Sunday, March 29, 2015

Re-imagining recess

According to, recess is a noun defined as temporary withdrawal or cessation from the usual work or activity

Gee. That sounds like fun. 

Synonyms include respite, rest, break, and vacation. At my elementary school, all kids have recess each day, which is spent running around, riding trikes, and playing soccer. Doing the monkey bars and having fun on the slide. Playing football and basketball. Hanging out. Having snack. Sounds like fun, and I do think if you asked the kids they would say they like recess. But, recess is tricky at our school. See our playground below?
This is our playground.
If you think it looks like a truck stall, you are right. Truly, it's decent- for a truck stall, but it's way too small for all of the things kids try to do in that space. Balls land on top of the semi trailers from the Big Box store next door. There is NO grass. No field. And almost no shade. It works as well as it can, but kids can get a little banged up out there. Our office staff is always handing out band-aids and ice packs for skinned knees and kids that get accidentally hit in the soccer ball walking through the gym. I have spent tons of time out on the yard trying to figure out how to make it safer for kids and more enjoyable. Last Friday, our third grade teachers brought out some jumpropes to play with the kids. It was the best recess ALL YEAR. Why? Kids were engaged and having fun and not running full speed in a space built for a semi. And look at the smiles!

Ms. Fraser and Ms. Steinlein rocking the jumpropes!

Watching the third graders that day definitely got me thinking that we needed more things for the kids to do at recess. And just before that, at the morning walk, I watched kids rocking out and dancing at our Fit Friday walk -- inspired by some Kids Bop tunes!

Lunch is kind of like recess. With all of the kids in one place, sitting with not much to do, behavior can sometimes be a challenge. Last Friday, I turned on the Kids Bop version of Uptown Funk in the lunchroom. And this happened.

Smiles. Singing. Not one behavior problem. Just passionate kids singing their hearts out. Doing something they loved. But then, at recess, the same old problems happened. Too many kids, too little space and nothing much to do. I tried scheduling different games in the gym on different days. I tried limiting the number of kids in one space. I was out there myself, encouraging yard supervisors to move around and actively engage kids. Still, the band-aid parade continued. 

And then I read this post about Montpelier High School in Vermont and how they shifted their schedule to add 15 minutes for recess- in high school. But what I read in that post had nothing to do with basketball or band-aids. "Recess" became "Unplugged" -- 15 minutes for students to unwind, relax, and connect with friends in a variety of activities. Some of the activities include Knitting, Meditation, Yoga, Frisbee, Board games, Jam band, Graffiti art board, 15-minute workout and a "Walk + talk" (talking a walk on the school grounds).

"Students or teachers can suggest and lead activities. When a student suggests and wants to lead an activity, Bill makes sure there will be faculty supervision and involvement. He also makes sure there is a room for the activity, so if a student wants to do theater improvisation, he investigates whether the auditorium is available during that time. If a teacher wants to lead basketball, the gym should be available. Activities can also vary depending on the weather. When it's nice out, students like to be outdoors for Frisbee, or a 15-minute workout, or a walk around the school grounds."

I realized I've been thinking about recess all wrong. I've been doing recess the way we did it when I was a kid. At my old school. This post made me think that we can do better. When we get back from Spring Break, I'm excited about the possibilities for re-imagining recess at our school. It took reading a blog post about high school kids to get me to realize what's been right in front of me all along. Jason Markey blogged here about making time for students to create and follow their passion. I already knew that the best times in our day happen when kids are connecting, having conversation, and doing something they love. Like Legos! Or Yo-yos?

Why not recess? 

The Yo-Yo Zone

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Feedback. Don't freak out.

I love this quote. Every day, I try to live this quote. I click buttons fearlessly. I try things I have no idea how to do. I will dance in front of strangers. I embrace the mess. But one thing was freaking me out a little. A lot. Feedback. Mostly receiving it. I feel a little like Scooby and Shaggy when it comes to asking for feedback as a school leader.

I recalled things that I had said before to others. "There's no such thing as bad data!" "We're just looking for strengths. Areas for growth." But still I struggled with asking for feedback about ME. What questions should I ask? What if they are HONEST? What if they don't like me?

And then I read this book. It's all about assessing your school and how feedback can help you transform your school culture, and includes tons of great questions for teachers, leaders, and more.


I kept thinking. Listening to colleagues like Jon Corippo and Eric Saibel helped me. I wanted a short survey. I wanted to start with ME. If I could be open and transparent and share the data about me, could that help to open conversations about other areas of our school?
Jon Corippo

Eric Saibel
But still I was a little scared. Then Eric posted this on Twitter. Feedback about him and his leadership team. Public. AWESOME.

Inspired by Eric, I created my survey that day. Seven questions. About me. Okay, six. (I accidentally asked the same question twice!)
I used a 1-10 scale and left space for comments after each question.
I sent it out before I could change my mind.
Thanks for the push, Eric.
The results from my survey are below. I love having the data.
All of it. I'm excited to talk about it. To ask more questions. To keep learning.
I'll be posting it on the wall of our staff lounge when we return from Spring break.

 Some results from our family feedback survey.

Things I learned.

Looking at this data, what questions might you add? How can I improve? What does it tell you about our school? Our culture? I can tell you that I think I work with an amazing team of teachers who are passionate, creative, and kid-centered. I feel so fortunate to lead our school!

