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?

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?

Can I Get Back To You…?

As the principal of a Title I school, hiring teachers that “want” to work with our students and our demographic is a must. Our teachers and teams spend countless hours, interviewing potential candidates, trying to find just the right person. The right person who has the passion to do what needs to be done each day and the desire to learn how to do it in a way that works for the individuals who they teach each day.

We search high and low for candidates who we feel may be great fits for our students, teachers, parents and staff. We ask questions leading candidates to thought provoking answers and leave us reflecting on candidates’ answers after they leave.

We do all of this in an attempt to find just the right one. The one that “wants” to work at Sigler Elementary. The one that forces us to run out of the building after him/her after they leave, because we fear they will get a job somewhere else, if we hesitate in our decision. When we find who we believe we are looking for, we offer them the opportunity to work with us, to work with our students and families. The answer I want to hear when we offer a position to a candidate is, “Yes, absolutely!” What I am finding out…there are not as many candidates that “want” to work at Sigler, or at least they want to see what other options they have first. When I offer a position, instead of “Yes, absolutely!”, I hear, “Can I get back to you?”

While there is a part of me that gets it, “Can I get back to you?” is not an answer I enjoy hearing. Applicants today have choices. I get it. They want to be sure they are making the right choice, finding the right school, ensuring it is a good fit. I want all of that too. As someone who is in a position to hire, I do not want to be someone’s second option. I do not want our school to be the choice because something else did not work out.

The students we serve deserve nothing but the best. They do not want or need teachers who “had to think about it” or teachers who ask, “Can I get back to you?” We need teachers who, without hesitation, can make the unequivocal decision to say “Yes, absolutely” because they want to work with our students, teachers and families at Sigler Elementary.

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? 

When the Wi-Fi Gets Turned On

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 have been fortunate enough to meet and learn from some of the (what I consider to be) forward thinkers when it comes to educational technology and technology integration in the country. While their delivery and presentation styles vary, there is one solid message that comes across loud and clear. We should not be using technology, just for technology’s sake. It is pedagogy first and technology second.  They go on to share examples of what would happen if a case of (insert device here) arrived in a classroom tomorrow and teachers were not prepared to deliver instruction with true technology integration. Having an (insert device here) show up, is having an (insert device here) show up just for technology’s sake. How are we as leaders preparing our teachers to deliver instruction that truly imbeds technology so they are prepared for when the (insert device here) does show up? A more difficult question may be, as a teacher, how open are you to learning how to embed or integrate technology into your classroom while you wait for the (insert device here) to show up? If it even does. 

If you are keeping up with recent trends regarding education and/or educational technology one of the hot topics is the access divide. This divide goes hand in hand with equality. How can we have equality among our students, classrooms, neighborhoods or schools without equal access? 

Recently the City of Plano has taken steps to address equal access by offering free Wi-Fi at all parks. In fact, they will become the first city in Texas to accomplish such. Now, I will be the first to recognize the fact that the vast majority of families today, impoverished or not have at least one device that can connect to Wi-Fi. Mission Accomplished…right? 

Plano to offer free Wi-Fi at all parks

Wrong. It is just the first step. What role does a school or school district play in offering free Wi-Fi or access to such? Is it the role of the school or school districts to supply the Wi-Fi or to educate it’s teachers, students and families to take advantage of the Wi-Fi, properly creating and delivering instruction and opportunities that allow students and families to do so. If a city or apartment complex knocked on my door tomorrow and announced that families would have unlimited access to Wi-Fi, would we be ready? 

As the school year slowly winds down and we (as a collective group of educators) begin to reflect on the year and begin to make plans for next year, how do we begin or continue to educate our teachers, students, parents and families on the appropriate use of technology and the effectiveness of integrating technology to support the pedagogy? How can we ensure that not if, but when the access divide closes, because at some point it will, our teachers, students, parents and families are equipped to take advantage? If we cannot grow the capacity in our teachers, increase their level of comfort and empower them to make the necessary changes to their instructional delivery, when the Wi-Fi gets turned on and the access divide is no longer a divide, it will be just for technology’s sake. 

What was your moment today? 

One More Hug

I see it often as an elementary school principal. The student left clinging to the legs of his mother or father, pleading desperately for them not to leave, wanting just one more hug. It’s sad. Heartbreaking in fact. I see the emotional turmoil the parents go through as they are trying to escape the grasp of their child. All the parents want to do is leave and all the child wants them to do is stay. It’s hard all the way around.

I see it often as an elementary school principal, but I hardly ever see it from the perspective of the parent…until today. My wife works in the same pre-school our four year old son, Cooper attends. She is accustomed to the extra hug or clinging to the leg as she is taking Cooper to class, desperately trying to get back to her classroom before her students arrive. While that is happening, I am already at work. I miss a lot of those moments. It may be the nature of my job, but one day I will get to officially experience Cooper’s first day of kindergarten and anticipate the continual embrace as he tries to get just one more hug. Until then, I get to experience days like today.

Donuts with Dad.

It is one of the events I look forward to at Cooper’s school. It is just me and him. I pick him up in his mom’s classroom prior to the start of the day and hop in line with the other dads who are there to eat donuts with their children.

We enjoyed two glasses of OJ and two of the best glazed donuts we could find. Just me and him. I was able to wear a designer tie, that was one of a kind and got to read “Meet My Dad” through the eyes of my son.

I know you cannot read the paper Cooper is holding, oh so carefully, because his fingers were sticky and he didn’t want to get the paper sticky, but let me hit some of the highlights.

What are his favorite things to eat: all kinds of grown up things
How tall is Daddy: 1ft (We have some time to work on measurement)
What is Daddy’s hair like: like bald hair, it’s not done growing
What is your favorite thing to do with Daddy: play
Where did you and Daddy meet: at Amber’s at small group

I feel I need to clarify the last one. Clearly Cooper took this questions literally, as I meet him and Julie each Wednesday night at our friends Josh and Amber’s house for small group. Just so happens they filled this out in class on a Thursday morning. Funny!

As we finished our donuts and captured a couple of memorable selfies, it was time to walk Cooper to his classroom. As we approached the door, I could feel it. I could feel what I had seen countless times before. His arms were clenched around my legs and he was not letting go. He did not want me to leave. After about five “one more” hugs, I heard myself giving advice to the parents who I had seen in this same position before…just walk away. Terrible advice. If I walk away, this four year old is coming with me. He is latched on tight. As I pried his little fingers from my legs and gave him one last hug, his teacher saved the day and distracted him with an activity that was beginning in the classroom.

Whew. Not easy. The drive back to work left me wondering how he was doing. Chances are he transitioned just fine and was playing with his friends and had long forgotten about saying good-bye to me. Only problem was, I had not forgotten about it. Eventually, the day went on and the thoughts faded from my mind, but as the day came to an end and I embarked on my drive home, I could not wait to get home to give him a big hug.

I know one day, the last thing Cooper will want is to hang on to my leg, but in the meantime, I will soak it in. He wants me around and that is just what I want. I need to be mindful of that. I need to be aware of the moments at home. I need to spend the time I have playing, having light saber fights and listening to the stories Cooper has to share. Then at the end of the night, I need to be sure I give him just one more hug.

What was your moment today?