Sunday, June 28, 2015

12 Things to Remember As An Administrator- Teacher's Point of View

Unless We Remember, We Cannot Understand. 
E.M. Forster

I'm still struggling with the idea of moving into administration. I LOVE learning and being with kids every day! I'm not sure that I want to leave the classroom environment. But, my heartstrings are also being tugged in a new direction. Could I make more of an impact by being an administrator? I can barely visualize myself taking on the role of a lead learner. But, if I decide to take that journey there are some things that I must remember. I'm writing them down now so that I can. I don't want to be known as an administrator "who doesn't get it". Here are my thoughts but obviously from the point of view of a teacher. It's not a "How to be a Good Principal" list; there are dozens of books about being a good principal/leader. No, this list (in no particular order) is some of the things that I think administrators seem to forget.

1.  Value A Teacher's Time: 
  • Meetings, Meetings, Meetings- If there's a need for a meeting, then schedule a meeting. But don't just have a meeting because it's on the calendar, a committee needs to meet every week, or it's what an administrator is supposed to do.  Can information be communicated through an email, screencast, LMS, or digital newsletter? If it can, do it! Flip the learning of the staff. Let teachers learn and respond in their own time. As an avid user of Edmodo, I know that I can link or embed information, polls, quizzes, or facilitate discussions online. Using Edmodo will save time. I also think it's important for administrators to start and end meetings on time. Starting and ending on time along with following an agenda is a respectful norm for all meetings in the school. 
  • Avoid Assigning Busy Work- Enough said.
  • Protect Planning Time- It's easy for teacher planning time to be filled with interruptions like another "short" meeting, phone calls, paperwork, etc. But, teacher's need time for planning and preparing instruction.
  • Find Time for Personal/Professional Development- This is not an option. Find a way! Be creative and think out of the box. Give credit to teachers using social media (Twitter) to enrich and enhance their practice.
  • Give Time to Teachers to have Authentic PLCs- Don't make them jump through hoops to appear to be having the conversations that make a difference.   
 2.   Be a Teacher's Advocate:  Trust your teachers! I realize that there's a fine balancing act between listening to the complaints of an upset parent and supporting teachers. My best administrators have listened and asked the parents to discuss the issue with the teacher first. Most issues arise because of a misunderstanding or lack of communication and are resolved when a parent and teacher have a discussion. Sometimes it's necessary to have a principal involved in a conversation. What is always the worst is when a parent complains, and the principal takes action without giving the teacher a voice. Even worse is when a principal couldn't possibly be a teacher advocate because they've NEVER been in the classroom other than for a formal observation.  

 3.  Help A Teacher To Be Successful/Think About the Little Things: It's hard to teach with technology if the projector doesn't work, the Wi-Fi is weak, or a cord needs to be replaced. Make sure teachers have the supplies that they need. Notice the workflow of teachers. Is their workflow being hampered by something that can easily be fixed? It's also hard to implement a new district initiative if there's no training and more importantly ongoing support. Too many times "things" get dumped without much thought for how the teacher can implement the "whatever" into the curriculum. This constant dumping is what causes the feeling of being overwhelmed. More and more is being put onto a full plate, and nothing is ever taken off. Can you take something off of the plate? Think out of the box!

 4.  Interact: Interact with students. Know their names or at least how to pronounce their name correctly and know something personal about them. Come into the classroom! Don't come in only for a formal observation. Interact! Jump in! Teach or co-teach a lesson! Read to the kids! As you interact with students, you'll also be interacting with the teacher. A classroom visit is a perfect chance to be an instructional leader. Model what you want to see in the classrooms. Enjoy the class and the interactions. Don't go in with an "I gotcha" mentality. Give immediate positive feedback to the teacher via email, Voxer, or other. Show understanding. Students are not the same as they were even five years ago. Model how to engage kids in their learning. Celebrate growth with the kids and teachers.

