So often I work at teaching my two children all they need to know, that I forget how much they can teach me. It never ceases to amaze me the awe that my two daughters find in the simple things in life, but on our spring break trip to a small amusement park, I was reminded in a simple picture about the emotions that go into trying new things.
To me, the car ride designed for toddlers was anything but intimidating. It was brightly colored with a predictable track and slow speed perfect for my daredevil two year old daughter. She eyed it from far away and eagerly got in line to try it. As we approached the queue line, she held my hand with a mix of excitement, but also visible trepidation. She was surveying the ride, monitoring the looks on the faces of the kids already riding, and the speed of the cars.
When we got on the ride, she followed the safety protocol: “buckle up, mommy!” As the ride began her responses shifted at every turn from jubilation to nervousness. She threw her hands up in the air at the straight-aways and cowered at the turns when it went just a little faster than she anticipated. I don’t know how, but her face in the picture my husband took, showed both utter terror and complete excitement at the same time.
When the ride slowed to a stop, she looked up at me with her eyes and said “That was awesome!”
Her reaction reminded me so much of the power of taking risks and trying new things. Fear of the unknown is not without its emotional risks, but watching her exit the ride, it reminded me that trying new things, despite the initial fear, was outweighed with the potential for extreme joy, satisfaction, and reward.
If we apply this simple concept to education, think about what we can accomplish. Think about the amazing results we can have in our schools and classrooms if we are able to overcome the initial worry, trepidation or fear of trying something new: a new tech tool, a new flexible seating arrangement, a new strategy for connecting kids to outside experiences, a new way to collaborate and look at data, a new way to grow professionally, a new way to assign homework or give grades a new way to do something NEW!
My two year old reminded me, that although things can be scary, they can also be fun, engaging, and most importantly, worth the risk!
Have students record the voicemail greeting for the school. When you call DGS after hours the voicemail greeting activates. Instead of an adult greeting the caller, you will hear a student. “Thank you for calling Dunlap Grade, a school that LOVES their students. Sorry we missed your call! Please leave a message and we will call you as soon as we can! Go Be a Royal!” It is a simple strategy that tells your caller that you are a student centered and student focused school that literally wants their students’ voices heard! Encourage students to greet others at morning drop-off. This is one of my favorites. It’s an easy way to start the day on a positive note, encourage leadership, and develop relationships between students and with parents. You can choose to do this every day, certain days of the week, or for special events or occasions. Students can hold the doors, pass out positive notes, or assist younger students into the building.
Provide purpose and value to students with special jobs or incentives. One job could be to deliver the mail to staff. With a re-purposed library cart and baskets, we made the student job of mail carrier. Each day before dismissal, a student delivers mail to boxes outside classrooms. This ensures any last minute fliers, handouts or information is sent home in student backpacks.
Send a picture of your school mascot home and have students share pictures with it at the school hashtag. Our school mascot, Crownie, has been to Space Camp, on a Disney Cruise, skiing in Colorado, the Lego Store in California, professional football games, on an ATV, climbing trees, out to dinner, and so much more. It’s as simple as students taking the picture of the mascot with them on their travels and adventures and posting them (or having their parents post them) to school social media accounts. If they prefer, parents are also welcome to email them to the school or send hard copies that we display in the hallway. It’s a simple way to connect students to learning, the school, and each other!
Invite Students to Eat Lunch with You in Your Office. I’m always surprised at what I learn about students by spending twenty minutes with them over their lunch period in small groups. I’ve gained insights into their academic needs, social needs, and home life. It builds relationships, but also gives you a pulse onto how things are going and what you can do to change or do better.
Have students lead morning announcements. We complete morning announcements as a whole school in the gym, but this would work rather you do them over an intercom or record them to share via video. What better way to promote communication and public speaking skills than to build the capacity of student leaders through delivering the announcements. Students rotate through weekly assignments to deliver the lunch menu, celebrate birthdays, announce any classrooms or students that have met goals, and to lead the Pledge.
