Positive Contact Challenge

I find an enormous amounts of inspiration from my colleagues in my Professional Learning Network on Facebook and twitter. With educators that share a passion for teaching and learning, there’s always a take-a-way that I can use immediately in my building. As I scrolled through Facebook one evening, I stumbled upon the “Share the Love” positive phone call challenge and wanted to put it into action. With dreary winter weather and 3 quarters of school behind us, its the perfect time to promote the positive and share the great things going on with our students.

I copied the template below and placed it in staff mailboxes with a message of encouragement to celebrate the successes of their students. Those that completed the challenge would receive recognition and a mystery incentive (Barnes and Noble Gift Card).

Around the same time as I came across the positive phone call challenge, I was inspired by a presentation at the Illinois Computing Educators (ICE) Conference by Melissa Kartismas and Lindsy Stumpenhorst. They shared how they sent positive postcards home to every student in their school. With a little graphic design on www.canva.com, I created the postcards below and printed them on card stock.

We ran labels for every student in our school and placed pre-labeled postcards at a station in our teacher workroom/lounge. Over the course of the month, any staff member could choose a student to write a note too. Aides, support staff, specials teachers, and classroom teachers were all part of the process and shared sweet moments of pride and success with the students. We collected the post cards in the office and did a bulk mailing of all the special notes to our students.

The feedback from staff was positive. The goal was to promote the positive of our students, but the impact on teachers was positive as well. When you provide opportunities to promote the positive, it spreads kindness and promotes a culture that supports building relationships and rapport with students

Egg a Co-Worker Staff Morale Builder

Maintaining a positive learning and teaching environment for teachers and staff is important to ensure a positive learning environment for students. Finding simple ways to encourage positive praise between co-workers is an important part of building this learning environment. This week, we created a simple station in the office for teachers and staff to access to spread some cheer and recognize their co-workers in meaningful and positive ways.

This required minimal setup:

  1. Directions in a plastic frame
  2. Note cards and pens for staff to write messages
  3. Empty plastic eggs. We chose school colors!
  4. Small candy or prizes (erasers, stickers, ect)

We also chose to include a sweet treat for all staff as well. The message on the peeps say, “Thanks for teaching our little Peeps! Have a great spring break!”

All of these were set at a station in the office with some seasonal decor. 

Just a simple and fun way to spread some spring  cheer!

ChoppED Staff Meeting

Tapping into popular culture is a great strategy to engage staff and students in learning activities and professional development. Our most recent staff meeting utilized a “Chopped” theme as teacher were asked to create lessons. 

The premise and goal was for teachers to work in collaborative and mixed grade level and content area teams to create an innovative and engaging learning experience using a ‘basket’ of ingredients.

This meeting was facilitated by our technology coach, Mrs. Stefanie Pitzer, and she led the staff through the process that provided team building and lesson planning in one.

We set the stage to engage with mixing bowls filled with cooking tools, a cutting board and oven mitt. Staff were provided a chef’s hat and apron to wear. These were given to them to keep and use in their classroom as a ‘hook’ for a future lesson.

Teams were all given the same anchor standard to ‘integrate knowledge and ideas’

Their instructions were to read their grade level standard and ‘cook up’ a lesson that coordinated the 4Cs (Creativity, Collaboration, Communication and Critical Thinking) while using at least two tools from the ‘pantry.’ Those tools consisted of library books, a camera, our learning management system, a wild card, google classroom, flipgrid, padlet or seesaw. Teachers were also given a mystery tool that they were required to add into their lesson plan in some way. Examples of these included:

  1. paperclips
  2. stickers
  3. round dots
  4. construction paper

While planning their lesson, teachers were thrown a ‘road bump’ challenge that they needed to accommodate for. These consisted of:

  1. Devices not working
  2. Students needing additional practice with digital citizenship concepts
  3. Data from exit tickets that required reteaching
  4. Students having difficulty with appropriate digital collaboration

If teams had a specials content area teacher in on their team, they were also required to add that content area into their lesson. For example, one team had our school counselor, so a social/emotional component needed to be present in the lesson.

