“I Don’t Need Help”

Friday, January 6th was a big day for thousands of elementary aged students and teachers across North Texas and I am not talking about the anticipated release of the “Work-in-Progress” A-F report card system which dropped today. Shortly after noon, soft and fluffy snow flakes filled the skies, shifting any focus students and teachers may have had on learning to an instant obsession with what was happening outside. Students faces were pressed oh so gently up against doors and windows trying to find the best vantage points while others, who were dressed appropriately braved the wind chills to experience the feeling of snowflakes landing perfectly on faces staring up into the snow filled skies.

While classes across North Texas and more specifically at Sigler Elementary were gawking in awe at the snow flakes, there was one class that was experiencing a separate set of emotions. Earlier in the week a teacher and I had scheduled a time for me to come down and facilitate a restorative circle or what this classroom calls a family circle. If you follow my blog, you will know I recently shared a post about empathy and how we, as educators can play a vital role in developing this awareness among our students. (Miss my post on empathy?) Read it here: Building Empathy…Changing Behavior…More Questions Than Answers

My prior discussions with this classroom teacher led us to scheduling a family circle with students to discuss how it is completely acceptable to need help, how we help those who may not request the support, how it feels to receive help and what we can begin doing immediately to help those around us. Now, I will be the first to tell you I am a novice when it comes to facilitating these restorative circles but what happened in today’s circle took me completely by surprise.

Prior to the students sharing, we reviewed the agreements they had previously discussed, including the mutual trust and respect needed to speak from the heart during our time together and the option students have not to speak and passing the talking stick (soccer stress ball) to the next student. In my efforts to lay the ground work for responses I was hoping to hear from students I discussed how I need help as the principal and how I have an amazing assistant principal who is able to see when I need help, sometimes before I recognize it myself. I discussed how it was OK that I ask for help and I discussed how once the help was received it would be a tremendous breach of trust if the person who helped me, then went behind my back and made fun of me for needing help. I really thought I had my bases covered. Then the students started talking.

Most of you know, I am the principal of a Title I, bilingual campus with a high percent of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. It would be naive of me to think students in schools contrary to this do not have social emotional concerns, but after having spent years serving schools with a variety of demographics, I believe my current students carry the weight of the world and have limited tools to handle the weight appropriately.

“I do not need help.”
“I tend to be independent, so I do not see why I would need help.”
“Why would I help anyone? No one is around helping me.”
“I will help someone if they ask.”
“I lookout for myself.”
“I help my sister, but that’s my job.”

These are 8-9 year olds you guys. What?!?!

Each time I heard a statement similar to the ones above, I felt as if I was being punched in the gut. I wanted to defend myself. I wanted to convince these students how wrong they were. Instead, I allowed them to speak and wait for the next person to share.

It was about this time, the teacher had to excuse herself because the emotion of hearing some of her students feel as if they did not need help, they did not want help and they were not willing to help their peers whether someone asked for help or not had just become too much. It took everything I had to fight back tears. I was jealous of her. I wanted to cry. Seeing her cry made be want it even more. Yet, when her students saw her crying…not a one had a tear in their eyes. Maybe they didn’t understand? Maybe the depth of the conversation was to much? I refused to think they do not care. I believe they do.

I asked, “How does it feel to know your comments, your “I do not need help” statements impact your teacher so negatively? How does it feel to know she cares about you so deeply it brings her to tears?

At this point most students began passing and did not want to comment. Had it gotten too deep? Had I taken it too far?

I ended the circle on a soapbox, using some of the statements as a platform to let these students know the adults at Sigler do not see being a teacher as their job. As a staff, the teachers at Sigler make a choice, each day to come to school to help them.. We do not expect students to ask. We will help, regardless if students think they need it or not. We will help students even when it is hard to. It is not our job. It is our calling.

Finishing with eyes filled with tears, I let the students know if they had something to share, something they did not want the whole group to hear, I would make myself available to talk with them individually. Three students stood up and wanted to speak with me one on one.

I talked with each of them, saving one young man until the very end. To be honest, 95% of the “help” talk may have been intended for his ears, but clearly it was a message we all needed to hear. As I got down on his level, he broke. The tears fell from his face and he simply said, “I get it. I understand what you are trying to do. You are trying to help me.” The tears that are filling my eyes now are the same tears that we shared together in the hall. Tears falling in the hall, while the snowflakes fell outside.