Call Home. The authors of “Kids Deserve It,” Adam Welcome and Todd Neosley, use this strategies to build relationships with kids and celebrate their accomplishments. One of my favorite strategies is to call home with the child next to me to celebrate their success or place the child on the phone to tell them about their celebration in the middle of the day. When a kid is in my office sharing their news with their parents with the biggest grin on their face, it brings joy to us all. This can be accomplished informally when a teacher sends a kid to the office for a positive office referral or when I am walking into classrooms and see positive things going on. A positive note or call from a principal or teacher goes a long way!
Remind them with visuals that they are important, valued, and caredfor. With donated mirrors painted our school colors, we created a gallery wall to remind students that they are ROYALS! As students glimpse into the mirrors as they pass them in the hallway, they are reminded about the tenants of our school: To Respect Others, Yourself and Learning!
Other Ideas (for a longer blog post or follow up):
A couple years ago I connected with Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf on Twitter. They quickly became key players in my PLN as they shared a vision that leadership should evoke passion and bring engagement to education.
As I got deeper into the trenches of leadership, I often relied on their #LeadLAP challenges to motivate and inspire me to be a better lead learner and principal in my building. Their blog posts encouraged me to provide more meaningful and effective feedback to my staff, ensure I shared my appreciation with those around me, and honor the voices of the team. Their leadership challenges coupled with constant sources of inspiration for engaging staff and students in amazing experiences has been just what education needs. Shelley and Beth are courageous leaders and champions for all leaders to accept risk, influence others and be social change agents.
Shelley approached me with reading an advanced copy of “Lead Like a Pirate.” It was an easy “YES!” coupled with genuine excitement to read the book that I knew would be chalk full of amazing, but practical ideas to be a better leader.
I sat down and read “Lead Like a Pirate” in one night! ONE NIGHT! It was THAT good. The book is based on the leadership guiding principles developed in the first book from Dave Burgess Consulting, “Teach Like a Pirate.” Beth and Shelley focus on the importance of being a PIRATE in leadership.
A: Ask and Analyze
Their book focused on creating magical and amazing experiences for our students. The book, focused on leadership, NEVER lost sight of the main purpose of our job- our kids!
In the midst of educational mandates, testing requirements, political tension and more, it resonated loudly when Shelley and Beth wrote, “The magic is in the people, not the programs.” The essential backbone of any strong school is the magic of its people. Amidst this central tenant was focused and effective ways to provide feedback and connect using ANCHOR Conversations.
N: Note the Impact
C: Collaborative Conversation
H: Honor the Voice
O: Offer Support
The Anchor framework single-handily made me a better leader. Because of the anchor framework, I learned how to provide more meaningful feedback, hold more collaborative conversations, and support my teachers in more positive ways. All leaders should have an understanding of how the framework works to support their leadership!
There were so many more elements of the book that impacted me as a leader. It is a must read for those leaders that are looking to transform their leadership, create a positive working and learning environment, and build amazing learning experiences for kids and adults. This book needed to be written. It needed to validate the work of those PIRATE leaders already out there and support those that are testing the waters of PIRATE leadership. This book provides a compass to sail the choppy waters of educational leadership and the treasure map to guide leaders to find the gold in their schools and selves!
It’s hard as a principal to be away from your building for multiple days in a row. There are needs that arise and ongoing supports that need to be provided, but when you are granted the opportunity to go to a conference to connect, learn and grow with industry leaders and experts, it is an amazing experience! I spent three days at the Illinois Computing Educator’s Conference this past week. My time away was well worth it. With my Is dotted and Ts crossed in my building, I was ready to learn and connect! To say the experience fell short of awesome is an understatement! There were so many moments that I seized to learn and build my capacity as a leader.
My first full day was spent in the Future Ready Administrator’s Academy learning from Tom Murray. I spent 6 hours collaborating with other administrators, teachers and technology directors learning about the principles of the future ready framework. We dreamed big and brainstormed elements of the future ready classroom and I was proud to reflect that many elements are already established in our building and district! Future Ready is more than technology. It is building a robust infrastructure, personalized professional development, collaborative learning spaces, and connected learners!
The next two days were filled with workshops and networking! Highlights included keynotes by Eric Shenniger and Joe Sanfelippo and breakouts by Adam Welcome, Todd Neosley, and Kim Darche! I enjoyed connecting with leaders across Central Illinois and also expanding my network by meeting educational leaders across the state.
