Go team!

teamwork

The title of our staff’s latest shared Google presentation was, “Go Team Brecknock!” I’m not sure what compelled me to name it that, but I think it’s because the first hour of our morning (before we provided teachers with sweet freedom to collaborate with their grade level peers for the remainder of the day), our discussions focused on the “state of our school,” an overall look at some data trends, where we are, where we need to go, and how we’re going to get there. We are a team, working toward the collective goal of improving learning experiences for all children.

No single person can move a school, therefore team dynamics become critical. We modeled our own professional learning community work after DuFour’s model. One of the “big ideas” of Dufour’s PLC is A Culture of Collaboration:

Educators who are building a professional learning community recognize that they must work together to achieve their collective purpose of learning for all. Therefore, they create structures to promote a collaborative culture…. For teachers to participate in such a powerful process, the school must ensure that everyone belongs to a team that focuses on student learning. Each team must have time to meet during the workday and throughout the school year. Teams must focus their efforts on crucial questions related to learning and generate products that reflect that focus,   such as lists of essential outcomes, different kind of assessment, analyses of student achievement, and strategies for improving results. Teams must develop norms or protocols to clarify expectations regarding roles, responsibilities, and relationships among team members. Teams must adopt student achievement goals linked with school and district goals. –What is a professional learning community? (DuFour, 2004)

What makes a strong team? What makes a dysfunctional team? I’ve seen both in action, and I’ve been part of both. As administrators we need to recognize the characteristics of effective teacher teams so we can build capacity within them, strengthening the organization as a whole. To further extend this collaborative power for learning, teachers can and should incorporate team-building and team problem-solving activities into their classrooms with students.

A team of researchers from Centre for Innovation in Education from the Queensland University for Technology set out to identify the characteristics of effective school-based teams through the lens of micropolitics. Their findings are relevant for schools and school-based systems dealing with school-based management and similar reforms/restructurings in that they developed a tool to assess and enhance the effectiveness of teams. Critical reflection of team dynamics should include a look at the

  • clarity of the team’s role and objectives
    • competence and credibility of the team members
    • uniformity of members’ values and their commitment to team work
    • interpersonal relationships and communication among members and between members and other staff
    • accessibility of professional development opportunities for the team and for its individual members

    Developing strengths in these dimensions will better establish school teams in that they will be more prepared to engage in decision-making processes, develop better relationships among colleagues, and embrace future possibilities rather than focus on current realities (Cranston, Ehrich, Reugebrink, & Gaven, 2002).

    I am generally pleased with the collaborative efforts my teachers are making. Each team is finding their way… each team member is defining and honing his/her role in that team. One area where we need to develop is in our team leadership/coaching roles. Team leaders were appointed and attended professional development sessions on coaching and adult learning. This experience was not enough to impress upon our teacher leaders the essential components that exemplify a true leader. They need continuous exposure to new ideas, time to conduct peer observation and reflections, and time spent with administration to work at defining and refining the shared vision and goals of the school. Most of all, these team leaders need to extend trust to all members of the team and school, and need to be trusted by all. This aspect requires a lot of work and dedication on everyone’s part.

    Finally, I’d like to share @l_hilt’s Dos & Don’ts of team dynamics….

    • Do seek to act upon that which you can positively change. Don’t be negative and dwell on things you cannot.
    • Do be a giver. Don’t be selfish.
    • Do understand that “the way we’ve always done things” is not necessarily the best way to help students learn. Don’t get sucked into a solitary cave of complacency.
    • Do communicate clearly, accurately, and respectfully. Don’t hide your feelings about a situation or make them known maliciously.
    • Do be open and accepting. Don’t be defensive.
    • Do realize that you are not the most important part of the equation. Don’t forget for one second that the child is.

    They're children.

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    Last week an educator who happens to be my current grad class professor impressed upon us the most simple, yet profound realization: “They’re children.”

    Do we sometimes forget that? Do we sometimes focus on the fact that they’re not sitting still…not making direct eye contact with us during a lesson…make lapses in judgment which lead to questionable behaviors…not exerting enough effort on assignments….not studying enough for a test…and the list goes on.

    We are the adults. We chose this profession because, I should sincerely hope, we want to serve as role models in the lives of our students and impact their lives in meaningful ways.

    He said, “Even the 18 year olds, who put on a tough exterior, are children at heart.”

