Be there.


Three years ago when I first started as principal in my building, I told my teachers they should expect to see me on a daily basis, even if it was just to pop my head in the classroom and say a quick hello. As every administrator knows, this is easier said than done, especially on days when central office demands have you running across town to three meetings at two different buildings. I think my first year I did a fairly good job of “showing my face” around the building. Teachers no longer stopped instruction when I walked in the room to find out if I needed something. Students stopped being curious as to why I was there. They knew it was because I wanted to see my little learners in action and get to know everyone in my new school.

Last year we embraced the ideals of the Fish! philosophy in our school, one of which is Be There. The premise behind “be there” is fairly broad in that not only do you need to be physically available for your staff and your colleagues, but you have to be emotionally available for them as well. Being present means you make yourself available to your constituents, listen actively, and continuously work to strengthen relationships.

The teacher supervision model with which we engage consists of electronic walk-through formats as well as a formal observation protocol. I was finding that I was falling short of completing my desired number of documented walk-throughs each week, falling victim to the perils of management and not allowing the joys of leadership to drive my actions each day.

A few weeks ago I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to experience an entire school day in the life of a first grader?” I glanced at my calendar, noticed, despite being few and far between, there were some days without any scheduled meetings or commitments. Right then and there, I blocked off days for every grade level and specialist class in my building.

I drafted a document called It’s a Date! and emailed my staff:

What’s the best part about being a principal?

Watching all of our children learn!

I have set aside days in my calendar to spend immersed in a grade level/class for the day. I am really excited about this! I will be in the classrooms from students’ arrival through the end of the day, planning to spend time in the rooms during academic times and will visit specials with your classes. I am happy to sit and observe, but reeeeally what I would love to do is join in the fun. Please put me to work! During your PLC meeting closer to your visit date, discuss how you will include me in your class activities. Need someone to facilitate a small group? Want to team up to teach a topic? Would you like to have someone work 1:1 with a student? Should I bring in some tech? These are all ways I’d be happy to help. Decide whose classrooms I will visit at what times of the day. If there is work/planning I need to complete before that day, kindly let me know a day or two in advance. 🙂

I began with first grade. What a wonderful day! In the morning I spent time working with small groups of students with reading concepts and making words activities using the Smartboard, and in the afternoon, three of the teachers enlisted my help teaching a lesson about extinction, where we read Dinosaurs! and the students interacted with classification and vocabulary on a Smartboard activity. I went to art class and music class and, although I often dine with students, joined them in the cafeteria. It was an exhilarating and exhausting day!


This past Friday was Third Grade Day. I didn’t have as many teaching responsibilities this time, so I was really able to sit back and observe the children and all of the wonderful things they were learning. (And take a lot of photos and shoot some video!) Highlights: collaborating on critiquing persuasive writing blog posts with a class in another district using Flockdraw… experimenting with solids, liquids, and gases (using root beer floats! and hot chocolate with whipped cream and peppermint sticks and marshmallows!)… reading poetry with small groups of students….getting a class set up on Kidblog for the first time and helping them compose their first entries…glazing the clay bowls I threw on the potting wheel last spring while the third graders glazed their autumn leaf pottery….eating scrumptious 🙂 macaroni and cheese with the children and cracking up at their absurd jokes…observing “challenge day” in math class, where students are free to choose which activities and challenge problems they’d like to complete, either individually or in teams… working 1:1 with a young man who reeeally wanted to learn algebra, so, we worked together on some simple equations, and then I watched him teach another student 🙂 …. observing students use the Activotes to interact with graphing problems on the Promethean board… loving the feeling of walking past my office door, closed, while the sign outside that indicates where I am the building reads, “Visiting Classrooms.”

3rd Grade Day on PhotoPeach

My colleague David Truss has coined these days in the life of an administrator “No Office Days.” As I recently drafted this post and planned to share about my grade level days, I was so excited to see David’s inspiring post and read about his day of learning with students. Be sure to read about his experiences in his latest post!