I was even able to spend a period of time volunteering for ICE at the presenter’s check-in table where I met and welcomed many of our Thursday presenters to the conference!
The Storify below shares a glimpse into some of the learning and connecting that occurred during my time at #ICE17
It was not long ago when a fellow administrator and I sat together in a session at a tech conference and looked at each other and decided to plan and facilitate an EdCamp in our region. EdCamps have gained in popularity among educators as authentic, differentiated and participant driven forms of professional learning. Our passion for individualized learning coupled with a need to give more access to PD based on best practices in technology integration led to the birth of “Technology Blizzard 2017.” That weekend, we put a date on the calendar and the rest was history.
Communicate: We planned a 2 hour planning meeting in my office that resulted in a google site, canva graphic, facebook invite, and email flier that we immediately sent out to our internal staff, principals in our region, and our regional office staff. You can view that google site HERE. The site included a google form that we used to collect RSVPs so we could plan for seating, food, and swag! In the time leading up to the event, we included email blasts, blog posts, and tweets to gain participants and spread the message.
Authenticate: EdCamps can be authenticated and supported by the EdCamp Foundation simply. Visit their website at http://www.edcamp.org/organize and register your EdCamp. This relatively easy process can result in the organization supporting the event with $250.00 to cover food, prizes, or other costs, as well as “swag” to hand out to participants. We received pens, buttons, stickers, magnets, post-its, markers, and more for our EdCamp by authenticating our event. In addition to officially registering our event, we made professional development hours available for participants. Whereas many of our registrants may have participated without these CPDU hours, this added incentive for attending. We also created an environment that showed attention to detail. Table cloths, signage, food, and centerpieces and additional details demonstrated that this was a valid learning opportunity for teachers and staff to learn and grow with each other and validated their professional aspirations and roles.
Collaborate: The key aspect of an EdCamp is that it is participant driven. Topics are not pre-created and rely on the attendees to develop. We gave participants time to generate a list of topics and than organized them in groups to determine conversation groups. While in discussion groups, facilitators amongst the group worked through the questions and topics to share and discuss strategies and ideas that were of interest to them.
Accelerate: One traditional element of an EdCamp is the “Sucks Vs. Rocks” activity in which a likert scale is assummed and particants are given a topic that requires them to move across the room based on their opinions. At our EdCamp, we reserved this activity for the last hour to allow for movement and whole group conversation. Participants discussed ideas that included: textbooks, flexible seating, and social media. One other area we accelerated our EdCamp experience was through the use of an established hashtag. We encouraged participants and colleagues to tweet and follow #techblizzard17. These tweets were displayed using Tweet Monster during the event as well.
Celebrate: Celebrating takes many forms. We celebrated the success of the day with individualized participant certificates and raffle prizes. When we advertised our EdCamp, we were surprised with authors and organizations that reached out that were willing to donate books, swag, or prizes for the day. The details of the day do matter and supported our mission of celebrating teachers and learning.
There’s no right or wrong way to EdCamp. The power comes in bringing professionals together in meaningful ways to grow and learn together!
I challenged my staff to one simple act: Make two positive contacts with parents this week. They were given 10 minutes of their PLC time to reach out and complete this simple, but meaningful act. The response has been amazing and the positivity is spreading! Some of the responses include:
Staff willingly and excitedly shared their tweets and emails following their phone calls. Some staff even chose to make the phone calls in the presence of their students. Many of them indicated the power of the phone calls was so great that they are planning on making them part of their weekly routine. There were so many benefits to the phone calls:
Parents felt pride listening to the successes of their students.
Students were validated and celebrated!
The teachers that completed them got feedback from parents that promoted their own sense of pride.
Positive phone calls build the bridge between the home and school to promote a culture focused on students!
So think about the impact of a simple phone call or contact home. What can that do to build relationships, trust, and mutual respect?
