Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Documenting Walk-throughs

Blog 12 of Spilling Ink Challenge

More on walk-throughs...
I've explored various ways of keeping track of walk-throughs. This past year I used a spreadsheet for each quarter. On the left collumn were all teacher names (organized by grade level, then alphabetically, because that was easiest for me). Then there were 9 collumns...one for each week of the quarter. As I completed a walk-through for each classroom I would record the date in the box for that teacher's row. I liked being able to visually see how many classrooms I had been in for the week or to see how long it had been since I was last in their room. Since my goal is to get into at least 15 rooms a week, I would try to get into each room every other week. This spreadsheet made a great visual for this. I would also circle the date if I gave feedback (verbally or written).

I recently skimmed a book while sitting in Barnes and Noble and want to try something new that I saw. This year I will have a simple spreadsheet with 2 collumns. The left with all staff names and the 2nd collumn being much larger so that I can record a date and some information about the walk-through (ex: "guided reading groups, all on-task... asked tchr about word work center). I will complete a walk-through for each and every teacher, before I complete a walk-through on another teacher and record on a different spreadsheet. I plan to print off 15 of these spreadsheets with the goal of getting into each classroom 15 times next year. I think this system will hold me accountable for not "shying away" from any classrooms (as I've previously discussed) and give me a tool to record what I'm seeing.

Reflecting on my classroom walk-throughs

Blog 11 of Spilling Ink

I've previously talked about my professional development plan (for state licensure renewal) being focused on using walk-throughs to improve student learning. My goal this year was to get into at least 15 classrooms each week and provide staff with meaningful feedback. When I wasn't inundated with tasks related to my position as District Assessment Coordinator, I did a great job at getting into classrooms, but finding a good way to give meaningful feedback has been a struggle for me. I think the most effective is when the feedback can be given verbally, because it will lead to dialogue between you and the teacher.

In the book, People First, the authors suggest using a staff roster to reflect on how you personally interact with each (writing a D next to those you have daily communication wiht, W for weekly, R for rarely, a star next to names that you regularly call on for extra duties and a check mark next to those teachers meeting expectations. I did this and was disapointed to see that I spend more time talking with my teachers that are meeting expectations, but far less time with those that are not meeting expectations. Shouldn't this be the other way around? Yes, it sure should, but I don't because they are difficult teachers to deal with and it is a lot of work. I am ashamed that I even just said that. My job is to make sure that every student has the best education, so I never want to say that again. Next year, I want to focus on those teachers, get into their rooms frequently and have the conversations that need to be had to improve student learning.

Reflecting on how I can improve as a leader

Blog 10 of Spilling Ink challenge (Yes, I know I'm way behind and will likely not catch up to meet the 30 posts in June challenge, but at least I'm blogging more than normal).

There is a lot to celebrate at our school in the changes and progress that has been made since I've started as principal. My staff will be the first to tell you that they had 7 years of no leadership so they all did whatever they wanted. (They were also the first to tell me that they weren't used to being told what to do and it would be a challenge for them!) I really think that the success we've had over the past two years can be attributed to my leadership of identifying their strengths and areas of opportunity to improve and communicating that with staff...for the most part they all agreed with what I saw and jumped right on board.

But for this post, I'd like ot take some time to reflect on what I need to improve on as a leader. This may bore others to read, but I'm actually using this as my time to reflect and journal on this, so that I can come back to read this throughout the next school year to remember what I need to improve on.

The first area I feel I need to improve is continuing to build relationships with staff. In the book, People First, the authors recommend taking time for staff relationships, saying that every minute is precious for communicating information. You should take time to get to know each of your staff members and ask them when you can; asking about children, dogs, a trip taken, etc. I've found that my superintendent does this very well, she seems to know everything about everybody and they all LOVE her. Even though I have always been a very social person, I struggle with this as a leader, because at work I am always very focused and about business. The idea of taking the time for small talk is definitely out of my comfort zone when it comes to business during a school day, but as I read about the importance of relationships, I realize how much I really do need to take time for it.