A breakthrough? Maybe. Are we done? No way. We still have work to do.

All the work teachers have to do weighs heavy on their minds, daily. Who has time to stop the instruction and have “family circles”? Y’all…these family circles are the instruction. I learned more about this group of students in 30 minutes than I had learned all year. If we do not take the time to learn about our students, build empathy and help them build empathy for others, we are failing them.

I need them to “get it”. We need them to “get it”. We cannot fail.

In closing, I want to share a quote that was shared with me this week that is a call to action. It reinforces this work and the work of so many other teachers who refuse to fail their students.

“Welcome to success. Say goodbye to failure because you are not going to fail. I’m not going to let you fail.” – Marva Collins

Did I, Can I, Am I Making an Impact?

It was 2002 and I was a first year teacher greeting 5th grade students as they entered our classroom for the very first time. I was probably more nervous than they were. Thinking back, there is no “probably” about it. I was so nervous. My first year. My first class. So many ideas. I wanted to do my very best for these students. I did not want to let them or their parents down. Knowing what I know now…I should apologize profusely to each of the students and their families for that first year. I do not need to apologize for a specific event or anything like that, I’d just like to do my first year over again. Can I do that? Can I get a mulligan? Can I do the first couple of years over again? I want to ensure I made an impact.

16 years later, that first class of students has now graduated from college and from time to time I cross paths with one of them. Within the last year, three of my former students reached out to visit and discuss their futures. All three had aspirations to enter the field of education and I am happy to report, two of these young ladies have started their teaching careers. It begs to question…”Did I make an impact?”

This word,impact is one I reflect on often…

“Did I make an impact?”
“Can I make an impact?”
“Am I making an impact?
“What can I do differently to make a greater impact?”

While on Christmas break, I received the following email:

Hi Mr. Arend,
I hope you’ve had a good first semester at your school and that everything is going well with you. I know it’s been quite a while since I saw you this last summer, a bunch has happened since then. I managed to find a job (finally!) before my graduation and had to move out here to Plainview, it’s a small town about 45 minutes north of Lubbock in the middle of nowhere where my mom was from. And I’m teaching 5th grade reading. It’s been really eye-opening and stressful and fulfilling and I’m loving it.
But I kind of wanted to thank you for when I was in your 5th grade class you read to us the Among the Hidden series, I don’t know if you remember this, but that was easily the highlight of my year that grade. But I decided to pass it on and read it to my own classes and they love it, they’re completely enthralled every time I read it. We’re already on the second book in the series and they’re constantly begging me to read to them every day. Some have already went out and bought the series or are asking for it for Christmas, just like I did all those years ago. It’s also amusing how stupefied they are when I tell them those books I have are from when I was their age.
So, I thought it’d be fun to share this with you, and again thanks for reading it to us. I’m hoping to make this a tradition and read it to my new classes every year. Hope you have a good last few days of school before break and have a happy holidays!

Wow! Can every teacher receive an email like this? This is what it’s all about. I had to read this twice and then share it with my wife. Now, I would still like my mulligan, but how reassuring to know, all these years later that I was making an impact. I was making a difference. I recall exactly what she is taking about, although I hadn’t the slightest idea she was so enthralled with the books at the time. (Let me take advantage of this moment and encourage all educators to take the time to simply read to their students.) Without hesitation, I can say I made an impact in this young ladies life. My hope is that she can be just as impactful for the students she is teaching. Imagine the ripple effect as the impact continues. There very well could be a teacher in the making in her classroom today.

Impact. Whether it’s my “one word” for 2017 or simply a goal for the new year, it is what I hope to make. Through being intentional with my actions each day, I hope to positively impact my family, students, teachers, parents and other educators I come in contact with. If I can positively impact just one person who is able to pay it forward and impact another, I feel I am paying it forward and honoring all those who have positively impacted me on my journey.

As I think back on and sort through the memories of my first year of teaching, I believe I was able to make an impact. How big? I may never know. What I do know, is the students and families I served during my first year of teaching and each year since have made a tremendous impact on me.

Here’s to 2017 and making an impact!

