Friday, November 13, 2015

YESTERDAY

Yesterday...
I was reminded of this from +Bethany Hill :

I have a thing about being on time.  We make a point of starting school exactly at 8:00 AM. I talk to families about how important it is for the their children to learn that being on time is a responsibility and that, "Kids aren't late for school, their parents are."  Of course there are exceptions and "real" reasons for students to be late but it is important that the adults show the children that being on time is important.

Each morning, we make sure that students who arrive late must be brought into the office and we document their lateness and give them a pass to class.  Kindergarteners and preschoolers must be walked to class by an adult.  Yesterday, one mom brought her daughter in about 10 minutes after school opened.  The mother was definitely a little frazzled, although her daughter seemed to be taking it well.  The mother signed her daughter in as I said hello (with a little glance at the clock).  As always, I told the child to say goodbye to her mother and I took her hand to walk her down to the class.

As we were walking down the hall, the little girl nonchalantly said to me, "My daddy was supposed to bring me but he forgot."

Wow!  What more needs to be said. School is a place where students should feel loved and safe.  Today, we are going to make sure that this child feels all of that. All of the other things just don't matter.

Yesterday...

I was having a discussion with one of our basic skills teachers about a particular student who has struggled and may have some learning issues.  She said to me (paraphrase), "Some days she gets it and other days, she seems to not really be with it." We discussed a little more and then I remembered a message I had received the other day about a family that was in immediate need of food and clothing.  It was her family. It was her.

No wonder she is having trouble focussing. No wonder she is more hungry than  usual.  She has been taking her breakfast from our program and putting it in her bag to take home for her family.  Wow! We really do have our priorities mixed up. The discussion changed. Today, we will take care of her. We will help her and her family. We will make her feel the love and safety that school is about.

Yesterday...

Our school motto is "We're All a Part of One Golden Heart."  Each morning on the morning announcements one or two students are recognized for having "Golden Hearts". Teachers and students can nominate children who show their golden hearts by doing something nice for someone else. Our music teacher does the announcements each morning and sometimes I don't always hear them but YESTERDAY, this is what I heard:

"Colin showed his Golden Heart when he asked family and friends to give him money to help needy families instead of presents for his birthday.  The money was used to put together birthday baskets for kids whose families do not have money for presents or parties."

Wow again!  A first grader with such an amazing and giving spirit.  What first grader do you know that would even consider this?  Truly amazing.  So I sent an email to his parents to tell them how proud we were of him and what an amazing child they had.  This was the response:

"Thanks Mr. Billy! We are thrilled about his golden heart. We have been trying to instill in him a sense of giving back since almost since birth. It's a tradition we started on his first birthday but now it is driven by him."

Wow, wow, wow again! - There is hope for us all.

Yesterday....

We just recently started a preschool in our building. This is new for us and many students didn't know what to expect.  One young man (a first grader) took the bull by the horns and volunteered to help get one of his bus mates into class every day.  He expected no reward. He just does it because of his "golden heart."  This really says it all.

Each day is a new beginning. We need to remember that each child brings their own story to school each day and that how we react to their presence can have a lifelong affect on them.  Today, let's make our schools a sanctuary and a place of learning, love and empathy. 


Friday, November 6, 2015

Taking The Challenge To Become A Better Leader

I was lucky enough to get in to see the initial LEAD LIKE A PIRATE presentation done by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf  at AMLE (Association of Middle Level Educators) in Columbus, Ohio.  Actually, it's a good thing I was tagging along because, in true PIRATE fashion, Shelley and Beth didn't like the room set up and needed to transform the room from rows of chairs facing a screen to twelve tables with works spaces, enough for about 48 people. Luckily, they had scouted out the room and knew of a back door where tables and chairs were stored.  They just needed my muscle to make it happen. 20 Minutes of work and hustle and... Voila!  The room became an interactive playground where pirates can work and learn together, complete with PIRATE booty set on each table and numerous activities at the ready.

As the room filled, you could feel the energy.  15 minutes before the session was slated to start, the room had reached full occupancy. To the dismay of many who thought they had plenty of time to arrive, they were turned away with a sign saying, "Sorry, Session Full." Being one of the lucky ones to get in, I couldn't wait to see what Shelley and Beth had in store for us.  They didn't disappoint.

