Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Day in the Life of the Principal

I am guilty of having thought as a teacher and even as an assistant principal, “What is the principal doing all day? Why hasn’t he/she done x, y or z yet?” Well, now that I’m the principal, I take back all of the thoughts I had back then, because you can just never understand what the principal does all day until you live it! There are so many things that could happen in a day that couldn’t even be shared with staff, because: A) I don’t want to set the tone of the school by complaining B) Some information has to be filtered by me or it would just give teachers more to stress over C) There’s a lot of confidential information contained within a principal’s day. So, I want to write a list of all the crazy things that could happen on any given day.

Monday morning arrive to work at 6:30 am. Turn on the computer and start looking at my list of things to accomplish today (includes 7:35/3:05 IEP meetings, teacher observation, teacher meeting, parent conference, call McD’s for additional donations of ice cream coupons for student of the month awards, write monthly principal newsletter, finalize summer school course packets, sort through the junk mail still piled up from last week-because I didn’t get to it over the weekend, complete purchase requisitions, file pink copies of all purchases for budgeting, get into classrooms).

7:00 receive call from sub-caller, write down list of teachers out today—we ran out of subs so I have to figure out coverage for one of the first grade teachers. Write a note for the secretary regarding this, tell her I’ll be to the class at 8:00, but for her to keep looking for coverage.
7:05 Try to start on paperwork, but a teacher comes in to tell about a phone call she received from a parent after school on Friday regarding a bus incident—record the information to investigate.
7:10 Try to start on paperwork, but get a call from a teacher that our online student information system (for attendance and grades) is down again. Put in a call to tech director to get it fixed…send out an email to all staff that the problem should be fixed soon *hopefully*.
7:20 Parents are here for the IEP meeting…show them to the conference room to wait….no chance of getting paperwork done now. Go to get IEP information for the meeting and see the voicemail light flashing again…check it and hear that a teacher got stuck in traffic and won’t make it in time…go tell the secretary and then run back to the IEP meeting.
7:35-8:00 IEP meeting...this one went well. Now I have to run to cover that class.
8:00-8:30 Teaching a lower grade level, no lesson plans (note to self-remind teachers to get emergency sub plans/folders ready) making it up as I go.
8:30 Call from the office that one of our EBD students needs to be removed from the room—an aide is coming to cover the class instead.
8:35-9:15 Remove EBD student---severe physical aggression, I’m sure I’ll have some bruises from this one—not to mention the mess the conference room is in now (we don’t have a time-out room). I’ve had my glasses broken before, so glad that didn’t happen this time. He/she finally is calm/compliant and I escort the child back to class…
Fortunately another substitute was able to come in and cover that other class now. Thank goodness, I can get to my list…
Check my voicemail—1 teacher call with a question about the new report card, 1 teacher call requesting me to come speak with her about a student, 1 parent call angry about a bus incident, another angry parent upset with a teacher.
9:20 put the sign on my door that says “I’m out in classrooms to see what students are learning” and get to each of the teachers that left me voice messages. Make a move to classrooms for walk throughs—first one has guided reading groups and centers with 1st grade kids reading amazingly well! Start to enter the 2nd classroom of the day when I’m called for on the school loud speaker (I don’t carry my walkie-talkie when I’m going into classrooms and my secretaries know only to call for me in an emergency). Hurry back to the office to find that one of our special needs children ran off from the aide (he/she has never done this before!) I make a special all-call to the staff to let them know we’re looking for ______ and then several of us split up to search….10 minutes later we find her/him in an unattended office in the dark pretending to type on a computer. Whew!
10:00-10:30 Morning Recess-I don’t end up making it out there for all 30 minutes, because I get stopped by 3 different teachers on my way out. (Question about grades deadline, information shared about a student and another technology question)
10:30-11:15 Back out to classrooms. Get into 4 of them (with a note to myself on needing to meet with a teacher for classroom management concerns)
11:15-11:45 Meet with the 4 students that had bus conduct reports. 1 has had enough to be suspended from the bus…make the phone call home and get yelled at by the parent that they can’t pick them up. I’ll spare the rest of the details. Meet with 2 other students that have “earned” after school detention for continuously disruptive classroom behavior.
11:45 Head for the fridge to grab my sandwich for lunch, but get called to a classroom for another EBD student. Fortunately, this child is calmed down much easier than the one this morning.
