Saturday, November 15, 2014

Instructional Leadership: It's a thing #SAVMP

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This month's #SAVMP question focuses on Admin Credibility. George Couros asks several important questions of school leaders in his blog post 5 Questions You Should Ask Your Principal. One of these questions focuses on instructional leadership:

What are some areas of teaching and learning that you can lead in the school? 

From George's original post:

Covey talks about two important areas for leaders; character and credibility. Many principals are great with people, yet really do not understand the art and science of teaching, or have lost touch with what it is like to be in the classroom. Although a leaders does not need to be the master of all, they should be able to still be able to walk into a classroom and teach kids. They should also definitely be able to lead the staff in workshops that focus directly on teaching and learning. If teachers understand that a principal understands teaching and learning, any initiatives are more likely to be seen as credible in their eyes.

I am a teacher. I am a teacher.

Yes, I am the principal, the school leader, a role I take to heart and love. It is such a gift to be able to be the lead learner in a school-- to take the needs of the students, the teachers, the staff, and the families and dream up a vision and goals to move our school forward. Every day feels like Christmas to me and I can not wait to get to school. 

I am the principal. I am a teacher.

Instructional leadership is my passion. Whether I'm leading inside or outside our school, I'm  a teacher. At school, I'm the lead learner and I love to learn right alongside our teachers--in weekly tech PD meetings with a collaborative Google doc as an agenda where everyone learns and everyone leads and the agenda is based on what people want to share, celebrate, and learn. I've also been working hard to make our once a month staff meetings more interactive and meaningful and have been trying different strategies to maximize all of our meetings with more collaboration and conversation. Some recent additions include success slams and speed dating! Outside of school, I also lead professional development for teachers and administrators around technology and literacy in the Common Core as an Area 3 Writing Project Teacher Consultant. I am a CUE Rockstar faculty member and CUE Lead Learner. I teach administrators and teachers how to be more Googly using Google Apps for Education. I love it. I'm always teaching and always learning. 

Teaching teachers about classroom blogging at Fall CUE in Napa, CA

I am the principal. I am the Minecraft Maker Club Leader. 

iPad Minecrafters

A 5th grade Minecraft Mentor with her K-1 kids

Cardboard challenge badge!

Like other teachers and administrators, I'm trying to incorporate more STEAM into my school. But I'm determined to learn on a small scale before rolling anything out school-wide. So, along with a  parent and Joe Wood, our Instructional Technology Coordinator, we're leading an after school Minecraft Maker Club. Seriously, it's scary. The kids are leading me in a lot of ways. But I am determined to try and to learn. During the first six week session, we led 25 second through fifth grade students using Minecraft EDU and where we made Cardboard games as part of our Cardboard Challenge badge. This time, we have 25 second through fifth graders and 15 Kinder and first graders Minecrafting with iPads and learning about coding. During our next session, we're trying out coding using Bee-Bots, Spheros, and Tynker as we prepare for the Hour of Code. I'm embracing the mess and loving it.

I am the principal. Sometimes, I'm the teacher. All day. And I love it.

Kindergarten choice time. Paint.

Teaching TK. Love four year olds!
What can I teach? 
In 18 years in education, I've taught every grade from kindergarten to fifth grade, combo classes, full day and half day kinder in everything from affluent to Title I schools. I sometimes tell people I'm the jack of all grades, a master of none. But in some ways I think it's a good thing. My wide range of grade level experiences have provided me with a big picture of where kids start and where they are going. I also feel it has prepared me well to be an instructional leader in my school. Although I've never taught any grade level longer than five years, I do feel I am familiar with the standards and expectations at each grade level and can hold my own in conversations related to instruction for any grade at my school. And some days, I even get to teach ALL day. We have a sub shortage and once in awhile I need to cover a class. Last year, I taught first grade all day when after 70 calls a sub job failed to fill. I had so much fun, I wrote a blog post about it! This year, I've taught kindergarten, TK, and fourth grade so that teachers could attend a training. I love teaching and being with the kids. At my school, every single Monday is also No Office Day, and I am in classrooms all day working with students and co-teaching lessons. I think my teachers would tell you I am an instructional leader. 

It's so important.

For most of my career, I worked for principals who were not instructional leaders. Did they have many strengths? Of course! But my previous administrators include a PE teacher, a Speech Pathologist, a college professor with a PhD in Psychology, and a middle school Math and Science teacher. As a teacher in a K-8 district and at a K-5 school, it was often frustrating when conversations about curriculum and instruction were led by admin with no elementary experience. I found myself wishing they could be in my classrooms more often so they could just understand what it was like to teach 4-year olds to read. If my sub job had failed to fill, would any have them taught for the day in my room? 

There are exceptions.

Is it possible for someone without instructional background in a particular grade level to be the instructional leader in a school? I do think this is possible. One of my favorite principals was the former PE teacher and he was determined to learn as much as possible about the instruction happening in our K-5 classrooms. He gave me incredible feedback during observations because he had that amazing kinesthetic lens and he saw things I'd never considered. He also had incredible expectations for teachers and students in our school. There are many things about his leadership that ended up in my admin toolbox and I feel fortunate to have worked with him for three years. 

