Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Walk To School Wednesdays

I am sure that most educators can relate to a "big book of ideas" that is compiled while you student teach, or in my case, when you are an Assistant Principal just waiting for your big chance. Those little gems of goodness that you just know we will fabulous implemented in your OWN space.   I LITERALLY had a binder of ideas, articles, outlines, and blackline masters of all kinds of stuff when I was an assistant that I compiled of ideas from my graduate work, my former principals, and my mentor principal for several years before I was appointed to my own school.  These days you likely use an online application, a blog, and/or file on your cloud drive to compile and save these gems.  These days, I am a big fan of Pinterest and often take to "pinning" things when I get inspired.  I know that there are still things out there that I want to try and implement and so I save them for when the moment is right.  

One such"big idea" that I was knew I wanted to implement was the idea of Walk to School Wednesday. This was an idea that I had not actually witnessed by the great leaders that I am honored to have worked with over the course of the year, but rather a body of educators that shared their experiences and success with Walk to School Wednesday.  

Last Spring, I was driven to "vlog" about Walk to School Wednesday.  This video explains my reasons for bringing this initiative to McCall and also sets my expectations for the staff about this program. Please excuse the windy day that blows over the mic of my phone, but the day we were having is EXACTLY what inspired me to film my thoughts.  I hope this little youtube clip helps you understand the essence of Walk to School Wednesdays here at McCall. See below for a revised dress code for Walk to School Wednesdays!

Dress Code to Participate in Walk To School Wednesday:
  • Running/Walking Shoes
  • Jeans
  • Loose fitting athletic wear
  • Hoodies
These items may no longer be worn for Walk to School Wednesday:
  • Form fitting athletic tops

Fresh faces and fresh spaces--New Teachers are AWESOME

It's the time of year that I absolutely love; all the elements of the system we call school are finally coming together.  While this past spring and summer have been hectic keeping up with all the needs we have for this year, I feel 100% certain that we've got the best new people for our little people and their families.

For my brand new teachers, welcome to the profession.  In my opinion, teaching is the hardest job you will hold aside from being a parent.  In my years of experience, I have found that teaching will:  keep you up at night, make you worry that you didn't give enough of yourself, make you break down and cry when you make your first CPS call, make your families hold dinner for you more than once this school year, give you a high when you realized you orchestrated the "light bulb" moment for a child,  make you angry when parent does not realize the potential of their child; but above all, teaching WILL give you more rewards and love than you thought possible.  I simply cannot imagine a more worthy calling than teaching. Thank you for answering the call and working with the children at my school.

I promise to help you in every way that I can possibly help you this year.  You will have a mentor, teammates who will become your second family, and a principal who loves her staff, students, and school with her WHOLE heart.  We are a team.  Please come to me if you are struggling, worried, stressed, overwhelmed, or dissatisfied.  I cannot help you if you don't let me into your thoughts, fears, concerns, or needs.  We can find a solution together for most everything this first year will throw at you.

I LOVE watching new teachers come into their own in the classroom.  You all are MY lightbulb moments that I go home and tell my family about around the dinner table.  I am in awe of your courage, energy, and endless new ideas.  It keeps all of us fresh, so please do SHARE.  None of us would grow if it wasn't for all the new teachers who keep us fresh.

I am on your side.  However, we work with children and I will always keep them at the forefront of any tough decision that has to be made. There may be times that we have to have hard conversations, but in those moments, you have to remember that at the heart of every conversation and decision I will make is one that is only centered around children and their best interests.  One request that I make is that we have completely open conversations and that you realize that YOU are the STUDENTS in my classroom. That's the

I have a sign in my office that reads, "Teacher who love teaching teach children who love learning" and I try to inspire all my teachers to keep that at their forefront.  How do we do that?  Well, I think that continuing to learn and try new things keeps that fresh spirit in the classroom.  consider myself a principal who loves the craft of teaching with my whole heart.  I adore learning new things and helping everyone find their niche.  I can talk "school" for hours and hours.  I try hard to be wide read so that I can be a great partner for ALL the content we have on an elementary campus.  That said, reading will forever hold me captive and draw me in above any other content area.  I have often said, if I was told tomorrow that principals were being eliminated, I'd be very happy back in a kindergarten or first grade classroom.

