Build Culture with “CULTURIZE”

There are a few key books that are cornerstones in my professional library. You know the type of books that speak to you, that have revolutionized your thinking, that are tabbed, highlighted, and referred to frequently. These are the books that I recommend to colleagues, quote in conversations, and re-read when I need inspiration and motivation in my leadership.

Among these books are:

Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess

Lead Like a Pirate by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

Kids Deserve It by Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome

This fall I read and this winter I re-read another book that is now part of that list:

Culturize by Jimmy Casas

Jimmy focuses his book on 4 key principles for leadership and building culture that are both commonsense and revolutionary in the same breath. He clearly defines the issues and problems facing our schools today, but doesn’t dwell on what is wrong or berate those responsible, rather he focuses on practical and actionable steps to build culture, rapport and relationships with kids, staff, families and the community.

He wrote phrases that are profound and worthy of a plaque, poster or banner displayed on school walls. Phrases such as:

  • We cannot allow average to become our standard
  • Empathy, Yes. Sympathy, No.
  • It only takes one person to related to your story. Honor your impact
  • Students are inherently the most important people entering our school buildings

His actions for improvement rely on a few simple strategies:

  • Build Relationships. Build Relationships. Build Relationships.
  • Pick up the phone and call
  • Be ARMed for the difficult conversations by acknowledging, rectifying and moving on
  • Don’t rely on a title to be a leader. Leaders are made by their actions.
  • Take an idea and act. Don’t wait!
  • Build your “tribe” through a strong and supportive PLN
  • Value mistakes and model risk-taking
  • Tell your school’s story

His book is thorough, practical, and addresses the most important factor in a successful school: a positive school culture based on trust, support, mutual respect, and open communication.

His book joins my professional library with dog-eared pages, highlighted text, post-its marking strategies and sentiments that I am sure to refer back to.

When ADHD happens to YOU

And then the tables were turned…

I have been in education for 16 years. My career began as a special education teacher. My heart and work always focusing on students requiring extra support, time, attention, and energy and has led to my current position as a principal of a K-5 building. I cannot tell you how many meetings I have sat in with parents regarding the individual needs of their children. Each one focused on developing their strengths, but always speaking to what needed to be improved. I always felt that we worked hard on ensuring those meetings or conversations were gentle and child centered, but nothing changes your approach or perspective than your own personal experiences. 

in 2009, I had my first daughter. A little girl that brought more joy to our hearts that you can imagine. At 6 months old, I vividly remember our pediatrician smiling and sharing, “She’ll keep you on your toes, but she is going to make you proud.”

And she did and she has.

She is the most outgoing and hilarious little girl you will meet. She has a huge heart made of gold and is detail-oriented. She is a natural-leader with strong communication skills that will take her far in life. She has the innate ability to take in all sensory information in her environment and loves to help in the classroom. She is empathetic. Driven. Goal-Oriented. A great writer and story-teller. And we add to this list, ADHD… Just one of her characteristics that now is added to the list that makes her who she is.

Her engine has always run on over-drive. As a toddler, we were always amazed at her energy and zeal in life. She literally bounces off the furniture and tumbles and twirls where ever she goes and when ever she can. As she entered school, her zeal made the transition easy. Her ability to move, flex, and bend has made her into a very talented tumbler and competitive cheerleader, but has made it difficult to attend and focus in the classroom as she gets older.

A different pediatrician, with equally insightful knowledge, shared, “She can have it all, but not all at the same time.” So where her strengths are advantageous in one situation, they hinder her in others.

That led us to a few Vanderbilt rating scales, emails, meetings, tearful conversations, and ultimately a diagnosis of ADHD.

The tables were turned.

I look at my daughter and all that she IS capable. All that she IS going to accomplish in life. All the areas she IS strong in.

I look back at some of the meetings held, conversations had, emails shared, IEP or 504 plans created and I now have a different perspective. I have always said I want to be the educator and principal that I would want for my own children and I mean that more than ever.

My daughter. Our students. Every Child., need the same care, commitment and compassion that our family has had along the way.  We need educators to recognize that despite student challenges, that they also have incredible strengths and abilities. That a diagnosis does not change a child, but brings light to who they are and strengthens what they are meant to be.