    It’s true. We have to give them our best. We can’t transform into selfish, immature, negative souls just because something doesn’t go our way. Is it going their way? What do they need us to be? Are we doing the very best with the resources, time, and capacity we’re given to help them learn? Day after day? Are we working to better ourselves for them?

    They need us to be strong. They need us to be confident. They need us to take risks and not be afraid of making mistakes. They need us to believe in them on their worst days, and celebrate them on their best days. No one is perfect. No child is perfect. But they’re our children. And they’re the reasons we come to work each and every day.

    Sometimes, in the moments when we believe we’ve reached our breaking points, in the times when we feel as though we’ll never have enough resources or time to make a difference, we need to remember that our children spend 8 hours a day with us, and that it is our charge to help them learn and love to learn. No school is perfect. No one ever has enough “time.” But the time we do have with our students should be cherished. We must dedicate ourselves to accepting the challenges each new day brings, and to do better than we did the day before.

    Why? Because they’re children. And we owe it to them. Every word we say, every action we take, every effort we give to classroom activities is important to them, whether they outwardly display it or not.

    Remember this, each and every day!

    Join in the conversation!

    This Sunday, September 26, at 5:30 PM EST, Connected Principals will host its first chat on Elluminate. See all of the details on George Couros’s blog here: http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/1215

    This is an event you won’t want to miss, and I am incredibly humbled to be joining fellow administrators Dave Meister, George Couros, and Patrick Larkin in addressing the topics of management vs. leadership, social media in schools, and staff professional development in this session.

    Please share all of the details with your administrative teams, teachers, parents, and anyone else who would benefit from the meaningful conversations about learning we’ll have Sunday night! Hope to see you there!

    Who owns it?

    Reflection

    For an elementary principal, enrolling in a course titled “Secondary Education Seminar” was a bit intimidating. Little kids = Awesome; Big kids = Scary. (Kidding.) But it turns out, learning is learning on any level, and our class spends the majority of our time discussing learning.

    Last night we explored the topic of “ownership” in education. Who owns the learning?

    We read the work of Janet G. Donald who has researched characteristics of student learning, particularly in secondary and post-secondary settings. She detailed the historical shift of learning from students being presented with a fixed body of knowledge, known to be factual, to a time when our best teachers are asking students to question, analyze, and internalize concepts to extend learning. How do we know when students are truly engaged with the content and their learning? Who owns it?

    Think of a typical teacher leading a classroom discussion. Who does the teacher most often take their cues from? The students who raise their hands and provide the correct answers. Feeling as though those students represent the understanding of the rest of the class, the teacher moves on. What about the student in the back of the classroom? Or the student who doesn’t volunteer answers? Do they own their learning?

    I raised the topic of formative assessments and how their use is essential, and several opportunities should be planned for student feedback and response throughout every lesson. Until a student owns his learning, he is locked into concrete thinking and cannot move along the learning continuum to more abstract, sophisticated levels of understanding. The learner relies on the teacher to “fill in the gaps” of understanding. There has to be a constant stream of communication between teacher and student so the teacher can recognize the gaps and help provide support to students in making meaningful connections.

    This concept applies to the principal-teacher relationship as well. Consider the policies, procedures, and programs an administrator is asked to implement in a school. School-level leaders are often required to implement these programs through mandates from their supervisors, school boards, and/or governments. The principal is the person to whom the mandates are delivered, and is also the person who delves out the news to parents, teachers, and students that a new initiative is underway. The principal is responsible for ensuring follow-through and evaluating the implementation process. The principal is held accountable.

    Who owns it?

    Ideally I would love to say every directive I hand out in our school has a solid pedagogical foundation at its core. We can’t kid ourselves, though. Building-level administrators can only control so much, however…. we can do our very best to transform the mandates we’re given into learning experiences our teachers and students can own.

    Example. Let’s do a better job rewriting/reorganizing/planning for our language arts instruction to be more inclusive of the standards at each grade level. If we do that, will our reading scores on standardized tests improve? Yes. Is that the only reason why we should do this? No. If that is my directive, then I “own it.” Next step is to help my teachers to own it. Provide support in the way of sample curriculum maps/frameworks they can use to begin the planning process. But let’s face it, they know their curriculum and students best. So do I ask them to be regimented in the way they plan? No. Do I ask them to toss out every idea they’ve ever had about what effective teaching and learning in language arts looks like? No. I ask them to give me feedback about how they’re feeling throughout the process, what they need, and how I can help. I want them to own it. To develop the best possible units and lessons that address the standards while providing inclusive, interactive, meaningful learning for students. So they can own it.