I love walking through the classrooms and watching all the fantastic educators we have at McCall making learning come alive for the kids.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Journey is Worth It!

I am not really sure where to start, but I am going to write from my heart for today's post. On April 25, 2011, I found out that I was going to be the principal of McCall. I saved the correspondence as it was the biggest moment of my professional life.  I was so thrilled, honored and felt really ready to start my journey and lead the great teachers of McCall. I had my "big book of ideas" ready to crack open and implement.  In hindsight, I really was nowhere near ready.

I have faced some of the biggest challenges and obstacles in my professional life over the last few years.  While my vision and background in curriculum were solid, many things had to change to fully receive my vision.  As a result, I have had more ups and downs than I ever have in my life.  This role is not for the faint of heart.  I am tough on the outside, but inside, I am so very sensitive.  I have internalized a lot in the past and put on a brave face in much of the adversity and changes that came my way. I began to think that maybe I was not going to be cut out for this role and perhaps no one was going to "get me".  I knew that all these obstacles were placed in my way for a reason, but it was not an easy road to stay upon. The more changes came my way, the more things began to click into place. Even though things began to click, I still silently wondered when I was ever going to feel my personality in the school and when would people ever "get me".

As I sit at this computer today, I can tell you that without a shadow of a doubt, I am again experiencing the euphoria of the role that I accepted in 2011.  The obstacles placed before me over the course of the last three years were the foundation necessary to accept the vision and passion that I hold for education.  I know that the people who are surrounding me now "get me" and are my true partners in implementing my vision. Over the last week, the joy and love that I have felt have solidified that this is going to be the year I thought 2011 was going to be when I began my journey. I cannot believe the unbelievable luck that has helped me retain and recruit the most AMAZING people to me who will make this staff the most amazing staff that McCall has EVER seen! It's the people on this campus now who will breath life into all the planning, worrying, and waiting that I have done over the course of the last three years to make McCall all that I know it can become for kids.  Every single person that is at McCall has a special gift and has a passion ready to pour into children and the Colt Community.  I am simply giddy with the anticipation for the school year to start. The excitement is palpable and we are all focused on making this a year for the kids to remember. I cannot wait for the journey to begin on Monday.  

Friday, August 15, 2014

#LeadershipDay14--Let's Start a Revolution!

The late '90s is when my love affair with technology began.  Anyone remember the Palm Pilot?  It was an electronic organizer and oh, how I loved that device.  I upgraded and had two or three Palm's that I went through in the late '90s. I can remember starting graduate school and getting introduced to the world wide web and email.  It was a joyous day when our school finally got email and site calendars online.The JOY of it all!   My love of technology has not waned, and it actually has become a full blown passion over time. I can usually be found to be within an arms reach of at least two devices all the time.   It's what I do and it's who I am--I am a techno geek.  I am also a patient geek.

Why patient?  Well, my home technology use and my school technology use are at disconnects; I almost have to be a different person when I am at work.  At work, I am bound to the devices available to me provided by the district or a slave to the network firewall if I use my own device, which blocks (understandably) many educational sites.  This disconnect used to make me sad, angry, and frustrated. For a long time, I quit learning much of anything new, as the frustration of applying it at school was just not worth it. This is sad fact that I share that shames me as a lead learner whose largest purpose on this earth is to educate kids and adults. In the last year, I have had an epiphany in the last year: there are MORE kids who are like ME, who feel like they are squashed at school and forced to have out of body experiences when they are learning.  This realization about the students at my school has weighed heavy on me and I decided that it is time to start a REVOLUTION for their own good. It was time for me to speak on behalf of all the frustrated learners. I began my game plan.

I started by asking a lot of questions of my central office district friends. I wanted to understand what our stance was and the reasons for our very conservative efforts to roll out educational technology initiatives.  I had pockets of teachers who would use technology in amazing ways, but we just couldn't get the momentum building with other teachers who weren't as savvy due to the district's conservative stance.  The district conversations led to an amazing gift for my campus--I received 20 iPads to pilot.  I was free to use them in a manner that I saw fit and provide feedback to their office.  Hallelujah!  It was a great start. I also got invited to attend some great Google training that lead to my relationship with my district's amazing instructional technology team grow. In that team, I found a kindred sisterhood where we were able to bond, grow, think and forge together for plans for my campus.  I am grateful to these ladies and fully support their own ideas for the revolution that they are also waiting for to unleash in our district.