I have an eclectic taste in music. It includes a little bit of everything and my radio dial is constantly changing based on my mood. A little known fact about me is that I love country classic music. Maybe it is because I grew up with parents that played the likes of Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Hank Williams, Randy Travis, and Waylon Jennings (just to name a few). Some of these artists have transcended decades and have made their mark on generations of music lovers, but my favorite songs are their classics. I spent many hours travelling in the back of the car listening to them playing the music that resonates across so many generations. In fact, I was actually named after Waylon Jenning’s song, “Amanda.” My dad would belt that song on Saturday mornings during my youth and thinking of those memories still brings a smile to my face. If it wasn’t that song, it was my mom blasting “Danger Zone” from Top Gun to wake us up for our chores. I preferred the country songs.
I guess that is why I look to music lyrics for leadership inspiration. So many of the songs I grew up listening have messages that ring true in powerful ways. I wanted to take note of a few of my favorites and highlight the lyrics that contribute to my educational philosophy. It’s interesting that so many of them are from one artist. For whatever reason, the words reflect my feelings on several levels. There are so many more songs that speak to me on more than a leadership level, but the following have stanzas and phrases that ring loudly to me.
Your Song/Garth Brooks
Everyone has a champion that has pushed them and encouraged them in one way or another to become successful. I’ve been enormously lucky to have a set of parents that have been my cheerleaders from day 1. My dad gave me a set of desktop encyclopedias (which are proudly displayed in my office now) with an inscription that said “Spread your Wings and Fly” on the day I graduated high school. My parents never cared WHAT I did when I grew up, as long as I pursued what brought me joy. I can distinctly remember sitting in a parking lot on the day I learned I earned my first principal-ship crying happy tears with my dad on the phone. I don’t know in that moment who was more ecstatic, him or me. I’ve always felt that my success has been a direct reflection of their unending support and love. They’ve given me my wings and I am forever grateful. This song speaks to that:
Knowing that your out there listening I remember one time When I was so afraid Didn’t think I had the courage To stand up on this stage Then you reached into my heart And you found the melody And if there ever was somebody Who made me believe in me It was you It was you
It was your song that made me sing It was your voice that gave me wings And it was your light that shined Guiding my heart to find This place where I belong It was your song
The River/Garth Brooks
When was the last time you pushed yourself to try something new, take a risk, and challenge your thinking? When I hear this song, it reminds me to swim with the fish and not stand as a lifeguard in my leadership. It reminds me that my most fulfilling days at work are those that I am with my students, interacting and collaborating with my staff, and engaging with the parents and community. This song reiterates that my role as a principal is much more meaningfully served in the hallways and the classrooms of building rather than in the office. This song also embraces the growth-mindset mentality and encourages innovation and creativity. How can you now love this excerpt:
Too many times we stand aside and let the waters slip away ‘Til what we put off ’til tomorrow, has now become today. So don’t you sit upon the shoreline and say you’re satisfied. Choose to chance the rapids and dare to dance the tide
Standing Outside the Fire/Garth Brooks
This is actually one of the songs that led me to my major of special education. If you watch this music video, you can’t help but be inspired by the will of the child and the intense encouragement and love of his mother. Now as an educator, I put myself in that role. This song reminds me to question my effectiveness, challenge myself to push the envelope, and take risks to do new things!
Wanting to fly higher and higher I can’t abide standing outside the fire
Life is not tried it is merely survived If you’re standing outside the fire
Meet in the Middle/Diamond Rio
This song is about a couple making concessions and compromises as part of an ongoing relationship, but as a leader, it is a good reminder that finding a win-win often times means compromising on both ends.
You start walkin your way you start walkin mine we meet in the middle neath that old Georgia pine We gain a lot of ground cuz we both give a little aint no road to long when we meet in the middle
Forever and Ever, Amen/Randy Travis
Nothing says country music more than this song and despite it’s intent, I see it as how we should approach education and children. Despite the challenges and behaviors that children can demonstrate, this song reminds me that we need to never close a door on a child and always support them emotionally and behaviorally. Kids need champions in their lives and someone that will unconditionally support and encourage them. This song reminds me to be a child’s cheerleader and advocate to the extent that I am able!
I’m gonna love you forever Forever and ever, amen As long as old men sit and talk about the weather As long as old women sit and talk about old men
No matter the song, I feel there is value in the melody and lyrics. So many times, I can take the message and apply it in a meaningful way to my story as an educator and my role as a principal. What songs speak to you and challenge your thinking?