 5.  Value and Appreciate the Extra Effort:  Teachers by their very nature go above and beyond without seeking recognition. Many volunteer for extra duties and add assignments to their already busy schedules without complaint. Their positive attitudes and volunteer spirit help the principal and add to the culture of the school. There are also other staff members that perhaps get even less recognition and appreciation. Make sure to include everyone (teachers and staff) to school activities. Little notes of sincere appreciation go a long way in building relationships. Make it a priority. 

 6.  Establish a Clear Vision and Expectations-Communicate Effectively:  The best principals communicate their vision and expectations upfront. They don't leave it to chance. They make sure that everyone has the same playbook and are on the same page if possible. Great principals have high expectations for their teachers, students, staff and for themselves. They are transparent and demonstrate their learning via a blog or other means. They communicate their expectations clearly and then follow through throughout the year with fairness. 

 7.  Be Aware of Any Undercurrent in the School Culture: Every principal wants to think and believe that the school culture is positive. However, there are sometimes school "bullies" that a principal might never detect.  These types of people cause a toxic undercurrent in the school. To an outsider or principal, they might seem positive and great PR masters. This is an act. A principal will not be able to identify this problem unless they build positive relationships with all of their staff and teachers. If it goes undetected, some of the best teachers in the school will suffer in silence from the bullying. 

 8.  Protect Instructional Time- This is a big pet peeve of mine! There is nothing more frustrating than constant messages over the intercom, fire drills, and "waste of time" assemblies.  I understand that schools need drills. But what I fail to understand is why there must be constant announcements and interruptions. Is it difficult to have announcements once a day at a scheduled time? For some schools, this is a non-issue because the principal values instructional time.

 9.  Be Accessible- I've been in schools where the principal was never there and was always at "a meeting". I've had principals that were always at the school but were glued to their seat in their office with the door closed. Both situations were terrible. The best principals are out and about the school. Their door is open, but many conversations happen informally in the hallways. My best principals were often the first one in the building and the last to leave. I think it's important for administrators to balance their personal and professional lives, but it's nice when a principal is accessible.

 10.  Teachers Are Doing Their Best- I think it's important for administrators to remember that, for the most part, teachers are doing their best. There may be a need to learn some skills, but teachers genuinely want to provide the best learning experiences for their kids. There's no need to micromanage and babysit. Teachers are PROFESSIONALS! Great administrators treat teachers as professionals, give them autonomy for their growth and inspire them to be better. There will be good days and bad days. Get to know every person on a personal level, build a trusting relationship, and be there to support every individual's growth.

11.  Make Teaching and Working With Kids Easier- One of the nicest acts of kindness was from our new superintendent that had administrators not in an elementary school take outside duty on the first day of school. This gave teachers time to prepare those last minute items to welcome the kids to a new year instead of worrying about buses, cars, and crosswalks. It was no easy feat to coordinate this because our district is one of the largest in the state. But, it was accomplished and appreciated. The administrators enjoyed the time out of the office to meet and greet kids too. It was a win-win. What else could an administrator do? 

12.  Inspire- Be a connected educator and leader! Show your passion for education! Share your learning- your mistakes- your growth! Read and keep up-to-date with the most current practices. Show and demonstrate. Listen. Serve. Set goals. Be the leader you were meant to be! 

It may not be possible for administrators to go back into a classroom as a full-time teacher. What is possible is to be in the classrooms often to keep a fresh perspective. There are other things that I could add to this list, and there's an equally long list of what I think teachers need to do to support their administrators. What would be on your list? I'd love to know your thoughts.  

PS Respect PE teachers in your school if you're lucky enough to have one! @schleiderjustin :) 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Benchmarks and Broccoli

I recently received an email telling me that our school was going to be a pilot school for new ELA benchmarks from the school district.


