Putting a Price Tag on Fundraising

Imagine if you will, an elementary school engaging its families in an amazing fundraiser that brings families together, promotes health and wellness and as most fundraisers do…raises a ton of money to support initiatives, programs and brings unique experiences and opportunities to the students, teachers and families within the school. It sounds a lot like my campus, minus the “raises a ton of money” part.

The struggle is real. Fundraising at a Title I campus can be difficult. While we do our best to find ideas that will appeal to our community, at the end of the day, there are not a lot of extra dollars to be spent or donated to the school or PTA, because frankly, the money our families have is being spent on what it should be spent on. It is being spent on the necessities. Families are spending their money in an effort to provide for their families. Who am I to ask them to spend it differently?

Often, I gather with other principals from Title I schools in our district and we discuss innovative ways we are making things work within our building. A couple of weeks ago, the idea of fundraising came up and one particular campus shared the success they had been having with a fundraiser called “Penny Wars”. I was not familiar with this particular idea, but if it was working for them, I was all ears. Want to know how “Penny Wars” works? Click here for more information: “Penny Wars”

After listening to the format of “Penny Wars” I was sold. I immediately returned to campus and shared this idea with our PTA President and before the day was out, we had our next fundraiser.

Yesterday was our first day of “Penny Wars” at Sigler Elementary. I am not sure how you measure the success of a fundraiser, but for me, as the principal at Sigler Elementary, the following three points are important to me.

1. It’s a family affair – I want our fundraisers to be something the whole family can get in on. Now, I do not mean the whole family goes walking throughout the neighborhood, ringing door bells and selling items. I mean the fundraiser is something the whole family can participate in. “Penny Wars” checks that box. In just two days, I have seen moms, dads and siblings coming together to collect their pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters.

2. Student excitement – Each morning as students enter the school building, they flock to our “Penny Wars” table to see which grade level has made the biggest contribution or to make a contribution themselves. Students need to have school spirit and when they are in the building having to be reminded to go to class numerous times because they just cannot pull themselves away from “Penny Wars” I believe we have captured their excitement. (Imagine if schools could capture the same level of excitement for learning in the classrooms…another post perhaps.)

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Maybe their excitement is due to this amazing trophy that travels from grade level to grade level recognizing the “Penny Wars” champion of the day.

3. Purpose – Often times schools and PTAs host fundraisers because it is what they have always done and the money goes into the same “fund” it always has and no one really knows what the money will be spent on. While we say the money goes towards supporting the Sigler PTA and brings programs and opportunities to students and families…we are being truthful, but it is vague at best. This time around we have a goal. Our Sigler PTA and Sigler Elementary would love to have a digital marquee. While many schools have made the transition from the older marquees to digital marquees, the marquee at Sigler still requires an individual to manually update messages one letter tile at a time, limiting the message to English on one side and Spanish on the other. It is our hope that our clear vision will encourage families to participate not only in this fundraiser, but in future fundraisers as well.

You are probably wondering, he did not list “Raise Money” as one of his points. Well, you are right. Of course, I want our fundraisers to earn money. We are not going to raise $30,000 doing a fundraiser at Sigler Elementary. We just are not. While, I do want our fundraisers to earn money, I want the points listed above just as much.

Two days into “Penny Wars” I am pleasantly surprised by the family involvement and student excitement I am witnessing. Yes, I’m excited about the money raised thus far, but we are just getting started. Let’s see how “Penny Wars” progresses over the next several days. If the momentum continues, we will be that much closer to our goal, our purpose which is bring a new marquee to Sigler Elementary. Yes, we will purchase it with money, but it will have been earned through the involvement of our families and the excitement of our students…no way you can put a price tag on that!

What was your moment today?

Serious Thought and Consideration

I have spent the last seventy-five school days, being intentional about reflecting at the end of each day, highlighting a moment to share with you all. As today comes to a close, I find myself reflecting or replaying my day in my mind, searching for the one moment to share. Up to this point, I have been able to find a moment each day that I wanted to share. Tonight…not so much.

As the day replays over and over again, there were a lot of moments I enjoyed. Collaborating with teachers and staff in the building as we continue interviewing for the last of our vacant positions, meeting with my fellow bilingual principals for a working lunch and the time I spent after work with friends, just sharing what is happening in our lives. All great moments, but I am struggling to highlight just one.

