Positive Phone Call Challenge

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:

  1.  

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?

Leadership Lessons from Classic Country Music

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?

The Phone is for You!

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!

Come On In for a Tour of the Principal’s Office

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!

Power Up and Personalize Your Own PD

As part of a school improvement day to kick off the New Year, I presented the session: “Power Up and Personalize Your Own PD“. I enjoyed the opportunity to share with K-12 district staff about the power of connected learning with like-minded educators. We discussed the power of using twitter to build relationships, expand professional learning, and seek resources. We also validated the importance of professional organizations, meaningful professional conversations during efficiently used PLC opportunities, and informal conversations with colleagues. Great conversations were spurred as teachers shared out their favorite resources, book titles, and ideas.
  
After attending IETC16 and a session on professional development by Kim Darche, I felt compelled to ensure elements of my professional learning session modeled best practices for engaging adults. This included snacks at the front of the entrance that were purchased as a result of a pre-workshop survey about teacher preferences. Favorite songs were amplified for staff as they entered that were also collected prior to the session. Small, but deliberate and intentional acts such as these, build relationships, but also model for teachers ways in which they can engage learners with personalized teaching in the classroom. Because I am an avid reader and strongly believe that educators should model reading for their students (and thus principals should model for the their staff) I also brought a pile of my favorite education related books for staff to peruse as they came in. Teachers also received a quote and small drum on their table/desk space to remind them of an important message that I read from Dave Burgess to encourage staff to “find their drum and beat it!”
The first, but quick activity, we completed was “Heads or Tails.” Using the website “Flip a Coin” staff were directed to place their hands on either their heads or their ‘tails.’ This continued until only one person was standing. For an element of fun and humor, they were awarded a green “you rock” trophy. This only takes 2-3 minutes.
 
One of my favorite strategies to start the conversation going was one I learned from Kim Darche. In the snowball activity, questions are compiled one within another to form a snowball. They are passed around the room. Each participant takes the first layer off and answers it before passing it to another person. The questions can be differentiated for the audience, but it also has great application in the classroom with kids as well!
The bulk of the presentation focused on the importance of being a connected educator and finding your own tribe to connect with. Some of the highlights of resources shared included the following:
Blogs:
Twitter Accounts:
  • Matt Miller @jmattmiller
  • Dave Burgess @burgessdave
  • George Couros @gcouros
  • Eric Scheninger @e_sheninger
  • Tomas Murray @thomascmurray
  • Jimmy Cases @casas_Jimmy
Books:
  • Teach Like a Pirate, Dave Burgess
  • Ditch that Textbook, Matt Miller
  • The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros
  • The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller
  • What Connected Educators Do Differently, Todd Whittaker
  • Whole Brain Teaching, Chris Biffle
  • Kids Deserve It, Adam Welcome
  • Your School Rocks, Ryan McClane
  • 50 Things to Do with Google Classroom, Alice Keeler
You can view the presentation and all the resources that were embedded HERE

Dunlap Technology Summit 2017 Review and Storify

The Dunlap School District #323 staff kicked off the new year with a full day of technology training in an effort to learn new strategies and tools to engage and connect learners in meaningful ways with and without technology. You can read the storify of all the tweets that were captured in the STORIFY below.

Ditch that Textbook Book Study Review

I read “Ditch that Textbook” by Matt Miller early in 2016. It was among several of the “Dave Burgess Consulting” titles that I had on my nightstand. It only took me a short time to finish the book, mark up the pages with post-its and notes and knew I had to share this book with my staff.

With our professional learning days accounted for and the end of the year approaching, I decided to launch a twitter based summer book study that teachers participated in on a voluntary basis. I sent out an email and was floored that the majority of my staff wanted in! We extended the invite to several other teachers and before we knew it we had our staff collaborating with teachers across the country on the topic of revolutionizing their classrooms!

The first week was simply introductions. Teachers shared their position and a selfie of themselves with the book. It was an easy way to get acquainted with the hashtag, meet the educators participating, and dip our toes into the twitter book study waters. The teachers below are just some of those that participated!

The remaining weeks of the book study focused on each chapter of the book. There were opportunities for goal setting, resource sharing, and celebration of success. Teachers shared their favorite educational book titles, hashtags, digital resources, and more. Staff set goals for integrating technology in meaningful ways in the fall. Mystery Skype Sessions, Twitter Chats with authors, Hyperdocs and digital badges were all shared as goals for teachers. It was uplifting to see many ‘likes’ and “retweets” of their posts as others validated their tweets and learned from their posts!

I embedded some digital badges in the study to recognize those that participated as well. A the conclusion of the study, they were awarded a participation certificate (linked below).

