Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Keeping in touch with teaching and learning

One of the reasons that I did NOT want to pursue administration was that I LOVED teaching so much. I'll skip the whole story of how I became a principal to how I now LOVE my job as a principal and still keep active in teaching.

When I did become a principal, I told myself that I would never become a "paper pusher" or just sit in the "ivory tower." How can I have discussions with teachers about teaching and learning if I become out of touch with teaching?

Here are some of the things that I do to keep myself in touch with teaching and learning:
1. Read professional journals, books, blogs and keep active with my PLN on twitter. (Finding time for all of that is a problem...I have a little secret place to read each day, but that's another story!)

2. Get in classrooms as much as possible. Not only do I have a pulse on the school, but I learn from my best teachers to share strategies with other teachers and know which classrooms I can send teachers to observe great strategies.

3. 3 days a week I teach a 3rd grade intervention group as part of our school-wide WIN ("What I Need") time.

4. 2 days a week I work 1:1 with a struggling student in math. (I've done this with a few other students in math and reading).

5. I keep a simple spreadsheet on my clipboard (yes-still on a clipboard, because I haven't figured out how to transfer this to my IPad) that lists my "frequent flyer" children. These are my children that will end up if my office if I don't make a point to talk to them during the day. I just simply fill in the day's date on my spreadsheet for a student each time I have a positive interaction with them. This could be talking with them at breakfast about what they did last night or praising them for their hard work in class during a walk-through.

6. Last summer I ended up having to teach a summer school course when we had a teacher quit last minute. I loved it so much that this year I'm planning to teach my own class again, but teach using the Daily 5 structure so I can practice what all of my teachers will be implementing next year.

7. I assess some of the 4/5th grade students with our Fountas & Pinnell benchmark assessment at the beginning/middle/end of the year. I also use this time to praise students for the great reading strategies I see them using and talk with them about something I notice they need to work on.

8. I cover classes whenever I can--when we're short on a substitute, a teacher has to leave early, or for teachers to observe each other.

I'd love to hear what other principals do to keep their hands in teaching/learning. Please add in the comments!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A principal's 2 cents on collective bargaining rights

If you don't know what's going on in Wisconsin right now, then you should probably pay attention. Governor Walker is trying to pass a bill to address the state deficit that includes taking away collective bargaining rights from unions of state employees. How will that help the deficit? I have yet to learn how it will help the deficit. Teachers have already said they're willing to pay more into insurance and pensions (as called for in the bill), but it is the rights that we are fighting for in Wisconsin right now.

I have had a couple of friends (that happen to be teachers inother districts) ask me where I stand as an administrator on this issue and how much I can even speak about it. I'll start out by saying that this has been a draining week and I cannot publicly blog about the details of why. I will say that all administrative associations are against this bill, as am I. I know that teachers often feel it's "us against them" (which is sad to me), but believe it or not adminstrators are for collective bargaining.

First of all, unions protect good teachers from bad administrators. With the history of poor administration in my school district, I can understand why teachers would be fearful of the loss of collective bargaining rights. I think I can safely say (without just braggin) that we now have a good administrative team in my district that supports our teachers. Without collective barganing rights, it is possible that a school board looking to make budget cuts could direct to layoff the most expensive teachers. Some of my most expensive teachers are my best teachers. I do NOT want to have to do such a thing. Teachers negotiate many other issues in their collective bargaining agreements such as class sizes, prep time, start/end time, sick days, extra duty pay, etc. With that master contract to follow, many decisions I have to make as an administrator are easy. One prime example is teachers asking to leave early or miss some of school--I just follow what the master contract states. Leaving early for a medical appointment? Yes, just fill out an absence sheet for sick leave. Leaving early for a hair appointment? Sorry, but that will be unpaid leave. In those cases, I do not have to be the bad guy, because I am just following what their master contract states.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The decision to go school-wide with Daily 5

Last year I had a second grade teacher come to me at the start of the year to ask my permission to change her literacy block to implement The Daily Five that she had read about over the summer. I had never heard about The Daily Five, but asked her to tell me how it would be good for kids. She was so excited to explain to me about The Daily Five provides a structure for the literacy block in which students have choices in what they are doing each day: Read to Self, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Work on Writing, and Word Work. Of course she had a lot more to tell me, but the short end of the story is that I said "go for it." By the end of the year, the rest of the second grade teachers began to implement The Daily Five after seeing the results she was having with her students.

Fast forward to the start of this school year when I was blown away when I reviewed each grade level's reading scores at the beginning of the year. Our third graders started out the year with higher reading levels than previous groups had in third grade. I wondered if it had anything to do with The Daily Five. I began spending a great deal of time in classrooms during literacy blocks.