I'm not the enemy of assessments. In fact, I give multiple formative assessments every day. They help me to know who understands the concept, and who is still struggling. Formative assessments guide my instruction. Those quick assessments plus my relationships with my kids fine tune my "teacher intuition". I know my kids! I know their strengths, and I know their weaknesses!

To hear about having to take more tests, frustrates me!  More mandated assessments take away precious time for authentic learning experiences.

There is a place for assessment. Technology makes it possible to get lots of data in fancy, colorful charts and graphs in real time. I admit to sometimes being mesmerized by the beautiful graphics. But can too much of a good thing be harmful?

More benchmark testing squeezed into our already overloaded schedule of tests is like broccoli. Broccoli is one of the most nutritious foods a person can eat. Are there any harmful effects? Google it. Turns out that there


 If your family history includes thyroid problems, you'll want to limit your intake of broccoli and avoid eating it raw. A class of compounds found in broccoli (thiocyanates) can contribute to goiter in at-risk individuals. Broccoli can also interfere with blood-thinning medicines that increase the risk of stroke. Too much broccoli can cause hyperoxaluria- an increase of urinary excretion of oxalate resulting in kidney stones. The most common side effect from eating too much broccoli is gas or bowel irritation. Gas caused by the high fiber content found in broccoli may cause people who eat too much to experience an increase of "tooting".

My point is that Moderation in All Things is Best!

Both assessment and broccoli are not bad. But the overeating, and the overuse of testing is a


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Dear Future 5th Graders

Advice from a former student to a future 5th grader: "You Can Make Mistakes"

Dear Future Fifth Graders,

Welcome to our class! Welcome to a year of possibilities! Welcome to a year of wonder, adventure, innovation and learning! We are about to embark on a journey together that is nothing like you've ever experienced before!

My name is Ms. King, and although I am your official teacher, I will learn more from you this year than you can even imagine. You see, I have a confession. I don't know everything! I don't know how to do a lot of the things that I'll ask you to do. Let me explain.

Last year, I worked hard to write some grants to provide you with more access to technology. A grant is when money is given to you for a specific reason. Guess what? I was awarded over $7,000 at the end of the year! I'm so excited! It means that you'll have a Chromebook on your desk all day long. It means that you'll have access and use a computer as often as you use a pencil! Wow! That's a change! Can you imagine what it'll be like to have your own computer all day long instead of 40 minutes a week in the lab? As Dr. Seuss would say, "Oh, the places you'll go!"

Here's another confession. I don't know how to use Chromebooks! In fact, I just saw a real one just a few weeks ago when I went to Best Buy to see what they were. Isn't that funny? I'm sure that I'll be able to find the power button, but beyond that, I'm not sure. I'm going to learn from YOU! I'll have to learn quickly because we have a project to complete, and I'm not sure how to do it. Yikes!

I want you to know that I'm a little nervous about starting school. There are more than a few butterflies in my stomach. I'm bound to make mistakes and most likely a lot of epic fails. But, I'm counting on the fact that we can build a community of trust, risk-taking, learning, and sharing. We'll need to! The world will be watching us. Our school district is huge, and we're the ONLY class of 5th graders 1:1 with Chromebooks. Many people will want to know about our class, and we may even have a lot of visitors.

Our classroom will be different in a few other ways as well.
  • We'll focus on our learning; not on grades.
  • You'll have the opportunity to pursue your passion! What do you want to learn?
  • The classroom space is yours. How will you design it?
  • Our classroom will be flipped. (More explanations to come.)
  • You'll take the lead in our class. I will be a co-learner/teacher.
  • Do you know how to code? We'll learn!
This year is sure to be a memorable one! I have high expectations. I hope that this year will be challenging but FUN! You'll have many opportunities to choose how and what you learn. You'll have opportunities to use your imagination, get messy, create, and share with a global audience. The world is our classroom, and you'll be able to Skype/Hangout with authors and experts in the fields of study that are the most interesting to you. You'll be connected to peers around the world, and you'll have a voice through your personal blog.

