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?

This Milestone Makes Me Nervous

As a father, there are specific milestones I know will happen in my son’s life. We have already enjoyed and captured so many; Cooper’s first steps, his first word, his first tooth, the first time he slept in a big boy bed, conquering potty training, starting pre-school and his first time on an airplane. The list could go on and on. We are very blessed to enjoy so many moments and with the technology available to us, capture each of them as they are happening. If you would have asked me a few months ago, what the next milestone would have been, I would have answered safely, we have one more year of pre-school and Kindergarten starts in the fall of 2017. I would have shared that answer a few months ago, but if you asked me today, I would have to admit, I was wrong. The next milestone is Cooper’s life starts tomorrow and I may be more nervous than he is.

We have spent the last week hitting local sporting good stores, making sure he has the proper shoes and apparel and just the right kind of bat, glove and balls. It’s been exciting. If you have put the clues together, you may have guessed, Tee-ball season is upon us! While I can see how parents can get carried away buying the very best for their children, I am aware of the fact that Cooper is only four years old. I think we have time to buy him the best. Preferably something he will not grow out of in a couple of months.

We spent yesterday at the park practicing. Cooper fielded some ground balls, played catch (kind of) and hit the ball off the tee. While we have done this a handful of times prior to yesterday, I was surprised how well he did. Yes, he gets frustrated easily, but who doesn’t when things do not go as we expect them to.

The similarities between education and coaching are abundant and with our first practice tomorrow night, followed by our first game this Saturday there are three things I am going to do my best to remember as we embark on our season and celebrate this milestone. I need to be mindful of the same three things between now and the end of the school year.

Patience – I will need to have patience. Cooper is not going to do everything right the first time. He has never played Tee-ball before. Similar to how our students arrive in our classrooms, students have had different experiences and sometimes have not been exposed to the thinking or learning they need to be successful. It is our jobs as teachers to introduce, allow for practice, guide their development and most importantly exercise patience. It takes time to acquire a new skill. Fielding ground balls, throwing to an actual target and hitting a ball require a certain level of skill and athleticism Cooper will acquire over time. As Cooper says, “Patience means waiting and waiting is hard.”

Celebrate – Cooper is going to make a great play, knocking down the ball, stopping the ball in its tracks and chasing down a ball that is just out of his reach. For each great play he makes, there will more than likely be a handful of plays that are not great. He is learning. It will be important for us to celebrate the great plays and focus on the success. No one needs to be reminded of what we do wrong. Cooper understands what it is “suppose” to feel and look like and he gets frustrated when it does not work out the way he wants it to. Do you have students in your classrooms that know what they are “supposed” to be doing, but struggle to make it happen? I can think of one or two. How often do we get stuck, focusing on what students are doing wrong instead of celebrating when they make a great play? Probably too often. I look forward to the smile that will be on Coop’s face when he makes a great play and hear’s his daddy cheering him on.

Listen – With Tee-ball being our first organized sport, it is important to me that Cooper enjoys the experience. If he is not enjoying it, he will let us know. As a four year old, it may not come out as clear as, “I do not like Tee-ball” so I will need to listen carefully. I will listen to Cooper share his experience with others, what he says about his teammates and what he says about how much fun he is having. Cooper has many years to play organized sports and as a four year old, the last thing he should be feeling is forced to play something he does not like. Chances are, he will love it, but I have witnessed and experienced teammates who were pressured to play on a team because their parents wanted them to. Needless to say, if they were pressured to play, they did not enjoy it and did not feel as if they could share that feeling with their parents because the parents would not listen. Listening is something that teachers can do in classrooms as well. Today more than ever, student voice is being highlighted and acted upon. Do you let students have a voice in their learning? In their classrooms? Or are we forcing students to do something they have little input/interest in?  If students have a voice in their learning, their vested interest and engagement increases. Right now, Cooper is interested in Tee-ball and tomorrow’s practice is all he has been talking about for the last three days. What have I been doing the last three days…just listening.

