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?

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?

Reserved for Principal

I recall my graduate school days and remember one of my professors sharing his opinion about whether a principal should have a reserved parking place or not. Before I go any further, do you have a reserved parking place or does the principal in your building have one? Maybe it’s not that big of a deal to you. Admittedly, I do have a reserved parking place. It is convenient for the days I arrive to school long after the staff has pulled in. The days were I have off campus meetings. The days that I can return and not have to worry about scouring the parking lot to find an open place, I know right where one is. It is reserved for me. 

This past March, our staff had the opportunity to compete in a March Madness Bracket Challenge, much like many of you may have competed in. While the prize package for this bracket challenge did not have a monetary reward, lunch and the principal’s parking spot were up for grabs. With the national championship behind us, we have announced our winner and it was not me. Just like that…my parking spot was no longer reserved for me. 
I pull into work each morning armed with the task of needing to find a parking space. I pull into work each morning armed with the task of needing to find a parking space, just like everyone else. Do I miss it? Sure. Can I live without it? I bet I can. 
As I was walking out of the building today with a couple of our teachers and our assistant principal, I walked with them to their cars and one of them asked, “Why did you park over here?” Honestly, it is because I can’t fill out a bracket worth a darn…or at least one that can win an office pool. I reminded this teacher that for the rest of the year I would be parking “over here”. 
I have given up my parking space before as an incentive or reward for teachers on campus. I believe most of them appreciate having a space they can call their own, but I always got it back. It was still reserved for me. 
For the rest of this year,  I am parking “over here”. I am parking “over here” with everyone else. If teachers do not get a reserved parking space, why should I? I am not special. The work the teachers put in everyday, the work with one another and with our students, that is special. I simply have the privilege of leading a group of teachers who are passionate about educating children. 
As I wrap up this post, I am thinking my car has spent it’s last day in “my reserved spot”. As a leader, I need to be reminded how hard our teachers work, the passion they possess and the little things they spend time doing. As much as I like to believe I know…I know that I forget. 
If parking “over here” serves as a reminder of how hard the teachers work and sends a message that I am willing to work right along side each of them, removed from any special privileges, I will proudly park “over here” from this day on. 
Where do you park? 
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?

Dealing with Disappointment

There are a handful of instances from my childhood where I vividly recall knowing I had disappointed my parents and another handful where I can recall the same regarding my teachers. As a grown man, now with a family of my own, I still shutter at the idea of letting down or disappointing my parents.

Sadly, disappointment is a part of life and it happens to all of us. You can disappoint someone or be disappointed by someone or something. Either way, it does not feel great. 
Disappointment can come in all shapes and sizes and the effects of some disappointment can last longer than others. 
Without bearing my entire soul, I can think of a handful of situations where I have been disappointed or disappointed someone within the last several weeks and it makes me feel terrible regardless of whether I’m on the giving or receiving end. 
Let’s face it, disappointment stinks. 
How do you deal with disappointment? 
As a school teacher how do you deal with the disappointment of knowing a student made a choice that just completely let you down? I’ve seen first hand how these these choices can shake teachers to the core. Teachers who pour every ounce of their being into the lives of their children, only to be let down by a choice made in a split second decision. 
Or maybe a better question for school teachers is, how do you deal with the disappointment of knowing or feeling as if your principal or a teammate has disappointed you with the decision or decisions he/she has recently made?
As a school leader how do deal with the disappointment of knowing your best just wasn’t good enough? You gave it everything you could and thought it was good enough only to find out you came up short. 
As parents how do you deal with the disappointment of knowing your own child let you down? Knowing your child made a decision against their better judgement, regardless of how big or small or the consequence of their actions. 
Disappointment is a part of life, but how do you deal with it? 
Do you let it stew and fester, slowly eating you up inside? Do you share it with others who allow you to wallow and mourn in your infinite sadness or do you do something about it?
While some types of disappointment do require working through a period of frustration, I choose to work through it. I choose to make my feelings known. If someone has disappointed me, I let them know and we talk through why I am feeling the way I am, with the hopes it does not happen again. If I disappoint someone, I hope they come and let me know. As a husband, father and principal, I know I disappoint people. I’ve disappointed my wife, my son and probably a teacher or two, but I promise, I have never once, done so intentionally. I hope the relationships that have been established are strong enough and exist for all three of those parties to approach me and let me now how I have disappointed them. Give me the opportunity to, at a minimum, be made aware. 
As for dealing with coming up short, well that can make or break you. I believe it’s called adversity.
I believe people are defined by the moments in life that bring you to your knees. Being humbled can be disappointing, but like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, I will be back; stronger than ever, turning that disappointment into fuel that drives me to the highest levels of success. 
Then there is Cooper, my son. I know there will come a time where he makes a decision that leads to disappointment. What I will want him to always remember, no matter what, is just like my parents love me, I will love him unconditionally and promise to help him learn through the disappointment…every time. 
Thinking about it, isn’t that how we really want to deal with disappointment? After all, it is going to happen. Shouldn’t we learn from it. Learn from the mistakes we make that disappoint others and learn from the life lessons we are given when someone disappoints us. If we can learn from our disappointment, we are destined to be made stronger and be better equipped the next time life hands us a heavy dose of disappointment.