We have to be there for our students and staff. We can’t do that from behind a closed office door, or even an open office door. I will freely admit what doesn’t get scheduled, doesn’t get done. Be sure to block out times on your calendar for walk-throughs or more time-intensive observation experiences. The perspective you will gain as a learner and administrator is invaluable. Watching your students’ faces light up as they experience an “aha” moment, seeing your teachers work so hard to make classroom experiences meaningful for students, and knowing your presence is positively impacting the lives of your students and teachers awakens the realization that being a school principal is the greatest!

Cross posted on Connected Principals

Win the battle.

Robert Bruce Murray III - Flickr
Robert Bruce Murray III - Flickr

A few weeks ago I starting drafting a blog post titled redundancy.

I was becoming pretty flustered. I felt like I was saying the same thing over and over again. I felt like the articles, blog posts, and tweets I read and composed just yappity-yapped the same ideas. I kept thinking, “This is super… now what??”

Clearly, there are many days when I feel like Will Richardson:

But here is the thing…read between the lines in most of these descriptions and you get the sense that we see it, we want it, but we ain’t gonna get it very soon. Budgets are being cut. The people in charge don’t really see this vision. We haven’t figured out that assessment thing very well. And so on.

But as one of the “people in charge” (so I like to think), I have to muster up all of the stickwithitness in my soul to make change happen in my school. For my kids. I have to suck it up when the district officials impose more budget cuts and think creatively to do more with less.

Not all teachers are on board with the shift in thinking I’m trying to embody within our school walls. I can’t force them to collaborate. I can’t make them follow me blindly. I can only demonstrate the incredible power in sharing knowledge with one another, for the benefit of our children. I am going to provide my teachers with learning opportunities that allow them to see the benefits of autonomous, masterful learning with a purpose in action.

I have to model for them that I am passionate about learning. Every day I want to learn something new. I want to do something differently, better than I did the day before.

I will take risks, and I will fail. But I will learn from the experience. When I do fail, I know there will be people to support me.

We can do this, you know. We can, little by little, individual by individual, exalt student learning opportunities to the levels they deserve to be. There are success stories everywhere. I think of the VanMeters and the Identity Days and the Karl Fischs and Dan Meyers of the world. I think of organizations such as PLP that are raising an awareness as teachers and administrators taking on the lead learning roles in their schools. I think of my Connected Principals colleagues, who, in a matter of a few short months, have become such an integral part of my professional life. I think of the countless teachers and administrators who blog and share their experiences and make me want to be better.

Right now we’re swimming upstream in a river of redundancy. We’re not clear how we’re going to join forces to completely revolutionize education for our students, but that begs the question- can we win the war before we win the battle?

Start with you. Your school. Your teachers. Your classrooms. Your students. Your community. And for heaven’s sake, SHARE what you are doing. Help us all become better at serving our kids.

What are your plans for reform? Share them on your blog, and don’t forget to post here: . See all contributions here:


Now I know.


This post was written for November’s Project PLN: The Admin Issue.

I used to think students should sit in rows. (Made it harder for them to chit chat while I was imparting wisdom on them.) Now I know they should sit…stand…hang…together. (Makes it easier for them to talk and learn from one another.)

I used to think I needed to cite standards in my lesson plans. (This handy-dandy cheat sheet will help me quickly identify standard 2.1!) Now I know we should evaluate the standards, using them to guide instruction, yet allow students to pursue their passions. (What does this learning mean for you, children?)

I used to think my good ideas should stay in my classroom. (I worked hard developing those lessons!) Now I know more students will benefit from the expertise of teachers who share. (Collective genius. Sharing is caring.)

I used to think I never had enough time. (Lesson plans…grading papers…surviving…) Now I know it’s important to work smarter, not harder. (Make time for the things that matter most.)

I used to think a child who scored poorly on an assessment didn’t study hard enough. (They had a study guide one week in advance! What is the deal with that kid?) Now I know a student who doesn’t perform well on an assessment does not have the problem. (The teacher does.)

I used to think sitting down with a parent was scary. (They’re older than me! They’re parents, for crying out loud! What could I possibly know that they don’t?) Now I know talking with parents about their children is enlightening and meaningful. (Parents are tremendous assets to every school.)