Are We Reaching Them? A Story about Growth Mindset

Often times I sit in my office after students and teachers have gone for the day and wonder;

“Are we doing the right thing for students?”
“Are we making a difference?”
“Are we reaching them?”

Yes, I admit, often times it is hard to see the forest through the trees, but as the leader of a campus, those are the questions I ask myself to help hold me accountable. Do I doubt myself? Sometimes. Can I answer the questions honestly? I better. If I cannot answer them honestly, I am cheating our students out of the best experiences and opportunities I can provide them.

Lately, I have been enamored with what students say. Working with students between the ages of 5-11 I am reminded daily of just how much our students absorb even when we do not think they are. As the saying goes…kids say the darnedest things.

Growth mindset is one of the many things we share with students as we strive to empower our students to persevere and overcome obstacles they may encounter in school and in life. As the school year began, we welcomed many students who were not with us last year, and with that, considered it an opportunity to begin discussing growth mindset with a group of students that may not have been exposed to it yet.

As the weeks went on, it was obvious I had a student in a lower grade level (KN-2nd) who would benefit from spending some time with a student in an older grade (3rd-5th) as we continue to set some expectations and continue to discuss growth mindset. You see, this young many we will refer to as Franklin did not have a growth mindset. I knew that. He had no idea. More importantly, he did not want to know…yet. Franklin did not have anyone to look up to in life (according to him) and as I got to know him better, I quickly realized he would benefit from a mentor. (Even though, he did not want one) While I worked to secure an adult mentor, I knew just the student in 5th grade who could serve as a role model for this young man.

The following is the exchange that occurred between Franklin and the 5th grade student as I introduced them for the first time.

Me: “Franklin, this is Joe (for the sake of this story). Joe is a 5th grader who is a great role model.”
Franklin: “I know him. He goes to the Boys & Girls Club. I do not need a role model.”
Me: “Fair enough. He is not a role model then, just a 5th grade student who can help in letting you know what is expected of students at Sigler.”
Franklin: “I know what is expected.”
Joe: “What do you like about school?”
Franklin: “I do not like school.”
Joe: “Why don’t you like school.”
Franklin: “I do not like to read. I am not good at it.”
Joe: “That is a fixed mindset. You need to have a growth mindset. With a growth mindset you could have said, I am not good at it yet.”

They continued to talk back and forth after that, but to be honest, I do not remember what was said.

We were doing something right. This 5th grade student…we reached him. He got it. He was modeling a growth mindset right before my tear filled eyes.

The moral of the story…often times we do not realize as educators just how much our students are absorbing. We do not realize we are reaching them because we do not give them the opportunity to demonstrate and model what they know.

My intentions were pure when I sought out this opportunity and I was not thinking, not even for a moment this 5th grade student would make me as proud as he did.

While I was seeking an opportunity for one student to positively impact another, I received a gift that reminded me, “we are reaching them” we just need to be reminded of it from time to time.

Building Empathy…Changing Behavior…More Questions than Answers

Man it feels good to watch these letters and words appear on the screen. It has been way to long since I have been able to share my thoughts and learn from you. In all honesty, I have many thoughts or potential posts in the “que” but I have either not taken the time nor found the time to articulate my thoughts well enough to post them. I am reflecting. I am making notes. I will share. I promise, I will…

So, why this one? With so many thoughts just waiting to be shared, why did I decide to share this one? I suppose that answer is an easy one. Complete transparency…I am sharing and writing about this because I do not have the answers. In fact, I have more questions than I do answers and I am turning to you, my readers, my PLN, to help bring clarity to my thinking.

If you have spent any amount of time in education, you realize you spend 90% of your time dealing with 10% of your students when it comes to addressing unwanted behaviors. In fact, it may get to the point where you feel all you are doing is addressing “the behavior”. While it may feel that way, the reality is, the majority of students are meeting…or in many cases exceeding expectations and we simply are not paying enough attention. How do we fix that? How do we spend more time focused on the positive, moving away from focusing on the unwanted?

