Sunday, January 25, 2015

It's about time. #SAVMP

flickr image credit
In January's #SAVMP post,  Joe Mazza asks us to reflect on how we manage time as school leaders. There is never enough time in the day! Here are some questions posed by Joe and my responses below:

How do you manage your time?
I make choices. One of my teachers told me the other day that her work day starts at 3:00 when the kids leave, and I agree. During the day, as much as we can be, should be devoted to kids and learning-- even for school leaders. There are always meetings and unexpected things come up but I really want to be out and about in my school or working on something that will really impact our school in a positive way.

What have you found to be helpful? 
I love Google calendar! If it's not on my calendar, it doesn't exist! We use Google calendar to schedule SST and IEP meetings, field trips, assemblies, upcoming events and more. There is a calendar of school events embedded on our school website that helps keep families up to date on events and deadlines.

What has been a roadblock for you? 
There are two things that are really challenging: email and finding balance. I feel pretty good about my email now (only 10 or so in my inbox) after having over 7,000 in October! Eeek! Email is a definite time suck. Read more here about how I dug out of that crazy inbox in just a few days!

Finding balance is hard. You could work 24/7 and never be done. In the end, you just have to set boundaries for yourself. In 2015, I've decided that I'm going to try to not reply to non-emergency work emails in the evening or on the weekend. It's not that I don't look, but I give myself permission to let go. And I don't check my email in the morning until I arrive at work at 7:00 am. I realized that I was starting my work day at 5:45 am some days. If there is an emergency, I know I'll get a text or phone call. Adam Welcome inspired me to do a little digital detox and it's been a good thing. It's also helped me be more mindful about emailing teachers over the weekend- I don't want them to feel they have to respond on their off time. Sometimes, I want to send something while I am thinking about it, so I preface with a "don't reply until you're back at work" or use Boomerang to send first thing Monday morning.

Any tools out there that you’d recommend to a colleague?
As I mentioned before, Boomerang is awesome! You can schedule emails to send out whenever you want them to go! Check out Boomerang here!

Not sending out a long monthly newsletter has saved time, too. Use Twitter, Remind, and other digital tools to keep families informed and engaged in real time! Our school website is a hub for tons of information and not typing that newsletter has freed me up to be with teachers and kids more during the day! 

I'd love to hear how you manage your time!

The best thing? Learning. #youredustory

There are many things I do in my day-to-day job as an elementary principal. Signing paperwork. Sending parent communications. Drop off in the morning and pick up in the afternoon. The variety can be best described as exhausting and exhilirating and I love, love my job. The best thing in my job? Hands down, it's learning. Every single day I learn.

I learn with kids. I learn from kids.
Every Monday is No Office Day for me. No meetings. I spend the entire day with kids and teachers and I love it. I learn from the amazing teachers in our school and I connect with kids. Most days, I'm rarely in my office, but on Monday I'm never there. You can read more about No Office Day in a blog post I co-wrote with some administrator colleagues this past fall.

This kinder needed me to help him tie his shoe
and needed a hug
Kids helping each other learn
First graders learning about
technology and collaboration
Learning from Kate Messner
in an all school author Skype
Writing about learning
Phonics is fun when you teach it like this!
This kinder student shares her writing!
Learning about history at Angel Island
Learning about teamwork and history

Showing what we know in Minecraft Club
Learning that kids love to dance!
Learning the name of every student
Learning that all kids should love school 
Learning to knit
Learning that kids already "get" selfies in TK!
 Learning from other amazing educators

My friend and amazing principal Amy Fadeji inspires
me every day! This is us at New Year's in Truckee and 9 degrees!
A Google doc where leaders from across the country
share ideas from our Voxer chat
#leadwild is our hashtag
Hosting a Project GLAD training at our school
I'm often asked if I miss being in the classroom, and there are some things I miss. But  really, I feel like the whole school is my classroom and we are all learning together! I learn from the parent who calls with concerns about hot lunches or the parking lot. I learn from the child who won't come out from under the table and feel so lucky that I can take the time to just sit and listen and be there for that child. I couldn't do that when I had 25 students. Every picture in this post I took with my phone. How lucky I am to be a part of all of this? I am grateful to have teachers who provide me with honest feedback that helps me to grow as a leader and person. I treasure the connections I have with passionate and reflective school leaders, near and far who teach me about things like growth mindset, mindfulness, and play. They help me make decisions that always keep kids at the center.

My job? Learning. It's the best thing. 

This is part of the #youredustory blog challenge. It's not too late to join!

Monday, January 19, 2015

My favorite teachers #youredustory

How are you, or is your approach, different than your favorite teacher?