12:00-1:00 Lunch room duty---grab a slim fast to drink on the way. No, I’m not dieting, but I keep them in the fridge for days like today when there is no time to eat. I sometimes refer to my hour-long lunch duty as migraine hour (because it’s always loud), but I secretly enjoy this hour. Our kids sit at round tables and actually get the chance to talk with their peers. I’ve seen schools where the kids have to eat silently, but I think that’s just mean. I enjoy the chance to walk around to each table and chat with the kids. If I’m not walking around (using proximity) they do try to get away with things (however, they know that if I catch them throw any food they then have lunch room clean up duty!)
1:00 Talk to a couple teachers about student behaviors in the lunch room as they pick up classes (friend issues)
1:05 Get back to the office and secretary tells me that a parent has tried calling several times and is very angry. Go back to my office and check my voice messages---there are 6 of them (not all from the one parent)! I have a classroom observation at 1:30, so I write them all down and just call back the angry one--this parent calls daily, so I’m used to it…I’d like to tell this parent to get a job so he/she has something to do each day, but I refrain from expressing that opinion! The parent again tells me they’re going to call the school board to complain…I’m not worried, because I know that what we’re doing on the school end is the right thing and I’ve already talked to a couple school board members about this parent. Note to any potential administrators reading this---be prepared for threats such as, “I’ve got a lawyer on retainer,” “I’m going to call your superintendent,” “I’m going to report this to the school board” and “I’m going to report you to the state department of education.” If you’re doing your job right, you have nothing to worry about. I now just give them the phone number and am usually able to add, “I’ve already spoken with the superintendent regarding this issue.” I don’t like surprises or hiding things from my superintendent or the school board, so I keep those lines of communication open.
1:30-2:15 Classroom Observation: I love doing formal classroom observations, because you get to see so much more than just in walk-throughs (of the teacher, instruction and the students). I do think I’m getting carpal tunnel, because I’m so insistent on scripting everything—gives me good information when I’m writing up the evaluation and when I meet with the teacher.
2:15 bathroom break—I seriously think this was my first one today—I’m dying!
2:20 Check with my secretary-2 more phone calls passed through to my phone---nothing major though, so I’ll check them later. Try to tidy up my desk before parent meeting at 2:30. Since I am on the run so much and hardly in my office, I have several piles on my desk. I don’t have a great system yet for organizing yet, but I know where everything is. I once had a principal that said “If you’re desk is a mess, it’s because you’re doing your job well---you’re out in classrooms and not sitting at your desk.” I’ve worked for a principal that was adamant about keeping the desk clean, but I still agree with the previous one!
2:30 Meeting with parent: she wants to request a specific teacher for next year. This is something on my list that I haven’t gotten to yet---working on the class list procedures and a letter to parents explaining why we can’t honor specific teacher requests. I explain it to her and tell her about the letter that will be coming home in a month and ask her to think about her child’s learning styles/needs and not just the teacher that the older sibling had. This isn’t how the previous principal did things, so she’s a little annoyed, but agreed to it. (Note to self---get moving on writing that letter and meeting with staff about class lists)
2:50 Pop into grade level meeting (teachers have grade-level collaboration time 2:40-3:30 on 2 week rotation. Aides cover the class 2:40-3:00 to give them some additional time). I’d like to sit in on these meetings for the full time to help facilitate discussions on student learning, but it hasn’t happened all year.
3:00 Walk the halls quickly as students are being dismissed. I have a particular student that I walk to the bus each day and remind him/her about how to be safe on the bus.
3:05 IEP meeting…this one goes on forever. Parents are not on the same page as everyone at school. Gets quite heated and I have to do quite a bit of mediation. At 5:00 I finally say that we will have to come back at a later date to finish (No, IEP meetings do not normally last this long!!)
5:05 Back to my office…finish checking voice messages and start calling a few back (had to prioritize which ones can wait until tomorrow). Now to my list from this morning---hadn’t touched any of them! Write my principal newsletter because it was due last Friday. Check my mailbox and add it to the stack of mail from last week (never knew how much mail the principal gets---good grief!) Pull out time sheets, absence sheets, and purchase requisitions because those are time sensitive, but leave the rest. It’s 5:45 now and my husband has called three times asking when I’ll be home. I grab some files to shove in my bag, along with my flash drive so I can type up the teacher evaluation at home).
6:00 Finally home---didn’t have a bad day, but still feel like I got run over by a semi. I’d love to just lay on the couch and crash, but have to make supper, clean, play with my son. After he’s in bed I type up that teacher eval (most of it) until I’m too exhausted and go to bed at 11:45.

