Are you a writer? Show them.

Nate shares his Storybird about friendship with his class.

For the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to spend multiple days in many of our classrooms. Last year I wrote this post about my “principal’s visit” days and how enjoyable it was to spend quality time with students and staff.

These visits not only serve as an escape from the drudgery of office tasks, they allow me to see instructional strategies at work; how we address curriculum; the engagement of students in a variety of learning scenarios; how resources are being allocated; teacher-student relationships and peer interactions; whether schedules are appropriate; types of assessment being used; and planning processes.

There’s no better feeling than the jubilation of seeing a child excel at a task or when a teacher’s heart and love for kids lead her work with students each day. On the flip side, it’s possible for an administrator to develop a certain “gut feeling” when something doesn’t seem quite right in the classroom.

So far this year, I’ve had the chance to read interactive stories with kindergarten; facilitate small reading groups, review time concepts, and introduce Little Bird Tales in Grade 2; spend the entire day with Grade 6 inWashington, D.C.; help students create their first Prezis and collaborate using Google docs in grade 4; explore point of view through reading different versions of The Three Little Pigs (with one of my favorite tales, The True Story of the Three Little Pigswith some of our young English language learners; help students in our Life Skills classes interact with math activities on the iPad and explore phonics patterns; and analyze text structure and write collaboratively, complete small group math activities, and discuss the writing process in Grade 5. I am looking forward to time in grades 1, 3, and our special classes in the weeks ahead!

A month or so ago, Dean Shareski wrote a post entitled It’s not 1985, about the need for us to ensure our students become fluent in digital literacy, particularly in writing. That, if we continue to teach writing as we always have, we are doing a disservice to our students. I agree wholeheartedly, and one of the reasons why I so enjoyed my visit with grade 5 writing classes is because I had the chance to discuss with them my journey as a writer.

Had I taught this “lesson” a few years ago, there would have been no mention of blogs. Or digital footprints. Or comments and interactions with others. ClustrMaps. Blog analytics. Storybirds. iPhones. Facebook. Or authentic audiences.

It went a little something like this:

I have always loved writing. I filled spiral-bound notebooks with story after story. Then, when I was in middle school, my family got its first computer: an Apple II GS. And suddenly, I learned how to type. I became more prolific in my writing and could edit with ease. I learned how to cut, copy, and paste text. My pieces were more polished. So, as technology changed, so did my platforms for writing.

I showed them my blog. We talked about purpose and audience. I told them what a “digital footprint” was, and how it is shaped by everything we do online. Every photo we post or tag, every word we write. I emphasized that it is important that they control their digital footprint and make it a positive, lasting impression of which they can be proud. We talked about how I use embedded hyperlinked text, videos and images to lead my readers to other resources. I showed them my ClustrMap and Feedjit stream. They wanted to know how dots appeared in the middle of the oceans! I shared comments with them, and many of them understood the importance of quality commenting from their work with Kidblog in fourth grade. Then, I walked through the process of how I wrote my first Storybird, which I shared with them at our opening assembly. I had the idea while I was driving in my car. I didn’t have access to paper or pencil. I use my iPhone to record my ideas. Ramblings, really. I told them how my brainstorming paragraph was riddled with errors and that, when I started using Storybird, I was inspired by the amazing illustrations so much that I revised a lot of my original text. My story took on a life of its own when I engaged with the Storybird format. I shared how I shared it with my primary audience – our students and staff at an assembly, but also published it on my blog and shared with my virtual community as well.

Using my repetitive writing pattern as a model, grade 5 students have begun writing their own stories. I had the opportunity to read several of their stories, and they are beautiful. I am looking forward to working with their teacher so she can embed them on her webpage to share with families.

Do I think this conversation was meaningful for my students? Yes. I received a lovely thank you email from the teacher expressing her gratitude for taking the time to share my “story.” And isn’t that what we should be striving to do at every opportunity? Share our stories with students?