I realize the unwanted behavior, if unaddressed can quickly interrupt the learning experience of the student exhibiting the unwanted behavior, but as we know, the unwanted behavior also interrupts the learning experiences of other students who are simply bystanders, trying to do their best to maximize the opportunity in front of them. Keeping in mind, the relentless pursuit many teachers embark upon in attempting to do their very best to instruct all students, balance behaviors, implement accommodations, work to strengthen relationships & keep parents informed of progress (or lack there of) well knowing the behaviors of the few can negatively impact the instruction/success of the majority. So, how do we address the unwanted behavior in an attempt to change it?

Traditional practices would suggest the unwanted or undesirable behavior be stopped or redirected. Got it. Easy enough. A teacher can redirect behavior, change a seating placement, provide engaging activities and even activities that empower students, but what if the behavior does not change? A parent conference can be scheduled. Teachers can collaborate with other teachers and brainstorm ideas to implement within the classroom. Plans can be put into place. The plans can be positive (which I prefer), the plans can have input from the student (prefer this as well), the plans can be catered to meet the student’s specific needs. Mentors can be assigned. Counselors can be utilized. The list can go on and on. What if all of this does not work? At some point the positive behavior supports wane and consequences turn from positive to negative and words like suspension begin to enter the conversation. In-school, out of school…alternate school setting. Yep. All forms of suspension. Does it work? I suppose it depends upon the individual student and their needs. Does it work for all students? I know that answer. No, it does not work for all students. So, what do we do?

At some point over the last nine to ten weeks, I had an epiphany. We keep running our students through all of this well intended “stuff” to address behavior, but we are not addressing the root cause of why our students are doing what they are doing. They are serving their time or doing what we ask and then we are sending them back to class as if they should “have it figured out”  or we think things will change. What we are forgetting as the adults is “for things to change, I must change.” I wonder, “Is the cause of the student’s misbehavior linked to something they may not completely understand?”

Do students understand empathy? Have we provided them with the supports to do so?

How do we grow and develop a student’s ability to be empathetic? How do we get students to feel? How do we get students to feel how someone else is feeling? Do students realize their undesirable behaviors make other students feel a certain way? If they did, would they continue to act in that way?

I told you I have a lot of questions. I am seeking some answers. I am not one to sit around and just wait for the answers to come to me. I am actively seeking out answers on my own and I hope you will contribute to my thinking. Familiar with restorative practices? You may be, but what I am finding is that most educators are not. There is a lot of research out there behind the effectiveness of restorative justice or restorative discipline in schools and guess what key word is positioned at the center of this research? You got it. Empathy.

As I have learned more about restorative practices and met with colleagues within my district and within my PLN who are also interested in learning more about how we can develop empathy within our students, I am beginning to see how this may change the narrative on school discipline. Less referrals. Less suspensions. Maybe, no suspensions at all. The sky is the limit with restorative discipline.

Have you ever participated in a restorative circle? Whoa. Powerful. Talk about getting to know your students. Restorative circles immediately take me back to my college psychology class and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. As a campus we are ensuring the physiological needs are met, we ensure students are safe and create environments that allow them to feel safe. A restorative circle can reinforce learning in a safe environment. Students feel loved and cared for when they are listened to and a restorative circle provides an opportunity for students to be heard. Earlier I asked, How do we grow and develop empathy? The next level of Maslow’s Hierarchy is “esteem”. Using the visual to the left, the respect of others is a key ingredient of empathy. How do we make students aware of the respect they are showing others? We have to take action. We have to do something different.

Are you ready for your first circle?

Sit your class or small group of students down in a circle and use a talking stick to provide one participant the opportunity to speak, while reminding the others they need to listen. Then provide an open ended question about how students are feeling…

How did you feel when you walked into the building this morning after the weekend?
How do you feel about not being in school over the weekend?
How do you feel…

If you are looking for questions and need something more concrete, try these if you are experiencing challenging behavior within your classroom:

To Respond to Challenging Behavior
What happened?
What were you thinking of at the time?
What have you thought about since?
Who has been affected by what you have done? In what way?
What do you think you need to do to make things right?

To Help Those Harmed By Other’s Actions
What did you think when you realized what had happened?
What impact has this incident had on you and others?
What has been the hardest thing for you?
What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

See how these questions shifts the focus from a me versus you to a focus of empathy? These questions also remove the accusatory tone used when discussing behavior with students and give a voice to those who may have been impacted by other’s actions.