I used to think in-services were an opportunity for me to address my staff about important issues. (If I’m going to wear a suit to work, I may as well stand up in front of you with this PowerPoint presentation!) Now I know that I am not comfortable spending 6 hours of the day leading professional development sessions in which teachers have little ownership. (Let them lead the way).

I used to think teacher supervision was something that happened to teachers. (Everything’s ship-shape in here. Sign on the dotted line). Now I know teacher supervision is something that happens for teachers. (I appreciate your strengths in these areas. Where can we find opportunities for improvement? I will support you.)

I used to think a child who did not follow the rules was non-compliant and clearly did not want to learn. (A rigid system of consequences will help students realize what is expected of them.) Now I know every child who demonstrates the need for behavioral supports deserves an arm around the shoulder and our relentless care. (Let’s problem solve this together.)

I used to think people who put their lives out there on Twitter were crazy people. (Okay, some of them are actually crazy people. Why would you write about what’s happening in your school?! What if your superintendent reads it?!) Now I know my involvement in social media is the most powerful professional development opportunity I’ve had in the past year. (Thank you, PLN.)

I used to think bragging about our accomplishments was pompous. (Ugh, will that teacher ever stop yapping about how great her students’ projects are?) Now I know celebrating our successes spreads good ideas like wildfire. (It ignites teaching and learning!)

I used to think I wanted to be a teacher. Now I know I was right.

And more so, now I know I want to be a learner.

Playing school or living learning?


I was honored to contribute to Amy Sandvold’s Passion-Driven Leader blog. Please visit her blog to be inspired as more educational leaders share their passions! This is the post I shared…

“Playing school” was one of my favorite pastimes when I was a child. My two younger brothers influenced my playtime habits (think He-Man, Transformers, and GI Joe adventures), but I repeatedly subjected them to assuming the role of “student,” sitting attentively in the makeshift classroom in our playroom. My mother would bring home used basal readers or textbooks if she was yard sale browsing. Whenever my teacher was purging supplies, I’d grab stacks of old workbooks and handwriting paper. Our stuffed animals and dolls joined my brothers as pupils. I’d stand in front of a giant chalkboard and review math facts and spelling words. I made worksheets, they’d complete them, and then I’d grade them. I rewarded their efforts with star stickers. We went out for recess. I loved playing school!

Out of curiosity I Googled “playing school” and came across this Wikihow article detailing 17 how-to steps for playing school.  It made me laugh. And simultaneously sad. Here are a few high/lowlights:

  • The sheer ridiculousness of Step 9: Make a misbehaving list. “If the students misbehave, they’ll have their name added to the list, which will result in loss of privileges.” The dreaded list… also troubling is the “I’m going to put your name on the board and put checkmarks next to it with each infraction” visual.
  • And Step 17, that I’m sure this teacher and this principal would really appreciate: Have a reward system. “If your students do good deeds, add a gold star to a chart, or make a special mark by their name and they can get a special treat! And, reward them if they do good with a substitute. And don’t reward them if they are bad.” Note to new teachers everywhere: equip your classroom with gold stars, charts, the “list” (see above), and treats, and you’ll be just fine.
  • Fundamental materials described in Step 6: Get a teacher’s notebook. “You’ll use this for keeping attendance, the timetables, behavior codes and grades. And, you should probably draw out the plans for that day. If you are teaching P.E., track the students’ progress.” So many key essentials in one notebook? I enjoy how the author mentions you should probably draw out plans for the day. Nice to see mention of P.E., though.

The most valuable part of this article is found in the “Tips” section below the step-by-step guide:
“Make sure that the kids have fun. Make it enjoyable for them. Don’t bore them!” Point well taken!

I don’t pretend for a second that the Wikihow entry meant to serve as a resource grounded in educational best practice, or even a resource that anyone is ever meant to gaze their eyes upon, ever, but it does raise some interesting points about the perceptions of what teachers and students do in schools and the purpose that education, and educators, serve.