I was on the phone at work. It was one of those not so pleasant, but important phone calls following up on a challenging situation that I had been dealing with on an ongoing basis. Feeling frustrated I was about to go back to my office to complete some additional evaluations and reports that I had been working on when my secretary indicated I had a call on the other line. “It’s Adam Welcome… He says he’s calling from California.”
I have been following the #kidsdeserveit hashtag on twitter and had enjoyed reading the Kids Deserve It book a few months ago. Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney are the authors of “Kids Deserve it.” Much of the book resonated with me. I have shared it with my staff and advocated for so many of the ideals in the book in my school and district. To know he was on the phone made my day. When I answered the phone, Adam indicated he had been seeing my posts on twitter and reading my blog! (I thought to myself People actually read that?!?) He just wanted to take a couple minutes to encourage me and celebrate the great things he was seeing. I am an adult. I know the work we do as educators is important, but to feel validated and recognized meant a lot… and with a phone call… even more. Adam could have tweeted or messaged a simple message, but the phone call resonates more loudly.
So, my discouraged attitude from earlier events of the day quickly evaporated and I was immediately recharged and motivated to choose to be joyful and positive for the rest of my day. His phone call resulted in a ripple effect. My mood obviously improved, but I recognized how good it felt to be validated that I decided I needed to do that for the people around me as well. The power of a phone call instead of an email resulted in:
I called several spouses of staff members on my team just to share out how much I appreciated them and their work at school.
I dropped notes of appreciation in mailboxes for a few staff members and a regular volunteer.
I sat at a table of boys at lunch and listened to the reflection of their day thus far
I went into a classroom where a teacher was eating lunch with a student for reaching a goal and called her mom on my cell phone and put her on speaker phone to share the good news (squeals all around)
I sang “Part of Your World” from Little Mermaid to a set of siblings as they were waiting to be the last to be picked up at dismissal.
I helped a fellow administrator set up his school twitter account.
I added specific tasks on my calendar to keep me accountable and to remember to continue these actions.
and why… because Kids Deserve It!
So if you haven’t read the book, grab it! Some of the ideas that stuck with me:
Create that spark and get off the island: I can’t imagine my life as an administrator without my PLN. I’ve connected with educators and leaders across the country that I wouldn’t have otherwise without the power of twitter! I am able to surround myself with like minded individuals that have a passion for empowering themselves as lifelong learners for the sole purpose of making schools better places to teach and learn!
Lead by Example. If you expect it from staff and students, do it yourself. That includes modeling best practices, taking risks, opening yourself up for failure, and demonstrating open and clear communication!
Make that phone call: I know the power of a call makes a difference. To hear the joy in the voice of a parent and see the happiness in the face of a student when I call a parent builds respect and rapport! Make the calls to parents, staff members, and other administrators. Don’t underestimate the power of a written note or phone call.
Be courageous and don’t fret the alien look: My #oneword2017 is courage. Courage to do hard things. Courage to do things that are innovative. Courage to push forward with ideas and the courage to keep going! I have told my staff that often times innovators and risk takers are looked at with curious eyes. My favorite quote about this topic is “First they laugh and you, then they ask you how?” The alien look is part of the process of growing. It never hurts to take a risk and fail forward!
So think about how you can be the stone that adds a ripple into the pond of positivity? How can you be strategic and focused on developing strategies and relationships that will spread through your culture and community? Go Get Them! Kids Deserve It!
The Edublogs Club Blogging Challenge #2 prompted school leaders to share a glimpse of their classrooms and offices. Many days and weeks, I often spend more time in my office than I do in my own home. It is important to me that the school learning environment is a positive place to work and learn and my office is included in that value.
Let’s take a little tour:
Stop #1: My bookshelves. Leaders are readers. It hurts my soul to hear an educator say they aren’t a reader or that they don’t have a list of favorite professional books. I read voraciously and try to stay current on the best book titles in education. Reading serves as a source of reflection, stress-relief, and motivation! In books I learn new strategies, get inspired to try to ideas, and connect with best practices. I display them proudly in my office and reference them regularly. It is not uncommon for me to loan them to staff members or suggest a specific title to a parent or colleague. I add to the shelves regularly and have had to add shelves in my home and at work to store them all!