How do you deal with disappointment?

What was your moment today? 

The Thing I Love is What I Miss the Most

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.

Shoulder to shoulder time…I know without a shadow of a doubt, the last reflective activity I will participate in at the end of our principal institute session is shoulder to shoulder time. During shoulder to shoulder time, our PI5 cohort members all circle up, standing shoulder to shoulder, and share our reflections from the last two days of learning. Today, we were asked to share what the most impactful aspect of the principal institute has been and why. Like many others who shared before me, the most impactful aspect or the thing I love the most about the principal institute is the opportunity I am repeatedly given to network, create and cultivate meaningful relationships with other strong, like-minded leaders from across the state of Texas. 

As I am was sharing my reflection today with my fellow PI 5 cohort members, I was missing the same thing I was saying I loved. I was missing the relationships with the staff and students at Sigler. More so today than other days, because today we held our Sigler spirit assembly. Knowing I was going to miss the assembly, I was able to empower our great AP, Patrcicia Hempstead, to take center stage and captivate the students during the assembly and work with her on trying to figure out how I could still be a part of the show. Did you really think I was going to miss being a part of the assembly? I love assemblies and the connections with ALL of our students.

Thankfully, with the advances in technology I was able to use my laptop while sitting in my hotel room in Houston, TX, and record a few video clips cheering on our Sigler Stars, letting them know I was thinking about them. It would have been totally awesome if I would have been able to broadcast live, but the schedules didn’t quiet align. I hope there isn’t a next time, as I hate missing assemblies (this was the first one) but if there is,this will be a strong option. 

The important part for me was being able to get my face in front of our students even though I was hundreds of miles away. I hope my students and staff understand the love I have for them all and my desire to be a part of today’s festivities. (Thank you to our amazing nurse, Nurse Stacey, for capturing this moment on video and sharing it for me to see on Twitter.) 

Do you ever miss events at work? Do you ever find yourself being off campus due to being sick or attending a training or meeting? 

How do you use technology to minimize the impact of your absence? 

What was your moment today? 

My Moment – Day 50 – What & How

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 was able to spend the day with some of the sharpest leadership minds in my district as a part of the Plano Leadership Visioning Institute. As our time concluded, we were presented with the two questions:

What did you hear, read, think about today that will impact what you do on your campus? 

A critical friends group…do you have one? Do you have a small group of friends, whether it be professionally or personally that you can call upon to make you better? This article was shared with me today, “Critical Friends Group: Catalyst for School Change“. If you are an educator, take a moment and read this. I know we have PLCs, Vertical Teams, Focus Groups, Grade Level Teams and a bevy of other teams in schools across the country, but regardless of what you title it, the work done in those groups typically focuses around a larger cause. It focuses on the direction of a campus or a team, supporting a larger mission/vision. What if you could work on a smaller team that just made you better at being you….in this case, making you a better teacher?

As plans for the 16-17 school year take shape, I am interested in finding those “early adopters” who want to improve, who want to be better teachers and who have established a growth mindset. I am interested in finding teachers who are willing to be uncomfortable or work outside the box in order to connect with other teachers either in our building or in other buildings and share their teaching practices, seek feedback, give feedback, receive feedback and take what they are given to improve their practice. In identifying the volunteers, we will have established our first critical friends group, who will be able to help one another grow professionally, improving their practice and positively impacting the students they serve.

What did you hear, read, think about today that will impact how you do things on your campus? 

If you know me I am super competitive, so throwing down a challenge is something I rarely pass up. I was able to participate in a Tool Box Leadership activity today by picking a toy from the list below:

Potato Head
Slinky Dog
Play Dough
Green Army Men
Rubix Cube

Our group picked the Jenga game and jumped right in. As each of the members of our small group took a turn, it was apparent some of us felt more comfortable than others in removing a piece. Each of us took a different approach as we analyzed our options. As the game progressed the moves became harder to make, needing to spend more time thinking about the moves and the consequences of making each one. Sometimes the piece needed a little nudge, while other times you just moved the piece without hesitation, because you knew it was the right thing to do. Other times you wanted to consult with your peers making sure you were on the right track.

Sounds a lot like leadership, right? How do you approach being a leader? I would imagine many of the approaches we took in trying to conquer our Jenga game are applied by leaders…or they should be.

Great leaders take risks, collaborate with others and understand that some pieces play a larger role than others, but each of the pieces is integral in the overall success of the large whole. One misplaced piece can upset the balance, which can lead to a collapse. While keeping a solid foundation allows you to continue building upon what you started.

The leadership lessons or takeaways from today’s Jenga game will remain our  “how” as we continue to transform learning at Sigler Elementary. We must keep in mind that each decision made, impacts the next one and it is OK to take the time we need to think through each of our decisions, aiming for our decisions to lead to further growth, building on the foundation, as opposed to a total collapse. 

What was your moment today?