Unfortunately, playing school isn’t good enough when it becomes our life work. Yet many educators do just that. They go through the motions. Teaching is a job to them. The monotony of the same lessons, schedules, and curriculum, year after year, can gradually cause the passionate spark once held by a teacher or administrator to fizzle. With good intentions, these educators continue with business as usual, because frankly, it is comfortable, and it has worked (sort of) thus far. Adding to the stress of the daily lives of teachers and administrators are the countless legislative mandates, conflicts with stakeholders, dwindling budgets, and attempts to bring change to institutions that are among the hardest to change. The passion that may have once been there, in the early days and years of teaching, fades alarmingly fast.

What is passion? Many things. An outburst of strong emotion or feeling. A strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything. What can we do to avoid playing school in our daily work with students? How do we remain passionate educators?

Some teachers are passionate about their content areas. They have absolute enthusiasm for chemistry and everything it represents and means to our world. They genuinely want students to develop a passion for chemistry akin to the passion they currently possess. I think of Dan Meyer who clearly is passionate about mathematics, but he goes a huge step above and beyond respect for the content. He works tirelessly to ensure his students (and the rest of us) are truly engaged in thinking about mathematics. Without that passion – the passion to craft learning experiences that help his students own their learning, his affinity for mathematics is just that- a content area he thinks is kind of cool.

Some educators are passionate about the shift. They develop PLNs, inspire each other through blog posts, presentations at conferences, and #edchats. They seek to infuse technologies meaningfully into student learning experiences, not for the sake of the tool, but for the sake of learning. They and their students are driven by the desire to collaborate, create, and think critically. Teachers, principals and superintendents are becoming transparent learners as if to say, “We love what we do. We’re so excited about what the future brings! And we want to share that with you!”

Some educators are passionate about connecting their students with the world. They are helping their students reflect on their learning through blogs, involving them in projects that help make the world a better place, and are developing partnerships with schools that are separated by thousands of miles.

No matter which direction the passionate educator takes, one thing is certain. A passionate educator cares about kids. A passionate educator LIKES kids. Every decision made, every action taken, every word spoken, is done so with their best interests in mind. We love working with kids. They touch our hearts with their hilarious anecdotes, determination, imagination, smiles, and inventive spellings. They’re the reason we come to work each day. And if students are not the reasons why you vie for that parking spot nearest to the door each morning, then I might suggest that you are playing school – you are not living learning– and you need to reevaluate your place in our educational system and children’s lives.

Early in my life I knew I wanted to be a teacher. Shortly into my career I was inspired by my fantastic administrators to follow that path. There are days that absolutely drain me, and make me wonder why it is I continue to do what I do.

Then I see two kindergarten students walking hand-in-hand to return books to the library.
And a first grader asks to read me a story. We sit on the carpet and she reads beautifully.
A sixth grader offers a heartfelt apology to me.
A teacher leaves a handwritten note on my desk telling me how much she appreciates my support.
A parent cries in my office about a family situation and asks for our help supporting her child.
I watch a teacher skillfully lead a small group of students in a discussion about the theme of a story and its impact on their lives.
An entire fifth grade class offers to help our custodian put away chairs after an assembly.

Then I realize, I no longer play school.
I live it.

What does it look like?


What does it look like?

Administrators visit classrooms. They may focus on “look fors” while visiting and consider “ask abouts” in their discussions with teachers. After reading Danielle’s Thoughts on Connectivism and Where We Really Are, and her struggles with finding ways to incorporate connected learning opportunities in her school where perhaps the administration and community has not yet embraced these ideals, I appreciated her list of “these-are-the-things-I-can-do”s. Because that’s what we’re asking for, right? For teachers to try to do things just a little bit differently? To consider the possibilities? To take risks and have an open mind?

After reading Danielle’s thoughts, Lisa Christen asked me to consider what connected, constructivist learning may look like in the elementary classroom. I told her that sounded like some fine material for a blog post. So here we go.