My “gut feeling” is that when we teach students to write, we do so too methodically. We sometimes allow adherence to form trump creativity. We assess according to state-issued rubrics that call for a certain structure to be followed. We “score” students on their abilities to be focused, include enough content, stay traditionally organized, use proper grammar and spelling, and use “style.” We neglect audience. We’re churning out writer-robots who spit back the format they think we want to see. We graphic-organizer-them to exhaustion.

Yes, we need to help them learn structures of writing. But we can’t stop there. We can’t repeat the same lessons year after year and expect them to produce the same types of writing over and over again. Snooze.

In a #cpchat conversation recently, we pondered, How do we know that our use of technology is improving learning opportunities for students? And we talked about the typical measures that schools/states/nations are using to determine if students are “proficient” in academic areas. Historically, our school has been high-performing on the state writing assessment. Last year we were in the top quintile of performance for schools in the state. What does that mean? That our students can write in response to a prompt, demonstrating they have control over conventions, organization, style, content, and focus?

(Incidentally, I hear many teachers state with great exasperation, Style is just so hard to teach! when we ponder over students’ lower scores in this area. Perhaps… if we allowed students’ creativity to flourish, and make it a priority… style would take care of itself? The students whose Storybirds I read were able to embrace style like they never would have on a paper-pencil assessment.)

But how would students’ command of writing on traditional state assessments translate to proficiency in digital literacy? According to the NCTE, what do 21st century readers and writers need to know and be able to do?

Today, the NCTE definition of 21st century literacies makes it clear that further evolution of curriculum, assessment, and teaching practice itself is necessary.

Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies.

These literacies—from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms—are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities, and social trajectories of individuals and groups. Twenty-first century readers and writers need to

• Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
• Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
• Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
• Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
• Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts
• Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments

Administrators and teachers, consider the influence you could have on your teachers and students; on instructional methods and curricular choices; on developing your students’ 21st century literacy skills. If you are an administrator who has discovered the importance of ensuring your students are fluent digital readers and writers, how are you modeling this in your learning organization? How are you sharing with your students?

I learned to love to read.

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user alex.ragone

Sometimes we as administrators take for granted how easy it is to contact a teacher during the instructional day. Call the room. Leave a personal voicemail. Email them. Send a Skype message. While the lines of communication are open, they can also potentially interrupt instruction and learning. Flashback to the early 1980s, when I was in first grade. My teacher, Mrs. Koller, whom I adored, needed to step outside into the hallway to have a conversation with another staff member. Times were different then… no one had to arrange for coverage by a certified teacher to watch her class of  sprightly six-year-olds. We would be just fine on our own.

I can still picture very clearly in my mind where we were sitting when the other teacher popped her head in the door to get Mrs. Koller’s attention. My classmates and I were seated criss-cross-applesauce on the carpet. Mrs. Koller was seated in her rocking chair, the place from which she engaged our minds and hearts by reading aloud to us. When her colleague requested her attention, she had a variety of options. She could have had us talk quietly to our neighbors until she returned. She could have asked us to return to our seats and complete another task. She could have given us no directions and allowed the free-for-all to ensue. :)

Instead, she looked at the group of students seated patiently at her feet. She handed Charlotte’s Web to me, and said, “Lynmarie, I would like you to continue reading to the class. Please sit in my chair!”

My heart swelled with pride. My mind raced! Would I be fluent enough for my classmates to understand me? Would I be able to hold their attention? I pulled myself onto what felt like the world’s most distinguished chair, and confidently read the next several pages of the story to my classmates. I remember feeling so incredibly proud that she chose me for this task. Perhaps it was because I was seated near the front of the circle. Perhaps it was because she was confident in my abilities to read the text. For whatever the reason, it is one of my most cherished memories from elementary school.

She trusted me. She empowered me. She believed in me. I always loved stories, but when Mrs. Koller handed that book to me, I learned to love to read.