    As will sometimes occur in a class filled with 99% teachers, the last hour of class turned into somewhat of a “But we are told we have to do this a certain way. If we don’t, we’ll get in trouble. But we don’t think that’s what’s best for our students” impassioned, verbal melee against school administration and their impossible-to-comply-with mandates.

    My question to this particular roomful of teachers was, “What are you going to do about it? Who did you approach with your thoughts? What alternatives have you devised to present to your principals? What did you and your colleagues decide would be the best course of action from this point forward to address the needs of the district and the needs of your students?” The same would be true for a directive handed down from my superintendent to our principal team. We have been very vocal on many occasions about the appropriateness or inappropriateness of suggested plans for implementation.

    If we aren’t vocal- if we aren’t knowledgeable about our organization’s needs and what we want for our students- then we can’t possibly own it.

    Communities and Networks

    I had the pleasure of experiencing our first Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) cohort session today, facilitated by the inspiring Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson. My teammates are four enthusiastic, elementary teachers who I could not be more pleased to have joining me on this journey, and our cohort includes about 18 different teams from our county and surrounding districts.

    I know my work with PLP will inspire many future blog posts, but today I’m going to focus on the questions Sheryl raised early in our session: What is a community? What is a network?

    General thoughts about the “community”: Tight-knit. Relationships. Comprised of people that rely on each other. A group who lives, learns, and works together toward common goals.

    General thoughts about the “network”: Comprised of people who share common interests. You can choose your network and can’t often choose your community. Larger than community. Not as intimate as your community.

    One of my PLP teammates and colleagues, Greg Frederick, simply depicted the community and network relationship as such:

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    His thoughts were that our community consists of the core of our social and intellectual interactions, and as we branch out, our network provides us with additional support and information to help us achieve our goals. Our network envelops our work within our community.

    Sheryl continued to share with us the definitions of community and network that we would be using throughout our PLP work to develop common language among the group’s participants. One of the most meaningful points of our morning discussion was the point made about collaboration. Collaboration is not about sharing, it’s about FINDING SOLUTIONS together, and about mutual accountability. Networks are created through publishing and sharing ideas and connecting with others who share passions around those ideas and who learn from one another. Over time, that co-construction of knowledge will build community.

    There are days when I definitely feel more strongly connected with my network than to my community. That being said, I can’t allow that to continue to be the case. If I become enriched by delving deeply into interactions with my network, I have a duty to bring that knowledge into my community, and vice-versa.

    So, where do we go from here? I was totally impressed with my school team today. They jumped into a seemingly frightening world filled with Twitter tutorials, an introduction to Ning and other social networking venues, and a Skype-in from the fabulous Brian Crosby. The “a-ha” moment for us came when my teachers wanted to know, “How can we get our students to make these connections with others?” And, “How can we strengthen how we collaborate with the teachers in our community to really make a difference?”

    That is our next step. We need to examine what we are doing in our classrooms and school on a daily basis and rethink how we can better engage our students in their own learning and help them develop essential, global learning networks to extend their thinking and experiences. We need to take a real look at curriculum, what we are asking students to learn, and how we’re asking them to learn it. We need to develop a system for meaningful collaboration among our peers and beyond. I have no doubt that we will begin to accomplish these goals this year.

    I’m interested in learning how other schools develop the capacity of your communities and networks. Please share your successes!

    I am so amazingly proud of the work we did today.  It’s only going to get better!

    We're in the learning business.

