- Greet them at drop-off wearing an unexpected or seasonal accessory. Think hats, glasses, boas, unique outfit, or silly shoes.
- Send them off at the end of the day honking a bike horn
- Play popular music upon arrival. Dance and give high fives as students come through the door!
- Celebrate small and large successes.
- Have teachers and staff submit positive office referrals
- Recognize individual and whole classes of students for progress toward or attainment of goals
- Sit down with a student and read a book to them. Ask them to read a book to you!
- Don’t be afraid to sing to a student. You don’t have to have a melodic voice to greet a student with a great rendition of “You are my Sunshine” to bring joy to their faces.
- Eat lunch with students in the office.
- Eat lunch with students in the cafeteria.
- Host a tic-tac-toe tournament during lunch on a large whiteboard. You’d be surprised at how good kids get at strategy when they want to beat the principal!
- Ride a bike, scooter or trike down the hall. Wave at students as you drive by.
- Have a stack of ribbons or special recognition awards on your desk to give to students when they come to the office to celebrate an accomplishment.
- Give every student a book for their birthday. Tap into your PTO for support on making this happen.
- Move your office to the hallway. Use a mobile cart or take your laptop to a common area and set up shop for the day.
- Don’t hesitate to jump in and take a student’s temperature, offer an ice pack or pull the garbage can over for a sick one. Knowing they’re cared for when they’re sick is important.
- Have a stash of fidgets, sensory toys, or other materials available in your office. You never know when you’ll have a student that needs a break, to be comforted, or needs a quiet place to play.
- Use your passions and your quirks to build connections. Put trolls dolls around the office!
- Hide a picture of your school mascot at various places around your building. Cheer when students find it.
- Surprise parents with a donut treat when they drop their child off in the morning.
- Tell students they’re your favorite. I have 250 favorite students in my building. My favorite first grade Caleb… my favorite fourth grade Caleb… anything to make them feel important and valued.
- Make the first day of school spectacular. Props, welcome committee, costumes, pep rally… whatever it takes!
- Call parents to tell them how cool their kid is.
- Have kids sit with you while you call their parents to tell them how cool they are.
- Tell them that the test scores matter, but you value them as an individual more than the test. Celebrate their creativity, kindness, and unique talents.
- Walk into a classroom and let kids know how lucky they are to have an awesome teacher. The teachers and the students will both appreciate it.
- Leave post-it notes with feedback on their work in the hallways.
- Leave post-it notes with encouragement on their desks or in their lockers.
- Leave post-it notes in the bathroom with inspirational messages or memorable quotes
- Play knock-out with students at recess.
- DON’T play tether ball at recess. Trust me on that one.
- Put stickers on the bottom of random lunch trays. Give a special prize or book for the students that have one.
- Take a #selfieaday with a student. Post on your school facebook or twitter account with the reason they were able to take a selfie with you.
- Run with kids under the parachute in PE class. You’ll be surprised how much fun you have!
- Ask the cafeteria staff to color applesauce green
- Squeeze yourself into a display case. Enjoy the giggles and alien looks that happen as students walk by.
- Put an old mailbox outside of the office. Answer any mail that comes in from students.
- Display pictures of students and teachers throughout the building.
- Put books everywhere. Ask yourself, “does the school learning environment mirror what you say you value?”
- Dress as a monkey and pass out bananas on National Banana Day. Encourage kids to balance work and play!
- When there are school-wide themed dress days… participate!
- Get on the roof and spray water guns at students during recess.
- Call kids out of class for a minute just to tell them you’re proud of them
- Put a disco ball in the cafeteria. Play music during lunch.
- Put mirrors in the hallway. Tell students they are smart. beautiful. worthy. valued.
- Support teachers in instructional risk-taking. If a teacher wants to make a crazy idea become a reality, work to get it done. 10/10 it makes a memory, kids are engaged and learning occurs.
- Have students take a picture of the school mascot home. Encourage them to tweet or post pictures of them in the community to a specific hashtag.
- Have a school-wide writing project. We send Royal Rococo home with each student. This stuffed bird goes on adventures all around our school and community and students write about it.
- Be the first to volunteer for any crazy idea: Get pied in the face, duct taped to the wall, or volunteered for any other crazy idea.
- Be cognizant that your job is to be there for kids. Do whatever it takes to bring them joy and love!
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!
- Shake Up Learning
- Cult of Pedagogy
- Mr. Schu Reads
- Alice Keeler
- Ditch that Textbook
- Dangerously Irrelevant
- Matt Miller @jmattmiller
- Dave Burgess @burgessdave
- George Couros @gcouros
- Eric Scheninger @e_sheninger
- Tomas Murray @thomascmurray
- Jimmy Cases @casas_Jimmy
- 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
We are ringing in another New Year! Throughout 2016 I enjoyed reading so many amazing books. As a school, we established a Little Free Library, Free Will Bookshelves, and added over 100 new titles to our library. It is clear when you walk through DGS and see teachers sharing what they’re reading on posters outside their doors, shelves of books in the hallways, and even a bathtub full of books, that literacy is important to our school. Not only is creating a culture of readers a school goal, but it is a deeply rooted value and belief of the staff. More than reading achievement, my goal is and always has been creating learners that LOVE to read. That love of reading with spark lifelong learning and reading enjoyment!
So, as I have done in the past, I set my own reading resolutions to model reading for my staff and students. In the past, I have set goals to read a professional book a month and blog about it, read a particular series or author, or maintain a good reads account. That has all become standard for me, so my reading resolution this year is to promote reading in fun and unique ways with my students and staff. I am starting by having them set their own reading resolutions and I am harnessing the power of social media to do just that.
On our school facebook page, I posted the graphic below (Created in Canva). I am encouraging parents and families to set reading goals with their students! Readers grow on the laps of their parents! As an added incentive, I am gifting a free book and certificate to any student that establishes their own reading resolution! Let’s get out their and ring in the new year with books!