As I was contemplating which moment to write about and really reflect on, I came to this understanding, “reflection is not an isolated event or a thing. it is a process. It would be easy to sit down and just share a moment that happened today so I can “check the box” and say I did it, but that would be wasting your time and mine. Rather, I stumbled upon the realization that some times the mere act of reflecting can be enough. It does not need to lead to a blog or actionable item. Reflection can be just what it is; serious thought and consideration.

As my day comes to an end, I want to be able to say I have given my day serious thought and consideration through the process of reflection. While I am not able to highlight a specific moment today, it was the moment I realized the reflective process I work through is more than just a thing, I want you to know more about.

While a moment may come tomorrow that I can share more about, my time tonight was spent engaged in serious thought and consideration, just as reflecting should be.

What was your moment today?

Smack Dab in the Middle of the School

I have often heard stories of a former principal at Sigler Elementary who moved her desk into the middle of the main hallway and sat up shop, smack dab in the middle of the school to better understand who was coming and going and why. Rumor has it the former principal ruled with an iron fist and if teachers passed her desk, set up in the middle of the hall, they were stopped and questioned as to why they were not working with students.

Today, principals can be seen working in classrooms on wireless devices, laptops and smart phones or seen in the halls using a mobile desk to increase visibility, connect with teachers and students or when needed, just get out of the office.

Tuesdays at Sigler Elementary, our school store is open. I love working the school store, but this year I have let my schedule dictate my availability to be present at the store. Realizing this, I have already vowed to make that change for next year. Being at the store is a guaranteed connection with students. Students line up and spend their “starbucks” allowing me to connect with them; asking how their day was, what was happening in their lives and just listening to the conversations they have with other students as they wait anxiously to make their purchase.

Students come to the store during their recess time, arriving around 10:45 and continuing to come off and on until 1:30 or so. This year I have been guilty of trying to do too much. I will be at the store when I need to be and then go back to the office or somewhere else in the building, during the few minutes that exist in between grade levels. I am trying to get it all done and in the meantime, I miss those encounters with students or other parents and teachers who are passing by.

While I did not move my desk into middle of the main hallway today, I did set up shop using my laptop computer and a chair as a make-shift office. It was great! I was able to connect with teachers who passed by, I was able to talk and greet parents who came in the building to eat lunch with their children and interact, joke and love on the students who passed by and who shopped at the store. I specifically recall a student who went out of this way to let me know tomorrow would be his last day as he was returning to New York to live with his grandma. While I breaks my heart to know he is leaving, I am reminded of the power of being present. Had I not been there, I may not have realized he was leaving until it was too late. These moments, even the sad ones, are what I love about bring a principal in an elementary school and I have not made myself as available as I need to be for them.

We are inching towards the last month of the school year and reflections such as this are necessary now more than ever. Find a few moments to take stock in what you value, remember your why and determine whether or not your actions are aligned with your values and why. If they are not…fix it.

Consider this fixed. I am looking forward to the remaining Tuesdays, the school store and setting up shop, smack dab in the middle of the school.

What was your moment today?

Periodic Table of Teaching – #TeachersMatter

This is going to be an awesome opportunity to harness the power of our professional learning networks to create something that (to the best of my knowledge) has never been created before. If it has, I cannot find it and that includes an hour or two of searching the mother ship of all things created for education….Pinterest.

The first full week of May is Teacher Appreciation Week, which means for the last month or so, our PTA and I have been collaborating on ideas and searching for suggestions. One idea we came up with was harnessing the power of social media and my PLN to create the Periodic Table of Teaching, because as you know #TeachersMatter. Get it…matter…science….periodic table?

We have started a list and have come up with an impressive list in my opinion, but we need your help. Can you help us develop a Periodic Table of Teaching?

Use the link below to add your thoughts and suggestions to what terms, character traits or words can be used to describe teachers that will reflect the periodic table, seen above. For example Sn may stand for sensitive. The goal would be to come up with a different term, trait or word for each element.

Periodic Table of Teaching 

I am excited to see us collectively harness the power of social media to create this powerful reminder that #TeachersMatter.

What was your moment today?

A Different Kind of Network

In the last several years, I have found social media to serve as a platform for my professional learning network or PLN to grow exponentially. Everyday, I am connecting or following folks that I did not know or follow the day before. When folks say it is the fastest way to connect with other professionals, I agree completely. Whether you are connecting on Facebook, Twitter, Voxer, LinkedIn or through a variety of other platforms, I am sure you have experienced how quickly your PLN can grow and the relationships that can be cultivated through just being present in a social media scene. 