    I am personally struggling right now with a situation involving a child of a friend, who does not attend my school, who has had a difficult start to the school year. He says his teacher is “mean.” She has kept him in from recess on multiple days because his handwriting exercises weren’t satisfactory. She uses the word “bad” when describing his work. Stickers can be earned- for 10/10 work. When asked if he is greeted with a smile each morning, he says no. When asked if his teacher ever smiles, he responds, “Sometimes, if she’s reading a funny story.” She told the class they were going to start taking tests “just like college students.” His love of learning is being suffocated. He cries before school. He is anxious.
    He is six years old.
    These are the facts as I know them, reported from the boy’s parents. He is not a student at my school, but I’ve known him all my life. I know he is a creative, artistic, hard-working, honest, intelligent, imaginative, empathetic, enthusiastic child. He aims to please. He is every teacher’s dream.
    So. I am a principal. The thought of him, or any child, being subjected to this type of treatment in a primary classroom, or any classroom for that matter, is devastating to me. It disappoints me. It infuriates me, and I want to do something about it.
    Every administrator will eventually encounter a concern or complaint from a parent regarding the way his/her child is being treated by a teacher. Or about the teacher’s rules. Or homework policies. Or grading system. Or projects. What to do?
    Like many in my PLN, I’m fascinated about the buzz surrounding a father’s simple observation on his daughter’s Meet the Teacher night and the ensuing discussions/explosions about how parents should or should not insert themselves into the facets of their child’s educational experience. Teachers, administrators, and parents chimed in on Will Richardson’s post that reflected on Alec Couros’s tweet and detailed his own frustrations with his children’s schools. Lee Kolbert’s post proceeded to delineate the ways in which she must “suck” as a teacher because she sets clear expectations for behaviors in her classroom.
    Does any parent want less than the best for his child? In my experience, no. This simple fact has helped me tremendously in dealing with disgruntled, angry, upset, confused, and scared parents. I listen to concerns, no matter how ridiculous I may think they are. I entertain heated conversations so long as they remain respectful.

    My young friend’s mother cried to me on the phone, “I send him to that school for 8 hours a day. He is in her care for 8 hours. How can I feel comfortable allowing him to get on the bus each morning when I know he is so unhappy?”
    Simple. She can’t. She needs to make her voice heard. Legitimate concerns have to be brought to the teacher’s attention. So while I resist the urge to email my thoughts about this particular teacher to the school’s principal (and believe me, I’ve already crafted that communication in my head ten times over), I encouraged my friend to request a conference with the teacher directly. I told her I’d support her in any way I could, and that if she didn’t get a positive response, that I’d help her move to the next level.
    Why? Am I out to get the teacher? No. I’m out to help the student. If my young friend would walk through the door of his first grade classroom feeling as though he was appreciated, that his work was valuable, and that he was cared for, the struggle to perfect his Zaner-Bloser “M”s might not be such a struggle at all.
    Every school needs a well-established system for involving parents, one that is structured, public, and accessible to all. Parents need to know that their voices ARE important. I encourage my teachers to continue developing strong relationships with parents, and vice-versa.  If a parent calls me on the phone or emails me about a classroom issue before he/she has contacted the classroom teacher, I inform the parent that I appreciate the contact, but please call the teacher to discuss this, because he/she is so much more knowledgeable about that particular issue than I am.
    More often than not, parents call me directly because of the incredible emotion they are feeling about the situation. That can scare a teacher, but sometimes I think teachers are so caught on the defensive that they fail to remember that the parent’s involvement in their children’s education SHOULD be emotional. We should ALL be emotional about the education of our children.
    My school’s home-school communication forums were somewhat lacking when I arrived three years ago. In the past three years, I have seen teachers go from monthly or zero communications to weekly posts on their classroom webpages; beautifully designed, informative, and student-created monthly newsletters; more email communication; increased phone calls to parents and teachers providing parents with their personal cell phone numbers so they can be reached after school hours; a school newspaper with articles published by students; monthly newsletters from the principals office and principal webpage updates; a school Twitter account (still catching on, but we’ll get there); hundreds of parent and family visitors for school breakfasts and events with our students; and greater attendance at parent-teacher organization meetings. That doesn’t happen by accident. You have to want it to happen. You have to make it happen.
    As a teacher, I worked with many students whose parents were also teachers, and I made sure to step up my game when it came to communicating with them. Why? Because I knew they knew what they were talking about. I considered that they were judging everything I did in the classroom, every project their child was assigned, every test score, and every newsletter I mailed home. They kept me on my toes, and I appreciated their feedback.
    No teacher wants to hear that her classroom isn’t the ideal place to learn. But in a profession where it’s so easy to fall into “complacency mode,” we have to encourage our teachers to rethink what they do on a daily basis, and to take suggestions from well-intentioned, knowledgeable parents, colleagues, and administration under consideration. I will do the same.
    I have faith that my first grade friend will see an improvement in his daily school life after his parents meet with his teacher and openly discuss their concerns. Together, I believe his parents and teacher will brainstorm ideas about how to reduce his anxiety and support his learning.
    We’re all in this together. In my mind, there are very few instances where communicating your thoughts respectfully with a teacher or principal can be detrimental. Even if no action is immediately taken, constructive criticisms will make people think and will help them learn.
    After all, this is the learning business, isn’t it?