The LEAD LIKE A PIRATE #LeadLAP  presentation took concepts from author Dave Burgess's TEACH LIKE A PIRATE #TLAP and demonstrated how school leaders can make their school building a place where students, teachers and parents are running to get in; Not out!


Shelley and Beth did an amazing job giving ideas, sharing stories, and offering guidance to these leaders who were there to improve themselves and their schools. Their interactive presentation started before the announced start time and ended slightly after and people were wanting more. I have a feeling there is a lot more and we are the lucky ones who will benefit from all of this excitement.


One of the best things that has come from this workshop, and is brilliant in it's conception, is the #LeadLAP Challenge.  Shelley and Beth have challenged school leaders to get into classrooms and drop anchors in a variety of ways.  The initial week of the challenge involved Anchors of Appreciation.  The second week we dropped anchors that Noticed The Impact of decisions made in the classroom on student learning.  This week was all about Collaborative Conversations.  I can't tell you the impact this is having other places, but I can tell you what it has done for me.

I get in classrooms every day. Teachers and kids are used to me walking in and checking on things. Now, I'm focused on the teaching and the learning that is happening. I'm planning my comments and my anchors. I'm considering how to extend collaborative conversations and making an effort to engage others in these conversations. I always considered myself a decent leader, but the focus I am getting from #LeadLAP has enabled me to be more purposeful in my daily visits and to acknowledge the great things that are going on in my school.

I have challenged the other principals in my district to take part in the #LeadLAP challenge and even my superintendent has been dropping anchors for the last three weeks.  What a great way to transform our leadership. What a great way to raise awareness. What a great way to LEAD!

From this challenge and from my opportunity to know Shelley and Beth and see them in action, I continue to grow and get better at my craft.  Join me in my journey and follow the #LeadLAP challenge on Twitter.

Read Shelley Burgess's Blogs: Dropping Anchors  Notice The Impact   Collaborative Conversations
Read Beth Houf's Blogs: Principal Houf Blog's 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

It Was Good To Be Home


This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the NJ/PA ECET2 at Raritan Community College in New Jersey.  First of all.... I know what NJ and PA stand for because I live in New Jersey and Pennsylvania is next door, but what is this ECET2?  ECET2 is Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers is an organization funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  I was surprised to learn that there were educators from all over the country that came to this event and shared their knowledge and their stories with us.  It was truly an amazing and inspiring event.

I learned about this event over the summer when Kathy Suk @KSukEDUC asked Jeanne Muzi @Muzi:earningLab and I to present with her and some of her students because we had been involved in a project with her.  We agreed, and each of us were also inspired to submit applications to present on other topics.  This is definitely stepping out of the box for me because, although I speak in front of my teachers or the students daily, I have never presented at a professional conference before.  Luckily, one of my proposals was accepted and I got a free invite for the weekend.

I could spend hours writing and talking about the amazing presenters and educators at the conference but what really was inspiring was the energy.  I'm not really sure of the names of all of the people on the committee but Barry Saide @barrykid1 started the stream of positivity right into the first keynote, which was Baruti Kafele @principalkafele.

What this blog is really about is the people. Each and every person there was there because they wanted to be better. They wanted to learn something. They wanted to share.  Each and every person who was there was positive and helpful. I'm not sure of the final numbers but there were over 225 professional educators in the room looking to make education a better place and looking to help the next kid. Our final keynote was Principal Gemar Mills @PrincipalMills who continued to focus on doing what's best for kids #isavelivesdaily .


I am grateful and thankful to the organizers of #NJPAECET2 for having me there. I grateful and thankful to Barry and the Crew (and it takes a big crew to do this) for all the work that goes into setting up a conference of this magnitude.  Mostly, I am grateful and thankful that I had the opportunity to be inspired by so many amazing people who are in education for the right reason. It was good to be home with my family of people who are making a difference. The energy and positivity is contagious.



Saturday, September 12, 2015

The First Week Of School Is Over.... Now What?

We just completed our first week of school... actually the first week plus a day.  The excitement for starting the school year was palpable. The teachers were here getting their classrooms ready and the building looked great.  Everyone survived (and hopefully learned something from) the mandatory day of PD and first Building Meeting.  All goals were set, the focus was delivered and all we had to do was greet the students.