With our first practice scheduled to begin in less than twenty-four hours, Cooper is beyond excited and I am nervous as can be. I am nervous that I will be able to exercise patience, celebrate and listen and I am nervous as to how Cooper will do. Regardless of how nervous I am, this milestone is exciting. I remember my playing days and being nervous prior to the first play, but I also remember how quickly the nerves go away the minute the ball is snapped. I am sure the minute we start practice tomorrow night. the nerves will subside, Coop will have a blast, playing and learning and I will be able to be patient, celebrate and listen.

Stay tuned!

What was your moment today?

Elements Teachers Possess

I entered the school this morning with hope and optimism that today was going to be an amazing day. I entered the school this morning with two elements I would hope each of my teachers entered with as well. In addition to being hopeful and optimistic I was excited and motivated to take advantage of the day. Just like many teachers who walk into buildings around the world in the morning, we walk in with an idea of what we think is going to happen and then we realize we work with children. Children are unpredictable and need our patience, compassion and sincere love as they make decisions that may not be the best and require our flexibility to meet the needs that matter most….the needs of our students.

As my day was dedicated to meeting the needs of the students who are still learning how difficult it is to make the right choice, I was consistently reminded how important it is for our teachers to possess so many of the elements I would highlight later on in the day. Many of these elements were shared with me, by you. Last week I shared a post titled, “The Periodic Table of Teaching”  asking for your input in reinventing the periodic table to include elements we see in our teachers.

As my day went on, it returned to a somewhat normal schedule, and I was able to shift my focus to creating what will be our Sigler Elementary “Periodic Table of Teaching” including elements of teaching.

There may not be another profession that requires so many different elements. Many of which are combined and required simultaneously to meet the vast needs of students that enter their classrooms each day.

Teacher Appreciation Week is next week and I could not think of a better way to recognize our teachers than calling attention to the very elements that make our teachers simply amazing. As teachers enter the building on Monday, they will be greeted by our Periodic Table of Teaching because #TeachersMatter.

As the week goes on, I look forward to seeing how teachers respond to the elements and hearing which elements they connect with most.

Are there elements you desire in your teachers? I know I have not listed all of them. Are there elements you feel are more important than others? What are your favorite elements?

What was your moment today?

Need a closer look at the elements of teaching…see below. Hopefully you can zoom in and check them out. If that doesn’t work…I guess you will just need to come and visit!

Recognizing the Villagers

We have all heard the proverb, “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child”. We have heard it so much that at times it can be cliche, but in our heart of hearts, we believe it really does take a village.

In many respects, when we say this within a school building we are referring to the vast number of staff members that the child works with, the past, present and future teachers and of course, the child’s parents.

This year, we have been blessed to have the support of some new villagers helping us raise our children/students. Volunteers. Developing a strong volunteer base in a Title I school is part of the unique set of responsibilities that comes as being a leader in such a building. Our volunteer base grew this year through the partnerships with two specific churches and two specific businesses who not only wanted to volunteer, but give of their time and resources. While financial support is welcomed and very generous the best gift our students can receive is the gift of time. The time volunteers spend with our students is truly a gift, but more than a gift, it is an investment.

Mentoring has been the gift and investment our volunteers have given to our students this year. Every Thursday, during lunch time, mentors embark upon Sigler Elementary, giving up their lunch to spend it with several of our students. They are looking for nothing in return, other than to know they are making a difference. The difference they are making looks different for each student and cannot be measured quantitatively. The difference they make comes through the self-esteem developed, social skills improved upon and our students knowing there is someone else in their life who is not a teacher or parent who loves them unconditionally.

One of our mentors shared this story with me today. “The first time I met my student, she sat with her shoulders facing me, not making eye contact, just counting the minutes until our time together was over. I set a goal for myself that by the end of the year, I could get her to face me during our conversations, make eye contact and enjoy our time together. I knew I had surpassed my goal a few weeks ago as I sat waiting for her to come down to the library and as I saw her heading my way, she was skipping with a smile on her face that reached ear to ear.”

I will share that story with everyone I encounter who is considering working with our students. That example should fill your bucket. Consider the impact that villager just made and how that will support the teachers working with that specific child.

