Friday, November 20, 2015

Progress, One Day at a Time

As our trimester comes to a close, I started looking back at our school year so far.  As anyone who works in education knows, time goes fast and sometimes it is hard to see what progress we have made with our students and our school.  Our students are now in their routines.  All the big dreams we had over summer about the changes we were going to make this year are either a reality, in progress, or unfortunately not happening yet.  But the same questions keep coming up in my mind, are we better than we were last year?  Are we better than we were even at the start of the school year?  Are we better than we were the day before?
1st Grade Literature Circles

At one of our recent professional development days our Superintendent, Derk Garcia, spoke about the need to get better everyday.  He asked us a few questions to think about.  When we get our students in the morning, by the time they leave our school for the day, did they get better by being in our classrooms?  Do they leave us better each day than when they first arrived?

Adria Klein speaking to our teachers during one of our PD days
At the PD day, Adria Klein was our speaker and she also spoke about getting better.  She said the goal is to get better by ten percent each year.  If we did that year after year as educators our students would be better off.  Sometimes it seems like we need to be a million times better but the reality is we just need to get better each day and all that daily improvement adds up.

Our staff at the district technology day called THINKFest

As a teacher, that small improvement can be hard to see.  As a principal, seeing that progress can be even more difficult.  Sometimes our students seem to take a step backward.  There are days where what they just knew the day before they don't know today.  There are days when I leave school and I know I worked hard but did any of that work make a difference for our students.

Tree of Life in the Art Room, this month's art project

But that's the thing, our students are improving.  When I look at data I can see students growing.  Our school is improving and I can see the changes and progress we have made.  We now have before school intervention for some of our younger students who are still emerging as readers.  We now have music weekly for our TK and K students.  We have an Art Room up and running so our students have a place to do art.  We have a Choir for our 2nd and 3rd graders, Tech Club for our 4th and 5th grade students.  We have new art around campus.  When I walk through classrooms students are having more academic conversations more than ever before.  They are getting the chance to use speaking and listening to better understand content. 

"Almost Pitch Perfect" our 2nd and 3rd grade choir
Our 4th and 5th grade Tech Club using Spheros

Teachers this year have the opportunity to go into each other's class and learn from one another.  School culture is great, teachers greet students at the door every morning.  We are more connected as a staff as we are sharing our learning and what is happening in our classroom on Twitter. 

Sharing our learning and visits to other teacher's classrooms on Twitter

There are still areas I see the need for improvement as a school.  Personally I need to still improve on how I can support teachers as we integrate new math strategies, increase student reading of non-fiction texts, how we can get students to write more and continue to foster their love of reading.  There are plenty of areas I need to keep improving so I can help our teachers best help our students.

New Art Around Campus
I know in education it can sometimes it is hard to see the progress each day.  Sometimes when we take a step back we realize there is improvement and all of our hard work is paying off.  Our students are making progress.  And all that progress happens just one day at a time.

Friday, July 31, 2015

A Thank You to All Teachers

I am lucky enough to be able to have most of July off.  I do come by school every now and then to check and see how things are going and to make sure everything is looking like it will be ready for the start of the school year.  One thing sticks out to me every summer I am here and that is how quiet everything is.  The place this is most evident is when you walk into a classroom.  Our custodians move everything to the side so they can do a deep clean and wax the floors.

When I look at the rooms like this it is amazing to me that in a few weeks these places that are bare right now will be full of magic.  It also is a great reminder of how much work is ahead for our teachers.  As a principal I do my best to appreciate my staff and thank them for their work but as the year goes on I get busy as well.  I know I am not the only principal that feels that way.  That is why I decided it would be as good a time as any to say thank you to them.

I'm not sure how anyone who has not been a teacher can fully understand how much energy it takes to start a school year.  Teachers have to get their rooms ready, meet with their PLC to plan, have PD before school starts, order new things for the year, get ready for Back to School Night (we do ours before school starts), and all the other things teachers have to do to get ready to start the year.  It is so much energy and I want to thank not just our teachers but all teachers for all they have to do to get ready for a successful school year.

If all teachers did was just teach during the school day it still would be the most important job.  But teachers have to do so much more.  I am lucky to have such an amazing staff.  They constantly want to get better.  These thank you's are definitely for them but also for teachers everywhere who are doing their best to be great for students.  Here are a few things I want to make sure I thank all teachers for before the school year starts.

-Thank you for being prepared each day.

-Thank you for constantly learning.

-Thank you for constantly pushing our students and making sure they grow.

-Thank you for working with your PLC and colleagues to come up with what is best for our students.

-Thank you for all the time you put in before and after school.

-Thank you for being positive role models for all of our students, but especially those that do not have a positive role model in their life.

-Thank you for taking the time to help and be a part of the before and after school events when you can.  You do it just because you care.

-Thank you for making our community a better place.

-Thank you for making our schools a place where students want to come and learn.

-Thank you for pushing your principal and other administrators to make sure decisions are made with students in mind.

-Thank you for caring.  You care so much for our students and you will do anything to make sure they succeed.

