My Moment – Day 45 – “Swing By”

If you have not gotten a chance to read my blog about my #oneword for 2016, check out Enjoy the Moment.

As I mentioned in my blog, my #oneword is a call to action for me to be mindful of the moments that make up my day. The moments at home, the moments at work and the moments that happen in between.

I am excited to resume my #moment reflections following what was a restful spring break. 

As I return from spring break, testing season rears its ugly head and the number of brief meetings I am scheduled to be in seems to partner with it. Those brief meetings started promptly at 8AM this morning, my first day back from spring break. As the meetings continued throughout the day and take up space on my calendar for the days and weeks ahead, my time in classrooms seems to be harder to come by. 

(Typing that previous line, reading it and allowing the readers of this blog to see it, serves as a reminder to me that the time I do have, needs to be spent wisely. It needs to be spent in the classrooms. It needs to be spent connecting, learning and sharing with our students and teachers.)

As today was coming to a close, I received a text message from a teacher. 

“Cool budget activity, swing by if free…” 

I typically see text messages, tweets and other notifications on my phone instantly as my phone seems to embed itself into my hand throughout the day, but today I had sat my phone down to make some phone calls at my desk and at the conclusion of my calls, I saw the text. I made my way down to the classroom, but had missed the activity. Upon walking into the room, students were putting the finishing touches on their budget, determining how much money they had left after paying their bills. It was an awesome real-life application of income and spending. The students were excited to experience what it was like to be an adult, make money, pay bills and have to pay for “nice” things. 

The point of me sharing this was that even with the best of intentions, I get busy, I get distracted and I need these reminders or open invitations from my teachers to “swing by”. The teachers appreciate seeing me in their rooms and the students do too. The text I received at the end of the day from the same teacher is an awesome reminder of why I need to “swing by” when I can. 

“Thanks for stopping by, students like when you come to class.” 

While that instantly made me feel like I am not in classrooms enough, it reminded me how powerful it is when I am. 

If you are an administrator reading this, do not forget to “swing by” and connect with the students and teachers who are working their hearts out in your classrooms and hallways…daily! 

If you are a teacher reading this, do not forget to invite your administrator to “swing by”. I want to. I get distracted, pulled in different directions and sometimes get bogged down on items that keep me away from the classrooms I want to be in. 

No excuses. 

To the teacher who sent the text…

“Thanks for inviting me to “swing by” and reminding me about the importance of surrounding myself with our students and teachers each day.”

What was your moment today? 

My Moment – Day 40 – Surprisingly Awesome

If you have not gotten a chance to read my blog about my #oneword for 2016, check out Enjoy the Moment.

As I mentioned in my blog, my #oneword is a call to action for me to be mindful of the moments that make up my day. The moments at home, the moments at work and the moments that happen in between.

While listening to Google Play Music over the weekend, I stumbled across an advertisement for a podcast, titled, “Surprisingly Awesome”. OK, stumbled across is a stretch…fact is I am cheap and haven’t purchased the add free version of Google Play Music, so I stumble across ads regularly. 

“Surprisingly Awesome”, which you can read more about here, takes everyday or otherwise “boring” topics and turns them into something…you got it, “surprisingly awesome”. I just started listening, but the first podcast was about mold and the second is about free throws. Other topics include concrete, Tubthumping, interest rates, broccoli and adhesives. I think we would all agree, these topics do not scream “listen to this podcast now” but admittedly so, I listened and learned about mold for over thirty minutes today. In the intro, to the podcast Adams Davidson and McKay state the objective is “trying to convince each other that something that seems like it might be really boring is actually really awesome.

Now, place yourself in a classroom…as a student. How many times do students enter classrooms and feel as if what they are about to learn is boring? If students feel it is boring at the beginning of the lesson and feel the same way at the end of the lesson, are they really going to be able to apply their learning? Nope. It’s boring! 

Whose responsibility is it to ensure the content students need to engage with is not…boring? Is it the students’ job? Sure, we hope they enter the classroom with a mindset to learn. We hope students enter with a mindset to explore, apply and create based upon what the learning target is for the day. We are kidding ourselves if we think that is just going to “happen” for all students. We as educators, must make the learning meaningful. We must make the learning “surprisingly awesome”. 

