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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Does a Principal Do All Day?

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

They responded to the prompt:

What Does Our Principal Do All Day? 

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

Some students recognized the fun parts of my job:

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Some students made connections to our school mission and vision:

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

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

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


And some just brought joy to my heart:

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



Celebrate Their Tweets & Leave a Little Twitter Dust

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

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

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


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


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

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

Promoting the Positive with an Office Referral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The process is simple:

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

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

Benefits to Positive Phone Calls:

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

Barriers to Positive Phone Calls:

  • NONE

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


Patio PD

In an effort to personalize professional learning this summer, we hosted our first Patio PD at a local restaurant. The event was held to allow teachers to collaborate and connect in an informal setting where building relationships and networking was just as important as learning new tools and strategies.

We chose to structure our #PatioPD event like a trivia night that is held at many local establishments. As teachers arrived, a variety of conversation starters were placed on their tables that allowed them to discuss topics informally until we started the learning activity.

We chose to model the learning activity after Scatteggories in which teams of teachers were given a topic and they were asked to generate as many resources or ideas that related to that topic in one minute before sharing them with the larger group. Teams were awarded points when they shared a resource that no other team had written down.

Topics included:

  • Favorite Hashtags to follow
  • Must read professional books
  • Tools for developing a PLN
  • Strategies for communicating with families
  • Must use tech tools in the classroom

To add to the fun of the event, we gave prizes to the winning teams that included a variety of classroom supplies, books, and PatioPD decals and mugs!

Hosting a PatioPD event is easy and proved to be a lot of fun. Watching teachers come together to learn and grow together in an informal environment proved powerful, meaningful and effective.

Classroom Crawl Staff Meeting

If you walk into any classroom in my building, you would know that the staff takes considerable amount of time and energy in creating a learning environment that is student centered and promotes student ownership. I wanted each staff member to see their colleagues’ spaces and celebrate the various elements of their classrooms that make them unique and student friendly.
Using the foundation of “Kids Deserve It,” I charged my staff to participate in a “Classroom Crawl.” We walked from classroom to classroom to tour the learning environments the staff had created for their students. They were given a list of ten components or elements to look for on their tour that were pulled from ideas in “Kids Deserve It. As they toured each classroom, they tweeted examples of innovation, teachers as learners, creativity, building relationships and more! In addition to their pictures and tweets, they were encouraged to make a positive phone call to a current or former student and write a note of appreciation and support to a colleague.
Staff enjoyed getting to show off their classrooms and learn by examining the environments of their peers in anticipation for the first day of school. This interactive option for PD got them moving, learning and collaborating from each other, and celebrating the positive elements of our school!

Back to School “Emotion”

It seems like we spend a lot of time in the car, travelling between activities or events and my daughters and I have some of the best and most entertaining conversations during our commutes. Since it was back to school time, our conversation was geared at the to-do lists that we had:

  • Finalize school supply shopping
  • Be prepared for Open House
  • Pick out our first day of school outfits
  • Start our back to school sleep routine back up

Among the conversation, my eight year old piped up; “Why do mamas get so emotional at back to school time? I was driving down the highway, but I wanted to stop and pull the car over and hug her. At first it was an easy response. “We get emotional because that means our babies are growing up!” In reflecting, I think I define ’emotional’ and get ’emotional’ in may ways and for so many more reasons at back to school time.

  • Because as a mom, I am beaming with PRIDE that my children are about to tackle a new grade level and adventure and that although that is equal parts scary and amazing, they are equipped for the challenge.
  • Because as a mom, I am placing TRUST in the staff members of their school to lift them up academically, socially, and emotionally and that is a large task.
  • Because as a mom, a new grade level means I am NOSTALGIC over the moments and grade levels, memories, and milestones before.
  • Because as a mom, I am ANXIOUS and WORRISOME that they succeed in the ways that will make them happy and fulfilled; Ways that allow them to be creative, collaborative, and pursue their passions.
  • Because as a mom, I am AWARE that society doesn’t set standards that measure success in all the ways our students can be successful.
  • Because as a mom, I have bittersweet SADNESS that my little girls are growing at a pace more rapid than I can soak in most days despite my intent and that even as they begin this school year, that I know that I will blink and their school days will be coming to an end.
  • Because as a mom, I am filled with GRATITUDE that I am able to send my children to schools that provide them a world class education, knowing that not all children have that access.