We celebrated our villagers, mentors and volunteers today with a Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon hosted by our Sigler Chefs (a group of 3rd grade students who participated in an after school cooking club) and the staff at Sigler Elementary. When the teachers approached me, asking if they can provide the food for the volunteer luncheon, you know they had felt the positive impact of the students being raised by the village.

Thank you does not begin to cover the gratitude I have and our staff has for the heart, time and compassion these volunteers have given to our students and staff this year. We appreciate you and we thank you for being a part of our village.

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?

Strategic Abandonment – What’s Sliding Off the Plate?

I received an email from a colleague today titled “Input”. She was emailing a group of her peers, asking for input regarding a committee she was serving on, discussing “strategic abandonment”. Interesting term, right? Strategic Abandonment. The district is looking for input from administrators, inquiring what can be taken off the plate. We all agree the plate is full and after some deliberation, my colleagues and I were able to come up with a short list of things we recommended for strategic abandonment. It was more difficult that it originally sounded.

As the day went on, this term of, strategic abandonment has stuck with me. It reminded me of the leadership meeting I had last week, where we discussed ideas and potential changes for next year. It reminded me of the after school meeting with our AVID site team, where we discussed this year’s goals, our progress towards them and how we will continue to find success in newly written goals for next year. As we reflected, brainstormed and started making plans for next year, not once did I consider asking about strategic abandonment or what we should leave behind.

I and we (public school in general) am/are guilty for adding to the already full plate without considering what can be abandoned. It is a question worth asking. I would like to think that everything we are doing has a purpose, an intention and links back to our why, but that is what I think. Many of the “things” “we are doing” are really “things” the teachers are doing. I’m interested in knowing what our teachers feel needs to continue and what may need to be strategically abandoned.

Will new things be added to the plate for next year? Yes. It’s education. If we are not changing we are standing still and if we are standing still, we are getting passed by. No one has time to get passed by, but as a general rule, for each new thing added or change, something else needs to go…right? If the plate is already full and we add without taking away, the plate is not going to hold. It is going to break. Our teachers are to valuable and dedicate to be broken.

As the year ends, join me in asking teachers about what we can strategically abandon. Seek their input, allow their voices to be heard and let’s agree that for each new thing we add to the plate, we identify what will be taken away. Will it be easy? No way. Will it be worth it? I bet it will. Are you courageous enough to ask the question you may not want to hear the answer to? It may be difficult to hear, but success does not come easy.

Let’s make the hard choices together! I look forward to sharing what we are going to strategically abandon and I look forward to hearing what ends up sliding off your plate.

What was your moment today?

Valuable Lessons

Every school around the country has one foot on the gas, one eye looking at the rear view and one eye looking straight ahead. It’s what great schools do when you are in the last nine weeks. You have to keep your foot on the gas because we all feel this precious thing we call time slipping away on the current school year and we all feel as if there is still so much to accomplish. You have to have one eye looking at the rear view, reflecting back on what has worked well, what you want to keep doing and what you want to try next year. While it seems like an insurmountable task to reflect at a time like this, I believe it is really the best time of year to reflect because everything is fresh on your mind. Then, we have to keep one eye looking straight ahead because before you know it, this school year will be over and the next one will be knocking on your door.

For me, looking straight ahead includes hiring teacher candidates for the vacancies you know exist for the upcoming school year. Now is the time to find the best candidates. Waiting until it is convenient, may mean waiting until it is too late. There are many things that are principals must do well to be successful, but the most important thing…in my opinion, is being able to hire the right teachers. I have shared a few thoughts this spring about hiring and my opinions about what I am looking for in a teacher, but today I was reminded of some valuable lessons.

Check out my earlier posts about hiring:

Can I Get Back to You
It’s Interview Time – What Am I Looking For
Now Hiring 

Today I was reminded of three things, as we were able to hire three teachers for the upcoming school year.

1. Take Your Time – There are a lot and I mean a lot of candidates out there. Some are amazing and some, well…let’s just say teaching is not for everyone and then there are some that fall somewhere in between. I want the best. Sometime you do not know who the best are until you have had something to compare it to. We have been interviewing for a particular position for some time now and while each candidate has strong characteristics that we would like to add to our team, we just were not confident we had found the right one. We did not settle, we took our time. While it became frustrating at times, because we were spending so much time interviewing and finding bits and pieces of what we were looking for, it paid off. Today, we found just the right teacher. The best part? She “wanted” to work at Sigler.