What are some areas of teaching and learning can I lead in my school? 

I'm no expert, but I feel confident that if you asked my teachers what my biggest strength is as a school leader that they would say that first and foremost, I am a teacher.

Awesome Author Skype with Kate Messner!

Kate Messner
We love authors at our school, and we love to Skype with authors! Last year, we did an all school Skype with Ame Dyckman to celebrate World Read Aloud Day-- 230 kids all in the gym at the same time and it was awesome! You can read Kobe's blog post about it here ,written in first grade. 

This year... Kate Messner! Kate Messner is amazing! Not only does she write picture books and novels, she also hosts Teachers Write, a virtual summer writing camp for teachers. Last summer, over 1,700 teachers participated, including me! We were so excited to Skype with Kate and she is also our featured author for our November/December Family book club

Here are just a few of Kate's books!
On Friday, she actually did two Skypes with our school: a Q & A session with our kindergarten students, and a 30 minute session with 255 first through fifth graders. During the 30 minute session, she talked about the writing process, where she gets her ideas, books she has written, and more. 

One of our kinders asking about animals hibernating in winter
Kate's view of Lake Champlain from her house near the
Adirondack Mountains in New York--
where she gets many ideas!
Over and Under the Snow in another language
What is moss? (A very popular question!)
Kicking off the 1st-5th Skype talking about her notebooks
Post-it story planning
One of our 5th graders asking about her books
"Have you ever wrote a hedgehog book?" asked this first grader
Kate zooms in on the cover of Marty McGuire Has Too Many Pets...
a hedgehog, of course!
We love Kate Messner! Thanks, Kate for inspiring our students!

Mindset Morning #positive #purposeful

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I used to have this Confucius quote as my Facebook profile picture, about two years ago. Back then, I was running about 25 miles a week and was training for my third half marathon. Although I was running slowly, I was running pretty consistently. 

And then I stopped. 

That thing I said I would never do. Since getting a new job as an administrator in June 2013, I hadn't run more than a few times. I missed it. But I just couldn't find the time. The morning seemed impossible- my 35 minute commute meant I had to leave my house by 6:30, and I was waking up at 5:30. By the time I got home in the evening, usually after 6, I was usually too tired or too busy cooking dinner to fit in any exercise at all.

I felt out of shape. I felt guilty. I wanted to run again.

About the same time I was thinking this, I got connected to Jessica Johnson through the School Administrator Virtual Mentor Program (#SAVMP). She is an amazing elementary principal in Wisconsin. In one of our conversations on Voxer, I heard her mention running and I asked her how she found the time. Did she just make it a priority and make the time?

Her answer was yes, and she also recommended reading The Miracle Morning, a book by Hal Elrod. She shared that it had completely changed her life. I followed her advice and read the book. Amazing. 

Chris Taylor summarizes the idea of the miracle morning in his blog post:

"The Miracle Morning is, quite simply, about planning and living your life (goals, aspirations, exercise, mental and spiritual health) before you address your life situation. (Your current responsibilities, demands and activities.) Though he accounts for all lifestyles and schedules, Hal recommends taking 60 minutes, in the morning, on activities that bring peace and clarity to your life: Silence, Affirmations, Visualization, Exercise, Reading, Scribing (Journaling or writing in a diary). He even came up with a handy acronym – Life S.A.V.E.R.S."

I'm on day 6 and I love how I feel. I'm not following his exact outline, but it's working for me. During the week, I wake up at 4:45 and take a 20 minute walk. During my walk, it's dark and silent and beautiful. I'm visualizing my day then and saying positive things to myself in my mind. I come home and write in my journal, set my goals for the day, reflect, plan, and enjoy my coffee. I don't feel rushed and I'm loving starting my day with a positive and purposeful mindset. 

On the weekends, I've been running- slowly, but I'm running again. I'm so excited and since I've started my own miracle mornings I've run or walked a total of 17 miles. Twice this week I ran 4 miles all at once. I've found a new running partner, too-- my crazy puppy Lola. She runs the whole way! I've been running by the lake near where I live and it's so beautiful out there. 

Lake Natoma in Folsom, California
And I look forward to getting up every morning. I can't believe how different I feel. It's just another reason I'm so thankful to have so many connections to inspiring people. Who knew my road back to running would come from Wisconsin?

Thank you Jessica for the fabulous book recommendation!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

What are you thankful for?

One of my favorite things during the month of November is when my friends post something each day that they are thankful for on their Facebook page. It is always a great reminder that every day is special and should be celebrated! This month, I'd like to invite you to share what you are thankful for on my blog! You will be featured as a guest blogger. It's as easy as sending an email to! The subject line of your email will become your blog post title, the content of your blog comes from the actual email, and if you choose to attach any pictures they will be automatically added to your post. I can't wait to hear from you.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Be brave.