While circles can be used to discuss a specific incident, circles can also be used to develop community, address a concern or to just check-in with your class. While I still consider myself a “rookie” in this practice there are a couple of takeaways I can share after completing just a few restorative circles.

Shifting the conversation from “Why did you do that?” to “How were you feeling when…?” is a game changer for students. Ask a student “Why did you do that?” and nine times out of ten you receive an “I don’t know.” Of course they do not know. If they knew why they did it, they would probably not do it. Ask a student “How were you feeling when…” and the response is completely different. Through my brief experiences, students have shared a plethora of feelings, often times sharing feelings completely unrelated to the direct event, as something made them feel a certain way and this “thing” was a result of unresolved emotions. Insightful. It not only allows me as the educator to learn more about the student but students are learning about one another. Guess what? Empathy is increasing. Mine included. If we do not think empathy in educators needs to be checked, we have another think coming. The first thing to go when a student acts out in “my class” is empathy.

We think “How dare he do that?”
We think “Does he know whose class this is?”
We think “I am the teacher. I will show him?”

How often do we think, “I wonder how that student is feeling?”


You know what it takes to build empathy?


You know the one thing we never feel we have enough of?


Now compound that by working in a high needs, Title I building where each minute we are not working with students is a minute lost. Who has time to lose when we are trying to support students in scaling a mountain? After all, they have a test to pass at the end of the school year. Who has time to spend on developing empathy? (These questions are smeared with sarcasm…but we know there are educators who are asking these questions.) 

How do we shift the mindset?

While I do not have the answers to many of these questions, I do know this. We better find the time to develop our students’ empathy. Our students, our future depends on it. We must be raising a generation of students who have empathy for one another. We must raise students who understand their actions not only impact themselves, but they also impact others and not always in a positive way. I believe we find time for what we value. The key will be leading people to understand the importance of valuing empathy.

Where do we go from here?

I am going to keep refining my restorative practices. I will continue to facilitate restorative circles with students and yes, I will have some teachers participate in them as well. We will start small…subtle changes here and there. Is there a silver bullet? I believe there is. It is the time we spent developing empathy. Easy? Not a chance. Necessary? Absolutely.  I have a million questions and I have yet to find the million dollar answer. Maybe one of my readers has it, but I will not hold my breathe. We will continue to put one foot in the other, knowing that continuing to do what we have always done, will give us what we have always got.

I am ready to approach behavior in a new, transformative way.  I am ready to bring restoration to our students, teachers, classrooms and community.


Are you transforming the way you approach behavior in your classroom, school or district? I hope you will take a moment to share what you are doing. Share what has worked. Share what you have learned. Share where you have failed along the way. Hopefully, by sharing your failures and successes I, along with others will be able to learn from you and share.

Do you have resources you have learned from? Please share them below.

Here are a few I have collected and am currently using:
Restorative Questions: http://store.iirp.edu/restorative-questions-cards-pack-of-100/
Restorative Practices Handbook: http://store.iirp.edu/the-restorative-practices-handbook/
The Little Book of Restorative Discipline for Schools: https://www.amazon.com/Little-Book-Restorative-Discipline-Schools/dp/1561485063
Better Than Carrots or Sticks: https://www.amazon.com/Better-Than-Carrots-Sticks-Restorative/dp/1416620621

Are there people online I should be learning from?

I learn from:

Who are others?

Take a moment and share your answers in the comments below.

Are You Cultivating Passion?

My summer goes pretty fast as a school administrator and even faster as a school administrator who moonlights as a summer school principal. I am not complaining. It just goes fast. In the days that I do have, I do my best to spend time with my family, unplug from work & read. I keep a stack of books on the end of my desk that I come across throughout the year, knowing summer will be my best time to dive deep and spend some time reflecting on what I have read. I have yet to find enough balance throughout the school year to really read like I would want to with so many other plates spinning. I rely on blogs, which are much shorter reads to feed me.

Last February, I was able to see and hear Angela Maiers present at TCEA in Austin, TX. I was so inspired by her message, that her Classroom Habitudes book made its way to the corner of my desk upon my return. After a couple of hours by the pool today, with my book and highlighter in hand, I was able to finish reading Classroom Habitudes. I love it!