My social media presence has led to multiple meaningful relationships with colleagues who I now call friends. It’s funny to think you can consider someone a friend without ever meeting them face to face, but when you are engaging in conversations about a shared passion, trust me. It happens. 
Today, I was reminded of another network I belong to. I didn’t meet them online and we rarely exchange tweets or voxes, but we are always there for one another. They are an email, text or phone call away and when needed a short drive across town.
As STAAR test results were released today across campuses in Texas, I was able to connect with my network of principals within my own school district. We exchanged emails and phone calls sharing the results, not to rank ourselves against each other, but to provide the collegial support principals need. We mutually care for one another. We congratulate one another. We pick one another up when we are down and we share what is working in the hopes it will work for the next person. Every now and then, you need to be able to pick up the phone and speak with someone who you know gets it. Someone you know who works in the same district, in the same type of building you do. No disrespect to my colleagues on Twitter and Voxer, because I have learned so much from our tweets, voxes and comments, but picking up the phone and having a conversation with someone who is in the exact position I am in, in my district is just different. 
As the world continues to flatten and social media platforms continue to expand and connect us globally, do not forget about the networks that exist and the company you are surrounded by, right where you are. 
What was your moment today? 

I Messed Up and a Student Saw It

It is day 65. The 65th day of reflection, looking for a moment to share. This evening, as I am replaying my day, I came to a simple moment that made me smile. It was as simple as tying a shoe. 

We all learn this simple task early on as a child, but like any task, it takes practice. As I was standing in the hallway today, I noticed a kindergarten student walking back to class who happened to have his shoes untied. Knowing there was a solid chance he would trip and fall, I stopped him and pointed out the untied laces on his shoes and let him know he needed to tie them. Without hesitation, this young man pointed out, he was not very successful at tying his shoes. He let me know he knew all of the steps, but just could not tie his shoes yet. 
As he put his shoe up on the bench in the hallway, he led me through each of the steps, telling me exactly what to do. He was right, he knew each of the steps and was able to tell me where he would get stuck. He got stuck just as you were pulling one bunny ear through the other. I appreciate he called them bunny ears, because that was the same terminology I used. (Great minds) Lending a hand and following each of his steps, I crossed the laces, made the bunny ears, and as I went to pull the bunny ear through to complete the process, I messed up. 
His reaction, “That is the same place I mess up.” 
Thankfully, I was able to try again and prove to this six year old that his principal does know how to tie shoes, but he left me thinking of two valuable lessons. 
First Lesson: Admit What You Cannot Do
At the age of six, this young man was quick to share what he had yet to figure out. He was transparent, open and honest about what he could not do. As adults, how often are we transparent, open and honest about what we cannot do or what we do not know? Is there something wrong with admitting you do not know how to do something? It may take a certain level of humility, but if you can admit you do not know everything, you allow yourself the opportunity to learn something new. Or in this case, you keep practicing what you cannot do yet, until you are able to do is successfully. 
Second Lesson: We All Mess Up
Even as something as simple as tying a shoe gets messed up from time to time. You should have seen the look on this students face when he realized I messed up tying his shoe. We all mess up. We mess up simple things and sometimes we mess up major things. Either way, messing up happens and sometimes our mess ups happen in front of others. Messing up in front of this student showed him that messing up is OK. It showed him that we all make mistakes, that no one is perfect, and with practice, partnered with a growth mindset, we can show improvement. 
As educators, we are faced with the challenge of preserving the innocence our kindergarten students possess. How do we let students know it is OK to let us know what they are not able to do and it is OK messing up trying to get better at it? 
Maybe we are guilty of doing what I did today? I did what he could not do for him. Yes, it was only tying a shoe, but let’s be mindful of giving students opportunities to express what they cannot do “YET” and making sure they know it is OK to mess up, while they try to improve. 
What was your moment today? 

Keep Learning or Shut it Down – 8 Weeks to Go

I am not one to look at the calendar and start counting down the weeks and days until summer break, but yesterday, as I was working on my weekly memo I send out to staff, I came to a cross roads and looked to see just how many week are left.

You see, I was recently introduced to a book titled, “7 Steps to a Language Rich Interactive Classroom”, by John Seidlitz. It is full of simple yet impactful strategies to increase language development in classrooms. As the principal of a bilingual, title I campus, you can imagine how important language development is for ALL of our students. In fact, language development has been the focus of our learning throughout the school year. A few of our teachers were able to attend a training earlier in the year and received this book, but it was a small number of teachers. I was ready for the majority of our teachers to see the strategies in this book. But…there are only eight weeks left.