Teachers recorded their lesson plans on a Google Slides presentation that they will have access to in the future to refer to. You can access that HERE 

At the conclusion of the session, teams of teachers shared their lesson plans and reflected on the experience. They made connections as to how they could incorporate the concept of a ChoppED lesson in their classrooms. Examples shared for this included:

  1. Creating writing pieces with setting, characters, and plots from a pantry of choices using specific writing skills.
  2. Creating word problems with specific operations or operations
  3. Creating a “Decimal Diner” for students to engage in various math activities related to fractions and decimals.

Book Tasting Staff Meeting

I read a blog post from 4 O’Clock Faculty earlier this semester and it was just the inspiration I needed to share my professional library with my staff and continue to support the development of our culture of readers. You can read their original blog post HERE

With the inspiration, I was ready to implement and make the idea work for my staff and building. The goals were simple:

  1. Provide staff exposure to a variety of engaging education related professional books in multiple content areas and genres.
  2. Allow teachers to individualize their professional development journey by providing them the opportunity to self-select a book from the provided options to have purchased and provided for them.
  3. Creating an atmosphere where educators are discussing and sharing their favorite book titles and offering further recommendations for reading
  4. Supporting a community of teachers that demonstrate that everyone is a learner and everyone is a teacher.

The setup set the stage to engage teachers in an informal, yet structured learning experience designed to also model for them how they may implement a book tasting within their classroom.

The set up included:

  1. A table for each genre or content area that were displayed
  2. A hostess stand where staff placed their final orders
  3. Snacks and goodies like any good bistro
  4. Signage for each table, snack table, and door

The menu included books from 5 different content areas/genres

  1. Technology
  2. Math
  3. Literacy
  4. Engagement and Innovation
  5. Fiction

I created a powerpoint file that showcased each title in a menu format

This template and all the other templates used for the Book Tasting can be accessed by clicking the link below:

 Book Tasting Templates

The staff were invited to record their favorite titles on a small book mark that I created for them to take notes. A ‘reflection’ napkin was provided for teachers to take notes regarding any conversations or ideas they had as they sampled the books. A final order form for teachers to record their selections was also included. These were all made available as they entered the room.

After a brief introduction and welcome, staff were asked to visit each table and sample the books that were displayed on table according to content area and labeled as such.

As teachers reflected and shared their thoughts of the books with their colleagues by flipping through the book, reading the back covers, or hearing feedback from peers that had already read the book, teachers were asked to place an “order” for their individualized professional development selection by circling their choice and returning it to the ‘hostess stand.’ I will be placing an order for each teacher to receive their selection to add to their professional library. I also made it known that any of the books that were shared were already a part of our school library or my professional library and they had access to them should they want to borrow any other books other than the book they selected to have purchased for them.

I have to thank our school secretary for the delicious treats and chex mix she made to be shared at the Bistro! They were tasty and a true hit! Staff meetings are always better with food!

Some other notes about details:

  1. Our school colors are blue and yellow. I tend to reinforce this in EVERYTHING we do, so the decor, template, and resources are all blue and gold intentionally. Our mascot is the “Royal” so that drove the decision to name the book tasting “Bistro Royal.”
  2. For easy centerpieces that you can use repeatedly, I purchased yellow vases at Dollar Tree and filled them with blue flowers to coordinate our school colors.

Some reflections and thoughts for moving forward:

  1. It will be beneficial to follow-up with staff following the purchase of their books and time to read their selections with a round up and book talk in which each staff member shares their reflections and take-aways from their books.
  2. A follow-up meeting could also include a book exchange in which teachers trade or share their books with other teachers
  3. Staff can share with their colleagues how they chose to implement book tastings in their classroom with their staff
  4. Take the book tasting idea and apply it to other professional development areas:
    1. Taste a variety of coding resources, robots and games
    2. Taste a variety of technology applications
    3. Taste a variety of classroom management strategies
    4. Taste a variety of parent engagement ideas
    5. Taste a variety of math manipulatives or strategies
    6. Taste a variety of TLAP ideas or hooks
    7. Taste a variety of ways to build rapport and relationships with kids