Fractions, history, writing and yes, even reading for some students may be defined as boring. I do not like hearing that as a principal, but the fact of the matter is, some students find certain content areas or areas they are not interested in…boring. 


It is our job as teachers to turn what starts out as boring into something “surprisingly awesome”. How can we engage students who must learn about fractions, history, writing and reading and make it awesome for them? It is not doing it the way we have always done and it is not about doing it in a way that works for us. We must demonstrate a growth mindset as educators and think outside of the box. We must find ways to make the learning experiences awesome for students so that at the end of our lessons, what started as boring for students is “surprisingly awesome”. 

I would love to hear how you turn boring into “surprisingly awesome” in your classroom?

What was your moment today? 


My Moment – Day 37 – Our Students are Worth It

If you have not gotten a chance to read my blog about my #oneword for 2016, check out Enjoy the Moment.

As I mentioned in my blog, my #oneword is a call to action for me to be mindful of the moments that make up my day. The moments at home, the moments at work and the moments that happen in between.

Today was #WRAD16. As I mentioned in yesterday’s moment, I do not do anything halfway so we went big today and it was amazing! 

The staff and students at Sigler Elementary participated in #SiglerRAD focusing our work on “The Most Magnificent Thing” by Ashley Spires. Our day started at 9AM as students at Sigler, joined by a number of other Plano ISD campuses participated in a live reading of “The Most Magnificent Thing” via this @Zaption: http://zapt.io/t8e26uh6 and participated in a live Q&A via Twitter using the questions embedded within the Zaption, including the hashtag #SiglerRAD. Thank you to the Plano ISD campuses that contributed to our chat and #SiglerRAD.

Check out the @Storify of all the students’ responses: https://storify.com/matthew_arend/siglerrad

What you may notice in the @Storify is that there were campuses participating outside of Plano ISD as well. As a connected educator, I had sent out many tweets over the last week or so, encouraging other educators to join and connect during our #SiglerRAD (Read Aloud Day) and they did not disappoint.

In fact, the connections did not stop there. Following our live 9AM reading of “The Most Magnificent Thing” classrooms across Sigler Elementary were able to connect via Google Hangouts with students in classrooms outside of Plano ISD who had read the same book and wanted to share their answers with us. We connected with other elementary schools in Texas, including OC Taylor Elementary in Grapvine-Colleyville ISD and Sheldon Elementary in Sheldon ISD. The connections did not stop there. Students were also able to connect with campuses outside of Texas, including Carlisle Elementary in Arkansas. On Friday, we will follow up with an elementary school in Florida!

We live in a digital world and we must leverage the opportunities to connect our students with others both near and far with the technology we have access to. I was able to witness the joy and how proud students felt when they were able to share their answers. The work had a purpose. They were not just writing down answers that were inevitably going to end up in a trash can. Students were generating answers to questions they were going to share with an authentic audience of their peers, both online and face to face, regardless of how far apart they lived. My hope is that this experience today, leads to more connections with campuses, allowing our students to share learning experiences with peers that move beyond who we are sitting in the same room with, our even the same school district or state.

Events such as this take a little bit of planning, patience and flexibility, because as you know, technology does not always cooperate. I have to share a heart-felt thank you to the staff at Sigler Elementary who put the “curriculum” on hold for a moment today, allowing students to connect with authentic audiences across the state and country via Twitter, Google Hangouts or both. Regardless of the comfort level teachers held in using these technologies, everybody took a step outside their “comfort zones” today to bring a unique experience and opportunity into their classrooms for the students. We all realize…”It is not about us, it is about our students.” Our students are worth taking the risks!

As for the members of my PLN that made this happen across multiple school districts and states…thank you! This is another glowing example of the power of a PLN.

What was your moment today? 

My Moment – Day 32 – Moonshot

If you have not gotten a chance to read my blog about my #oneword for 2016, check out Enjoy the Moment.

As I mentioned in my blog, my #oneword is a call to action for me to be mindful of the moments that make up my day. The moments at home, the moments at work and the moments that happen in between.