Hence the crossroads…at what point in the school year do you “shut it down” or stop exposing teachers to ideas that will make them better? At what point in the school year, do you decide that it would be better to “wait until next year”? How do you discern between what be can and should be shared now versus what should wait?

As I mentioned, language has been our focus all year so I see this book and these 7 steps as a continuation of what we have been doing all year. In some cases, teachers really are, already doing this. With eight weeks to go, I believe we can introduce one step a week and gain exposure to what we will continue to focus on next year. I think that is the key…

If I was going to roll something out over the last eight weeks of school and never visit it again, then it really is one more thing. This book, these 7 steps and strategies have been our focus all year and will continue to be our focus next year.

As a principal, I do my best to be aware of what is on our teachers plates and thankfully, I have teachers who can openly remind me when the plate is too full and we need to tap the brakes. With best intentions, leaders can lose sight of just how full the plates are, so I appreciate the trust we have established. I appreciate when they can openly tell me how full the plate is.

I created a Smore Page to help highlight each of the 7 steps over the next eight weeks. Will each staff member take advantage of them? Maybe. Maybe not. I will focus on the staff members that do and will be able to use their efforts next fall, as we move forward, making these strategies a best practice.

Check out our Smore Page: 7 Steps to a Language Rich Interactive Classroom

Being the pleaser I am as a principal, consciously always wanting everyone to be happy about everything, I was nervous about the response to pushing out the first of these 7 steps. (I know…rough character trait to possess as a leader, because its nearly impossible to keep everyone happy) Then this happened! As I walked into a 2nd grade classroom at 9:15 AM, just hours after sending out the Smore highlighted above, I see the following, captured in the image you see.

I was so proud of this teacher. She printed the strategy, introduced it to her students and had this visual placed on each of the student groups’ desks.

The mindset this teacher possesses aligns with mine. We have eight weeks to go and we are going to finish the year stronger than we started. We are going to teach until the final bell, taking advantage of each day and model for our students that we must never stop learning.

Just one of the reasons I I love my school on #ILoveMySchoolDay.

What was your moment today?

Where I Need To Be

If you have been following along with “My Moments” you will begin to realize that I have been involved in a lot this year, taking me away from campus often. That’s the balance, right? Figuring out how to lead and learn. In order to learn, present and grow I am attending conferences and participating in institutes at both the district and state level. In addition to those amazing opportunities, the regular off campus meetings as a district administrator still exist. I do all of this to lead and learn, but if I am always learning (away from campus) how can I lead?

What does it all mean?

I have learned from some of the best minds in education.

I have connected with educators around the state and nation who challenge my thinking daily.

I have made lasting friendships with people whom I would have otherwise never met.

I have been away from campus WAY TOO MUCH!

I have heard and even used the old saying, “If leaders cannot be off campus, they have a leadership problem.” A leadership problem is hardly the case. In fact, it is the leaders and teachers on campus that allow me to be gone as much as I have this year.

Let’s be honest. Research reminds us that the principal is the second most influential factor in student achievement, behind the teacher which is first. If the principal is not on campus, how can you influence student success? It does not “just happen”.

As “What Great Educators Do Differently” or #WGEDD is taking place in Texas, where I live, I find myself peeking at the Twitter Feed thinking how great it would be to be there. How great it would be to be connecting with members of my PLN and learning from the great minds in attendance. Then, at the end of today, after I was able to sit down and talk with each one of our grade level teams, I was reminded, I am “where I need to be”.

All of the conferences, all of the learning and connections will be there. Those opportunities are plentiful and will be there when I am ready to return. For the time being, spending time on campus, surrounding myself with our students, parents and teachers making the final push over the last several weeks of the 15-16 school year I am “where I need to be”. More importantly, it is where I want to be.

What was your moment today?