#schooldidagoodthing

Thanks, @thenerdyteacher, for encouraging us to take the time to remember and share the wonderful things school has done for us!

Principal for a day!

My guest blogger today is Alecia, a sixth grade student at our school who entered a raffle drawing to win the prize of Principal for the Day…. and what a fantastic prize it turned out to be, not just for Alecia, but for me. :) Alecia has been a strong presence in our building today, observing classrooms, interacting with students, completing fun tasks like student birthday cards and helping me prepare for our Students Rebuild paper crane project for Japan, as well as serving as photographer for our 10-Picture Tour!

Here are Alecia’s photos, with descriptions of why she chose to showcase these areas of our school, as well as some reflections about what it’s like to be a principal! Thanks for a great day, Alecia!

1. Our main entrance - I picked this picture because this is where we come in and out of the school from.

2. Our library - I like this picture because this is where we do our research.

3. Our art room - I choose the art room because this is where we do our crafts.

4. Our multi-purpose room - The multi-purpose room is were we do multiple activities such as gym, music performances, and it turns into our cafeteria at lunch time.

5. Our wall of teachers - I choose the wall of teachers because it shows who works in our building.

6. Our front showcase - I choose the front showcase because it just shows an Easter/spring theme.

7. Our quilt - I like the quilt because it welcomes you to Bowmansville.

8. Our hallways -The hallways were chosen because they show student work!

9. Our computer lab - I picked the computer lab because it shows the students hard at work.

10. Our mural - Everyone in our school got to help make the mural by placing a tile on the project.

Alecia ~ what did you enjoy about your day as a principal? What did you learn? What advice do you have for anyone who wishes to become a principal?

I enjoyed being a principal. It is really fun just to go around and see what other kids are working on and just to be able to be in charge of the school is really cool! Some advice I have for people who want to be a principal is just to be understanding with children and have fun!

Sharing is contagious!

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user Funchye

Last year I spent some time throughout the school year snapping photos of student work that was displayed in the hallways and classrooms, creating slideshows using PhotoPeach, and posting “I Spy” tours of our student learning displays on our school websites to share with parents.

I Spy, March 5! on PhotoPeach

I admit that I have not been posting these slideshows regularly this year, and today I made a commitment to do so, because there is so much fantastic learning going on in our school! But then I considered why I didn’t feel as compelled to do this.

It’s not because what I see in the hallways or classrooms is any less enthralling or interesting than it’s been in the past … it’s because more teachers and students are sharing student work and learning themselves! It’s like we’ve all been infected with some sort of wonderful, crazy, addictive sharing disease that is spreading like wildfire throughout our school!

My teachers have grown so much in their willingness to engage students in different types of learning experiences throughout this year. Much of our increased ability to share student work can be attributed to the use of social media and the integration of new tools to enhance student engagement with the content.

Our primary students have created Voicethreads and teamed up with intermediate grade reading buddies to create digital stories with Little Bird Tales. They’re trying Voki, Skyping with virtual pen-pals (check out their visitor map!), and have really been dedicating time to writing on their blogs. We’re sharing our school events with descriptive slideshows.

Intermediate students have been broadening conversations with Today’s Meet, working with Xtranormal, garnering input for math data projects with Google forms, and creating Voicethreads. We’ve jumped into collaborating with Google Docs and students use Glogster to summarize their learning. They’re engaging in conversations with their families and visitors around the world! One of our fifth grade classes created a video tour of our school to share with their Oregon penpals, and some students even participated in our staff Sharing Showcase last week! I’ve seen some very eager Prezi creators, and enjoyed reading these Kidblog reading reflections. Our school “newspaper” has been moved online to help easily share our students’ writing and project work. Parents and teachers can more easily comment on what’s happening!