As students across the country return to school in a month of so, we expect so much out of them and we often forget that everything we expect must be explicitly taught. (So is the case for me as an elementary school principal). If I had a nickel for the number of times I have said or have heard a teacher say, “Our students need to improve in the area of problem solving, I would be rich.” After reading this book, I am questioning how well I have led our teachers to explicitly teach our students the “habitudes” it takes to be a skillful problem solver. Maybe we do…a little…but at the end of the day, I think we just want it to happen through osmosis. Much like we teach students to read and apply number sense in math, we have to believe these “classroom habitudes” are important enough to spend time explicitly teaching to our students and then embed them into our content and curriculum.

Classroom Habitudes – Angela Maiers


I think you would agree, as educators we want our students to develop these habits and attitudes. Do we want them bad enough to explicitly teach students how to go about cultivating these habits and attitudes? It is one thing want it and a whole new level to actually do something about it and make it happen. “Classroom Habitudes” is full of lessons and resources that teachers can begin using tomorrow to further develop these habits and attitudes in students.

As I was reading today, there was one particular habitude that struck a cord with me. Passion. Angela
Maiers defines the passion habitude as follows:

Passion is the ability to intentionally pursue actions that are personally and socially meaningful.

Read that again…

Now, in the Texas, STAAR results have recently been shared with districts across the state. If you were to poll the students who took STAAR this past spring, how many of them do you think would find the STAAR personally and socially meaningful? I ask that because, I/we are holding ourselves hostage & our students hostage to a test that at the end of the day, is not meaningful to students.

Do you feel your instruction meets the needs of your students as defined above? Are you creating opportunities for students to “intentionally pursue actions that are personally and socially meaningful“?

Angela Maiers includes some reflective questions to determine whether or not you are preparing students to be good at school or prepare them for life.

  • Are we helping students discover & work on things they are truly good at? 
  • Do students go home at the end of the day emotionally charged or emotionally drained? 
  • Will students remember the projects we’re working on today five years from now? 
  • Are we proud of the work we do? Are our students proud of the work they do? 
  • Does the cause for which we fight go beyond making the grade or increasing a test score? 
  • Does the cause create meaning in our students’ lives?
I am not sure how you honestly answer those questions, but Angela Maiers shares the following:
If you can answer “yes” to these questions, you can be assured that your current curriculum, schedule, and classroom environment cultivate the kind of passion that will enable students to live more fulfilling lives, lead courageously, and engage in work worth bragging about!” 

My question is, “What if you answered no?” What if the curriculum, schedule and environment are not cultivating the kind of passion that our students need to develop? If we agree, these habitudes need to be increasingly present in the lives of our students, it is time we look in the mirror and ensure we are cultivating the same habitudes in ourselves as leaders and teachers. 
I for one, do not want students leaving our building without being able to live more fulfilling lives, lead courageously and engage in work worth bragging about. 
What do you want? 

See You Later

This past week I was able to spend two and a half days learning from some of the sharpest and brightest principals throughout the state of Texas as we concluded our year long principal’s institute through @n2learning. When I started this year long journey, consisting of six learning sessions, I had been told from past PIs (principal institute participants) how great of an experience this would be and how this would be the best professional learning experience I would ever have. You know what? They were right.

The wisdom I gleaned from interacting and getting to know principals, central office staff and superintendents from across the state of Texas was eye-opening and at times overwhelming, but more important than the knowledge I acquired, the networking and lasting relationships that have been established will carry me farther than even the wisest lesson I learned. You see, the principals selected to participate in this institute were not your typical principals. These PIs were not the quiet, conformists who do what they are told. These PIs rock the boat, do things differently and push the boundaries of what public education could and should be. These are the principals you want to learn from, these are the principals you want to work for and alongside of and these are the principals I am honored to call my colleagues and friends.

As I reflect on the last year’s worth of learning alongside these amazing building leaders, I find myself recalling three reminders that served me well:

  • The smartest person in the room, is the room. 
  • You must go slow to go fast. 
  • If not you then who, and if not now then when?