    Who are the Problem Solvers?

    http://thisisindexed.com/
    Many look to the principal to be the problem solver.

    We can’t agree on how to schedule these students. What should we do?
    There’s an issue with the lunch cards in the cafeteria. How should we handle it?
    My child is being bothered by another student. Can you help us?
    We’ve tried many different instructional approaches with this child, but he’s still not understanding. What can we try next?
    Most principals are inherently skilled problem solvers. One of the benefits we have in our role is being able to step outside of the situation and view the varied aspects of the problem before offering input into how it can best be solved. As sometimes uninvolved participants in the conflict, we can remain cool-headed, consider all options, and draw upon our experiences to help craft possible solutions. John Gardner reflects in On Leadership that leaders who work to resolve conflicts use their influences to eliminate irrational demands, and “foster the transition from a cross fire of accusations to a collaborative search for solutions” (p. 105). Leaders look for the underlying causes of the disputes. Is it a lack of communication? Insensitivity to needs? Leaders then work to solve conflict in an environment of open communication and honesty and explore all alternative solutions.

    Let’s examine the graphic above, shared from one of my favorite sites, Indexed. (Go to this site after you are finished reading my post. And after you are finished commenting. It’s so smart.) On one hand, the graphic is an accurate representation of how someone from outside of the situation can bring a unique, honest, unfiltered perspective on the conflict. It is sometimes easier for that person to recognize a solution and thus, it becomes less “impossible” to solve. However, personal accountability is huge. The more invested in a situation someone is, the more difficult, ultimately, it is to solve the problem. But truly, can anyone other than the people so deeply involved make the change?

    Principals are certainly not the only problem solvers in the school. In fact, some of the best principals will insist that teachers who raise an issue also present possible resolutions to that problem. Last year a team of teacher leaders in our building read John G. Miller’s QBQ: The Question Behind the Question: What to Really Ask Yourself to Eliminate Blame, Complaining and Procrastination. Intense subtitle aside, the guidelines within this text really help you focus on what you can do to alleviate a problem as opposed to look to others to solve the problem for you. When a teacher asks, “How can I improve this situation?” “What can I contribute?” or “How can I make a difference?” he is placing himself in a different frame of mind that will empower him to be an active part of finding the solution to the problem, not just bringing the issue to someone else’s attention.

    How do these principles apply to our lives in schools? Reading Brian Crosby’s words about what teachers need from administrators helped me reflect on the fact that most teachers want to be held accountable, want to be involved in the change process, and want to do what it takes to improve their practice and their schools. They don’t want change handed to them- they want to be active participants in the process. Anyone who has ever tried to initiate change in an organization knows that conflict will certainly rear its ugly head at some (and likely, all) points in the process. Problems will need to be solved.

    Carry this premise into the classroom as well. Teachers and staff should model for students what effective problem solving looks like – identify the issue, examine the facts, determine the emotional elements involved, brainstorm possible solutions and the consequences of each, agree on some form of action, and continually reflect on that decision to ensure it was right. Students will absolutely need to be adept problem solvers in all capacities in their adult lives, and we need to help them hold themselves accountable for the fact that they do have the power and skills to make the right choices.

    Principals are problem solvers, but we cannot, and should not, do it alone. We need the expertise and creative solutions of our faculties, parents, and students to help us. I’d love to learn about the different approaches to problem solving in your schools!

    Welcome Back!

    Being a paparazzi principal does have its perks… we showed the video below today at our Welcome Back assembly…the students love seeing themselves and their friends, teachers, parents, and siblings on the big screen! It warms my heart when they giggle at the funny faces and cheer for their grade levels! I’ll definitely post this on my school webpage and also run throughout Meet the Teacher night next week. Another idea I hope to bring to fruition this year is for our student council members to create an “All About Brecknock” video for new students. It could feature a building tour, interviews with students and staff, and just general FYIs introducing our new students to our school! Copies could be kept in the district office and distributed to new families at registration. Looking forward to a great year!