She is NOT ADHD. She has ADHD, just as much as she has strength, power, a sense of humor, leadership, and a natural ability to bring joy to anyone she meets. ADHD does not define her, but is part of her definition. She will continue to be defined by her strong-will, outgoing spirit, and big heart.

As for me, I will be a more compassionate, understanding and empathetic principal and educator because that is what happens, when it happens to You!

Faculty Meeting meets Team Building with Holiday #BreakOutEDU

December is always a month filled with equal amounts of energy, excitement and teacher exhaustion. As I looked at our monthly staff calendar and saw the plethora of extra activities, assemblies and stresses on the teachers, I wanted our staff meeting dedicated to building rapport and relationships as much as I wanted to build knowledge and capacity for teachers to use in their classrooms. I wanted to provide teachers with alternative learning activities and experiences for their classrooms that were rigorous and transcended the typical pre-winter break movie.

A #BreakOutEDU was just the answer. With some kits recently purchased for our Enrichment Program from https://www.breakoutedu.com/free, I wanted out staff to experience the excitement and learning potential of the BreakOutEDU experience while building their understanding and ability to apply it in their own classrooms.

I worked with a teacher leader in my building to create the “Elf in a Box” staff meeting experience. With some Pentatonix holiday music blaring on my Monster Rocker, candy canes as a sweet and festive treat, some strobe lights flashing in red and green, and reproducible resources printed off for staff to use immediately with their students following the experience, we were ready to engage the staff in a fun and exciting experience.

As teachers entered, they were given some basic instructions by the teacher leader and immediately went to work. Staff gelled instantly as they set off to solve multiple puzzles to get one of Santa’s elves out of the box. As I observed, I noticed their strong sense of communication and collaboration, natural leadership abilities surface, individuals assume unique roles on their teams and more. They were heavily engaged in critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, and communication. I smiled knowing that this experience was modeling the types of skills and learning for their students in their own classrooms.

With competitive hearts, the staff quickly worked together to solve the multitude of puzzles required to #BreakOutEDU and save the elf. It wasn’t long until I heard from staff members requesting the kits and supplies for their own classrooms and students.

This activity doesn’t need to be applied seasonally, https://www.breakoutedu.com/free, has a multitude of resources and sample lessons that can be used in any grade level and content area. Our Kindergarten team was able to find resources just as readily and easily as our fifth grade team and use the same resources and BreakOut kit.

Reading Resolutions 2018

Each year I set out to set a reading resolution to engage myself in new goals and hold myself accountable for reaching reading challenges.

Reading resolutions are a powerful professional and personal practice and have many benefits; including,

  1. A focus on improving yourself personally and professionally through the book selections you make
  2. Holding yourself accountable for that personal and professional growth
  3. Establishing a goal framework to push the reading boundaries you have set for yourself
  4. Challenging yourself to embed reading in your daily life in new, expanded, or alternative ways
  5. Making reading a collaborative and social process that you can share with your friends and PLN

This year is an exciting year for me as I work with Dave and Shelley Burgess with Dave Burgess Consulting to publish my first book about establishing a culture of reading in the school learning environment. I look forward to sharing that with everyone in late spring 2018! In addition to publishing my first book, I set a few other reading resolutions for myself:

  1. Share the love of reading through random acts of kindness. Inspired by Roman Nowak and the #BeKindEDU movement, I intend on sending frequent #happymail to members of my PLN and their schools or classrooms with books and other tokens to celebrate and engage them in reading and sharing the love of reading with their staff and students.
  2. Continue to read professional books, but be more intentional and purposeful in blogging my reflections and take-aways to share with my PLN and document my reading progress. This includes more frequent #booksnaps inspired by Tara Martin.
  3. Use the time I find commuting to work and in transporting my kids to their extra-curricular activities to listen to audio books and podcasts in order to maximize my time and increase the amount of ‘reading’ and learning I am able to accomplish.
  4. Provide time and opportunities outside of the school day and school year to engage my students in reading and reading related activities and events.

I have several books I am anxiously waiting to read and that are on my current reading list. Some of them to be published this year!