Teachers greeted the students the first day with messages written in chalk over the playground and walkways.  As students arrived, each teacher waited outside on our blacktop to meet each student and many of the parents.  Once all of the buses and walkers arrived we followed a tradition we started some years ago where we welcome new students and staff by having them walk through as we cheer them on - - the "Clap In." This year, we were able to do this outside as the got ready to enter the building for the first time and it was awesome. Many parents participated in this because we were able to keep it outside. It is quite a spectacle.
Once students entered the building, they went to their classrooms and began the day. This was no typical day because we made a concerted effort to make this first day extremely engaging and fun. We focused on "Teaching Like A Pirate" activities that centered on engagement and relationship building.  Our teachers began to establish their Responsive Classroom models. Overall, it was a great day.  Each day after this initial day, I continued to see students involved in engaging activities where as they were laughing as they were learning.

The only obstacle was the heat.  We have an old building and most of the classrooms are not air conditioned.  All of the classrooms were extremely hot as almost every day it was over 90 degrees with high humidity.  By the afternoon, the staff and students were really worn out.  One other thing that really brought attention to the heat was that we had our Back To School Night on the 3rd day of School.  Parents became very aware of the heat in our building as they visited classrooms and sat in our all purpose room during my  sweaty presentation.  Back To School Night was successful and we made it through,sharing our programs and our hopes for the upcoming year.

So..... Now What?

Now we tighten our focus!  We get to know each child as a person and a learner. We structure our teaching to meet the needs of each and every child. We focus our interventions and develop a plan for growth.  Most of all, we must keep finding ways to engage our learners.  Each minute of each day must be meaningful.  As my teachers have heard me say numerous times... "What's the purpose?"  Each activity and plan be purposeful, engaging, and positive.  We must reflect and then re-aim on a daily basis.  We must share and work together for the benefit of all.  And most of all... We must keep the positive momentum and the excitement of the first day and week throughout the year. If we want to be great, it is not a one day thing... It is an everyday thing.  

Friday, July 3, 2015

ISTE 2015 - The Workshops Were Great But It's About The People

I was lucky enough to attend the ISTE 2015 ((International Society for Technology in Education)
conference this week in Philadelphia. As someone who considers themselves a beginner in a lot of tech areas, I was a little apprehensive as to how I would fit in or even if I could understand what was going on.  I was very interested in connecting with some of the people who I have gotten to know through twitter and finally meeting them face to face. I was very interested in learning some new things to bring back to my school.

All I can say is WOW!  What an amazing week of learning and connecting. The keynote speakers were amazing and inspirational. Soledad O'Brien opened the conference with great stories and a real call to action.  Jack Gallagher spoke about his relationship with his amazing son, Liam, who has autism.  Finally, Josh Stumpenhorst @stumpteacher, who did the closing keynote, really said it all at the end of his closing keynote when he said, "I'm a teacher and I'm damn proud of that!" What a way to end the conference. Wow!

There were so many highlights to #ISTE2015 for me but I had to write this blog to document a few and because I couldn't wait to tell people. If you ever get the chance to go to ISTE.... do it!

One of my favorite highlights was finally meeting Jessica Raleigh (@TyrnaD), who is such an inspiration with the morning twitter chat #BFC530.  I'm sure people know it, but she is pretty freaking smart and fun and amazing and any other descriptions of AWESOME! Jess, was kind of in charge of ISTE from what I could tell.

Seeing Pernille Ripp (@PernilleRipp) and Erin Klein (@KleinErin) talk about authentic and purposeful writing in their "Set Their Voices Free: How Students Can Share Their Stories" talk was amazing. "If you want kids to do meaningful writing, you must provide a meaningful purpose." Wow! Both of these amazing educators were awesome throughout the week.

Matt Miller (@jmattmiller) who wrote Ditch That Textbook, did two sessions that I attended and he shared some great tools for establishing a paperless classroom. His Sharing Is Caring Session was filled with fun and engaging activities.  I can't wait to share with my staff.  Better yet, I got the chance to connect with him and he is the REAL DEAL!  Such positivity and passion!