It was empowering to see how many educators sought to be connected and learn through the summer months. In Matt’s book he indicates the importance of being connected for so many positive reasons: inspiration, motivation, challenge, camaraderie, apps, humor, and collaboration (pages 97-98). Each of those elements was evident during the book study. As teachers used their time on vacation to learn and grow, they were filling their teacher tool belts and making their classrooms better places to teach and learn!

Tools to Spice Up your School Social Media Posts

Social Media analytic results would suggest that posts that are graphically appealing lead to more engagement, shares, and follows. I’ve compiled a simple list of my favorite tools that are easy to use to create graphics to tell your school’s story in an easy and effective way!

Canva 

Canva is a graphic design suite that allows users to create and customize images for use on blogs, twitter, facebook, and more. I’ve used it to create custom fliers and social media posts to announce early release days, upcoming events, or special news! Images have always gotten more views and social media engagement on our school page, so I make the effort to ensure the posts are visually appealing and easy  Canva allows you to save your images. There are many free backgrounds and layouts as well as a library of paid content, but I’ve not had to use that. The graphics below were created in Canva.

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dunlap-grade-school-page-001

Adobe Spark

Adobe Spark is similar to Canva in the functionalities and provides another platform for one to explore. I’ve used it to highlight my favorite hashtags, upcoming events at school, and event our school facebook page header. It’s easy to manipulate and create custom images using stock graphics or your own images.

adobe-spark1

Word Swag

A text editing tool, word swag allows you to take any text and make it into a visual display complete with backgrounds and stock templates. Available on Apple and Google Play, I use this mostly for curating text into graphic images and sharing them out. Some ideas may include posting a favorite educational quote, a unique quote by a student, or for summarizing a short thought in a graphic image. Use word swag to capture what students and teachers say and share them out on a school facebook or instagram page! Take your favorite quote from an author or colleague and create an image with those words to post!

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Instaquote

Instaquote is similar to Word Swag and allows you to put text into a form, select background and layout, and generate graphic images to post on your social media pages to tell your schools’ story.

HyperLapse

Hyperlapse is limited to Apple products, but is a fun resource to create quick videos in a time lapsed format. HyperLapse allows you to take video of any activity and speed it up. Imagine what you can when you video a classroom activity from start to finish, a PE lesson, or an art project. The possibilities are endless. I posted a HyperLapse that included a tour of our entire school in under 1 minute. You can check that out HERE

I also used HyperLapse to showcase our school-wide writing project on Instagram HERE

Boomerang

Boomerang takes a short 3 second video and loops it continuously. I learned about it when my 2nd grade teacher shot a video of the custodian and me installing some nature timber outside her classroom. It brought a smile to my face and was funny to watch. You can view that HERE. I’ve since used Boomerang to highlight students celebrating an accomplishment, PE activities, and meeting behavior goals.

Each of these elements can be posted to facebook, twitter, instagram, Pinterest and More! I challenge you to find a tool and share your school’s story! Feel free to share what you create! I’d love to see them!

Professional Learning in a Ball Pit

Inspired by the video created by Soul Pancake, I wanted to translate the effects of the experience in the ball pit to the staff in my building. In the video, two strangers sit and discuss question prompts written on various balls. Through the experience they come to common group, develop relationships, and communicate on a deeper level. Plus, sitting in a ball pit is fun, unique and out of the norm for most adults!

 

So, with a baby pool and plastic balls already in our storage room from our school carnival, I set to replicate the experience as an ice breaker to our staff meeting. The ball pit wasn’t as big as the one from my inspiration and the staff weren’t strangers to each other, but we did learn a lot about each other!

15284016_1339918552706662_706842125235464285_n 15284069_1339918596039991_6162684776448783187_n 15326470_1339918546039996_8691936351617556857_nAs teachers or staff members sat in the ball pit, they pulled questions and prompted answers from their partners. Questions included light-hearted questions to get-to-know each other and education related topics focused on sharing strategies and best practices. Some questions included:

  • What’s your proudest moment as a teacher?
  • Why did you become a teacher?
  • How do you de-stress after a challenging day?
  • What are you most passionate about?
  • What content area, skill, or concept do you enjoy teaching the most?
  • What is your favorite technology tool to use in the classroom?
  • How do you connect your students to others outside the walls of your classroom?
  • If money were no object, what would you want to add to your classroom to improve student learning and engagement?
  • What’s your favorite read aloud?
  • What website do you visit most frequently?
  • Use only one word to describe your classroom.
  • What is one thing you would wan the public to know about teaching?

Some questions were also just plain silly to bring some laughter and levity to our experience:

  • Would you rather be hairy or bald?
  • What would you name your yacht if you had one?
  • What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
  • What would the title of the book based on your life be?
  • If your personality was an animal, what would it be?

 

The ball pit ice breaker was a perfect introduction to our staff meeting. With a little humor and fun, we learned about the teaching practices and lives of our staff.

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