  1. The Wild Card by Hope and Wade King
  2. Stories from Webb by Todd Nesloney
  3. Be the One by Ryan Sheehy
  4. FlexEd by Kayla Delzer
  5. The follow up in the Lead Like a Pirate series from my PLN and principal pal Jay Billy. Both of our books will be published this spring, so Stay Tuned!

I encourage you to set and share your reading resolutions with your students and colleagues. You may also choose to have students make resolutions as we develop a culture of readers!

Some resources to get you started can be found at:

http://www.literaryhedonist.com/2014/01/2014-new-year-new-reading-resolutions.html

http://www.scholastic.com/parents/resources/free-printable/reading-printables/time-reading-resolution

http://www.scholastic.com/parents/resources/free-printable/reading-printables/reading-resolutions-2016

Bestness~ My 2018 #OneWord

I sat observing a veteran tumbling coach instruct a class full of toddlers as they ran in multiple directions and chuckled to myself. My three year old daughter was one of them and her attention to his words was lost on the equipment and materials around her.  He maintained patience and smiled as he knowingly redirected the children to the next activity. So often, I feel like my job is inherently organized chaos, but with a focused goal of improving each individual teacher and student to their personal best.

He clapped his hands and cheerfully sang, “All the children must do their bestness” as he helped them reach in a straddle to their little toes or turn a novice sommersault. My heart filled with cheer as I observed his gentle, firm, and positive approach to working with his youngest students as he pushed them to their personal best while building relationships and rapport with their malleable hearts, bodies, and minds . At that moment, I was reminded of the type of principal and educator I continuously strive to be.

This coach has trained generations of athletes and is coaching the children and grandchildren of his first athletes. He has coached individuals to become world class competitive athletes, yet he worked as diligently and professionally with this class of three year olds as he does with his highest level of athletes.

His term, ‘bestness’ is his personally constructed word on his part to combine the words “best” and “greatness” that resonated with me for multiple reasons and is my 2018 #oneword.

So, for 2018, my #oneword mission is to reach my personal #bestness in each facet of my life:

  • As a wife
  • As a mother
  • As a friend
  • As a principal and lead lifelong learner
  • As an author and change agent
  • As a daughter, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter

On Christmas Eve, I opened a simple gift from my husband with the sentiment inscribed on a wooden plaque; “Do Your Bestness.” I placed it next to a small, but meaningful glass bull on the shelves flanking our mantle. That bull, given to me by my late grandmother, is a visual reminder that achieving your personal ‘bestness’ is not done without hard work, perseverance, and a lot of heart. 2018…. This is the year I strive to do my personal bestness… to become a better version of myself, to push myself to new limits, to accept challenges and opportunities with open arms, and to ensure I work toward being the leader that engages and empowers the staff, students, families and community around me to do their bestness as well.

A Principal’s Perspective on Being on the Other Side of Conferences

For years I have worn that hat as educator or administrator when it has come time for conferences. I typically approach each conference with confidence and complete understanding of where the child is academically, behaviorally, and socially. When the meeting starts, we get into a groove going through the agenda items and discussing student progress.

We’ve been doing student-led conferences for several years now and this continues to be a valuable practice to honor student voice, develop relationships, and ensure student ownership and accountability in their own learning. The truth is, as a principal, I look forward to conferences.

As a principal, I look forward to having children share their progress with their parents.

As a principal, I look forward to teachers making connections with families and students.

As a principal, I look forward to discussing opportunities for celebration and areas to grow.

But, As a Principal, I haven’t always known what it is like to be on the other side of the table. Even as my oldest child navigated through her early preschool experiences and K-2 school-age years, I felt prepared and empowered in those meetings. My baby girl still needed me to advocate and be her voice. I still needed the teacher to share insights of her day and academic and social growth and progress. That changed for me this year as she embarked on third grade.

Now, my independent third grader has a voice loud enough to advocate her own needs and concerns to her teacher. She confidently asks for support in school when she needs it and expresses her ideas loudly and vividly (we’re working on the loud part). Now my independent third grader has grades and assessments that are communicated through a student management portal so that I can keep track of her progress. So with the assumption that ‘no news is good news’ I walked into her 3rd grade student-led conference feeling how many parents probably felt.

