  It was four sentences.  It brought tears to my eyes.  Here is a student who did not speak a word of English two years ago.  In the past two years, the staff has worked diligently to help this student and they have made some gains.  I, however, have been unable to communicate with him.  He has refused to speak to me and to most students and staff.  I may have heard him say one word.  He read four sentences, out loud, in front of the whole class, asking to come to school longer.  Today, when he entered the building, I said hello to him as I do everyday.  He responded with, “Hello Mr. Billy.” How Lucky Am I?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Awesome Experiences at NAESP 2014!

Wow! Once again I am awed and inspired like I never thought I could be.  I am so very thankful that our district chose to send us to the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) Conference in Nashville, Tennessee.  Every person I meet or every principal I talk to says the same thing about their visit.  They (and I) feel rejuvenated and refreshed after a long year in the trenches.  Listening to great speakers and sharing ideas and programs with principals from all over the country has given me so many ideas and so much insight into ways to make my school and our district better. 

Last year, I attended the NAESP 13 in Baltimore.  It was such a moving and important part of my growth as a principal.  Each day, I would call my colleagues and tell them about all of the amazing speakers and things I had the opportunity to see.  My colleagues back at home were jealous and vowed to come to the NAESP 2014.  Well here we are and it was great.  Amazing!

What made it even better was that I had the opportunity to share it with some of my colleagues.  I think they would agree that we all learned quite a bit.  More importantly, we made some connections with educators from throughout the country and grew our Personal Learning Networks (PLN).  We have made friends with principals from other states and have vowed to continue to share ideas and possibly connect our schools and students.  This can only make each of our schools better.  What a great opportunity for our students.  I can’t wait for September!

All I can say to my friends from #NAESP14 is thank you for sharing.  To my district, my teachers and my students. . . LOOK OUT! I can’t tell you how pumped I am to get started.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Leading From the Bottom

I was inspired to write this after reading @tonysinanis  Principal's are People 2 blog , where he discusses how he has decided to "just be himself" along with the good and bad that goes with it.  I agree with Mr. Sinanis in that, sometimes the principal is looked at in a light that is "other than human".  Sometimes you have to be the one to hold the line and have the difficult conversation. It is never easy. It is not fun.  Most often, people don't look at things from other perspectives or have a global view.  They know they have a problem and it is my job to fix it.  It is my job to take in the global picture and make decisions based on what I know is best for kids.
Leading from the bottom is basically turning the educational pyramid upside down.  This is where students and their families are at the top in the largest part of the triangle.  The teachers and staff are in the middle and then the school leader is at the tip and on the bottom (trying to keep everything balanced). Everything we do should based on what is best for our students.

As the lead learner in my building it is my job to make sure the people in the large part of the triangle (students and families) get what they need.  It is also my job to make sure that the staff has the tools needed to ensure that our students and families are getting the best we can offer.  The teachers and staff must do their part to ensure the best educational environment.

By nature I am enthusiastic, positive, and driven.  My staff knows this and the students get it.  They know what I stand for and I hope they appreciate my purpose.  When a teacher says, can we do something, my answer is usually, why not.  We can figure it out.  I know they are here for the students and their families and we can do it together.  If you look at the pyramid, it is a heavy weight to bear, but we can do it together.  Leading from the bottom!

I do not pray for a lighter load, but for a stronger back. Phillips Brooks

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Schools Out! Why Can't I Sleep?

School ended yesterday for our students.  It was emotional for many as the third graders are moving on to another school.  As the buses pulled out, it really became apparent that there might be a little time to relax and enjoy this little break, even though we still have two days of PD and two more days of administrative meetings. In the afternoon, one teacher asked me, "What are you going to do now that the kids are gone?"  I replied, "I have been trying to get a hair cut and an oil change for about three weeks.  Also, I am not setting the alarm for a day or two. I could really use some sleep."

So why was I up at 2:30 in the morning thinking about what I have to do this summer?  I watched SportCenter 1 1/2 times and then I went for a run. I got to the gym and did a quick work-out and then did a Saturday morning twitter chat called #satchat.

The reason I can't sleep is because there is still so much to do. We still have two days of professional development for our teachers and then two more days of administrative retreat before summer really begins for us.  I also have to focus on cleaning out the office because I have let it go for the last hectic month.  I need to finalize class lists for the summer programs and set up the classrooms so that on July 7, when we start back with our summer program for second language students, we are ready to go.  Wow, there is still a lot to do and very little time to do it.

