Sunday, February 21, 2016

Making It Count...1,2,3,4,5 Challenge

Principal ponderings...
I am part of a Voxer group called #PrincipalsinAction.  No, that's wrong.  I'm not just part of this group; I am engaged, motivated, pushed, inspired, challenged, changed for the better by this group of principals from all over the map.  Every time I listen to messages from this group or read what they are writing on their blogs, I learn something new.  I think...yes, awesome, how can I try that?! They push me to keep improving my practice.  They challenge me to do more for our students.  They remind me every day why I love my job.  Recently a member from the group named Kas Nelson (@kasnelson), an elementary principal from Oklahoma, challenged our group to write a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 blog post...and I accepted the challenge!

1. What has been your ONE biggest struggle during this school year?
Hmm...only one?!
I think back to my first staff meeting where my message this year was that this would be the best school year yet.  Fast forward to today, and I have to admit that it has been a bumpy ride this year.  The year started with the teachers being asked to bite off more than they could chew...implement a new, rigorous math curriculum and at the same time dive into the Lucy Calkins Writing Units of Study.  It was a daunting task, one that would have had teachers spending all of their time reading and planning, leaving little time to think about connecting with kids and meeting the kids' needs.  We ended up moving the writing work to next year and focusing on math this year.  This gave everyone some breathing room.  But for me, I have to admit I was discouraged with the process of reaching an agreement.  I let myself get discouraged and definitely began to doubt myself as a leader.  I am the eternal optimist, yet I found myself letting the negative thoughts creep in.  I have been working hard to push the negative out and get myself back on track so that I can keep encouraging my staff to still make this the best year yet!

2. Share TWO accomplishments that you are proud of from this year.
Even though it was part of the struggle I discussed above, I am extremely proud of the staff rising to the challenge of a brand new math curriculum.  Eureka math is a rigorous program.  Eureka math makes kids think.  Eureka math makes parents think.  Eureka math makes staff think.  At the beginning of the year, reading through one lesson was was packed with so many activities, so many new vocabulary words, so many new techniques.  We were all dealing with learning how to teach with this new program.  Now, teachers have actually said to me, I love it.  Parents have told me they are amazed at what their child is able to do.  And the students...well there is only one word for the joy, the sense of accomplishment, when they find an answer and can explain their thinking...Eureka!

I am also extremely proud that our students love reading!  Kids get excited about their reading stamina.  I walk into classrooms and everyone, every single student is reading.  (Not too long ago, I walked into classrooms and no one was reading.)  And more importantly, they are reading books that they have chosen, books that interest them.  Thanks to our PTA and other donated funds, we have continued to build up classroom libraries and our school library so that we have books, books and more books!  Students, teachers, and administrators are recommending books to each other.  I am so proud of the reader's workshop model that our school has embraced.

3. What are THREE things you wish to accomplish by the end of the school year?
There are more than 3 but I will just list the top 3 that come to mind...
I want to be better about planning my days and weeks.  I want more time in classrooms and less time in meetings.  I need to get better about being selective when scheduling in meeting times.  There are days when dismissal comes around and people wonder...was she even in the building today?  I want to be part of the magic that happens in the classrooms.  I miss being in a classroom all day.  It's simple...I need to make sure that most of my time is spent with students and teachers.

And being present in classrooms more means I also want to get better about giving timely and effective feedback.  When I was a teacher, I craved feedback, and I never got it.  Actually, I did get some feedback, but that was only when I invited my peers into my room to observe me.  I want to continue to try to spread the message that educator evaluation is about helping every educator grow so that we can keep giving our best to students.  We all have room for improvement and that should not be viewed as a bad thing.  I want to push and challenge my teachers to be better than they were yesterday.  #kidsdeserveit!

Thanks to my #principalsinaction group, I started purposely making positive phone calls home.  Best. part. of. my. day.  Typically, when a parent hears that it's me calling, their first instinct is...what happened, what went wrong?  It was amazing to call parents and simply share with them how proud I am of their child and how I think their kid is awesome.  Is it possible to hear a beaming smile through the phone?  Yes, it is.  I certainly had tears in my eyes during several conversations.  And another bonus...reading the positive thoughts that teachers had to share about their students.  I plan to keep up the positive phone calls home!

4. Give FOUR reasons why you remain in education in today's rough culture.
At the beginning of the year, the superintendent challenged us to share what education is in 3 words.  My words were: molding future minds.  That is why I have to be in education.  We get to do awesome things...we mold kids' brains!  We are shaping the future.  That is super cool!  How could you want to do anything else??

Even though there are a million different acronyms, and even more initiatives, and mandates...there are so many hard-working, passionate educators who care about kids before anything else.  Watching educators connect with won't find anything like that in a 9-5, cubicle job.