-Thank you for bringing new ideas to our staff.

-Thank you for coming and doing your job day in and day out with a smile on your face even when sometimes that is not always the easiest thing to do.

-Thank you for helping our parents be part of our school community while also helping them understand that our schools are about children, not adults.

-Thank you for doing a job that is constantly being shown in a negative light.  If only people knew how hard you work to make your classroom as special place for children.

Really, I could go on forever.  As a former teacher, principal, and parent of 3 young children, I cannot thank our teachers everywhere enough for all that they do.  This is still one of my favorite quotes about education:

Every moment does matter.  And the best news is you get to be the biggest reason if our students have a great day or not.  So thank you again, enjoy the rest of your much deserved summer, there is a lot of work ahead.  There also is a lot of magic ahead as well, and I know that I and all of our students can't wait.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Don't Just Stand There, Bust A Move!

I believe strongly in making school a place where students want to go, not a place where they have to go.  There is a huge difference to me.  Would our students still want to come to school if they didn't have to?  They will if our teachers, staff, and leadership take the time to build relationships with them and we are so enthusiastic about learning that it transfers to our students. 

A few weeks ago I attended NAESP in Long Beach.  While technology is great and I love seeing how we can use new tools to engage and connect, the overriding theme from both speakers and principals from those 4 days is that everything still comes down to relationships.  In their blog post titled Relationships Matter Most, Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney write ideas on how to build relationships with students. They have some great ideas, many of which I feel passionately about including: knowing the name of every student, believing everyone can achieve greatness, eating with kids and staff, playing with kids, and high-fiving and greeting students.  There is one thing I feel very strongly about and would add to that list.  Dancing! 

Dancing to a little Justin Bieber at Cooley Middle School in Roseville, CA.

Every year since I started in education we have danced for our students at an assembly or talent show. It is a great way to build a positive school culture and build relationships with students.  I have now done this with three different staffs at three different schools. I have done it as a principal, and also as a teacher in middle schools in two very different areas.  The reasons to dance in front of a multipurpose room full of kids have been the same for all three of these different school settings:

Kids love it- The most important piece. Kids love to see their teachers dance. You will never see bigger smiles on their faces.
Great way to bring a staff together- What a great way to team build and have some fun as a staff.
Shows kids you care- I am a big believer that while you can tell kids you care, you have to show them by your actions as well. This is a great way to do that.
They will remember it forever- I recently ran into some students I hadn't seen for over 4 years. You know the first thing they brought up? Our dances. (Not sure what that says about my teaching).
It is crazy fun!- When I first brought it up to my current staff some weren't so sure about this.  Now most are asking what song we are going to do for this year.  We had our custodian, librarian, secretaries and teachers all up on stage at the same time this year!

Gangnam Style at Stoneridge Elementary School.

Do you need to be a good dancer? No. Do you need to be an average dance? No. Kids do not care. Do you have to do your best and dance with some energy and passion? Yes! They just want to see you go all out. And really whether it is dancing or teaching, they want the same thing. Adults who are all in for them. So this year when you aren't sure what to do to change school culture or build relationships with kids it is really quite simple. Don't just stand there, bust a move! You will not regret it.

Not the best video quality, but you get the idea.  Single Ladies at Norwood Junior High in Sacramento.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Can We Tear Down the Great Divide? Yes!

This morning when flipping through twitter I came across this blog post by Pernille Ripp titled Dear Administrators, Can We Tear Down the Great Divide?

I had actually recently been thinking about the role of a principal and what is the perception when people hear that job title.  I know for most people when they think of a principal there is a certain image they think of, and unfortunately that image is not always positive.  What do people think about when they hear principal?  Dan Butler covered this in his blog post Belding, Vernon, Rooney.

The reason I have been thinking more about this recently is I came back from NAESP just over a week ago.  I came back so inspired by these amazing principals.  These principals were not what most people probably think of when they hear the word.  They were enthusiastic, tech savvy, honest, open, knowledgeable and true leaders.  I have never seen them at their school or with their staff, but you could just tell by their enthusiasm,
knowledge and communication skills that these principals definitely inspire both staff and students.

So lucky to meet and stay connected to these amazing principals.

Right after NAESP I went to CUE Rock Star Lake Tahoe with 8 of my teachers.  It was one of the best experiences I have had as a principal.  I have already expressed how great I think CUE Rock Star camps are here, but this time it was different because I had my teachers with me.  We were learning together.

Our staff together at CUE Rock Star

Which all leads me back to Pernille Ripp's original question.  Can we tear down the great divide? Here are a few suggestions I have for principals:

-Keep Learning.  Your best teachers are always reading, learning and wanting to go to conferences and improve.  As principals we need to be doing the same.  I might not be able to go to all the PD my teachers go to, but my staff knows that I am constantly learning.  I share what I am reading, what conferences I am going to, what I am learning.

-Learn Together.  How many times have you been at a conference and teachers are learning and the principal is there but they are off to the side dealing with stuff back at school.  As principals we need to be in the middle of the action too, asking questions and participating. And if you ask your staff to read something or try something new, then make sure you are doing the same.