Opportunities for student collaboration – This is easy. Children are social creatures. Do they inherently know how to collaborate effectively to problem solve? No. So we need to model that for them and help them acquire skills for doing so. There are many ways to infuse technology into this practice, but the tools won’t ensure students are collaborating. Primary students can handle this. Example. Last week I observed a first grade lesson where students had just finished reading a picture book about the life of George Washington Carver. Their next learning task? Work in teams to invent something new with the “peanut” as the key ingredient. You get the same tools Carver had available to him. Brainstorm your ideas, draw your process, write your steps, present to the class. Think like scientists. The ensuing thoughts were not only hilarious, they were creative and sparked children’s interest in the process of invention. Peanut crayon? Genius. Peanut clay? I’d buy it. Students took on different roles: team leaders emerged, some jumped right into sketching their designs, others teamed up to describe their steps. Was there a test following this activity? Nope. Was there even a rubric? Nah. Did they learn anything? They clearly did. I watched them do it.

Outside of the classroom, there are so many opportunities for connected learning in which we need our children to take part. Skype with an author or a pen-pal class. Create and maintain a system for housing student blogs. The possibilities with writing, commenting, reflecting, and passionate learning are endless. Begin the process of having students develop portfolios of their work. What an amazing opportunities for them to grow and reflect as learners. Create a Twitter account for your class and use it to connect with other classes, schools, and parents.

Learning is connected – So many standards, so little time. Why we teach subjects in isolation in elementary school is truly mind-blowing to me. Here we are, in a school where a student is likely to spend his entire day with one-three teachers who know him really well. I believe we should be rewriting elementary curriculum to address basic skills in a way that is truly integrated across disciplines. Imagine the connections students could make if they spent two weeks immersed in Colonial Life. From the second they walked through the door, they were transported to a time of the early Americas where every problem they solved, piece of writing they composed, and book they read reflected essential learning strands grounded in that theme. They’d be living their learning.

Stay true to constructivist theory – What I want to emphasize here is that constructivism is a learning theory, not a method of teaching.  Constructivism suggests that children (aka people) learn by constructing knowledge out of their experiences. Students need to construct knowledge by connecting new material to the knowledge they already possess. (Or think they do.) Let’s also ask our children to “deconstruct” their knowledge. Question everything. Prove it to be so. Evaluate the “right answers.” Find the resources to do so. In an elementary classroom, this can be achieved with carefully thought-out processes for delivering content. Consider a math lesson where the objective for students is to learn how to add fractions with unlike denominators. In most instances, the teacher will demonstrate how to do this, explain the steps, review key vocabulary terms, then ask the children to practice a few problems, then do some for homework. Snooze. The child in that scenario is a passive, not active, participant in the learning process. Instead, present a story problem with fractions with unlike denominators as the key ingredients. Ask students to solve the problem. Give them manipulatives, access to resources, and each other to solve the problem. Don’t look for the right answer- look for the process, and for students to be able to explain to one another how they arrived at the “solution.” Bring the class together to evaluate the methods and determine a course of action for solving similar problems. Allow them to argue and make mistakes. Guide them along the way.

Student choice– In the elementary classroom, particularly in the primary grades, we are pretty skilled with providing differentiated learning opportunities for students based on their academic needs. Where we sometimes miss the boat is providing those same small group or individual, passion-driven learning experiences for students, or designing our lessons to allow for more student choice. How can this be accomplished when there is so much curriculum to “cover” and so many standards to address? We need to shift our energies from thinking that every student needs to master every standard, every year. It’s just unrealistic, and frankly, inappropriate. We need to start looking at the big picture. I believe we need to help our children learn how to read and comprehend what they read. From there, they will work wonders. Why not lay out for students the content topics to be explored in social studies for the year, and ask them to choose where they’d like to first start exploring? Or, within a science unit on ecosystems, give students the freedom to choose through which ecosystem they’ll show mastery of the big ideas? And allow them to choose the method in which they’ll demonstrate their learning. Maybe every once and awhile we need to just stop with the routine and give kids what they really want. They’ll never be more engaged.

