Thursday, August 25, 2016

The First Five Days of School: A New Approach to Start School at McCall

I recently concluded an 18 month learning journey for leaders in Plano ISD called the Visioning Institute. This was a district initiative, based upon a state initiative, so the dialogue among participants was powerful for our district. We came together as educators with a desire to learn and grow together. The participants of the institute worked together as learners side by side, rather than as district officials sharing information and initiatives. Through my learning with the program, I was exposed to innovative teaching and leadership techniques and pushed to think differently about many traditional aspects of education.  As a part of our work together, we were encouraged to roll out a facet of our institute learning on our campuses this year.  I am rolling out an approach to the start of school based upon the work of Allan November and called The First Five Days of School.

Mr. November is planted in the idea that to set the stage appropriately for deep learning for a successful school year, students need time to come together as a learning community, develop a relationship with their teacher and begin to work collaboratively with low risk content.  For our first five days, we have based our learning around his research plus other learning we have been exposed to by the district or pursuing independently.  We are combining some social and emotional strategies our teachers learned from professional development provided by the district.  These strategies help kids express their feelings and advocate for their needs.  In addition, many of our teachers pursued learning more about the AVID program, so many AVID strategies were perfect for our goals of the our First Five Days at McCall.  It is our goal that this week will  lay out a foundation that helps our Colts feel connected to their new teacher, their new friends, and develop a strong learning community ready to tackle deeper learning.  

As a parent, you can listen for your child discussing a goal that they set for the year, or information about how their brain works, or strategies for organization for the school year.   We designed a week to impact them and help gear them up for success.  It is my hope that some of our students who are a bit quieter in the classroom and are slow to warm up will feel comfortable faster and ready to engage in learning.  

I am taking feedback from our teachers and the kids to see how the week is going.  The consensus is that it is a good use of time, but we can look at shortening the time to the first three days of school as we do a great job with some of this instruction in our weekly class meetings that are held every Wednesday.  I will be monitoring our implementation of this week far beyond just this consensus; I want to observe and notice several facets:  how the kids interact with one another over the year, how student behavior is impacted, and how deep are the teacher and student relationships/connections.  

This initiative is important to me as I am founded in the belief that is the elementary school's job to foster a positive experience for our kids from the very beginning.  If children do not have a positive experience with us and get connected into their learning from a young age, it is going to be hard to foster that later.  I take my role in selecting your child's teachers very seriously and putting together an instructional program that meets their vast needs.  I recruit the very best teachers, retain the best teachers  and nurture them so that they nurture your children.  I want all of you to love our school and the people who provide the education to your child. 

I invite you to review a couple of resources that may better explain The First Five Days better than I have in terms that are not "eduspeak" below in the hotlinks provided.  Further, I invite your comments below or in person to help provide feedback about how YOU feel YOUR child's first five days of school have gone this year.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Healthy PTA

I am embarrassed about the lack of blogging I have done this school year; I have been laser light focused on my campus first and foremost. Thus, most of my collaboration and conversations have been centered in and around my school.  I feel like this is a pivotal year in my journey towards success and excellence at McCall, and I have worked very hard this year to be focused on the people and conversations in my building and my community.

I started the year with a new PTA President and off the heels of a successful start of our PTA turnaround with a strong PTA President vacating the role.  As a result of new president taking over on this momentum, there were nerves to calm and plans to make, so I have spent a lot of time fostering my relationship with the new board and ALL the wonderful new faces present at our meetings. They are really working well as a team of powerhouses who get stuff done!  I am so proud to witness their growth this year and helping us make some big dreams come into focus for our campus.  We have had the biggest year in our financial history as a PTA and it is all because of this team that began three years ago with a slow build to greatness.  I have watched two exceptionally talented PTA presidents (Karen Buitrago and Kari Yeamans) reach out to our community and draw our participants in and get involved on our campus over the last three years.  I have wanted a strong, healthy PTA reflective of our entire community for so long, but the principal role is so hard to make this happen on your own.  I am forever grateful to Karen Buitrago and Kari Yeamans for saying "yes" to me and our kids for being visionary presidents who will make a lasting mark at McCall.  A team with a vested interest in kids and your vision is the magic that makes this finally come to life.  I am thrilled with the progress and growth of our PTA.

As a result of a strong PTA, my focus can really be on fostering people's talents aligned with the school vision.  As an instructional leader, I can grow teacher's knowledge and encourage innovation rather than be focused upon fundraising and gathering volunteers so that our visions become reality. A strong PTA allows me to support our instructional program so much more effectively.

Leading up to this strong year with my PTA and my community, I have fostered a lot of development on the inside walls of McCall.  I have wonderful, hard-working teachers who understand and support my vision and leadership style.  As a result, they have come together and worked on some amazing initiatives which have positively affected this campus.  I am so proud of the teachers that work at McCall, they are in it for the kids ALL THE TIME.  We have been working so very hard inside the walls of McCall with the kids we LOVE, that I can see and feel the differences. Kids are gaining language skills like crazy, handwriting is improved, teachers have increased how much kids are writing authentically, we have crazy, mad math skills (hello, we WON the Lone Star Cup with Think Through Math).  I am intensely proud of my team's efforts to work for the good of the kids every single day.

So, when you put teachers with big dreams together with a strong PTA, what do you get?  MONEY to make our dreams come true.  We have been dreaming about a school garden as a staff, forever and our PTA made the biggest obstacle of funding happen.  We have been dreaming about a Learning Commons initiative, and guess what will be happening soon and very soon at McCall because of all these wonderful people coming together?  That's right, a Learning Commons is in the beginning stages of planning.  What an amazing year we have had focused together towards a common goal.

It feels like my efforts have been focused in the right places this year as great things are happening at McCall.  So, while I have been mostly mute on this social media front, I have not been mute around this school.  I wanted to write this blog post on the heels of how I felt this morning receiving our "seed money" at the grand opening of the newest Whole Foods Market today.  I would have never dreamed that I would be the principal at a grand opening, but here I am marking off "speaking at a grocery store grand opening" off my list.  What an amazing feeling in April watch all the things that I am watching come together. I have attached pictures of the event, and if you know me at all personally, that smile on my face is pure JOY.

I look forward to marking our progress on these two giant projects in the upcoming months.  Thank you to all my stakeholders at McCall, we are making BIG things happen here!
I've hit the big time!  

Our seed money for the garden!