As a mom, I felt anxious to hear how she was performing and behaving in class. I wanted to ensure that my perceptions and personal assumptions were accurate and that my pulse on her classroom performance was accurate.

As a mom, I felt like turning cartwheels when the teacher shared that she had found her place in the classroom and was an empathetic and understanding friend to all students in her class, even those that struggled behaviorally.

As a mom, I cringed when I heard that my daughter still puts things in her mouth during the day.

But as a mom, I had a sense of relief when the teacher had already provided gum so that my child could meet her sensory needs in an appropriate manner.

As a mom, I felt an urge to dig deeper for information and details regarding her day, but with a little voice reminding me that she is growing up and that she will share those nuances or details when she is ready or deems it appropriate. And, as a mom, that responsibility for homework and organization are now firmly rested on her shoulders and we need to work together to continue to develop skills of independence.

But mostly, as a mom, I wanted to hug her teacher and thank her for the time, energy, and emotional strength she has to tackle such a difficult profession every single day with grace and a positive attitude. I wanted to thank her for seeing my child the same way I do, as an individual with unique qualities and strengths, that is the center of our world. I wanted to thank her for pushing and challenging her to grow while honoring her current levels and making her feel valued and important.

As a principal, I look forward to the positive and valuable outcomes of connecting parents, students and teachers. As a mom, I relish the time I have to engage in conversation with my own child’s teacher and partner in the learning process.

What Does a Principal Do All Day?

This week was Principal Appreciation Week and I couldn’t have felt more loved and appreciated. One of the tokens of appreciation I received was handwritten and illustrated books from each classroom and student. It was by far one of the greatest and most meaningful gifts and I’ve enjoyed reading the insights of their candid responses to my roles and responsibilities.

They responded to the prompt:

What Does Our Principal Do All Day? 

I had a variety of emotions as I read through the pages.

Some students recognized the fun parts of my job:

  • She greets people walking into the school in the mornings
  • Mrs. Ellis calls your parents if you have been good in class. She let’s students sign the chalkboard
  • She honks her princess horn
  • She blares music from her speaker
  • She takes selfies with us
  • She likes to dab
  • She gets us free snow cones
  • She does cartwheels down the hallway
  • Mrs. Ellis makes all of us ROYALS

 

Some students wrote about the most visible components of my position:

  • She drinks coffee (that’s a given)
  • She talks to parents
  • She copies papers
  • She walks around with the port-a-principal
  • She checks on classes. She goes into classrooms to make sure teachers and students are doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
  • She brought Teddy to our school. She brings Teddy to our room.
  • She gives us hugs and high-fives
  • She does morning announcements

 

While other students wrote about some of the “behind the scenes” elements of being a principal:

  • She never gives up and comes up with new ideas
  • She eats donuts and reads
  • She helps new students know what to do.
  • She has to do paperwork. She works on files and phone calls
  • She writes letters
  • She has a dance party when no one is looking. She has a disco party with Mrs. Kamin and donuts!
  • She keeps us safe

While some students wrote about things that I am not sure where it came from:

  • She plays tackle football
  • She sleepwalks
  • She rides elephants around
  • After school she fights crime in a blue suit and has the soul of a Power Ranger
  • She is a spy

Some students made connections to our school mission and vision:

  • Mrs. Ellis helps kids grow into lifelong learners
  • Mrs. Ellis takes a lot of risks
  • She gives us birthday books
  • She teaches the teachers

Some students wrote about their insights into some of the more emotionally involved parts of my job:

  • I think Mrs. Ellis helps students when they are having a hard time.
  • Mrs. Ellis helps students who need help calming down. She helps them calm down in a bad time.
  • Mrs. Ellis helps to help others by talking to them when they are calming down and working really hard to achieve their goals.
  • She talks to kids who get in trouble, not in a mean way, but assertive way.
  • She doesn’t yell

 

And some just brought joy to my heart:

  • You are the best and your best is enough for me!
  • She inspires kids
  • She gives kids courage
  • She is a Cubs fan:)

 

 

Celebrate Their Tweets & Leave a Little Twitter Dust

When I logged into twitter for the first time, I never knew the trajectory it would take me on. The value of twitter is not in the tool, but in the relationships and connections I have developed as a result. I find daily doses of inspiration and motivation in the people I learn and connect with. 