So little one, I am ’emotional’ when you go back to school. ‘Emotional’ for so many reasons. Some that bring me tears and some that make me smile, but all because I love you.

I can’t always put into words what emotion can sum up all the feelings I have when my children have their next first day of school, but I do know, that as a principal, I know how each of those emotions feel and I am walking them amongst other moms and families that share the same canvas of varied emotions. We walk in this together and just as I am honored to be the mother of my own children, I am honored in the trust that is placed in me to care for the students in my school family.

Coffee and Selfies

There are many aspects of my job that are rewarding, but one that is at the top of my list in the ability to engage and empower teachers to be better versions of themselves for the betterment of teaching and learning. I am addicted to learning new ways to coach and develop learning opportunities that provide teachers a model for teaching and learning, but also personalized avenues for them to learn about topics and strategies that are both meaningful to them and will also challenge them.

I was given the ability to coordinate several PD events for our district this summer and CoffeeEDU has been one of my favorites. Today we hosted our second successful CoffeeEDU event with a Selfie Challenge Twist!

I had written a previous blog post (Coffee.Connections. and Conversations: How to Host a CoffeeEDU event) about the structure and preparations of our first CoffeeEDU event. We had success with the educators at our first event sitting in small groups and discussing meaningful and relevant topics. For this event, we wanted the opportunity for educators to do more networking, connecting, and communicating on a variety of topics. With some inspiration from my twitter PLN, the twitter selfie challenge was born.

Attendees were simply greeted at the event and provided a copy of the Selfie Challenge Board and the directions to meet and mingle with others that have met the criteria on the board. Once they discussed the topic and shared any ideas or resources, they were then asked to take a selfie and tweet it to our hashtag.

Those that completed the challenge were given a “Solid Gold Rock Star Trophy” aka plastic guitar from Oriental Trading, to commemorate their experience and congratulate them on being a connected educator! You can read and see images in the storify below. If you’d like an editable version of the template, direct message me on twitter @mandyeellis

Book Study #BookSnaps

I’ve been leading an online book study featuring “The Innovator’s Mindset” by George Couros in my district and have been enjoying the collaboration and reflections of the dedicated staff members that are engaging in the learning process throughout their summer break. As part of the book study, I issued them a challenge. It read:

If you are on twitter, I am going to challenge you to do a #booksnap this week and share it at #323reads and #innovatorsmindset. Some of you have already done them and they are a great avenue for reflecting and sharing what you’re reading and what stands out to you. You can view how to do a #booksnap at http://daveburgess.com/booksnaps/

The responses from staff were great! They learned how to use a new tool to engage kids in their classrooms, but also to use as a professional reflection strategy.

Following Part II of the Book Study I shared the following information with the participants:

Thank you to those of you that took a risk to try Book Snaps for the first time! I’ve compiled them at https://spark.adobe.com/page/y5UP5E1cbwtv6/ The power of a book snap is in the reflections you have of the text and each of you took away some key concepts and ideas from Part II as a result and learned a new strategy to learn with your students as well! Book Snaps can be done on the Chromebooks as well with the Emoji keyboard if you are interested in embedding that into your classroom learning. You can’t use SnapChat on your Chromebook, but you can use Google Drawings! Students can use the Google Drawings tool to create a #booksnap and annotate or reflect on what they are reading. By using Google Drawings, the students are creating original content and can share. You can read more on how to do this at http://bisdlearntech.com/booksnaps/

Click on the image below to see all the #booksnaps from the participants of the book study!

#323Reads BookSnaps

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