As a new principal, I've come in and made many decisions (on my own and with staff decisions in the leadership team); but I still need to become stronger in my ability to make decisions and stick with them. I often ask myself, "what hill do I want to die on" and will sometimes let some things go with teachers if I'm just not ready for the "battle." After completing 2 days of a data retreat in our district (unfortunately, with only a handful of my staff), after hearing what they had to say, I realize how I really need to "grow a spine" in some areas. The overall message I heard from staff is "we want accountability," "We want all staff to act professionally," and "we want direction." I will give 2 examples of issues that I have shyed away from addressing (but have bothered me personally):
#1 Homework-this has been a big issue in our school...with LOTS of it. At the start of this year I led some discussion on homework, gave some research and asked staff to rethink homework. I had about 75% of staff rethink and significantly decrease their homework and speak highly of this change. The other 25% of staff have not made changes and I bet never will unless being told to. This came up in our data retreat. I have decided that I WILL "die on this hill" and give teachers a directive on homework.
#2 Field trips-we have a couple of grade levels that left far too many students behind on field trips. I questioned it (their high expectations of behavior and homework...there's that H word again!), listened, but didn't verbalize my thoughts on it. In our data retreat, we discussed how rural we are and how many of our kids are not exposed to anything outside of their small community; making those field trips very important for them. So, do we have grade levels leaving behind 30% of their students because their card was flipped once (our discipline system) or they were missing one assignment? This is also an issue that I WILL address next year.

As I think about why I've shyed away from these issues, it is because the teachers that this would involve speaking with are intimidating. This is why I am reading the book "Difficult Conversations" over the summer.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

End of Year Traditions

One very unique part of my school's history is that up until 8 years ago it was 3 separate small/rural schools. At that point the district consolidated its separate, old/run-down buildings and built one large new building for all of K-12. While there were many benefits to this, it was a lot of animosity between the communities and it also made for interesting staff climate. My first year in the building at some point, I realized there still seemed to be 3 separate groups of staff in the elementary and different grade levels (of staff that previously worked together) carried on their own traditions from their previous schools. I realized how important it is for us to start our own traditions as a whole staff to improve our climate/culture. This is along with trying to make our school welcoming and "family friendly" to our parents/guests.

This year, one tradition that we hoped to begin was an all school picnic on the last day of school (although by "all school" I just mean the elementary...the Middle and High Schools are kept separate from us, despite being under one roof). It took a LOT of planning and hard work from the teachers (I was only involved in a couple of the planning meetings due to my maternity leave...they did ALL the work!) Just one example of the hard work they put into this is that several of them came early on the last day of school to cut up 40 watermelons!! (Not to mention the staff member that filled her van with them and brought them to school) That is TEAMWORK!!

I went in to work for the last day of school events to see them all play out. We had staff members directing traffic. Since we do not have a large parking lot, our teachers parked as far away as possible (on the high school side of the bulding, in the grass). We filled up the parking lot with our guests' cars, plus filled our entire grass field!

Then we had 3 tables lined up with food and staff serving the students/families. We served around 700 people within 30 minutes--I could NOT believe it!! We were almost faster than our lunch program (shhh...don't tell them I said that!) Then we had a full hour for families to visit, play together on the playground and enjoy the beautiful weather.

It was a great new tradition to begin together to enjoy our last day of school before we all say good-bye to each other for the summer.

What end of year traditions do you have at your school?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My Summer Reading List

Blog 8 of Spilling Ink Challenge

Summer is a time to rejuvenate...this usually means that I finally catch up on professional reading that I've wanted to do all year long, but didn't find the time for.

Here's my summer reading list:
Difficult Conversations : How to Discuss What Matters Most No matter how many difficult conversations I've had, I always feel like I need more learning in this area.

Implementing Response to Intervention: A Principal's Guide We are just in the beginning stages of RTI at my school and I need to be a leader for RTI.

Classroom Walkthroughs to Improve Teaching and Learning My Professional Development Plan (for licensure renewal) is on using walkthroughs to improve classroom instruction/learning, so this looks like a great book for my own personal professional development.

What's on your summer professional reading list?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I'm leading the school, but I cannot delegate!

Day 7 of blogging 30 days in June (that's my new way to still meet the challenge...not necessarily every day, but 30 blog posts!)

Later on I'll be posting about my reflection on this past school year...what went well, what didn't and my goals for next year. But, I'm not ready to get that deep in thought yet (I'm sleep deprived).

I will touch on an area of weakness that I believe is common among many administrators...the ability to delegate. I will admit, I am horrible at this. I am in charge of a school, but I am horrible at delegating. When I say that outloud, it almost sounds like the two are completely incompatible with each other, but I know I'm not the only one. I am afraid to delegate tasks to others, because I simply just feel bad. All of my staff (well, most of them) work so hard and I don't want to add to their pile of work. I don't want to give people things to complain about. I believe in "feeding the teachers so they don't eat the students." This means I end up doing a LOT of work. This means I spend way too much of my maternity leave at school. I actually went into school THREE different times today for various tasks...yup, pathetic, I know!! Well, I'm proud to say that after my third trip in, I delegated a task to my secretary, because I am refusing to go to work tomorrow!