The Smartest Person In The Room, Is The Room

Let’s face it. I am just one person. Yes, there are times I like to think I have it all figured out (which I do not) and yes, there are times I admittedly need support from colleagues. The room is a powerful thing. What I have learned this year is that you have to let the room know who you are, be willing to share what you know with the room and be willing to learn from others in the room. The collective wisdom within the group of principals I worked along side this year (otherwise known as PI5s) was humbling. I learned to ask questions and gain insight. I learned to listen to their feedback.  I learned to make connections with colleagues allowing the room to be available to me 24 hours a day & 7 days a week through this powerful professional learning tool, called Twitter. Check it out! 😉

You Must Go Slow To Go Fast

@Roz_Keck our facilitator from @n2learning reminded us of this often. As we gathered for sessions and heard from incredible speakers such as Alan November, @Globalearner,  Dr. Rob Evans, author of Seven Secrets of the Saavy School Leader or George Couros, @gcouros I wanted to run back to  campus and share all of the great things I learned right away, but in the back of my mind I could hear Roz repeating, “You must go slow to go fast.” Yes, there were some things I could share right away, but building a culture of change or what we referred to as organizational transformation takes time. This shift does not happen over night and coming back excited and on fire can make the change process that much more difficult. After all, just because I was excited about it, does not mean others would be. It wasn’t until I was introduced to The Backwards Bicycle and this image that I better understood change and how teachers in my building took to change. There is a reason we need to go slow to go fast, but this image reminded me there may be a percentage of my teachers who are ready to go faster than others and those innovators and early adopters are there to help support the transformation.

If Not You Then Who And If Not Now Then When

“Those Of Us Doing If Differently Are Changing Education”

Former Superintendent and @n2learning partner Dr. Kathy Bryce would always share these inspiring words of wisdom as a call to action. We as public educators are quick to let our voices be heard when we do not agree with a policy or decision made by someone who may work above us or sometimes even at the state level, but at the end of the day, we are not always ready to be the change we are wanting to see. This call to action is a reminder that we cannot wait around hoping others change for us. If we want something to change, we are the ones who need to make it happen. If we wait around for others, how long will we be waiting? I have this image as the header on my Twitter account and each time the phrase “if not you then who and if not now then when” is shared it reminds me of the work we are doing and the change that is necessary for our students to be empowered learners. The risk we take to do it differently, while not always popular is blazing a trail for others to follow and making a positive impact in the lives of students who deserve education to change.

If you are interest in learning more about the change I am speaking about and the work done by past and future principals through the Texas Principals Visioning Institute, click here to review the work in the visioning document. I will warn you, it may just make you a better leader, teacher, educator & learner.

To my PI5 cohort, who taught me more this year than I would have ever dreamed, thank you. You challenged my thinking and your wisdom, friendship and inspiration will continue to serve as motivation to be brave enough to do things differently and challenge the thinking of others. We are just a tweet, email, text, phone call or vox away. To quote a line from one of my favorite actors, Denzel Washington, in the movie John Q, “It’s not good-bye…see you later.” 

Finish Your Race

I read an article this morning about a runner by the name of Georgene Johnson. On May 21, 1990 she stepped up to the starting line and at the sound of the starting gun took off for what she thought was a 10K or 6.2 miles. At mile 4 she realized that she had stepped up to the wrong starting line. Cleveland had two races starting at the same time on this day in May. One was the 10K she thought she was running and the other was a marathon or 26.2 miles. 
While it would have been easy for her to quit the race, realizing she had never run father than 10 miles (and she debated for a moment…even asked a police officer for a ride) however, she made the decision to finish the race. In her mind, it was as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. Yes, she finished the marathon. 
We all started this race (or school year) back in August, knowing what we signed up for. While the finish line seemed so far away then, we are just two short weeks from crossing that line, wrapping up our school year. If Georgene Johnson can make the decision to finish a marathon that she didn’t train for and had no idea she was running until she was nearly a 1/4 of the way through it, we can knock out these last two weeks. We signed up for this race. Yes, it would be easy to walk the final miles or stop teaching over the final days, but who finds greatness by taking the easy route? 
I believe that is what sets the staff at Sigler Elementary apart from others. While teachers in some buildings will be taking down wall decor, packing up rooms and beginning to walk the final miles, I know this staff is better than that. Our students deserve better than that and as a staff we are going to #finishstrong and teach to the #finalbell. 
I challenge you to embrace the spirit of Georgene Johnson and finish the race. 

“Giving up is easy. Teaching students and giving them all you have to offer until the #finalbell is what they deserve.”

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!