I've been thinking about this post all week.
I'm stuck.
I look back fondly on my years in school and yet...

I don't have a favorite teacher. Is that weird? I liked so many of my teachers. 

But I just don't remember much about them.
I have things I remember about them.
I only remember one field trip, but I must have gone on a few...

Elementary school highlights include the time Mrs. Carpenter brought a card to my house when I had the chicken pox.
Making  cardboard computer in third grade with Mr. Ray. We made a little red light turn on by touching brads with the correct answers.
My fourth grade teacher Ms. Regan reading The Black Cauldron to us each day after lunch.

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The Royal Readers field trip in fifth grade where I met Jane Yolen and she signed a copy of The Acorn Quest that I still have today. She's still one of my favorite authors and I LOVE Owl Moon!

Middle school? My PE teacher looked like Richard Simmons.
Dances. Oh, the slow dances. Kind of awkward when your dad is the principal.
Why don't I remember anything about my teachers?

High School
I remember Driver's Ed, taking behind-the-wheel lessons in a giant boat of a car.
Hands-on learning indeed.
The Scarlet Letter with Mrs. Schuler. 
Dissecting earthworms is actually the most awesome thing I remember! (And for some reason I did it twice!) They have ten hearts, but WHO was my teacher then? And why did I not dissect a frog?

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What stands out to me more than anything is how much I don't remember. More than anything, as a teacher, I wanted my students to remember what they learned, how they felt, to be excited about learning. I still feel that way.

And although I can't say I had a favorite teacher, I can say without a doubt that I loved learning when I could make something or explore something. I still love books as much as I loved The Black Cauldron as a 9-year old. I will never forget meeting an author in person and I still feel like I'm meeting a movie star when I meet authors today, or even when they reply to my Tweets! 

More than anything, I remembered how my teachers made me feel.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Everybody dance now.

If you ever have a chance to visit our school, come on a Friday. And wear your workout clothes, please. Yes, that includes running shoes and comfy pants. You'll usually find me wearing some kind of running pants, my running shoes, and a t-shirt of some kind. My shirts vary: a long-sleeved school tee, book related shirts, even a Minecraft shirt. Anything to get the kids talking to me! But I won't be the only one wearing casual athletic gear-- because it's Fitness Friday every Friday at our school and everyone participates! 

Up first, we have our Friday walks consisting of 30 minutes of jogging, walking, and talking to the beat of our sound system. Once, the neighbors complained about the music being too loud. Me, I think it's really that they don't like Kids Bop! We moved the speakers a bit and cranked it up. The kids love it, and it's one of my favorite things each week- the kids sing out loud and smile and they look happy. Unless it's raining hard, you'll find us out there in the parking lot moving and grooving.

Later in the day, our second grade team has a grade level wide workout and they alternate weekly between Zumba and Boot Camp with the help of a few parents accompanied by music. Can you just picture 53 kids doing squats and high knees? It's awesome!

Of course, Fridays aren't the only days where you'll find kids getting fit together. Our third grade team has a cross-fit style workout and art rotation during the week, and you'll find games and circuit training and more going on throughout the week. 

Some days I'm lucky to join in for a bit, but unless it's a Friday I'm usually wearing a dress and boots-- something not so workout-ish. I always enjoy watching the kids, but secretly I've been wanting to join in.

Lucky for me, our 4th and 5th grade team has a totally awesome elective-style block of time where kids choose an enrichment activity that the teachers lead--something the teacher is passionate about. This round, kids chose from Knitting and Crocheting, Newsletter, Digital Photography, Minecraft, and Zumba. 

Yes, Zumba. 

Everybody dance now!
Friday I joined in. For a whole hour. It was AMAZING! A mix of boys and girls dancing, clapping, stomping, smiling for a solid hour. It's hard to even describe what it was like to dance with the kids, to see the sheer joy on their faces, to see everyone try even when the steps were tricky. I felt awkward but I kept on dancing. Kids from other grade levels came through the gym and some of them started dancing on their way through. The teachers were dancing. The kids were speechless, mostly, and I imagine I was a sight. 

What would you think if you saw your principal doing...

My FAVORITE dance of the day. Try it!

That hour of dancing changed my whole feeling for the rest of the day. I can't help but think that we have to find a way to move, to dance EVERY day. I can't wait for next Friday! 

In the meantime, if you'd like to join us and dance your heart out, here's Petra Luhrsen's playlist of YouTube videos for her Zumba time. With most of the dances chosen by the kids in the class. 

Everybody dance now!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Make a difference. Just one. #youredustory

I find inspiration in quotes and stories and I could read them forever. Words are powerful-- even just a few. I have a dream. 
So simple. 
So few words touch so many people. 
Words can make a difference. 
But can I? 
How will I make the world a better place? I feel so small in the world. 