    Back to Brecknock from Lyn Hilt on Vimeo.

    A principal's first day of school….

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    (Author’s note: The full title of this post is A Principal’s First Day of School: Ramblings of a Crazyperson.)

    Most of us know what it’s like to be a student on the very first day of school. We lived it: new backpack, school supplies, and choosing the perfect outfit. Many of us who have spent time in the classroom know what it’s like for a teacher on the first day of school: newly labeled folders, clean desks with new student name labels, the best new dry erase markers the school supply closet could offer, and a new outfit (complete with sensible shoes).

    What does a principal feel, do, hear, say, and think on the first day of school? I’ll tell you.

    5 AM: First decision of the day. Do I wake up now, exercise, and then go to school; or sleep in, go to work a bit earlier, and exercise after school? The aches in my muscles from Saturday’s alumni hockey game coerced me into option B. Which I would later regret.

    6:40 AM: Out the door. Students arrive at 8:45 AM, so that’s plenty of time to get my act together before the buses pull in!

    7:20 AM: Arrived in the office. Surprisingly remembered everything I wanted to bring today!

    7:25 AM: A gift waiting for me, hanging in a pretty bag on my office doorknob. While the gift was very cool, the accompanying card made my day. One of my teachers took the time to write me a card of appreciation. Her words were so beautiful and truly made me feel like a special part of our school. Could not have asked for a more amazing start to my day!

    8:20 AM: First students arrive at the doors with some family members. Students are permitted to enter at 8:45 AM. Have to find a place for these students and their families to spend the next 20 minutes!

    8:21 AM: Why did I wear heels today? What was I thinking?

    8:30 AM: Brought my Flipcam to the office last week so it would be ready to shoot first day footage. Opened the box. No Flipcam inside. Guess I should have doublechecked to make sure the camera was actually in the box.

    8:35 AM: Librarian kind enough to help me check out one of the school’s Flipcams.

    8:40 AM: Assembled parent volunteers and staff supervising arrival. Go time!

    8:45 AM-9:00 AM: Arrival supervision, helped 1st and 2nd graders find their homerooms. Assumed role of Principal Paparazzi, Flipcam in one hand and SLR in the other. 80+, humid degrees outside at this early hour. Why did I wear this suit jacket? What was I thinking?

    9:00 AM-9:20 AM: Very, very unhappy young person in Grade 1. Won’t stay in the classroom. Tears. Screams. Parents still there, comforting him in the hallways. Consulted our trusty guidance counselor and watched her sweep in to save the day. Parents were equally as shaken as the little guy. Promised we’d call dad soon to update.

    9:20 AM: Peeked at my inbox. 12 new emails. Moving on.

    9:20-10:40 AM: Classroom visits, photos, video, introductions, Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Safe, This is how you line up when it’s time to go to lunch from the playground, What did you do this summer, Are you glad to be back? We’re so happy you’re here!

    10:40 AM: Overheard in the office, “Mr. Jeff? Mrs. B. was just outside on the playground. There’s a dead bird on the jungle gym. And there are bees swarming all over it.”

    10:45 AM – Finished a clerical task to help with recess flow. Should have done this in August. Totally overlooked it. Ate a lollipop.

    11:00 AM: Prepping to head outside to supervise first recess. 22 new emails. Moving on.

    11:10 AM: Teacher asked me to give her heads-up about “real” fire drills. She practiced one today, and a student was so shaken he asked to hide under her arms.

    11:20 AM: Recess shoes on. 🙂 Blackberry on hip. Incessant buzzing.

    11:25 AM: First and second graders flee to the playgrounds! So…. hot….out….side. How do these kids do it?! Talk strategy with the school monitors and counselor about how we’d like to arrange play areas outside and control the traffic flow into the cafe. Impressed with our superbly behaved primary students! We might just make this recess before lunch schedule work to perfection.

    11:55 AM: Did you know 6-yr. olds take their sweet time eating meals? Recess/lunch schedule bumped 5 minutes for the next two periods.

    12:00 PM-1:20 PM: Made many rounds from the recess to the cafe and back. Is that the superintendent? I think I see him over this crowd of students, but I can’t dwell on that right now because I’m trying to open this milk container for a thirsty third grader.

    1:15 PM – Buzz on hip. Glance at message – call the Assistant Superintendent. Really? Today? People are working in offices today?