There are plenty of other things that must be done throughout the summer.  I must make class lists and assignments, get the building cleaned, check in new materials, make a schedule, complete numerous state and district checklists, update the staff and student handbooks, finalize budgets and ordering, etc., etc., etc...

But the real reason I can't sleep is because I can't wait until next year!  Yesterday I sent out my first video parent newsletter (Thanks @ McLane_Ryan and #tlap) and I really like the prospects of communicating with our families using this media.  I had been sending out weekly email documents for them to read but I believe that we will have a better response and understanding using the video.  This makes me excited.  In July, I am going with some of my colleagues to the National Association of Elementary School Principal NAESP conference in Nashville.  I can't wait to get there and learn from some of the biggest names in education.  Last year's conference inspired me to come back and do a book study with staff : What Great Teachers Do Differently by Todd Whitaker, which really gave many teachers great ideas.  I also became more involved in Twitter where I really developed my Professional Learning Network (PLN).  I have learned so much from them this past year.  Through them, I found Dave Burgess: Teach Like a Pirate. This is my philosophy and inspiration for next year.  I hope to see both Todd Whitaker and Dave Burgess at the convention, again.  The convention is so energizing and full of learning opportunities and I can't wait to bring back about 2 dozen new ideas to use here next year.  Sorry staff!

Who needs sleep anyway?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why I Believe In Being A Principal Like A Pirate

After  reading  Teach Like A Pirate  and seeing Dave Burgess in March, I have taken a whole different approach to being a principal.  I like to think that I always did what was best for students, but maybe I was missing something.  I now think more about the “experience” instead of the lesson.  I am more open to doing the outrageous in front of the students, and for the students’ sake than I previously was.  I want them to remember their experiences at our school and remember me as someone who inspired and engaged them. 

For many years I worked with students with severe emotional and behavioral disorders.   Although I held them to high standards, I always thought it was important that they see me as someone who was going to make the rules and keep them in line.  I also believe that it was important that these students, who could be very dangerous and violent, believed that I was “a little crazier” than they were.  They often commented, “ That Mr. Billy is crazy, you never know what he is going to do.”  This seemed to work for me and help me to communicate with the students.  Eventually, most of these students began to respect and like me (notice I say most).  They trusted me and believed I was there to help them. 

Dave Burgess helped me to step back into the mode of “Making it an experience”.  Being an elementary principal is not so different than working with students who have emotional and behavioral issues.  I need to build a rapport with them and provide them with enthusiastic leadership.   I need to catch their attention and make them believe that they going to be fully engaged and enthralled with everything that goes on during the day.   Whether I am riding the bicycle down the hall to deliver mail to the students, singing as the students get off of the bus in the morning, doing cartwheels across the kindergarten classroom, or using the megaphone into the loudspeaker to make announcements, I want the students to say, “That Mr. Billy is crazy, you never know what he is going to do.”  And . . . “We love him.”

Thank you Dave Burgess for helping me see the way.  It was always in my head, but now I let it out and it helps me connect with the kids.  I will continue to try to create the “experience” that elementary school should be.  

Friday, June 6, 2014

Making a Conscious Effort to Stay Positive

My teachers and students consider me a very positive person.  In fact, when I gave them a form to evaluate me and my performance earlier in the year, more than one teacher commented, "He is way too happy early in the morning."  I truly am a positive person. Each day is a gift and I try to remember that when I wake each morning.

As we get closer to the end of the school year, and the tasks and late nights begin to add up, I find myself not looking forward to the events but looking forward the getting them over with.  Today, I had to remind myself to stop.  We still have two weeks of school left and it is not fair to my students or my staff to come to work with that type of attitude.  I remind myself of all of the amazing things that we have done this year and how we need to make these last two weeks of school memorable for our students.  I need to make each day an experience for our students give them something to think back on with a smile.

Tomorrow, our PTO will be holding a carnival at our school.  It is a huge ordeal that has been months in the planning.  Our students and their families will have a great day with rides, games, food, and fun.  It will be an experience to remember.  It will also be hard work.  I can't wait see the smiles on the faces of our students and their families.  Stay Positive.

Monday, May 26, 2014

What Drives Me

By nature, I am a very competitive person.  I grew up as an athlete, playing football and wrestling in high school and then wrestling in college, even competing at the national level for a few years.  Nothing was easy for me and any success I had came from out-working my opponents and pushing them until they couldn't stay with me any longer.  I then began coaching and teaching.  At first, I found coaching frustrating because I couldn't find myself in many of my wrestlers. Many were more talented but lacked the drive and determination. It was difficult because it seemed that I wanted my wrestlers to win more than they wanted to win.  I needed to learn how to make them understand that the effort they put in was in direct relation to their performance on the wrestling mat.  I worked very hard at understanding the different learning styles of athletes and, although I didn't get to every student-athlete I coached, I am pleased to say that I have had something to do with the success of some very fine men.