What is your “moonshot”? 

If you are a staff member at Sigler Elementary, you have heard me say “I am ready to do school differently.” I mean that. I have written about it before. (See My Moment Day 8) When I say, “I am ready to do school differently”, I am not talking about changing the master schedule or changing how we approach guided reading or math instruction. I am talking about organizational transformation. 

I have commented on more than one occasion, the work I have been involved in with the Texas Principals Visioning Institute (#TXPVI) which you could say is doing the work at a macro level, in comparison to the work I am involved in with Plano Leadership Visioning Institute (#PLVI) which instead of administrators from across the state of Texas is comprised of administrators from my own school district; a micro level. 

By definition, we define organizational transformation as not about changing one thing; it is about changing the culture or mind-set on the campus where what students and teachers are doing is different. 

That is a loaded statement…changing the culture or mind-set on the campus where what students and teachers are doing is different. 

Doing what is different is not always popular. Sometimes doing what is different is so far out there that leaders who desire to transform organizations can be viewed as…well…”a little crazy”. With no disrespect to those with the opinion that I am “a little crazy”, it is going to take a “little crazy” for us to do things differently. 

Today, as leaders from across my great district were sharing their vision for how they are going to do things differently, some shared with a reservation in their voice or a hesitation of “can we really do this”? Our facilitator picked up on the questioning of ourselves and asked if we had heard of the word, “moonshot”? To her surprise not a single one of us had, so we looked it up with the help of our friends at UrbanDictionary.com


I literally spent the rest of my day answering the question, “What is my moonshot?” Everyone in education should have a “moonshot”. We teach our students to dream big and set goals. This is our example to model having big dreams and setting goals with our students. Share your “moonshot”. 

I am not ready to post my “moonshot”. I am still working through how to capture it in words, but what I do know is that “my moonshot” will be epic and I know it will be something that changes the culture or mind-set on our campus where what students and teachers are doing will be different. 

Can you articulate your “moonshot”? Share your “moonshot” in the comments below. Be EPIC! 

What was your moment today? 

My Moment – Day 31 – Excited

If you have not gotten a chance to read my blog about my #oneword for 2016, check out Enjoy the Moment.

As I mentioned in my blog, my #oneword is a call to action for me to be mindful of the moments that make up my day. The moments at home, the moments at work and the moments that happen in between.

“The principal will actively participate with teachers in meaningful professional learning that results in increased language acquisition & development for all students.”

The statement you just read is one of two professional goals I have for the 2015-2016 school year. (It’s actually a two year goal.) Serving on a Title I, bilingual campus, you can imagine how important language acquisition and development is for all of our students. Yesterday was President’s Day; a student holiday & teacher professional learning day. I was able to spend the morning with teachers, attending sessions developed by our teachers, supporting our growth towards the goal highlighted above. Teachers developed two sessions which we rotated through, Moving Students Writing & Vocabulary/ESL Strategies & Whole Brain Teaching. The session were great. The teachers who facilitated the learning worked extremely hard preparing an interactive, participant guided session and did so based upon feedback provided by the very teachers who would be attending. Check out one of the sessions here: Fractions
The feedback received thus far has been positive and I am excited to continue to use the feedback we receive to further provide our teachers with the learning opportunities they articulate needing. 
As a leader, I want to provide learning opportunities that are worthwhile, meaningful and applicable for all of those in attendance. Much like teachers in the way they prepare learning opportunities within classrooms, for students. Teachers are asked to do so much, I should not be asking them to sit in sessions that are not applicable or necessary. (We should not be asking students to do that either.)
Imagine the joy I experienced today, as I walked into a 3rd grade classroom and witnessed the very strategies shared, not even 24 hours prior, being incorporated into today’s math lesson. I was so excited! I was excited the teacher found value in yesterday’s learning. I was excited the teacher was able to apply her learning so quickly and I was excited how well the students were able to demonstrate their understanding of fractions. Specifically, the difference between a numerator and a denominator. 
Check out my video tweet below: 

My Moment Day 30 – Are You Going to Be OK?