50 Things I Love about being a Principal

  1. Kicking off the start of the year with enthusiasm and a renewed energy to make an impact and working with staff and students to maintain focus on that enthusiasm and energy all year long.
  2. Greeting students at the door and welcoming them to a new school day.
  3. Sharing that there is funding for a teacher’s wildly amazing idea and helping make it a reality
  4. Hugs and High Fives
  5. Reviewing student data and seeing in numbers that students have made considerable academic gains thanks to the hard work and persistence of their teachers.
  6. Watching a veteran teacher STILL pour her heart into a classroom and students after years of teaching
  7. When a fourth or fifth grader excitedly shares their progress on a test that they struggled with initially, but mastered eventually.
  8. Sharing a positive email or conversation with a parent about a teacher with that teacher
  9. The positive energy that comes from sharing new ideas or strategies amongst staff.
  10. Walking down the hallways or into the gym after they have been freshly waxed over the summer months.
  11. Hearing a community member share a piece of good news with me about something they have heard about our school, staff, or students.
  12. Gifts of student drawings left on my desk, in my mailbox or hand delivered to me from students; especially those that highlight our school colors, mascot, or motto.
  13. Taking my Port-a-Principal mobile office in the hallway and classrooms so accomplish my goals of being with kids while maintaining a connection to the work that needs to be accomplished in the office.
  14. Cafeteria salad days.
  15. Knowing that all it takes is granting a jeans day for teachers to make them happy at times.
  16. Taking a struggling student and watching them grow through behavioral interventions that are just as much built on relationships and rapport as they are best practices and research.
  17. Conversations with teachers that are positive, student centered and solution orientated even for our most challenging students because of their professionalism and passion for kids and learning.
  18. A teacher that asks for the 50th time a different approach, strategy or support for a student because she will NEVER give up on that child.
  19. Working with parent volunteers to create great family engagement activities and events
  20. Planning professional development opportunities that model best practices in the classroom and that engage and support teacher learning while building positive school culture.
  21. Modeling that professional learning is a lifelong process and occurs daily
  22. Writing hand written notes of appreciation for teachers and staff to recognize their impacts on our school community.
  23. Listening to a budding reader successfully share a book they can read completely independently for the first time.
  24. Reading kid spelling that is perfectly imperfect
  25. Witnessing student leaders create change and promote kindness, empathy and friendship among their peers.
  26. Building relationships with students with dance parties in the hallway!
  27. Connecting with other educators across the country through the power of a strong professional learning network
  28. Picking up a new professional book and reading it to grow my capacity as a lead learner.
  29. Sharing a favorite book title from my professional library with a staff member and seeing the same inspiration in them that I had after reading it.
  30. Attending conferences to learn new strategies and share the experience with staff.
  31. Using humor to diffuse a challenging or stressful situation with students
  32. Jumping in to put a band aid on a paper cut on a finger, do a temperature check, or rub the back of a sick student waiting for a parent.
  33. Telling our school story through posts on our social media accounts
  34. Watching a student ring a bell and beam with joy after meeting a goal.
  35. Making a phone call home to a parent or family member just to share positive news about a student’s growth or behavior.
  36. Challenging teachers and staff to make positive phone calls home to share positive news about a student’s growth or behavior.
  37. Watching a student grow exponentially from Kindergarten through 5th grade academically, socially and/or behaviorally.
  38. Recognizing that the shy and uncertain kindergarten students that start in our school leave as confident and mature students ready to tackle the challenges of middle school
  39. Establishing a culture of reading through open access to books at all times by finding ways to provide spaces for reading and books to be shared and displayed.
  40. Walking down the halls donned in blue and yellow with books lining the hallways and seeing students crouched down looking for a new title to read.
  41. Seeing the impact of inclusion of all students among all students.
  42. Maintaining relationships with students that are no longer in elementary school, but will always be ‘my kids.’
  43. Seeing a student in the community, at a store, or at a restaurant and the amazement in their eyes that there is life for me outside of school and that I have children of my own.
  44. Sitting on the floor and reading with an eager reader
  45. Sharing a favorite read aloud in classrooms with students
  46. Dressing up as Dr. Seuss and celebrating Read Across America Day.
  47. Visiting classrooms with the Therapy Dog and watching him interact with our students.
  48. Seeing a teacher take an idea to transform a classroom and make it a reality to engage learners with high level of rigor.
  49. Having the pleasure to watch teams of teachers work collaboratively to plan memorable and engaging lessons while supporting them with ideas, supports and resources.
  50. Knowing that each day is different and there are so many things I LOVE about being a principal!

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:




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.

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