When I became a school administrator nothing really changed.  I wanted to win.  When I say win, I mean help every student learn and help every teacher become better at their craft.  At first (and because I didn't have any other tools), I forged ahead using hard work and determination as my main leadership skills.  Eventually, I began to learn more about the craft of teaching and learn more about the true skills needed to teach a child to read, write, and understand mathematics.  I continue on this path every day.  I need to be the Lead Learner at my school. 

Although education is not about winning and losing, it is about getting better each day.  Administrators must continue to find new and innovative ways to support instruction.  Teachers must continue to develop their pedagogy until they can reach every child.  Students must continue to grow and learn in order to eventually be competitive in the work force that is changing on a daily basis.   We need to find ways to reach every child.  We need to help students develop the "grit" necessary to be successful, in whatever they decide to do.  This can only be done by teaching students that persistence to task positive work ethic are worth it.  We must make sure we reinforce the journey as much (or more) than the destination.  

Yes, I want to win.  I want my school to be recognized as a leader in our state and nationally.  I want my teachers to be recognized for their determination and knowledge of subject area.  I want my students to be successful and positive members of society. We have a long way to go. One day at a time.  One obstacle at a time.  Together we can do it.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Best Part of My Day...

I often tell people how lucky I am to have the job that I have.  I get to see children grow and accomplish things that seemed impossible on the first day that I met them.  I get to have interesting, insightful, and really mind-altering conversations with my colleagues and teachers who work so hard for the same reason that I do.

So... someone asked me, "What is the best part of your day?"

Wow, that is a really hard one.  Each day I greet the students as they arrive in the morning. Rain, snow, wind, or sun, I am the first person they see as they get off the bus.  I really love seeing them in the morning. Today, one student, who is usually in a great mood and greets me with a "What's up",  got off of the bus and started dancing like John Travolta in "Staying Alive" (for those who are as old as me).  We laughed and joked and he went into the school with a great big smile on his face.  Usually this tells me what kind of day I'm going to have.    Maybe that was the best part of my day.

But...I really like getting in the classrooms and seeing all of the great learning activities the students are engaged in.  Today, one teacher made sure to point out that students were developing questions to ask each other about their reading (distinguished in 3B in Danielson).  The thing was, the questions the students arrived at were really thoughtful and complex.  Wow!  This is what I was hoping for. The students are really getting it.  Maybe that was best part of my day.

But...I usually go into the lunch room and wander around, talking to the kids, checking on their day, making sure students are not playing around in the bathrooms, etc.  There is one student who has had some difficulty this year with behavior and family issues.  I always try to touch base with him when I see him.  For the past few days, I asked, "________, how is your day going?"  His answer was, "Amazing!"  So I ask, "Why is it amazing?"  He proceeds to tell me about a science project they are doing in class and how much he likes science and how much he really likes his teacher.  Maybe that was the best part of my day.

But...I had lunch with four third grade students who have been bugging me to come to my office to eat.  Their laughter and thoughtful questions about what the next year, where they are going to a different school, would be like was so inspiring.  They talked about what they learned while they were here and how great their teachers were.  They played games and made me laugh and smile for forty five minutes.  Maybe that was the best part of my day.

But...I always like the end of the day when students are getting on their buses.  I get the chance to smile at them one more time and make a joke of remind them to do their homework (usually I tell them to get out side and enjoy the weather when it is nice).  When there is no after school program going on, usually on Fridays only, I savor the time I am going to get to clean up some paperwork with no one in the building.  Maybe afternoon bus duty is the best part of my day.

Nope.  It can't be singled out.  All I can say is I am very lucky to do what I do and work with the people I work with.  I am very lucky to be a part of this amazing school.  The best part of my day is all day, every day.  

Monday, May 5, 2014

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week

In honor of teacher appreciation week I am re-posting something I wrote before Thanksgiving.

What I am thankful for during Thanksgiving
As Principal of Slackwood Elementary School, I am thankful for:

·         That are as diverse and curious as any in the state.
·         That continue to show their golden hearts to each other on a daily basis. 
·         That have a thirst for learning that is fueled by high expectations from their teachers. 
·         That make me smile and laugh each day. 
·         That I continue to learn things from on a daily basis.