As I was scrolling through tweets at #LeadLAP, I saw an amazing idea from @BethHouf. Beth is a co-author of Lead Like a Pirate and had the idea to leave “Fairy Gotchas” to staff tweeting about her school with money attached for the soda machine. The goal is simple: recognize and reward staff for being self-motivated learners by connecting and growing their personal learning network or celebrating their classroom activities and achievements at their school hashtag

It was one of those ideas that was quick and easy to implement and came at the perfect time! I was seeking ways to honor my staff for the added work they do to learn and grow for the benefit of our students. With a quick search through images and a Word document that I whipped up, I was ready to go. I logged onto twitter and scrolled through our hashtag, #dgsroyals and was ready to make my mark.

 

With plastic “Royal” wands left over from a previous activity and some candy, I made my rounds to leave some twitter dust in classrooms. The feedback was positive as teachers tweeted their sweet surprises!

 

With such feedback, I decided to spread some twitter dust to other buildings in my district and staff that used our district hashtag, #323learns. Baggies filled with a note of appreciation, chocolate, glitter and a wand were sent through interoffice mail to celebrate the tweets of colleagues across the district!

A little twitter dust to recognize and celebrate the staff in our district for growing, learning and connecting brought a little joy and glitter to all our days while promote the development of a PLN and sharing resources!

Promoting the Positive with an Office Referral

She saw on the caller ID that school was calling. Her son was in 4th grade and she had received calls many times before.

  • “Your son pushed a friend at recess.”
  • “Your son chose to use inappropriate words at lunch time.”
  • “Your son refused to comply with staff directions.”

So it was no wonder she answered the phone with, “What’s wrong?” with a tone in her voice that was already defeated and concerned.

The trajectory of that phone call changed when I said, “Your son is ok. He’s actually in my office because he received a positive phone call! He was part of a cooperative learning group that showed others and led by example with his behavior. He was a strong collaborator, showed genuine interest in his peers’ opinions and sweetly celebrated their successes. You should be proud!”

Small moment of silence followed by a shriek of excitement, “Yay! I am so happy to hear that.”

All the while, that child stood next to me beaming with pride. I had called him down a few moments earlier. He entered the office much like his mom answered the phone. Defensive he asked, “What did I do?”

With a smile on my face I shared with him the positive referral I had received from a staff member. His smile was enough to make you cry with joy. “My mom is going to be so proud!” He radiated!

He was all smiles as he signed the Wall of Honor in the office. He beamed when I had him stand beside me as I made a phone call to his mom.

This all took a manner of minutes, but the impact was big. The obvious positive impact was on the student and the parent. Celebrating the positive behaviors and accomplishments of our students is important! The impact extends beyond that. My mood was instantly improved as I made the conscious decision to focus and promote the positive. Classroom teachers are given a model for promoting the positive and are encouraged to do the same.

Receiving a positive office referral and making positive phone calls home are highlights of my day! I enjoy recognizing and building the relationships with students that are leading examples in our school.

The process is simple:

  1. A staff member sees a positive behavior or accomplishment
  2. A staff member completes a paper office referral form or Google Form submission that is sent to the office
  3. The student is recognized at all school morning announcements
  4. The student is called to the office
  5. The student gets praised and celebrated and signs the Wall of Honor
  6. The principal calls the parent to share the great news
  7. The principal puts the kid on the phone with the parent
  8. Everyone does a happy dance!

I took this concept a step further when I wanted to share and celebrate the staff. With spouses or parent phone numbers in hand, I make phone calls to the families of my staff as well. Imagine the surprise and pride when a husband gets a call from the principal to recognize their spouse for being an important part of the school culture by being a leader and exceptional teacher.

Benefits to Positive Phone Calls:

  • Developing relationships
  • Instilling pride in students and families
  • Building trust
  • Promoting the Positive
  • Quick and efficient
  • Celebrates student success

Barriers to Positive Phone Calls:

  • NONE

So get out there and pick up the phone! Promote the positive in your schools!

 

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