-Know your staff and make sure they know you care about them. Do things together as a staff. Multiple times a year we get together as a staff outside of school and get to hangout.  Whether it is a holiday party, getting together after Back to School Night, end of year party, or even having a staff meeting outside of school, we make sure we get away from school to bond.  There is something about getting to know them away from school, get to know their spouses and families.  The first question I always ask at the end of the year when we meet is "How is your family?"

-Be open and honest.  Sounds so easy but it is essential to tear down the walls between administrator and teacher.  For example, I open it up to my teachers what they want to see us spend money on for the upcoming year.  They know not everything they suggest will be able to be purchased but at least I get to see what they feel is important.  I constantly ask would you rather have us spend money on this or that. When it comes to bigger decisions I am as honest as I can be about why I made that decision and the thinking that went into my final decision.

-Care about the students as much as they do.  Our teachers care deeply about their students and expect principals to care as much as they do as well.  As principals it is important we are out high-fiving kids everyday,be in the classroom, know all of their names, and care as deeply as our teachers do.

So far everything I have listed are things that principals can do to help tear down those walls.  I'm sure there is more than one, but here is one thing that teachers can do to help.

-Know this job can be really difficult.  I know as a teacher I never fully appreciated what a principal has to do and deal with on a daily basis.  It is nonstop.  Many of the things principals do is to clear the way so teachers can worry about teaching and not all the other things.  For example, if I asked teachers in your district how many teachers are effective, what percentage would they give?  What if I asked the same question to teachers about principals, how many are effective?  My guess is that the percentage of teachers seen as effective would be higher.  And maybe that is because we do have more effective teachers than principals.  Or it could be that the job of a principal is so challenging that we are put into a position that is very very difficult to succeed in.  I'm sure it is not always the case, but my guess is that same principal who might not be seen as effective as an administrator was an effective teacher and someone that was very highly thought of as a teacher.

I don't have all the answers but hopefully some of these ideas will help other principals to tear down walls if that is how they feel with their staff.  I would love to hear from teachers what they feel about this divide and how we can break it down.  I would love to hear more from administrators too.  There are plenty of challenges standing in the way of us doing what we need to do to help our students.  We don't need to add another challenge by having a wall between our teachers and administrators.  The bottom line is we are all on the same team.  The only way we can be the best for our students is if every moment of everyday we are working together to help our kids.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Story of How I Finally Got Connected

This is my first blog post and I hope there are many more to follow. There are a lot of topics I thought about writing about, but the one that I kept thinking about was my experience at CUE Rock Star in Petaluma back in February.  I wanted to show how that one weekend has led to so many other great things for my school and me.

I'm sure CUE Rock Star camps are amazing experiences for everyone, but I feel like it was especially great for someone like me.  I was someone who really wanted to be connected but wasn't. I had a Twitter account but didn't really use it. I had never heard of Voxer.  I wasn't learning from educators in other districts.

The idea to go to CUE Rock Star came from Kristina Allison, a great teacher in our school district. For those that have seen the first follower video before, she would definitely be our district's leader when it comes to Edtech.  I told her I would gladly be her first follower.

While there I took a session on Minecraft from Jon Corippo. That led to me having Minecraft installed on computers at our school and having a before and after school Minecraft class starting next year.

Another session I took was from Brian Briggs. Briggs showed how you can use Parrot Drones and Spheros to teach kids to code. That led to me going into classrooms and teaching students how to use them.

Another session I went to was by Jen Klozko on how to blog (hey thanks Jen, it only took 4 months but I finally did it!).

From this weekend I was introduced to Voxer by Amy Fadeji. I now have a group of elementary school principals from all over that I can connect with, ask questions, and get advice.  Being more connected to these educators allowed me to go visit Star Academy in Natomas where Jen is principal and for Amy and Jen to come visit my school.

Going to this conference also gave me ideas of what we could do for our district. In May our district had our first ever Tech Summit. I gave the keynote for the event and presented two different sessions. It was a great day for our district and I had a lot of fun.

This Voxer group also led to me learning about the NAESP conference down in Long Beach thanks to Adam Welcome.  Adam told me all about it and how it would be a great place to continue learning and connecting, so tomorrow morning I head down to Long Beach.  He added me to a NAESP Voxer group and can't wait to meet people I have been connecting with for months but haven't met in person.  Not going to lie, I also can't wait for the much anticipated Bean Bag tournament.

The fun continues next week as I get to take 8 teachers from my school to CUE Rock Star Lake Tahoe. I know my teachers will love it, and I hope they find a way to connect with other educators and keep it going long after it is over.

I want to thank CUE Rock Star for providing such a fantastic atmosphere that allows people to learn and connect.  I also want to sincerely thank my PLN for being so awesome and giving me a place to get energized and even more excited about education. I love how one February weekend in Petaluma has turned into all these great things. I look forward to continuing learning from everyone. Now that I am connecting with so many amazing educators there is no going back.  I feel like the fun has just begun.