Parents of students:
·         That want the best for their kids. 
·         That come to conferences and want to know about their children and how they can help them at home.  
·         That come to our events and enjoy spending time with our staff and their children.
·         That continue to make Slackwood a better place to be. 
·         That support our amazing PTO and all of the activities that are for our kids.

Staff members at my school:
·         That have high expectations for the students and equally high expectations for themselves. 
·         That don’t dismiss my crazy ideas and actually jump on board to make these things happen.
·         That come up with ideas to make our school better and then make them happen. 
·         That come to work with a positive attitude every day.
·         That continue to remember why we are here and always give something extra. 
·         That take on new initiatives (such as Danielson Evaluation or SGO’s) and despite some reservations, take the rubrics, dissect them and make themselves better teachers. 
·         That quietly give so much to others.

Slackwood Elementary School is such a unique and special place to work and I am thankful every day to be the Principal. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

So Much To Do, So Much To Learn

As I sit here at 4:28 in the morning on a Saturday scanning my Twitter feeds, it occurs to me (other than I have no life) that there are so many people out there with so much to contribute and that I really need to be a life-long learner in order to have any chance of taking in even a little of it.  Each day, I try to find something new that I can contribute to my staff and help them become better at their craft.  Each day, I try to make a connection with at least one student and make their day a little better.  I try to be a Principal Like a Pirate (thanks @daveburgess #tlap) Each day, I feel inadequate in that venture.  Much of my inadequacy is due to the fact that there is so much paperwork and minutia that is needed as part of this job that I am constantly distracted from what my focus should be.  I try to use my before school and after school times to meet these demands so that I can be there for my students and staff, but sometimes there are just not enough hours in the day.

Having said all of this, I am so lucky to have teacher leaders that continually challenge me to learn and grow. I am very lucky to have colleagues in my district who listen to my crazy ideas and help me organize my thoughts and support my programs with ideas of their own and clarification. I am so fortunate to have Twitter Friends who post such amazing and thoughtful articles and blogs that continue to inspire me and instruct me.  And ... I am really grateful that I continue to be amazed by the students in my school and inspired to help them succeed and become even better people and students.

I will continue to work every day to make my school and district a better place for these kids.  I will continue to 'fight the good fight' when it comes to meeting the needs of my staff and trying to find ways to support them.  I will continue to learn every day something new and be the "Lead Learner" in my building.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Why I Use Twitter

Two years ago I signed up for a workshop to learn about Twitter.  I went to the workshop, installed the Twitter app on my phone and computer and I was a member.  I learned about #hashtags and @contacts and I even followed a few people who I knew.  That was it. 

Last summer, I went to the National Association of Elementary School Principals conference in Baltimore and was exposed to people from throughout the country who know a lot more than I do about everything. As I listened to one keynote speaker (Todd Whitaker), he said, "If you are not on Twitter,  you are missing out on a world of professional development that is very valuable to every Principal."  

Well, I was on Twitter ... barely.  So I decided to follow @toddwhitaker and a few others and  now it has exploded.  Each and every day (I try to check it at least one time a day and even "tweet" one time a day), I find articles and ideas that the staff at Slackwood are using immediately.  It is the best professional development for educators that I have ever seen.  You can find a community of like-minded people who are continually growing as professionals each time they tweet or read an article that has ideas and programs that are useful.  

One of my people I follow says it like this, "Facebook is for people I know, Twitter if for people I wish I knew"  @julnilsmith.  

So, follow me on Twitter @JayBilly2.

Why We Do Field Trips

Field Trips are one of the things in education that I don’t like a whole lot.  I do not like disruption to my normal schedule and there is usually some type of complication that needs to be dealt with at the last minute.  Having said this… The reasons we have field trips are many and I realize that school is not here to make me feel comfortable and happy.  

Here are a few great reasons for field trips:
·       -  First of all, they are FUN!  Students love to get out of the building and learn and see new things.  Often, they don’t even know they are learning. 
·       -  They give students a chance to connect learning to lessons taught in the classroom with real-life experiences and tangible artifacts.
·        - They give students the chance to see culture, history, and art that they may not see in the classroom.
·         -Teachers get the chance to see their students in different environments and this provides them with information on student understanding and learning.

As departments of education put more emphasis on testing and assessment, things such as field trips are often considered less than necessary.  Exactly the opposite is true.  The more opportunities that students have to learn outside the classroom, the more chance that they will understand the need for the inside the classroom lessons and the world will be more connected to the school. 

One of the biggest gifts a teacher and a school can give to a student is the gift of curiosity.  Seeing something that inspires and even causes more questions increases the chance that learning can be extended and that students will learn on their own. And . . . field trips are FUN!