Thursday, February 18, 2016

1,2,3,4,5 Challenge #bringiton

Thanks, Jeff Kubiak @principalkubiak for bringing the 1,2,3,4,5  challenge my way! So thankful to be connected to so many school leaders who inspire me and challenge me to be better every day!

1. What has been your ONE biggest struggle during this school year?

This year has been both exciting and challenging because our new campus is under construction and scheduled to open with 220 more students in August 2016. It's been awesome to be able to design a school from the beginning and dream up a new space for amazing kids. But planning for a new school and growth has meant working on this year and next simultaneously-- selecting furniture, working on hiring 9 new teachers, bell schedules and more while trying to be present every day at school for kids, families and teachers. I like to be out and about as much as possible and I'm definitely feeling less available and visible than I'd like to be. I'm looking forward to being settled in our new school next year!

2. Share TWO accomplishments that you are proud of from this school year.

In my third year as a principal, I'm finally feeling good about having more balance between school and work. The #struggleisreal. Before becoming a principal I used to run about 25 miles a week. I ran three half marathons and even a marathon. But nothing in the way of balance or fitness until this year. Powered by a school-wide goal to be happy and healthy, (read more about it here) we started 15 minutes of dancing 4 days a week, and have Workout Wednesdays where everyone wears workout gear to school- me, the teachers, everyone! It's been a great change in our school, and I've been able to really focus on being more mindful and balanced myself. I have a fantastic and supportive Work. Life. Balance. group on Voxer who helps me practice this and not feel so alone.  In January I started running again. I've lost 30 pounds. I'm scheduled to run my first half marathon in March since becoming a principal. Becoming more balanced and healthy allows me to bring my best energy to my work and my family.

We start almost every school day with dancing. It's amazing. Kids and teachers spinning, kicking, smiling. Just 15 minutes. But it's been the best change. I love watching the kids (and teachers), and can't believe the difference 15 minutes of physical activity and a positive start to the day has made for kids. It's a rare day that I have a discipline problem. Kids and teachers are happy. And healthy. We are having fun! Isn't that what school's all about?

3. What are THREE things you wish to accomplish before the end of the school year?
  • Hire 9 awesome new teachers for our new school! 
  • Finish writing our Star Academy signature practices so we can share what makes our school special with anyone who asks. We all know what makes our school special, people who visit talk about it, but we don't have it written anywhere. It's going to be important with new staff, families, and kids that we can articulate it. We've chosen three things to define: a Connected School Community, Project Based Learning, and Assessment (of all kinds) to write and develop as a school.
  • Have an ESPN style announcement for our 2016-17 staff. Like this!

4. Give FOUR reasons why you remain in education in today’s rough culture.

One: The kids. They need us to make school awesome! Every day I can't wait to see the kids. Drop off is my favorite!
Dancers at drop off. EVERY DAY!
Two: Amazing educators who inspire me every day! From the hallways at my school to the teachers and school leaders I'm connected to via Voxer and Twitter. I have hope. Many people have big dreams for re-imagining school. I can't wait to see what we can create together!
Three: I love it. I cannot imagine doing anything else. My work is my passion! I have the best job ever! 
Four: People who say it can't be done. A school without textbooks? Let me show you how awesome it can be! First graders with Google accounts? The BEST. YouTube unblocked for students? As it should be. Every initiative does not come in a box. Little kids can do big things. Trust teachers and kids and AMAZING things will happen. Say YES as often as you can.

First graders rocking tech.

5. Which FIVE people do you hope will the take the challenge of answering these questions.
These five are just a few who inspire me every day!

Joe Wood @ucdjoe 
Jessica Cabeen @JessicaCabeen 
Brandon Blom @brandonkblom 
Tracey Allen @PrincipalTallen
Rick Rubino @GUSDSUPT 

I also want to challenge Katie Gustafson @mrsgustafson who I am so lucky to work with as part of the #SAVMP program!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Let's share the AMAZING! #savmp

I love being part of the School Administrators Virtual Mentor Program and each month we have a blogging prompt. This month we're sharing what makes our school amazing! Here's the prompt:

What is it that makes YOUR school amazing? What do YOU have to offer your community? What is happening in your school that the whole world should know? It is ALWAYS the perfect time to share how amazing your school, teachers, and students are.

I decided to post the question in our family Facebook group. Here's what they had to say:

"Some of the things that I think make a difference:
1. Parents are involved in all processes, decision making, how funds are spent, what's important to us.
2. Social media presence allows us to see what the kid are doing all day and engage them in conversation about it.
3. Not teaching by text books or worksheets
4. The freedom given to our teachers
5. Administrators make a huge difference, they support our teachers and know our families
6. Realizing the importance of physical activity in keeping kids engaged and healthy
7. An emphasis on incorporating technology wherever possible
8. Changes do not have to be high cost, we do it on a budget
9. Finding places for parents and families to be involved wherever they can, in and out of the classroom

10. Not stifled from making decisions by burdensome bureaucracy.
11. Not afraid to try new things, tweak them, and try again
12. Nothing we are doing is too hard to replicate anywhere else!
I could keep going, but there's a start!"

"The teachers are amazing. They take learning to levels that most teachers dare not go. Why? Because it requires work. Not the kind of work that requires grading papers after hours, but work that requires teachers to interact with their students to see what students know and inquire when they don't know. It doesn't stop there. The best teaching come from the love that they have for their students. Not every student comes from perfect families. Shoot as adults, we don't come from perfect families. However, every child deserves to learn. This school and these teachers set the tone for learning. This school is simply amazing!"

"It seems to me that teachers at STAR are encouraged and allowed to be risk takers. It may sound like a small thing to non-educators, but having the professional freedom to do what you think is best for your students rather than follow a textbook or a top-down curriculum is a big deal."

"1. I love that the teachers and administrators are always looking for innovative ways to teach and help the kids learn. 
2. The teachers and staff are accessible 
3. The focus on physical activity is great 
4. The view that education is more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. It's teaching good character, having an environment where it is safe to take risks, serving our community, looking for ways to be inclusive etc.
4. The focus on creating a classroom design that helps kids learn the best way 
5. I love that parental involvement is encouraged 
6. The love of reading instilled in the children is amazing. Reading is viewed as "cool" by everyone. 7. Willingness to think outside the box."

"While wearing my parent hat - A dedicated focus on helping each kid grow from their current set of skills whether it be academic or socio-emotional.
While wearing my colleague hat - A community of learners (students, families, teachers, staff) that always inspires me to innovate and try new things."

"What I love about Star is the way the teachers and administrators inspire our kids to do better and be better not just inside the classroom but everyday life. It's not just about what they learn in their heads but instilling lessons for their hearts that make me love the school. I love the kind program and love kids in motion. Because these kinds of programs in addition to the great teachers make our children THRIVE because we are teaching kids lessons for their mind body and soul!"

"I agree with the other comments. The teachers/staff lead by example which makes all the difference. They don't tell the students to "do this" or "try this" but instead they participate on a daily basis which makes learning new things more fun and builds an atmosphere of belonging. Also, countless opportunities for parent involvement and communication contributes to a school that always feels safe and welcoming. We have no doubts that our children are in good and competent hands. The teachers are supportive and encouraging and understand the value of positive reinforcement."

Thank you to everyone for sharing your thoughts! I LOVE coming to school every day and being part of a school community where everyone is a learner and focused on what makes a difference for kids!