I have to thank Nili Bartley (@nbartley6) for her energy, positivity and introductions. Wow! This was the first time I met Nili F2F and she is a fireball. She rocked the BrainPop booth and workshops and she was in constant motion throughout the whole conference. She introduced me to powerhouse educator, author and inspiration Angela Maiers.  Again, Wow!  Watching Angela interact with so many people and seeing her mind work was amazing. Choose2Matter.org is going to be a staple in our school.  Nili also introduced me to rockstar and inspiration Lourds Lane (@LourdsLane). Lourds may be the most positive person I have ever met and she is so cool. Her SuperYouFundation has a SuperYou curriculum that helps kids find their inner super hero. You can see it work right here in Nili Bartley's Class . Nili is truly a superhero to so many kids. I could watch this video a 1000 times and still be inspired. Lourds wrote and sang the song. It is awesome and I can't wait to work with Lourds and her Fundation.
Look at this powerhouse team. Angela Maiers, Lourds Lane and Beth Houf

The best part of  #ISTE2015 was re-connecting with Beth Houf (@BethHouf). We met last year at NAESP14 and have collaborated on many projects throughout this year. Her passion, brains and personality continue to inspire me to be better at what I do. Without her, I would never have met so many amazing people. I had a great time helping her in her presentation and I learned a ton too (as always).

I could go on and on about #ISTE2015. I feel that I have neglected so many amazing and inspirational people. Each session that I went to was amazing. The Ignite Sessions were incredible. Each person I met I was able to learn something from.  I hope to connect with all of you some more and work together in the future.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Reflecting On My Year As A Pirate

School ended for us yesterday and I really miss the kids already. Especially, after sitting in meetings all day. It has been one whole year since I became a PIRATE. Here is my original blog about Being a Pirate Principal . It has been one whole year since my life as an elementary principal changed. Nothing will ever be the same again for me, my staff and my students....or for my employers.  I'm sure they already know. I'm not sure everyone is happy about it.

After reading Teach Like A Pirate and Seeing Dave Burgess present last Spring, I became a pirate because I saw the need to really show my passion and enthusiasm. I saw the need to find a new and better way to reach our students. I saw the need to spice up my own professional life in order to make it more rewarding.  I saw the need to help my teachers create Life Changing Lessons and make my school a place where students, parents, and staff were running to get into.
The only way to do this was to find ways to really connect with the kids and to give them things to talk about on a daily basis.

This year started with our first staff meeting and me surprising everyone as they entered the room as I was dressed as a pirate. Each staff member got the TLAP book and then we talked about what it looked like to Teach Like A Pirate.  We did our 5 word GPS.  We even discussed different ways to engage students in the classroom with activities like Genius Hour or Project Based Learning. We even scheduled three Teach Like A Pirate Days where the staff and students would have the opportunity to show their passions.

Not everyone was as excited as I was to become a Pirate. Some were skeptical. Some were intrigued. Some just thought I was crazy.  You should have seen the student teachers when they walked in and saw me dressed as a pirate.  I don't think they expected that from any principal.  My staff could see this was something I was passionate about and they hung in there. They know that I am a little crazy but also they saw students' reactions to me.

Our first TLAP day in September was a ringing success. Student comments were things such as, "This was the best day ever," or, "I can't believe it's over. Do we have to go home?"  It was amazing. You can read about it here We did it and it was awesome .
We had two more TLAP days where amazing things kept happening.

More importantly, the staff began to see that getting into that "Un-comfort Zone" as @bethhouf talks about in her blog can be fun and it definitely engages and inspires the students.  The final straw for the staff came when our district had Dave Burgess here for a full day to promote teaching like a pirate to everyone.  Now the teachers got to see the captain in his energized state present about the importance of engaging students and changing school lives forever.

They got it!  If they didn't get it before, after seeing Dave they really got it. I started seeing teachers really take chances with their teaching for the good of the students. I saw "Hooks" everywhere. I saw, people striving for greatness. I saw plenty of mistakes along the way but all in the name of progress. Most of all, I saw more engaging lessons and experiences for our students. I saw effort and risk-taking from our staff like never before. I saw Teaching Like A Pirate.

It's hard to Teach Like A Pirate every day but that is our goal. I try to Lead Like A Pirate every day. Some days, I do better than others but I can tell you one thing:

WE WILL NEVER GO BACK TO THE OLD WAY. WE WILL BE INNOVATIVE, CREATIVE, ENTHUSIASTIC, PASSIONATE AND POSITIVE!