    1:20 PM: Called her. Have to migrate students into their new classes in the DIBELS system. Awesome!

    1:25 PM: Lunch = spoonfuls of Kashi into vanilla yogurt. Lunch of champions. Eavesdropping on the 4th grade conversation outside my office during one of those whole-group-bathroom-breaks-aka-the-bane-of-my-existence. “No, it goes G, PG, PG-13, R, and unrated. Unrated means it’s so bad, you can’t watch it.”

    1:45 PM: Filtered through some emails. Only read the ones from my supervisors and my secretaries. Oh, and the one from IT that said they accidentally closed the work order I submitted to have my printer fixed. Could I please resubmit another one?

    1:50 PM: Trusty counselor wanted to update her guidance page on the wiki with a pdf of her newly revised schedule. We reviewed saving Word docs in pdf format, and I walked her through uploading a doc to the wiki. When we arrived at the step where she needed to FIND the file she wanted to upload, we hit a brick wall. Resisted urge to grab her laptop and do it myself. Encouraged her to save it to the desktop for ease of uploading. When I told her to do a better job organizing her files, she replied, “Stop it! I’m old.” (She isn’t. And she uploaded successfully).

    2:00 PM: Oh my goodness! I totally spaced on visiting the AM kindergarten class this morning! I was so consumed with introducing the recess procedures to the first graders!! I CANNOT forget to go to PM Kindergarten!

    2:02 PM: There is no kindergarten today. It’s a visitation day. Sigh.

    2:03 PM: Lollipop.

    2:04 PM: More classroom visits! 2nd graders in art class, two of whom informed me they were “boyfriend and girlfriend,” to which I promptly replied, “No, you aren’t.” 5th grade scientists performed an experiment to review the steps of the scientific method, 6th graders created acrostic projects, Life skills students worked in small groups on hands-on learning activities.

    3:00 PM: Thinking, when did these children get so tall?

    3:25 PM: Dismissal. The gang’s outside ready to supervise when the mass exodus begins. Secretary armed with a bus list. Same for teachers. Apparently we live in the tropics. The sun is seriously beating down on us.

    3:35 PM: The buses pulled away with children safely on board. Success!! What a day!

    3:40 PM: Post-dismissal run down with some teachers, my support specialist shared schedules with me. Joked with the counselor that we’re both contemplating wearing sneakers for tomorrow’s recess supervision. And I told her I was going to blog about her wiki skills.

    3:50 PM: Checked email, clerical tasks, talking with one of our custodians who visits my office after work to empty my trash and who calls me “boss.” I asked him what’s new? “Nothing, and there’s no use complaining anyway, since no one will listen.”

    4:10 PM: My to-do list (on paper, always on paper) is updated. And by updated, I mean that 5 things were added to it. And none were crossed off.

    4:20 PM: So quiet…with the little pitter-patter of feet go the hustle and bustle of voices and laughter and noise. But inside these quiet rooms I know there are dedicated teachers reviewing their lesson plans, pondering how to best reach the new children they’ve met today, and gearing up to start all over again tomorrow.

    4:40 PM: Heading home. I have to exercise before dinner. And write a blog post.

    I have before referenced Fullan in my posts, but one particular chapter of The New Meaning of Educational Change really struck a chord with me, and my mind kept coming back to it today. Chapter 8, simply titled, “The Principal,” explores the principal as the center of the relationships between teachers and external ideas and people.

    2,000 interactions every day – that’s what principals encounter. Fullan describes the characteristics of principal burnout. Have you, as a principal, ever felt: guilty at the end of the day because you didn’t accomplish everything you set out to? Addicted to the social aspect of your role and fidgety in meetings because they’re slow and you crave those personal interactions? As though you’re not as effective as you once were? A reality shock of knowing you are working in a job that you are very scarcely prepared for?

    These notions are so scary, but for educational leaders everywhere, there is hope. Those of us who have connected with others through social media and through networks of professionals in our districts and states know this to be true. Fullan (2007) states

    At the present time the principalship is not worth it, and therein lies the solution. If effective principals energize teachers in complex times, what is going to energize principals? We are now beginning to see more clearly examples of school principals who are successful. These insights can help existing principals become more effective; even more, they provide a basis for establishing a system of recruiting, nurturing, and supporting and holding accountable school leaders (p. 159).