2. Trust Your People – I do not do interviews alone. Teams are invited to join me in interviewing candidates. I would have a hard time hiring someone who the team is not 100% invested in. Throughout the process of interviewing candidates, I openly seek feedback and input from the team of teachers that is sitting in the interview with me. While they are interested in what I think, I always allow them to share before me. Over time, our interests and vision for “who” we are looking for has aligned, but we still need to seek input. The important part of seeking input is that trust has been developed so our current teachers can speak freely, share their thoughts, and not be worried about whether or not their thoughts align with mine. Most of the time they do, but recently their ability to speak freely and share what they think have led us to hiring some teachers and not hiring others.

3. Listen to Your People – Along the same lines of trusting those who are interviewing candidates with you comes listening to them. It is one thing for trust to be established, so teacher feel free to share their thoughts, but if you are not willing to listen to them and I mean really listen, the trust will not be around for long. As I arrived at work this morning, we had all but agreed we would hire a teacher today. One staff member had some reservations. Because trust has been established, she was able to feel she could share her thoughts and I listened. Our dialogue led to us bringing a candidate back in for a 2nd interview, asking some additional questions…things that had come up through our discussion, prompted by my willingness to listen and the trust the teacher felt in sharing. The 2nd interview was insightful. The reservations the teacher had became more obvious and steered us clear of hiring a teacher who may not have been in our students’ best interest.

Did you catch those last three words? When schools are making hiring decisions, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration. How will this candidate fit in with the current staff? How will they get a long with the team? Will they bring new ideas? Will they make our staff stronger? The list could go on and on, but the most important factor, we must take into consideration is, is hiring this teacher in the students’ best interest.

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? 

The 7 Minute Staff Meeting

Spring has sprung and the last thing any hard working staff desires to do at the end of the school day is march down to the library or your standard gathering space for staff meetings and listen to me or any one else for that matter, delivering information to an already full plate.

However, just because it is spring, does not mean the information that teachers need to know just magically disappears or can simply “wait until next year”.

It is a dilemma school leaders face. How to balance giving teachers the time they need with delivering information that needs to be shared. While you are figuring out the balance, do not forget to keep spirits up and morale high. Never fear…You Can Do It!

I introduce to you The 7 Minute Staff Meeting, shared with me by my #txpvi colleague and friend Conrad Streeter, Princpal at Colleyville Heritage High School or @ConradStreeter. While the meeting it self is more than 7 minutes (27 to be exact) it allows for the delivery of information, in small chunks and keeps the teachers moving.

How it Works:

1. Identify what needs to be shared, delivered or what feedback you need from teachers.

We had three things that needed to be shared this afternoon. A reflective survey asking teachers to consider their proficiency on the different components that make up a guided reading lesson, providing information about our Community and Student Engagement Accountability System and reviewing expectations with the implementation of accommodations for students.

2. Break teachers into the appropriate number of groups, based on what will be shared, delivered or what feedback is needed.

Since we identified three topics, we divided the staff into three groups. If you google random group generators, several will come up. I went with this one: Random Group Creator. I simply copied and pasted the staff list and viola. I had our groups for the afternoon rotations.

3. Assign each group a place to start.

We shared a google document with the groups and a brief description of where to meet and what they will need.

4. Provide refreshments.

In the middle of our main hallway was a table with refreshments for staff to grab as they transitioned from group to group.

5. Identify a time keeper.

We have an after school program who work in our front office. She made an announcement saying “Your 7 minutes begins now.” We would share/discuss and get feedback and when time was up and announcement was made saying, “You have 3 minutes to transition to your next rotation.” This repeated until teachers had rotated through each of the three rotations.

Research supports the use of movement in learning and studies have shown we can only sit and attend so long before we begin to get distracted. While I cannot put my fingers on the exact study, for the sake of The 7 Minute Staff Meeting, we agreed today that we could attend for about 7 minutes and after that, it was time to move.

Going to give The 7 Minute Staff Meeting a try?

What was your moment today?