Another reason why I stay in education?  Every day is new.  Every day I learn more.  Every day I make connections with educators across the world.  I see the big picture, and I love that I am a teeny tiny piece of the puzzle.  For every challenge that comes up in the field of education there are dozens more inspirational stories that energize me and renew my faith in society.

Three years ago, during my first year as a principal, my mother retired after 25 years of teaching.  The speech I gave at her retirement party can be found at this link, and it talks about her influence on me.  She was and always will be my favorite magistra.  The impact she had on so many kids over the years...I want to have that same impact on kids.  Someday I want someone to give a speech at my retirement that describes how every interaction I had, every decision I made was for kids.  Maybe someday it will be my daughter telling me how proud she is that her mom was an educator.

5. Which FIVE people do you hope will take the challenge of answering these questions?
I challenge any of the fabulous teachers at Florence Roche to take the challenge.  If you don't have a blog for yourself or your classroom, then start one.  Here's your first prompt!  Actually you don't even need to do this on a blog if you aren't ready for that yet...simply answer these questions for yourself.  And I'll even throw in a challenge to our superintendent, Kristan Rodriguez (@Dr_Rodriguez21).  She is a blogging queen...I know she might not want to stray from her Friday update...but even answering these questions for yourself is good for the soul. :)

I would like to challenge Patricia Wilson @PKJWilson, a new principal in North Augusta, South Carolina.  She literally just sent me a random message through Twitter thanking me for writing my blog and helping her figure out how to connect with her staff.  Made my day reading a message from a complete stranger!  Here you go Patricia...better get writing!

I would like to challenge Rachael Peck (@rachaelpeck23) .  She is a principal out in Roseville, CA and through #SAVMP...a virtual mentor program that I joined through Twitter...I am her virtual mentor and have been working on connecting through email, Twitter and Voxer.

I would like to challenge Claire Giardino (@cgiardino3), a principal in Ohio, who I recently connected with through Voxer.

I would like to challenge Scott Middlemiss (@ScottMiddlemiss).  Not sure if he blogs, but he should!  A little birdie told me that he has been giving me a hard time for not being able to attend our collaborative admin meetings...well I am going to throw this challenge at him...get to it mister!

I can't do a counting post without throwing in a counting song video clip...

Currently reading:

I sat down and read Fish in a Tree cover to cover over the break.  This book is amazing!  I put it in the same category as Rules, Wonder and Out of My Mind.  It's about a student who doesn't believe in herself and a teacher who cares enough to help her see her potential.  The author paints such a powerful picture of a young girl struggling with dyslexia: "I wish she could understand my world.  But it would be like trying to explain to a whale what it's like to live in the forest."  Go read this book right now!  It's contains a message that everyone needs to hear.  I am also finishing up listening to Hoot on my drive.  I am rereading The Book Whisperer as part of a Voxer book chat.  I did not read the whole thing before, and I want to.  And I started reading Cynthia Lord's newest book in her Shelter Pet Squad series....Paloma.  A copy will be in our library as soon as I am done!

Events this week:
Monday - Welcome back!  Hope everyone had a great vacation week!  Zumba with MaryKaye in the gym @ 3:30
Tuesday - PTA Meeting 7:30 pm - Topic will be about summer camp opportunities
Wednesday - ELA/Math curriculum day for K, 1st grade chorus practice @ 2:25
Thursday - ELA/Math curriculum day for grade 1
Friday - Liz and Dianna at SLT meeting in the am, ELA/Math curriculum day for grade 2

Great things I noticed last week:
  • Be sure and pop in the might see some changes!  Thanks to Ann, Casey and some parents (and Ann's son) for coming in and helping rearrange book shelves, redesign the layout and shelf books in new spots.
  • I was super excited to open up a special package that was delivered on Friday before the books from Cynthia Lord for our library!  She autographed them for our kiddos and reminded them all to "Dream big!"  Cynthia Lord rocks!
  • Thursday before vacation the 2nd graders put on an amazing concert and performed some Valentine's poems.  Here's a clip of some scatting! 
  • Spirit day was on Thursday...check out the crazy hair, crazy socks and sports jerseys!
  • And Sydney, our principal for the day had a jam-packed Wednesday! 
  • Last week, the staff started practicing for our special performance at the upcoming variety show...we should start every morning with dancing!
Check it out:
Great article about the importance of letting children cry, tears help support social emotional development:
Love this simple message of starting a writing conference with a student by saying, "I want to give you a compliment."  I know I like when conversations start that way!
Thanks Marcia Cragg for sharing this article about how important it is for us adults to play...helps with our work/life balance!
The World Book Talk Championship has narrowed down the list to 4 people...2 literacy legends and 2 lead the clip and vote for your favorite!

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