Feedback. It's a good thing. Ask questions. Put the data out there. You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Who leads your school? #leadwild

Who is the leader in our school? I am the principal, the lead learner, and I feel an immense sense of responsibility about establishing a positive school climate and culture that promotes a love of learning and positive relationships for students. Truly, I am living the dream. I love my job and can't wait to get to school each day. I'm always thinking about our school, how we can make it better, and how we can move forward together. I may be "in charge" but I can't do it alone. I have an awesome team of teachers and support staff and I trust them completely. Last year, in my first year as a principal, I struggled to figure out what I was doing, which made it hard to share the load. This year, it's been amazing to watch our teachers and students lead our school in so many different ways. 
Give away the office? I love sharing the leadership in our school. I leave my office as much as possible.
THIS tweet happened when I was off campus for the day!
This 2nd grader was principal for the day!
2nd grader teaching math!
Dr. Seuss night run by students and teachers
Teachers leading PD
Classroom Management or Mismanagement Team
Our counselor leading with teachers!
Even Daniel Pink is leading our school!
I get TONS of inspiration from other principals like Adam Welcome!

This I believe. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Setting the table for delicious staff meetings

Staff meetings. Staff gatherings. Whatever they are called in your school, you may hear a collective groan at the thought of another boring meeting filled with laundry lists of dates and details to be added to your plate. In my second year as an elementary principal I've thought about this a lot. If there's one thing we don't have enough of as educators, it's time. And not a minute should be wasted. Especially not in blah and unproductive meetings. Earlier this year, my friend and amazing elementary principal Adam Welcome shared this video with me and mentioned that he had shared it at his staff meeting earlier that week. Just watch.


You might be wondering why Adam shared this at his staff meeting-- I was, too. He shared that he uses a lot of videos that aren't "educational" to inspire his staff. I don't know the exact context of this video in his meeting, but it definitely got me thinking. Around that same time I read a blog post by Michael Podraza with his take on a Faculty Meeting Recipe . You can read his post for all of the details, but in a nutshell the big ideas include watching a video or reading a text using some type of discussion protocol and thinking about what the key takeaways you're looking for out of the meeting. What's not stated directly in the post, but was a BIG a-ha for me was that meetings should be just PD. I have always tried to plan engaging meetings, but I could do better. Meetings are definitely not a time for one administrator to talk and for teachers to passively listen. Not a time for things that can be shared via email. Staff meetings should be focused on learning, filled with reflection, conversation, sharing, and even celebration. Inspired by Adam's video and Michael's recipe, I began thinking and planning along with Caroline Hines, our amazing social-emotional counselor. As the only elementary administrator, it sometimes gets lonely and I am so fortunate to have such an inspiring colleague to plan and dream with.

One of the challenges with staff meetings is the time limit. It's not always possible to go from start to finish in under an hour. I began to reframe my thinking around our once a month whole staff meetings. What if instead of a series of disconnected meetings we engaged in a thoughtful year-long conversation? What if teachers sharing their learning WAS the meeting?

Our year-long focus as a school this year has been looking at school-wide culture and expectations, and how building relationships can lead to a more positive school culture. With this in mind, we created a recipe for our meeting in January using Michael's recipe as inspiration. We started the meeting by watching this video and reflecting individually in our writer's notebooks:

Then we watched the Small Plates video shared by Adam and followed with this question:

I've really made an effort this year to provide time for teachers to reflect individually without sharing--with time and space to be quiet. Not everything needs to be a conversation in a meeting. So, we always bring our writer's notebooks to staff meetings, and use them mostly for quick writes. 

During this meeting, the theme was voices from the outside, and in small groups teacher's read and discussed different articles or blog posts around the idea of management and building relationships. The three we analyzed included: 
Classroom Management… or Should it be Mismanagement? by Katharine Sokolowski , Five Rules We Impose on Students That Would Make Adults Revolt by Pernille Ripp , and some articles and documents about Restorative Practices & Love and Logic . We used the save the last word for me protocol shared by Michael in his recipe. You can view our meeting presentation here.

In that January meeting, we were only able to begin the conversation, and it continued into our next meeting where teachers then created a presentation together that would ultimately be shared with our entire staff. In the meetings since then, groups have taken turns leading the meeting and sharing their learning. Our final presentation will be shared tomorrow, and you can view all of their presentations here.

We're still continuing the conversation, and it's the middle of March. Even though we've only met once a month since that first meeting in January, we've been able to continue that thread throughout each meeting. Thinking about his topic together will continue throughout the rest of this year, and maybe even into next year. The presentations by teachers and the discussions that followed have been incredible.

My takeaways? Staff meetings should not be something teachers should have to endure, but rather an opportunity to learn together and lead together. The thing I love the most about this idea of a recipe for staff meetings is that it is a structure that allows for shared leadership to develop in a school. What if we all share in leading learning at our school? What are the small or big ways teachers can lead in your school? Eric Saibel recently blogged about teachers as leaders in a recent post about making over staff meetings if you are looking for even more inspiration!

Thinking back to those little kids at that fabulous restaurant, I think there is a lot we can apply to create a smorgasbord of tasty learning at our meetings-- like a multi-course meal.

Start with a small dish, an appetizer. What video, quote, or article can you find that can inspire your staff or give them something to think about? To write about?

Main dish
The entree. Where's the beef? What will participants be DOING? Get them communicating, collaborating, thinking critically, and creating around a big idea. This is what we want students to be doing in the classroom--learning with adults should be the same. Set your meeting on fire!

Time for dessert! What will be the icing on the cake? How can teachers share or celebrate to finish out your meeting on a sweet note?

Finally, don't forget the shopping list. Create a shared list of resources that everyone can add to and pull from. That way, planning the next meeting can be as easy as following this recipe and shopping for the right ingredients! Bon appetit!