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As a school leader I have the opportunity to talk with so many people each day- kids, parents, teachers, and more. I love being in classrooms and watching kids fall in love with learning. I love the fun of recess and the joy of children skipping in the hall or dancing. 

I also love the kids who are crying. Who don't want to come out from under the table. Who put their heads down and won't say anything. In that moment, they aren't in love with learning. They aren't in love with anything. They are angry, frustrated, quiet, and loud. 

When I was in the classroom, I wanted them to be in my class. Now, I am so thankful they are at my school. Every single day.

I don't know if I can make a difference. But I want to try. 
What if we all made a difference to just one child every day? 
Every day I will try. 

The Starfish Story
A young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish have washed ashore. Further along he sees an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean.
“Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?,” he asks.
“Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.”
“But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.”
The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea. 
“It made a difference to that one.”
~Loren Eisley

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Word it out: 2014 blog reflection with a word cloud

How did I forget about this? Thank goodness Jessica Johnson reminded me about running my blog site through a word cloud in her 2014 Blog Review post! Here's what she had to say:

"As I review/reflect on 2014 I also enjoy running my blog site through Wordle to create a word cloud that makes the words used more often larger than the other less-used words. I got the idea from Tia Henriksen in this post to use it as a way to reflect on what you are blogging about to make sure you are focusing on what is most important to you."

I used Word It Out to create my word cloud because at home I only use a Chromebook and Wordle doesn't work on it. (Keep this in mind if you have Chromebooks at school-- it's a great tool for kids as well!) Here is a post by Kim Mattina with other Chromebook friendly word cloud generators.

Looking at my word cloud, school is a big one, no surprise there! I also love that students, teachers, books, and time figure prominently. In 2015 I'm going to work hard to make writing, learning, and families be more present in my blog. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Checkin' under the hood - 15 point inspection for this principal

Flickr image credit
Happy 2015! The year is flying by. Recently, I read Joe Mazza’s post Principals’ 15 Point Winter Break Inspection and was inspired to use his post as a way to reflect on the first half of my second year as a K-5 principal. Time to check under the hood! Below, you'll find Joe's 15 point inspection as well as my reflections heading into the new year.

1. Get away from the office. Enjoy some quiet reflective solitude as spring break begins. You’ve earned it. Reflect on the first 5 months of the school year. 

This Christmas break, I really took this to heart. I did very little work, read a lot, blogged a lot, slept in, and just tried to relax. I took a few trips to Truckee to visit my family and even watched the fireworks in 9 degree weather with my sparkly friend and rocking principal Amy Fadeji. It was fabulous to get away.

2. Take your spouse/significant other out to dinner and enjoy some quality time without your mobile device. If you’re a connected principal, you’re probably used to checking your phone for work emails, phone calls or Tweets even at home. It’s time to take a little break. 

My husband Sam and I had our first date night in a long time the first Friday of vacation. We watched Foxcatcher and went out to dinner. We need to do that more often.

3. Read an unrelated magazine article, book, or anything that takes you away from “job-thoughts.” Watch a movie or go shopping. Find the time to get back to exercising and taking better care of yourself. What have I read this year? This break?

This break I tried desperately to read as much as I could because I was WAY behind on my Goodreads goal for the year. I didn't make it, but I did read 73 books in 2014. You can read all about it here.

4. Update your own leadership goals for the year. What have you accomplished? What is your next move? What resources do you need to get there? What will you focus on in 2015?

All year long, our school goals have been focused on the theme Seeking Treasure: Learn Like a Pirate. We're definitely making headway in this pirate-y voyage, but next year I will try to have fewer initiatives and just focus on one thing. This year, I've already pulled back a bit and refocused more on school climate and community. Less is more next year!

5. Pull out your staff roster. Go top to bottom. Who have you worked the most with this year. The least? Make some goals for the [rest] of the school year on how you can support your staff.

I'm definitely doing this starting Monday. I would like to do a better job of making sure I'm getting around to everyone and supporting their needs. I need to make a checklist and date... maybe a Google form would help me accomplish this?

6. Arrange a meeting with your office staff. How has the year progressed? Set goals for the new year. Talk to them about “PARTNER” and how you want to take your building to the next level in developing a family-friendly school – Share abbreviated research. Ask them to consider the following mnemonic when helping a parent who has come to the office:

P- Put a smile on your face
A- Attitude-LESS
R- Recognize ESL or other needs (engage Language Line/interpreter)
T- Talk to them. Engage in conversation that shows them you care about them as people, they’re more than guests.
N- Never be satisfied that you have addressed the needs they walked in with. We can always do more.
E- Engage building resources (principal/guidance/teacher etc) each time the need arises.
R- Revisit reasons for visit and verbally confirm needs were met.