If anyone reads this, can you please share some wisdom on improving in this area?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Allocating new technology and a lesson in communication

Well, I skipped blogging yesterday...can I say that I made my own rule to not blog on Sundays? So, today is actually day 6 for me to blog.

Compared to the rest of my peers on twitter, we are far behind on the use of technology in my school/district. In fact when I started in my position 2 years ago I thought the school librarian was joking with me when she had me write my name on a card to check out a book. Her face changed drastically after I laughed and then I realized she was serious...we must be the only school left in the country without an automated checkout system!

Last year I talked to my staff about the possibility of ordering SMARTBoards...a meeting that I thought would have been very positive and exciting; however, I was met with negative comments about adding on "something else." I had to bite my tongue , because I wanted to say "the overhead projectors came over 30 years ago, I think you've got that one down now." Instead I ordered 1 portable SMARTBoard, modeled some uses for it in a staff meeting and hoped someone would try it.

That SMARTBoard not only got used, it got fought over and led to staff begging for more! This year we got approval to order 5 SMARTBoards to be placed permanently into classrooms. The difficult decision was in where to put them. After meeting with the superintendent and technology director, we felt it would be the best decision to place 1 in each grade level and in the classroom of a teacher that has had training/used the portable in the classroom. After this was shared with staff, one staff member later came with the concern that having only one in each classroom could divide the grade level (jealousy that one teacher has one and the others don't and parents wanting their children in the classroom with the SMARTBoard). After thinking of this, I also realized how much more proficient teachers would be if an entire grade level of teachers all had SMARTBoards, because they could share lessons/ideas better than teachers of different grade levels.

Well, now how do we go back on this decision? Teachers have already been told they were getting SMARTBoards and I obviously can't go back in time and seek staff input on where the boards should go (which would have been the smartest thing to do). Tomorrow, we're having a "listening session" with staff to share the idea and provide the time to hear their ideas/concerns.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Keeping the theme alive all year

Day 5 of blogging each day in June for the "Spilling Ink" Challenge

Last year was the first year that my staff voted on a school-wide theme for this year. We started out the year with the theme and decorations around the building, but that's really as far as it went. This year I took the time to visit another school that has kept their theme alive all year to build unity and learning. From the ideas gathered there, our staff met to come up with ideas to keep our theme alive all year and build unity throughout the school.

Here's what we came up with for next school year:
2010-2011 School-Wide Theme
“Around the World in 180 Days”

•First week of school we will send information home with students about our theme and a contest for students/families to design the logo for our theme that will be on our school t-shirts. The logo must include a hot air balloon in the picture.

•Each grade level has a designated continent for the year. The classrooms/grade level hallways can be decorated for this theme from the start of the school year. Each grade level will research their continent and create a simple newsletter that will go home with all students to share what they’ve learned about their continent. We could also figure out a way to include facts about the continent on the morning announcements during that grade level’s month for sharing (maybe just for a week on the announcements).
4K Antarctica
5K Africa
1st South America
2nd North America
3rd Europe
4th Asia
5th Australia

•Once we have received student pictures, each student will be given a cut-out of a hot air balloon with their picture on it to send out to a relative/friend as their personal version of a “Flat Stanley” to receive information back about that place to post in the hallways of the school to learn about that location.

•Post Card project: At the beginning of the year we will include an article in the Dodgeland Connection asking parents/community members to help us with this project. We will be seeking post cards for locations outside of the United States…they can be sent to Dodgeland from themselves if on a vacation or ask family/friends that live out of the US to send them to us. We will have them on display with a world map on one of the main hallway bulletin boards.

•We will plan a Cultural Fair as our culminating end of school activity.

•Music concerts could incorporate songs within each grade level from the continents they are learning about.

•We will go back to having a Character Trait for each month and have students nominated by teachers each month for displaying this Character Trait instead of the generic Student of the Month.

I'd love to hear what other schools do to keep their school-wide theme alive all year.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Singing "Kumbaya" to build unity as a school?