Other bookshelves are neatly labeled with magazine dividers. These are labeled and reference its contents for easy locating. Labeling isn’t fancy, just a simple sticker label from a label machine, but labeling binders and organizers allow for me to quickly access anything I may be searching for.
I keep items on my shelves that bring me joy! Positive messages, a vintage typewriter that was gifted to me by my custodian, photos of my family, and gifts from students. Among my favorite gifts that are displayed are a clay elephant that was crafted by a student and carefully presented to me prior to her leaving school. With little to give, that act was a big gesture. Her creativity, passion, and need for a safe learning environment still tug at my heart. The other gift, a small piece of a geode exposing purple crystals of an amethyst, was given to me by a student. She gave me a detailed explanation of its significance: It’s plain and nondescript on the outside, but reveals beauty on the inside. It’s a strong reminder to me about how to approach my students and staff. Everyone shines on the inside if we look for it.
Stop #2: Student Calm Down Area: At the elementary level, there are days and moments when students simply need to take a break from the active learning or social environments in their classrooms for one reason or another. We have a fully equipped counseling office adjacent to the office, but my office also contains a break desk. This desk allows students to complete behavior reflections and homework, but also has sensory materials in the event they need a calming tool. The book is stocked with sensory gadgets that allow students to calm down and refocus their energies on learning. Maze books, coloring books, and other activity books are also stored on this desk.
Stop #3: Seating area: I was sitting at a meeting last year when I suddenly became overwhelmed with the fact that my office had the same sterile and uninviting tone that I didn’t want in the remainder of the building. We had worked hard to attending to details of flexible seating and comfortable working and learning environments, that I had neglected my own office. I splurged this summer and personally bought furniture to achieve the environment I was seeking for my work space. This included a couch, set of chairs and coffee table. It has transformed my meetings and interactions in the office. In times where I am meeting with staff, students or parents, we are more at ease. I can informally chat with a teacher about their classroom instruction or a parent about a concern in a more comfortable manner. We do have a conference area with a standard table, but my preference is often on the couches and chairs in my office where we are all more comfortable and relaxed. With portable digital devices, there isn’t a concern about writing space or needing an area to place a device.
Stop #4: Some Details: There are a few details in my office that bring me a daily smile. One is my autographed photo of the Saved by the Bell cast that was signed by Mr. Belding. The inscription reads “Thanks for being a Principal!” I chuckle at the image of the fictitious principal and members of his student body. It is a daily reminder to have a little fun and enjoy the ride. I also have several positive messages around my office. It keeps my focus on the good things that are going on as well as remind me how to get through the challenging times. My messages are short and simple, but others not picture include a poem given to me by a former co-worker about balancing parenting and working and a thank you card from another administrator about my impact on their professional growth. A picture from my daughter is also proudly colored and displayed that shows her tumbling; an activity that brings her joy.
Stop #5: My Work Area: I do have a traditional desk in my office. It includes my laptop docking station and second monitor! It is VITAL to the efficiency of my work. I can toggle between monitors and view resources or references while completing other tasks. My desk also includes my phone. We have video screens that allow us to collaborate visually with others in the district. Under my phone, I have an organizer that has quickly accessible note cards, “way to go” ribbons for students, and birthday bookmarks for kids. I also keep my water bottle and writing utensils handy!
Stop #6: The Entrance to my Office: My door is adorned with one of my favorite messages to reiterate with students. It also showcases one of my favorite mantras: “It is What it Is!” I try to keep decor on the window in terms of window clings or a wreath to mirror the season or holiday! The door and entrance are often a first impression and I want it to mirror my focus on creating a welcoming and inviting office for staff, students, families, and visitors.
My office is the hub of the work that I do throughout the day. There are days that are long and challenging, but also many that bring me joy, fulfillment and peace. It is a reflection of my personal and professional style and emulates what I value in establishing learning environments that are warm, welcoming and inviting! Thanks for stopping in!