If you have not gotten a chance to read my blog about my #oneword for 2016, check out Enjoy the Moment.

As I mentioned in my blog, my #oneword is a call to action for me to be mindful of the moments that make up my day. The moments at home, the moments at work and the moments that happen in between.

I am the proud principal of a Title I campus that serves over 400 students who make up a diverse school community. Almost 80% of our student body qualifies for the free & reduced lunch program, which means the needs we meet on a daily basis go far beyond “just” the academics. 

Over the weekend, while surfing Twitter, I came across the following article written by Bruce Hansen at Education Week, “Teachers at Low-Income Schools Deserve Respect”.  

I remember my first experience working in a “low-income” school. I had previously taught at a school, well, let’s just call it the opposite of “low-income” and when a parent found out I was leaving he/she approached me asking “Are you going to be ok?” At the time I wasn’t sure what to do with that question. “Was I going to be ok?” Why wouldn’t I be ok? What did this parent know that I didn’t? 

Now, after nine years as an administrator in “low-income” schools, I know what they didn’t know. 

I know that “low-income” schools require the best teachers. OK teachers do not last very long on a “low-income” campus. As Hansen states in his article, “Working with children who live in poverty requires some special skills.” Teachers must balance the profession with their personal lives and let’s be honest, that’s tough. Our students need 100% of our 100% and if we are only able to give 100% of 75% the students are not getting what they need. Teachers in a “low-income” school must not only address the academic needs students face, but they must also address the social and emotional needs of students, which at times can limit the teachers ability to deliver the academics if not done with the “special skills” required. 

I know that “low-income” schools are anything but low performing. The term “low performing” in itself means we are comparing all students based on a single measure; an equivalent expectation. I will be the first to argue, we must have the highest of expectations for our students because in some cases, it’s these expectations that allow them to reach their full potential. But to label a campus as “low performing” does nothing but feed a public misconception, which is disheartening to the teachers  and community who pour their heart and soul into the children we serve. While our scores may not mirror the top scores in the state, the last thing we are is low performing. Come walk in our building. Come meet our students and listen to their stories. For each story you hear, I will share a story of perseverance and dedication that far exceeds what would happen on a low performing campus. (Really want to know how I feel about railings and rankings, click here.)

I know my teachers and all the other teachers who work in “low performing” schools deserve to be recognized for the work they do. They make a choice. They make a choice to work where they do. These teachers are phenomenal. They could go and work at the “high performing” campus tomorrow. They don’t! Each day, these teachers wake up and make the conscience decision to embrace how hard their job will be, rising above the challenges, knowing the students they serve are worth every obstacle they may encounter along the way. 

So, to the parent who asked me the question “Are you going to be OK?” nine years ago…I know what to do with that question now. I have my answer. 

Yes, I am going to be OK. In fact, I am better than OK. I have the honor of working with the best teachers in our profession and have the awesome responsibility of serving as a role model for students. In some cases, I’m the role model for the students who need it the most and have no where else to find one. In my line of work, my cup is filled daily and it’s emptied as well, but I know it will be full again the next day due to the passion and greatness that surrounds me.

Yes, I will be OK. 

What was your moment today? 



My Moment – Day 29 – Where Are Your Students Going?

If you have not gotten a chance to read my blog about my #oneword for 2016, check out Enjoy the Moment.

As I mentioned in my blog, my #oneword is a call to action for me to be mindful of the moments that make up my day. The moments at home, the moments at work and the moments that happen in between.

Do students in your school know where they are going? I am not talking about what they are doing this weekend or where they are going after school. I am talking about the big picture. Do students in your school know where they are going when they complete all the grade levels you have to offer?

