A Time to Reflect

We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.
― John Dewey

The past eight weeks has been quite the whirl wind for me as an educator.  On July 9th, I was appointed the elementary principal of Central Intermediate.  Although thrilled, to begin a new journey in my life, the thought of leaving my comfort zone caused some uneasiness.  This opportunity meant giving up a teaching and coaching profession of ten years that was an important part of my life.  Ironically, a student of mine gave me  a piece of artwork at the end of the year with a quote:

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

I knew I had to take a step toward my dream of becoming an educational leader. I am grateful I had the courage to take the first step. Now, my challenge is to keep taking steps forward regardless of the obstacles that stand in my way.

Nobody trips over mountains. It is the small pebble that causes you to stumble. Pass all the pebbles in your path and you will find you have crossed the mountain. -Unknown

The many challenges I have encountered as a principal taught me that I had to stop trying to get  to the top of the mountain (my long term vision) after week 1; and instead concentrate on the pebbles- or in other words my day-to-day commitments that help create a culture of excellence.  I must thank my parents,  former teachers, coaches, and all the people who taught me that with the right mindset and perseverance success can be attained.  Perseverance has been the trait I have needed the most as a first year principal. Whether it was having a critical conversation with a staff member, issuing consequences for student behavior, dealing with an upset parent, changing the school culture, or getting a stray dog off our school property, perseverance was the key in handling these endeavors.  Were all these endeavors successful?  No, but the perseverance helped remind me that this job is a marathon, not a sprint, and it gave me the energy I needed to take the next step forward.

The next step forward has allowed me to experience some great moments at Central thus far:

Friday 5: Every Friday, I contact five families to share positive news about their child.  The positive news could relate to observations from the playground, lunchroom, morning assembly, classroom, or any behavior that represents good character.  Many times when parents know it is a call from the principal, they assume it is something negative.  The sound of joy in the parent or guardian’s voice is the perfect way to end the week.  Last week, our students had a rough day with playground behavior.  At 4:30, I was mentally drained and ready to call it a day.  But, I remembered how much this means to our students, families, and me!  The students look forward to it, and I know the parents appreciate hearing the positives. The Friday Five has been a reminder to me that all our children have something to offer, we just have to pay attention and focus on the positives!

Instructional Shifts: For our first staff meeting, I gave my staff an assignment to read about the instructional shifts taking place due to Common Core.  During our first staff meeting, the teachers watched videos demonstrating these shifts, and discussed the challenges and opportunities.  The conversations taking place made me realize I have a staff that is willing to embrace change if it means more success for our students’ futures.  I was pleased the following week when I observed many of these changes taking place in the classroom.

Building Relationships: As a former coach, my favorite part of my job was creating a team culture that fostered relationships.  I have learned the same culture has to be developed in a school.  Because of the demands that are placed on teachers today, it is imperative that I work on building relationships by supporting them during the challenging times and celebrating their successes.  If I want to make a difference in our students’ lives, it is critical that I build a relationships that empower them to not only be great students but also great citizens.  If I want our school to be successful, then I have to build partnerships with families, so our students see the powerful connection between home and school.  Although being a first year principal is overwhelming, the relationships I have made with students, staff, and parents is the fuel I need to persevere during the challenges.

I know I will have many more highlights to share at the end of the first quarter.  I must admit, I have a new level of respect for all the administrators out there.  The statement, before you criticize and choose, walk a mile in my shoes–is so true for this profession!

I will continue to “Choose Excellence Every Day for our staff, students, and families of Central Intermediate.

Advertisements

Accepting The Challenge #SAVMP

“You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” – Walt Disney

Like many Illinois schools, our latest Illinois Standards Achievement Tests have been delivered and viewed.  With the adoption of the New Cut Scores, these scores are cause for, at the very least, discussion.  Just as our state raised the bar in 2010 by adopting more rigorous learning standards, the state also raised the bar on the ISAT performance expectations.  As a leader, I must inspire our staff “stay the course.” The scores do not mean that our students knew less than the year before, but rather serve as an indication of where students perform in terms of college and career readiness.  When the ISAT was compared to the PSAE,which includes the ACT, it showed that the ISAT did not determine whether the students were college and career ready.  Therefore, all students in grade 3-12 are measured against the same bar.

So, what does this mean for our school, staff, and students?  It means we must work hard every day to prepare our children for these, new, higher expectations for learning.   I still remember being a coach preparing for a team that was much more talented than our team.  I remember reading the newspaper articles that claimed we had no chance to win.  I remember seeing doubt on my student-athlete’s faces.  But, it was these games I enjoyed the most.  It was these games that caused me to study game film longer, provide more detailed scouting reports, and most importantly find ways to make my athletes believe they could win.  Did we always win these games? No! But, the preparation before the game always allowed my teams to compete and have a fighting chance. The greatest compliment I ever received as a coach was when an athlete 10 years later said, “Coach, it was those long, intense practices, and your never satisfied personality that helped me in college and life. And that is why I coached, and now that is why I lead. I compare my coaching experiences to these new performance expectations.  As educators it is our responsibility to prepare our students for these more rigorous learning standards because not only will it help them on these achievement tests, but the preparation will provide them with the hard work, resiliency, and belief needed to become successful in life.

My staff, understandably so, was disappointed in the results on the ISAT test. However, my staff understands that we do not have time to make excuses, we must create a plan to align our curriculum to the Common Core State Standards, shift our instructional practices, and provide meaningful and relevant assessments.  One of the dynamic leaders that is in my PLN, Shelley Burgess, says, “If we understand and talk about that at the heart of Common Core is helping our students thrive as strategic, thoughtful, thinking-intensive readers, writers, speakers and listeners, we may be able to build more commitment to the shifts.”