For this school year, I started a new phase of the revolution over the summer; I pushed some of our staff to engage in Twitter with me and join me in a weekly chat on our own #coltslearn stream.  This strategy led them to amazing resources and teachers that they can grow their personal learning network with on their own through the wonderful world of Twitter.  We are also dedicating a day to technology for our campus professional development where we will start to learn about devices, programs, and techniques to make technology come alive on the campus.  This school year, I plan to hand out the 20 iPads in a different way in order to try and garner a bigger impact upon our classrooms.  Through BYOD and the 20 devices that I have, I am going to be able to have a device in every grade level classroom.  I feel that by having one device in every classroom, as a staff, we can start speaking more of the same language and understand the impact of being digitally in tune to what the trends are in the ed tech world.  Additionally, our kids will start to feel less of a frustration and feel more engaged with the classroom.  So, that's my next step in my REVOLUTION.  I know that my instructional technology team is ready to support my effort and help train my teachers who aren't as familiar with the iPad.  I will continue my conversations with our district leadership in order to keep them apprised of the pilot program, and other ways we can slowly begin to tread out into more programs/applications being used on our campus.  I also look forward to helping other principals in our district start their own revolution by sharing my journey and helping them develop an ed tech vision on their campus.  It's time to spread our wings and show this district what amazing things can be accomplished with just a few tweaks of what we already have on our campus. It's going to be a great year for the revolution to continue and grow at my campus. How will you be a part of ed tech revolutions and leadership in your own way?
Leadership Day 2014

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The First Sunday of Summer Vacation

I have planned this post for weeks.  The funny thing is that sometimes the best laid plans go awry and we have no control over the path suddenly twisting and the resulting changing of plans.  I had been looking forward to attending ASCD's conference for Teaching Excellence in Grapevine for almost six months.  The speakers were the draw:  Jay McTighe was presenting on Essentail Questions and Understanding by Design.  I have been working with those works for a year in preparation of our district making a much-needed curriculum writing shift.  I wanted my teachers to be prepared for the change, so I have been learning as much as I can to help guide them on this shift.  So, given that the conference was local and there wouldn't be travel expenses, I extended the invite to include two teachers as well.  We were set.  My countdown to conference began and as we got closer to June 26th, the stress of the year entered my body by the way of a heavy case of bronchitis.  No conference for me.  Luckily, I had a teacher on stand by who happily took my place at ASCD.  Perhaps one of them will blog about their experiences.  Never fear, there are other GREAT things going on to write and reflect about in the absence of that conference.

As the quiet of June settled in after school let out for the summer, I spent a lot of time on Twitter.  Twitter is such a great guide of current hot topics of all facets of education.  I came across some tweets that advertised #PTCamp.  I became intrigued and researched the hashtag #PTCamp.  It turns out that the basis of #PTCamp is a book that I bought when I began my principalship, Beyond the Bake Sale.  This book is about building you parent involvement and raising parent engagement in your school.  #PTCamp is a six week course, yes course, that involves a Twitter chat, Voxer chat and Apprenet posts.  Of course, my aforementioned health has also derailed the start of this study a bit (hard to vox and video post with no voice and/or a persistent awful cough!), but I am so excited to get my arms around new social media platforms that could possibly impact my delivery of PD at school.  Of course, the idea of studying a book more deeply about parent involvement is also worthy, don't get me wrong!  I shall share my tales of this adventure once I get more into #PT Camp.  In fact, it is one of the course requirements to blog, so I will probably add a page here just for those reflections.

The other exciting event that I am preparing for tonight will be our growing #coltslearn Twitter chat, which is currently focused upon the book, Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess.  I am so proud of how this chat is developing.  I hope that tomorrow at 9:30 AM we will have more pirates aboard our chat. Our discussion tomorrow is surrounding Dave Burgess' ideas of Rapport; which serves as the R in the PIRATE acronym that he has organized his book around.  I have mapped the book out for July and August and we should wrap up this series of Pirate chats right as Professional Development week starts for our teachers in August.  I am already trying to figure out how we can keep this chat up during the school year on different topics.  The time will have to change, and possibly the frequency, but I feel like it is a great way to engage with our colleagues and learn in a new and unique way.

