Month: May 2013

A Principal’s Reflection

After 4 years of being an elementary principal, I am leaving for a new challenge. As I leave, I find myself in a sentimental mood. When I become sentimental, I tend to want to write (or type, as it turns out). In order for me to develop some closure with my staff and my school community, I thought I would try to distill what I have learned about being an elementary school principal. The things I say below are by no means said from an expert’s point of view. Most of what I have learned has come from making mistakes or missed opportunities to make better choices. I hope that at least one current or aspiring principal gets some value out of this.

Relationships matter.
Whether we are talking about staff, students, or parents, the way people feel about the principal often directly affects the way they feel about the school. Having a negative relationship with the principal often leads to a colored view of other staff, school programs, and can leave parents not wanting to step up when they are asked to help support a school event. Taking the time to foster a positive relationship with an unhappy parent can pay off down the road by keeping them connected to school in a positive way. Greeting people by name, asking them their opinions about the school or a recent program, and acting as a gracious host to all visitors sets the tone for the school.

Spend time talking with students.
Don’t forget that your primary customers/clients are your students. They can often provide you the most meaningful feedback about the teaching and learning taking place.  Ask them, “What did you learn about today?” They will tell you some amazing things. They can also tell you when the boys bathroom is overflowing.

Listen to your teachers.
Teachers need to be listened to, because listening to someone shows them that you care about them.  Oftentimes, teachers will just need to vent because they are in a room with 7 year olds all day. That in itself is a daily task that should allow for the occasional complaint. All joking aside, teachers’ voices are often lost in the day-to-day running of the school. If you dont stop and listen to the small things, you’ll find yourself under a barrage of big things. Teachers are the life force of a school, and their happiness and level of fulfillment is directly related to the success of the school. So, when they have something to say, hear them out.

Give parents advice.
The Principal may or may not be a parent; or a good one at that.  Nonetheless, you have to remember to have the “parent to parent” talks.  When you talk with a parent about their child’s behavior, attitude, or any other negative aspect, remember that you are talking about their heart and soul.  When a parent hears that their child used foul language, hit another student, or talked back to an adult, they are hurting on the inside.  They will tell you that they will follow up at home and take away the X-Box for two weeks.  But on the inside, they are sad, disappointed, and blaming themselves. Take a moment to reassure the parent and help them figure out what to say to their child.

Ask for help.
I started out thinking that asking for help indicated that I wasn’t ready to be a Principal. That was silly of me.  I ask for help all the time.  I call other principals and ask their opinion on discipline issues. I call other principals and ask for budgeting ideas. I call other principals and ask how they might word a tough conversation with a teacher or parent.  And, I call district staff when I have a question in the area they oversee. Yes, principal means “the one in charge.” However, being in charge doesn’t mean you are an island.

Have a glass of wine.
Somedays, you will get home at 8:30 and will be dead tired. Your kids will already be asleep, and your spouse will be busy cleaning up from the night’s mess. (I have 4 kids under the age of 5, so maybe your home is a bit less chaotic than mine). You will still be running the conversation from that angry parent through your head for the 35th time.  You will remember that you never made it to Mrs. Jones’ room to fix her projector, and you will also remember the 3 parents you never got to call back.  Sit down, pour a glass of wine, and let the 100s of families to whom you are responsible leave your head and take a breath.  Then take a sip.     Say to the angry parents in your head that they are not welcome in your home and let them leave your thoughts.  Take another sip.

Two Worlds of Professional Development

At the same time, I am leading my own learning, through the development of my PLN, and following the “traditional” educational model by going through the gauntlet that is a doctoral program. Both forma of learning have been valuable.

Both have their own benefits, drawbacks, and rewards.

Where one is completely self-led and organic, the other is guided by established experts. Where one requires nothing but which I require of myself, the other has assignments, deadlines, and more assignments.
Where one will have a tangible financial reward at a significant price, the other offers only that which can’t be valued.
Where one will lead to me walking across the stage while my name is called and my family cheers, the other is done quietly at my kitchen table at odd hours.

Both forms of learning have value.

There is a growing sentiment that formal degrees are no longer relevant to the educational leader; that “self led PD is the only way modern teachers should learn.” I call them the “Educational Hipsters,” and I don’t think they are right. Formal degree programs are founded on the study of theories, which are critical to the practicing educational leader.

On the other hand, there are those who believe that self-led PD is superficial and fad based. They think the only way to learn is through assigned readings and paper writing. They are wrong, too. Self led PD, especially through the use of Twitter, connects learners  from across the globe. It is (relatively) free and opens a world of thought and ideas to be created and shared.

So, in the end, a modern educator and leader should have both formal and informal PD planned. Taking classes or pursuing a degree should be balanced with everyday sharing and learning. The theory and the daily application must both be addressed.

Celebrating Innovation

Last night, two teams of La Mariposa teachers were awarded monetary grants from the IMPACT II Award program, sponsored by Amgen and the Ventura County Office of Education. The IMPACT II program website states this as their purpose: “The purpose of IMPACT II is to spread excellent teaching ideas throughout our county. Recognizing innovative teachers at the awards dinner is an opportunity to celebrate the true heroes and heroines in our communities.”