I love this. Totally doing it!

7. Arrange a meeting with your head custodian. Reflect on the school year. Share any feedback from staff and your own personal input. When was the last time you provided the staff type opportunity to complete a quick school cleanliness survey?

We have had a bumpy road this year in the custodial department. I'm looking forward to getting feedback from our custodial team and creating a Google form to gather feedback on a more regular basis.

8. Take a walk around the exterior of the building. How does it look? Check for safety risks while making notes to continue building an inviting campus for your families.
Ugh. Our school is in a commercial building. Our classrooms have no windows. Our school has no grass. Having said that, I LOVE going there every day! We definitely try to make the best of a unique physical space by keeping it clean, displaying student work and painting in bright colors. You'll see me outside at drop off and pick up every day trying to keep kids safe and welcoming families to our school.

9. Pull out any walkthrough data and observations you’ve done on staff so far.  Send an email to 5 teachers and include a link to a related resource. Consider moving to a free online walkthrough form.

I love the idea of providing a resource after being in the classroom. I spend every Monday out of my office and in classrooms as part of No Office Day. You can read a post I co-wrote for EdWeek with Adam Welcome, Eric Saibel and Ken Durham to find out more about why school leaders should get out of the office! I created a Google form for walkthroughs last year and it worked well. This year, I'd like to work on adding a script to provide feedback in a more timely way.

10. Encourage a colleague to sign up for Twitter. Find new resources and give yourself some new things to try over the last few weeks and during the summer. If they are already on Twitter, join a hashtag chat and Tweet it Forward- help another educator in the family identify relevance in this amazing global resource and build their “PLN.” Consider using the great Twitter resources of Jerry Blumengarten or Steven Anderson or visiting the Learn Twitter page on this blog.

Love Twitter. Many of our teachers are on Twitter. It's the best professional development ever and you can do it in your pajamas! My new PLN love is Voxer. Being a principal can be lonely and I love being connected to inspiring and passionate leaders from across the country! Check out this post by Adam Welcome where he shares how educators are connecting with this tool.

11. Reflect upon the level of feedback and praise you have provided your staff. Teaching can be a thankless job at times. Have you recognized the people in the trenches each day…the ones who lay it on the line with students and parents and make your school what it is? Send a text or write a note to them with authentic thanks and praise. Start thinking about what you will do for Teacher Appreciation Week to make this year different.

I want to do this more. I do try to leave written notes whenenver I am in classrooms, but I want to do more.

12. Plan an agenda for the next Home & School Meeting that evidences any changes you’ve made in response to their feedback. Instill in them that you are serious about building partnerships with your families and meeting them where they are. Use research and some proven strategies.

We have bi-monthly parent meetings that we have switched to a more PD for parents format this year. Some meetings have focused on social-emotional learning and Google Apps and the Common Core. Coming up, we're planning an update on planning the building of our new campus scheduled to open in 2016, and a Common Core Math night. At each of these meetings, we revisit our pirate-y goals and share progress. One thing I'm excited about-- we've already met our $21,000 fundraising goal for the year which has provided STEAM and Maker Space materials, a new portable stage, and art program, musical instruments, and more books for our library!

13. Does your school truly integrate technology each day in classrooms and overall? Search #edtech and get some ideas together to compliment your curriculum. What traditional components of your school can go digital?

We love technology! Kids blog and our students have Google accounts starting in first grade. We have a Minecraft EDU server, Spheros and Bee-Bots. Here are just some of the digital tools we use to communicate with families and tell our school's story. Check out our school website to see what we are up to! I will say I am proud of the work our school does around educational technology and we are a leader in this area.

Google Sites- every class
Classroom blogs- every class
School blog
Facebook group for our families
Audio Boom
Author Skypes

14. Identify student leadership opportunities at your school. You can never have enough opportunities for students to take ownership of their school. Student council members, student bloggers, photographers, environmental club members, academic tutors, guest readers. How about student voice and how this differs from student council or government.

This is the first year our school has had 4th and 5th graders and I would love to get a leadership group going!

15. Pick up the phone and cold call 20 parents. Solicit feedback on how the year has gone. Thinking bigger? Develop a family engagement survey to help provide information on where your parents feel connected and where you need to differentiate further for them. Here’s one that is based upon the important work of Karen Mapp.

Thanks, Joe for your inspiring post! To all of my leader friends, how is your year going? I'd love to hear what's under your hood :)