 School will be fun and engaging. The students will ask over and over again to stay longer and work more..I will lead the way.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Weighing The Cows More Than We Are Feeding Them

I started to write this blog the other night and then had the opportunity to participate in #sunchat on Sunday morning. @jedipadmaster (AKA Toby Price) shared this saying with me as I lamented the over-testing and over assessment of our students.  Think about it.... WE ARE WEIGHING THE COWS MORE THAN WE ARE FEEDING THEM.  In no way do I compare our students to cows, but the saying makes sense.  We spend more time assessing and testing our students than we do teaching them. I believe in formative and summative assessment and I love to use data to develop learning plans but....really.... what are we doing to our students.

I was meeting with one of my English as Second Language (ESL) Teachers the other day to do her summative evaluation (even though there are 2 months of the school year left, we have to get these done by mid-April) and she said to me, "I really haven't done much teaching since March."  She then went on to explain it. In New Jersey, students who receive second language services must take the ACCESS for ELLs assessment, which is an extensive assessment of their English language skills. This assessment takes considerable time to take and assess these students.  There is a large component of this assessment that has to be done one-on-one. This means that my teachers are busy testing one student at the expense of many.... and we have many.

Thinks about this..... These same students are also part of  numerous other assessments that our school, our district, and our state requires..

If you are in the third grade in our school and are an ELL (English Language Learner) you spend time taking:

State Assessments
Access for ELL's https://www.wida.us/assessment/ACCESS/background.aspx
PARCC  http://parcc.pearson.com/
7 Day - 60-75 minutes of testing

District Assessments
AimsWeb-3 times per year http://www.aimsweb.com/
NWEA- 3 times per year  mapping https://www.nwea.org/

Each student is usually part of their teacher's Student Growth Objective  (SGO), which means that they will have pre- and post-assessments for this that may, or may not, be part of the regular classroom formative and summative assessment

And... by the way, many of these same students receive Academic Support where those teachers use these same students for SGO's....

And...oh, yeah... the ESL teachers need to complete SGO's.  So there's that assessment too!

That's a lot of testing! That's a lot of time!  What are we doing? 

I get it. We need to measure student growth and compare students against each other in order to determine that our system of education is up to par and that each teachers continue to do their job.  I get it.

Here's an idea --- Let me do my job.  Let my teachers do their jobs.  Let's use the time we have for our kids and teach them. Give them time for learning. Let's feed them.  Feed them every day. Feed them so much that they explode with knowledge and learning.  Weigh them periodically to check to make sure they're still growing and then feed them some more.


Upon a google search, I found this article that speaks to this phenomenon  You can't fatten the cow simply by measuring it


Friday, March 6, 2015

Shhh!!! Don't Tell Them That They Might Be Pirates

I am writing this on a Friday afternoon when we had a delayed opening and everything we needed to get done got pushed into a 4 hour window. I am writing this with the idea the our district is lucky enough to have a PD day next week when Dave Burgess, of Teach Like A Pirate  fame will be our
keynote and session leader. I was inspired to write this as a smile came over me because of the great day we had and the amazing things that I see going on in our school.


I truly believe that people come to education for all of the right reasons and they come to work each day with the intention of doing their best.  Everyone has gone to school to become teacher and attended professional development during their time as educators in order to hone their craft. I believe some teachers naturally "get it" and others must work very hard in order to make it look "easy."

So... When I shared Dave Burgess's Teach Like A Pirate last year with staff  and made it a point of emphasis this year by buying books for the teachers, some teachers looked at me like I was a little crazy. Then, when I came the opening staff meeting in full pirate regalia, I heard a few whispers. In fact, some people were adamant that they were not going to become pirates. There was no way that they would dress up and act silly or draw attention to themselves in such a way.  THEY DIDN'T GET IT.  Some still don't get it. It's not about the costume.  It's about developing experiences instead of lessons. It's about finding ways to connect and engage your students so that can't wait to show you what they know or did.  It's about taking risks and reaping the rewards - - Students' love of learning and engagement.

Shhh!!! Don't tell my teachers but they are becoming pirates without the costumes.