This idea of bravery has been on my mind for weeks. In both my personal and professional life, this concept has been front and center. Today, I finally finished my book club selection for this month. The Invention of Wings shares the story of many brave and strong women who persevere in spite of incredible hardships. The story is told from the point of view of several different characters, but throughout the book these women all share incredible bravery. Even when their beliefs or actions require them to make difficult decisions, they remain brave even when their choices are difficult and their families and the community may disagree.

In addition to brave characters in books, I also feel so fortunate to know many brave school leaders. I am connected to an awesome group of administrators through Voxer, a free walkie-talkie app that allows us to have a conversation anytime! 

My commute has turned into a mentoring session and the best PD ever as I catch up with school leaders from as far away as Wisconsin and as close as California. Over the past few weeks we have discussed so many topics that hit on this topic of bravery. 

Questions that really got me thinking: 

What are your non-negotiables? What is your core? What is going on with these stressed out high school students? 

As I listen to these administrators, I have hope. They are brave, passionate, and committed to students. Like the movie Miracle, when asked "Who do you play for?" there is no doubt that these administrators would say they play for #teamkid. Time and time again, as I listen to them, every single decision they make has kids at the heart of it. 

I've been having a hard time putting this brave leader idea into words, so I went in search of a quote to help capture what I've been thinking. This Divergent quote from Veronica Roth captured the feelings that I've been struggling with perfectly.

Before this year, I wasn't sure there were many brave leaders out there. Deedra Devine, my former principal, inspired me to be brave. I watched her make tough decision after tough decision that sometimes made teachers or parents unhappy. She told me that she could live with any decision that had what was best for kids in mind, no matter what. I will never forget that. I try very hard to be brave. And I would say that without a doubt our school is about kids. Over and over I see schools that make decisions with adults in mind. Or to appease the squeaky wheel. 

This has to stop. Kids need us to be brave for them. Everything from financial decisions, to bell schedules, to staffing, grading, and school procedures. Decisions have to be about kids. Decisions need to support teachers and coaches who are trying to do what's best for kids. 

It's hard to be brave. What does brave look like?

It means taking time to develop relationships every day.

It means holding the line when parents complain about the new curriculum, the new standards, "new" teaching practices, simply because it's not like when they went to school.

It means taking time to educate families and the community about what we are trying to accomplish together.

It means that maybe not everyone will like our decision, but it's worth it.

It means that even if your child doesn't play as much as you would like, it does not mean that the coach is not a good one.

It means trusting kids and teachers with technology, and giving access to tools that connect teacher and students. Social media is a game changer that must be a part of education. Check out the Common Core standards for digital writing--- collaborative writing in kindergarten, using a variety of tools, for a real audience. This is real and important. It may seem scary, but given the opportunity teachers and kids will do amazing things.

The court of public opinion is a tough one. Time and time again I hear of friends who are teachers and coaches who are considering giving up because it takes so much time and energy and emotion to fight the good fight. Sometimes it feels pretty thankless and we need to rally around our teachers and coaches. They need us in their corner. 

It's hard to be brave. But if we always keep what's best for kids as our top priority when making decisions, it won't be easy, but it will be worth it. 

I want to be brave. You can be, too. Let's be brave together.

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Sunday, November 2, 2014

Zip. Zero. Nada. #fail #inboxproblems #dirtylaundry

October 24th. Inbox 7,000 and something. Ugh. I hated my inbox. My friends kept talking about their zero inboxes. I had #inboxenvy. I secretly wanted to say SHUT UP about your inbox already. Too much to do and I thought it would take me months, no YEARS to organize my inbox. When I left my previous district, I walked away from over 5,000 in my inbox. I was hopeless. People laughed a little when they saw it. I carried on. 

I consider myself to be pretty organized and efficient, with the exception of my mail. But since it really didn't affect anyone but me, I deleted as much as I could and ignored it. My friend Joe said, "It's not a file cabinet!" "Of course it is," I replied. 

I think it was fear. I was afraid to delete and archive. I was afraid I would lose something important. I couldn't let it go.

Then, I was asked to lead a Google workshop for administrators. First topic? Gmail! Ugh. How could I teach them about Gmail when I clearly couldn't manage my inbox? Their questions ranged from finding things to keeping their inbox neat and organized. I could already hear them laughing when I opened my inbox with 7,000+ emails. This would be worse than standing in front of them in my underwear. 

So I started deleting. Did some searching for things I receive daily like air quality alerts and wonders of the day. That helped. I changed a few little settings. I figured if I deleted a little every day I would get there.

I got to 752. That was better. I could live with that. I didn't think I would be laughed out of the room. 

And then I read Joe Wood's post Gmail Search Tips as I was researching ways to teach Gmail. The last tip was my favorite and resulted in about 300 archived messages. I tried a few more ideas and I got to 176. Progress! 
Could I do it? Could this email #fail girl get there? 

And yes (my other Gmail)

I can't even believe it myself.