Opportunities to connect with teachers outside of school – Here I’d like to see a focus on communication with the student and the family outside of school. One thing that has been really powerful for us this year is the development of our teacher webpages. While students are not always contributing content to the pages, the teacher is posting curricular topics, links to relevant material, examples of student work, photos, etc. to share with parents. The parent has access to our classroom experiences 24/7. We are fortunate in that parents are very involved in our school, but we need to do a better job engaging, rather than simply involving, parents in the learning process.

I met with a teacher today who truly wants to transform her practice and student learning. But she is at a loss. She doesn’t know how to balance the enormity of the standards and curricular demands with her passion for bringing individualized, engaging learning experiences to every one of her students. After combating a moment of helplessness where I thought, “How can I possibly tell her she can do this?”, we cracked open the curriculum and decided which of the listed standards were just unnecessary. We talked about the big ideas and ways she could start incorporating project-based, student-centered learning experiences into the content areas. We’ll support her. She’ll make mistakes, and I’ll be okay with that. She is so driven, so student-centered, that her students will learn more this year than ever before.

I’m confident about that, and I know that every time I visit her room and watch her children learn, I’ll know that’s what it looks like.

The power of positivity.


In the face of adversity, we make choices. We decide how and to what extent we will involve ourselves in tackling conflicts. There are organizational conflicts and personnel conflicts. Even personal ones. We can’t control how others will act. We can only control how we will respond to crises, changes, and situations.

There is nothing more disheartening to me than encountering “professionals” that let negativity dictate their interactions with students, colleagues, and parents. I am not immune to the fact that the demands placed on teachers are limitless. Administrators find themselves equally as burdened by mandates, changing directives, disgruntled parents and staff, finicky students, and the daily grind of what is the life of an administrator. Those of us that enjoy our work tend to thrive on these challenges; we enjoy brainstorming solutions and problem solving in order to improve our schools and learning experiences for students.

Enter the power of positivity. As administrators, we cannot expect our staff members to exude positivity without demonstrating this quality through our leadership. Kim Cameron of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship, the author of Positive Leadership, is a useful resource for this topic. While some of our schools focus on maintaining daily operations and remaining status quo (or are frankly just in survival mode), others are interested in taking learning to the next level for the entire organization. What formerly was good enough just isn’t good enough anymore. Cameron refers to this as positive deviancy, going beyond the norm in a positive direction, which will cause organizations to flourish, not just exist.

Consider this graphic that details how organizational strategies can be based on the positive:


Focusing on the positives in these four domains: climate, meaning, communication, and relationships, will enable leaders to take the next step in supporting a flourishing organization. (Notice what is at the heart of all of these domains: people. We’re truly in the people business.)

It easier to creative a positive learning culture in a school experiencing success. The difficulties lie in times of adversity. When budgets are cut. When the pressure is on to perform. When children’s home lives aren’t ideal. When there is conflict among staff. When the administrative team isn’t supportive. When there aren’t enough resources.

We talk of reform and of change. So many in my PLN and school organization are dedicated to improving education for their students and children, yet each day we encounter others in our communities who continue to resist and thus dampen our efforts. We cannot stand for this negativity. We cannot tolerate excuses.

Instead, we must lead positively and support our colleagues along the way. What are some ways you’ve remained positive in your leadership efforts? How do you promote positivity in your organization? I’ve found these simple strategies to be successful:

  • Smile. Smile at people when you greet them. Smile when they say something amazing. Smile when they say something that exasperates you. If you give the impression that you are frustrated, upset, worried, etc., the people with whom you’re interacting will know it.
  • Keep a folder called “The Good.” I have two. One is in my desk drawer and it’s where I file the thank you cards, children’s artwork, letters from parents, note from staff…and the other is in my Outlook inbox where I store much of the same. At those times when I say to myself, “How can I keep up with the demands of this gig? Why do I do this?” I turn to the folders. And I read. And I smile. And I remember very clearly why I do this.
  • Don’t act unless it’s in the best interest of the children. Don’t speak it, say it, do it, unless it benefits kids. Don’t waste energy on things that don’t. Being negative takes more energy than it’s worth. Did you know that?
  • Address the negative. Just like teachers use planned ignoring rather skillfully in their classrooms with students, there are some instances of negativity within an organization that are best ignored. Others are not. When the negativity seeps into the everyday actions of teachers, thus impacting life for students, it is no longer okay. Work with people. Help them see how their negative influences are detrimental to learning and are holding back the organization from greater success.
  • Celebrate. Celebrate everything, particularly the small successes. Help everyone in your organization see the value in what they do. Create a culture where it’s okay to brag. Share! Don’t limit your celebrations to within your school walls- be sure everyone in your community knows how excited you are about your work with kids!