In classrooms that had whole class reading instruction (in upper grades) or reading centers/guided reading (in the lower grades) I found: teachers put a LOT of work/time into creating centers each week and explaining them to students, teachers spent a lot of time REexplaining centers, students were often off-task, and on average students were only reading for about 7 minutes during a 60 minute literacy block!

In classrooms that followed the Daily 5 structure (some using the Cafe Menu of literacy strategies) I saw kids reading, talking about reading and writing. When the class "checked in" students were activley engaged in a mini-lesson and then decided what their focus and goal was for the next session. I couldn't believe it the first time I heard 23 students individually state where they were going and why, all within 2 minutes. And then, they did it! The entire time I was in Daily 5 classrooms, students were engaged in literacy. Outside of the classrooms, I saw students choosing to read in the lunch room or in the bus line--inlcuding kids that have previously not enjoyed reading. I think the biggest shock for me was when I was reading through the gratitude slips that students submitted to the office and "Skip" wrote that he's grateful for his teacher because they get to read all the time. I knew we only had one "Skip" in our school, but I still stopped and asked my secretary if we had another one, because surely the "Skip" I knew from previous years wouldn't enjoy reading!

So, what do I do with this information that I've gained? I started a voluntary Daily 5 book study in the fall. We had a combination of teachers that already read and had implemented Daily 5 and teachers that knew nothing about it and wanted to learn more. Many of us also attended our local reading council's evening meeting that had a nearby district presenting how they implemented Daily 5. After I decided that we are going to implement this in every classroom next year, I registered 10 teachers to attend the Wisconsin State Reading Association Convention to see The Sisters (although that one got canceled due to the blizzard--boo!). We have purchased DVDs and books for the rest of the teachers that weren't in the book study. We are planning to have a summer training for teachers. I have been encouraging teachers to observe other classrooms that are using Daily 5 and I've been getting substitute coverage for teachers currently using Daily 5/Cafe to check it out in other districts.

Revised on 7/25/12 to add: If you're curious in finding out how our progress has gone since this was originally posted, you can read more about Daily 5 School-Wide and Daily 5 School-Wide Part 2.  Cybraryman also has a page full of resources HERE.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Blog #3 of 14inFebruary Challenge

Today I attended a convention that I had been looking forward to for months. Our district paid for 10 of us to attend it to see "The Sisters" because we are going to be implementing the Daily 5 reading structure in all grade levels next year (we already have 9 awesome teachers that have learned about it and implemented on their own).

Thanks to the blizzard, not only were The Sisters unable to attend, but so were about 10 other speakers that could have been our 2nd, 3rd, 4th....choices for sessions to attend. It was very disappointing and we unfortunately did not get much of anything out of the sessiosn we did attend, other than a few connections we made with other teachers that teach with the Daily 5 structure (hooray for building our PLN!)

After getting home and thinking I'm even more frustrated that in this day and age with all of the great technology, why weren't any of these speakers put through on a skype call? Just last weekend I attended EduCon sessions from my own couch, thanks to their amazing use of technology. I heard of numerous districts that were in the same boat as us, coming with the sole purpose of seeing The Sisters.

This is probably my worst blog post ever, because I like to be positive, but right now I'm just bummed and frustrated.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Why Not Blog?

*blog #2 of the February 14 Challenge

Blogging is not on the top of my priority list. In fact if you look through my previous blog posts, I'm not even sure if I can call myself a blogger, because it's certainly not a part of my regular practice (but it should be....see my prevues post for why).

So what are reasons that I don't make the time to blog?
1. I don't feel like others will be interested in what I have to say.
2. When i read the blogs of others in my PLN (aka my twitter colleagues) I feel like they are miles ahead of me in the topics they are blogging about.
3. Often the issues I'm reflecting on as an administrator could not be posted in a blog due to their confidential nature.
4. I have two children-one that's just 8 months old and leaves me sleep deprived and if I have to choose between the two, I will chose sleep over blogging!
5. I could easy come up with 10 things on my to-do list that I should do first.
6. What if one of my teachers, parents, or school board members reads this? What will they think?
7. I don't think I'm a great writer.

Despite all of these reasons that I don't make blogging a part of my practice, I want to make it a priority. As I said in my previous post, blogging gives me a tool to reflect on my practice and open myself up for input from others. Yes, it is putting myself "out there" but then I am also modeling learning and reflection for anyone who reads it, be it one of my teachers, a parent or a school board member.