    Let’s help each other through the first days, and every day, as we work to bring about educational change and do what’s best for kids!

    And thus ends the day in the life of a principal.

    Searching for answers…

    Today  is opening day for teachers! Exclamation mark!

    As a teacher as I was always curious about what messages our principal would be sharing with us on opening day. As a principal, I’m always curious about how my teachers will react to the messages I will be sharing with them on opening day. When developing schedules for the next two days, I was inspired to scale back on the amount of time I ask teachers to sit in meetings with me, and rather trust that they will use their classroom preparation time wisely in order to finalize everything for students’ arrival on Monday. I’m going to work hard at focusing on relationships this year, developing trust with our stakeholders, and, as always, keeping the needs of our students our top priority.

    This year is my third in administration, and I have fallen into the intriguing position of “elementary principal with the most years of experience” in our school district. (Insert giggles, shock, awe, pity, etc.) By default, I’m the “expert” on how things work at the elementary level. I use the word expert loosely.Very loosely. I may know more than I probably realize I know, but when faced with a question from a new administrative colleague or teacher, I have resolved to be comfortable with the answer, “I don’t know.”

    “I don’t know” are three scary words. Speaking them admits a certain vulnerability that not all leaders are comfortable revealing.

    What if you truly don’t know? What’s next?

    Simple- you learn. You seek answers to your questions. Principals need to be skilled learners, and model the habit of lifelong learning to students, teachers, and their school community. Here are some ways I continue learning every single day of my life and seek the answers to my questions.

    Surround yourself with smart people.

    I work with some amazingly gifted educators. My support specialists have in-depth knowledge of reading, interventions, data, and curriculum that I will probably never have. Several of my classroom teachers are the most creative, kind, energetic souls I have ever met. My administrative team is small, but mighty, and when we’re in a roundtable discussion about any topic, I truly am thankful for the support that they provide. My students are smart. They teach me something new every day.

    To echo a sentiment that has been expressed here many times over, I so appreciate the network of professionals I’ve “met” through Twitter and other social media. I try to impress upon my teachers the importance of stepping outside of their classroom walls, our school’s walls, and our district boundaries, and learning about the innovative experiences of other schools. Outside perspective is amazingly valuable.

    These are just a handful of the people that inspire me every day, a list I created here. I’m not sure exactly what constitutes being honored as a Twitter BFF, but I’m pretty sure it means that you’re awesome, so thank you to all of my friends for contributing to my lifelong learning experiences and helping me better myself by finding the answers.

    Screen shot 2010-08-25 at 5.36.10 AM

    Read.

    Admittedly, there are 630 unread feeds in my Google Reader, but I will, by the end of the weekend, catch up. As a teacher I did not do a lot of professional reading. Three years ago on a plane I read Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind and it reignited my passion for learning about learning. In graduate courses this year I was inspired by Fullan, Zhao, and Friedman. I listened to Gladwell’s The Outliers on audiobook religiously for a week as he fascinated me with tales of Canadian hockey-playing youth and Microsoft leaders and his theories on achievement gaps. I’m working through Curriculum 21 and will use it to guide my technology integration work with teachers. I can’t comprehend how a book published in 1969 contains so much relevant commentary on what’s right and what’s wrong with education. I read the best tools compiled by Richard Byrne, am inspired by Shelly and the #edchat crew, and love being challenged by the mind of Lisa Nielson. I learn how to be a better administrator when I read anything written by Chris or George or David and all contributors to the Connected Principals blog and elsewhere.

    Ask for help. And listen.

    The answers don’t come easy. Admitting you don’t know is step 1. Truly, actively listening to others is what will help you discover the answers. Administrators interact thousands of times every single day with their students, staff, and parents. This year I’m going to make a better effort to stop the one million thoughts running through my brain, if only temporarily, to focus on the person in front of me. I’m going to be present. I’m going to listen and find the answers.

    Take a break.

    Being an administrator can be isolating, frustrating, terrifying, aggravating, and downright exhausting. The good news? Its reward is unrivaled. But there will be days when you just have to step away from it all, and do something for you. The answers will come easier when you do. Go for a run, hug your dogs, visit the park with your family, watch reality television, or blast The Killers in your office at inappropriate decibels and just be.

    Your staff and students don’t expect you to have all of the answers, but they do expect you to want to find them.