Unfortunately, we'll need to take the tests mandated by our politicians and school leaders. In fact, our school is going to be a pilot school for even more tests. BUT, we'll work around this total interruption of learning and immerse ourselves in authentic learning that can't be measured by the tests. We'll do our best but won't be defined by a score.

By the end of the year, I hope that you'll consider pursuing a career in a STEM field-especially you girls. I hope that you develop a love for the Arts. I hope that you'll develop a real love for reading and writing. I hope that this year you'll discover the joy and love for learning!

I can't wait to meet you in just a few short weeks!

Ms. King

*NOTE (Obviously this is a little long for a real letter to 5th graders, and contains a little soapbox of mine, but it is a way to process my thinking.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Trust of the Tribe

The amygdala is the part of our brain responsible for processing emotions such as fear, anger, and pleasure. It determines which memories are saved and where. The amygdala protects you from potential threats. It's your safety net. For example if you burn your finger, the amygdala will try to make sure that it doesn't happen again. When the amygdala senses a threat to safety, fear networks are activated, and a series of stress hormones prepare the body for the "fight, flight, freeze" response.
The amygdala doesn't differentiate between physical threats and perceived threats. Social threats trigger the response in exactly the same way.

Humans have a need to be social, to belong, and to be a part of a group. When we feel like we are rejected, don't belong, and are not valued, we see reality through a fearful state. This state affects our interactions with others. It affects how much we are willing to engage, innovate, share our feelings, reveal our true selves, and trust.

We need trust. We need to surround ourselves with people that believe what we believe and value what we value. As we trust others, and they trust us, a community and culture develops. Being a contributing member of the tribe increases our sense of self-worth and belonging. We are more willing to take risks and fail.  We know that if we fall, that others in the community will be there to protect us. The tribe makes us feel safe. We know that we don't have to survive on our own. Together the tribe can combat any "saber tooth tiger" and survive.

Trust is the glue that holds a classroom, a faculty, or a PLN together. It requires listening, caring, compassion, and understanding. Trust is an appreciation, respect and love for others. It is the willingness to reach out, open your heart, and to be vulnerable. Trust allows us to break down walls, to be present for each other, and to delight in each other’s successes. In a tribe, people have a voice, decisions are made together, and there is fairness and justice. Tribal members have confidence in one another. They are tied together in shared beliefs, values, and respect the contributions of each member.

A tribe also shares traditions, stories, music, symbols, and rituals. These draw people even closer together as a community. Tribal leaders capture the spirit of the tribe through questions such as: Who are we as a people? What are our core values? What will be our legacy? And they instill confidence in every tribal member.

As I reflect on the idea of a tribe, I can't help but reflect on the comments made by former students and their memories of our time together. It's never about the "great lesson". What they remember are the feelings and the experiences that they had in class. Strong emotions and sensory stimuli anchored the learning in their long-term memory. The greatest compliment to me is that they knew I loved them. I always called them "my kiddos" and they believed it. It's always heartwarming this time of year to have students that are graduating come back and visit. It validates the importance of building relationships and creating a safe community of learners. Their reflections also motivate me to build the feeling of belonging to a tribe even more this next school year.

As I think about becoming a possible future school leader, I think about what great leaders do to build a positive culture in their school or district. Although I have no personal experience, I'm led to believe that it's much like my classroom. All of the dynamics of building trust in the tribe still apply. I'm grateful that I've found my tribe with my PLN. They inspire me, challenge me, and accept me for who I am. I trust them and because of that trust, I'm growing. I'm gaining confidence as a leader. I'm starting to feel that I can make a contribution. The layers around me built over time to protect me are wearing down. I feel vulnerable. But I'm encouraged by the fact that my PLN is my safety net. My tribe is my protection. I trust them and that is making all the difference in the world.

Have you found your tribe?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Some of Our Story for 2014-15

I didn't manage to get pictures and videos of everything, but I did capture a lot.