As we have learned in previous, #coltslearn chats, the P in Pirate stands for passion.  I am passionate about reading; both for myself and my content area teaching passion.  I have read so many great things this already this summer.  I plan to blog next about my recent reading adventures with Donalyn Miller.  Her book, Reading In the Wild, has inspired me with some simple initiatives that I can take on at school next year to support our student's development of reading and helping them become avid readers.  I will write a quick summary of that book on my Professional Book Blurbs page of this blog.
I read this by the pool today; it's chock full of practical tips that can be infused easily into any classroom.  I hope to shift my focus the next few weeks to some summer reads that will feed my other passionate side of book lover.  I loaded my library card with books and cannot wait for the call to come in that my books are ready to be picked up.  I will enjoy them by the pool just like I did Ms. Miller's book today.

Thanks for reading and learning with me.  I am really enjoying stretching myself in this way!  Happy first Sunday of Summer to all my fellow colleagues who work a near year round schedule with me.  


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

June--What Does a Principal Do?

I always get weird looks from people when they ask what I am doing now that the school year is over. Here's an example of the exchange that so often occurs:  I start with  the reply that I am still working.  What, still working,  but school let out a week ago?  Yes, I'm working until the end of June.  Well, you will have a nice break until school starts.  Me:  I go back on July 21st!  People are always floored.  Sometimes, I am too, in the weary end of the year moments, but now that a week away from kids/teachers and the end of the year hustle has passed, I am very thankful for this time at school alone.

So, what do I do with all that time in June? I get to really reflect and think about what we did well as a school and what we can improve upon. Moreover, I think a LOT about what I can do better as a leader.  This is my time to really dive into some professional reading and networking on Twitter. I branched out and hosted my first Twitter chat yesterday (#coltslearn).  During the year, I would NOT have time for that (or perhaps make time for that during the year).  I learned some new things about our Colt staff that I might not have known had I not asked the questions onTwitter.  I also participated in two chats on top of that yesterday.  Doesn't sound productive?  Well, maybe, maybe not, but it is great to hear different perspectives and different ideas come together around one topic on Twitter.  I have some great new educators that I am now following as a result of last night.  I know that I will continue to learn more from them when I check in on my Twitter feed. I love my Twitter professional development and cannot recommend a better free professional resource than Twitter.

I also get to catch up on journal reading.  I am a member of several professional organizations and enjoy their publications. During the busy school year, those journals sometimes pile up and get put on the back burner. I like to read articles and then pass those onto people that I think would also enjoy and learn from them. Professional reading helps me keep abreast of what is happening in teaching and education beyond the walls of this campus.  I like to read and digest what we could possibly implement in our instructional program here at McCall.  I have created a page called "Professional Book Blurbs" on this blog that you can view what I have read and a quick summary of what the book is about.  I am an avid reader both personally and professionally.  Perhaps you will find something on that page which will inspire your thinking as well.

The other big job to tackle in June is the completion of hiring.  While I try my hardest to get teaching positions filled before the last day of school, something always puts a kink in that plan.  It's life and it is what happens, but the quiet of June allows me to cull the database and try to find great candidates for our positions here at McCall.  So far, we've interviewed:  second grade teacher candidates, secretary candidates, and paraprofessionals.  Hiring is a big process, so it is nice to have June to look for great people, talk with people and see how new teams will come together in August.

One of my main personally professional June/August goals is to get my blog really up and going.  I am looking forward to writing and publishing a lot more next year.  I am hopeful that I will get some jazzy graphics up and for it to be a place where inspiration occurs all around. It is my hope that everyone who reads my blog can know a bit more about me as a person and and as the lead learner of an AWESOME campus.

Next week, I will get to attend an ASCD conference and will make a point to write about that conference in an upcoming entry.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Traditional End of the Year Countdown--Have YOU Given That Practice a Deeper Thought?

I am about to reveal something that you likely didn’t know was a source of irritation for me, a “pet peeve”,  if you will.  We all have those, don’t we?  I am no different!  I would like to share that one of my biggest pet peeves is the public and grand “countdowns/days left” displays and discussions that inevitably occur at the end of the year or near any break.    