 

The benefits of sharing are endless. Parents have a wide open window into classroom happenings. Students are connecting with other teachers and students throughout our country and world. Students are active, engaged, and motivated learners in these experiences.  Teachers’ and student excitement is spreading…

Initially, I believe the teachers that felt comfortable risk-taking and trying new ideas with students were hesitant to share their joys about the process, for fear of “bragging” or looking they were trying to out-do their grade level colleagues. Similarly, I think teachers were timid about sharing the struggles they experienced throughout the change, worried that their frustrations might dissuade other teachers from taking risks themselves. We need to overcome this mindset. We need to encourage growth in ourselves and others.

Reading Shelley Wright‘s post this morning, I knew I immediately would share her words with my teachers, because her message to Improvise, Learn, Don’t Regret is one that I want my teachers, and students, to embrace. She has taken the time to document her journey into project-based learning and share that experience with all of us. We have gained insight, perspective, and appreciation for the process because she has done so. This doesn’t happen without honest transparency.

Thank you, Justin, for the challenge to share the wonderful things happening in our schools! We all need to spread the sharing bug… it’s an ailment worth enduring!

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user iman Khalili

Crossing the finish line.

 

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user iman Khalili

It’s not whether you win or lose… it’s how you run the race.

Jonathan Martin provided us with a detailed summary of his reflections after viewing Race to Nowhere, a documentary film that highlights the lives of high school students, parents and families, and teachers and administrators, all in the context of a system that is broken and failing our children. As Jonathan stated, it is “emotionally manipulative,” and the first sentence of the About the Film description on its website indicates that it indeed features “the heartbreaking stories of young people across the country who have been pushed to the brink, educators who are burned out and worried that students aren’t developing the skills they need, and parents who are trying to do what’s best for their kids.”

I didn’t know what to expect from the film, and I actually wasn’t prepared to take notes, but about 20 minutes in, I knew that I needed to write a reflection on the film’s contents. I covered the fronts and backs of scrap pieces of paper I had in my purse with seemingly incoherent scribblings. (I had owned my iPhone for about 1 hour prior to attending the screening, so, unlike Jonathan, was not yet skilled at taking notes on my phone in the dark. :) The quotes below are my reflections as I remember them and may be paraphrased.

These are my take-aways:

On happiness:

  • Children are trying to balance lives that few adults would be comfortable balancing. Something that resounded with me was a student explaining how people always want to know from her, Aaand… “I’m a member of the student council.” And? “I have straight A’s.” And? “I play sports.” And? Why aren’t you doing any community service??!
  • We are basing students’ successes not on how happy they are, but rather on a systemic assumption that they need to get into a good college and make a lot of money, which will lead to happiness.
  • Why cant happiness be a metric used to determine the success of our schools? Why just reading and math scores? Focusing on academics alone does not respect the child.

On accountability:

  • We have a “tremendous preoccupation with performance.”
  • Our educational system is an inch deep and a mile wide. What is important is NOT “knowing a whole bunch of things.”
  • We’re always preparing kids for “what’s next.” Think about it: “In middle school, you will have to do X, so in sixth grade, we’re going to make you do X to prepare you.” “In fourth grade, your teachers will expect you to write in cursive, so in third grade, we’re going to learn cursive.”
  • Due to the pressures of No Child Left Behind, we teach students formulaically so they can pass a test, but if they encounter something unlike that which is on the test, they fall apart. The tremendous pressure to produce leaves out time for critical processing. Cheating has become “like another course.”
  • Kids want to know exactly what’s on the test and not go beyond it. We give them study guides! We base our teachings off of those guides!
  • Teachers feel like “yes men” doing what the district, state, or government wants, even if it’s not best for kids. One teacher cited the example, “like teaching them what a semicolon does.” She went on to explain the need for us to teach students critical thinking, problem solving, and how to work in groups. This passionate teacher explained that she wants for her students to be learners. She stressed that if you’re not teaching what you love, you can’t do this job. “I’m a mother to my students. I see them more than they see their families.” This teacher’s frustrations with the system and feelings of helplessness eventually caused her to resign.
  • The tutoring industry has exploded because we are treating all kids like they need to be in the top 2 percent academically. Children are nervous about upsetting and disappointing their teachers if they don’t perform. And that they may “lose recess” for incomplete work.