As a former ELA teacher, I was fortunate enough to work side-by side with another teacher through the trial and error of Common Core Implementation.   We strived to create a classroom environment that valued learning and progress.   Our classroom instruction changed from being teacher-led discussions to student led socratic seminars.  Our students became deeper readers through close reading strategies, and thought-provoking writers through real-world experiences.  By the end of the year, our students were asking other students to prove their answers by showing evidence. It was definitely a challenging process, but the student enthusiasm and results that transpired made all the hard work and long nights worth it!  Through the changes that were made,  I realize the importance of collaboration and how every teacher has a responsibility in preparing our students for their future.

I must admit, it was much easier to make these curricular and instructional changes myself than to influence others to make these changes. Yet, as a leader it is my responsibility to provide systems of support for my teachers.  I am excited for the journey we will take this year as a staff, and I am even more excited about the impact we will have on our students at Central Intermediate.

HOLD THE ROPE #SAVMP

HOLD THE ROPE

With the talk of trust this week on #SAVMP, I came across this inspirational story that became the motto for our basketball team a few years ago during our quest for a Regional Championship!  I think it can apply to schools especially as we try to foster trust and resiliency.

Every year a professional football team wins the championship. Every year a college football team wins the NCAA title. Every year the best high school team in Division A on down wins the state crown. All these teams have one thing in common: No matter how tough it became throughout their season, they did one thing — they held the rope!

What is “holding the rope?” Imagine that you are hanging from the edge of a cliff with a drop of twenty thousand feet. The only thing between you and a fall to your death is a rope, with the person of your choice on the other end. Who do you know that has the guts to pull you to safety?

Who will hold the rope?

Who do you know that is going to let that rope burn their hand and not let go? How many people that you know are going to withstand the burning pain to hold the rope for you?

If you can name two people, that’s not good enough, because those two people might not be around. Our entire staff needs to be trusted to hold the rope if we ever want to help each child reach its fullest potential.

The next time your team is together, look around and ask yourself, “Who could I trust to hold the rope?

When you can look at every member on your team and say to yourself that they all would hold the rope, you are destined for success.

It will be my job as principal to inspire trust.  I want to foster a trusting environment where all members hold the rope for each other because it is then we will know we are all committed to student achievement.

Don’t let go of the rope…Hold on to it…for yourself, your staff, and your students.

Image

INSPIRING TRUST AT CENTRAL INTERMEDIATE #SAVMP

To be persuasive, we must be believable; to be believable, we must be credible; to be credible, we must be truthful.” — Edward R. Murrow

As a classroom teacher and coach, I took pride in building relationships because I witnessed how important these relationships were to our classroom or team’s success. Anytime we can take a group of people to work towards a common vision, great things can occur and will occur.

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision; the ability to direct individual accomplishment toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” Andrew Carnegie.  On day one, I shared with my staff that our vision for this year would be “Choose Excellence Every Day’!  This vision will take hard work and commitment.

As a principal, it will be imperative to build and strengthen relationships with individuals who are involved at some level with our school.  Trust will be an integral part in building these relationships.  Without trust, there is no relationship.  In my new role, as principal, I must walk the talk to inspire trust. I must be visible in the classrooms and hallways, the cafeteria and the playground, at the bus stop and student events, meetings with community groups and parent meetings because accomplished principals build and manage a complex network of relationships.  Being a principal is not about shutting my door and dedicating long stretches of time to my daily to do list, or answering emails all day long. Being a principal is visiting classrooms every day, eating lunch with students, supervising recess, leading professional development, communicating with parents and community members, collaborating with district colleagues, analyzing student data, and anything else that is vital to our students’ success.  I do believe that a principal has to be an effective manager, but even more importantly a principal must be an instructional leader who promotes curriculum, ensures student learning, and supports professional growth.  At our school instructional leadership will be a priority.

Trust is also developed by showing the staff I trust in them by providing opportunities for them to lead.  My coaching experiences helped me realize how important itis to make full use of the individuals skills and talents of its members.  A collective effort will help our staff accomplish extraordinary things that no one person can accomplish by himself or herself.  Our after school dismissal proves this to be true.  I decided to have all members of our staff have a role in after school dismissal.  Each grade level supervises a different area of the school, and our P.E. teacher and music teacher took the challenging role of bus duty.  I am so thankful they did because they understood the system better than I did! Some of the situations that occurred would not have been handled as effectively without each member having a role.  I also have recognized strong leadership skills in several of my staff members that might have gone unnoticed without this opportunity.  Because of their collective efforts, we are showing the students and community that the safety of our students is a top priority.

I believe modeling effective communication is critical in building trust.  Being a new principal, I have recognized the importance of listening.  By listening, I have learned the needs of our staff and how I can best support them.   Through my classroom walkthroughs I am asking reflective questions to promote professional growth and to build an open dialogue between me and the teacher. The parents and community deserve to know what is occurring in our building, so I am using Twitter, Facebook, and newsletters to help highlight our events and showcase student talents.  To express value in dissenting views, I have created and Edmodo blog with different questions that give staff an opportunity to express their opinions in a professional way.  Our conversations allow teachers to feel more secure in providing honest input and participate meaningfully in school decision-making.

I became a principal because I wanted to positively influence an entire learning community.  Building and strengthening relationships will help improve teaching, learning, and student achievement, and because of this, I will do whatever it takes to build trusting relationships.

Image