20130509-083548.jpg

The 1st grade team, Mrs. Davis, Mrs. Armas, Ms. Miller, Mrs. Richards, Mrs. Elliott, and Mrs. Jaquez receive their grant award from the Amgen Foundation.

The 1st grade team (Tiffany Armas, Karen Davis, Chris Elliott, Angela Jaquez, and Hope Richards) received their award for the unit titled “Emperors, Macaronis and Faries, Oh My” focuses on non-fiction reading, writing, and science. Students immersed themselves in the world’s penguins. This type of learning ‘across the content areas’ allows for higher order thinking and deeper understanding.

20130509-083508.jpg

2nd grade teachers, Mrs. Quiles and Mrs. Kyriacou, receive their grant award from the Amgen Foundation.

La Mariposa 2nd grade teachers, Christie Kyriacou and Stacey Quiles, embarked on a service learning project titled “Project Possible.” This unit, as well, evoked meaningful learning by giving students the opportunity to use their math and writing skills, while they built on their understanding of science and social studies concepts. As students learned how to count and sort money, they did so in the context of helping others. They created stores, assuming the roles of producers and consumers. In the end, the money the students collected and counted was turned into a sizable donation of new clothing for children living at Casa Pacifica. The 7 and 8 year old students in Room C-2 learned how they can make a difference for local children.

La Mariposa is proud of the meaningful and innovative work our teachers and students do. These two units of study exemplify the La Mariposa goal of “Educating and Inspiring Every Child.”

Keep Calm and Carry On

Image

Last week, the City of Camarillo, CA was covered with smoke and ash. A wildfire was burning 28,000 acres of City land, State Park, and Federal Lands.  The local Cal State campus was evacuated.  4,000 homes were evacuated. Sikorsky helicopters flew over our school for two days.  Above was the view on Thursday, May 2, the morning the fire broke out.  By Friday morning, the winds had shifted, covering our school in ash and keeping us indoors. It was not fun at all.  Parents called, concerned for the safety of their children. We monitored the Fire Department website and had the local news channel streaming in our office.  We sent out all calls to parents and continuously updated our website and Facebook page to make sure that parents knew their children were safe and that we were staying on top of the situation. 

Meanwhile, inside our classrooms, our teachers carried on as if it were a normal day.  Had it not been for the putrid smell of ash and the strange orange skies, the students at La Mariposa may have been unaware of the disaster unfolding. Inside one of our classrooms, this happened:Image

 

Students worked together to create murals that will become part of our Open House Art Gallery. While 1,000 fire fighters battled the blaze just a few miles away, our teachers bravely ignored their fear and anxiety.  This poster comes to mind for me

:Image

That is just what our teachers did. Committed professionals making the best of every circumstance, ensuring that kids feel safe. As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, it is important to recognize the innovative instructional strategies and the way teachers make learning fun. 

More importantly, teachers need to be recognized for the basic, yet crucial role they play in the development of our children.  Sometimes, we need to stop and smell the flowers, even as the smell of ash pervades the air.

Taking the First Step Toward Creating a PLN

Whether you want the “P” to be “Professional,” “Personal,” or “Personalized,” creating a P**** Learning Network is a must as a modern educator.  (Notice I didn’t say “21st Century”) Aside from the ease with which you can follow and connect with high profile people, such as @SirKenRobinson, @MarcPrensky, @DianeRavitch or @GaryStager, you can also find yourself connecting with similar minded educators in nearby cities or school districts.

At first, I was drunk with the excitement of hanging on the words of people like Sir Ken or Neil DeGrasse Tyson.  I slowly began following ed tech leaders, well known school administrators, and I even made room for some guilty pleasures (see Bryant, Kobe and Poundstone, Paula).

As I began to share my thoughts and respond to the tweets of others, I began to garner followers, too. Over the last few months, I have followed almost 200 educators, am followed by more than 130 educators, and have tweeted more than 600 thoughts, messages, and links. In all, my transition from Lurker to Contributor has not been a long one.

I chose a “twitter chat” that I thought would add value to my Twitter PD (#caedchat, or California Ed Chat).  I recommend that new Twitter users join a chat as one of their first Twitter actions, since this is a way to immediately and easily connect with people who have the same interests and learning goals as you do. To learn how to join a Twitter chat, look here for some quick tips and recommendations.

It is through the Twitter chat that I have connected with educators outside my school district, but close enough to connect with in real life.  Recently, a local teacher and I discussed the idea of starting an EdCamp in our County, which is severely lacking in tech PD opportunities. Another educator and I are looking to hold a #brewcue over the summer to connect with like minded professionals who want to expand their learning.

So, no matter what you do in education, or how “techie” you are, Twitter is a tool through which you can connect with some of the greatest thinkers of our time, or a teacher in the neighboring district who wants to share classroom ideas. If you are someone who is unfulfilled by the PD offerings of your school district, consider Twitter your door to a new world of learning.

The remaining question is…will you open that door?

Here are some great resources for getting started with Twitter.

Twitter’s Guide to Twitter

Instructional Tech Talk’s Twitter for Beginners