On homework:

  • “At what point did it become okay for school to dictate how a child will spend time outside of school?” It’s not about learning anymore.
  • There is no correlation between homework completion and academic achievement in elementary school. (This was my absolute favorite line of the movie.) In middle school, there is a slight correlation, but past 1 hour of homework, it lessens. Past 2 hrs of homework time in high school, the effect lessens. Reference made to Sara Bennett’s and Nancy Kalish’s work, The Case Against Homework.
  • We all need to educate ourselves about the effects of homework. Why do we insist upon assigning it? Teachers think it’s necessary to cover content. Parents expect it.

On passion-based learning:

  • Our kids have grown up in a “world of training wheels” and have been coached from a very young age. They don’t realize they can fall off the bike and pick themselves up.
  • Instead of taking 5 classes, think, here are 3 classes I’m really interested in taking. One student expressed his belief that college is going to be a place where I “start to learn.” What does that say for his high school experience?
  • “Smart” has so many different meanings. The system is ignoring a great group of kids that is talented artistically, visually-spatially, etc. “Absolutely no appreciation for that kind of talent, or thinking.”
  • What creates the opportunity to be innovative? What does it take to create a creative human being? Children need time, so we must provide that downtime. Play is children’s work. It’s a tool to figure out how the world works. They’re not able to figure out what they love to do or find their passions without that freedom.

I was surrounded by a very emotional audience at the screening I attended. The movie was shown in the high school auditorium of a neighboring school district, one whose name is synonymous with wealth and high academic achievement. We have often looked to this district for ideas about how to implement programs and structure schedules due to their documented successes. The parents in the audience were likely those of high school students, and it was clear, from only 30 minutes into the film, that they would start to reconsider the types of discussions they would have with their children about learning and achievement. I wonder how this movie’s message made them view their roles differently?

There was a member of the audience with whom I’ve interacted on several occasions in her role as consultant. She has spent hours with our administrative team, reviewing the RtII framework, discussing data at great lengths, and yet, her best intentions noted, not once did we mention a child by name, or discuss actual, meaningful learning. I wonder how this movie’s message made her view her role differently?

The president of my parent-teacher organization approached me about the film and asked if I thought it would be beneficial for her to view. I agreed it would be, and she is taking a group of our parents to see the film in a few weeks. I wonder how this movie’s message will cause them to view their roles differently?

One of my colleague principals had a chance to view the film, and I feel it’s important for us to share our thoughts with the rest of our administrative team. I wonder how this movie’s message will cause them to view their roles differently?

I’m actually overwhelmed composing this post, as I decipher my notes to try to articulate just exactly what I’m feeling about this film’s message. I agree with the conclusions shared at the end of the movie that we need to rethink how we “do schooling.” What do we want to invest in? What matters most? The quality of teaching is what matters most.

We have to start asking ourselves how films like this, articles we read, success stories we hear, problems we encounter, and convictions we hold cause us to think differently. And then we have to do something about it.

There is no easy fix to the flaws in the system, because the inherent problems are so complex. But there is so much that we are doing right in schools across the nation and beyond. What I’d love to do is create a Race to Nowhere-esque documentary that captures and celebrates the extraordinary learning that’s going on within and outside of our classrooms each day. (Many of us do this with our blogs. But is it enough?) We need to share our successes with a wider audience. We need to inspire each other and start to build a collective body of knowledge that can help lead us in the direction of a finish line worth crossing.

Be there.

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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:

Question:
What’s the best part about being a principal?

Answer:
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!

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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

Playing school or living learning?

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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.

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….

Screen shot 2010-08-31 at 8.09.50 AM

(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.

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.