Why?  The biggest reason is the children.  In this day and age, our children’s summers will not match the summer you have planned for yourself and your family.  Many of our children will be engaged in day care and camps, but it just is not the same as what you have provided for 180 days at school.  The message the countdown sends to kids is often a source of anxiety for a multitude of reasons.  They are anxious about what the structure of their day will be; you have provided a regimented and predictable day for them for 180 days.  Many of our children will spend their summer days craving the attention that you have given them over the 180 days that you were together as a class.  Children like that consistency and knowing what is next; many of their summer days are spent without any structure, challenge, or real engagement with an adult.  You have filled their days at McCall with love, happiness, security and rich experiences that likely will not be matched day for day in their summer days. 

Second, children get the message that this is over—you are done and ready to go home.  It isn’t over, we still have 16 days left to fill with math, reading and science and social studies.  They begin to make bad choices because everyone is “ready for vacation”.  When we maximize that time for them and plan great lessons all the way to the end, you don’t wear yourselves out because you are managing behavior issues due to unengaged, unfocused children.  I came across the attached blog post last night from one of my peers in the tech world and friend from twitter, Amber Teamann.  Her post is what inspired me to share how I feel about the countdown.  She has a similar view, but wrote a GREAT post on a list to challenge you (and her staff) to complete the last 16 days.  I am not saying not to be joyful over your summer and the plans you have, but try to not to be so public about it to the kiddos here at the end.

Make these last days amazing memory makers for the children and plan great lessons.  The kids will LOVE you for it and you will have an end of the year to remember instead of dread, I guarantee it!

Here is the link to my friend Amber’s post which inspired my thoughts in this post:…

As a 2015 update to one of my favorite posts, here is a great blog with an important message to our being present with our kids:

Summer Literacy

I have been inspired to write today by Kylene Beers post to her blog, "Four Guidelines to Summer Reading" on May 4, 2104.  She writes about all ages in her post, but of course, I am focused upon the youngest readers.  I have long affirmed that the easiest and BEST academic intervention a parent of an elementary child can participate in is simply the act of reading.  Parents should make weekly visits to the library in the summer. This is a zero cost and when consistent, leads to academic impact in the fall when children return to school. It doesn't matter is children choose easy to read books, or wordless books, the effect will be seen for sure in the classroom.  When parents read with their child in addition, this can impact kids even more!

As I stated, Ms. Beers writes in her blog about all ages. One fact that she brings forward in her blog about students is supported by a wealth of reading research, which she has linked on her blog for your review.  Her fact finding in that research leads her to state that students lose up to two months of achievement when they do not participate in summer reading.  In my years of experience, it is not unusual to see children backslide all the way to their previous winter achievement when they do not read over the summer.  Again, it does not have to be challenging material, the simple act of reading a self-selected book helps the children make gains in the fall.  Ms. Beers also writes in her blog, that students who read 10-15 books over the summer make as much gain as students who attend summer school. So, as a parent or an adult cheerleader of a elementary reader, let's make it a goal for our elementary-aged children to read at least 12 new books this summer.

For our children moving into middle school, the recommended number of summer books decreases, as their book is likely to be a bit more "meaty" than a picture book.  Ms. Beers writes that our older students need to target at least 5-6 books over the summer to make academic gains over the summer.  Series books are very popular with our older children.  Summer is a great time to dive into Harry Potter, the Divergent series or even Hunger Games.  I have read all those books and highly recommend them to our children moving into middle school.  I am a conservative mom with a soon to be high school freshmen, so I read all of those books before I let her read them.  I assure you that they are wonderful books that get kids talking and thinking.  As a reading teacher, that is exactly what we want them to do with books.  The series nature also leads them right into the next book.  Divergent and Hunger Games are  series of  three books each.  There are your six books for the summer!

One way that I am encouraging summer reading is by opening the McCall library over the summer.  I hope that coming to school to check out books over the summer will serve as a novelty for our readers.  I will ask them what they are reading and help foster book conversations over the summer.  I bet it is going to be a great hook for our kids and a little bit of encouragement to keep them engaged with books of all kinds over the summer.

She has also got a great idea for posting on Facebook over the summer.  I am going to try that out this summer, as I have SEVERAL books planned to read over the summer myself.  I have a mix of professional and fun things on my list and plan to use the library a lot over the summer months.

Happy Reading!