“If you will call your troubles experiences, and remember that every experience develops some latent force within you, you will grow vigorous and happy, however adverse your circumstances may seem to be.” -John Heywood

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?

What's best for kids?

“It’s what’s best for kids.”

Have you heard an administrator use this phrase to justify decisions? Did you think, “Cliche.” Or, “Easy for her to say.” Or, “How convenient, no one can argue with the merits of We do what’s best for kids.”

Well, it’s true! Who can argue with it? No right-minded educator, that’s for sure.

Administrators who say this, and mean it, stay focused on student needs and make students the center of the decision-making process. Those of you that are parents, or who have a child in their personal lives in any capacity (here’s where I gush about my sweet, sweet new nephew who was born today!) exist in a reality where in their family, children are the centers of their lives.

Children are, and should always be, our focus. Our schools should be families. What are some ways to transform your school into a family of learners?

Include parents. Often. Always. See David Truss’s thoughts on doing so. At our school, we held our first Moms & Muffins and Dads & Donuts mornings this year. All extended family members invited, too! We had an amaaazing turnout. It was unreal! I have never seen so many people packed into our cafeteria. I met Dads and Moms I’d never met before. Parents walked their children to homerooms after our breakfast. Some stayed to volunteer for the day. What a beautiful thing!

Build morale, the subject of recent posts by Dave Bircher and Janet Avery by making connections and building relationships with staff and community members. Show them videos of your dogs. Ask them about their families and their summer vacations. To start our opening day, we’re doing a round of “speed dating”-esque reconnect time where we’ll get in two circles, and every 2 minutes, the people in the inside people will move to the left. Two minutes, introduce yourself and tell them all about your summer/life. Tell your partner one goal you have for the school year. We had a difficult year last year, when a colleague passed away from breast cancer. This year will continue to be about healing. As the principal, I need to support my colleagues in their grief and help build relationships, because the success of our students depends on it.

Get to know, and love, your students. When I hear teachers say, “I don’t have to like all of my students, I just have to act like I do,” I get really tense and uncomfortable and a whole list of other adjectives. There are students who will always push your buttons. I was one of them, I know I was. Get to know each and every child on a personal level. Find out what they’re all about. How else can you possible expect them to respect you? Because you’re the teacher? Because you’re the principal? Children respect those that show them respect. They’re children.  Know your students on a personal level, because doing so will make discussions about behavior that much easier. George Couros often explores the importance of developing rapport with his students and the positive impacts this has on his practices.

I will conclude with just one example of when I was convinced that the children I serve are indeed part of my family. A  young man in an intermediate grade made some unwise choices, and was spending the day in my office. He was getting a bad rap around the school (and frankly, the community) for his behaviors, and it seemed as though the whole world was against him. His classmates were in the hallway outside of my office en route to the library, and not only did every single one of them crane their necks to see how he was doing in my office, several of them said, “Hi, buddy!” and “How are you, friend?” from their place in line. One boy in his class, a boy who was also known for lapses in judgment, asked to come inside my office and see his friend. He walked over to the boy, put his arm around his shoulder, and quietly, almost in a whisper, encouragingly said, “It’s okay, buddy. We all make bad choices sometimes. We know you’re a good kid.” And he turned on his heel and headed back to the line.

My heart burst.

We do what’s best for kids. They’re our family. Their teachers and parents are family. As educational leaders, we’re the head of this family, and we have to commit to making it the best it can be.