I would like to think the students at Sigler Elementary are familiar with where they are going. Some are aware because they have big brothers or big sisters who have paved the way before them, while others are aware because they are familiar with the neighborhood. For the students who do not have big brothers or big sisters and for the students who are not as familiar with the neighborhood, it is important to me for them to know what campus they will be attending next. Thankfully, it is important to the administration and staff at Wilson Middle School as well. Over the last couple of years we have been working as a feeder system to increase our involvement with one another and exposing our students to what school is like after elementary. At Sigler, we invite students to come back and share experiences as a part of our Future’s Day Speaker Series, administrators are invited to come speak with students, counselors come visit with our 5th grade students and when schedules work, the jazz band and cheerleaders will join us for a spirit assembly or two. At Wilson, our 5th grade students spend a day on campus, as if they are already in 6th grade. They participate in a spirit assembly, eat lunch in the cafeteria and hear from current middle school students about what they can expect when they do become 6th graders. They do all of this in the coolest of tie-dyed t-shirts compliments of Wilson. Our growing partnership with one another is healthy! I want it to continue to grow. 

As a part of our partnership, today, students in the Theater 3 class at Wilson Middle School came to Sigler to perform their musical, Swamp Land. I love seeing middle school students come back to an elementary school and listen to the memories they share. I love seeing middle school students come back to their old elementary school as was the case today. We had one of our former Sigler students return as a member of the theater class. We had a few minutes to catch up and I had a few minutes to speak with his grandfather who accompanied the middle school students. It was great. I was proud of this young man’s accomplishments and enjoyed hearing his grandfather perspective on his grandson’s middle school experience. 

Throughout the last five years the relationship between Sigler Elementary and Wilson Middle School has blossomed. I am encouraged by the relationships and connections we have created with administrators, counselors and teachers and would like to think, in some small way, we are preparing our students to have a better understanding of where they are going. 

What types of things do you do to partner with your feeder campuses?

What was your moment today? 

My Moment – Day 26 – Leading Up

If you have not gotten a chance to read my blog about my #oneword for 2016, check out Enjoy the Moment. 

As I mentioned in my blog, my #oneword is a call to action for me to be mindful of the moments that make up my day. The moments at home, the moments at work and the moments that happen in between.

Leading Up. Have you heard of this term? As a building leader, growing the capacity of teachers and staff on my campus is a top priority. I grow capacity through asking questions, through listening, sharing experiences, sharing resources, such as books or articles I have read and by supporting our teachers unconditionally. That all sounds great, right? It’s not leading up. 
Leading up is the opposite. Leading up requires asking questions, listening, sharing experiences, sharing resources, such as books or articles with those in positions above you. (Yes, your boss or supervisor can learn from you…and they should.)

Leading up is powerful! I welcome it! I love learning from our teachers. I would be a fool to think I know more than them. I am just one person and we have a large staff.  Fact of the matter is, it is not about who knows more, it’s about how well we can learn together and from one another.  

As I walked into work this morning, I noticed an article that was shared with me by one of our teachers in the mailbox outside my door. It had the following note attached to it:

Matt

Thought of you when I saw this since you introduced me to Kid President. 

In the moment I thought, “that was nice of her to share that” as I placed it on my desk and carried on with my day. 

I didn’t pay much attention to it. I wonder, how many times do I share things that do not get paid attention to? My unsolicited two cents…if I share something and one person learns from it, it was worth it. I hope more check it out, but I realize some will set it aside. Some set it aside and never look at it again while others set it aside until the time is right. 

As I sat down at my desk, at the end of my day, I noticed the article I had haphazardly sat aside and was reminded of the term leading up. It was what this teacher was doing. She was sharing and being the lifelong learner I am, I chose to read it. 

If you are a fan of Kid President you will appreciate this article.

Here is the link to the article:


Morale of the story, lead up! Never be afraid to share your thoughts and ideas with those in positions above you. Leaders in the highest of positions can afford to be inspired and engage by those who work along side of them. 

Thank you teacher for sharing and thank you teacher for leading up! 

What was your moment today? 

Now Hiring

Our staff conducted a survey at the beginning of the school year that reviewed our professional practices. We covered it all. We surveyed culture and climate, instructional practices, professional learning, collaboration and yes…hiring practices. What we discovered was that our core interview questions “as written” were not the type of questions we wanted to be asking the next generation of teachers for the students and families at Sigler Elementary. I firmly believe we should be hiring teachers that will help us reach our full potential. This means hiring teachers that are unlike the teachers we currently have. Now, there is nothing wrong with the teachers we have…in fact they are amazing. But…if we continue to hire exactly what we already have, will we evolve? Will we change? Will we improve? I appreciate the perspective new teachers or veteran teachers, who are new to a building bring to the campus. New perspective can help challenge status quo.