Day 4 of blogging each day in June for the "Spilling Ink" Challenge

I remember working in a previous district where my principal joked about us all getting to gether to hold hands and sing "Kumbaya" to build unity. I thought he was nuts. Well, now I'm starting to reconsider...just not with singing "Kumbaya." Before you laugh at me and click the x to close this page, please hear me out. This past week we have had two staff parties. The first one was to celebrate with two of our retiring teachers. One of our very talented teachers had written a personalized song for both of them that we all sang together. They were both touched to tears by the song and us singing it together. Today we had a luncheon to say goodbye to one of our secretaries that is leaving us. Again, that talented teacher wrote a song for her that we all sang together. It was during today's song when I realized we were all singing together with smiles and tears in our eyes, how it really felt like we were one united team together celebrating the good times we've had together. I can't think of any other time in the past two years in this school that I've felt that.
So, would getting together to hold hands and sing "Kumbaya" build unity in our staff? I don't know, but I'm not going to suggest it because they will all think that I've lost my marbles!! But, I did ask that talented teacher to make a school song to go along with our school-wide theme for next year so we can sing it together as a school at each of our assemblies to build unity.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Maternity Leave for the Principal? Not Really

Day 3 of posting a blog a day for Spilling Ink Challenge

I had my baby on Friday, May 14th...a beautiful, perfect baby boy who looks identical to my first son. My maternity leave started that day...or did it? Well, let's see. I stayed home that day from work timing my contractions all day ( finally went to the hospital at 5pm), but I had checked my work email several times that day. I was in to work 4 days later with my newborn in tow (after kids were gone to avoid germs) to get everything set up for the scoring of our Spring 6 Traits Assessment for 3,5,7 and 9th grade students. Since that day I have now logged 16 hours of going in to complete various tasks: compiling 6 Traits Assessment data, printing spring reading reports, a few meetings, and dealing with some staff issues (some people seem to think they don't have to continue business as usual without me there!). This time does not include the numerous phone calls I've received from school to check with me on this or that or the time I've spent from home keeping up with emails and corresponding with staff about end of the year stuff.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Why am I blogging every day in June?

Day 2 of Spilling Ink Challenge...blogging every day in June. http://writenowtroup.blogspot.com/

I'm currently on maternity leave (well, kind of, but I'll blog about that tomorrow), so why did I get myself into this challenge to blog everyday when I barely have time to shower? I want to feel connected to other great educational leaders again and be motivated to plan for another great school year. During the times that I stayed active on twitter, I was constantly dialoging with other leaders...on twitter, through their blogs, chat rooms, emails, online book studies, etc. I feel like it kept me current, motivated me and saved me from the "island" that the daily life of a principal can feel like.

During the last few months of my pregnancy I was not the best principal...I had to follow doctor's orders to stay off my feet as much as possible or go on bed rest. So, I became a "paper pusher" sitting in my office the majority of the day. After putting my son to bed at night, I was so exhausted that I rarely checked twitter or other blogs for my online PLN (twitter is blocked at school).

So now, that is why I am joining this challenge to blog each day in June...even though it means I might not get the blog posted until just before midnight and it has taken me all day to try to type it during baby naps...and that I typed most of this with one hand while holding the baby. I'm taking the challenge with the hopes of getting feedback from others and following their blogs as well to stay current and motivated by other educational leaders.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Hiring procedures/tips

I used our week long spring break to catch up and plan ahead for my maternity leave. What I couldn’t plan for at that time was the amount of time I would have to spend on hiring new staff. With retirements, resignations, and staff moving into different positions in the district I had seven new staff to hire. In addition to this was keeping track of the movement of staff changing grade levels. Most school districts around us are on the opposite end of the spectrum; laying staff off. Because of this I have had to screen hundreds of applications for the hiring process. Something that you don’t learn in college is how to efficiently screen applications to narrow down the amount of candidates for interviews. Through this experience, I’ve come up with my own set of criteria: cover letter/resume must have appropriate format and be free of grammatical/spelling errors, must have three or more letters of recommendation (one must be from the current principal), the last important of each recommendation letter usually points out well whether it is an outstanding or just an average candidate, frequent movement between positions is a “red flag” to be concerned about, and it is worth looking at applicant transcripts.
Our school/district uses a committee process to hire additional staff, so I had to form 7 different committees and seek their input on interview questions that addressed what qualities we were seeking for each position. Again, this was time consuming, but I found it essential to have a variety of members on each committee to provide a variety of insight and to have enough variety of interview questions to really find out about each candidate. I found it very important to have dialogue amongst the committee after interviewing each applicant and by the time we completed interviews each day, we were able to come to consensus on our top choice for each position. I then had the additional time consuming task of calling all references (which usually turns into multiple games of “phone tag”) before offering the candidate the position. I’ve learned from a previous experience to always wait for the candidate to accept the position before calling the others to inform that they were not chosen for the position. In addition, I’ve found it very helpful for myself to have a “script” on an index card that I use to call each of those candidates, because otherwise I fumble with my words when giving them the bad news.
What have others found to be helpful in the hiring process to ensure that you hire the best candidate and ways to save time when flooded with hundreds to choose from?