When I walk into a classroom and the teacher has a 'mystery bag" on the counter and is using it for engagement; She is a pirate.  When I hear teachers asking the students about their interests and then developing lessons geared toward those interests; They have become pirates.  When I see a teacher taking her students out to the playground to practice spelling words with chalk or do math problems on the blacktop; She is a pirate.  When I see students laying on their backs and drawing upside down under their desks to get Michelangelo's perspective; Their teacher might just be a pirate.  When I walk into a classroom and each student is dressed in a costume and they are doing a newscast with math facts; Their teacher might be a pirate.  When I hear kids on Friday afternoon, on the way to the bus say, "I wish we didn't have to go home." Their teachers are definitely pirates.  When I get letters from students asking if we could make the school day longer; They probably have a pirate teacher.

Shhh! Don't tell the teachers but they are making our school better by taking chances, trying new things, and creating experiences for our students. They don't have to dress like pirates. They don't have to wear costumes.  They just have to answer two questions:  1. If the students didn't have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room? 2.  Do  you have any lessons  you could sell tickets for?

Well, I'm proud to say that for many of my teachers the answer to these questions is YES!  Shhh!!! Don't tell them but they might be pirates.    

We have a long way to go to get our students where they need to be, but we will get there. Each time
we turn a lesson into a full-blown experience we are changing their lives for the better.

Thanks to Dave Burgess for the inspiration and to all of the #TLAP PLN who make education a better, and much more fun place to be.






Sunday, February 22, 2015

It's Been A While .....but I hosted #SATCHATWC and had a blast!

It's been a while since my last blog post for two reasons: 1. I haven't had any brilliant thoughts that I felt I needed to share with the world (and you won't find any here either) and 2.  Its been crazy busy. I really love blogging but, for me, it's best when an idea overtakes me and I feel I need to get it out.

I had this idea to do a take off on 50 Shades of Grey called 50 Shades of Jay (cute right?).  I figured the title would draw lots of attention and make my blog stand out.  The problem with this idea is that I couldn't come up with 50 anything. I actually started the blog and got two whole sentences. I could barely come up with 3 or 4 shades of light blue. FORGET THIS TOPIC. 

So, what inspired me to write today?
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to moderate #SATCHATWC, which is Saturday morning twitter chat for teachers and administrators on the West Coast. It occurs at 7:30 PST, which is 10:30 EST.  I'm not on the West Coast but I was honored that Shelley Burgess (@burgess_shelley) asked me if I would be interested in  moderating and to come up with a chat topic that might be interesting.  I have moderated other chats before but this is the first time for me with #satchatwc.

My Idea:  I am often inspired by the thoughts and sayings of others. I love to read, listen and share these thoughts that often ring true to me and to many of us in education. About a year and a half ago, I started collecting posters, quotes, and sayings in a folder on the desktop of my computer. I love quotes and graphics because they often help to make a point or inspire me when I need just the right words (because others have said it much better than I probably can).  I have used these quotes to develop videos to inspire my staff  and I continually use them on a board in our staff room and on my office door.

So the idea for the chat was: Spend and hour sharing great quotes and posters with others who may have the same passions.

On Saturday, February 21, we did it. I came up with 7 different areas of inspiration, shared numerous quotes and then just waited to see what would happen. I hoped that people would be inspired by this and share.

What happened was awesome!

People from all over the country and the world shared their favorite quotes/saying/posters. The tweets and posters were coming so fast I couldn't even keep up with them. Almost 1700 tweets were posted during the one hour chat. People, including myself, were favoriting and re-tweeting in order to remember the ones that they liked. These were  quotes that really hit home with them and they wanted to share with others. The hour went so fast that tweet continued for hours afterwards. I am still getting retweets this morning.  I love that people share with each other in this format and the things they share inspire others.

Here is a copy of the storify from the chat: Storify for #SATCHATWC - Feb. 21, 2015
Here is copy of my video that I made as my final tweet for the chat: Inspiring Educational Quotes

Thank you to Shelley Burgess for allowing me to share my passions. She and her husband continue to inspire me. Thank you to #SATCHATWC for  your awesome participation. What a great PLN. Most of all thank you to the best and most inspiring Professional Learning you can have in Twitter.  I can't wait to do it again.