I have had the opportunity to sit on hiring panels when interviewing potential assistant principals, and one of the questions we ask is, “What is the most important responsibility of being an administrator?”Answers range from student safety to developing relationships to being an instructional leader. All of those answers are great. You could make an argument for each. In my opinion, the most important responsibility I have as a building leader is recruiting, hiring and retaining the very best teachers.

In order to recruit and hire the best teachers, I need our interview questions to evolve so we are asking potential teachers questions that reflect the teachers we want working with and for our students, teachers and community. Once we have have hired them, the retention piece is up to us.

Here is where you come in! I wish this idea was my own, but with many ideas in education, one person has it and the rest of us steal it, so in the spirit of transparency, I am stealing this idea. Last week, George Couros led a session at TCEA (Google Tools for Admin.) and in the midst of this session, he shared a Google Doc with those in attendance, which of course was tweeted and retweeted enough times to travel around the world twice. At least! The purpose of this Google Doc was to “collect some inspirational videos on teaching and learning”. I am not sure about you, but I know I have searched You Tube an endless number of times, looking for just the right video, but come up short, more than once. I know where my search will begin now. Thanks to this Google Doc. Check it out!

Now, back to where you come in. I need your voice. I need your experience and I need my PLN. As we work to reinvent the interview questions we ask, knowing we are trying to recruit and hire the very best, what interview questions are you asking? What interview questions have you asked? Let me know! As we begin to refine our questions, we may just use yours!

Use the link below to submit interview questions you have asked or have been asked that you feel help recruit and hire the very best teachers.

Click Here to Contribute Your Interview Questions

My Moment – Day 24 – 3 Questions

If you have not gotten a chance to read my blog about my #oneword for 2016, check out Enjoy the Moment. 

As I mentioned in my blog, my #oneword is a call to action for me to be mindful of the moments that make up my day. The moments at home, the moments at work and the moments that happen in between.

I received a message via Twiter today from a teacher within my PLN who was pitching an idea she wanted my feedback on. After she shared her idea, she posed the following questions: 



“Wouldn’t that help build capacity in our teachers?” 
“Better together, right?”
“Would you be on board?”

Those three questions…I have been thinking about them since seeing them this afternoon. I completely respect this member of my PLN and am honored that she asked me for my input. I was inspired by her challenging the status quo. 
As I have had some additional time to reflect on her idea and even now as I am starring at the three questions she asked me, I am thinking, This teacher gets it! 
“Wouldn’t that help build capacity in our teachers?” 

This is the essence of leadership right? Building capacity within our teachers. Growing our people. It is a responsibility I fully embrace and recognize it cannot be done solely by the campus principal. Yes, I play a huge role in building capacity, but I appreciate this teachers stance. She recognizes the teachers as “our” teachers. Not mine and theirs, but ours. This question is one I need to ask myself daily. I would like my teacher leaders to ask this question daily. “Did I help build capacity in our teachers today?”
“Better together, right?”

You ever try to create a plan, articulate a vision and walk that vision out daily? On your own? How did that work out for you? I know it would not work out very well for me. This teacher is spot on. We are better together. This past week at #TCEA16, Steven Anderson shared, “You may be sitting next to the smartest person you don’t know.” We must do this work together. If we bring teachers together, knock down the barriers (aka…school walls) and allow teachers to collaborate with like minded individuals, we WILL be better together. No doubt about it. 

“Would you be on board?”

Absolutely! I would hope that would be the emphatic response from all school leaders. As a building leader, I feel a tremendous amount of pressure in trying to get people on board with ideas. Sometimes the ideas are mine, sometimes the ideas belong to someone else. At the end of the day, it is not about who had the idea, it is about who has the best idea. 

This teacher presented an idea that will without a doubt, be transformative, build capacity in our teachers and bring great teachers and great practices together, making us all better. You bet I am on board. 

Let’s do it! 

What was your moment today?