I must say that the kids are the easiest part of this position. I can’t even get into detail on some of the difficult conversations with parents and teachers each day that get my stomach churning (and I mean that literally…but now I am on meds for the ulcer, so I’m doing better with that!)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Conducting school study on our instructional groupings

Well, since I haven't posted many reflective blogs, I'll post a quick one to share what I'm planning for next week. I've been reading What Really Matters in Response to Intervention: Research-Based Designs by Richard Allington to prepare to lead staff in a book study over the summer (this is voluntary for staff, but I have 14 that are interested!)

According to Allington (and my own personal experience as a teacher), "the proportion of the school day allotted to whole-class instruction is a predictor of a school's academic achievement. The more whole-class teaching offered, the lower the academic achievement in that school." Allington provides a data-gathering tool to examine the distribution of whole-class, small group, and side-by-side lessons (teacher is working with an individual student) in general education classrooms. I've made my own google doc form to share I will use this form to get into EVERY classroom TWICE each day to tally the method of lesson delivery. At the end of the week, I will then use the 5th collumn to determine the percentage of observed lessons during the week (based on 10 observations) that were using whole-class instruction as the method of delivery.

As part of my professional reading in Allington's book, I also plan to send this document out to all staff in my weekly email. We won't be starting our book study for a while now, and there are many teachers that could benefit from reading this list to reflect upon their current practices.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

RTI Summit Resources and Videos

This is finally posted online at
You can click on the links to view the videos and other resources. The two keynote speakers, George Betts and Ted Neitzke, were both fantastic--great videos to watch (the first one just has a long introduction, be patient!)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

RTI Summit---my notes

Wisconsin held a 2 day Summit for Response to Intervention. There were over 1,000 people in attendance. It was an incredible conference with many sessions and 2 fantastic keynote speakers. I can't wait until the videos and resource links are up from the conference.
Because there were so many different sessions and powerpoint packets I came back with, I had to comb through the resources and compile what notes were the most important for me and then my "ahas!" from the conference.
If you don't know anything about RtI, then this post will not help you. Some of it may not even make sense to those that do know about RtI, but like I said, it's the notes from 2 days that were the most important to me.

Notes from RtI Summit
-The concept of RtI is quite simple…doing RtI well is quite complex. RtI is NOT a product you can buy, you must develop it as a school. We need to proceed thoughtfully and carefully. We cannot just put together an RtI plan over the summer. 3 Phases of Building an RtI System: 1. Shared Vision and Purpose building (not necessarily consensus, because you’ll never have consensus, but information building at the least) 2. Infrastructure building 3. Implementation
-RtI is NOT a special ed initiative, it is a general ed initiative. RtI needs to be applied to ALL kids.
-We always know our weaknesses better than our strengths. This goes for how we know students as well. We need to know our students strengths. RtI should be a strengths based model, because you never know what kids are truly capable of! (multiple intelligences, different learning styles)
-We can’t modify the students, we have to modify the system. When a student doesn’t learn the way we teach, we need to teach the way they learn.”
-If they are not making progress, then we have not found the right method yet.
-“Differentiation is not a checklist of strategies, but a philosophical approach to teaching all students.”~Carol Ann Tomlinson
-If your data does not show that there is strong universal instruction, then tier 2 and 3 interventions are not appropriate!
-In God we trust. Everyone else bring your data!
-One school that presented reported that according to their performance data, they could identify when a student was placed in special education!! Just because a student qualifies for special ed services does NOT mean we lower our expectations!
-Marie Clay on Progress Monitoring: “If a child is a struggling reader or writer, the conclusion must be that we have not yet discovered the way to help him learn. The intent is not to find an excuse for the lack of progress, or a label to explain the child’s difficulty, or to state what was wrong with the child’s past experience at home or at school. The intent is to find a way to get around the road block and re-establish accelerated learning.
-An Intervention is defined as the systematic use of a technique, program or practice designed to improve learning or performance in specific areas of student need. An intervention must be measurable (it is not just keeping a student in from recess to work on homework)
-Richard Allington on Interventions: Should be implemented in small groups of 2-3. Needs to be intensive and delivered by experts which can and should include classroom teachers. Should expand their instructional reading time. Kids need to read a lot!
-Why a Phonemic Awareness intervention? “children who lack phonemic awareness have a difficult time developing understanding of letter-sound relationships as well as learning to spell (Griffith, 1991; Juel, Griffith, & Gough, 1986). Since Juel’s studies, additional evidence has been produced that poor phonemic awareness at 4-6 years of age is predictive of reading difficulties throughout the elementary years.