Seeking Input…Ask Your Customers

This week I posted the the following tweets:

These 2nd and 3rd grade students used some of their in-house currency or what we call “starbucks” to purchase “lunch with the principal” from our school store. While scheduling these lunch dates, is often a challenge, it is a challenge I am willing to overcome, every single time. It is so insightful, spending an uninterrupted thirty minutes of time with students, discussing, sharing and laughing about what ever it is that comes up. 
So, why do I eat lunch with students? Selfish reasons of course…
It would be easy to make a list, but the one reason that may go unnoticed is possibly the most important one. I am seeking their input. They are our customers. Through natural conversation, I have a series of questions I ask students, taking notes on the pro’s, con’s and changes that may need to be made. 
What is one thing you will miss the most about (enter grade level)?
What is one thing you are looking forward to in (enter grade level)? 
What do you want us to add or consider adding to our school/school assemblies?
What do you want us to remove or consider removing from our school/school assemblies?
What do you want me to know as the your principal?
What do you like the best about Sigler?
As I begin to brainstorm ideas or changes for the upcoming school year, I want our students to have a voice in the process. This is a start. I use them as a sounding board. 
What would you think about…?
What would you say if…?
The positives of seeking input…your customers or in this case our students, feel as if they have a voice. They feel as if they are being heard. The same can be said about the teachers when I seek their input. I know what our students are thinking. I know what they will miss. I know what they are looking forward to. I know what they appreciate and what they could do without. 
The drawbacks…if you consider criticism a drawback, (I do not) be prepared to hear the truth. Sometimes when I ask questions or seek input, I may not be ready for what I may hear. I need to get ready. I may not want to hear what they have to say, but if I listen carefully I will find opportunities to make our great school better and I can be come a better leader too. 
As you reflect on the current school year and begin to make plans for next year, seek input…ask your customers. Teachers, ask questions of your students and parents. Administrators, ask questions of your students, teachers, staff and parents. Ask them how you did. Ask them what you did well. Ask them what you can do better. 
Be sure you are seeking input…ask your customers. 
What was your moment today? 

My Moment – Day 60 – It’s Interview Time – What Am I Looking For?

I had the opportunity today, through a partnership with Texas A&M Commerce to interview student interns who would be joining us next fall at Sigler Elementary. While this interview process is done via a rotation where groups of three to four students rotate, meeting with four different campuses every twenty minutes, I want to take a moment to share my advice with “soon to-be” student interns or graduating students seeking their first teaching position. In sharing, I openly admit I do not know it all, but I do know what we are looking for in potential candidates as we begin our hiring process.

1. Be Professional – This is your once chance to make a first and maybe only impression. Be professional, dress professional and carry yourself as a professional. How you choose to answer the series of questions that will come your way over the next forty-five minutes to an hour could possibly be the difference between you or another candidate. Leave the slang language in the car, be careful how you articulate yourself and rehearse how you refer to sub-populations of students. The last thing you want to do is say something that leaves a potential employer scratching their head, thinking you are not professional.

2. Have an Opinion – As an interview team asks questions, be prepared to answer the questions with your thoughts, not the thoughts you “think” they may want to hear. You have to have an opinion and be able to articulate why you feel the way you do. Many of the questions you will be asked do not have a right or wrong answer. Sometimes just being able to articulate your answer and justify why you feel that way, is doing it right. Do not be concerned with whether or not your opinion is right or wrong. If you share your thoughts and can share why you feel the way you do, the right match will come your way. You want to be hired by someone who appreciates your opinions. Be sure you share them.

3. Read – Whether you are a college student seeking a student teaching position or a college graduate, you should be reading up on your profession. Be familiar with what you are reading. If you are asked a question about what the last professional book you have read or to share an article or Ted Talk that has inspired change in your teaching practices, be able to share the name and/or author of what you have read. Being able to clearly communicate not only what you have read, but who wrote it or the title of it, shows the team interviewing you that you are invested in what you are learning. If you read it, but cannot remember who wrote it or what you learned from it, does it really matter?

4. Relationships Matter – The number one factor that impacts a student’s education is the teacher. Yes, the teacher needs to be competent in the content they will be delivering, but more importantly they must be competent in creating a relationship with each of their students. “You cannot teach students to learn, until you show students you care.”

5.  Be Connected – I sat down with over twenty future teachers today and not a single one of them articulated anything that would lead me to believe they are connected. Is that a flaw in the system? Possibly. Did they forget to mention it because they were nervous? Maybe. Regardless, as you prepare for an interview know what you want to communicate about yourself as a person and as a learner. Being connected and articulating how that benefits you as a person, learner and teacher speaks volumes about how much you value your professional learning and the steps you take in dictating your own learning. Do not let someone dictate what you will learn. Be in control of your learning. Be connected.

Those are five characteristics or practices that I am looking for as we interview candidates to join our team. While it is not an exhaustive list, nor in any order, I am sure that the teachers we hire this year or next, will possess each of them. Will yours?

What characteristic or practice would you want to highlight?

Do you have a specific interview question you feel we should ask? You can add it here: Interview Questions for the 21st Century Teacher

What was your moment today?