-Teacher Expertise Findings:
*Teacher expertise is the most important factor in improving children’s learning (Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 1999)
*Teachers whose descriptions of students’ literacy development are brief are more likely to refer children for LD evaluation than are teachers whose descriptions are more detailed (Broikou, 1992).
*Teachers favoring whole class instruction refer more children for LD evaluations than teachers who use a range of grouping structures (Drame, 2002).
*Teachers who use small group instruction are generally more effective than those who do not (Taylor et al., 2002)
*Scanlon (2008) found teachers with different levels of expertise reduced the number of at risk kids in kindergarten by anywhere from 50% to 0 (or less).
*When intervention efforts are not fully successful, failures are differentially distributed across teachers and schools (Scanlon; Phillips & Smith, 1997)
*“No school with mediocre classroom instruction ever became effective just by adding a high quality remedial or resource room program. We have added more instructional aides, more specialist teachers, and more computers and software programs, while ignoring powerful evidence on the importance of high quality classroom teaching.” (Allington & Johnston, 2000)
*“The proportion of the school day allotted to whole-class instruction is a predictor of a school’s academic achievement. The more whole-class teaching offered, the lower the academic achievement in that school.” (Allington, 2009)
*“Even the best professional development may fail to create meaningful and lasting changes in teaching and learning-unless teachers engage in ongoing professional dialogue to develop a reflective school community.”

-Parent involvement is KEY!
-“When you think you’re done…you’ve just begun!”

My thoughts/reflections/Ahas!
-We must continue to build a culture of collaboration in our school. This is an area in our school that is improving, but still could use improvement. I can’t figure out why (there’s a LOT of history at my school), but teachers just don’t fully trust each other. There are some grade levels that work really well together, but others that don’t and some teachers that do NOT like it if someone else “takes” their idea or lesson plan.
-We have the 90 minute uninterrupted reading blocks, but we have students currently receiving reading intervention during this time. If students are pulled out of the classroom, it should be a “double-dose” to expand their instructional reading time. Yes, this means during science or social studies (that can’t read the texts that are above grade level anyhow).
-Our staff needs training/support in differentiating for reading and math. This especially includes matching texts to readers.
-I started out the year with structured time and a format for grade-level collaboration, but it isn’t going as effectively as I had planned. Despite weekly planning forms to guide their discussion (what do we want them to learn, how do we know when they’ve learned it, what do we do when they don’t learn/do learn?) it’s not working. We don’t have the curriculum/assessments in place to truly do this well, or the leadership/collaboration amongst teams for this discussion. So I’m considering book studies focusing on reading/differentiation as a method to increase staff development and build professional dialogue amongst teams (would let grade levels select the books).
-I want to learn more about The Daily Five
-We need staff development (staff meeting time) just to dialogue on the common terms so everyone is on the same page (accomodations, modifications, differentiation, collaboration, intervention)
-I need to change our Student Intervention Team process. Currently, it is run by the psychologist and seems to be seen as just a hoop for teachers to jump through to have a student tested for special education.

WI DPI RtI Self-Assessment for Schools and Districts:

Saturday, March 21, 2009

My introductory blog...first blog ever!

Hello world!

I am a new principal in an elementary school in Wisconsin. My experience before this has included teaching at the elementary levels (special education for 1-5th, 3rd grade and 4th grades), instructional coach for one year, and a year as a middle school assistant principal. This year has been quite a change for me, not just as a first year principal, but also having moved from working in downtown Phoenix, AZ now in rural Wisconsin. I had every intention of journaling throughout the year for my own professional reflection, however, with everything that goes on in this crazy position, I have only 3 journal entries. I have decided to start a blog for my own professional reflection with the hopes of gaining feedback from other professionals in the field. Being a principal can be a lonely job, especially when you're in a small district and don't have many other principals to dialogue with.

I'm a bit nervous at putting myself "out there" like this, but I'll start with the warning that I don't want this to be time consuming for myself so I will not be spending massive amounts of time writing it as professional will just be my reflective blog.